Reach out to Readers
As a new author, you can take advantage of social media to get your writing out in the world and find new fans.
Social media are websites and applications where users create and share content and participate
in social networking. These platforms are a great place for readers to discover you. You can share your author life, your progress on your book, and other “authorly” tidbits about writing and the challenges you face.
You are probably on one or more social networks now as an individual. As an author or soon to be author, your focus is business. Your author shares on social media are about writing and you as an author. Your best strategy is to have separate accounts for your writing life. That way you can continue your personal shares but focus your professional shares on your writing.
Social Media Platforms
Each social media platform has a unique audience and a different way of sharing. You’ll need to experiment to find which platform gives you the most traction.
An author page is the place to focus on your works and anything about your genre. This is a Facebook business page and tends to be the choice for most writers.
Later on, when your book is published, your author page gives you control over marketing and using Facebook to promote your email newsletter list and your book through advertising.
In addition, your page allows you to create a group for your fans where they can meet and chat with you and other fans.
The twitter feed moves fast. Tweets are short. Use hashtags to target readers interested in your genre. Twitter posts do best with an image, so stock up on your images.
Twitter is also a great place to meet other authors and editors.
Instagram is imaged based. And, you can use multiple hashtags to garner new followers.
If you have a Facebook author page, you can connect your Instagram account and your page. You’ll give both an added boost.
Instagram attracts young people. If your book is targeted
toward younger readers, it’s a great social platform.
Instagram is a mobile app, you’ll be posting and responding on a mobile device like your phone or tablet.
Yes, YouTube is a social platform. If you like making videos or going live to chat with your readers, YouTube is the second largest search engine. You can connect with readers with tags for every video and share information in the video description.
These four social media platforms are the most productive for authors. Other choices include Goodreads as an author and Pinterest.
How to Choose A Social Media Platform
If you are already on one or more social platforms, you have an idea of how comfortable you are working with posting and responding on those platforms. You also know that social media can be a time suck. You could spend all day on any one social media platform.
Starting your author social media life can feel overwhelming if you spread yourself over several social media platforms. The best way to begin is to choose one and focus your writer promotion there. Remember that you are promoting your business. Have fun, but keep the focus professional.
Consider how you are most comfortable. If you like
sharing text Facebook is your best social medium. If you love sharing images, you may want to focus on Instagram or Pinterest. If you love video and connecting with viewers, YouTube or going live on your Facebook page may be your preference.
As a writer, you want to spend your time writing. Social media takes time. Use discernment and discretion to steward your time. Yes, marketing is part of being an author, but don’t get caught in a social media
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Connect with Your Readers
While you are writing your mystery novel, your work on your author platform improves the success of your book launch once the story is finished. Your website gives readers a place to discover you and your work. An email list gives you a way to communicate with these readers and build enthusiasm.
When you send an email to a reader, it’s a personal note from you to that particular reader. You want to bring them in on the story of your book success.
There are quite a few steps to setting up a successful email connection with your readers. Take them step-by-step. You don’t have to do them all in one day.
Create A Giveaway
Create a giveaway for readers who join your email list. This is your gift to them for connecting with you. You give the reader a free gift for signing up for your email newsletter. You want to make it something related to your mystery. You will build interest in your story, before it is completed.
Make your giveaway as a first-time author simple. The main objective is to build a stronger connection with you and your story.
Format your giveaway to make it easy to send as an email attachment. For short pieces use a PDF. If you wrote a novella, use BookFunnel to distribute the story in the reader’s preferred format. BookFunnel distributes your book in .mobi, .epub and PDF files according to the reader’s choice.
Set Up Your Email Provider
An email provider does the heavy lifting of sending emails to subscribers. Using an autoresponder, the email provider automatically sends a sequence of emails and delivers your giveaway. This saves you the time of responding to each reader individually.
When you start out there are email providers that are
free for small lists. Many authors use MailerLite which is free for up to 1000 subscribers.
Set up your email list. Add yourself to the list to check that all your emails go out. Write a sequence of welcoming emails for your autoresponder.
