What Came Before
Every character arrives in your story with backstory. Backstory is what came before in their lives before the story begins. Long ago or maybe just last week, something happened that impacted your character.
In a mystery, you need to know the backstory of your sleuth and each of the suspects, including the perpetrator. If you have additional characters like a sidekick, a mentor, or a love interest, you’ll want backstory for them, too.
All of that backstory goes in your character bible. Most of it stays there.
Backstory helps you, the author, understand your character’s fears and motivations, but you don’t need to tell your reader most of the backstory information. In the same way that only 20 per cent of your research ends up in your story, only a small percentage of backstory shows up in your mystery.
Why You Want Backstory for Your Mystery
A mystery is a puzzle. Your readers are there to try to guess whodunit before your sleuth. You need backstory to create the puzzle. You need to know each of your suspects and what their relationship to the victim was.
Giving your sleuth a backstory deepens the relationship with the reader. Old wounds affect how your sleuth responds to present events in your mystery. Events in the sleuth’s backstory can color his responses to information, causing him to overlook important clues.
The backstories of the suspects (and the villain) are the layers that your sleuth peels back as she ventures into the victim’s world and encounters each of the suspects. Suspects have relationships with each other as well as their individual backstory that can hide or reveal.
Backstory is the foundation of the secrets suspects want to hide and the lies they tell to keep those secrets hidden. Backstory for suspects makes an intriguing mystery as the layers are revealed.
Why You Need to Leave Backstory Out of Your Mystery
Backstory slows down the story. But, backstory colors your character actions. You keep your readers engaged by moving the story forward.
So, how do you get backstory into your mystery?
You may have a suspect who is shy and reticent because her father and all her subsequent boyfriends used emotional bullying. When your sleuth attempts to question her, you describe her actions and her hesitant dialogue. You don’t need to go into a long explanation about her childhood wound. However, if that suspect is the killer because she couldn’t take any more abuse, then you can hint at the backstory as the sleuth gets close to the revelation.
Your main characters—sleuth, sidekick, mentor—bing everything that happened before with them, but you only need to share pertinent backstory as it impacts the story. A good rule of thumb is to wait with backstory until you are about 25 percent into the story.
Even then, backstory comes out the way it does in real life—in bits and pieces. Refrain for dumping long paragraphs of explanation. A sidekick or mentor may mention a point from backstory as it relates to a moment in the story. Or your sleuth may briefly mention a backstory event to build rapport with another character, like a suspect.
You Need Backstory More Than Your Mystery Does
Backstory helps you understand your characters better. What you know adds dimension to the actions and dialogue of your characters. Your main job is to move the story forward. Backstory holds back your story.
When in doubt, leave out backstory.
This will keep your story focused on solving the mystery.
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
Photo by Merakist on Unsplash
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.
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
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.