Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Weakness: Your Story's Strength

When I started seriously writing fiction, at age 13 or so, I did what many books and blogs advocate today. I wrote what I knew. I read a lot of books and comics, and watched a lot of television and films. Because of this I knew strong hero types, so they were what I focused on. I bought a lot of role-playing games, but I moved around a lot so I couldn’t always interest others to play them with me. What did I do? I made a lot of characters and made up their adventure stories.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that powerful heroes work well for short time spans, or to interest young readers, but they grow boring when you deal with them more often, or for longer periods. Even at 13 and 14 I started adding psychological flaws to my characters. Even if I didn’t completely understand them at the time, I knew they made the character more real for me, and so I liked them, and their added depth, better.

I grew older and my interests changed, but I never grew past my love for flawed characters. I started role-playing in different settings and with different people, and I got involved with acting, and my writing only grew more detailed and character driven. Motivations became more and more important as well as dialogue, but I found more came from the cracks…from the character’s shortcomings, than from their strengths.

I started to realize that the weaknesses of my characters could really be used as the strength to drive my stories. I realize that most people reading this will, no doubt, know this already, but it came as quite the shock to me. I was even more shocked to find that it held true in every great book I read. Look at the books you've read and loved. What were the weaknesses of the lead characters? Would the story have been as good without them? (I doubt it.)

Every character I developed from then on, and it's still true of characters I create to this day, started out as a blank slate. I add their psychological background – from their nature and their nurture. From this I can draw a picture of their deepest personality strengths and weaknesses. This lets me really get to know them as people, at the core of who they are; no matter how alien that might be. Anything else they are, Vampire, Ghost, Zombie, Wizard, Witch, Corporate accountant, Politician, Lawyer, gets layered on after that (and is effected by it, accordingly).

I’ve talked to several younger writers who decide they want to tell a Vampire story or a Zombie story so they just make a ‘good guy’, or a ‘bad guy’, shake, and serve. They don’t understand why people tell them their characters seem shallow or two-dimensional. I’ve suggested to a few that perhaps they’d gain additional depth of character by adding faults and psychological roots, and that might aid their story. This has helped some, while others have just slapped a phobia, or a strange compulsive quirk to their leads to make them unique. A quirk like this, added just to be there, only makes your character different. Different doesn’t equal better.

I have a feeling I’m rambling here. What I’m trying to say is consider the negative in your positive characters. Hell, consider the positive in your negative characters. Above all, though, consider where the positives and the negatives in your character come from. What is the emotional, mental, and sociological genesis point of your character? Find their beginning and watch them grow before you write them into your world, and you’ll find they have so much more to contribute once they’re there.

That’s my two cents.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Indie Author Book Sales

In the last week of April, 2011, my 4th book ‘Blood & Spirits’ became available though Amazon (KDP & CreateSpace) as well as Smashwords. I have previously released three collections of spoken word poetry and experienced success with those books, but I was completely unprepared for how to try to make a paranormal fiction title sell.

First, I'll discuss just the copies that I know are in circulation. I started by looking at all the book blogs I could find. I read their reviews, and looked for a style and voice I felt I could agree with and get behind. Based on my observations I sent out 30 copies of my book, in eBook format, to be reviewed.

I think it is important to note my ignorance here. I didn’t send these eBook copies out months in advance so that the reviewers would have time to get to them. I didn’t give that a thought. Once I had the eBook copy of my book on my desktop ready to send I began to look at the guidelines set forth by the bloggers on what they would accept. If I had it to do over again (and I will with my next release) I would do things differently.

My friends all over the world were informed as soon as my book was available to purchase. I sent email and chats, all over the internet, to everyone who had ever shown the slightest interest in the story I was writing. A few of them stepped up to the plate, and brought may April sales totals to a whopping 14 Kindle copies, 6 print copies, and a big nothing from smashwords.


Copies given for review: 30

Copies sold: 20

Total Copies distributed: 50

I was really pumped at the take off of ‘Blood & Spirits’ and I was starting to get some really wonderful reviews and feedback leading into May. I assumed the sales trend would continue, or get better. It didn’t.

I watched the sales grind to a complete halt after 3 copies in early May, and I was pulling my hair out that Smashwords took so long to get copies to outlets like Barnes & Nobles Nook Store, and that Amazon took so long to list title on Amazon.uk, and Amazon.de. I felt like the big start of the title was going to lead to noting.

That’s when I discovered the power of Goodreads, Twitter, and the IBC.

Thanks to the dedication, retweets, support, and love shown from the community of readers and authors on Twitter and in the Blogging world, I saw a late moth surge in sales. Reviews started to pop up on Amazon and Goodreads. People were retweeting plugs to buy my book. It was being recommended, and believe it or not…that showed up in sales. I gave away a few more copies to fellow authors to read and review for me, and that coupled with the reviews I had requested starting to come in, my sales weren’t depressing at all.

May sales totals came up to a 6 Kindle copies, 6 print copies, but finally smashwords came through with 5 copies sold (and at least two additional through the Nook store that I’ve seen). I think once the Sony eReader store offers my title I’ll see a few more sales there as well, as I have received emails requesting that I make my book available through them.


Copies given for review: 10

Copies Sold: 21

Total Copies distributed: 31

Going into June with a bit of this momentum built up I am pleased to report, as I type this, that I have sold 2 Kindle copies so far in June as well as 2 print copies.

Which means, and I find this most exciting, that there is currently a minimum grand total of 85 copies of my book circulating (not counting the 14 copies I’ve sent out in MS format so far to Lit Agents, with my fingers firmly crossed.)

At least 99 total copies of my book are floating around all over the world. I find that thrilling.

Now I’m trying to make sure that book two in this series is edited and formatted correctly to make the August 9th release date I’ve set for myself.

My deepest thanks go out to each and every person who has bought ‘Blood & Spirits’, as well as to every reviewer and blogger who has agreed to take the time to read it and tell the world what they thought of it. I also have to thank the community of readers and writers I’ve found on twitter, the blogs, and all over the world. Thanks to all of you I feel like I am one step closer to living the life I’ve only dreamed of.

-Dennis Sharpe

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Review - Malakh

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

So here's the deal. I got into this book as soon as I started reading. It grabbed me, and I was in disbelief with how well it was written and how evocotive the characters were.

Then it happened. The story took a nose dive. It lost me completely. I got bogged down in itself (I think the writer got bogged down in the story.)

I sat it aside 3 times and tried to go back to it. I was unable to make more than a few pages again before I had lost all interest and had to set it aside.

I really had lost all hope for the book. It made me sad, due to the strong beginning.

Then it happened. The story got good again. Not just a little good, but extremely good. It became the page turner I had wanted it to be all along.

Then ending... um. No spoilers, is my belief, but... but... damn. I haven't secided if I liked it or not. I'll see how I feel after I read it again. (Yes, I will read it again.)

- Dennis Sharpe

Malakh on Goodreads.com

Malakh on Amazon.com