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Learn from Top Indie Authors

I’ve taken the following data from this excellent report by Meaghan Gray, which is well worth reading in full. Here are the top 20 indie authors for June 2012:

1. C J Lyon, thrillers ‘with heart’ i.e. romance along the way

2. Bella Andre – sensual romance, erotica

3. Jamie McGuire – contemporary romance

4. Antoinette Stockenberg – romantic suspense

5. Marie Force – contemporary romance

6. Barbara Freethy – romantic suspense, contemporary romance

7. Huge Howey – science fiction

8. Kristen Ashley – romance

9. Colleen Hoover – various fiction, drama

10. Gemma Halliday – thriller

11. Stephanie Bond – humorous mysteries with touch of romance

12. Liliana Hart – humorous mystery with touch of romance

13. John Locke – thriller

14. Rebecca Forster – legal thriller

15. Bob Mayer – thrillers

16. Lisa Renee Jones – contemporary, sensual fiction

17. Jon F Merz – YA adventure

18. Judy Angelo – contemporary romance

19. Ruth Cardello – contemporary romance

20. Kathleen Brooks – romantic suspense

These guys are all selling 20,000 plus a month, up to over 90,000. We have 5 thriller writers, 12 with a romantic bent, 1 sci-fi, 1 YA and 1 general fiction. Fairly conclusive as to what sells I think. I have to say I’m extremely surprised that there’s no paranormal romance in these 20. They start appearing a little further down the top 100 list. That seems to be a red hot genre these days.

What emerges from indie lists like this is clearly what the low budget book buyer likes to read. There’s no pretentious literary fiction here. We’ve got solid stories with love and adventure – pleasurable escapism.

For comparison, I checked the top 20 bestsellers for paying (as opposed to free) books at Smashwords. We have a much wider range of genres including cookery, erotica, crafts (felting), paranormal, romance and sports. The only author from this list is Kristen Ashley who appears three times, which is very impressive. She’s clearly doing everything right and I’m about to buy a couple of her books and see if I can discover her secret! I suggest you do the same. A quick browse of her novels shows that on the whole they’re big – many are 130,000 words plus, up to over 200,000 words, which is quite unusual. We’re often told by publishers that 75,000 words is what most people want. Seems they don’t. Also, Kristen has a mix of series (Rock Chick) and standalones and covers quite a wide variety of themes. She’s a very flexible as well as extremely fast writer. And she goes for cool names for her characters. We have Knight, Grayson, Tor, Prentice, Ivey, Kane, Jet, February, Indy, Mara, Tyra, Cora (definitely a bit of a pattern with girls’ names ending in ‘ra’!) Also, she generously offers up to 50% samples on Smashwords. So – already we’ve picked up three tips on being successful; long books, cool character names and generous samples. Even if you feel you couldn’t write a romance novel to save your life, you can use those tips for whatever genre you do fall into.

Make it a weekly habit to pick an author from a bestselling list (e.g. Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble), preferably well up there, and read at least a sample of their work to see what you can glean from it. Go to their website, follow them on Twitter and see if there’s anything you can learn from them in terms of promotion. Compile your own notes and build up a database on successful authors and books. Learn from the indie leaders.

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Getting serious plus a few tips

It’s time I rolled my sleeves up and got serious about this blog. I’ve achieved a lot of success with my other blog, Blog in France, which is about the many facets of life as an expat. That success came purely and simply from putting the effort in on it and creating interesting content.

So, I’ll do the same here. I shall endeavour to post every day and settle on a definite direction for this blog. It’s a bit erratic at the moment, but it’s early days yet. So bear with me. I’ll hope you’ll see a definite improvement before too long.

And to give you something to think about today, here are five writing tips from the website:

It behooves the writer to avoid archaic expressions.

One should not shift from the third person to the second person when you write.

I once read that splitting modifiers was wrong in the library.

It is generally recommended that the use of the passive be minimized.

Write assertively, I think.

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5 Things You Need To Know Before You Start Writing

Five things you have to know before you start writing are:

  • your plot
  • your characters
  • your genre
  • your voice
  • your limits!
Maybe this is going to happen in your story?

1. Know your plot – I’m as guilty as anyone here for having only a vague idea of how things are going to turn out when I sit down at my computer and start to type. I make use of mindmapping these days to help me devise an interesting plot and keep me on track. It’s likely that your story may start to take its own direction once you’ve begun. Think about this. If that’s OK, and you can replot successfully, then go with it, but if the change of direction is only going to derail you in the long term, then be firm and get back to your blueprint.

2. Know your characters – not necessarily all of them, as who knows what minor ones are going to appear along the way. But you must have a concrete idea of what your main characters are like – their names, ages, shoe sizes, favourite colours and foods, senses of humour. I’m not kidding. And you have to know how they’re going to react to what you’re about to throw at them as the plot unwinds. The more you know about each character, the easier it will be to write about them.

3. Know your genre – what sort of book is it going to be? Steamy sex romp? Genteel historical drama? Fast-moving spy thriller? Children’s non-fiction? The type of book is central to all the other facets here. It will determine the sort of characters that will appear, what the plot is going to be, the vocabulary, the voice you will use. You can mix and match genres to some extent – for example, a romantic interlude in a hard-hitting cops and robbers story won’t come amiss – but there has to be one overriding one that will become the soul of your writing.

4. Know your voice – first person or third person? First person is more fun to write and it’s easy to construct a personality for the book to work through. But its limitations are that this person can only know so much of what’s going on around him or her. And if you use first person, is it you with your personality, or are you going to be stepping in someone else’s shoes? The third person gives you an all-seeing eye, allows you to swap between characters easily, but the disadvantages are, in my opinion, that it can easily become passive, and definitely convoluted when describing action involving two characters of the same sex. ‘His’, ‘her’, ‘him’ and ‘she’ become confusing, and the only way around that is to use clumsy over-explanatory sentences.

5. Know your limits! You know your energy levels, your time available, your likes and dislikes, your strong points and weaknesses. Work within those and you’re much more likely to be successful. Don’t set your sights on writing a ten-book historical saga when your preferred medium is the short story. You can’t organise your way out of a paper bag? Maybe best not sketch out that complicated, internationally-ranging, high-tech thriller.

You know what you can do. Now do it!