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After publishing Who She Was: A Sylvia Wilcox Mystery, I put my ear to the ground to hear what readers were saying. Overall, the feedback has been positive, but the most common request was for more information about the protagonist. My goal is not inundating readers with information about the main character was based on the idea that I wanted all readers to have access to the participating in the mystery. This worked very well for some readers-mostly the male readers, but the women that read the book wanted more information about Sylvia Wilcox.
I love detective fiction, but I don’t care for heroes that have a significant personal life that pushes the crime-fighting actives to the back-burner. I didn’t anticipate that readers would want to know more about attire and hairstyles because I don’t care about that stuff. My hairstyle consists of a bun, two ponytails, or I get it braided and leave it that way for as long as I can. I also was a tomboy growing up, and I went to a parochial school and loved wearing a uniform. Long before it was cool to do so, I was shopping at thrift stores, but just because this is my philosophy about fashion and hairstyles, it doesn’t mean it needs to be carried over into my fiction. Sylvia Wilcox is her own woman.
Initially, The Remnant, the next book in the series, was going to be released in October. After recognizing that the majority of readers wanted to know more about Sylvia, I decided that Displacement would be the next novel I publish. Displacement is a prequel that will provide the background readers want. So, since the readers wish to have that information, I am going to give it to them.
The Difference Between Keeping Readers Happy, and Responding to Haters
Your readers matter, but haters do not. There will always be negative people who judge and demean your writing. Ignore them. Listen to the people who give you precise feedback on your work, and look for patterns. For example, this request for more information about my protagonist, Sylvia Wilcox, was almost universal. As I mentioned before, most of the male beta readers were okay with the level of detail, but the female beta readers all asked for more information. In Displacement, I will walk a fine line between more details and leaving some elements up to the readers.
I only received negative feedback from a few people, and after considering their comments, I realize that they are not familiar with the genre. So, I’m not going to take their feedback into consideration.
Write For Readers, Not Yourself
I am an avid reader, and I like certain things in my fiction, but my writing can’t be focused on what I want as a reader. I don’t need every single little detail about a character, but some of my readers wish to have more information. I don’t care for the intrusion of a P.I.’s personal life, and Sylvia Wilcox won’t be pinning over some dude instead of solving a crime, but she does have friends and family, and my readers will get to meet them. Initially, I wasn’t really into that idea. Here’s why.
In my favorite book series, I feel that the main character’s romantic relationship feels unnatural at this point. I find myself skipping passages that contain the protagonist’s significant other, but she is mostly insignificant to the story. Other readers have shared similar reactions in their reviews of the series, so I’m not alone in this thinking. But, it seems that the majority of the readers enjoy the love interest, so the author leaves the love interest in the series.
My favorite series detective series is not perfect, but it gives me my psychological thriller fix. The main character is an elitist, causing him to be a bit of caricature, but that only shines through in the first novel of the series. For example, he is a genius who finished university super early, retired in his thirties, a brilliant stock investor, living la Vida Loca, etc., etc., but many fans of the series started reading it in the 1980s. It was a different time, and those elements only begin to stick out if you go back and read the first few novels. Even so, the author is a great success. Why? Because he gave readers what they wanted-psychological thrillers full of details and a crime-solving team with that best of both worlds-a cop and a psychologist. Such a perfect combination!
You Can Write Whatever You Want
Indie authors can write whatever they want, but they aren’t necessarily able to sale those pet projects. You don’t have to worry about writing to any particular market, and you can express every little thought that stomps through your brain. But do readers want to read what you’re writing? Is there a market for your 87-page autobiography? Possibly, but if you’re writing something that doesn’t fit into any genres at all, you might not be able to sell the book. Humans are creatures of habit and we like certain elements in our entertainment. For example, if you’re writing a detective novel that crosses over with romance and fantasy, you might alienate some romance readers, and some that love detective fiction. Again, you can do that, and you might pull it off and become a great success, but it will probably be an uphill battle.
