Self-Published Writers: Should We Be Afraid?

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The end of this month is the end of a very long journey for my sister. After years and years and years (one more for good measure), her debut novel, “The Quest for the Holy Something or Other” is being released this Friday.

Can I get a Woop, Woop!

Can I get a Woop, Woop!

Of all the emotions we are experiencing right now, I’d say the predominant one is fear. That’s right FEAR.

Writers,

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And why shouldn’t we be? Most of what you read or hear about sales numbers and the success of marketing is pretty dismal. There isn’t a lot of good news out there for us in the DIY publishing world. And it’s only going to get harder they say.

Here’s the hearsay:

  • the e-pub market is over saturated
  • the novelty of e-books has worn off
  • advertising does not increase sales
  • a social media presence does not increase sales
  • price promotions have become ineffective
  • consumers are overwhelmed with the number of existing e-books on their e-readers, and will be slowing their purchases
  • increased competition from traditional publishers will hurt sales

When the future of e-publishing looks bleak, how can writers not worry about our own future?

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When we worry about the future, we lose sight of the present and forget to celebrate the journey. My sister and I have swallowed our fear with a big piece of cake and a shot of Captain. From here on out, we’re going to focus on being positive. After all, there’s plenty of things to feel good about.

  • a box of brand-spanking new books arriving in the mail
  • the launch party at Cook McDoogles
  • the fact that she is a published author
  • being able to find her book on Amazon
  • all positive reviews
  • having her own book on her bookshelf
  • other people have read and will read her writing

All of those items are successes, and that’s not even including sales.

Speaking of sales, there can be financial success for those who sell quality work and work hard. By quality work, I mean a damn good book.The days of writing decent books with good covers and making money is over they say. The key is to write an awesome book that will sell itself, edit it professionally, design a quality cover, and build your platform.

With that said, should we be afraid?

of failure

of not making money

or wasting our time

of negatives reviews

of fear

We can’t even worry about those things until we finish a book, which reminds me of my greatest fear:

never finishing a book

Seriously writers, never NOT be afraid, but don’t let the fear paralyze you. Fear stops us from doing the things we love. You just have to keep writing. As we speak, I’m editing my sister’s second novel and finishing the draft of my first book.

Take heart, take a bite of comfort food, and get back to writing. Never NOT write!

 

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Tuesday Tip

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Sometimes the simple things are the ones we overlook, especially when we’re editing. Capitalization seems elementary probably because we learned the rules in elementary school. Until I became a copy editor I didn’t realize there were so many rules. I’m here to tell you there’s more to it than capitalizing the first letter of a sentence.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

The rules are elementary, my dear Watson.

Hopefully, you saved grammar edits for last. It really is a waste of time to edit for grammar errors until the last pass. One of the things you’ll want to check during this final pass are your capitals. Is it Mother or mother? Captain or captain? It can be either depending on context. If you’re not sure, circle or highlight the word so you can be sure to go back and check.

For the record, I’m not going to go over every rule. The rules could fill an entire book on their own. I’m going to touch on a few basics, ones I think you’re likely to encounter.

The purpose of capitalization: To emphasize important words, people, places, things, etc.

If only it were that simple. Wait for it, it gets more complicated.

First Word of a Sentence

This is the easiest rule. If a word follows a period, it should probably be capitalized. I’m really not going to go into any more depth than that.

You’re rolling your eyes at me. This isn’t hard.

Names

Rule number one: don’t forget your characters’ names. Forgetting to capitalize your characters’ names is like forgetting to put your  name on your final exam. This an easy point, people!

