Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: how to sell more books

Kristen Lamb, how to sell more books, do author newsletters work, book marketing, book promotion, promotion for authors, do newsletters sell more books, how to get newsletter subscribers

Today we’re tackling author newsletters. Do we need one? Do they sell books? Does a human sacrifice help?

Oops.

Last time I posted at length about sales, namely what it is, what it isn’t, and why we shouldn’t be afraid of it. Science proves that, the better writers are at sales, the more books they sell. Sort of like studies show that people who have more birthdays live longer.

You’re welcome 😀 .

Alas, whenever I blog about marketing or sales, inevitably a commenter or five mentions author newsletters. How other authors swear by them and so why oh why do I hate them?

First of all, I don’t hate newsletters. Correction. I don’t hate ALL newsletters. More on that in a bit.

Newsletters are a tool, and tools are neither good or bad. Should you want to cut down a dead tree, chainsaws are awesome. Want to settle a dispute with that coworker who keeps stealing your lunch from the company fridge? Chainsaws are BAD…and HR is far scarier anyway.

Before we get into pros and cons, dos and don’ts, think long and hard about why you’re considering a newsletter at all.

All My Friends Have Newsletters

Kristen Lamb, how to sell more books, do author newsletters work, book marketing, book promotion, promotion for authors, do newsletters sell more books, how to get newsletter subscribers

In my book Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World, I take a lot of time explaining the various ways we now can publish—legacy, indie, small press, self-pub, hybrid, etc. All publishing paths have pros and cons.

How we publish is a business decision only we can make. Newsletters are the same. Like all other business decisions, newsletters require forethought and honesty.

Just like we shouldn’t rush out to self-publish because a member of our writing group is suddenly bathing in crisp Benjamins, we shouldn’t dive into creating a newsletter simply because another author swears they sell books faster than a donut shop across from a police station.

We only have 24 hours in a day. Time is a nonrenewable resource, which means we’re wise to use the time we have effectively. For writers, our priority is to dedicate time to writing books. The more books, the better. This said, the ways we then cultivate a fan base—actual humans who will BUY those books—should be selected with care.

Most authors will still have to work a day job, care for family, needy pets and also build a social media platform. A successful newsletter requires one critical factor to make it anything other than one more reason to take up heavy drinking.

What’s that factor?

Traction

Kristen Lamb, how to sell more books, do author newsletters work, book marketing, book promotion, promotion for authors, do newsletters sell more books, how to get newsletter subscribers

In my last post, I also talked about the trust gap. Too many businesses (and writers) want to skip building relationships and get right to selling. The problem is that, in the 21st century marketplace, relationships ARE our business. People buy from who they KNOW and who they LIKE.

We’re in an age of unprecedented abundance and choice, and most consumers are overwhelmed. This means the consumers’ comfort zone contracts at twelve times the rate the number of choices expands.

Don’t argue, it’s ‘science.’

For instance, when faced with seventy-five different pasta sauces at the nearby Central Market, my brain vapor locks. Though I could have chosen the organic, non GMO, vegan, cruelty-free marinara made with only free-range heirloom tomatoes, I grab a jar of whatever I bought last time.

And make a mental note to google what the heck an ‘heirloom tomato’ actually is, aside from pretentious and ‘meta.’

Pasta sauce companies hire smiling people in hairnets to hand out samples in order to bridge the trust gap. They KNOW there’s a ton of competition and that, unless they want to compete on price, they’re going to have to make the first move to connect with US.

Also, that connection is going to COST them…because charging for free samples defeats the purpose of a free sample.

One taste of a free-range heirloom tomato might be all I need to forgo Ragu forever, making Meta Sauce my new go-to when I fall off—then under the wheels of—the low-carb bandwagon.

Anyway, the free sample of Meta Sauce serves a purpose other than propping up the hairnet industry. The company uses the sample to gain advantage through connection. Since I’ve tasted Meta Sauce, it holds a major advantage over the wall of UNKNOWNS and increases the odds I’ll buy a jar.

Got Traction?

Kristen Lamb, how to sell more books, do author newsletters work, book marketing, book promotion, promotion for authors, do newsletters sell more books, how to get newsletter subscribers

Without traction, what happens? We’re left spinning our wheels going nowhere. Or we careen into oncoming traffic and everyone dies.

Congratulations, your newsletter is now a French film.

I hope you’re happy.

Many authors sing the praises of the newsletter, yet if we pay close attention, the newsletter in and of itself isn’t the whole picture. Authors who have successful newsletters have built some sort of relationship with those on their mailing list.

They FIRST established rapport and built relationships via a blog, speaking engagements, social media, a backlist of books readers enjoy, or a combination of any of these.

THEN they created a newsletter.

There’s an excellent book I highly recommend by Scott and Alison Stratton called UnMarketing. Though Scott and Alison aren’t specifically teaching writers, their methods are spot on (namely because they’re a lot like what I’ve been preaching since 2007).

Scott and Alison mention the idea of traction –> momentum –> expansion. Which was why I was all YES…THIS!

I get a LOT of emails (usually after conference season) from new and now panicked writers who believe they need to create a newsletter RIGHT AWAY! My job is to talk them off the ledge and explain they’re suffering PCSD—Post Conference Stress Disorder.

Kristen Lamb, how to sell more books, do author newsletters work, book marketing, book promotion, promotion for authors, do newsletters sell more books, how to get newsletter subscribers
How I feel about marketing ‘gurus’ who like to scare writers.

Odd are, some marketing guru informed them social media was a total waste of time and that NEWSLETTERS were the Golden Ticket. Maybe newsletters are the Golden Ticket. To me, they feel more like the Golden Tickets Willy Wonka handed out.

You know, there’s a nasty catch.

Instead of a day of sweets and fun, kids disappear one by one on a tour led by a psychopath. Instead of selling a bazillion books, writers disappear one by one.

The reason writers go missing is they grow weary of failure. Many who message me about how to write a newsletter haven’t even finished the BOOK. Funny how so many gurus fail to mention that having a finished book first is A PRETTY BIG DEAL.

*left eye twitches*

Newsletter Love

Kristen Lamb, how to sell more books, do author newsletters work, book marketing, book promotion, promotion for authors, do newsletters sell more books, how to get newsletter subscribers
Looks legit.

Building a strong, healthy newsletter that people love is a lot like dating. The results are far better when the other party goes along willingly.

Sure, chloroforming a hot college coed and chaining her to a radiator guarantees she’s not going anywhere. But as my mother always told me, ‘Kristen, relationships built on duct tape always require more duct tape’ …which now seems like really odd advice.

But it works for our lesson today, so we’re rolling with it.

