AI as a Tool, Not a Threat: Author Concerns and What to Do About It
June 6, 2023 in Editing, Marketing, News, Publishing, Tools & Resources, Video
Some authors are excited. Others heads are exploding. Why? AI.
Find out common concerns and how you can adapt to an AI world. You can read this post below the video.
I did a post on AI tools for authors, but since then, AI has become such a powder keg of controversy. I’ve met people who’ve been kicked out of social media groups for mentioning AI.
On the one hand, I can understand the concerns anti-AI authors have. I have a few of my own. But on the other hand, AI is here. There’s no stopping it any more than there was stopping the development of the car that impacted buggy makers or streaming entertainment that has impacted DVDs, which impacted VHS.
I want to cover some of the concerns and fears surrounding AI and provide tips, strategies, or coping skills in a changing world.
You may not agree with what I suggest here, which is fine. But what I don’t think can be disputed is that AI is here. It’s not going anywhere. As authors, we need to accept and adapt. I hope this information will help you with that.
Concern One: AI-generated content will replace human authors.
Will their be 100% AI generated books for sale. Yes. There already is. Will AI-generated books replace human authors? I don’t think so. Readers read. They read more than one book. They read more than one author. They don’t care how it was produced as long as it’s a good story. And right now, humans write stories with more emotional depth than AI. AI fiction is a bit like AI generated speech; there’s something stiff and unemotional about it.
Will that change as AI improves, maybe. Probably. But that doesn’t mean it will replace human authors. Think of AI like a ghost writer. Many publishing entrepreneurs hire ghost writers to create their books. Are you afraid of them too? Probably not.
Special note: If you’re a ghost writer, like I am, then you may need to thinking ahead about your future as a ghost writer. I have a great client, but she is an entrepreneur, and as AI improves, it’s possible she’ll decide it’s a better move to use AI.
Concern Two: Increased accessibility to AI writing tools will flood the market with low-quality content.
I want to tell you a story. Once upon a time, the only way to get your book into the world was to either be traditionally published or pay thousands of dollars for vanity publishing and figure out a way to sell your books from your garage. Then one day, the Internet came, and not long after, came print-on-demand and ebooks. Publishing was faster and cheaper than ever. And then, Amazon and Barnes and Noble and other online book retailers opened up their stores to would-be authors to publish their works directly, without a traditional publisher. Now anyone could write, publish, and sell their books. And so many did!
But there were some who didn’t like this. Many traditional authors scoffed at indie authors, saying they couldn’t write well enough to get a traditional publisher so their books had to suck.
I tell this story because some anti-AI authors sound like the traditional authors at the start of self-publishing. They’re getting upset at having to compete with low-quality books flooding the market.
Will there be sucky AI books. Yes. But none of that stops you from writing, publishing, and selling books. What a lot of authors seem to be forgetting is that success as an author comes from the reader. The key factor of making a living writing is YOU finding your readers.
It’s important to realize what has been learned in the last ten to fifteen years as self-publishing has flourished. Is there low content? Yes. But there are also fantastic writers out there. We learned that readers don’t care if a book is traditionally published. All they want is a good story. And if you can provide that, then you can win whether there is AI content or not.
Concern Three: AI might lead to an oversaturation of content, making it harder for authors to gain visibility.
In some ways, the answer to this concern is the same as above regarding low-quality content. Back when self-publishing started to take off, many traditional authors fussed about them saturating the market. And guess what. They did. And we’ve learned there is room for both indie and traditionally published authors because again, readers don’t care about that. They just want a good story.
Is the market flooded? Yes. There are many indie authors making money hand over fist. Many more are making enough to live on. Most make a few bucks. But guess what? That’s true of traditionally published authors as well. From that, we can extrapolate that AI-authors will experience the same.
Will there be more noise with AI-created content? Yes. But self-publishing already produces a lot of noise. The noise has been there for over a decade. The reality is that the difference between authors making a living and those who don’t has little to do with the number of books in the marketplace. It has to do with how well they can find and engage readers. And in fact, AI tools can help you do this!
Concern Four: AI algorithms may prioritize popular trends over originality and diversity.
I’ll be honest, I don’t get this concern considering the number of self-published romance authors who write to market (writing trends). Even traditional publishers are always looking for same, but different.
Again, this worry forgets the most important element in an author’s career…the reader. So what if AI prioritized trends over diversity? All that matters is what your reader wants to read and it’s clear by the success of indie authors that readers like originality and diversity.
Concern Five: Plagiarism and copyright infringement may become more prevalent with AI-generated content.
Someone, somewhere is going to steal and try to sell your book. Often they won’t even plagiarized. They’ll just take your book and sell it themselves. It happens. It’s like playing whack-a-mole to stop it.
This AI concern is a little different from that, but just like authors have to deal with stolen works, you’ll have to concern yourself with plagiarized content in AI. But already there are solutions. If you’re an honest sort, using AI to help you write, you’ll run your content through a plagiarism checker. Many of the AI editors that you probably use, such as Grammerly and Prowriting Aid offer plagiarism checkers. Heck, you can even run your AI content through an AI checker. I’ve used Originality.ai to check content for AI and plagiarism sent to me.
Second, you can protect your work using copyright. You need to officially file for a copyright to enforce it in a court, but it’s fairly affordable.
Concern Six: AI tools may devalue the role of editors and human feedback in the writing process.
It’s interesting that many authors didn’t bat an eye when AI tools like Grammerly or Prowriting Aid started providing robust editing feedback. Many where happy to have an affordable AI editor. Especially now that these tools go beyond checking grammar and spelling. They identify overused words, weak phrases, passive voice sentences, and more. Successful self-published authors I know still hire editors because despite how good these tools are, they’re not perfect. But even they usually run their work through Grammerly or Prowriting Aid first.
Could that change? Yes. Just like I’m anticipating a day in which AI replaces me as a ghost writer, AI could significantly impact editors as well. But I don’t see AI replacing editors all together. Humans are the consumers of these books, and therefore having a human involved in editing is important.
Concern Seven: AI may disrupt traditional publishing models, making it harder for authors to get published.
This is another topic some traditionally published authors fussed about when self-publishing became available. But like AI, a changing publishing model is already here. Readers who’ve grown up using devises (smartphones) are already moving the publishing industry in new directions. Serialized content and subscription models are two examples. But changing reader habits isn’t AI’s doing. Digital serialization has been around for a long time. In fact, serialization has it’s roots in the 19th century. Many authors moved to a subscription model (using platforms like Patreon) years ago. Publishing is changing, with or without AI.
But here’s another interesting factoid…traditional publishers are using AI. They’re using it for first-round editing and language translation. This could be a good thing because editing takes a long, long time. If editors can have a first round AI edit, and then go through with the human touch after, it saves time, time that could be used to work with more authors.
Adapt or Die
Okay, so that’s ominous, but the point is AI is here. No amount of fussing is going to change it. The answer is to figure out what that means for you as a writer. AI is a fantastic tool for authors. It can help with research, editing, and marketing. Yes, it may change the marketplace, so you need to adapt. But I would argue that the need for authors to adapt is already in play with the changing of the younger generations’ reading habits.
Tips for authors to adapt to a new AI world:
1. Embrace AI as a tool:
Chances are you’re already using AI. If you use predictive text in search, you’re using AI. If you have the grammar/spelling checker on in your document, or use Grammerly or Prowriting Aid, you’re using AI. If you dictate your writing, you’re using AI.
Rather than viewing AI as a threat, explore AI-powered writing tools and platforms to enhance your writing process. These tools can assist with tasks like fleshing out plot ideas, improved writing, editing, and marketing. By leveraging AI tools effectively, you can improve efficiency and productivity.
2. Leverage AI for writing and marketing research:
AI can assist you in conducting research more efficiently. You can use AI-powered search engines, text analysis tools, and data mining techniques to gather information, explore new ideas, and gain insights into reader preferences. This can help you create content that resonates with your readers and target-reader market.
3. Utilize AI for marketing and promotion:
AI can help you optimize your marketing and improve book discoverability. Authors can leverage AI tools to analyze market trends, identify target readers, and tailor their promotional efforts accordingly.
Here’s an example: You can ask AI to give you 52 short video ideas that would be interesting and engaging to your target reader. Next, you can ask it to write a 15-second script on each of the 52 ideas. In a matter of minutes, you have 52 TikTok/Shorts/Reels ideas and scrips. Tweak as needed, video, and post.
Here’s another idea: Take a short snippet from your book, use AI text to video to create a short marketing video. Add text to speech to make your characters talk.
4. Adapt to evolving reader preferences:
For longevity in an author career, you should stay attuned to changing reader preferences and consumption patterns. For instance, shorter-form content, interactive storytelling, or multimedia elements can cater to the demand for bite-sized, engaging experiences. By adapting your writing style and format, you can meet the evolving needs of readers.