Capitalize the following names:

  • brand names; Coca-Cola
  • company names; Walmart
  • nicknames and epithets; The Kingslayer
  • names of races and nationalities; French Canadian
  • names of religions and the deities: God
  • names of streets, roads, cities, countries, oceans (if it’s labeled on a map, it’s probably capitalized. e.g., the Mediterranean Sea)

Names NOT to Capitalize

  • names of animals; DO capitalize their names (e.g., Mr. Fluffy); however, do not capitalize cat, dog, etc. Except Alaskan huskey and German shepherd.
  • food; the exception being brand names and so forth (e.g., tuna, chips, Ranch dressing)
  • sun and moon. Even though we capitalize Mars, Jupiter, and Earth, for whatever reason, we don’t view the sun and moon to be important enough to capitalize–though we would die if either of them implodes. This is why it’s important to check the rules. Just because something is important doesn’t mean it will be capitalized.
  • seasons; spring summer, fall, winter
  • names that don’t actually affiliate with the word they are derived from (e.g., swiss cheese and American cheese are both made in America)

Proper Nouns

Think of a proper noun as being a more specific version of a noun–or the fancy version.

Mnemonic device: a proper noun is a noun with a fancy top hat.

Examples noun; proper noun

the canyon; the Grand Canyon

the ship; the Titanic

lake; Lake Michigan

Rule of Thumb: With time, sometimes words from a proper noun no longer require capitalization.

Example: draconian (you probably don’t know what this is referring to. Me neither. Probably why it is no longer capitalized)

Rule of Thumb: Don’t capitalize “the” when it comes before a proper noun; however, because rules are not consistent, sometimes it is in special cases.

Titles

I think this is one of the trickiest rules. For instance, you capitalize titles when they are used before names, but not after a name, or instead of a name, or if a comma comes after the title. See what I mean. How’s that for a brain twister.That might be a little bit of an exaggeration . . . maybe a tad.

Example

The president; President Clinton; Clinton, president of the United States

I called Mom; I called my mom; I called, Mom

General Grant; the general

King Arthur; king of the Britains

Exception: When used in direct address: Thank you, Mr. President; I will obey your orders, General

Other

  • days of the week
  • months of the year
  • holidays; Halloween (the best holiday ever)
  • historical events and periods; the Ice Age; the Boston Tea Party
  • terms of respect; (e.g., Your Excellency, His Majesty, Madam, Your Honor

Capitalization with Punctuation

Punctuation: everyone’s favorite thing. Did you know capitalization is sometimes dependent on punctuation.

Colon

It is a common misconception that the word after a colon is always capitalized. The first word after a colon is not always capitalized. It isn’t if the colon is used within the sentence. It is when it is a proper noun or if the colon introduces two or more sentences or a speech or dialogue.

Hyphen

This is one a lot of people forget. Generally capitalize all elements the hyphens connect unless a coordinating conjunction, preposition, or article (e.g., Sugar-and-Spice).

Don’t worry about memorizing all of these rules. As you edit, keep a handy style guide nearby. I use the one and only Chicago Manual of Style. Do you know how many times I referenced it just for this post? There are also a lot of helpful resources online like Grammar Girl.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

I’m Hosting an Online Book Launch Party and You’re Invited! Virtual Drinks All Around!

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This Friday, join my sister and i as we celebrate her new book!

Kylie Betzner

As many of you already know, this Friday, January 30th marks the release date for my debut novel, The Quest for the Holy Something or Other. Can I get a whoop whoop!

I’ve taken the entire day off work to host an online book launch party to celebrate with friends and fun! Virtual drinks all around! The more the merrier, so I’d like you to join me in the celebration.

Please click on this link to get started. It might tell you the site is not available if you’re not logged in or if we’re not friends. Feel free to send me a friend request and I’ll accept you right away so you can join the party. (Plus, I’ve been meaning to friend everyone here on Facebook anyway. I only recently decided to invite my online friends to join me on that site).

I’ll be hosting the online party from about

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How to REALLY Sell using Social Media

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I posted a poll last Friday to get some feedback on whether or not social media sells. I want to thank all of you who took the time to answer the poll and supply comments. You’ve really helped my little study.

The Results are In

After gathering, calculating, weighing, studying, and cross-examining the data and other scientific mumbo jumbo, I’ve found the following to be possible truths.