Newsletters are most effective when people on our list made a deliberate choice to BE on our list. We reached out to others, established a bond over kitten videos and a mutual love for serial killer documentaries, and then mentioned subscribing to our newsletter.

And they did.

This is traction. Once we gain traction, we can then build momentum and momentum is essential to expansion.

The problem with many newsletters is they’re too often viewed as shortcuts. Social media requires we invest time, energy, and emotional capital over a period of months or years. Newsletters are there to help bypass that icky job of talking to people before asking for their money.

FYI…NO!

It’s much faster to plunk down cash for a list of emails and blast a newsletter far and wide. In case y’all haven’t seen the transition, this is no longer a newsletter. It’s morphed into direct marketing (spam).

Spam is the inbred cousin of the newsletter. It’s about as welcome as the distant relative who moves in uninvited, drinks all the good whiskey and pawns your electronics to buy lotto tickets.

News About Newsletters

Kristen Lamb, how to sell more books, do author newsletters work, book marketing, book promotion, promotion for authors, do newsletters sell more books, how to get newsletter subscribers

Yes, they can be effective if the list is populated with actual fans who wanted the newsletter in the first place. I already mentioned the folly of buying subscribers. But there are also sites that will force us to give an email before we can see the thing we clicked to see.

This reminds me of college and the guy who wouldn’t go away until I gave him my phone number. Poor Domino’s.

*Ponders how many AoL emails are captured this way*

Numbers of emails alone are no great indicator of anything but…um, numbers of emails. There’s this thing called an ‘open rate.’ It doesn’t matter if a million people receive our newsletter if no one opens it.

Also, if they do open our newsletter, does the content inside compel a click-through and purchase?

If you’re killing yourself with a newsletter and no one’s opening, or if they’re opening they aren’t buying? That’s a waste of time spent better ways. Like writing more books. OR being present on our social platform of choice strengthening relationships.

If you’ve subscribed to a newsletter you love, can’t wait to receive and always open and act…take time to consider WHY. Can you replicate what they’re doing in your own unique way?

Tips for Newsletter Success

  • Finish the book before starting a newsletter (otherwise it’s kinda…weird);
  • Create relationships before asking for subscribers;
  • Real friends can’t be bought. Earn subscribers instead of buying email lists;
  • Offer something of value that can ONLY be accessed via your newsletter;
  • Go easy on how often we hear from you. How can we miss you if you won’t go away?

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you enjoy doing a newsletter and have some tips? Are there newsletters you can’t wait to see in your In Box? Why? What makes them special to you? But for those who dig newsletters, tell us why. We’d love to hear your perspective, tips, advice, etc.

Or are you like me and afraid of your email? I’ve given up changing emails to escape the newsletter spam. I blog, so for now, a newsletter not in my immediate game plan.

Do you prefer free-range tomatoes or ones kept in cages?

I love hearing from you!

What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

steampunk, writingClass Title: Building a Believable Steampunk World

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $50.00 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: FRIDAY, July 20, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Who doesn’t love some steampunk cosplay? Corsets, goggles, awesome hats…

Steampunk has become one of the hottest genres today, crossing the lines of YA, NA, and adult fiction. It seems like it’s fun to write because it’s fun to read.

However, there’s a world of difference between the amateur steampunk writer and the professional steampunk author, and the difference lies in the world they create.

Is your steampunk world historically-accurate enough not to jar the reader out of the narrative with anachronisms? Does your world include paranormal as well as steampunk? Are the gadgets and level of sophistication in keeping with the technologies available at the time?

Steampunk is not an excuse to take short-cuts with history. Good writing in this genre requires a solid grasp of Victorian culture and history, including the history of science, medicine, and industry.

This shouldn’t scare you off from writing steampunk, but it should encourage you to take this class and learn how to create a world that is accurate, consistent and immersive.

This class will cover a broad range of topics including:

  • Not-So-Polite Society: Just how prim and Victorian do you want to get?
  • Grime and Gears: How to research Victoriantechnology, science, medicine, and industry without dying of boredom?
  • Putting the ‘Steamy’ in Steampunk: How to obey (and more importantly, break) Victorian rules of romance;
  • Keeping it Real…ish: How to drop in historical details without info-dumping, and how to describe and explain your steampunk innovations without confusing.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

DYSTOPIA!!


Class Title: World-Building for Dystopian Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $50.00 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, July 27, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

There’s no greater fear than fearing what dwells deep in the dark corners of human nature. Dystopian literature, for all its bells and zombie whistles, shines an unforgiving light on all those shadows.

Can’t think of any dystopian-genre books off the top of your head? How about:

Farenheit 451, The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, The Lorax, The Stand, Neuromancer, Ender’s Game, Divergent, World War Z, Underground Airlines, Brave New World, Ready Player One, A Clockwork Orange, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (just to name a few…)

Still, it’s a challenging genre to write. Done badly, dystopian fiction is the equivalent of that emo kid down the hall in your dorm who drinks way too much coffee and just won’t quit playing The Cure.

Done well? We get the dangerous thrill of skidding close to the edge of moral insanity, looking through a mirror darkly and seeing ourselves and our neighbors, and a hyper-creative outlet that combines the dubious fun of post-apocalyptic totalitarianism (zombies optional) with chilling truths about human nature.

Topics covered in this class include:

  • Having fun with things you shouldn’t: why destroying society is just so much fun!
  • ‘First Fright’ vs. ‘True Fright’: sure, we’re afraid of enforced barcode tattoos because totalitarianism!…but maybe we’re really afraid because it really sounds so seductively convenient;
  • Picking and choosing ‘normal’: how to balance having enough familiarities with society today with creating shocking changes that go right to the heart of our fears;
  • Fear leads to the dark side (unless you’re already there): creating dystopian characters that invite both shock and sympathy;
  • To apocalypse or not to apocalypse: do we really need nuclear fallout or an alien invasion…or can we do it all ourselves?
  • Playing with your food: how to put a new and unique spin on zombies, aliens, and food shortages (i.e. asking critical questions like whether Soylent Green is gluten-free).

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston area with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

 

BRAND NEW CLASS IN AUGUST!

Kristen Lamb, W.A.N.A. International, business for authors, selling for writers, sales for writers, how to sell more books

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $50.00 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday August 2nd, 2018 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST,

Writers are in the entertainment business. Notice the second half of our job title is business. The lifeblood of all business is sales.

But, to be blunt, most creative professionals would rather be stabbed in the face than ‘do sales.’ Yet, if we don’t sell books, our career is doomed (regardless of how we publish).

One of the MAJOR reasons so many people are afraid of sales is because what’s being taught as ‘sales’ is actually ‘direct marketing.’

Direct marketing is NOT sales. It IS, however, pushy, icky, and hasn’t been effective since The Spice Girls were cool.