5. Stop worrying about other people and things you can’t control:
Change can be scary. And I know it’s annoying to think some non-writer is going to use AI to write a romance novel and publish it, thereby competing with you. But you know what, that’s what traditional authors thought about self-published authors. And what did all their fussing get them? Nothing.
In this world there are opportunists, scammers, schemers, and cheaters. Some will use AI, just like they use all technology to make a buck. It is what is is. Don’t waste time on what has been a part of human nature since the beginning of time.
So, focus on the reality of AI’s existence and how you’ll adapt. AI is a tool. That’s it. Like all other tools, it requires your unique perspective and creativity. By embracing AI as a complementary tool and harnessing its capabilities, you can thrive as an author.
And remember, AI doesn’t change what’s required to be a success as an author which is writing a great book and finding your readers.
What are your thoughts about AI. What strategies or adaptations are you making now that AI is here?
Building a Street Team to Promote Your Romance Book
May 16, 2023 in Blog, Marketing
In 1998, I started working online. This was before PayPal and even before Google. In that twenty-five years, so much has changed online. Not only have content creation and delivery options opened up, but also marketing opportunities. It isn’t just that you have various new marketing tools at your disposal. How we attract and engage consumers has changed as well.
In the book, Creating Super Fans, Brittany Hodak explains how Costco lost her as a potential member because they weren’t welcoming and joining was difficult. There was a time in which consumers might just put up with that, but no more. Not with so many other options and businesses that welcome customers with open arms.
It makes me think back to the days of the long-distance telephone wars. I switched to MCI, but at one point noticed they had a great deal for new customers. When I called to get it, they said I couldn’t have it because it was only for new people. Here I was, a long-term paying customer treated worse than a new one. Of course, I switched to AT&T’s long distance. (I’m so glad times have changed with phones!).
Today’s consumers expect to be treated well, not just upon the sale, but after the sale as well. They expect responses to inquiries, even if they’re on Twitter. They like to feel heard and connected with those they do business with.
And while that might seem hard, consider that these consumers can become a sales force on your behalf if they’re happy with you and your product, in this case, your books. In fact, developing a street team or reader group is an affordable, fun way to engage with your fans and create buzz around your books.
What is a Street Team?
A street team is a group of dedicated fans and supporters who are passionate about your work and willing to actively promote it. The concept came from the music industry, where indie band fans would hit the streets put up promo posters around town to garner interest in a show.
Street team members are your advocates, spreading the word about your book through various channels, such as social media, word-of-mouth recommendations, online reviews, and more. Building a street team can significantly amplify your book’s reach and generate buzz about your romance novel.
How to Set Up A Street Team
Step 1: Create a Name and then Identify and Engage with Potential Team Members
The first step is to come up with a name. Your members are going to belong to a select club. Make them feel special and a part of the group by having a name. Many authors use a play on their name. For example, my team are the SweetHartes.
Next, identify readers who are already enthusiastic about your writing or show a genuine interest in the romance genre. Reach out to your existing readers, social media followers, or engage with romance book clubs and online communities. Don’t forget to let your email list know about the group, and regularly share information about the group to your list and your social media followers. Have information about your street team in your books as well.
Connect with readers personally and explain your idea of forming a street team. Emphasize the benefits of being a part of the team, such as exclusive access to early content, author interactions, and other perks of being on the team.
Step 2: Set Clear Expectations and Goals
To ensure a focused and committed street team, clearly define the expectations and goals from the beginning. Establish the specific tasks and activities you want the team to engage in, such as writing reviews, sharing social media posts, organizing online events, or participating in blog tours. Provide them with the necessary resources (e.g. social graphics) and guidelines to promote your book effectively.
Consider having rules that prohibit negative content about other books and authors. Your team may love you so much that they’ll bully others who they feel disrespect you. Have guidelines that tell members not to engage in that sort of behavior since what they do can reflect on you.
Step 3: Create a Dedicated Communication Channel
Maintaining constant communication with your street team is vital. Establish a dedicated communication channel, such as a private Facebook group, Slack workspace, or email list, where team members can interact with each other and receive updates directly from you. Regularly provide them with important announcements, behind-the-scenes insights, and promotional materials. Encourage active participation and foster a sense of community among team members.
Step 4: Offer Incentives and Rewards
Motivate and reward your street team members for their efforts. Offer incentives, such as exclusive sneak peeks of upcoming projects, signed copies of your book, personalized merchandise, or even acknowledgment in your next publication. I have occasional giveaways in which each social share earns an entry (counted by use of a special hashtag) to a drawing for a prize like an Amazon card.
Recognize their contributions publicly through social media shout-outs or dedicated blog posts. Show genuine appreciation for their support, which will keep them engaged and motivated to continue promoting your work.
Step 5: Engage in Collaborative Projects and Events
To keep the street team active and excited, engage them in collaborative projects and events. Organize virtual book club meetings, author Q&A sessions, or online contests. Encourage team members to share their experiences, reviews, and recommendations on their personal platforms. Collaborate with them on social media campaigns, blog tours, or cross-promotions with other authors. By involving your street team in various activities, you foster a sense of ownership and strengthen their bond with your book.
See below for more ideas and details on engaging with your street team.
Step 6: Evaluate and Adapt
Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your street team’s efforts and adapt your strategies accordingly. Monitor their engagement levels, review the impact of their promotional activities, and seek feedback from team members. Use their insights to refine your approach, identify areas for improvement, and keep the team dynamic and productive.
Some authors remove members who are inactive. The idea is that the street team gets the perks in return for helping you spread the word, so people who don’t spread the word, don’t get the perks. Of course, the other side of that is you could upset someone who bad mouths you online.
Street Team Activities
Day to day, your communication with your street team could be simply sharing a tidbit from your research or soemthing you wrote that day, asking for help on things like naming a character, a behind the scenes post, or a poll about some aspect of your book or to understand your group’s interests or reading habits (e.g. do they listen to audio books?).
However, your street team is also a place to host fun events that get you all together around a shared interest…your books. Here are some ideas of activities you can do with your team.
1. Organize Virtual Book Club Meetings:
– Schedule regular virtual book club meetings where team members can discuss your book and other related topics.
– Choose a platform such as Zoom or Google Meet for the meetings.
– Prepare discussion questions or themes in advance to guide the conversation.
– Consider inviting guest authors or experts to enhance the discussion.
2. Author Q&A Sessions:
– Host live Q&A sessions where team members can ask you questions directly.
– Set a specific date and time for the session and promote it in advance.
– Use a platform like Facebook Live, Instagram Live, or YouTube Live for the session.
– Encourage team members to submit questions beforehand to ensure a smooth and engaging session.
3. Online Contests:
– Run online contests where team members can participate and win book-related prizes.
– Choose a theme or prompt for the contest that relates to your book.
– Use social media platforms to promote and organize the contest.
– Set clear rules, deadlines, and guidelines for participation.
4. Encourage Sharing Experiences, Reviews, and Recommendations:
– Create a designated space for team members to share their experiences, reviews, and recommendations.
– Use your dedicated communication channel, such as a Facebook group or Slack workspace, to facilitate these discussions.
– Encourage team members to share their honest opinions and experiences on their personal platforms, such as blogs, social media, or online review sites.
– Provide them with pre-written promotional material or graphics that they can easily share.
5. Collaborate on Social Media Campaigns:
– Plan and execute social media campaigns in collaboration with your street team.
– Create specific hashtags, graphics, or challenges for the campaign.
– Assign team members different tasks, such as sharing posts, creating original content, or engaging with comments and questions.
– Track the progress of the campaign using analytics and acknowledge team members’ contributions publicly.
6. Coordinate Blog Tours:
– Organize blog tours where team members can write guest posts or reviews on their own blogs or websites.
– Reach out to relevant book bloggers or websites to participate in the tour.
– Provide team members with the necessary materials, such as excerpts, author interviews, or discussion questions.
– Coordinate the tour schedule and promote it across various platforms.
7. Host Book Launch and/or Author Take Over Events
– Organize a launch or take over party through Facebook or other platform. You can have a theme or just a general party. You can do it through your Facebook street team group (if you have one), another FB group, or as an event on FB.
– Invite other authors to join in
– Promote the event in your group and outside it, and ask the other authors to promote it as well.
– On the day of the event, post fun stuff, have a few giveaways and have fun!
Effective execution of these activities requires clear communication, proper planning, and timely coordination with your street team members. Stay engaged with them, provide support and guidance, and express your appreciation for their efforts.
Writing Deep POV to Up the Swoon in Romance Novels
May 9, 2023 in Blog, Video, Writing Romance
Romance novels are all about feels. Yes, other genres have feels, but in romance, we want the reader to experience the rollercoaster ride of love as if they’re actually there. The best way to immerse readers into a story is through deep POV. By writing in deep POV, you can create a more intimate connection between the reader and the character, allowing the reader to experience the character’s emotions in a more visceral way. This makes it easier for readers to empathize with the characters and become invested in their journey.
In this video, I cover what is deep POV and 6 tips to using it to boost the swoon factor of your romances. You can read the text version of the video below.
