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The Wicked Writing Blog

Welcome to the home of writing award ideas and practical advice for story contest success. Fun and sheer tomfoolery are never far away. Feel free to add your comments. (To comment on a post, or see the comments there, simply click on its title.)


How To Sell Your Story: The Zombie Ice-Cream Wagon Gambit

September 26, 2014

You’ve tweeted and blogged and networked till you’re blue in the face but you still can’t get people to read your stories. What do you do? Author Nigel da Silva suggests you slap yourself around the head, gently - and take a radically new approach.

Do you agree with his ideas? Or not? Please leave a comment!

One rainy afternoon I was watching a Clint Eastwood movie  - Magnum Force I think it was. After the umpteenth gun fight, the last body has slumped to the ground and the explosions have died down… Dirty Harry comes out with a line that perfectly sums up how to sell books.

“A man's gotta know his limitations.”

It has utterly transformed the way I sell my work.

Let me explain; before you can make any headway with a project, you've got to know your weaknesses. When you know your weaknesses, you can identify your strengths.

And then play to them.

What are my strengths? One of the biggest is my chutzpah. I have no shame. I’ll do almost anything to sell a book… OK, anything.

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important for any venture you can think of, of course. But in this weird, arcane business of selling your own book, it’s vital.

The indie book explosion.

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing - but more books are being published now than ever before in history. Thanks to self-publishing, over 10 thousand new books are hitting the shelves (and internet) every month.

Let that figure roll around your mind like a fine wine – or possibly a cheap and nasty one.

Some 20 odd years ago, if you'd written a stinker and couldn't find an agent or a publisher who’d touch it with a cocktail stick, you'd just slink off into some dark pit, lick your wounds, and write a better book … or give up and begin the long descent into bitterness, alcoholism and cocktail sticks.

Not any more. These days we can choose to give two fingers to the agents and the publishers and - regardless of the quality of our manuscript (or lack of it) - we can just get the thing printed or ebooked ourselves. (Is ebooked a word? It is now).

But there’s a lot of competition out there. A lot.

Many of these writers will have read tons of books on how to sell their books (Hmmm, there’s a profitable idea. A book on how to sell a book?) Tweet! Blog! Suck up to journalists! Schmooze the reviewers! Scatter your books like confetti, and pray that they will eventually end up in front of an influential ‘Player’.

Well... I'm not saying it doesn't work. But it’s probably not going to work - because there are a million writers out there, all screaming and yelling from the roof-tops. Just like you.

So you become a nightingale, trying to be heard above a chorus of raucous seagulls.

Yes, tweeting and blogging and schmoozing until your liver collapses can work. Perhaps. But is it your strength? Maybe not. So I'd suggest you do something different. What? (I hear you ask.)

First, this doesn’t work.

When my first book came out many years ago, my friend Ryan, whom I knew though writing and producing TV commercials, suggested making a video to help me plug the thing. My book was Old Quint’s Fairytales … the Real Endings. 

I’d affected a beard (what is this thing about writers and beards?) and I recall looking soulful and borderline suicidal (the public kind of expect it) in front of the camera as I mumbled on about the book.

But the problem - the elephant in the living room - was that author videos are, by definition, mind bogglingly boring. Who wants to see an author yakking on about their book? Even if it's J.K. Rowling or a drunk Hemingway? It's still tedious stuff.

And it was a spectacular failure. Predictable, really.

So what now?

This time, along with all the bloggin' 'n' the tweetin', I’ve decided to do something different, imaginative and unexpected. Am I not a writer? And creative?

First, I researched my prey err, potential readers. It seems, a certain kind of person reads zombie books. Yes, and writes them too. (You at the back! Stop sniggering).

So I’m going to build an armoured ice cream van and park it at the end of the next Zombie Walk. This is an event where people dress up as zombies and walk through a town. Last year Brighton, England hosted 5000 zombies and in three weeks time I’ll be there to give away 500 signed, bound copies of the first chapter of The Zombie Narratives.

Will it work? Who knows? What I do know is that I will be in front of the right sort of people … and, just as important, I’ll have fun.

Now I'm not saying that building armoured ice cream vans are the way forward for any up-and-coming author. And I'm not saying that you shouldn't be blogging and twittering and plundering the internet until your fingers and eyes bleed.

But what I do know is that if you're not good at that, and your heart's not in it, it’s going to be a hell of an uphill struggle because you'll be competing against authors who love it and who are very, very good at twittering and bloggerising.

Work out your weaknesses. Identify your strengths. Apply them.

Here’s my unofficial, incomplete, somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of unlikely - and possibly wrong - ways to get your book noticed.

1. If you're a bit of a charmer and good with people, then you should be meeting people in person. Don't waste your time on e-mails. Schmooze the bookshop owners and the festival directors in person.

