Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Is Entering Your Book in an Awards Competition a Good Idea?

From time to time my email box fills up with calls to enter various book awards, and I'll admit to having mixed feelings about entering. So, here's my list of pros and cons about book awards.


I've entered competitions in the past and my books have won awards. And I'm not going to lie to you. There's nothing quite like the euphoria of knowing that your book beat out dozens, if not hundreds, of other entries. Awards are also a nice marking tool. There's nothing like having that award sticker proudly displayed on your book cover. In fact, I've included one of mine. Not to brag, but to point out that there is a downside to winning a book award.


I won the award in 2007, but by 2010 it was making my book look dated, and I've since dropped the award from my cover.

The other big con is the cost. The last time I tried to enter a book award competition the early bird entry fee was $90. They also wanted four printed copies of the book, so by the time I added in the cost of the books, and my best guestimate for the postage, I realized I'd be spending at least $120, if not more. Just to enter one title, in one category. Competitions aren't without risk, and as I thought it over again I realized I'd be better off spending that $120 dollars on advertising my book. 

So, is entering a book award competition a good idea? It's up to you to decide. If you have the inclination, and the budget, then by all means go for it. Who knows? Your book could be a winner. But if you're not sure, or if you don't have the money, then don't. While it's nice to win an award, it's no guarantee that you'll sell more books. 


Monday, July 16, 2018

My New Website and Why You Should Have One As Well

Along with my blogs, I have a website which, from time to time, needs updating, and this time around it was a real doozy as I migrated it to a new, and much better, platform. 

Some of you may be wondering why an author needs both a website and a blog. It's because each serves a different purpose. As someone once explained to me, a website is like wearing formal business attire, while a blog is more like a pair of blue jeans. In other words, your website is more professional and, in my opinion, the best place for prospective readers to find out more about your books, quickly and easily. My website address is printed on the back of all my book covers and a link is included in my ebook editions. I can also control the SEO much easier with my website than I can with my blogs. 

My blogs are where I talk in detail about my writing and my books, and where I can engage more one-on-one with readers. Links to my blogs are included on my website, and I post links to my blog posts on social media. And while blogs are more personal, someone who's simply looking for more information about me, or my books, may find blogs problematic as they may think they have to weed through dozens of articles to find what they're looking for. This is why I have both a website, and a blog.

My website is goodoakpress.com, and I hope you'll stop by and take a look.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Knowing When to Quit, Part Two

Photo by CanStockPhoto
In my earlier post, Knowing When to Quit, Part One, I talked about redundancy. This time I'll discuss another way to overwork a story -- creating over the top scenarios or plot lines, which don't connect well with the earlier story. This can be especially problematic when you're writing a series. There simply comes a point when your story, even if it's a series, has to end. Otherwise it may become absurd or even bizarre.

A good example is a story familiar to most of us. Star Trek.

I grew up watching the original Star Trek. The characters, human and alien, were interesting and believable; so much so that they've became iconic. However, by the third season, the writers seemed to be running out of ideas, and the ridiculous storylines in some of the episodes hurt the integrity of the series. NBC cancelled the show. It then went into syndication where its following grew. The movies started about ten years later. The original characters were back, but they were older and had changed over time, which kept them interesting. The final original cast film, The Undiscovered Country, completed their storyline with a well thought out ending. In the meantime, three new television series, Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, created a plethora of interesting new characters with plenty of potential for exciting new stories. They were followed by a series of movies featuring the Next Generation cast.

Sadly, it was all lost, at least for me, with Star Trek Enterprise, and the current movie series. Enterprise, the fifth TV serieswas a prequel, and prequels, regardless of the genre, can be problematic. To me, it was lackluster, and I soon lost interest. The new movies, also prequels, featured younger versions of the original characters. They too were disappointing. The stories take place in a "parallel universe," so all of the interesting back-story established in the original series is gone. I found it too confusing, and certainly not the Star Trek I'd known and loved for decades. 

This is what happens when you run out of ideas. You lose the integrity of your story, and you risk losing your following. As storytellers, the two hardest words for us to write  are, "The End," but write them we must, as all stories must end. Otherwise, in the words on my college painting professor, you really can turn your work into mud.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

So Who's Responsible for Marketing Your Book?