  • Social media has and can be used to make direct sales
  • People do purchase books directly from social media
  • Based on the poll, most books were purchased because of a blog post (whether an author’s own blog, guest blog, re-blog, or author interview)
  • Most sales made via Twitter were made from re-tweets or tweets made by those other than the author
  • Goodreads and Facebook ranked lowest on the poll
  • Readers are more likely to purchase a book if they know the author
  • Readers are more likely to purchase a book if it is referred to them in some way

What I’ve Concluded from this Study:

If authors need social media, but social media does not sell, perhaps the problem is not social media, but who we are trying to sell too and how we are trying to sell. Make sense? All I’m saying is the problem doesn’t seem to be the platform, but how we are using it. There are countless articles online that suggest social media is not a tool nor can it be used to make sales. This may or may not be true. Based on the information I’ve gathered, here’s my plan to increase sales using social media.

  • Gain a good following (quality over quantity)
  • Advertise wisely
  • Use news, not ads to promote books
  • Increase “word of mouth”
  • Make connections

 Gain a Good Following

How many followers should you have?

How many followers should you have?

What’s the ideal number of followers you should have? There really isn’t a magic number. It’s about how engaged you are with what you have. There really isn’t one strategy for gaining followers. Some authors follow everyone who follows them to increase their followers. Their logic is: the more followers they have the more books they will sell.

More people=more sales, right?

What I don’t like about this plan is that the emphasis is on numbers. We should be focused on who is following us, not how many. If people follow you to gain a follower, they aren’t likely to buy your book.

Why Numbers Don’t Matter

The person with 10,000 followers may only have 1,000 followers who are interested in them and their books.

Likewise, the person with 5,000 may have 3,000.

See what I’m saying?

Before you sell, make sure you are selling to the right people.

Look at your followers. Who are they?

  • friends
  • family
  • coworkers

How many are writers?

The problem with selling to writers is that they may be too busy #amwriting and not #amreading.

Now this is just an idea. I have no real proof, but writers may not be the best followers to make sales.

  • Many identify themselves as–even brag about being–nonreaders
  • They are too busy writing
  • They write a different genre than you (If they don’t write it, they probably won’t read it)
  • They have no money (sorry, it’s true in most cases)
  • They don’t use social media to connect, but to promote (it’s all about them)
  • They use auto tweets (if they aren’t tweeting, they aren’t reading tweets)
  • Your tweets get buried in their feed because they have thousands of followers to gain a following

Does this sound like your followers? Does this sound like you?

You’ve probably heard this advice a thousand times: Target your market.

You might ask, aren’t some writers your market?

My thought is yes. Before you start unfollowing everyone who identifies themselves as a writer, my advice is that you should follow them anyway–not just for sales. I follow other authors for advice, to follow trends in my genre and market, and because frankly I love connecting with other writers.

If you want to follow other writers, here’s my advice: follow writers of the same genre. For instance, I used to follow writers of romance, suspense, mystery, YA, etc. Now I mainly follow other fantasy writers.

Not only do I enjoy learning about them and their books, I also purchase their books. My logic is that this should work in the reverse order. Since they write fantasy, they may buy my books as well. Will the mystery writer buy your book if you’re a fantasy writer? Probably not. It has nothing to do with your advertising campaign, they just aren’t your market.

How to Gain Followers in Your Market

Easier said than done. This is why I like Twitter. You can use the search field to type in hashtags and keywords to find tweets and tweeps related to the topic. For instance, my sister writes fantasy parody. Ideally these are the words she should use to find potential readers.

  • fantasy
  • parody
  • comedy
  • Monty Python
  • Gerald Morris
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Lord of the Rings
  • The Hobbit
  • Harry Potter

Why these search terms? Because people who like those things will like her book.

Try this out right now. See how many people you find.

Ok, you’ve found the illusive reader. Do not go all crocodile hunter on them. This is no time to poke and get in their faces. Don’t start messaging them to BUY YOUR BOOK. Follow them and see if they follow you back. If they do, great. If they don’t, it’s not over. Whether they follow you or not, the next step is the same. Be interactive.