Create your invitation to join the list (landing page). Most email service providers also offer a landing page. Entice people to join with your free giveaway. Send people to your landing page from your website and social media.
Create a sequence of emails to go to people who join your list. Write a sequence of welcoming emails for your autoresponder (MailerLite, MailChimp, Aweber, etc.). Here are prompts for creating your sequence and the timing to send out.
Write to One Person
Always compose your email message as if the reader is the only person receiving the message. The more personal you are, the better your email reader feels about your message. You care about your readers. Let your email messages show you care about the person who is reading the message.
Decide on a Communication Schedule
Once you have created your autoresponder introductory messages, you want to keep in touch with your subscribers on a regular basis. Consistency is critical. It’s better to write one message per month every month than promise weekly updates and skip a couple of weeks.
Timing is up to your personal choice. Every day is too often. Readers will feel overwhelmed and unsubscribe to stop receiving your messages. Consider all the time you have and make a commitment to including your regular messages.
What To Include in Your Email Newsletter
Keep your regular newsletter friendly and informative. Share your something of yourself as a person as well as writing progress.
Your message doesn’t need to be long. Readers are busy. Always ask a question at the end, like what books are you reading? Or who is your favorite detective? Encourage engagement and communication with you.
Most authors agree that getting responses from readers is exciting. Reply to each communication you receive. Build rapport and trust with just a simple reply.
Your Treasure Trove of Readers
People who subscribe to your email list, want to hear from you. They care about your writing journey.
Your email list belongs to you. Email is the best way to stay in touch with readers and build your fan base.
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You As An Author
It’s never too early to start your transition from writer to author. Once you start writing your mystery, spend some time establishing your presence as an author. You’ll be building your author platform where you tell readers about your book. Once your novel is published, you’ll have your author platform well in hand.
You’ll want basic marketing materials with information about you and your books to share in as many ways as possible. When you start early you’ll give yourself time to create a solid professional message about you and your books.
The Business Mindset
Business mindset differs from your creative writing mindset. You’ll be learning about creating your author identity, marketing strategies, collecting and managing information (data) about your readers and sales, and other business details.
Learn from other businesses, including other authors. Set aside time in your schedule to focus on the business side of your author life. Be willing to start and willing to learn. Authors who embrace the business side create success. The basic principles of an author business mindset will get you started on your author business journey.
With a business mindset, you don’t give up creativity. Instead, you use it in a different way
Create Your Marketing Platform
Your marketing platform is essential to your author business. Whether you are traditionally published or self-published, you need that platform. Creating your author platform takes time. Don’t try to do it all at once. Take a methodical, step-by-step approach to get the details right.
Agents want to see your platform before they represent your book. Many agents will not accept a book unless you have a platform designed and in place. A good reason to start early.
You will co-promote with a traditional publisher. The reason the agent wants to see your author platform is that publishers want to know you put energy into promoting your book(s).
If you are self-publishing, you will spend time weekly if not daily promoting your work.
How to Start Your Author Platform
Creating your author platform takes time. Don’t try to do everything at once. Give yourself a month to set up your author platform activities. Setting these things up now teaches you a very useful skill for authors: dividing your time between writing and marketing. If you are serious about your author career, you need to learn this time management skill.
Before you establish your platform you need to prepare some basic materials. Keep these on hand for guest blog posts, podcast invitations, and media like print, television, and radio.
1. Write a description of your book. You will probably revise this many times but write one. Pretend you are writing the blurb for the back cover.
2. Write an author bio for yourself. You will need several. A short one, 25-30 words, to post at the end of articles or on social media that does not allow for a long description, like Twitter. Then write at least two more, a 100-word bio and a 300-word bio. If you hire a publicist or decide to do your own publicity, you may want a 1000-word biography as well. You will probably rewrite these many times but start with something now.
3. Create a formal portrait of yourself both color and black and white. You can do this yourself with a plain background or hire a professional photographer.