From time to time I get into rather interesting conversations with authors lamenting the fact that their book simply isn't selling they way they'd expected. My response is to ask them what they'd done to market their book. Oftentimes their response was that they hadn't done anything. Many authors, especially newbies, honestly believe that all they have to do was list their book on Amazon, and people would come along to buy it.

"Build it and they will come," may have worked in the movie Field of Dreams, but that mindset simply doesn't apply in the business of selling books. Nor is it up to your publisher to go out and sell your book for you. They can distribute it, but unless you, the author, go out and do some marketing, your book won't sell. Fortunately there are many things that you, the author, can and should be doing to help promote your book. 

  • Have a website or a blog, or both, about your book.
  • Promote your book on social media, including Twitter and Facebook.
  • Listing your book on other websites such as Goodreads.
  • Book signings.
  • Contests and giveaways.
  • Book Trailers.
  • Advertising.

If you only do one item on this list, make it a website. Depending on your budget, you can do a simple, do it yourself blog website on WordPress.org or Blogger.com, virtually for free, or you can hire a webmaster and have a state of the art website will all the bells and whistles. 

Social media is an absolute must as well. It costs nothing to open account on Facebook and Twitter, and Facebook author pages are free as well. Keep in mind, however, it takes time to build a following on social media, so don't expect instant results. I have, however found Facebook advertising to be very affordable and a nice tool for building my brand. I've also found contests and giveaways to be a nice marketing tool as well. From time to time I do giveaways on Amazon, and it typically results in more book sales.

If you have the means you can certainly hire a publicist, but be sure that he or she has experience in book promotion, as book promotion is different from other kinds of public relations. Also be sure to talk to them about the cost. Some firms may charge as much as $3000 a month for their services. Others charge much less, and may do just as good of a job as the higher-priced publicists.

No one ever said marketing a book would be easy, especially in a time when anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can upload a Word file onto Amazon Kindle and call him or herself an author. However, unless your name is Stephen King, James Patterson or J.K. Rowling, don't expect people bust down the doors to buy your book just because you've listed it on Amazon. You really do have to get off your fanny and do some work.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

When to Use a Pen Name

Sometimes people ask me if I write under my real name, or a pen name. I actually write under both, and there are many reasons why authors choose to write under pen names.  
  • The author wishes to keep his or her privacy.
  • The author writes controversial or sensitive subject matter, such as erotica.
  • There is, by coincidence, another author with the same name, or a similar name.
  • The author has a name that is confusing, hard to pronounce, or with an unusual spelling.
  • The author writes in more than one genre, and wishes to build a separate brand for each.
The latter two were applicable to me.

When I wrote my first book, Anna's Kitchen, I naively thought my legal name, Gayle Martin, was perhaps too common, so I included my maiden name, Homes, to make it unique. However, before I was married to Mr. Martin, I spent my life having both a first and last name with unusual spellings. Gayle Homes. People were always getting my name wrong, thinking I was, "Gail Holmes," and no, it didn't exactly do wonders for my self-esteem either. Once Anna's Kitchen was published, I soon realized that the troubles of the past had come back to haunt me. The name, "Gayle Homes," with or without the name, "Martin," simply left too big of a margin for error for a keyword search, and had I not picked up the name, "Martin," along my life's journey, I would have used a pen name from the get-go. That said, we learn from our mistakes, so when I published Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first book in my Luke and Jenny series, I dropped the name, "Homes" and published it as, "Gayle Martin." It worked, and I successfully built my brand as a children's book author. Then came the next problem.

As much as I love my Luke and Jenny books, I wanted to branch out into the romance genre. And while I'm not writing erotica, readers in this genre do expect some steamy, if not somewhat graphic, love scenes. This would present a real problem if, by chance, a youngster, or a parent, who were Luke and Jenny fans, came along and bought my latest book, thinking it too was written for younger readers. So I created a pen name, Marina Martindale, which is simply a play on my middle name and last name, and created a whole new brand. It's been fun, yet challenging at the same time, since "Marina" cannot ride on the coattails of Luke and Jenny. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.