Sales can be fun. In fact, believe it or not, humans are wired for sales. It’s part of our biology. Problem is, humans are also wired to overcomplicate things…which is why so many of us freak out over sales.

This class is to remove the fear factor and clarify what selling entails for the professional author. Not all products are sold the same way…which is why there are no late-night infomercials hawking Hadron Colliders or F-16 fighter jets. Our sales approach must align with the product we’re selling, or we’re doomed before we begin.

This class will cover:

  • Why direct marketing doesn’t sell books;
  • Tame wasters versus time savers;
  • How to be paid what we are worth;
  • Ways we can make ads, promotions and marketing far more effective;
  • The unique way books must be sold;
  • How to set goals and create a scalable strategy;
  • Explore the S.W.O.T. analysis and why we need one;
  • How to differentiate our brand and product in an over-saturated marketplace;
  • AND MORE!

***A FREE recording is included with class purchase.

 

Amazon, authors, digital age authors, writing, self-publishing, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, how to write better books, story

Last time, I brought up a subject I never believed would warrant discussing—cockygate.  I wish this was the first time a writer did something epically misguided to gain advantage. Some drama to sell their ‘story.’ But, I’ve been around too long. Seen too much.

Yes, I was there for the BIG BANG (dot.com implosion). I also witnessed Web 2.0 shoot out of the dying Web 1.0’s ribcage then skitter up into the vents.

Where did it GO? What is it up to? What does it WANT?

Good Question

Amazon, authors, digital age authors, writing, self-publishing, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, how to write better books, story

As early as 2004, I projected the digital tsunami that was going to obliterate the world as we knew it.

Why is ‘Age of Aquarius’ suddenly stuck in my head?

Anyway, it began with Napster and Tower Records, then Kodak, blah blah and starting in 2006 I began blogging and predicting the next industry to fall…and the next…and even how and roughly when it would happen. All along I insisted publishing and writers needed to be prepared because we were also in its path.

Over the course my first years as a ‘social media/branding expert’ (an occupation widely regarded as a made-up job like ‘unicorn groomer’) I noted a trend.

Pretty much every year, new and evolved ‘bright idea fairies’ (BIFs) hatched with frightening regularity. This trend continues because shortcuts are tempting. Um…cockygate.

Enough said.

BIFs masquerade as a super cool idea, when in reality they’re total gimmicks that do more harm than good.

***Which is why I dedicated a year of research to write Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

Social platforms change all the time.

Know what never changes? People.

Just read Shakespeare, watch Dateline, or go look up your ex on FB. People don’t change. This is why I wrote Rise of the Machines to be evergreen.

Only now I may need to update because cockygate sucker-punched us all. I feel like Proctor & Gamble now having to warn teenagers not to eat Tide Pods *sighs*.

Story Matters

Amazon, authors, digital age authors, writing, self-publishing, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, how to write better books, story

Yes, really.

We writers are wise to remember a few fundamentals. Stories are for the reader. Story is our product. Readers are our customers who pay money for our product. Readers want a good…story. They really want a superlative story.

Far too many authors don’t need better marketing skills, they need better storytelling skills.

This is simple, though simple is rarely easy. Superior stories are more crucial than ever if we take a quick peek at our industry.

See, when Amazon scope-locked on publishing, they knew exactly how to dismantle the establishment. According to the ancient self-help inspirational guru Sun Tzu, there are only two forms of warfare—direct and oblique.

Amazon is all about the oblique.

Who wanted to go head-to-head with The Big Six? Like, be a real publisher who discovers and cultivates awesome books? How derivative *flips hair*.

Nope. Amazon was not about to face off with NYC where legacy publishing had over a century of dominance. Besides, too much work. Instead?

Get rid of gatekeepers. Open the market to anyone who wanted to string a bunch of sentences together and call it a story. In turn, they get to call themselves ‘published authors.’ Win-win!

Not all of it was bad.

Amazon was banking that excellent books had fallen through the traditional model cracks (very true). They also gambled that some authors not only had a good book, but also possessed sound business skills (also true). Then, there were all these hungry, innovative writers eager to be cut loose and try new ideas like the blog-to-book.

The Martian never would have happened under the old regime.

There were also plenty of traditionally published New York Times best-selling authors and USA Today best-selling authors with HUGE backlists…that NY mothballed. #OUCH

Paper was heavy and expensive and the big-box-bookstore only had so much shelf-space. This meant making royalties off only the most recent title (instead of compounded royalties off 10, 20 or 50 titles).

Amazon offered a place to get these already vetted stories back into reader hands.

The only major advantage traditional publishers ever had was distribution. Yet, in a world of 0s and 1s, this advantage disappeared.

Tough truth.

Amazon doesn’t invest in authors or books. They don’t make money off one book selling a million copies. It’s far easier to make money off a hundred thousand ‘writers’ selling ten books. And, Laws of Probability dictate that, out of that hundred thousand writers, a runaway hit will emerge and with that?

A DREAM.

Between mid-list defectors and undiscovered gems, Amazon has reinvented the American Dream for writers. They also reasonably wagered it would only take a few years before legacy publishing would no longer be the first choice for many emerging authors.

The lure of these success stories would be too much to resist.

Problem was, this meant the slush-pile landed square in the readers’ laps.

Story Solutions

Amazon, authors, digital age authors, writing, self-publishing, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, how to write better books, story

In this new business model we do have options. We can chase the next ad/promotion/algorithm/writing gimmick like a cat after a red dot. Or we can get back to basics, the ‘stuff’ that’s worked since the beginning of time.

Earlier I mentioned humans don’t change. If we fully grasp this, building a platform becomes far easier. So does writing.

Humans have longed for great stories since the HUGE stick and ‘ability to make fire’ was the most advanced tech available.

Sadly, in the digital age, too many writers rush, either out of newbie enthusiasm or veteran panic. Emerging authors often rush the learning curve (how to actually WRITE a good story). Veteran authors who know how to write, frequently cave to rushing the process.

Faster isn’t always better. It’s like microwaving a turkey. Takes only a fraction of the time, but who wants to eat THAT?

Tips for Better Stories

Ditch the Derivative

Readers want the same but different. Bad copies of stories that are ‘hot’ are simply bad copies. My challenge is for all of us to use that robust imagination for the powers of good. Amateurs retool stories. Artists reimagine them 😉 .

A Thousand Acres—King Lear on an Iowa farm.

Wicked—The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West—There’s always more than one point of view. Let’s hear from the ‘other’ side, shall we?

The Wife Between Us—Fantastic mind-bending story. It’s as if the famous play (movie) Gaslight and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train had a baby. But namely, it’s Gaslight reimagined in the modern world.