What is Deep POV?
Deep POV is a writing technique that pulls readers into the story as if they’re inside the point-of-view character’s mind. It essentially quiets the narrator (the author) and everything (thoughts, feelings, sensations, sights) is delivered through the POV character.
The best way to visualize this concept is with the movie The Sound of Music. At the beginning, we see the Alps in all its glory and we can hear Maria signing…the hills are a live, with the sound of music… But initially we don’t see her, or she’s a tiny speck. This is third person limited. Slowly, we move closer to her until finally we’re with her, twirling, singing, and basking in the beauty of the Alps. We can feel the sun on our faces, like Maria. We experience the joy that is emanating from her. That is deep POV.
Technically, deep POV is third-person limited writing, but switching to first person POV isn’t enough to write in deep POV. Plus, you may not want to write in first person, in which case you need to find a way to immerse your reader into the story so they live it vicariously.
Whether you write in third or first person, the tips below will help you create an immersive story that makes your readers swoon.
How to Write in Deep POV
Create 3-D Characters
For a reader to feel as if they’re alongside the character, the character needs to be fully formed, with a history that informs their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, quirks, etc. If you’re a pantster, this may evolve during the writing, but the more you know your character, the easier it is to write as if you are them, not just telling the reader about them.
3-D characters have:
- A goal
- Conflict: Internal & External
- A temperament, personality, values
- A past that influences current motivation, beliefs and behavior
- A flaw that is overcome by the end of the book
Traits, such as appearance, interests, career, quirks, etc are only needed as they relate to who the character is and how it impacts the story. It doesn’t matter that your character loves chocolate, unless that is used to inform the character or plot.
Essential Question about Characters: How do characters’ traits manifest in the story to reveal who they are and accentuate the plot?
Write from a Singular POV (No head hopping)
You can have more than one POV character in your story, just not in a single scene. Writing in deep POV means being in one person’s head, experiencing everything that is going on through them. We (the reader) see what they see. We feel what they feel. We hear what they hear.
Explain Everything from the POV Character’s Point of View
When you’re in the POV character’s head, everything going on in the scene is filtered character’s attitudes, beliefs, past experiences, etc. So if it’s cold out and the POV person hates the cold, that will come through.
Sally stepped outside into the sleet, gasping as her foot lost purchase and slid across the porch until gravity brought her down. Cursing, she righted herself and inhaled the burning cold air. Whoever said February was like a month full of Mondays was right.
Sally stepped outside into the sleet, gasping as her foot lost purchase and slid across the porch until gravity brought her down. Laughing, she righted herself and inhaled the cold, crisp air. I’m awake now, Mother Nature.
Don’t forget to layer everything with the POV’s character traits, including how they think. When your character has a thought, it should fit with who they are and how the move in the world.
Use Sensory Details
Tami Hoag has a series set in wintery Minnesota. I can read those books during the hot, humid summer in Virginia and feel cold. That’s what you want from your writing. You want your readers to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell everything your POV character does. Added with the layer of attitudes, beliefs, etc, sensory detail can reveal a great deal about the character and the plot.
She pulled her shirt away from her damp skin as a trickle of sweat dripped down the center of her back. Was there anything worse than sweat along the bra line?
In the above, we experience how hot it is and her attitude about it. In the previous example, we see the same situation (slipping when stepping outside) but two different attitudes about it.
Eliminate Filter Words (thought, realized, saw, heard, etc)
When you’re in deep POV, we don’t need to be told who is thinking, seeing, realizing, etc because we know who is doing the thinking, seeing, realizing, etc. These words are basically telling (remember, show, don’t tell).
Joe watched Jane descend the steps. She was stunning, he thought.
Joe watched Jane descent the steps. She was stunning.
I’m such a fool, she said to herself.
I’m such a fool. (Italicized to indicate thought)
Learn how to write setting from deep POV in the post on Writing Settings Readers Don’t Skip
Eliminate Dialogue Tags when Possible
Like filter words, dialogue tags (e.g. he said) are telling, not showing. It can be difficult to eliminate them all together (Kelly Moran once wrote a book without dialogue tags!) especially when there is more than one person in the room, but most books can significantly reduce them.
Instead of dialogue tags, use a thought or action to reveal who is talking.
“I love you,” he said as he wiped the tear from her cheek.
“I love you.” He wiped the tear from her cheek.
He wiped the tear from her cheek. “I love you.”
Here is another example:
“You’re not the kind of man a woman forgets,” she said, trying to maintain the banter even though her heart was breaking.
“You’re not the kind of man a woman forgets.” She wanted to maintain the banter, even though her heart was breaking.
If there are only two people in the scene, you can sometimes not use anything for one dialogue, as long as the reader can be clear on who is talking. Here’s an example from Deadly Valentine, between Tess and Jack at Asa’s party. The previous line (not shown) is Jack, and this first line is Tess.
“I didn’t know you knew Asa.”
“I don’t very well. It’s business.”
“You’re doing business with him?”
“Not yet. I probably won’t.” He shifted, moved closer. “Are you here alone?”
One dark brow lifted.
“I came with someone, but he was called away,” Tess clarified.
“Too bad for him.”
“He’ll be back.”
“Too bad for me.”
You’ll notice that I used a dialogue tag above (Tess clarified). An occasional dialogue tag is okay to avoid the scene looking like a circus with people moving, scratching, thinking etc. action overwhelm. Sometimes, a short and sweet dialogue tag is better to keep the action of the dialogue going and not interrupted by a longer action or thought.
Use Active Voice
I have a video on passive and active voice in which I say passive voice isn’t wrong and there are occasions to use it. But when writing in deep POV, stronger, tighter prose is what keeps the reader feeling all the feels with the character. When the POV character is doing the action of the sentence, readers are intimately connected.
Sally was overwhelmed by emotion.
Emotion overwhelmed Sally.
Here’s another example:
The avalanche caught up to Sally. The icy wall wrapped her up and tossed her around until she didn’t know up from down.
Sally couldn’t out-ski the wall of snow barreling down on her. She fell under the weight of it, tossed around until she didn’t know up from down.
Remember, in deep POV, readers can only know and experience what our POV character knows and experiences. Often, our character can mis-interpret or misunderstand what’s going on based on their limited knowledge or biases. This can be a great tool for unreliable narration and to increase tension.
Do you have other tips for writing in Deep POV? Let me know in the comments below!
Finding and Working with Beta Readers: A Guide for Romance Authors
May 2, 2023 in Blog, Editing, Writing Romance
Beta readers are one of those recommendations other authors make, but often there is little information in how to find or work with a beta reader. While there is a great deal of leeway in cultivating beta readers, here are general tips and guidelines that you can use or tweak to fit your needs.
What is a Beta Reader?
The term “beta” comes from beta test in the software world in which a program nearing completion would be tested for bugs by outside sources before being given to the masses. Today, beta testing occurs with software, apps, gizmos, gadgets, products, and now books.
A beta reader reads a manuscript that is nearly complete to find issues in plot, pacing, characters, inconsistencies, spelling and grammar, and formatting, before the manuscript is sent to an editor. Beta readers differ from editors in that they’re experiencing the book as a reader would and only highlighting issues that get in the way of the reading experience. While some beta readers are also ARC readers (readers who get an advanced copy for review), the two are different.
While you can hire beta readers, for the most part, authors have readers who do it for free. Why? Because they love your work and want to be a part of the process. Because they want to read the story now, not later. Because they want to read for free. Because they enjoy helping authors. Beta readers read for all sorts of reasons.
You don’t need a gaggle of readers. Too many readers make it difficult to review all the feedback. Three is a good number…it’s enough to get a variety of insights without being overwhelming. With that said, you may want a team of readers (5-7) them so you have at least 3 readers available when needed or to have 3 feedbacks in case someone can’t read in time.
Preparing Your Romance Novel for Beta Readers
The beta readers are your last round of eyes before the novel goes to your editor (whether you’re an indie or traditional published author). The goal is to give them the complete reading experience. Here are tips for prepping your book for beta readers:
- Finish the book. Don’t send them a draft. Use drafts in your critique group or for alpha readers.
- Put together a short tag line or premise and blurb that you’ll use to let your readers know what the book is about so they can decide if they want to read it.
- Format the book. How you do this depends on how much you want your readers to be able to comment or mark up the manuscript and how they prefer to read. You can deliver a Word or Google Doc which your readers can mark up. Or you can send a PDF (there is an option to comment in PDFs). Another option is Epub, which is ideal for readers who like to read on Kindle or other e-reader.
Establishing Beta Reader Guidelines
Before you send off your manuscript, you should establish a process by which you want your readers to work with you. Here are some guidelines to set up:
- Expectations. What do you want your readers to let you know about? What sort of feedback are you looking for? If there are specific areas of concern, let them know about it. For example, if you think a character is too weak or a plot twist isn’t twisty enough.
- Time frame. You want to give your readers plenty of time to read, but not so much time the book gets lost in their to-dos. I generally give 3 weeks.
