Friday, January 2

Got Writing Questions? Ask Them Now!

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

It's time to open up the site to questions once again, but this year, let's have a little fun and put a twist on it.

I'll answer the quick questions here in the comments section, and do regular articles for the longer questions in the coming weeks. It's been a while since I've done a series, so big, meaty topics are good too.

I'll start by asking you:
  • What technique have you been struggling with lately?
  • What about writing or publishing has you confused?
  • What would you like to know more about?
  • What would you like to see discussed?
There are no dumb questions, and this is open to beginner questions up through advanced concepts. If it's something outside of my wheelhouse (like if it's specific to a genre I don't read or write), I'll bring in a guest author. Ask away with whatever is on your mind.

Happy New Year everyone!

63 comments:

  1. My characters talk a lot. How do I know when there is too much dialogue? Or better yet, how can I transform the dialogue into scenes with a little more action?

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    1. Great one, and I can already picture examples! This one gets it's own article next week. Thanks!

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  2. Also, do you have any tips for creating a strong mentor character?

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    1. Another good one, and I don't think I've ever written about this. Thanks!

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  3. How much MC internalization is enough? I read so many books that overdue it so I go skimpy (too skimpy, I've been told). How do you know when you've hit the right balance?

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    1. I've written about this, so I'll point you at there first, and if this doesn't answer your question, let me know and I'll do something that focuses on what you're still struggling with.

      Finding the balance: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/07/internal-medicine-how-much.html

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    2. That was great! I can't believe I missed that one. Thanks.

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    3. My pleasure. There's a lot here, so it's easy to miss sometimes.

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  4. What are good questions for alpha readers? I'm about to finish the first draft of a novel and I know several things that need to be changed, but I'd like to get feedback from some close friends/writers. Is it even worth having people read it at this point?

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    1. I use alpha readers myself, so yes, it can be beneficial. But it's good to have readers who know the text and story is still very rough, and have the ability to read for larger marco issues. It's not about the text itself or how "well written" it is, but how the story and characters are working.

      I ask my alpha readers to look for the bigger picture issues:
      Is the story working overall?
      Do you like the characters?
      Where did it feel slow?
      What confused you?
      What did you want to know more about?
      Did the motivations and goals feel credible?

      Depending on the book, I'll add in some specific questions that pertain to that story as well.

      This way, I get a sense of the overall novel and where I need to revise or flesh out (or cut), which helps guide me in my revisions.

      One word of caution however: some people dislike alpha readers, because they feel it's too easy to be swayed by opinions when a story is still so new. So if this is a concern of yours, alpha readers might not be a good idea. But if you like feedback early and enjoy working with it, it can be quite useful.

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    2. Thanks for the suggestions, Janice! Those will come in helpful.

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  5. Hi Janice. Hope you're having a Happy New Year so far! I have a question regarding publishing. I know many Indie authors make their own "publishing house" names, but I'm not sure of the reasoning behind the decision. I'm wondering if this is something I should do, especially since I want to try to write in a couple of genres, instead of just the Sci-Fi/Romance. Any suggestions or advice? Thanks so much!

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    1. Thanks, so far so good. Hope yours is also going well so far.

      It's up to you. You don't need to do it to self publish, your name works just fine, and you don't have to put any type of publisher on the book beyond that. Reasons you might want to:

      1. Some people create a corporation with the publishing house name for legal protection/tax issues, but that can be expensive to set up and maintain (though it is recommended by a lot of pros). You're a small business that writes/sells books, so you treat it same as any other small business.

      2. Some author also create publishing houses to appear more like a trad pub'd book. It's through a publisher, not just the author name and can appear more "legitimate." This creates the perception that it's a published novel and not a vanity press novel (which still has a stigma attached to it in many eyes).

      3. It's also useful to create a publishing house if you think you might one day publish other books (such as a group of authors self pub'ing together). I'm seeing more and more author co-op groups banding together this way and supporting each other and their self pub'ing ventures.

      You don't need to do it, but there can be benefits. If any of the above reasons make sense to you, perhaps explore the idea further. If not, then feel comfortable publishing just as you.

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  6. I've read three different cozy mysteries recently where the murder turned out to be a convoluted plan by several people which involved a long setup then planted clues toward an innocent as the murderer.

    None of these books worked for me, and I've figured out that the Rube Goldberg element seemed more suited to a puzzle mystery or thriller than a cozy which is about people, not convoluted plots.

    What do you think?