There are way too many tired tropes so have fun. Can you change time, setting, perspective or characters and create something fresh and new, but rooted in pedigree? What about a new story that gives the ‘real’ scoop on an old one?

Jack the Ripper as a female, a virtuous wife betrayed. The killings are motivated by a woman scorned and shamed. Could happen 😛 .

Cinderella as a serial killer. Red Riding Hood as an Old West outlaw. The Little Mermaid as a vengeful stalker (Fatal Attraction) *wink wink*. ALL THE FUN!

Y’all get the gist and Cait has a class coming up that can teach y’all how to think in new and perverse…creative ways in her class Once Upon a Plot: Retelling Myths & Fairytales.

Leave the Low-Hanging Fruit

All stories need some amount of description. Yet, I’m challenging ALL OF US to try harder. I see all kinds of samples where the hero/heroine has emerald, jade, amethyst, sapphire, onyx, (pick any precious or semi-precious stone) eyes. Hair color is like a bad drop-down menu—raven, copper, spun gold, etc.

Her eyes were blue as the Western sky.

Never read that before *rolls eyes*.

To an extent we ALL do it. I’ve done it, too. So one judgy finger pointed at y’all and THREE back at me. Yet, here’s the thing.

We are wordsmiths, and wordsmiths should be able to write a better description than any random non-writer challenged to pen a description.

His eyes were like dazzling emeralds.

Wow. Bet that burned some brain cells to come up with.

Dig deeper. Sure, sometimes we want to keep it simple so we don’t wear out a reader being super clever all the time. On the other hand, can we do a better job than penning a description we might give to a police sketch artist?

He had a shaved head, scars, big nose and ears…

Be CREATIVE!

He had the face of a man who loved to pick fights, but wasn’t any good at fighting.

Just leaving that there 😉 .

Throw a Wrench in Everything

Stories are about problems. PERIOD. Three hundred pages of pretty sentences is not a novel. It’s three hundred pages of pretty sentences. Using a crap ton of fancy words only proves we know how to use a thesaurus…and maybe should be banned from owning one.

Description is not story.

Everyone getting along is not story…it’s a sedative.

All stories have ONE core problem that must be resolved. Until that happens? Welcome to hell. No one agrees and nothing comes easily and anything that can go wrong does…twice. The MC must solve the core story problem and the crucible is never curved.

No one respects someone who wins without working for it in life…or fiction 😉 .

***Scroll down to On Demand classes for hardcore storytelling training from MOI!

What Are Your Thoughts?

I love hearing from you!

Do you struggle being a sadist to your characters? Did you do like me and look at your descriptions and go, ‘Wow, I should totally try harder’ *face palm*?

Did I maybe get the brain percolating? Mine is.

I now want to write Hansel & Gretel in the 1920s as Bonnie & Clyde-style gangsters and candy is a metaphor for BOOZE and SEX….

*Cait slaps me hard*

OWWW! *rubs back of head*

Or not.

What do you WIN? For the month of MAY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also NOW OFFERING MORE CLASSES PLUS ON DEMAND…

Retelling Myths & Fairytales

Instructor: USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard (Cool Upgrades Available)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY May 25th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Myths and fairytales are as fundamental to human existence as communication itself. We grow up hearing these stories, being formed by them, and often rebelling against them.

One of the hottest trends in publishing right now is bringing these stories back and giving them new life with creative interpretations and retellings.

Done right, a retelling can capture the public imagination, give us new insights into our society and ourselves, and sweep us away to a time and place where everything, including justice and happy endings, is possible. Get your spot today! HERE.

The Yarn Behind the Book: Backstory

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, June 1, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Behind every good book is an entire story that happens before the reader ever opens to page one. This is the backstory, and done right, it is what sets the stage, provides clues and cues, and rescues you from writer’s block.

A good backstory will help with logic and consistency in the plot, developing complex motivations for characters, and sorting out exactly what needs to happen going forward as you either plot or pants your way to the end.

This class will cover the following topics – and much more:

  • The elements of a backstory;
  • How to take your current plot idea and work backwards into a backstory;
  • Integrating character profiles and the backstory;
  • How the backstory relates to the logline and synopsis;
  • Using the backstory to dig yourself out of corners and shake off writer’s block;
  • Why a backstory is crucial to writing a series.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

On Demand Training!

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend:

ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. 

Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get BOTH Plot Boss and Art of Character in the…

Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND).

Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

how to sell more books, trends in fiction, Kristen Lamb, writing tips, Camp NaNoWriMo, dramatic writing, how to get more readers, The Martian Andy Weir, hook, writing hooks
Image courtesy of Randy Heinitz via Flickr Creative Commons.

How do we sell our stories? That is the big question. It is the reason for craft classes and editing and cover design and agents and editors and all the time on social media. And while platforms and covers and algorithms do matter, there is one tried and true way to sell more books.

Write a great story.

And not just any story, but a story that hooks from the very beginning and only continues to hook deeper.

Think of great stories like concertina wire.

The danger of concertina wire is not just in one hook, but hundreds or thousands. And it isn’t even in the thousands of hooks. It is the tension created by the coiled structureIf a person is snagged even a little, every effort to break free (turning a page for resolution) only traps the victim deeper in a web of barbed spines.

Now granted, this is a morbid visual, but y’all are writers and there is a good reason our family doesn’t like us talking at the dinner table.

So I was researching sucking chest wounds today and, hey, pass the spaghetti please?

Moving on…

We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Many new writers finish their first novel, and (I know as an editor) that odds are more than good that I’m going to chop off the first 50-100 pages.

We dream killers editors call this the fish head. What do we do with fish heads? We toss them (unless you are my weird Scandinavian family who makes fish face soup out of them).

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Image courtesy of David Pursehouse via Flickr Creative Commons

Often, when I go to do this kind of cutting, new writers will protest. “No, but you need this and the story really gets going on page 84.”

My answer? “Then let’s start on page 84.”

Too many stories fall flat because they lack the barbs necessary for snagging the modern reader who has the attention span of an ADD hamster with a meth habit. Additionally, a lot of us writers fall into bad habits of assuming readers are stupid, that they need all kinds of brain holding to “get” what we are talking about which means we not only lack barbs…but necessary tension.

I will prove readers are really smarter than we give them credit for 😉 …

Hook with a Problem

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One morning, on my way to take Spawn to school, as I stopped at my stop sign at a major business highway, a VW van passed at 50 mph and another car pulled out in front. BAM! Car parts, exploding glass, tearing metal, right in front of me. One driver screaming because his legs were crushed and he was pinned. All of this in less than 15 seconds.

Do you think I was hooked?