  • comment,
  • like
  • share their tweets
  • thank them for following, retweeting, sharing, etc

They will appreciate the interaction and possibly follow you back and/or check out your profile where they will see information about your books. This could potentially result in sales. TA-DA!

I made this sound easy, didn’t I? It’s not. It takes time, but it takes less time if you put your best foot forward. What do I mean by that?

People will make an instant and usually permanent decision whether to follow you or not. Your profile is a landing page. You don’t want to turn them away at base one.

  • Have a flattering, professional, and updated profile picture and header image
  • Use your real name
  • Have a detailed bio that includes professional, social, and recreational info (writer, teacher, reader, nerd, music lover, coffee junkie)
  • Create real and interesting tweets
  • Include a URL to your website or blog

 

Advertise Wise

Everyone tells you that you must advertise or no one will know you wrote a book. They also tell you advertising is bad and turns readers off. I’m so over the contradictory advice. So let’s end this conundrum once and for all.

You MUST advertise, but you have to advertise WISE.

When you must advertise–and you must–make your ads stand out. No, this does not mean typing in all bold in screaming font. Be creative. Check out my sister’s ads on Twitter.

Example: The Knight’s Who say Ni no longer desire a shrubbery. That was my idea. Hope you like it.

Use photos, phrases, and key words to entice your followers. You want to catch their eye, make them read it, click the link, and buy.

Why Aren’t Your Ads Selling?

  • Too vague (sometimes I don’t know what the title is, what it’s about, or what genre its in)
  • Boring (I see hundreds of ads that look alike every hour. Get creative. Draw my attention)
  • No photos
  • Inconstant (You shouldn’t post BUY MY BOOK all day long, but you need to more than once a day)
  • You repeat the same ad over and over

 

Think News not Ads

To be honest, advertising is a lazy way to promote your book. We’re writers, we’re supposed to be creative. Think outside of ads to entice people to buy your book.

Let’s break it down. What makes someone want to read your books?

Information: Genre, plot, characters, ratings, author info.

Tweet about your books, not just where you can buy them, but why they should buy. Tell them snippets about your plot, the writing process, your characters, and upcoming projects. Think NEWS not ADS. Do you have a cover reveal? A book launch? Plans for a sequel? A really good review? A sale? These are all ways to gain exposure for your books without using direct advertising.

So in theory: Indirect ads result in direct sales.

This is one of the reasons why blogs ranked so high in the poll. Readers get to learn about the author and the book, enticing them to learn more. They also give you a sample of the author’s writing style. Tweets and Facebook post don’t give you the wordcount to really delve into detail about how awesome you and your book are.


 

Word of Mouth

 

People always tell you social media doesn’t sell, word of mouth does. Social media is in its own right word of mouth. A book review, author interview, or a tweet are just digital ways of saying “Check out this awesome author or this awesome book.”

So why is word of mouth so important. Because word of mouth is an indirect ad. Remember how I said indirect ads result in direct sales?

In comments, many of you expressed how advertisements or promotional material from the authors themselves turned you off or didn’t result in you buying the book. It’s viewed as being “pushy” or “unreliable.” Of course the author is going to tell you they wrote a great book. They won’t tell you it sucks.

If I told you to  buy my awesome fantasy novel, would you buy it?

Do you trust me?

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What if I told you to buy a book by someone else. I bet I gain credibility. I also bet they gain a sale.

People are more likely to buy a book, it seems, if someone else tells them about, so how can you get others to talk about your books?

  • Ask them too
  • Offer a copy of your book for an honest review: encourage them to share their review on multiple platforms
  • Pay it forward. Don’t actually pay. You should never have to pay for promotion like that. If you support others, they are likely to support you back. Check out my advice about reciprocation from an earlier post.
  • Share your reviews. Don’t tell your readers what you think about your book. Tell them what someone else does.

So tell me, which tweet would you trust?

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Make Connections

So many of you expressed how important it is for you to know the author. While I don’t believe you should always have to or do have to know the author to buy their book (Sometimes a good cover or blurb will do it for me), this is a great way to increase sales.