- Provide a list of questions. Help your readers help you by having specific questions they answer about your book. This can vary depending on the reader (fan, reader, other writer, etc), as well as genre, but can include questions such as, is the book too long or short? Did X make sense? Was character Y too over the top? Did the dialogue seem real? Could you feel the chemistry between the couple? Did you skip any parts? Would you continue reading this series? etc
- How to provide feedback. Give your readers opportunities for feedback beyond the questionnaire. If you’ve provided a Word or Google Doc, your readers can input their comments directly into it (you may need to show them how). Or do you want an email list of comments? Maybe you’ll set up a Zoom with one at a time, or all of them to get feedback.
- Give recognition. Beta readers are donating time to read and give you feedback, so have some sort of thank you for them. Maybe they get a print copy of the book when it’s published. Maybe you mention them in your acknowledgements. Maybe you give them a shout out on social media. Maybe you send them special swag. Maybe you do all of the above!
How to Choose Beta Readers
A challenge in finding beta readers is selecting ones who will follow through. Just like a portion of ARC readers don’t leave a review, you’ll have beta readers who don’t read the book. Along with people who can commit to reading, you’ll want to look for:
- Readers who read your books or genre. You need feedback from readers who know the genre.
- Readers who know how to review and critique. In the beginning, most my beta readers would say, “I loved it,” which made me feel good, but wasn’t helpful in terms of areas I needed to address in the book. That’s not to say they can’t praise the work, because you want them to highlight areas they enjoyed or that they felt you did well. But they also need to let you know that areas need work.
- Readers who can identify triggering or potentially offensive content. Sensitivity readers are beta readers, but not all beta readers will look for sensitive areas. If this is a concern, be sure to find a reader who can provide this sort of feedback for you.
- Readers you can trust. While manuscript stealing isn’t as prevalent as people fear, it can happen. Many authors ask their beta readers to sign a contract or non-disclosure form but some beta readers find this obnoxious. If you’re worried, file for copyright before sending your work to beta readers.
- Readers who are reliable. Most authors have a timeline to publication. You need to give beta readers enough time to read and get back to you, so that you have time to edit/revise before publishing, but also, your readers need to stick to that timeline.
- Readers who are only readers, as well as other writers. Other writers can be very helpful with critique, but your beta readers should also include readers-only so that you get feedback on the reader experience of the book.
- Readers who read a lot. The value of the beta reader is their vast knowledge and experience the genre. You don’t just want their personal preference (e.g. I don’t like the love triangle). You want your readers to provide feedback that helps you create a book that readers of that genre/subgenre/trope in general enjoy.
Where to Find Beta Readers
Beta readers are everywhere. When seeking beta readers, focus on readers who read your genre. Make it clear to them the subgenre and perhaps tropes. It’s not helpful to send a contemporary romance to a historical romance reader, or a secret child romance to someone who doesn’t like secret child romances. Here are a few places to look:
Close to You
- Your current active fans. If you have readers who are always buying and talking about your books, they’re a good place to start for beta readers.
- Critique group. If you belong to a critique group (which you should), find other writers in your genre to ask to beta read. You can return the favor for them.
- Email list. Like your vocal fans, your email list is a group of people who’ve indicated they like you and your work.
- Social Media. Like fans and the email list, your reader group or followers can be a place to find beta readers who already know and like your work.
- Friends and family. This can be a tough place to find readers as they may not like to give you negative feedback or maybe they’re not readers of your genre.
Outside of Your Circle
Since this group of people don’t know you and you don’t know them, you may want to have a vetting process. Make sure they know, understand, and agree to your guidelines, and be clear on what and when you need feedback.
Here are places to find readers who don’t know you.
- Online beta reader forums. Places like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter have groups of beta readers.
- Online reading communities. Reading communities have avid readers and some are willing to beta read. You’ll want to watch for readers who simply want a free book and don’t fulfill the feedback aspect of the relationship. These communities can be found on Facebook and Goodreads. Check out TikTok as well.
- Online writing communities. Writing communities such as Scribophile or Critique Circle. These platforms allow you to share your work with other writers and readers and get feedback.
- Beta reading services. If you’re really stuck, there are a host of beta reading services such as, Hey Beta and Beta Books, which will also help you manage your beta readers.
Here are a few extra tips when working with beta readers:
- Have a quick check-in or reminder mid-way through the beta read time frame. If you’ve given your readers 3 weeks (21 days), check in at day 10 or 11.
- Don’t become defensive with readers who have negative feedback. If you have to explain your writing, your writing didn’t do it’s job. There’s no rule that says you have to use feedback and you certainly don’t have to tell readers what feedback you plan to use or not use. Take the feedback and say thank you.
- Read through feedback more than once. The first time, negative critique can ouch, and the defenses go up. Don’t do anything at that time. Later, re-read the feedback, but try to be objective and determine what the reader is telling you.
- Don’t forget to thank your readers! Show them that you appreciate the time and effort they put in to help your book be the best it can be!
Would you like Write with Harte to offer beta reading or critique? Let me know in the comments below!
Heat Levels in Romance Novels: A Guide for Authors
April 25, 2023 in Blog
I think all romance readers and writers understand that romance novels come in various heat levels. What is a little more challenging to understand is what each level, outside of sweet and spicy, does each level represent. If I say my books are a 4, is your understanding of a 4 heat level the same as mine?
While heat level is subjective, this post will attempt to explain what it is and why it’s important, and give a basic description of a 1 through 5 heat level rating.
Why Heat Level is Important In Romances
Heat level in romance novels refers to the degree of explicit sexual content in the story. Just like readers have favorite and hated tropes, so too do they have preferred and avoided heat levels. For this reason, heat is a factor romance authors need to consider when marketing their books. Readers who don’t want any heat will be upset if you sell them a book with a sexy bit. There’s also a market for readers who want explicit content, sometimes highly explicit, and if they don’t get it when they expected it, they’ll be annoyed. Get heat level wrong and you could end up with a bad review.
What Each Heat Level is and What it Means
Heat levels are typically classified into five categories, although the names of these categories can vary. For the purpose of this article we’ll use: sweet, warm, sensual, spicy, and erotic (not erotica, which is in a class all its own).
❤️🔥1. Sweet: The sweet romance is similar to the cozy mystery…there’s nothing explicit, violent or vulgar. Many, if not most, don’t have kissing or physical contact. There isn’t anything that hints at being turned on. Any flutters have to do with love, not arousal.
Sweet romances are usually okay for younger audiences, but readers of all ages enjoy it.
Like other romances, you can find them in a variety of categories (e.g. historical, contemporary, suspense, YA, LBGTQ) and tropes (second chance at love, etc). Faith oriented romances are also in this category.
Some authors to check out are Elena Johnson and Harlequin’s Heartwarming (Jen Gilroy or Tanya Angler) or Love Inspired. You can see Harlequin’s lines heat levels here.
❤️🔥❤️🔥2. Warm: This heat level is one step up from the sweet romance. It usually has kissing and may allude to a sexual encounter but doesn’t depict it. In general there isn’t any content that hints at arousal. There might be tingles, but that’s about it.
Warm romances may have a couple of benign swear words, but nothing harsh (no f-word or vulgar words).
Like other romances, a warm romance cover a variety of categories and tropes. Many YA books tread into this heat level these days.
❤️🔥❤️🔥❤️🔥3. Sensual: Unlike the first two heat levels, this one includes sensual aspects that provide some titillation. Whereas in the former heat level a kiss expresses love, in this level it’s an expression of lust and leads to arousal. It has explicit sex scenes, although usually not very vulgar language except maybe the f-word. This is the level at which writers need to be careful with euphemisms.
Romances in this heat level are 18+ content. They’re found in all mature-reader oriented categories (e.g. historical, contemporary, suspense, paranormal, etc), and tropes. Old school romances from Nora Roberts and her peers generally fall in this heat level. Many romcoms, such as The Hating Game, are in this level as well.
❤️🔥❤️🔥❤️🔥❤️🔥4. Spicy: This level started growing in the 2000’s with authors like Lori Foster, and Harlequin’s Desire and later Blaze lines (you can see current Harlequin lines and guidelines here). The sex is more explicit than in the sensual level and often includes some vulgar language.
Like all other levels, you can find romances in this level in a variety of categories and tropes. New Adult falls here or sometimes straddles sensual and spicy.
❤️🔥❤️🔥❤️🔥❤️🔥❤️🔥5. Erotic: This is the highest heat level that doesn’t tip over into erotica. At this level, there are often more sexy bits than in the other levels. It’s highly explicit using coarse, vulgar language, often with BDSM elements.
This heat level is where many of the darker romances fall, such as mafia romances (which outsold billionaire romances last year). Menage books (e.g. reverse harem) also are usually in this heat level.
Most well-known authors at this heat level are E.L. James and Sylvia Day, but many indie authors dominate this heat level on Amazon (especially in KU).
Like the other levels, you can find books in most romance categories and tropes.