Did I need to know the history of the drivers, where they were going, what had the one driver so distracted that he would pull out into traffic? Did I need a description of the balmy, normal morning and a weather report? A description of the pale azure sky? Nope.

Now this is an extreme example, but it shows how even in life, we stop everything in light of a problem. A scream, a child crying, someone falling over a curb. We immediately halt everything.

Good fiction always begins with a problem because that is ALL fiction really is. Prose and descriptions and symbol and theme are all various delivery mechanisms…for PROBLEMS.

I cannot count the number of new manuscripts I read where the author spends most of her opening playing Literary Barbies. We really don’t care as much about your protagonist’s flaming red hair as much as we care about that warrant for her arrest. This is drama not a doll house.

Go look at books that have launched to legends and you will see this.

Andy Weir’s The Martian:

I am pretty much f**ked.

That is my considered opinion.

F**ked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it has turned into a nightmare.

We don’t start the book on Earth or in the astronaut program at NASA. We don’t even start when they land on Mars and hint that trouble eventually will come. Nope. Weir tosses us face first into a problem.

Hook With a Question

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I have a mantra that all modern novelists must live and die by.

Resist the urge to explain.

One of the reasons emerging writers get that fish head is they do a lot of flashbacks and explaining and “setting up” the story and they are unwittingly destroying the single strongest propulsion mechanism for their story—curiosity.

If we look at the opening page of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, the opening paragraph has a small character hook but six lines down we read:

The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.

When we craft any story, we are wise to harness the power of human nature. Humans are curious. Heck, we are downright nosey. Imagine sitting at a Starbucks and prepping the computer to write. Two women sit nearby chatting and one has obviously been crying (hooking with a problem). We might eavesdrop a little, arrange Post Its, set out our lucky thesaurus but the second one of the women says, “He would kill me if he ever found out.”

There went the writing.

Then we would be doing “research” 😀 .

Hook with Question and Character

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What the HELL, HANNAH?

Sometimes the problem or question isn’t so obviously stated and there is a lot left between the lines. We humans love to fill in the blanks, so LET US.

We will use an example from my all-time favorite book Luckiest Girl Alive.

I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wustof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but was quickly going humid in my grip.

First of all, this is a great opening line. It hooks, but then it leads to another hook and another and another. The character is testing the blade. Why? A blade being moisture resistant obviously is a plus if you are planning on stabbing someone because less chance of slippage (Stuff Writers Know).

Who is she planning to stab? How is she planning on using the blade? What has her so nervous her hands are going moist?

And on PAGE ONE we realize the protagonist is out looking at knives with her fiancé. Why? That is unusual. China? Normal. Curtains? Normal. Knives? Not normal.

Especially since in paragraph FOUR, we read:

I look up at him, too: my fiancé. The word didn’t bother me so much as the one that came after it. Husband. That word laced the corset tighter, crushing organs, sending panic into my throat with the bright beat of a distress signal.

Don’t Eat Your Own Bait

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…or drink it.

There are any number of reasons we as writers are failing to gut hook with our stories and often it is because we are falling prey to the very bait that is going to trap a reader. Problems bother us (because we are human) so we feel a need to “lead up to” something bad. We don’t like questions. We want to know…which is why we feel the urge to explain.

Just know that that clawing feeling inside that is driving you to pad the text is a good sign you are probably doing something right. Coil that barbed story all around and no escape until you’re cut free.

A FANTASTIC resource for teaching how to hook (other than me 😛 ) is my brilliant and brutal mentor Les Edgerton and his book Hooked. Read, learn, bleed, cry, grow.

If you’re wondering if your pages are hooking and, if not, how to remedy that? I am running my Write Stuff special. This is 20 pages of INTENSIVE content and line edit with an analysis included all for $55. Only ten slots are available and they fill up quickly, so get one today.

Your time is valuable and expert eyes are incredibly helpful to ensure you’re fixing the right things, or maybe letting you know to leave the pages ALONE that they are FINE. Work smarter, not harder.

Ain’t no rest for the wicked 😉 .

What are your thoughts?

How long do you give a book? I give ten pages max. On audio books I am more generous simply because I am a member of Audible and can return the book. I might give an hour. But I don’t have a lot of time and sure not spending what little extra I have on a dull book.

Does this post make the notion of the ‘hook’ make more sense? Oh, and by the way a book is like crochet, we need to hook through the entire thing. NO LOGICAL PLACE FOR A BOOKMARK.

Bookmark=DEATH.

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of April, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

March’s winner is Ben Gardner. Please send 5000 words in a WORD document double-spaced Times New Roman font, one-inch margins to kristen at wana intl dot com. CONGRATULATIONS! Thanks for the immoral support by commenting! Here is my gift back to you!

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is May 3rd 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

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brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines,

Branding is a word that seems to have one day—POOF—appeared out of the ether. In fact, when I began blogging in 2006 almost no one in publishing used the term. The rare few who did were hard-pressed to properly/clearly define what a ‘brand’ was.

In fact, many authorities believed authors didn’t need to be bothered with silly passing fads like ‘the Internet’ and ‘social media’ until about 2013. Why would authors need to build a brand?

All a writer needed was a good book. Facebook will last a year at best.

Yep.

Today, in 2018, the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ seem to be tossed around daily. Everyone and everything is or has or needs a brand. What’s funny is that branding might seem completely new, yet has been around since…people.

Granted how important a brand is, the need for one as an author, etc. is a fairly recent development. Yes, we need to craft excellent books (product) but we also must begin building our author brand EARLY.

***As in the first day we believe we might one day want to sell a book.

Ah, but calm down. There’s a lot of confusion regarding what a brand actually is. Many assume ads, marketing, and promotional campaigns are ‘branding.’

Yeah…no.

We can build a brand, but alas we cannot buy one. There are no shortcuts. Ads, promotion, marketing can help expand an existing brand, but cannot be substituted for one. This approach is akin to ordering a wife on-line from Russia believing one can buy true love with Visa.

In some areas of life, shortcuts end up a) a waste of time b) a bigger waste of money c) an episode of Dateline.

Branding Basics

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

I wrote my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World to be evergreen information. In my POV, social media changes daily, but humans never change.

Just read Shakespeare or look at your ex’s Facebook page *rolls eyes*.

That’s why my social media/branding guide focuses a lot more on the science behind what creates what we recognize as a brand. What captures our attention? What turns us off? What renders a brand invisible (thus a non-brand)?

How can one brand launch into the stratosphere with little to no budget when another fails miserably no matter how many millions of dollars are poured into ad campaigns and celebrity endorsements?

Obviously, my book delves into far more detail about the science behind branding. But a little common sense goes a long way. Thus, today we’ll simply touch on why our everyday on-line behaviors collect into a larger pool we call ‘author brand.’

