Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Teaching Tom" book blurb reveal

I am very excited to reveal the book blurb for "Teaching Tom". This is blurb version number fifteen, I think. 

Tom has everything he ever wanted, thanks to Tori. In the two years since he conquered her heart, their love has grown to the point where Tom has to regularly pinch himself to check if he’s living a dream too good to be true.
But when tragedy strikes Tom’s family, the dream soon turns into a nightmare. Tom makes a couple of bad decisions that will have disastrous consequences. The love that he and Tori believed was unshakeable becomes severely tested. Ravaged by guilt and grief, and unable to meet the ever-increasing needs of his family, Tom reaches out to the person he loves the most. But Tori is fighting her own demons, unwilling to forgive him. When she discovers some painful truths about her beloved late mother, her own decisions seem so much harder to follow through.

As both try to find their own way to heal from their hurt, one question remains unanswered – is the rift that’s grown between them too big to overcome?

I hope I've caught your interest!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Connecting emotionally with your reader

If you're anything like me, you like books that engage you emotionally. You get fully invested in characters' lives and suffer through their troubles as if it were you. You feel elation when your hero or heroine achieves their goals. You cheer alongside them as they finally pluck up the courage to talk to their secret crush. You cry when they cry, and even if they don't, you still (possibly) cry. 

How do we get pulled into these stories so much that we feel the character's pain and joy as if it were our own? 

Writers use all sorts of tricks to lure you in. One minute you're blissfully enjoying an escape from your own reality, and the next you notice tears falling onto your jeans or your pillow getting soaked. Or you find yourself so irritated with a fictional person that you can't stop reading until the tension eases. 

How do they do it? 
How do they do it?

How does Jojo Moyes do it?
And what can I do to make my readers root for my characters?

My quest to find out has confirmed what I already knew: there's nothing magic about it. It's not a gift that you just have. It's not a magic pill (sadly). It's not about waiting for the muse.
Instead, it is hard work, it requires constant reflection, rewriting and editing, and - maybe most importantly - being brave enough to explore your own emotions. 
It's also reading and re-reading your favourite novels with your analytical writer brain switched on and not being sucked into those pesky emotions.
(Fifty-nine pages down the track you find yourself fully immersed in the story - again! - instead of analysing your favourite writer's use of language, imagery and other secret tricks he or she may use unbeknownst to you.)

As I looked for inspiration on how to increase the emotional resonance in my readers, I came across the following helpful writing websites:  

Creating emotion in the reader by The Editor's Blog
I like this article as it gives 18 examples on how to increase emotion in your writing. I particularly like the suggestion of putting your characters under time constraints to cause them to make decisions they might not ordinarily make.

How to create a strong emotional response in your reader by CS Lakin
In this guest post by Jackie Johansen, we are encouraged to dig into our own experience. If we want our readers to feel emotions, we as writers have to experience them. Delve into your own past to tap into the emotions before you write. Let them pour onto your page, and hopefully, your reader will feel them.

Writing for emotional impact by Emerging Writers Studio
Nanci Panuccio lets neuroscientist Paul MacLean explain how emotions affect our limbic brain. She then unpacks a moving piece of writing by Elizabeth McCracken to illustrate four ways to write for emotional impact. 

The emotional and psychological world of you and your characters by The Writers Store
A very helpful screenwriting exercise to access your own emotions before giving them to your characters. This article also includes an interesting Emotions 101 which explains how we can start our writing by asking us "How does it make you feel?" with the four basic emotions sad, bad, mad and glad. SBMG. Easy to remember!

Writing beyond good: Creating emotional resonance by The Missouri Review
This explains the difference between emotions (what your characters are feeling) and emotional resonance (evoking in the reader the emotions your characters are feeling), and how to achieve the latter.

The 5 secrets of grabbing your readers' emotions by Helping Writers Become Authors
I like number four of this list: Self-sacrifice is extremely powerful. KL Weiland writes that "Making characters suffer is one thing; making them choose to suffer because it's the right thing to do is another plane altogether."

5 ways to create emotional connection between your readers and your characters by Meek Geek
A very useful explanation on how to use the concept of "Uncontrollable Circumstances" to form the powerful emotional connection between your reader and your characters. 