Ultimately, it's up to each author to decide whether or not to write under a pen name, and if you should opt to do so, I highly recommend coming up with one that's easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and memorable.

or is it

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Create an Interesting Villain for Your Stories

It seems like I spend so much time thinking about the good guys when I write my fiction that I sometimes forget the bad guy needs love too, in a manner of speaking. Plot lines revolve around conflict, so there has to be a source behind that conflict, and that would be the antagonist, more commonly known as the villain.

There are different approaches to creating a good villain. One is to have him or her truly evil and completely irredeemable, like Count Dracula. Your readers will hate him and root for the good guys to wipe him out. This is the sort of villain you can kill off at the end of the story, with your readers feeling relieved and satisfied.

A more complex, and interesting, approach would be to create a "conflicted" villain. Instead of a purely evil Count Dracula, you could create a villain more like Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire of Dark Shadows fame. Barnabas had been a good guy until the vampire curse was placed upon him, leaving him despising what he had become. He's a "hero-villain" antagonist who the audience can root for because they too want to see him cured of his affliction and end up with the girl. In the interim, however, they'll see him wreak plenty of havoc.

Some storytellers like to take chances by having their protagonist, or hero, go bad. Interesting approach, but it can be a little tricky. If you're going to attempt it you need to have a character with plenty of redeeming qualities, otherwise your readers won't be able to make a connection and they won't root for him or her. By the end of the story he or she will have to renounce all the bad things they did earlier, and be willing to do whatever has to done to make up for the sins of the past. If not, your readers will not be satisfied with the ending, assuming they stayed with your story until the end.

Another way to conclude your story would be to end a tragedy with tragedy, especially if your hero-villain has done some really nasty things in the past that can't be walked away from. At the end of the original Star Wars saga Darth Vader renounces the emperor and turns away from the dark side of the force, but in so doing he has to sacrifice his own life in order to save Luke. It certainly made for a dramatic, and satisfying, end of the conflict.

So there you have it. With a little imagination, and a few character quirks, you can create develop interesting and memorable villains who can keep your readers engaged. And that's what good storytelling is all about.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

How to Write a Good Description of Your Novel

From time to time I get emails from other authors announcing their latest book, including one from an author who's been in the novel writing business longer than I have. It included the usual announcement, along with a copy of the book cover, and a book description. However, the description was problematic, to say the least. It was at least five hundred words, if not more, and it described the entire plot. By the time I finished reading it I had no incentive to buy the book because I knew the story from start to finish.

One of my mentors taught me to write descriptions of ten to one hundred words, and nothing longer. Over time I've discovered that for most promotional purposes, a fifty to one hundred word description works nicely. I also write teasers, not plot summaries. The whole idea of a book description is to give a potential reader a general idea of what the story is about, while enticing them to want to read more. In other words, it's ad copy

I've pasted copies of my descriptions for my Marina Martindale novels, The Journey and The Stalker as examples of effective teaser descriptions.


Cassie Palmer’s world is shattered when a car crash leaves her hospitalized and fighting for her life. Her husband, Jeremy, begins his own frightening journey when he meets Denise, one of Cassie’s nurses. Denise seems familiar, but while he may no longer remember her, she has neither forgiven nor forgotten how he jilted her, years before. Denise seeks revenge and Jeremy soon vanishes under mysterious circumstances, leaving his grieving wife behind. As Cassie struggles to recover her life will take another strange turn, when an unexpected visitor reveals that things are not as they appear.


Rachel Bennett may have attended her ten-year high school reunion on a whim, but fate intervened once she saw Shane MacLeod. No longer the shy, gawky teenager she remembered, Shane has matured into a handsome and successful man, but her perfect evening ends when another man from her past suddenly reappears. Craig Walker had been her mentor until he became jealous of her talent and success. Now he intends to either have her, or destroy her at all costs. As Rachel’s family pressures her to take Craig to court, she can no longer ignore her nagging feeling that a tragedy is about to strike.