First…

Branding is NOT New

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The thing is, humans have always had a ‘personal brand.’ Branding, in its simplest form, is what descriptors we attach to another person. It’s an innate habit we use to organize and transition the fuzzy and inchoate into the dramatic and memorable.

In the series I’ve been doing about story structure, I’ve reiterated over and over how we humans are wired for story. Branding is simply an extension of story.

That guy/that gal is too amorphous for us to remember. It also doesn’t provide enough detail for us to know how we should respond.

But, ‘That guy who’s been married four times, loves hunting, and collects sports cars’ provides a narrative (a story) that will either resonate or repel depending on the audience.

Humans dig labels, now more than ever before. It’s how we make our increasingly larger world somewhat manageable. Thus, people we ‘know’ are frequently tethered to a variety of descriptors—vegan, sports enthusiast, triathlete, cat lady, Cowboys fan, craftsy person, the comedian, etc.

There’s the perfect, put-together Pinterest moms and then there’s me….

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This, in a nutshell, is ‘branding.’ Humans have been doing this ‘branding’ thing since the dawn of time. The only difference in a ‘personal brand’ and an ‘author brand’ is that the ‘author brand’ should eventually drive book sales. Also, branding is now more vital than ever before because of the sheer volume of information, people, choices, etc.

This is why author brands are essential, since a brand is basically a beacon drawing people (readers) to something they find familiar and that they already know they like.

Here is where science comes in handy.

The Neurological Shortcut

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Our brains are remarkable organs that have the ability to adapt to our environment. Before the invention of the written word, our memory centers were far larger because we had to pass down information orally.

In fact, if you took an MRI of a tribesman from some isolated Amazonian tribe, his brain would look and act very different from yours or mine.

Then, with the advent of the written word, our memory centers shrank but we gained even larger areas for abstract thinking. This was around the time we start seeing major explosions in science and engineering.

Now we are in the Digital Age, and we’re bombarded with stimuli. Internet, television, radio, smart phones, pop-ups, etc. etc. We’ve lost our stellar memory centers and our ability to focus for long periods of time and have gained an unprecedented ability to multitask. Our brains must process massive amounts of information faster than ever before.

Think about it. We see ads on Facebook all the time. Or do we? Our brains have literally learned to un-see. We cannot manage all the input. So, if we (authors) are eventually going to advertise our books, how do we make our content visible? 

Branding with Intention

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Since our brain is much like a computer processor, it must come up with ways to effectively manage all this input in order to maintain efficiency. To do this, it relies on what are called somatic markers.

Somatic markers are neurological shortcuts and are one of the most primitive functions of the brain because they are uniquely tied to survival and procreation. It’s the same shortcut that tells us the stove is hot. We don’t need to sit and ponder the stove. We likely learned when we were very small not to touch.

To give you an idea of how somatic markers work, let’s do a little exercise. Is there a perfume or cologne you can smell and it instantly transports you back in time? Maybe to that first love or even *cringes* that first heartbreak? A song that makes you cry?

Perhaps there is a food you once ate that made you sick and even though there is no logical reason you shouldn’t eat it now, the mere thought of eating it makes you queasy.

These are somatic markers. When it comes to branding, somatic markers are vital.

The Pepsi Challenge

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If you are around my age or older you can remember The Pepsi Challenge. For years, Pepsi had been trying to gain an edge over Coca Cola, which had dominated the soda industry for generations. Pepsi—figuring it had nothing to lose—came up with the idea of setting up a table in stores and shopping malls and encouraging people to take a blind taste test.

The results were astonishing…to Pepsi more than anyone.

In a blind taste test, people preferred the taste of Pepsi. Coca Cola was rattled by this news. They performed the same test and it turned out, people preferred the taste of Pepsi…and this led to brilliant ideas like ‘New Coke’ which was one of the most epic brand failures in business history.

Why did New Coke fail?

Coca Cola reformulated to make the drink sweeter. In blind taste tests, New Coke was a clear winner. So then why did it tank so badly?

Somatic markers.

What Happened? Branding Basics

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Years later, neuroscientists decided to see if they could demystify what happened in The Pepsi Challenge. They conducted the exact same experiment, only this time they hooked participants up to an fMRI machine so they could witness what areas of the brain lit up.

They held the taste test the same way it was conducted in the 70s—a blind taste test. To their amazement, participants preferred the taste of Pepsi in almost the exact same numbers. According to the fMRI, the ventral putamen, the area of the brain that tells us something tastes yummy, lit up like Vegas.

*Some have speculated that when it is only a sip, people will prefer the sweeter drink.*

The ‘Human Factor’ in Branding

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The scientists then decided to try something a bit different. They did the test again, only this time they told the participants what they were drinking. This time, Coca Cola won BIG.

Ah, but something strange happened in the brain. Not only did the ventral putamen light up, but so did the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with emotion and memory.

See, when it was based on taste alone, Pepsi won. But, when the brands were compared, Coca Cola won. The human brain was in a wrestling match between two very different regions—taste and emotional.

Coca Cola had the advantage because of the vast reservoir of fond memories associated with the brand. In short, Coca Cola had a STORY for sale.

Norman Rockwell Americana, cute polar bears, I’d Like to But the World a Coke, every BBQ, summer vacation, rollerskating parties, Friday nights with pizza and on and on all were part of the Coca Cola arsenal. The fond memories (positive somatic markers) associated with the brand literally changed the taste and gave Coca Cola the winning edge.

Somatic Marker Meets Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

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Ever run into a term you KNOW you’ve never heard in your life, then hear it at least four more times in the next week? Or see something you know you’ve never seen before, then suddenly it’s everywhere? Reverse-harems? Punk-Rockabilly-Zydeco? Kombucha?

I’d never heard of Bikram Yoga until a friend told me about it and then…it was everywhere. Following me with sweaty mats…and Kombucha O_O .

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is also known as the frequency illusion or the recency illusion. At first glance, one might think this is why it’s a great idea to automate everywhere! Churn out lots of ads! Exposure! The more people see me, my name, my face, my book, the BETTER!

Follow them to the BATHROOM!

Not so quickly.

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon seems to kick in strongest when there’s some kind of an emotional response tethered to the ‘thing.’ Interestingly, the stronger the emotional response (positive or negative), the more likely we will see that car, food, book, name, that we suddenly believe is now everywhere, surrounding us.

Ah, but when it comes to OUR brand, what emotional response are we creating? Are people seeing our name because of some good encounter? Or do they see it and silently rage because we keep crapping up their feeds with automation? Are we all take and no give?

Ads That Pop-Up & Ads That POP

We see ads all over. More than ever before in human history, which is why our brains are getting so clever with shortcuts. Most ads we literally do not see.