Get pushy - Push character conflict and reader emotion by The Editor's Blog
The two most important attributes that every scene needs to have according to this post: character conflict and reader emotion. This is a very detailed post on how to edit each scene for these non-negotiables. 

I hope these links will prove as useful to you as they have to me. I am still working on how to make my next novel "Teaching Tom" gut-wrenching, tear-jerking and happiness-invoking. I'll let you know when I think I've achieved it!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

How to make an Indie author's day

Are you looking for a way to pay it forward? Here's a little idea:
Review your indie author's books. 

"But I don't know how to do this."
"I've never written a book review."
"I don't know what to say."
"I'm no good at writing!" 

A book review doesn't have to be long and detailed. Sometimes, the short ones are more effective than long, wordy ones. Here's a really short one that I like:

Says it all, doesn't it? In all of its nine words. 

If you like to go in to a bit more detail, you could comment on something that you really liked, or something that stood out to you in the book you're reviewing.
About a month ago, I received this review on "Teaching Tori". 

Needless to say, I was very happy when I read it because the reviewer gave specific feedback or examples of what they liked. This is invaluable for me as a writer as it gives me clues as to what works in my writing.

So why don't you go check your kindle and see if there are any books on it that you could review? Especially if you enjoyed reading them.
You'll make your Indie author's day!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The seven commandments of editing

I hate to admit, but it's almost been a year since I finished the draft of my second novel "Teaching Tom", a stand-alone sequel to "Teaching Tori".

It was about eleven months ago when I first converted the draft from my writing software into a word document. I don't usually do this until I am confident that this is the end of the first draft.
So, that means that I've been editing for eleven months now, which is a bit mind boggling and depressing at the same time. Of course, I haven't just been editing.

Here is what I've done:
1. I've re-read the draft over and over, starting with the intention to edit, but then being sucked into the story (which might be a good sign) and then giving up mid-way because it was too hard to fix up the storyline.
2. When plotlines became unclear, I stopped.
3. Every time I came to a part I didn't like, I highlighted it, leaving it for the next read-through to deal with it.
4. I skipped missing scenes, putting comments in like 'THIS NEEDS TO BE ADDED', to write another day.
5. I highlighted superfluous scenes, with comments like 'WHAT'S THE PURPOSE OF THIS SCENE?' or 'THIS SCENE DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!!', to deal with another day.
6. I took a break because it was too hard.
7. I didn't do any writing or editing.
8. I put the jolly draft away and started writing a novella, tentatively called "Beneath/Under the cabbage tree".

This was all very well, but I was getting fed up with this novel and with myself. Maybe it was better to give up and forget about this whole writing thing.Why bother when it was such hard work? And wasn't this all supposed to be a fun hobby?

But the drive to keep going, to not give up on those 120,000 words (don't worry, we're down to 84,000 now) was stronger. I hadn't spent a whole year writing this draft, pouring my heart and soul into it, and eleven months of revision, just to ditch it.

I decided I needed some editing rules for myself if I ever wanted to finish this project.

So I came up with these seven commandments of editing that I now force myself to read every day before I start editing:

1. Pretend that this is the last edit – no postponing of work that needs to be done. 
2. Each scene to be revised and edited and polished before you move on to the next.
3. No highlighting and saying “I’ll come back to that later”.
4. If you have to rewrite a scene, do it now.
5. If you have to write a missing scene, do it now.
6. Make the decision about each scene then and there – no procrastination.
7. Be brave – make decisions to cut. 

I am happy to report that since I started this, editing has been far easier, more enjoyable and more focused. As I finish editing each scene, it gives me great satisfaction to add edited 8/5 underneath to keep track of where I'm at. My own version of almost-instant gratification, I guess. 

The always-present naysayer in my writer's brain now says "You're only up to page 55 out of 253, of course it's going well, because this is the part you've already read and revised the most, so just you wait 'til you get to those highlighted parts or the ones that say THIS DOES NOT MAKE SENSE, it's not going to be plain sailing, and what makes you think that suddenly editing is fun and easy? You don't honestly think you're going to ever finish this novel, do you....?"
At this point, I tell the naysayer to shut up.

And it works. So far. 

How do you contain the editing beast? Do you let it lose freely? Or do you set yourself editing rules before you start? I'd be very interested in reading how you deal with editing.