Notes on Heat Ratings
It’s important to note that regardless of heat level, a romance is first and foremost about a loving, healthy relationship between two (or in the case of reverse harem multiple) people. If the book is only about sex, and not a romantic relationship, then it’s erotica.
Ultimately, heat levels are subjective. I think I’m spicier than 3 but not quite a 4… 3.5, if you will. But, even with an imperfect rating system, identifying a heat level helps readers navigate content they prefer and avoid what they find offensive. Letting readers know what to expect can help you avoid shocking or disappointing readers. If you have a provocative cover and no sexy bits, a sweet reader might avoid it (because of the cover) and a level 3-5 reader might be disappointed that there wasn’t anything explicit. The opposite is true too. If you have a sweet looking cover but explicit sex in the book, a sweet reader lured in by the cover will be upset.
Should you come right out and say your heat level in your book description? If you’re a sweet writer, I would say yes so that sweet readers feel confident in what they’re getting. For levels 4 and especially 5, often the heat level is revealed by the cover and/or the blurb. You’re not likely to have a sweet reverse harem.
If you study the market of books at your heat level, you can get a sense of how they market and how their covers and blurbs reveal what the reader is likely to find.
Do you have thoughts or additional ideas to share about heat levels in romance novels? Let me know in the comments below!
Getting the Words Right: 35+ Commonly (Accidentally) Misused Homophones
April 17, 2023 in Blog, Editing, Writing Romance
Homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things) can cause chaos because chances are you know what version to use, but for some reason the brain uses the wrong one. Even worse, homophones are often missed when you’re proofreading because you read what you meant, not what you wrote.
Most AI editors today will pick up on the wrong use of the word, but it doesn’t hurt to brush up on commonly misused homophones.
- Accept: Verb meaning to receive or agree to. Example: “I accept your invitation to dinner.”
- Except: Preposition meaning excluding or leaving out. Example: “Everyone is coming to the party except for John.”
- Advise: Verb meaning to offer suggestions or guidance. Example: “I advise you to study harder for the exam.”
- Advice: Noun meaning suggestions or guidance offered. Example: “I need some advice on what to wear to the interview.”
- Affect: Verb meaning to influence or change. Example: “The new policy will affect our company.”
- Effect: Noun meaning the result or consequence of an action. Example: “The effect of the new policy is yet to be seen.”
- Aisle (noun) – a passageway between rows of seats or shelves; Example: I walked down the aisle of the airplane.
- Isle (noun) – an island; Example: Hawaii is an isle.
- I’ll (contraction of “I will”). Example: I’ll meet you at the coffee shop.
- Bear: Noun meaning a large mammal. Verb meaning to carry or support. Example: “The bear was spotted in the woods.”
- Bare: Adjective meaning uncovered or naked. Example: “The trees were bare in the winter.”
- Bored (adjective) – feeling uninterested or tired; Example: I’m so bored right now.
- Board (noun) – a flat piece of wood or a group of people who oversee an organization. Example: He serves on the board of directors.
- Break: Verb meaning to separate into pieces. Noun meaning a pause or interruption. Example: “I need to take a break from work.”
- Brake: Noun meaning a device used to slow or stop a vehicle. Example: “I applied the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of me.”
- Buy: Verb meaning to purchase something. Example: “I need to buy some groceries at the store.”
- By: Preposition indicating proximity or proximity in time. Example: “I walked by the store on my way home.”
- Bye: Noun meaning farewell. In sports, it means to go to next round without playing. Example, “Bye, see you later.” “The team has a bye week.”
- Capital: Noun meaning the city or town that is the seat of government. Adjective meaning of or relating to wealth or assets. Example: “Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States.”
- Capitol: Noun meaning the building in which a state or national legislative body meets. Example: “The protesters marched to the state capitol.”
- Complement: Noun meaning something that completes or enhances something else. Verb meaning to complete or enhance. Example: “The red wine complements the steak.”
- Compliment: Noun meaning an expression of praise or admiration. Verb meaning to praise or admire. Example: “She complimented me on my new outfit.”
- Coarse (adjective) – rough or vulgar; Example: The sandpaper is coarse.
- Course (noun) – a direction or path, or a series of lessons. Example: I’m taking a photography course.
- Council (noun) – a group of people who meet to discuss and make decisions; Example: The city council is meeting tonight.
- Counsel (noun) – advice or guidance given by a person in authority. Example: He sought counsel from his lawyer.
- Desert (noun) – a dry, sandy region; (verb) – to abandon or leave behind; Example: The Sahara is a desert. I never desert my friends.
- Dessert (noun) – a sweet dish served after a meal. Example: I love chocolate dessert.
- Dyeing (verb) – present participle of “dye” (to color something); Example: She is dyeing her hair.
- Dying (verb) – the present participle of “die” (to pass away or cease to exist). Example: He is dying of cancer.
- Hear: Verb meaning to perceive sound. Example: “I can hear the birds singing outside.”
- Here: Adverb indicating location. Example: “Come over here and sit down.”
- Hole (noun) – an opening or empty space; Example: There’s a hole in the ground.
- Whole (adjective) – complete or entire. Example: I ate the whole pizza.
- Idle (adjective) – inactive or lazy; Example: He was idle all day.
- Idol (noun) – an object of worship or a person who is greatly admired. Example: She is a big fan of her pop idol.
- Insure: Verb meaning to protect against loss or damage with insurance. Example: “I need to insure my new car before I can drive it off the lot.”
Ensure: Verb meaning to make certain or guarantee. Example: “We need to ensure that all of the guests have a place to sit at the wedding.”
- Its: Possessive pronoun, used to show ownership by a non-human subject. Example: “The dog wagged its tail.” Note, that some writers have difficulty with this because possession usually is signified with an apostrophy, such as the dog’s tail. But in this case, its without the apostrophe shows ownership.
- It’s: Contraction of “it is” or “it has”. Example: “It’s raining outside.”
- Knew (verb) – past tense of “know”; Example: I knew the answer to the question.
- New (adjective) – recently made or discovered. Example: She bought a new car.
- “Lay” is a transitive verb, which means it requires an object. This means that “lay” is used when you are putting something down, especially in a horizontal position. For example: “I am going to lay the book on the table.”
- “Lie” is an intransitive verb, which means it does not require an object. This means that “lie” is used when you are reclining or being in a horizontal position. For example: “I am going to lie down on the couch for a while.”
The confusion often comes from the past tense of these verbs. The past tense of “lay” is “laid”, and the past tense of “lie” is “lay”. For example:
- “Yesterday, I laid the book on the table.” (past tense of “lay”)
- “Yesterday, I lay down on the couch for a while.” (past tense of “lie”)
So, to summarize: “lay” is used when you are putting something down and “lie” is used when you are reclining or being in a horizontal position.
- Peace (noun) – calm or freedom from conflict; Example: We need peace in the world.
- Piece (noun) – a part or portion of something. Example: I broke a piece of the vase.
- Pique: Noun meaning a feeling of irritation or resentment. Verb meaning to provoke or stimulate. Example: “The criticism from her boss piqued her interest in finding a new job.”
- Peak: Noun meaning the highest point or summit. Adjective meaning highest or maximum. Example: “We reached the peak of the mountain just as the sun began to rise.”
- Peek: Noun meaning a quick or secret look. Verb meaning to take a quick or secret look. Example: “I took a peek at the birthday presents hidden in the closet.”
- Plane (noun) – a flat surface or aircraft; (adjective) – flat or level; Example: The carpenter used a plane to smooth the wood.
- Plain (noun) – a flat, open area; (adjective) – simple or unadorned. Example: The prairie is a plain. She wore a plain dress.
- Principal: Noun meaning the head or leader of an organization. Adjective meaning most important or primary. Example: “The principal of the school is retiring at the end of the year.”
- Principle: Noun meaning a fundamental truth or concept. Example: “The principle of supply and demand affects the economy.”
- Rode: Past tense of the verb “ride”. Example: “I rode my bike to the store.”
- Road: Noun meaning a paved surface for vehicles. Example: “The road was closed due to construction.”
- Role (noun) – a part played by an actor or a function performed by a person or thing; Example: Her role in the play was the lead character.
- Roll (verb) – to move forward by turning over and over, or a type of bread; Example: The ball started to roll down the hill. She buttered her roll.
- Their: Possessive pronoun, used to show ownership. Example: “Their car is parked outside.”
- They’re: Contraction of “they are”. Example: “They’re going to the movies tonight.”
- There: Adverb used to indicate location. Example: “The book is over there on the shelf.”
- Then: Adverb indicating time or sequence. Example: “We went to the park and then we had lunch.”
- Than: Conjunction used in comparisons. Example: “I am taller than my sister.”
- To: Preposition indicating direction or movement. Example: “I am going to the store.”
- Too: Adverb indicating excess or addition. Example: “I ate too much cake.”
- Two: The number 2. Example: “I have two cats.”
- Then: Adverb indicating time or sequence. Example: “We went to the park and then we had lunch.”