I could take any random person and have them click through twenty pages of BuzzFeed memes and they’ll remember the memes (emotional), but are unlikely to remember most of the ads plastered all along the sides. Though most ads will be invisible, some are not. Some might even leap off the page. Why?

What makes us ‘see’ the advertisement?

When we have a highly positive or vastly negative experience, we’re far more likely to notice the ad.

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If we see an ad for a book, we may or may not notice. But what about an ad for a book written by someone we know? Someone perhaps we talked to and liked? The ad practically leaps from the page. We might even buy it because we SAW her ad and OMG! I know her!

Ads alone have very little power to compel a purchase. But, couple them with a brand (story/narrative/emotional experience), and the odds of a sale greatly improve. This is why ads and promotion alone do very little to impact sales. Until there is a narrative (emotion) attached to the name?

It’s white noise.

Keeping the ‘Social’ in Social Media

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Now that y’all have had a Neuroscience 101 crash course—and I guarantee you will see Baader-Meinhof OR Kombucha at least three times in the next week—let’s get down to what’s most essential. Branding is all story. It’s a collection of emotional experiences that tie our name to some set of descriptors (hopefully positive ones).

Eventually, with love, care and nurturing, followers can become friends and even FANS.

So have fun. Relax. Show up. Be present and engage authentically. Find your tribe and bond. And a great tip for on-line as well as in life?

It is far better to be interested than interesting 😉 .

Feel free to ditch the non-stop jazz hands. It’s all good. Go write more books and enjoy the people you meet along the way.

What Are Your Thoughts? 

Do you now feel way better now that you know why you’ve also heard the term ‘reverse harem’ six times in the past week? Feel extra sassy that you know the term ‘Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?’ Are you already planning ways of using this word in everyday conversation?

Does this take some of the pressure off ‘creating an author brand’?

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is April 19th 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.

For more inappropriate laughs—fine, a totally gallows humor but fast-paced mystery suspense—I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

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I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of April, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

March’s winner will be announced next post. I know I said this post but have been sick and am a writer so I lie 😛 .

 

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Conflict is the core ingredient required for story. It is the magical elixir with the raw power to transform a story we think we’ve heard a million times before into something wholly unique and mesmerizing. FYI, there are no new stories, only new ways of telling the same stories. Just getting that out of the way.

A Thousand Acres is basically King Lear on an Iowa farm, and Avatar is Pocahontas in Space. I could give a zillion more examples but won’t.

In fairness, this makes our job simpler. We really don’t want to create a story no one has ever heard before. Not only because it’s pretty much impossible to do in the first place, but it’s also highly risky even if we managed to pull it off. Why?

Because the story ‘never before told’ cannot possibly resonate emotionally. Humans have no emotional touchpoint for something they’ve never experienced…ever.

Resonance is Critical

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Love gone wrong? Betrayal? Messed up family? Righting wrongs of the past? Clearing one’s name from being falsely accused? Rebuilding after a loss? Finally earning approval, love, or acceptance? Impacts of abuse or addiction?

This stuff we get.

Most humans have real-life experience with these ‘common’ stories. Thus, when we stick to these core human narratives, that’s when we create that deep visceral resonance that ripples through generations of readers. It’s because people can relate.

Suffering is also interesting. What? Humans are morbid. Not MY fault, but definitely good for business if you’re a writer.

Now, the degree of ‘suffering’ obviously is determined by genre (or how bad the writing is).

A cupcake cozy mystery won’t probe at wounds the way a dark literary thriller like Gone Girl might. This doesn’t change that there’s ONE singular ingredient for all stories that must be present or it isn’t a story.

My goal in this series is to explore all the elements of structure, because the purpose of structure is to generate TENSION. Story is a machine. All parts serve a purpose and must work together lest we get screeching, smoke, meltdown, then breakdown.

Before we explore other elements of building a story, let’s discuss conflict.

Conflict

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If we don’t have conflict, we DO NOT have a story. PERIOD.

A story captures us (readers) with a problem, then we turn pages because there are more problems! And we cannot possibly put down a book until we know everything is okay, right?

Few readers—emphasis on FEW—turn pages to see if the writer will use even prettier descriptions, employ even wittier references to obscure literature, or come up with even more clever names for starships/kingdoms/mythical beasts.

Readers aren’t picking up a novel to see if the author knows how to use a thesaurus or test the writer’s vocabulary skills. S.A.T. and G.R.E. prep manuals do that.

Want to read one of those in your spare time? Be my guest.

Granted, everything listed above (prose, description, world-building, excellent vocabulary) can all be wonderful elements to story, but none are powerful enough ALONE to BE STORY. Only one ingredient is inherently potent enough by itself to be considered story.

That ingredient is conflict. Conflict is story.

Here I am referring to BOTH external conflict and internal conflict, though mainly external. One CANNOT exist without the other. External conflict ignites and fans the flames of internal conflict.

Internal conflict alone is the literary equivalent of a diary to our inner child. Only therapists want to read self-exploratory navel-gazing…namely because they’re paid very well to do so.

What’s going to make readers care about internal conflicts are external problems 😉 .

Confusion with Conflict

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Conflict—who generates it and how—can be very confusing. I am here, hopefully, to help you make sense of it all. Today we’ll use broad strokes to help y’all see what I’m wanting you to grasp, then I’ll blog in greater detail on each aspect.

Every novel MUST have a core antagonist. I call this particular antagonist the Big Boss Troublemaker (BBT) to keep it straight in MY head. I do this because a lot of well-meaning craft books (that assumed I was WAY smarter than I was) confused the crap out of me for years by using ‘antagonist’ as a blanket term.

Also, I chose this because Troublemaker is not inherently bad, evil, or nefarious. It’s merely trouble, which is subjective. This distinction (that the BBT is not, by nature, evil) will be important later, especially for certain genres.

EVERY STORY MUST HAVE A BBT. The BBT is responsible for creating the core story problem in need of resolution. When the core problem is resolved, THIS is how we (writer and readers) know the story is over.

***If the Hobbits don’t toss the evil ring in Mt. Doom and destroy Sauron (BBT)? NOPE not over.

Problem is, the BBT—while responsible for creating the core problem—likely isn’t present on every single page. Herein lies the pickle. If the goal is to put conflict on every page, in every line, how can we possibly do that?

Easy. Much of our story’s conflict isn’t necessarily directly a result of the BBT.

In any story, conflict will have many, many faces. Often you’ll hear this referred to as the antagonist. ‘Antagonist’ is a broad term, which includes any character whose goal stands in the way of what the main character desires.

Every character can at one time wear the antagonist hat (which gets shuffled around). Allies and love interests wear it most frequently, believe it or not. I’ll give you examples how, later.