4. Create a cover image for your book. You’ll want this for your website and any promotions you may do.
Once you’ve created the content for your platform, you are ready to build your platform where future readers can learn about you and your books. Start with an author website.
Create Your Author Website
Your own author website is the foundation of your author platform. It’s your author base camp. Any sharing you do later on social media or with email campaigns will direct readers to your website.
You can use free website services like WordPress.com or Wix to get started. If you have time and resources, you can become more involved and intricate with a self-hosted website using WordPress.org. You will need to monitor and update the self-hosted website for updates or hire someone to manage the site for you. If you have a large budget, you can hire a website designer to create a site for you. If you do, make sure you have access to add and change the content.
Basic Pages for Your Website
Your website will have several pages. You can add more, but here are the basic pages you’ll need to get started.
As you can see, there’s a lot of work in creating an author platform. But, there’s more. Next week, in Part 2, I’ll talk about connecting with readers with email. And, in Part 3, we’ll look at social media.
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Reader Curiosity and Attention
The title of your mystery is one of the first things a reader sees. Your title and your book cover are two of the first things a prospective reader uses to make a decision
to read your story. The title of your book may not change the story but it can change a potential buyer’s interest.
A title that is interesting, catchy, and relevant to your story has a better chance to get a reader to buy your book. The title of your novel creates a connection with your potential readers.
Tucker Max of Scribe stresses the selling potential of a title:
The title of your book is–by far–the most important book marketing decision you’ll make.
Your choice directly impacts the buyer’s first impression.
Brand Awareness and Genre Targeting
Memorable titles help readers connect the title with your name. Your author name is your brand. When readers associate your name with the book you write, you build your brand awareness. Authors who offer more than one book benefit by creating titles similar in format and concept.
Features of a Good Title
You have several options for creating a book title, but all good titles have elements in common:
These guidelines make your title recognizable, targeted toward your genre, and easy for someone to remember when they recommend your book. Your book will get noticed, be remembered, and shared with other potential readers.
Create Your Book Title List
Your title is a marketing tool, so choose your title with your reader in mind. Your reader is someone who enjoys books in your genre. Use a marketing filter when you think about your book title. Get the essence of your book, then add words with emotional hooks.
Finding the right title for your book is a brainstorming process. Start large. Think of as many titles as possible first. Take time. Work the process over at least a few days if not weeks. Every time you think of a title possibility, write it down. While you are in the stage of compiling ideas, don’t judge, just add title ideas to your list.
Look at the titles of your successful competitors. Knowing how successful authors in your genre use titles to sell books is a good guideline for how to think about framing your title.
Make a list of potential titles. Start your title idea list while you are writing and keep adding to the list as you get new ideas.
Once you have a sense of the titles that sell in your genre, brainstorm titles for your manuscript. Is your story steamy or sweet, action-packed or literary? Dark and chilling, or light-hearted and cozy? Think of words and phrases that capture the tone of your manuscript.
Go through your manuscript looking for phrases, including dialogue, that reflect the essence of your story. Think of your story theme or the major conflict. Is there a quote—poetry or Biblical—that suits your novel?
The idea is to gather as many title possibilities as you can. Then play with your current title collection by trying one of these tricks:
At the end of this process, you’ll have a long list of title ideas.
Pro Tip: Make sure the title you use is not already popular.
Narrow Your List
Brainstorming is playful and fun, but once you have a big title list, you need to narrow down the options.
Review the titles of successful books in your genre. Evaluate which of your titles best suit your genre, and remove the rest from the list. This should turn your long range of options into a more focused shortlist.
Test Your Title
Before you make a final decision, get feedback. Use vehicles to test your title. Informal choices from friends and family may be instant feedback but not always the best marketing judgment.
If you have a reader fan base, send a survey. Use quick tools like SurveyMonkey or a Google Form to compare choices.
Get feedback from real readers customers with PickFu.
Your novel title is a first-level marketing tool. Use a brainstorming process. Guide your decision by the novel’s genre. Then, test for feedback before you make your final decision.
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Who Is Talking?