- Than: Conjunction used in comparisons. Example: “I am taller than my sister.”
- Waste (noun) – garbage or unused material; (verb) – to use carelessly or without purpose; Example: Don’t waste your time on that.
- Waist (noun) – the narrow part of the body between the hips and the ribs. Example: My waist is too big.
- Weather: Noun meaning the condition of the atmosphere at a particular time and place. Example: “The weather is nice today.”
- Whether: Conjunction used to introduce alternatives. Example: “I don’t know whether to take the bus or walk.”
- Whose (pronoun) – used to ask about the owner of something; Example: Whose book is this?
- Who’s (contraction of “who is” or “who has”) – used to combine “who” with “is” or “has” in a sentence. Example: Who’s going to the party tonight?
- Your: Possessive pronoun, used to show ownership. Example: “Is this your book?”
- You’re: Contraction of “you are”. Example: “You’re going to have a great time at the party.”
Here are a few more homophone to to watch for:
I’m sure there are many more! Do you have any homophones that sneak in to your writing by accident?
Romance Author Website: Why You Need One and How to Get One
April 11, 2023 in Blog, Marketing
I created JennaHarte.com in 2006, well before publishing anything. Coming from a blogging and non-fiction writing background, I knew that if I wanted to capture the attention of a publisher, I needed to show them I was serious about being an author and selling my books. I also understood that by gathering followers in advance of a book release, there would be buyers when the book finally published.
Today, romance authors have many ways to reach and engage readers using social media. The fact that social media is free has made it an ideal way to find and interact with readers. So much so that many many authors have nothing else. But I caution any author against solely using social media for your author hub. Here are potential problems with using social media as your only author center:
- Outages: In October 2021, Facebook and Instagram had massive outages. During that time, ads didn’t run, scheduled posts didn’t post, and authors weren’t able to respond to readers.
- Banning Bots: Every now and then, Facebook and sometimes other platforms decide you’ve done something wrong and ban you. If Facebook and other places made it easy to find out why the bot banned you and how to fix it, this might not be a big deal, but they don’t. You get a link to the rules and it’s up to you to guess why you were banned. Contacting the platforms for a review is hit and miss. I spent over a year asking for a review of a different brand at Facebook. None of the requests were ever answered. (The page was restored when I wanted to run ads). If your page or you are banned, you no longer have access to your followers. In an instant, your ability to let them know about your books is gone.
- Short Shelf Life of Posts: The lifespan of a post varies on platforms, but is about 5 hours on Facebook, nearly nothing on TikTok unless it goes viral, and 21-48 hours on Instagram (See How to Market Your Book without Social Media for Carol J. Michel’s data on social media shelf life). Between that and algorithms that favor some over others, you may have a 5,000 followers but maybe only 50 of them see the post.
Ultimately, you don’t own the real estate on social media and you’re at the whims of the platforms on rules about what you can post, customizations, and uptime.
The answer is to own your platform in the form of a website.
Your website will be the hub of your online presence, allowing you to connect with your readers, promote your books, and establish your brand.
Why an Author Website is Important
A website is a central hub for your brand and helps you establish credibility as a professional writer. It provides a platform to showcase your work, connect with readers, and build relationships with fans. When a reader (or agent or publisher) searches you on the internet, a website brings them to your hub where they can sign up for your email list, buy books, check out social media, learn where you’ll be live at an event and more.
I see a website as the center of your writing business from which all other marketing strategies connect to. In the center is your website hub, and spokes radiate out to community (social media), events, publicity, etc. Below is my marketing wheel to illustrate how all marketing tactics can work together, and how all benefit from a single hub…one place to rule them all.
But there’s more your website can do depending on your goals. Merch, direct sales of books (instead of just through book retailers), courses, subscriptions and more can and should be sold from your website. Yes, you can piecemeal all this, but why send your readers to 5 different places depending on what they want? Make it easy to get everything in one place: Your Website.
What Your Website Should Have On It
Your website doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, starting out, the less complicated the better as it will be easier to build and keep updated.
Your website should have the following elements:
- Home page: This is the first page readers will see when they visit your site. It should be visually appealing, easy to understand, and provide an overview of what you and your books are about. I’m a HUGE believer in email lists, and I encourage you have your list sign up front and center on this page.
- About page: This page should include your bio, your writing journey, your personal story, or anything that would attract the reader of your books. The trick here is to make it interesting. Infuse your personality, quirks, and other anecdotes.
- Books page: This page should include information about your books, including summaries, cover images, and purchase links. You should consider a page for each book, or at least a page for each series, with each book on it. Admittedly, I’m terrible at keeping this information up-to-date on my site. Don’t be like me! This is what your author page is all about…you and your books.
- Contact page: This page should include a form or email address that readers can use to contact you. Don’t put your email as you’ll make yourself susceptible to spam.
- Social media links: Make sure to include links to your social media accounts so readers can connect with you on other platforms.
- Blog (Optional): A blog can be like social media where you share your writing journey, updates on goings ons, have polls, and a whole lot more. It can offer additional marketing oomph through search engine optimization (SEO) and sharing your blog posts on social media. BUT…only have a blog component if you’re going to blog regularly. Blogs aren’t a requirement. I actually took my blog feature down as I wasn’t posting enough. A dormant blog makes it seem like you’re not around.
Additional pages you may need if you offer anything beyond your books:
- Special offers
Even if the above are hosted elsewhere (e.g. your subscription on Patreon or merch on Shopify), you should have a page about it on your website and then links to the source.
Resources to Build a Website
When buildings a website, there are five basic steps:
1) Buying a domain name.
Even if you use a host or website builder like Wix or Squarespace, I recommend buying your domain separately to make sure you have full ownership of it (as opposed to having the host buy it on your behalf). I use Godaddy for all my domains.
Choose your author or pen name and .com. Since .com is what we think of first, it’s ideal over having another extension especially if you share a name with someone else. You don’t want to sent people to another website because the person didn’t remember you were .info instead of .com.
If your name isn’t available as a .com, consider adding the word “author”. For example, SallySmithAuthor.com or SallySmithRomanceAuthor.com or AuthorSallySmith.com…you get the point. You want to brand your name as a romance author, so you want it in your domain name.
2) Obtaining web hosting or website builder platform
There are a number of website builders available that make it easy for you to create a website, even if you have no coding experience. Here are a few popular options:
- Wix: Wix offers a lot of flexibility. It’s easy to use and offers a variety of pre-made templates to choose from.
- Squarespace: Squarespace is a popular website builder that offers a lot of design options. It’s a bit more expensive than Wix, but it’s easy to use and has a lot of great features.
Or take total control…
I have a confession. I’m a WordPress snob. I’ve been using WordPress (self-hosted) since 2010 and love it. Once you learn it, it’s easy to use. The benefit of WordPress over other options is greater ownership of your website, more customization, and more features. Plus, it’s less expensive than using Wix or Squarespace. JennaHarte.com and WritewithHarte.com are both run on WordPress.
It does require a bit more work to set up at WordPress self-hosted site. It can be a bit more technical, although many hosts now will install it for you.
To use WordPress, you’ll need a webhost. I love Momwebs, as its affordable and the tech support is awesome! All my sites are hosted there.
3) Setting up your domain name to work with your web host
Your website host or builder platform will have instructions on how to do this if you buy the domain outside the host or platform. Basically, you get the nameserver information your host or platform builder will give you and give it to the domain registrar so it knows where to send people who use your domain.
4) Installing WordPress or your theme
If you use Wix or Squarespace, you’ll need to select a theme. If you’re going with WordPress, you’ll need to install WordPress (or your host may do it for you) on your site, and then you can choose a theme. In all cases, you’ll be able to find free themes or you can buy them.
I’ve invested in both Themify.me (JennaHarte.com) and Elementor (WritewithHarte.com) for greater customization, but to start out you can use a basic theme until you learn how your building platform works.
You may also have the option for additional features you can add on. For example, you may want your books to scroll across the top. You’ll need to check with your platform for free and paid addons.
With WordPress, the addons are called plugins, and there are a bajillion of them. If there’s something you want your website to do in the fore- or background, there’s likely a plugin that will do it. For example, you can add Patreon or memberships and ecommerce to your WordPress site through plugins.
5) Setting up the site
Once the foundation is in, you need to add your content (About page, contact, etc). In most cases, it’s easy to write directly into the platform much like writing in a Word or Google doc. If you want images, most of these sites have the ability for you to easily upload and use them in your content without knowing HTML. Don’t forget to add your email sign up! Your email service provider will help you create a form script that you can copy and paste into your website.
Creating a professional author website is an important step in establishing your online presence as a romance author and provide a home for all your fans to learn more about and connect with you.
Do you have questions or more to add about author websites for romance writers? Let me know in the comments below.
Writing a Romance Setting that Readers Don’t Skip
April 4, 2023 in Blog, Writing Romance
Elmore Leonard provided sage writing advice when he said, “Try to leave out the parts people skip.”