2. If poetry is your thing, then start tweeting in haikus.

3. If you’re funny, then find yourself a vehicle to start making people laugh. Go to a comedy club and plug your book in between laughs. If you’re really getting the laughs, give up writing and become a comedian.

4. Anyone who tells you that there is some magic bullet out there that will turn your book into a bestseller is a charlatan. There isn't. With so many books flooding the market, even a lot of really good books are sinking without trace.

5. You've got to be much more clever when it comes to selling your book. It's no good just doing what every other author is doing. Blogging and tweeting may have shifted a ton of books ten years ago but I think that bandwagon has now disappeared over the horizon. (Feel free to disagree).

What’s the next new thing that will replace blogging and tweeting to sell your book? I have no idea. (Answers on a postcard, please. Hm, has anyone tried postcards?)

6. The only thing that is really going to sell your book (brilliant writing excepted, but even that is no guarantee these days) is a clever, quirky idea that is... FRESH. New! And you're the one who has to work out what it is.

As Dirty Harry so succinctly put it … “Ya gotta know ya limitations”.

But there’s no limitation on
clever, quirky ideas. So what ideas do you have for getting folk to read your stories? Tell me. Leave a comment. Please!

Nigel ‘LJ’ Da Silva
, BSc*. Freelance scribbler for fun and profit. Grew up in Mooloolabah, Australia where eccentric pursuits like reading and writing were viewed with deep suspicion, unless they needed someone to read the label on the sheep dip. As a Captain in the Australian army he worked in the PR/Intelligence section and would write a book about his experiences… if he thought anyone would believe them.

He continues writing commercially as he lacks the skills or talents to get what many would consider a ‘real job’. * Bronze Swimming Certificate

How To Open Your Story: Three Dynamic Ways

September 19, 2014

‘My life began the day I shot my psychiatrist and started an illicit relationship with the bishop’s tortoise.’

Are you still with me? Of course, you are. A story that opens with an intriguing mystery (let's call it the Tortoise Trick), is a story that gets read. And we don’t have a second chance. The first paragraph is the advertisement for our story.

Imagine if an advertiser started with his name, the dimensions of his factory and the biography of his parents. Would we buy his p...

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Writing Rules: Should You Ignore Them?

September 12, 2014

There’s only one thing wrong with the Great Rules of writing. They don’t work. Or so suggests author Reen Collett. In this provocative guest post, she argues that we all pay too much attention to the ‘rules’ of writing, at the expense of our writing. Do you agree or disagree? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Who was that person who first said "Rules are made to be broken"? She can come right over here so I can shake her hand!

We novice writers are unnecessarily cowed...

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How to turn a mid-book crisis into a writing triumph

September 6, 2014

Have you ever faced a mid-book crisis? You’re halfway through writing a story and you realize it’s going nowhere. So how do you rescue it? Writing coach Renee Vaughn reveals a simple secret for turning a so-so story into a literary classic - but it’s a secret you might not expect!

It happens to the best of us. Has it happened to you?

What starts as a great idea for a book with an intriguing plot full of complex characters, lyrical language, tantalizing twists and incredible imagery ...

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A Painless Way To Get Your Book To Market

August 29, 2014

‘I’m a writer, not a publicist!’ Have you ever said that when you found that your publisher – howsoever prestigious – expected you to do all the work of marketing? Of course, if you self-published your book, you knew from the start that you faced a long, weary campaign of self-promotion.

But does promoting a book
have to be all hassle and hazard?

No! In this guest post, author Stuart Aken reveals a way to do it that’s both painless and fun. He also challenges the myth that you...

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Five Top Tips For Being A Happy Writer

August 22, 2014

Are you a ‘true’ writer or a happy writer? Is it possible to be both? In this guest post, Gemma Hawdon argues that the Five Habits Of Highly Successful Authors that we’ve had drilled into us may not be true at all. In fact, they could be seriously injurious to our peace of mind.

Recently, I questioned my sincerity as a true writer.
You see, I returned from a five-week trip to Europe with a blank notebook. I didn’t write a word. Not even one. I roamed the cobbled streets of Fren...

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How To Write A Kindle Best Seller

August 8, 2014

Help! Our brains are exploding. Or rather, shrinking. This is not a metaphor but a serious scientific conjecture. Bear with me while I predict the decline of literature as we know it. Then I'll show you how to write a Kindle best-seller. Sound like a deal?

Back to the shrinking brain...

In his landmark book The Shallows Nicholas Carr shows lucidly how the Internet is, literally, rewiring our brains and making us more stupid.  The last thing that Internet services like Google want ‘is t...

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John Yeoman

Dr John Yeoman, MA Oxon, MPhil, PhD Creative Writing, FSRS*  is a UK university tutor in the short story. He has 42 years experience as a successful commercial writer, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy.

He has published innumerable works of humour, some intended to be humorous.

* Founder, the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Semi-colon