What are others in your genre writing? I am a huge fan of detective novels, so I have an idea of what seems to work in the genre. Of course, I don’t quite have the master chops that more experienced writers have developed, but I understand the basics. Over time, I think sticking with what works, maybe bending a rule or two here or there, will boost the series. The same is true of book covers. When I contacted an artist for my cover design, he wanted to see other covers that I liked, so he could get a feel for what might work for me. As I browsed the covers, some themes emerged. Sure, I could have asked for a cover that went against the grain, but what would that have achieved?
Stay Away From Negativity
Years ago, I published a chapbook of poetry, and I began with a foreword that said, “This book isn’t that great, but thanks for reading it.” One of my friends said, “Hey! I’m not reading this because you’ve already told me it sucks! Don’t ever do that again!” This blunt, but accurate reaction to the foreword of my chapbook was a wake-up call. Positivity will carry you a long way. If you don’t think you can do it, don’t expect your readers to respect your work. When you present your product to the reader, let them know that you’re proud of your work and eager to hear their honest opinion of your work. Stand up, author friends! Be proud of your hard work.
The other day I had a question about Kindle Direct Publishing, so I went to the community boards. I will never make that mistake again. The tone in the Frequently Asked Questions was extremely negative. This made me realize that part of the problem with being exclusive to Amazon, is that I will continuously have to deal with this type of “You owe us” attitude. While I genuinely appreciate what Amazon has done for indie authors, I think there should be mutual respect. In the future, I will email my questions straight to whoever is sitting behind the curtain at KDP. Successful authors don’t allow people to call them “idiots” or tell them to “suck it up.” Instead, successful authors communicate with other positive forces that work in and around the craft of writing, that provide constructive criticism.
Maintaining A Positive Mindset
Every morning, just as the fog of sleep passes, I think this thought, “You are a successful, full-time author.” When I have trouble falling asleep at night, I meditate on the same little mantra: You are a successful, full-time author. You are a successful, full-time author. I keep running that though through my mind until I fall asleep. Repeating this simple sentence in my head encourages me to keep writing when I feel lost in a sea of scenes. As simple as it sounds, your thoughts and feelings are creating what’s coming next in your life. Trust me. This is the case. So make sure that you are thinking about what you want to become.
Where are the readers? How do we reach them? Sales and gaining a following can be difficult, but it is doable if you are patient. One thing we need to consider is the fact that Amazon is NOT everything. Kindle Unlimited is a useful tool for new authors to get their name out into the world, but there are other options. Consider all of your options and don’t limit yourself to the virtual realm. Remember, there is a real-world out there.
There are swarms of people out at the park, the market, museums, your neighborhood-just waiting to buy your book! Hard to believe? Maybe, but you won’t know if they are potential buyers until you’re sure they know your book is out there. One of the biggest surprises I’ve had since publishing my book is the fact that one of my neighbors, someone I never thought would give my book a chance, said she read it and couldn’t put it down. She’s going to suggest it to her book club. What?! I was shocked! If not for my husband telling everyone he comes across about my book, that wouldn’t have happened.
The other day someone ordered six books at once. It turned out to be my sweet sister-in-law! She gave five books away to friends. I was shocked! I haven’t talked to her in a few months, but she was out there, supporting me and I didn’t even know it.
Talk to Strangers
Now that you’re an adult and you know how to navigate interacting with strangers-talk to people you don’t know. I live in a small city, and I am a transplant from another state. I have one friend that lives in my neighborhood, but the rest of the people I interact with are associates or strangers. Some of those people might be interested in my book, so I tell them about it. All I do it mention that I am an author, and people start asking questions. Believe it or not, telling someone that you have written and published a book is a great conversation starter. Tell the nurse at your doctor’s office, the customer service rep at the self-check out station, your distant cousin-you get the idea. Tell EVERYONE! Let those people decide that they aren’t one of your readers. Don’t do that for them by not mentioning your book. Every person you encounter is a potential buyer.
By this time next year, I plan on being in a position where my income from writing has surpassed what I was making as a teacher. Keep in mind that I was only making a pittance as a teacher, so that won’t be hard. With that said, I don’t expect to be buying a BMW at that time. What I hope to be doing is learning how to manage a growing author entrepreneurial business. I’ve already learned so much about the independent author business, that I am positive that my next book will be much better than the first. I also have more information on how to market my book, and the steps I need to take to be a successful authorpreneur.