Friday, October 9, 2015

New author biography

Most writers would consider themselves skilled at describing a person, but when it comes down to writing an author biography, it is suddenly difficult to decide what's important and what isn't. We are not used to writing about ourselves, especially not in the third person. 
Do you stick to the cold hard (boring?) facts or do you add something more personal?
I had a go at writing an author biography the other day and to my surprise, enjoyed it. I even found out about the correct spelling and original meaning of the word mother lode.
Then I thought about my love of Italy and how that rubbed off in my writing in Tom's character, and I got distracted wondering how many types of pasta I could name from the top of my head. (Oh, the writer's brain, it's so marvelous and so irritating...)

Despite all of these distractions, I managed to finish my author biography. Here it is, without further ado:

Annie loves coffee with a mother load mother lode of milkfroth on top, she loves the scent of the native bush that surrounds her home in the hills in South Canterbury/New Zealand, and anything Italian, especially the food and the language, will delight her.

Not surprisingly, her main character Tom happens to be a great cook of Italian dishes and can correctly identify and pronounce nine different types of pasta. (How many can you list?)
Being an eternal romantic, Annie loves writing the type of novels that she loves to read – love stories that make you laugh and cry, love stories that make you pine for and cheer alongside your main characters as they negotiate their way through the ups and downs of new, old and second-chance love. Her favourite characters are ones that are strong and independent, but when their flaws and vulnerabilities are exposed, they have to suffer so much more than others.

Annie shares her home with her not-so-romantic husband (she doesn’t hold that against him any longer) and their teenage daughter as well as a bunch of pets: two dogs, two cats, one noisy African Grey parrot and a couple of donkeys.

During the day, Annie is lucky to be teaching a class of nine and ten year olds the joys of reading and writing as well as all the other exciting subjects in primary school. Depending on the time of day, you might see her wearing an apron while cutting up fruit for the children, an art shirt while having a go at printmaking (one of the many benefits of being a teacher – you get to do all the fun stuff you used to do when you were at school) or some weird book character costume during a special book week.

In the evenings, weekends and school holidays, you will find her sitting at her laptop, looking out the window, thinking, and typing. 

If you want to find out more about Annie’s books or want to compare your pasta list with Tom’s, please get in touch.  She’d love to hear from you.

What do you think? 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Relaunching your book with a new cover

A year ago, I published "Teaching Tori" with a book cover that I liked a lot. But has the cover helped sell the book? And would I have to get a new cover to go with the book's sequel, "Teaching Tom"?

In brief, the answer to the questions are: 1. No, 2. Yes.

This is the book cover of "Teaching Tori" as I had it since its launch in July 2014.

I really liked this cover because of its colour scheme, the font and the girl. The landscape of Central Otago in the background plays an important part in this story, so I was very happy to have it as part of the book cover. I liked the font too.

One year on, I'm not so sure any more.
The girl looks a bit squashed under the title bar, the colours are rather flat, but most of all, the cover doesn't convey what type of genre this is.

Apparently, romance novels are among the best selling books on kindle, but mine certainly isn't. (Actually, I'll be honest with you - this is how many books I've sold last month: 0)
Could it be that my book cover does not attract the millions of romance readers out there?

So I set out to create a new cover for "Teaching Tori" (along with a matching one for "Teaching Tom", my sequel due to be published later this year). Most importantly, the new cover should convey that this is a love story to increase my slice (actually, I'll even take a crumb) of that lucrative romance market.

After reading hundreds of blog posts on the importance of book cover design, I launched a book cover design competition on a website called designcrowd.

So how does it work?
After creating an account, you launch a project by writing a brief and deciding on a budget. You can choose between payment guaranteed projects, or money back projects. If you go for payment guaranteed, you should get more designs submitted because someone will, eventually, win your competition and get paid. There is a bigger incentive for designers to work hard for you if they know that someone's design will be picked.

To make things easier for the designers and to get the look of the characters I wanted, I purchased stockphotos of a couple of people who I thought might look like Tom and Tori. (Hint: pick your stockphoto before you even start writing your book, or else you'll never find a picture of someone who matches the picture in your head!).
Anyway, I found a photo of a guy with pretty blue eyes (just like Tom's) who looked a bit lost, and bought the photo, along with a couple of background pictures that I liked as well.