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    1. I'd agree. Admittedly, my knowledge of cozies is smaller, but it does seems to me that the focus there is on the sleuth (usually an amateur sleuth), some kind of cute hook, and a mystery to solve in the old fashioned "sleuthy" way.

      I know a few mystery/cozy writers, so I'll see if I can persuade any of them to share some tips on cozies on mysteries, and the differences between the various subgenres.

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  7. Hi Janice - thanks for your blog and newsletters. I am a newbie living in Australia and you answer many of my questions before I know to ask them.
    I have drafted my first novel, worked on it some more, paid to have it assessed and worked on it some more. Now what?
    As a newbie I don't know where to focus my energy. Do i concentrate on finding an agent? Do I work on a brief? Do i start looking for BETA readers (not sure of their benefit for a novice). Do i submit it direct to publishers?
    Thanks Janice - have a fab 2015.

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    1. Thanks! It depends on your goal. Do you want to try to get this manuscript published/? If so, then the next step would be getting it as polished and professional as possible (beta readers are excellent to help you here), then start either querying agents or publishers (if you want to go the traditional publishing route) or looking into what needs to be done to self publish (if you want to go the indie author route).

      Here's a general article I did a while back of things to do to get your started, and this should point you in the right direction. Just let me know if you have more questions.

      http://blog.janicehardy.com/2009/04/youve-written-novel-now-what.html

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    2. Thanks Janice - your earlier article is just what I was looking for. Off down a new rabbit hole now...

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  8. Hey Janice. Thanks so much for doing this. Happy New Year. My question is how do I know where to start my story? I'm so frustrated. I write MG. I've had betas tell me I should start with the action. I've had others say start slow so the audience can get to know the characters. Others say, start it RIGHT before the action. SO confused.

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    1. I actually just reposted one on this topic, so good timing: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/01/line-forms-where-knowing-where-to-start.html

      Here's another one that might help: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/09/open-up-writing-opening-scene.html

      The really confusing thing is all of that advice is correct. The tricky part is balancing it. You want to find a scene that offers readers something going on and a sense that things are about to happen (what folks mean when they say "start with action") or in the middle of something happening to work as a curiosity hook to draw readers in. It's also very useful to give enough of the protagonist so readers like them and care about whatever is happening in that scene. If the voice and character is strong enough, that can work to hook readers on its own.

      Since you write MG, I'd suggest studying the opening of Rick Riordan's "The Lightning Thief." It has a fantastic character and voice, and something intriguing going on to hook readers right away.

      Another good (if non-traditional) opening is from Roland Smith's "Peak."

      A third option is Tom Angleberger's "The Strange Case of Origami Yoda."

      All three of those work very well to hook readers and get the story started.

      Just let me know if you still have questions :)

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    2. THANK you, Janice. I will check out the links and the books. I haven't read any of those. I really appreciate you clearing this up for me.

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  9. What's the difference between YA fiction and adult fiction?
    What material is inappropriate for YA fiction?

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    1. YA fiction (young adult fiction) is focused on teen characters solving teen problems in teen ways. It's about the trials of growing up and taking the first steps toward adulthood. It's targeted at teen readers.

      Adult fiction is adult characters solving adult problems in adult ways. Even if the protagonist is a child (like in many Stephen King novels for example), they're still dealing with the problems in a more adult fashion with adult world views and sensibilities. It's targeted at adult readers.

      Any material is appropriate for YA, it's more about how the author handles it. Things typically aren't as graphic or spelled out, but there are YA novels out there that deal with some seriously heavy topics (addiction, sexual predators, dangerous mental health issues, suicide, etc). If teens go through it or experience it then it's fair game for YA fiction.

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    2. Thank you so much for your help. Your blog has been useful to me many times. I really appreciate that you take time to help other writers. :)

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  10. Hi Janice! Happy new year!

    What I'm facing right now is the question of how and where to pay taxes since I want to self-publlish (through Amazon) but don't live in the US. I looked on the IRS website, but it's a maze. I'll likely have to ask a lawyer over here. But this is certainly a problem that all non-US writers who self-publish face. Maybe there's a simple answer that fits all. Or not. Probably not. :) But I hope you can find someone who's qualified to explain the legal side of the self-publishing endeavor. Thanks!

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    1. That is a tough one, and I bet a lot of authors are facing the same issue. I'll see what I can find and try to get someone in to talk about this. Great question!

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  11. Hi Janice!