How your characters speak reveals their personality. Especially in mysteries, characters reveal their character, even when they try to hide it. The challenge for writers is to make the language each character uses, appropriate to that character and distinct from other characters in the story. That way, readers understand who is talking.
Dialogue is a verbal action. When a character speaks, they are actively moving the story forward. When the language, rhythm, and voice is clear for each character, your dialogue not only flows in your story you’ll minimize the need for repetitive dialogue tags.
Preparing for Dialogue
The best way to write distinctive dialogue is to know your character.
Capture the details to make each speaker in your novel unique. Use syntax, vocabulary, and tone to help your reader understand who is speaking. The more you individualize speech, the better your reader understands the character.
Dialogue in Your Story
When you understand your character, you get inside their head and think the way they think. What they say, in dialogue, reflects their thinking. Understanding your character’s motivation helps you create dialogue unique to that character.
Talking like your character becomes innate the more you understand. You’ll avoid dialogue traps that beginning writers often make.
If you think of dialogue as action, you will avoid these dialogue traps because the words your character says reflect the character’s inner workings in the same way other actions do. When you know your characters well all the actions, including dialogue, come from internal motivation.
Characters speak when they need rather than you thinking I need some dialogue here. You’ll stop worrying about getting dialogue right,
and use it as another storytelling tool.
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Thrillers and Crime and Mysteries, Oh My!
Terminology can be bewildering. New writers need to be clear about their genre because readers of each genre have expectations about what the story will deliver. Knowing your genre facilitates marketing to reach the right readers who will appreciate and enjoy your novel.
In thrillers, the clock is ticking. The protagonist is vulnerable and must achieve their goal before time runs out. Whether it’s getting out of a capture situation or preventing the assassination of the prime minister, the protagonist works against the clock.
The crime fiction label is muddled because what Americans call mystery is called crime in the UK. Crime fiction involves a law enforcement protagonist pitting wits against a known outlaw adversary. The crime novel deals with the concept of the nature of justice.
In a mystery novel, the protagonist, either a professional or amateur sleuth, works through a discovery process to reveal the person who committed a crime, usually murder. A mystery emphasizes the solving of the crime.
Components of a Mystery
For your mystery to resonate with mystery genre fans, the novel needs certain elements that readers expect in a mystery. Whether you decide to opt for traditional publishing or independent (self) publishing, readers, including agents, will expect your novel to contain the key mystery components.
The Mystery Elements of Your Novel
When you understand the basic elements of a mystery novel, your planning and writing go faster. A mystery is more than just catching the bad guy. You’ll be on your way to writing a mystery reader’s love by meeting reader expectations.
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How to Add Empathy to Your Fiction Detective
Every fictional detective has skills. Which skills and how they are used are up to you, the author. These skills help your reader admire your detective especially whey he meets confrontations and obstacles. But, your detective’s flaws are the intersection where readers empathize.
Readers empathize with shortcomings. Your detective’s skills impress the reader, his flaws make readers care. Flaws give you opportunities to create obstacles in your story. And, small flaws are just as powerful as the big ones. Flaws don’t necessarily need to cause extreme angst. A scatterbrained sleuth in a cozy mystery can leave her keys, forget to add salt to the cake, or forget where she saw the important clue. Your readers understand these setbacks.
A set of smaller flaws adds dimension to your character in a way that one large one cannot. In addition, you have more ways to set more obstacles in your story.
Defects for Your Detective
Most mystery writers are familiar with the detective who struggles with an addiction to alcohol. You may choose to hop on the train or create distinct flaws for your character.
When you give your protagonist reasons for doubt and guilt
the emotions affect decisions and actions. Your sleuth will want to hide these flaws. Each time one comes to light your protagonist has an emotional response. The defects and the protagonist’s responses create a believable human character. Embarrassment, guilt, and shame are powerful emotions that help your reader form an emotional connection with your sleuth.
Balance Positive and Negative Traits
Balance traits like intelligence, attractive looks, and positive qualities like generosity, kindness, and good humor with defects that create an engaging character.