You may believe that every word in your novel is important and no read would dare skip it, but consider your own reading; are there passages you pass over? What are they? If you’re like me, they’re usually about setting.
The problem is that setting is important to the story. So how can you orient your reader to your story without writing content they’re going to skip over?
Tips on Writing Setting that Doesn’t Get Skipped
Settings and descriptions provide an important cue to orient your reader to where, what, and when of your story.
The setting you put your character in gives the reader:
- Location – Where the story is taking place including the city or the grocery store.
- Season – What time of year the story is occurring?
- Time of day – Is the character skulking about at midnight or just rolling out of bed in the morning?
- Mood and atmosphere – Is it foggy? Hot and humid?
- Era – Is this a historical, contemporary or futuristic story?
- Population – What other people are around?
- Social/Cultural influences – What is going on in society that impacts the story and character?
If readers didn’t know that Pride & Prejudice took place in the early 1800s, when women couldn’t inherit property, Mrs. Bennet and the girls would look like gold-diggers
But, before you use this list to write your setting, remember that setting descriptions are often the things reader skip.
Some might call them boring, but the real reason they’re skipped is because they take the reader out of the story. If you have your readers on a wonderful ride through your book, they don’t want to be interrupted to be told about the trees. And yet, maybe those trees play an important part in the story. So what can you do?
The good news is, you can write setting in a way that keeps your reader in the story.
What do readers need to know?
Do readers need to know if they’re in regency England or Manhattan today? Is it dead of winter or the beauty of spring? Is the location opulent or sparse. Does any of this matter to telling the story or revealing the character?
The first step to writing setting is determining what the important elements are. What do readers need to know and experience in the setting to enhance the story and help the story to make sense? How does the setting impact the character or plot?
The thing to remember is that you only need to provide enough setting to ground the reader. Some writers like to spend a great deal of time describing brocade upholstery or the varying colors of leaves on the trees, but those descriptions are only important if they factor into the story and your character. Would your character notice brocade or leave colors?
Experience setting through your POV character’s senses.
Many authors use telling and an omniscient or distant POV narrator to provide information on the setting. For example:
Suzy stood at the end of the long drive. The hot humid air hung heavy. The tree-lined drive wound up toward colonial home, with its pristine white columns standing as proud as it had when it was built over a hundred years before.
This isn’t bad and your reader won’t necessarily skip it, but contrast it with the next example:
Suzy stood at the end of the long drive. She pulled her shirt away from her damp skin as a trickle of sweat dripped down the center of her back. Even this early in the morning, the heat and humidity felt like a sauna.
In the example above, we learn it’s hot and humid, not from being told by the author, but from Suzy’s experience with it. You may recognize this as show, instead of tell.
It’s not enough for Suzy to think or say, “Boy, it’s hot and humid,” although you can use dialogue or thought. Instead, the passage uses Suzy’s senses to have the reader vicariously experience it. What does it feel like when it’s hot and humid?
Overlay your POV characters personality and attitude.
Believe it or not, some people don’t mind heat and humidity. Others hate it. Having setting and description filtered through the POV character not only orients the reader to the setting, but also provides information about the character.
Here is the full sample about Suzy in which we learn about the weather, the location, and some of Suzy’s thoughts about the situation.
Suzy stood at the end of the long drive. She pulled her shirt away from her damp skin as a trickle of sweat dripped down the center of her back. Even this early in the morning, the heat and humidity felt like a sauna.
She blew out a breath, willing herself on the last part of her journey, and started up the drive, hoping she wouldn’t twist an ankle in her 3-inch Jimmy Choos on the white crushed shell gravel. She estimated a half-mile walk to the main house and was grateful for the mature oak trees lining the road that offered shade from the oppressive heat.
As she neared the pre-revolutionary home, standing like a jewel in the green rolling piedmont, its pristine columns shining as if they’d just been painted, she felt like she was walking back in time, and half expected footman to greet her.
Please note, that I just made all this up on the fly, so, much can be done to improve it. But I think you can see the point I’m trying to make. In the first example, we’re told about the setting, whereas in the second, we discover it through Suzy’s experience. We also learn a few things about Suzy.
Having setting revealed through your character is less likely to get skipped because action is taking place while we’re being oriented to setting: Suzy is walking up a long drive to a house.
Use dialogue or thoughts
You want to be careful with this one. Done wrong, your dialogue or thoughts can be as boring as omniscient narrator in providing setting. Why? Because it’s being used to info dump. Everything in your writing should be working to drive the story. Having your character describe the setting for no other reason than to give setting can be boring.
Boy, it’s hot on this tree-lined gravel driveway.
But what if Suzy was on her cell phone?
Suzy pulled her shirt away from her damp skin as a trickle of sweat dripped down the center of her back. “Boy, it feels like a sauna here.” She stood at the end of the long drive on her cell phone letting Joe know she’d finally arrived.
“You’re almost there.”
Not quite. It had to be a half mile to the house!
Suzy blew out a breath, willing herself on the last part of her journey, and started up the white crushed gravel drive. “Hope I don’t twist an ankle. I wore my Jimmy Choos.”
Suzy continued up the drive, grateful for the mature oak trees lining the road that offered shade from the oppressive heat. Each step brought her closer to pre-revolutionary home, standing like a jewel in the green rolling piedmont, its pristine columns shining as if they’d just been painted.
“Wow, this house is something. I feel like I’m walking back in time. Will a footman come out to greet me?”
Again, this isn’t perfect, but hopefully it shows you how to incorporate setting into the story, instead of interrupting story to tell about setting.
Do you have tips for writing setting that doesn’t get skipped? Let me know in the comments below.
Maximizing Your Romance Novel’s Reach through Word of Mouth
March 28, 2023 in Blog, Marketing
It’s no secret that book recommendations carry significantly more weight than other methods readers use to discover books. HubSpot reports that 75% of people don’t believe advertisements, yet 90% trust suggestions from family and friends, and 70% trust consumer reviews.
Look at the BookTube and BookTok influence on reading. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve bought because I saw them recommended online. Colleen Hoover is a prime example of the sales word-of-mouth can creat. In 2022, Colleen Hoover books outsold the Bible. When asked about her success, she reported, “It’s not me. The readers are controlling what is selling right now.” (New York Times article)
Even better, recommendations are free, making word-of-mouth the best way to promote your book. The challenge is how to get readers talking about your book?
Get the Basics Right
Like all marketing strategies, there are a few basics you need in place to build word-of-mouth marketing success.
What You Offer:
1. A quality book. This goes beyond a great story, to include professional packaging that attracts readers. That means editing, professional cover design, and a blurb that creates interest and excitement.
2. A way for people to find you. Of course, being available for sale on Amazon and/or other retailers is a big part of this. But beyond that, readers need to find you via a website and social media.
3. A way to engage with you. Today’s consumers like to interact with businesses (as an author, you’re a business). They want to be heard and feel involved with you. Social media and an email list both help you achieve this.
Your Ideal Reader:
Once you have your product, a place to buy it, and a way to connect with you, you need to find your readers. To do that:
1. Know who your ideal reader is. The romance market is HUGE, but not all romance readers like all types of romance books. I don’t read much historical romance. I hate the secret child trope (I feel awful for the father and can’t get over how much time he’s lost with his child). Many readers will consume a variety of romance subgenres, while others stick to just one. Find out who is the reader for your book.
2. Find out where your ideal reader is at. TikTok is the place to be for millennial romance readers. There’s just no getting around it unless TikTok is banned in the U.S. Of course, millennials aren’t the only readers out there. You’ll find an older demographic on Facebook.
But social media isn’t your only resource for finding readers. What does your ideal reader read or where does she go to learn about romance books? Blogs? Podcasts? The bookstore? Book events?
3. Appeal to the reader when you find them. Once you know where the reader is, you need to go there and put something in front of them that will attract them to your book. If you’re advertising on Facebook, you want a graphic and text that makes your reader take notice. If you’re in a romance readers group, you want to join in as a member, engaging with other readers in a fun and positive way.
Step three is all about marketing, a ginormous topic. Here are a few ideas you can use:
Social Media: Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are powerful tools for increasing the reach of your romance novel. You can share news, updates, and sample chapters with your followers. Take advantage of the tools each platform offers, such as hashtags, polls, and contests to further engage your audience. You can also can use these platforms to build relationships with other authors and influencers who can help you spread the word.
Content Marketing: Content includes blog posts, articles, podcasts, and videos. You can create content about the main characters’ backstories or motivations, articles exploring the themes of your novel, and video recordings that provide a closer look at the plot and settings. Additionally, you can use this content to engage readers and build relationships with them.
Free and Paid Advertising: At one time, Facebook ads were the be-all-end-all to marketing. While I’m still having some success with it, it’s not the juggernaut that it used to be. Other ad options include Amazon, Bookbub, and TikTok, as well as through reader discovery resources like My Romance Reads, Free Booksy and more.