The antagonist in play is almost always a person (corporeal being), which we will get to in finer detail as to why in another post. Suffice to say, humans don’t do so well with existentialism. When our MC is pitted against anything other than another person with an opposing agenda, we risk tanking the conflict.

Bad Situations are NOT Conflict

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Let me repeat. What makes readers turn pages is unresolved conflict. Conflict can only happen when opposing agendas meet.

Kristen’s riffed example:

Fifi, the teenage witch hunter must meet demonically possessed baton twirler at exactly midnight for the critical clue to who/what’s behind the drama nerds going missing.

***See, if the football team was going missing the authorities would care. But Fifi, being a long-time drama nerd and (unfortunately) a brand new witch-hunter knows she must step in to find her friends or no one else will.

This definitely IS a good story problem. Missing friends. Not to mention school administrators would loooove another reason to cut the drama program. It’s a juicy start, but not yet conflict.

For that? Add in *drum roll* MOM.

Mom, who previously worked night shift at the hospital switched THAT morning to day shift, because of her daughter’s strange behaviors and odd injuries. She wants to be there for her daughter, despite the cut in pay.

This means Fifi’s mom will be home, which gives boundless ways for any writer to sadistically torture readers. Mom being home (and NOT working at the hospital) gives a myriad of organic setbacks to generate high tension as Fifi desperately tries to sneak out to meet possessed baton twirler.

The clock ticks ever closer to midnight as Mom overcompensates to assuage her guilt for being previously absentee.

Pumpkin! I hear you’re awake. Hard time sleeping? Hold on! I’ll bring you up some hot milk like I used to.

Is mom BAD for switching to day shift? Is she a villain for not wanting her barely-legal-to-drive teen to leave the house at 11:30 P.M. on a school night (or ANY night)?

No their goals simply conflict.

Conflict is NOT Inherently BAD

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Fifi’s goal is to meet possessed baton twirler to find missing drama nerds and stop the evil force (a noble goal). Mom’s goal is to be a good mom (again, a noble goal).

It is still, however, CONFLICT.

Notice how the external conflict (problems) only exacerbate internal conflict. Fifi is trying to shield her mother from vastly dangerous supernatural forces. Mom is intent on protecting her daughter and making up for being a ‘bad’ mother by being a vigilant mother.

Yet…

As tensions mount, secrets, baggage, and benevolent lies pile up like old rags soaked in ‘oil’ (guilt, remorse, anger) waiting to inevitably go BOOM.

This is why other characters with conflicting agendas are GOLD.

If all that is keeping Fifi from meeting the possessed baton twirler is bad weather, a lost set of keys, twisted ankle, a broken down car, these are bad situations not conflict. Bad situations are useful only for the momentary setback, but they lack the same power to inflame the internal conflict.

Can we use bad situations? HECK YEAH…just not at the expense of authentic dramatic tension, which can only be created by antagonists.

Why the Confusion?

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

One reason many emerging writers get confused (I sure did) is that the term ‘antagonist’ is often used interchangeably with ‘villain’ which is bad (or at lease incomplete) teaching. Not all stories have villains but ALL stories must possess a BBT and antagonists throughout. As y’all see with my Fifi example, Mom is an antagonist, but hardly a villain.

Antagonists are like ice cream, and ‘villains’ are like double-fudge ice cream. While all double-fudge ice cream IS ice cream, not all ice cream is double-fudge 😉 .

Do We NEED a Villain?

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

Yes and no. If your character is up against something existential, that existential thing should be pretty BAD (death, disease, poverty, alcoholism, racism, abuse, etc.). Problem is, these ‘concepts’ need to be represented via a proxy which may or may NOT be a villain.

I know, a brain-bender but work with me. Breathe.

I like to use the example of Steel Magnolias which does have a villain—DISEASE/DEATH. Ah, but the ‘Villain’ BBT is represented via proxy by the daughter Shelby.

Shelby has life-threatening diabetes. She tries to adopt but fails and longs to be a mother. Her decision to get pregnant knowing it very well could cost her life creates the core story problem (making SHELBY the BBT).

M’Lynn is the dutiful mother who’s there to take care of everything and everyone. Her goal is to outlive her daughter, to protect her. To give her very life if need be to save her daughter.

In this situation, however? She can’t. She has no control (which is her problem. btw).

Shelby’s desire to be a mother conflicts with M’Lynn’s desire for her daughter to outlive her and to live a long and happy life.

BUT this decision is critical for M’Lynn for grow, to evolve from being a control freak, and embrace all of life—even the ugly parts—to get to the truly good parts (I.e. the grandson Jackson).

Many Faces of NOPE

Kristen Lamb, writing tips, antagonist, villains, generating conflict in fiction, conflict, dramatic tension, how to sell more books, writing great fiction, how to write great stories, novel structure

All stories must have a BBT that creates the core story in need of being resolved. Once we have defined this core story problem, casting becomes simpler. Ideally, we want to cast an MC who’d rather crawl across razor-wire than confront the story problem. But what is on the OTHER side outweighs the fear (most of the time).

Then we can layer in love interests, allies, threshold guardians, minions and all the BBT has to throw at the MC on every single page. Yes, it CAN be done and I will blog more on how. For more about that now? Buy a copy of HOOKED by Les Edgerton. He’s my mentor and one of the toughest yet finest writing teachers ever.

Anyway, this colorful cast of antagonists (friend and foe) and all their baggage is what will keep readers riveted to their seats wanting to know HOW IT ALL ENDS! By crafting organic opposition onto every page (every line), this is how we steadily wind tension tighter and tighter until it’s almost ready to snap nerves.

Readers will be begging for release. Hey, it isn’t called the climax for nothing *rolls eyes* . Alas, now that y’all grasp what I mean by conflict, we can now proceed to the next layer of learning next post.

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

Or to make stabbing motions at my head with a pen. Die! Die! Kristen we loves you but hates you!

I also am offering my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist on March 15th (7-9 EST) recording included with purchase if you can’t make it. This class is for in-depth training on how to balance all types of antagonists for maximum impact.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Has the term antagonist confused you too? Heck, it sure confused me. Same with conflict. I need more conflict? Okay, I can put in a car chase. Kinda weird for a chick-lit, but alrighty! I do love hearing from you. Where you struggle, because we ALL do. What you want to know more about? Where you get stuck, etc.

I look forward to helping you guys become stronger at your craft. What are some of your biggest problems, hurdles or misunderstandings about plot? Where do you most commonly get stuck?

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of FEBRUARY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

By the way, yes I also offer classes. I want y’all to write amazing books because that means more word of mouth sales. Alas, we still should learn the business of our business so I hope y’all will check out the classes below.

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.