How connections increase sales:

  • They like you: They hope they will like your book
  • They like you: They will buy it to support you
  • They like you: Whether they bought it or not, they will tell others to buy your book
  • They like you: They will interview you on their blog which will increase your exposure
  • They like you: They will share your tweets, post, promotions, etc

How do you make connections?

This isn’t hard, people. Simply say, Hello. You will probably have to be the instigator. Going back to how to gain followers. You want quality connections. These will be people who get to know you, support you, follow you, and tell others about you. You have to earn connections.

  • Reply to tweets and post (likes are great but comments are better)
  • Send real instead of automated messages to them
  • Share their content
  • Start a conversation
  • Join conversations in progress

 

We’ve all heard it said. You can’t make sales using social media. You can make sales, you just haven’t discovered the secret. You can, you’re just doing something wrong. Ignore the noise.

Why trust what others say?

This is my theory. I’m not guaranteeing I’m right or that my plan will work. I’m simply forming a plan based on all of your wonderful feedback. You never know unless you try. So I’m going to put my plan into practice now during the release of my sister’s debut novel. I hope it works for her. I’ll be sure to let you know.

Thanks again for all of your comments and for sharing my post. Speaking of sharing, don’t forget to share information about your favorite authors. Studies seem to show your support helps.

A Great Debate: E-Book or Paperback–Which Do You Prefer?

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ebook-vs-printI used to work with a girl who never bought books–NEVER bought books.

Before you light your torches and sharpen your pitchforks I should probably mention she does READ books–she reads all the time; however, she only reads e-books, and only if they are free.

I’ve known people on both sides of the spectrum: those who only read e-books (old coworker) and those who only read paperbacks (my mother).

I’m sure most of you, like me, fall somewhere in the middle.

My personal philosophy: It doesn’t matter as long as you read.

Let me make a confession: I was once one of those people who used to touch, dust, and eye-caress my paperbacks, swearing to them I’d never betray them by downloading an e-book. Yeah, well I also swore I’d never join Facebook and twitter, so . . . (cough, cough)

Life changes and so do we. Granted, I didn’t buy my first e-book until last year. The invention of the e-book was an ancient time long ago when cell phones were first climbing out of the primordial ooze so to speak. Downloading an e-book required a fancy expensive reader or your computer. I just didn’t like reading books on my computer–still don’t. Everything changed when I got my iPhone and my tech/phone savvy coworker (who only reads e-books) showed me how to download them.

I was hooked.

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Downloading e-books has certainly taken a load off of my bookshelf, which is struggling to hold 50-100 paperbacks. I now have roughly a dozen books to read on my phone. This does not mean I will be snubbing the traditional format, however.

So how do I decide what format to buy? How do you decide?

When to Purchase Paperback

  • If I own part of a series in paperback, I’m going to purchase the remaining books in that format or else it looks like I have a (gasp) incomplete set. I’m sure Terry Brooks fans get this.
  • If it’s a really, really, really gorgeous cover. ‘Nuff said.
  • If it’s a classic. Sure, you can read “The Hobbit” or “Pride and Prejudice” on your Kindle, but to me, that just feels wrong. It’s a personal hangup. Personally I love to read the old books in a velvet tufted Victorian high-back chair–which I used to have until my cat destroyed it, so now I just read them in bed.
  • If you want it signed, I really recommend the paperback. I don’t even know if signing an e-book is an option. Does anyone have the answer to that? For instance, I really wanted to get a signature from James Alexander Thom on my copy of “Panther in the Sky,” but I had to work that day.
  • When the book is your own, you’ve got to have a paperback copy. Am I right?

When to Buy an E-book

  • When your bookshelf looks like this . . .