Free options take time to enact, but can be quite successful. This includes promoting your book on ebook directories and listing sites. (I have a large list of book promotion resources in the Member’s section of Write with Harte. Reminder…membership is free!).
Book and Author Events: I’m a huge fan of live events. You’ll generally do better if you can get on a panel so attendees can see you and learn about you.
Word of Mouth Marketing
Once you have your platform in place and are reaching out to readers, it’s time to have those readers start talking about you. This is no easy feat. A reader may love your book, but may not tell anyone. Still, there are things you can do to encourage your fans to talk about you.
1. Have a great product (see #1 under Basics)
Let’s face it, there are many great romance reads, but for the most part, they’re all fairly similar. The trick is to make yours stand out. Basics such as cover and blurb can help, but even that may not provide enough oomph. This is an area I’m still working on and if you’d like to find a way to standout in a way that makes your fans happy and talking about you, read Fans First by Jesse Cole.
3. Build a community around you.
Have you ever been to an Outlander event? I haven’t, but I know that fans dress up in 18th century garb. People like to belong. They like to feel connected around a topic. That topic can be you and your books.
Building a community can be as easy as starting a Facebook group for your readers. Many authors are now using Patreon or other subscription services that not only create a community, but generate additional income.
Be active in engaging with your readers. Have polls or get feedback. Learn about them and have them be involved in some of the decisions about your books.
You can create a calendar to post to your group and pre-schedule your post using a social media tool. I like Social Bee because I can easily schedule something to repost (e.g. a reminder to leave a review).
(see More Fan Fun to Encourage Book Buzz below)
It seems obnoxious to ask people to brag about your book, I know. Many readers are busy and may not think to share your book, but if asked, would be thrilled to help you out. Make it easy by providing tools and resources. Create social media text or graphics they can share. Give extra swag they can give away for you. Remind them to leave reviews. Consider incentivizing it by having a giveaway. I’ve used tools like KingSumo to make it easy for my fans to share and earn giveaway entry points. KingSumo will even randomly draw the winner.
5. Reach out to influencers.
In some cases, you may need to pay for an influencer to talk about your book, and in other cases, there may be a long wait (like reviewers). But considering how much influence these readers have, it could be worth the time and money if they like your book and share it on their channels.
6. Continue to get reviews.
Second to recommendations, reviews have a significant impact on whether a reader will buy your book. Have a system for reminding readers to leave a review, whether that nudge is in the back of the book, social media, or email.
7. Create merch around your book(s).
This is a fun and profitable way to build your community and have it advertise for you. There are lots of ways to do this. I’ve used Printify to create mugs, totes, t-shirts, and stickers. Using Shopify or Woo Commerce, you can sell the merch, or even offer some as gifts to your very best fans or to giveaway winners.
More Fan Fun to Encourage Buzz About You and Your Books
- Offer your fan reader group a sneak preview of your new book.
- Offer your fan reader group advance copies of your new book.
- Give fans exclusive content like bonus chapters.
- Celebrate a Fan of the Month on your website, reader group, and social media profiles.
- Have a contest for the best illustration of a scene from one of your books and post the winner on your website and social media.
- Create fan pages for the main characters in your book.
- Ask fans to post pictures of them reading your book.
- Write a book specifically for your fans. You can even have them help plot it!
If readers are more likely to buy a book on a recommendation, it’s a no-brainer that authors need to find ways to encourage their readers to talk about their books. The above offers a few ways in which to engage readers and encourage them to let others know about you.
Do you have other ideas to create a viral buzz about your book? Let me know in the comments below.
Balancing Romance with Mystery, Suspense, or Fantasy
March 21, 2023 in Blog, Writing Romance
The first rule of romance is that the relationship between the couple is the primary focus of the story. This is straightforward in traditional romances involving two people coming together, having problems that tear them apart, and eventually coming back together again. But what if your story involves a mystery, suspense, adventure, or a quest (e.g. fantasy stories)?
I’ve had many people tell me that there is romance in their cozy mysteries, which isn’t wrong, but cozies aren’t romance. If the romantic character in a cozy was turned into a friend, the mystery elements of the story would still work. It’s not a romance because the characters’ relationship isn’t central to the story; solving the murder is.
When writing a romance that has mystery or suspense or adventure or fantasy, you’re essentially combining two genres and you need to meet readers’ expectations for both. This isn’t always easy. You have to balance the elements that make a good romance while also supplying the action and danger of the other genre. Focusing too heavily on the romance plot can result in a lack of tension or conflict, while neglecting the romance can leave readers feeling unsatisfied.
Here are tips for writing a romance combined with another genre:
Sketch Out the Key Plot Elements for Both Genres
Even if you’re a pantster, because readers have an expectation of both genres, plotting out the major elements for both is helpful. In a romance, you need to have couple with conflict, which can include the other genre, but also personal challenges. They need to come together and then appear to come apart, before coming together again. A mystery needs a victim, suspects with motives and means and opportunity, clues, red herrings, and danger. A quest generally follows the hero’s journey, with the call to adventure, the refusal, the quest, the failures, and eventually success. All these need to be integrated into a cohesive story.
The goal here is to identify the key plot elements that will complement and enhance both genres while ensuring that neither element overwhelms the other. To do this, start by determining the central conflict and the stakes of the story. In a romance, this should be the couple first. In Sandra Brown’s books, there is a crap ton of danger and suspense that the couple is dealing with, but in fact, it’s this part of the story that pulls them together forcing them to deal with their personal conflicts and feelings for the other. Remember, in a romance, there has to be a reason for the couple to be in each other’s orbit. In Sandra Brown’s books, the suspense plot does that. Without it, the two people wouldn’t meet and if they did, they’d go their separate ways because usually one or both isn’t interested in a relationship.
In Deadly Valentine, Tess doesn’t like that Jack’s back in her life. It reminds her of a painful past. It’s the murder and the fact that he’s a suspect that keeps her in his orbit.
When integrating the other plot elements into the story, writers should ensure that they don’t overshadow or overwhelm the romance plot. Remember, it’s the relationship first that readers want. One way to do this is to use the elements of the other genre to develop and enrich the romance plot. Finding a clue or overcoming danger can reveal character in a way that brings the couple together or add more conflict. In Deadly Valentine, Tess is nearly run over by a car and later, the detective suspects Jack is the driver of said car, which is possible because he had the means, motive, and opportunity. This puts a damper on the budding relationship.
In another scene, Jack is about to kiss Tess when he sees a photograph and realizes the woman in it is linked to the murder. Romance and clue woven together.
However, this is a romance, so there should be romance plot beats. While a pinch point can be danger, it could also be one character not trusting the other or lying to the other. In Deadly Valentine, Tess is almost killed again, but the black moment for the relationship is really when she tells Jack she can’t represent him as his lawyer or see him personally anymore because doing so is costing her friends and her business. She changes her mind, but he doesn’t take her back. The relationship is severed and while it’s related to the murder mystery because her representing him is what caused the problems that scared her away from him, it’s her personal fears and lack of trust that really drive the break up.
Use Pacing to Balance Romance and Other Plot Elements
Suspense is about avoiding danger that’s out to get one or both of the characters. Fantasy involves magic and quests and overcoming impossible foes. Mystery requires finding clues and solving a puzzle. They each have their own pacing that involves action and danger. Within the fast action of these genres, you need to weave in the slower pace of a building romance. By slower, I don’t mean being boring. I mean drawing out the elements that show a growing relationship.
If the pacing is slow and languid, readers may become bored with the romance plot, while if the pacing is too fast and action-packed, the romance may be overshadowed. The trick is to create pacing that ensures that both elements are given adequate attention and development.
This is where pre-plotting major beats can be helpful as you can also plot pacing elements. If the couple is on the run from a gunman at pinch point number one, the pacing will be fast and there isn’t much room for romance there. But once they’re safe, even if just for a moment, you can slow the pace down and focus on the relationship.
Make Sure the Romance is Fulfilled
Remember when I said a cozy with a love interest isn’t a romance? If you took out the murder mystery in a cozy, there would be no story. The romance in a cozy can’t stand on it’s own. Because the romance comes first in the romance genre, you need to make sure you’ve fulfilled all the expected elements of a romance. If you can change the love interest to a friend, then it’s not a romance. Yes, you need to fulfill the elements of the other genre as well, but if you’re goal is romantic suspense or romantic fantasy, the romantic element must be met. While the danger or action may be a major aspect of the plot, we need to see the romance beats fulfilled.
Growing up, I used to like a show called, Hart to Hart. I’m a big fan of sleuthing sexy couples (hence writing the Valentine mysteries). Hart to Hart was a crime show where each week the Harts stumbled into a murder. But talk to any fan and they’ll tell you that it was the Harts and their relationship that made the show. Ask them about their favorite episodes and you’ll learn that it’s less about the mystery and more about something sweet or sexy that occurred with the characters. The mystery created the situations, but it was the characters and their romance that made the show. This is what you want in a romance that involves another genre. The second genre may create the situations, but it’s the relationship between your characters that readers are really wanting to know about.