    My question involves multiple timelines. Right now my draft follows the protag and antag. The antag's storyline starts a long time before the protag's does, and they converge near the end. How do you decide when to switch POVs, if one of them gets significantly less screen time?

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    1. I'll tackle this in a longer article, but for now, you might check out Kathleen Duey's "Resurrection of Magic" series (Skin Hunger is book one). It's not exactly what you're talking about, but it's a dual timeline that involves the antagonist and it's brilliantly done. It might give you some insights into how to handle yours.

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    2. Thank you! My booklist for the year is still taking shape, so I'll be sure to add that series to it.

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  12. Thanks for all of your wise advice Janice. I wonder about many things when it comes to writing.

    The feedback I've received is that I skimp a little to much on World Building - I trust the reader a little too much. My pacing is also a little too quick. I've read a lot about world building and pacing, but how do you know how much is too much or too little and too fast or too slow? Beta readers are one good way, but as an author, is there another way?

    Another thing I've wondered about is when writing in third person, it reads awkward to internalize the MC's questions. At a conference, agents said just tell the reader...don't put in awkward questions. We all know show don't tell, but when should you just tell the reader. Examples of this in third person would also be great.

    I've also been looking at things that throw a reader out of the story. How can an author avoid the pitfalls.

    Revision tips are always greatly appreciated too.

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    1. All great questions, and this will keep me busy for a few weeks, thanks! I've written a lot on world building and on pacing, but never combined, so that'll be fun to explore.

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  13. Is there any sense of what's a normal number of characters for a genre fiction novel? I love to make up characters and tend to have too many. But now I wonder if I'm being too parsimonious... I write mysteries, and need those red herrings.

    On a related note, how do you deal with a build-up of regular characters over a series? Readers say, "I loved So-and-so," but So-and-so isn't in the next book. Should she be? But series characters are seldom murderers or victims, so the new people stand out all the more.

    This muddled question is about finding the right balance of new and old characters in an ongoing series. Any discussion would be useful. And thanks for a great resource. I love your book too.

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    1. Too many characters can be a problem (readers lose track of who is who). There's no hard and fast rule here though, and some genres (like historical or epic fantasy) have characters in the high double digits. I have two articles to point you in the right direction there, with some exercises and questions to ask to diagnose your work:

      1. http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/06/does-your-novel-have-too-many-characters.html

      2. http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/09/should-you-cut-that-character.html

      My personal rule of thumb is anything more than 3-5 characters in a scene gets incredibly cumbersome to handle, so the more main or recurring characters you have the more likely you'll wind up in heavy populated scenes. I've found combing smaller characters to play multiple support roles usually works better to keep the count (and confusion) down, and make those characters more interesting overall.

      Love the build up question, and I know some great authors who write series that will have lots of insights into that for you.

      Thanks!

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  14. Hey Janice!
    My MS is complete and I'm struggling with formatting. Specifically at scene breaks. If a scene keeps the same setting but moves along, lets say an hour later, do I insert the a scene break with the *** or can I just leave an extra, blank space to acknowledge the time break before the next paragraph picks up? I've had conflicting comments on this from judges in contests.
    Thanks for your help!

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    1. I've seen it done both ways. Personally, I like to break the scene with a line any time there's a jump in either time or location, unless you want to show the actual transition.

      For example, if you want to say "we say for an hour in that tacky room before Kim finally arrive," you might write it just like that and stay in the same scene. Time passes, but the scene stays the same with the same basic goal.

      But if you want to change tone, or feel, or goal, then you might break it to signal that things are new form this point on in some way. "After an hour in that tacky room, we had a plan."

      It really is a matter of personal taste and what flows the best in the story. General rule of thumb I like to use: If the scene break will raise the tension or pick up the pacing, I usually break it. If breaking it would create a pause that might allow the reader to put the book down, I'd stay in the scene.

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  15. Thanks for taking questions! I have two on books you'd recommend:
    1. What novels have you read that were outstanding examples of writing, that you'd recommend to fellow authors?
    2. What books on writing fiction would you recommend?
    Thanks!
    Barbara

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    1. If you like urban fantasy, I've been loving the Kate Daniels series by Iona Andrews. Another fantasy author I studied like a fiend when I was starting out was Dave Duncan. Harlan Ellison is another great (and my personal fave). Let's see, who else: Tiffany Reisz, Carl Hiaasen, Chris Crutcher. There are so many.

      Great writing is subjective, so what I like might not work for you, but those are ahuthors whose books I remember thinking about how well done the writing was.

      As for writing books (mine of course! -grin-) I learned a lot from Roy Obstfeld's "Fiction First Aid," Ansen Dibel's "Plot," and Jack Bickham's "Scene and Structure." I know a lot of writers who love the Donald Maass "Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook", and I enjoyed that one as well.

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  16. Hi Janice,

    As this is my first time commenting on your blog, I just wanted to thank you for all your insightful tips and advice. As a new writer I have found your site immensely helpful.

    Similar to Anna I have a question about number of characters. My question is how to match the number of named characters with the sense of scale you are aiming for in your world.

    For example, the story I'm trying to tell at the moment involves a fairly closed off community. I originally had a number of different characters but felt that some of them were too similar, so I combined them. Now I feel like the world feels smaller than it should, but I like the number of central characters I have. Do you have any tips for creating a greater sense of scale without also overburdening the reader with a deluge of characters to remember?

    My other concern with this is that I imagine my MC would know the names of all the others in the community, but I don't feel the reader necessarily needs to know. They aren't a faceless crowd but equally as individuals they aren't central to the story either.

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

    Dave

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    1. Aw, thanks Dave!

      That is a fabulous question. I'll do something longer in the new few weeks on that, but your POV character will play a huge role there. How they perceive the world is how you'll filter that sense of scale to the reader. For example, if you knew everyone in sight, how might that affect your behavior or how you chose to act?

      Amy Christine Parker's "Gated" takes place in a closed community, so that might be something to check out as well for insights.

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    2. Thanks Janice - that advice is already helpful and I look forward to reading to your longer post!

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  17. My writing partner and I have finished a middle-grade, historical novel that is written in two voices. We balance each other out. She can see the big picture while I'm a knit-picker for details. She wants to start submitting to editors and agents. We have revised about one quarter of it, and have written the query, synopsis and chapter outline. I'm concerned if an editor/agent asks for the whole manuscript, and we have not completed the revisions, we will be shooting ourselves in the foot (the feet?). Neither of us have been published in this genre before. What is the best way to proceed?

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    1. Finish the novel first and polish it til it shines, then start submitting. The last thing you want is to get a request and not be ready.

      Most of the time, publishing moves glacially slow, but sometimes it's a sprint. For example, It was only ten days between pitching my agent at a con and her offering to represent me. She asked for the novel at the pitch, and if I hadn't been ready I could have missed that opportunity.

      I know it's hard to hold back when you want to get moving, but tell your partner you guys have time :) Better to be ready than to rush it.

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    2. Thank you for the quick reply. Your advise is clear and concise. At some point, could you post a discussion by authors who have co-authored a book? I'd love to hear about their struggles and successes.

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    3. Most welcome. I'll start asking around. I know a few folks who have done that.

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  18. I have a character in my current WIP who is a double agent, and I'm struggling to find ways to make the reader question which group she is truly loyal to without forcing the issue. Do you have any advice for how to write characters who don't stand clearly on one side of the line? Thank you!!

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    1. Great question, and one of my WIPs has a character in a similar situation (an undercover spy), so I've struggled with this one myself. It's a challenging character to write, so I can certainly share some insights there in a longer article.

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    2. Thank you so much! I look forward to it! :) Happy New Year!

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  19. Happy New Year, Janice! My struggle is getting a writing schedule done. I read an article tonight about developing a system instead of making a goal. I fell in love with the concept. But, working full-time and being a doctoral student takes a lot of my time. I only have weekends off. I can I could utilize them better instead of sleeping, huh? What are your thoughts? Advice?

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    1. I think almost every writer struggles with this one. If you love the idea of a system vs a goal, I think that's a great way to go. With limited writing time and a busy schedule, you might try carving out X amount of time (whatever works for you creatively) and making that your priority on the weekends. Writing comes first, you write for X hours, then you do whatever else needs to be done. That way, you know you'll get your writing done and you can relax the rest of the week. Whatever you get done that time you get done.

      You can also try varying when/where/how long you write to determine the best time and place for you. For example, if you get distracted at home, you might hit a coffee shop or library for four hours every Saturday where you can focus. if you're a night owl, you might find hitting the keyboard from nine to midnight is better. Or you might split it up and do a few hours in the morning and another stint later in the day.

      You might also try setting aside certain weeks for planning vs writing if you're a planner. Maybe the first weekend of the month is to figure out what you'll be writing the other three weekends. That way, you can just sit down and write and not have to figure out what you're going to write about. (if you're a pantser, this probably won't work though)

      If you find you need more direction than just "write," you can set smaller goals, maybe page or word counts, or a certain goal per month. I've found larger general goals help keep me focused and motivated, but aren't so stressful. Two chapters a month for example (or whatever fits you) is manageable, where 500 words every session feels confining.

      Hope this helps!

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  20. I am a writer of short stories but want to branch out into novels. However, I just don't think I have it in me to write a book! I have learned about Goal, Motivation, and Conflict in scenes and that's great to know. I have studied tension and add it through dialogue and small actions. Now for the big one - I don't understand Inciting Incident. One source says it is something that happens before the story ever starts, maybe something long ago in the MC past. Another writer says it is an incident that occurs that drives the story forward and it's where the story begins. I'm confused. I would love to see an article on the Inciting Incident that would make it clear for me and easy to incorporate in my own work.

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    1. I've done two article on the inciting event, so I'll point you there to get you started.

      The basics: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/08/writing-basics-inciting-event.html

      General tips: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2011/01/something-to-get-inciting-about.html

      The inciting event is something in the novel that puts the protagonist on the plot path to the climax of the novel, so it wouldn't have happened before the story opens. However, there can be history or an event in the protagonist's past that causes or affects the inciting event itself.

      For example, if the protagonist used to be in a gang, but he got out and it now doing well, the inviting event might be a member of his old gang showing up at the worst possible time for him. The history is the problem, but the actual showing up of the gang member to cause trouble is the inciting event. Does that help?

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    2. Yes, it does. It helps a great deal. I will look up the articles you referenced for additional study. Thank you again.

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  21. Hi Janice. I'm a new reader of your blog and am loving what I've read, so far!

    Apologies if my question has already been answered in the past. I'm wondering about indie publishing. Ideally I want to get my novel(s) published traditionally, but realise as I'm new to the game it may take a while. The thing that puts me off indie publishing is the sheer volume of FREE ebooks. Many indie authors seem to share at least their first book for free. I can't imagine giving mine away for nothing after months of slaving away! If it takes a year for me to get my second book out there, I have no monetary income from book 1. How can I compete as an unknown author in a marketplace of free books, if I want to charge?

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    1. Thanks, welcome to the blog!

      There are entire blogs devoted to this one question, so you're not alone in this. Indie publishing isn't for everyone, so if traditional publishing is your dream, there's no need for you to give up on that.

      If you do decide on indie, remember you're in control of your own career. If you don't want to give your books away for free, then don't. Authors who give away books successfully usually do so after they have several in a series already out, and they find that a free book actually boosts sales, because readers are willing to try the free book, then get hooked and buy the rest in the series.

      Readers are also a savvy bunch, and they're learning that the vast majority of those free ebooks aren't worth reading. While there are plenty of solid, professionally done indie books out there, there are still a lot of badly written ebooks on the market. Free isn't what it used to be. That's why seeing the first book of a series with a lot of good reviews is something that works--readers can discover a new author without risk, and they feel better about trying them because they can see a series with good reviews is already out.

      The way to compete is to write great books, make sure they look professional, and to do as much marketing and promotion as you're able to do. Discoverability is by far the hardest part of indie publishing, but once you find a reader and they like you, make sure the next book is just as good or better and the word of mouth will spread.

      The advice is easy to say and hard to do, but every author, no matter how they're published, faces the same challenge. Write the best book you can, and strive to make every book better.

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  22. Hi Janice,
    Thank you for being a fabulous resource! An earlier comment mentioned multiple POV and I would love to hear your advice on pacing with regard to multiple POV; specifically individual storylines merging with the main plot of the novel (genre is YA contemporary).
    Thank you again for all you do!

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    1. Most welcome, I'm glad you find the site useful. Ooo good question, and I love talking about POV. Added to the list!

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  23. I've read a bunch of articles on how to (and not to) write a hero or a heroine. But what I want to know is: How do I write an antihero?

    There's all kinds of rules for what a hero shouldn't do. But what about an antihero? What are the do's and don't's for him? Or does he not have any rules? I'm writing a romance, so this is really important for me to know.

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  24. Also, what qualifies as a literary style--as in, a literature/fiction genre? I'm having trouble pigeonholing my manuscript as any one particular genre based on content, and I think the key may be my writing style.

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    1. Can do. I think an entire series on the different genres would be fun to do. Time to round up some authors for the inside scoop!

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    2. I guess, more specifically, it's the subgenres I'm having trouble with. But even broader stuff should help!

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