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  • Ugly cover. ‘Nuff said.
  • So you can read where you aren’t supposed to e.g., work. It’s much easier to hide your phone during a meeting than an entire book.
  • If you want your book to be more portable. It’s easier to carry your phone or tablet than a book. Think of it, you can carry hundreds of books instead of one. If you forget your book at home, chances are, you did not forget your phone.
  • To save money. It’s not always but it’s often cheaper to get an e-book.
  • For the instant gratification. You want to read that book now? You can. Click download and the book is yours within 60 seconds. From your couch! At any hour! If you wake up at midnight hankering for a book, you can have a book. If you wake up hankering for McDonalds–ignore it, that is an unhealthy food craving. You’re just wanty. Get a book instead.

Well, those are my reasons. What are yours? How do you choose?

Does Social Media Sell? Take the Poll

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Writers are told they need social media to sell books; however, they are also told they won’t sell books directly from social media or blogs.

Sounds rather counterproductive doesn’t it?

I guess the key word there is directly. Meaning, I suppose, that no one actually purchases your books by clicking on the links you provide in tweets or post.

I am a writer, so I believe other writers when they tell me they don’t see a lot of sales from their post or tweets.

I’m also a reader, and as one, I purchased ten e-books last year–all of which I found either from a tweet or blog post. That’s the only way I learn about new books. I don’t have time to browse Amazon–and Goodreads won’t even give me recommendations until I review a few more books.

That being said, I want to hear from the rest of you. How do you find your books? Do you respond to posts from twitter, Facebook, or WordPress? Please answer the poll below. If you don’t see your answer, please respond in the comment section below.

Tuesday Tip

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Finally, after more than a month, we’ve come to the last item on the editing checklist (for substantive editing anyway) before we move on to mechanics and grammar–everyone’s favorite topic.

Today we’re talking about talking–more commonly known in the literary world as dialogue.

Dialogue hasn’t always been–and still isn’t–one of my strong areas, but it has improved significantly with study and practice. Here’s some of the most useful tips I’ve learned.

How to Edit Dialogue

You won’t find all of the flaws reading your words silently in your head. Read your dialogue out loud to see if it flows. You can even role play with someone else. If you’re old school, you can use a tape recorder so you can record and listen to your words out loud. I use the recorder on my phone. This has helped a lot. Of course, I look really crazy when I do it because I tend to gesture and make weird faces while I do it.

While you read through your book, highlight the dialogue that you want to fix whether it’s a word or the entire sentence. If it sounds off, it probably is. Now that you know it sounds bad, you need to figure out why it’s bad.

 Dialogue needs to be two things: Purposeful and Natural

1. Purposeful

Dialogue, like your characters and events, has to move the plot forward. This doesn’t mean that  your characters have to talk about the conflict all the time, but it means there should be a reason they are talking.

  • reveals information for the reader
  • reveals information about the character
  • creates suspense, foreshadowing, or conflict
  • creates white space (White space is very appealing to the reader. Readers put down books with too many blocks of narrative)

Cut Unnecessary Dialogue

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

Do you characters ramble, chitty chat, banter, shoot the breeze?

If it can be described as one of the latter or anything synonymous, you should probably cut it.

Remove Greetings, Pleasantries, and Small Talk

Get to the point. Skip the “hellos” and “how do you dos” and go straight to the meat of the conversation. See my example of this from Tuesday Tip #20, where I explain how dialogue effects pace.

Remove Repetition

A typical example of repetition in dialogue is name dropping. Listen to yourself talk. How often do you use someone’s name? You know who you’re talking to, so does your character. If you created unique characters with their own traits, mannerisms, and verbiage, your reader will know who is talking without the name cue.

Another form of repetition is when dialogue repeats what a character just thought or did.

Example: Jack tossed his shoe.

“Why did you toss your shoe, Jack?” Anne asked.

Not only did Anne repeat Jack’s name, but she also repeated the action. The reader knows what Jack did. She could have just said, “Why did you do that?”


2. Natural

Dialogue should sound like real conversation–minus the frequent topic changes, the stuttering, and meandering, of course.

Dialogue often sounds unnatural or contrived when writers try to force a theme or information.

Exposition in Dialogue

To avoid info dumps in narrative, writers often use dialogue to give away information the reader needs to know; however, beware giving away too much exposition using dialogue. It sounds unnatural and forced.

Example: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (movie adaptation)

Arwen: Do you remember when we first met?
Aragorn: I thought I had wandered into a dream.
Arwen: Long years have passed. You did not have the cares you carry now. Do you remember what I told you?
Aragorn: You said you’d bind yourself to me, forsaking the immortal life of your people.
Arwen: And to that I hold. I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone. I choose a mortal life.
Aragorn: You cannot give me this.
Arwen: It is mine to give to whom I will. Like my heart.

This is an example of two characters giving away too much detail about a shared memory. This might make more sense if one of them had amnesia or something. Really, a simple yes, would have sufficed as an answer to these questions. They know how they met–they aren’t talking to each other; they’re talking to the viewer.

Stilted Dialogue

When you read your character’s words, do they just fall flat. Does it lack emotion? It might be the tone. If your dialogue is too formal, use contractions. There are still those who believe that contractions are not allowed in dialogue, even narrative. See my Tuesday Tip about contractions here.

Example of stilted dialogue that lacks emotion or flow. Re-read it with contractions and see how much better it sounds.

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Inappropriate

I don’t mean offensive. I mean the words don’t fit their age, education level, social background, etc. If your character is a teenager, make her sound like a teenager. If your character is a doctor, she probably shouldn’t sound like a teenager.


Editing Dialogue Tags

Sometimes it’s not what your characters say, it’s how they say it. Did they ask, whisper, grunt, shout, bark?

There’s a lot going around the internet about removing almost all dialogue tags. Really, I think some of this advice is going too far. Just stick to said and asked for the most part and use other tags sparingly. Use variances from time to time to spice up your writing, but make sure they make sense.

Example: “Quiet, you idiot,” Sam hissed.

Hissing is a sibilant sound. Do you see an “s” in the above example. Exactly.

Cut Overused or Silly dialogue Tags

  • panted
  • huffed
  • moaned, groaned, etc
  • growl, bark, or anything else that suggest your character is turning into a werewolf–unless they are
  • tags that are actions*

*Example: smirk and sneer

Wrong: “Yes,” Bob smirked. (smirked being used in place as said)

Instead: Yes,” Bob said, smirking.or “Yes.” Bob smirked. (difference in punctuation)


Cut Unnecessary Adverbs

Example: He said happily

If you chose the right words, the reader will know how he said it. Adverbs can make dialogue redundant and kill subtlety.

Example: “I need to go now!” Ellen said urgently.

The word need and now (and the exclamation mark) shows the urgency.


Use Gestures and Actions

Accompany dialogue with gestures and actions to help readers know who is talking as well as make the scene less static. Again don’t go too far with this either. Actions should be meaningful. Maybe an action is used to show a character feels something contradictory from what he says.

Example: “That’s fine,” Bob said, clenching his fist under the table.


Now that you’ve fixed your verbiage, you need to make sure it is formatted correctly. Once you’ve decided on your tags, it’s very important to put periods, commas, and capitals in the right places. Even though we haven’t gotten to grammar yet, here is a website that talks about dialogue punctuation.


Too Much or Not Enough

There is no set percentage or rule stating how much of a book should be dialogue.

Rule of Thumb: A good book has a balance of narrative, action, and dialogue.

Doc9_000Too much dialogue can give the same impact as two floating heads talking back and forth with no background, no setting, and no actions like those two people on PBS that spell words back and forth.

It’s important to strike a balance between narrative, action, and dialogue. You probably aren’t if:

  • Your character gives a long speech (too much dialogue)
  • Your pace is too slow (too little dialogue)
  • Your character is alone in their head too much (too little dialogue)
  • Your character divulges too much to other characters(too much dialogue)
  • You don’t know where your characters are or what they are doing (too much dialogue)

Dialogue is probably one of the biggest challenges for writers. I know it is for me. What do you think about dialogue. What are some tricks you’ve used?