Instead of one large flaw, give your protagonist breadth with a collection of flaws. Every time you create conflict for your sleuth, you invite reader empathy. As an author, you create more ways to frustrate your sleuth as he heads toward discovering the killer. Obstacles create tension. Tension keeps readers turning pages.
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Work With Details
As a novelist, you have the ability to use details to create the mystery in your story. Skilful use of details can hide clues, mask suspect responses, and create impactful settings. Details give you the power to guide your reader through the story.
Add details to your mystery as you write. Planning gives you broad strokes, but the writing process is the place to add details.
Because you build your story scene by scene, you have ample opportunity to use details to create the tone, hint at suspect culpability, and add clues and red herrings as your novel progresses.
For mystery writers, strategic use of details amplifies the mystery around each of the details.
The Small Bits that Build Your Story
When you begin your mystery, the concept of using details can seem overwhelming. In the planning stage, break down your story into manageable sections like chapters and scenes. As you write each scene add details. Whether you plant clues, reveal red herrings, create suspicion about a suspect, or foreshadow a thrilling climax details keep your reader interested in the page they are reading now.
Broad strokes work as you are planning, but when you write, details enrich the reader’s experience of the story page-by-page.
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Be Good to Your Reader
Choosing suspects for your mystery novel begins when you flesh out your story idea in the planning stages. As you create your character bible adding suspects to your mystery novel you aim for a balance between enough characters to challenge your sleuth and your reader and too few suspects.
If your mystery has only two or three suspects your reader won’t feel challenged. You will be challenged creating material to flesh out a novel of 65,000 to 85,000 words. If you have ten or more suspects you’ll confuse your reader. They’ll find it hard to keep all the suspects clear in their head. Which one was George? Was he the tailor or the neighbor? When was he introduced?
Whenever you stop a reader in your story you run the risk of them being unsatisfied or putting down your book and not returning. For an average length mystery (65,000 to 80,000 words) choose between five and eight suspects.
Introduce Your Suspects
Introduce each suspects so your reader has a clear idea of their identity and their context in the story. Each character forms an impression with your reader so they recognize that character as they appear throughout the story.
You won’t go wrong by starting with the context for each suspect and then working out the details. You can always change red hair to blond, or change a character's name. The context helps your reader understand that suspect’s role in the story.
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Why Tension? Isn’t A Mystery a Puzzle?
A mystery is a story. A good story of any genre needs tension. Tension is what keeps readers reading. Without tension your story can feel episodic with no push for the reader to continue.
What is tension in a story? It’s the state of being stretched tight. In a story, tension applies to a character’s mental and emotional state. In order for readers to feel tension, they must care about the character. When a reader empathizes with the character and the character is confronted with an obstacle, the reader feels the tension.
Escalate the Tension
You create the story by writing scene by scene. Each scene has some type of tension. Build story suspense by increasing the difficulty of the challenges to your protagonist, the sleuth.
Planning your mystery helps with ever-increasing difficult challenges. Start with small ones and build to the final confrontation.
How To Build Tension in Your Mystery
Use a variety of techniques to keep your reader reading by challenging your sleuth in many ways. Don’t forget that the mental and emotional state of your sleuth are the keys to getting your reader involved.
Vary your use of tension-building devices. A conflict similar to the one your hero faced before lessens the tension. Think conflict variety.
Aim to escalate the the conflict as you build tension. Otherwise, your mystery will feel episodic with one sequence following another but without raising the stakes.
Pace Your Moments of Tension
In a mystery, the major tension is solving the puzzle of who killed the victim(s). Each additional moment of tension holds reader interest. Pace your tension building moments at major story points. Escalate the stakes along the way. Keep your revelation to the end of the mystery, so your reader guesses along with your sleuth.
You’ll keep your puzzle agreement with your mystery reader and maintain their involvement by telling a great story filled with conflict.
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Zara Altair, Author
The puzzle of politics, the mystery of murder in ancient Italy. After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths.