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What Makes a Good Book?

bookWhat makes a good book? Is it well-developed characters or a strong story arc? Is it a specific genre or a certain writing style? Don’t Google the question unless you’re prepared to sort through hundreds of slapdash opinions. Everyone has an answer, and none of them are the same. But perhaps that’s exactly what makes a good book? Maybe it’s not poetic hyperboles, dramatic irony or well-placed flashbacks as much as the author’s ability to connect with the reader as a whole- an ability to take them places through alluring and comprehensive thoughts.

            “The Alchemist”, by Portuguese author Paulo Coelho, is an international best seller that has been published in 56 different languages, with over 65 million copies sold. Its captivating plot is about a shepherd boy who experiences mysterious dreams that take him on a journey to fulfill a greater destiny. The story is simple and charming. The writing style is very humble, so humble that it is one of the most translatable novels of all time, and the characters are basic, but captivating. There is no complex storyline, no unexpected ending or hidden agenda. Yet, according to the AFP and Guinness Book of World Records, The Alchemist is one of the best selling books in history. But why?

            It’s easy to comprehend once you understand the author. Believe it or not, it took Paulo Coelho only two weeks to write the book in 1987, and as he explains it, it’s because the story was already written in his soul.

            “When you really want something to happen,” he explains through an old king in the book, “the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.” This core value of the novel is something that all readers can relate to. It’s something that nearly everyone understands and associates with. We all have hopes, dreams and destinies that we chase. Coelho just makes it relatable through a great story.

            So why then do some readers put so much value in cerebral plots or structurally complex stories? Why do they like speculative metaphysics or multiple narrators and storylines? Well, that can be like asking why do people like certain colors or types of food? For some readers, it’s the relationship that they build with the book. Larger, more complicated stories keep readers on their toes, creating a literature-romance that has them constantly thinking about where the story might go next. For others, its not so much a story they’re into, but the addictive characters that they can revisit in books with thousands of pages and multiple sequels (I know that I’m not as worried about what magical creature Harry is chasing in “The Dresden Files “ as much as what will happen to Michael, Murphy, Butters, and the slew of other side characters). Or perhaps, just like anything, some people just want a book that tailors to their lifestyle. Logical thinkers prefer intelligently written books, while dreamers enjoy stories that some might consider a bit unordinary.

Regardless what the reason, more than any other article I’ve read or theory that I can muster, there’s one element that always seems to stand out in every great book. It’s not its complexity, multifaceted worlds or innovative ideas. Then again, its not its straightforwardness or minimalism either. A great book, compared to an average one, knows how to connect with what makes readers human. Well-written settings and descriptions are a perfect compliment to a tale, but they can never take the place of identifiable plots and characters in a story.

According to the NY Times “Best Seller List,” the top three books as of 2014 thus far are “Hopeless” by Colleen Hoover, “All the Light We Can Not See” by Anthony Doerr, and “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani. All three books are titans in their genre, yet none of them are excessively intricate. Instead, they deal with human characters and the challenges they have, whether it’s dealing with the devastation of World War II or multigenerational love. They are, for lack of better words, “human-books.”

So the next time you’re looking for a new paperback to take on your flight, or downloadable story to read during your lunch break, remember that no matter what reviews may say, no matter how many copies are sold, books are reflections of what makes us human. Think about what you’d like to get out of a story before making your selection. After all, it’s what you are as a human that makes you like the great books that you do, not the other way around.

“CONSUMED” Blog Tour

Hi All,

I’m very excited to say that the dates for my blog tour have finally been released. If you’d like to be a stop on the blog tour, please follow Zharmae Publishing’s official link. 

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1mMv98astynZ4wSCQK1DwnKQB8X9v7k-SgqepHefvg9c/viewform

Everyone Has an Opinion

          Whether your blogging fan fiction or working on the next award-winning novel, chances are that if you’re working on a new literary project, you’re also receiving insight from others. It may be a simple suggestion from a loved one or serious recommendations from your editor. Regardless, opinions can make or break someone’s writing. So how do you know what advice is valuable and what advice should respectfully be declined? Some might say it’s a matter of the author’s style, while others would argue that you need to scrutinize your counselor’s merit. Then there are those who say that if you truly want to write your best work, you shouldn’t take anyone’s opinion at all. So, let’s examine.

           Plato once said, “Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” The distinction that he was trying to make is that opinion is subject to error while knowledge is not. There’s nothing wrong with taking someone’s opinion into consideration. Just read the dedication part of a book and you’ll find a whole slew of authors thanking their family, friends and editors for their advice. It’s proactive to ask for different viewpoints, especially ones that come from those of whom you have a great amount of respect for. However, one thing that a writer needs to keep in mind is that one person’s advice, as creative or thought provoking as it might be, may not cater to your readers’ demographics. The fact is, although someone might offer a fun suggestion, like your main character switching sides at the last minute of the book without prior foreshadowing, statistically- people prefer clues for surprise resolution.

            It’s the responsibility of the author to determine whether a suggestion matches the writer’s style. If a writer wants to create something new and fascinating, it might not be a terrible idea to get the opinion of someone who thinks outside the box. Dozens of writers have advisors on standby who are constantly helping them develop their works in new and original ways. However, if a writer already has a steady plot for a specific genre, and an outsider’s opinion conflicts with the outcome, it might be in the author’s best interest to make choices that cater to their fans instead of their counselor. Neither technique is wrong. It’s just a matter of methods, standards, and goals.    

            Another question that a writer needs to ask themselves is, “Who exactly is giving me this advice and why is it wise to listen to them about the direction of this piece?” You might find that although someone is extremely intelligent, they may not be qualified to help with a specific area of your work. You might not want to ask a historical non-fiction writer about whether the dragon in your fantasy novel should be able to transform into a human, nor may you want to ask a comic book fan if the nemesis in your plot should be more behaviorally realistic. They may have great insight, but their background can sometimes be conflicting. So make sure that the advice giver is the right person before making any drastic changes. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of not wanting to turn down their advice. It’s much harder to say no thank you than it actually is to actually identify a bad suggestion, but make no mistake, you’ll eventually have to.  

            Then there are those who think that taking the advice of others can be an error. According to New York Times Best Selling Author, Joseph Finder, “The most successful writers aren’t the most talented. They’re the most stubborn.” If you have a method to your madness, don’t deviate because of a colleague or loved one’s opinion. Let your system be your system until it fails. Suggestions are a great way to get a new perspective or to make decisions about tough choices in your writing. Nevertheless, if you don’t want anyone’s advice, honestly, don’t take it. Keep in mind, I’m not telling you to be an immovable curmudgeon, but some authors are more instinctively in tune with their readers than others, and if you’re one of these lucky individuals, no need to listen to other’s suggestions. 

In the end, writers need to understand that writing is subjective. You’re always going to get conflicting opinions about your subject matter. There’s nothing wrong with that. Often, this can lead to us improving our work. But it’s the duty of the writer to understand which opinions are constructive and which are merely personal preference.  As a rule of thumb, a writer should remember that they’re catering to a broad audience. If there’s an idea that the author is on the fence about, they need to ask themselves, “What would my readers prefer?” On the other hand, if what you’re doing is already working, take those suggestions and throw them right out of the window.

            So, ironically, here I am giving my opinion. For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I ask you, do you want to take my advice or do you have a better suggestion?

Am I Selling Out or Fighting for My Work?

I read a lot of authors’ blogs and one of the hot buttons tends to be a debate over promoting your book. Some authors feel that they should concentrate solely on writing their book so that it’s at its best, while trusting their publishers to take care of the rest. Other authors feel that using social media, going on blog tours and attending conventions is the foundation of having a successful novel. Some blogs say that trying to be a salesperson dents a writer’s reputation while other post that self promotion is half the battle. Its two different schools of thought. So which is right?

Well, it wouldn’t be a heated debate unless both sides didn’t have excellent points. Traditional authors feel that a writer’s responsibility is to spend hundreds of hours of blood, sweat and tears trying to perfect a manuscript that they pitch to a publisher to sell. By accepting the book, a publisher is saying that they feel that they can market it to the correct audiences in order to make a profit. So why would you get the author, who knows nothing about selling, involved?  That’s like asking them to work on a car for you or fix your plumbing. Sure they’ll give it a shot, but writers tend to be lacking in marketing skills. They specialize in telling stories.

A publisher by definition is supposed to make information available to the public. That includes all of the stages of development including acquisition, editing, graphic design, production, printing and most importantly, marketing. You write, they excite. While a publisher might expect you to show up for a few promotional appointments, they shouldn’t rely on an author to turn a book into a success. That should be something that they deploy.

On the other hand, while it might be the responsibility of a publisher to help sell your book, why wouldn’t you try to help your own cause? While there’s conflicting numbers that don’t exactly prove or disprove if blogging truly helps sell books, I can tell you from personal experience that connecting with readers never hurts. I’ve seen multiple well written blogs that inspire me to continue following the author. And yes, while using Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. might not drive sales, it’s a great way to understand what people enjoy while keeping your name out there.  Plus, it helps target specific audiences.

Publishers are great at selling a manuscript to the general public, but they tend not to concentrate on specialized groups. Blogs, social media and focused tours are a great way to aim at an audience you’d like to cater to. For example, if I’m writing a horror novel (cough, cough, “Consumed” is in on bookshelves October 2014, cough), I might want to promote my novel to gothic book clubs,  ghoulish citywide conventions and anywhere else that there’s horror readers. Promoting to people who tend to read your specific genre not only theoretically pushes sales, but it also assures better reviews. Readers of a certain style might be a bit pickier, but they also tend to appreciate elements within your writing far more than a person who just picked up any book at the airport to get them through their flight to Los Angeles.

So what does it all mean then? Should you promote or shouldn’t you? Well, although my word isn’t an official authority, I’d have to say that both schools of thought are on the right track. Yes, I’m calling it a draw. While it’s true that an author’s book should be their priority, and that being weighed down by book promotions can be a serious distraction, getting involved in endorsing your own manuscript is vital.

Managing time is tough. If you’re an early phase author who still has a day job, it’s probably even tougher. An author with a publisher has to make sure that they are spending a majority of their time working on their manuscript while allowing ample time to promote. The rule of thumb tends to be that the smaller the publisher, the more time you may want to invest in pushing your book. I’m not saying that you have to stretch yourself thin, but the occasional blog, Twitter comment or Goodreads update helps.

However, if you feel that you absolutely positively do not have enough time to both write and promote, it’s my suggestion that you abandon ship with the marketing segment. While you may be able to help, it’s ultimately the publisher’s responsibility to get the word out that your amazing book is coming soon. Your publisher can promote without you, but no one can write the book but you. Might I warn though that this is only for rare cases. In my opinion, most people, if they’re really honest with themselves, can find the time.

So the next time you’re worried about the success of your book, ask yourself, “Am I doing enough to help?” You’ve put a lot of effort into your novel. Encourage readers to buy it. It doesn’t mean that you have to treat it like a second or third job, it just means that you should put a small amount of time away every week to ensure that you’re giving the book the attention it deserves. Remember, you only get what you give.

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