After setting a timeframe, you launch your project and wait until the first design suggestions come in. This is the exciting part! You can communicate with the designers by giving them feedback and making suggestions for improvements.
Soon you'll find yourself swamped with designs and confused as to which one to choose. This is when you need to launch a poll after selecting your favourite designs, and send the link to as many people as possible, or share it on social media.
Then you will get even more confused because the design you love the most gets anything from a one star to a five star vote...
What I found most helpful though were the individual comments most people left after voting. This gave me a really good insight into how people reacted to a potential design.

There were two clear favourites in the design competition right from the start, and I ended up choosing the one that matched my brief more.

So is the new "Teaching Tori" cover:

I like the fact that the girl and the landscape remain the same, but with a clear 'luv is in the air' font and colour. I'm glad the 'bar' is lost and Tori can breathe more freely now.

I've uploaded the new book cover onto kindle a week ago, and my question now is whether changing your book cover alone will make a difference in book sales.

I will keep you updated on my experience with this change of cover.

In the meantime, what attracts you to buying a book from an unknown author? Would the cover make a difference? Or do you go by the book description or reviews?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Teaching Tori - One year on...

A year ago, I secretly published my novel "Teaching Tori".
After clicking 'publish' on the Amazon interface, I didn't tell anyone for a week (apart from my husband and my daughter).
Would I do this again for my second novel? What have I learned over this past year?

Writing came to me by accident. It isn't something I've always wanted to do, and it isn't something that I have to do, unlike other writers who feel like part of them is missing when they don't write.
So when I started writing, it was all very new and personal to me.
Only my closest family members and a couple of friends knew about this new hobby of mine. In hindsight, it seems a bit strange to be secretive about it, but at the time, I didn't have the confidence in my writing nor the desire to tell people about it.
So clicking 'publish' on that day a year ago wasn't only about finally achieving what I had worked so hard for, it was also about 'coming out' as a writer.

I had to go through it in stages to get comfortable about it:

  1. First, I published the book and just let it sit in cyberspace for a week. Not surprisingly, nobody bought my book! I proved that if you publish a book and don't tell anyone about it, nobody will buy it. (Yes, this had to be proven because until then, I thought that people might accidentally come across it on Amazon.)
  2. After a week, I told my family and friends here in New Zealand and overseas. I sold my first few books and got some good reviews. This was nervewracking in itself, even though these were the people who already knew me and supported me no matter what.
  3. After yet another week, I finally felt confident enough to announce the arrival of "Teaching Tori" to the world. Surely now that I had posted it on Twitter and announced it on Facebook, people would flock to Amazon, unable to hold off buying and reading my book?

Reality of course was different. I sold a few more books to other people who knew me from my online presence, but sales were slow and reviews dripped in even more slowly.
It took a while to sink in (or maybe I just didn't want to face the truth!) that every single blog post, every single bit of advice on promotion, every single word that I had read while slaving away writing my novel had been true, I just didn't want to listen because I focused so hard on my writing: Writing the book is the easy part. Promoting it is so much harder.
So I tried a free promotion which resulted in 650 downloads and one review. I read thousands of words on book promotion, but didn't actually do much about it. Where to start? What to do? How much to pay for advertising? Too many decision to make while also working full-time, drafting my second novel and going through the nightmare of building a house.
So I did what I thought was the best use of my time - write my next book (while still constantly
thinking about what else I could do, and driving myself mad in the process!)

What have I learned since clicking that 'publish' button a year ago?
It is easy to say now that I should have organised a proper book launch and promoted myself and my book prior to publishing it. Reality is, I wasn't ready or comfortable with that idea. This year has been a huge learning curve and I have grown so much in confidence in my own writing that I am now quite happy being out there in the big wide world for everyone to see.
That doesn't mean that I'm not thinking very carefully about my next book. I have learned from the frustration and lack of promotion of "Teaching Tori" and will do things differently for my sequel "Teaching Tom".

But that's the topic of a whole new post. Time to sit down and have a celebratory cup of coffee (it is too early in the day for anything else).

Happy Birthday Teaching Tori! Maybe you grow into a beautiful established book with thousands of happy readers (and a little brother coming soon....)