28 April 2011

Vampires v Normal Character

If you are one of those people who despise vampires, you may be perplexed as to why vampire stories are still so popular. I think there is more going on with these stories than first meets the eye, and I think is has something to do with the nature of good stories.

While vampires occupied the classic good versus evil horror slot they were monsters, an expression of the animal within all of us, something other than human, a supernatural threat.

Move the vampire into the romance role and suddenly you have something else. Not only have you mashed together the horror and romance genres, but you automatically have characters full of internal as well as external conflict, and as we know already, conflict is the essence of a good story telling story.

These characters are constantly trying to reconcile their animal and human natures, protect the ones they love not just from others, but also from themselves. Often, their nature is secret from other characters which creates all sorts of conflicting emotions and conflict situations with their human loves – not to mention reader and character reveals. Also, of course, you have the classic romance scenario of forbidden love between a human and a non-human.

In short then, vampire characters come ready made with a whole suit of complex conflicts and contradictions, saving the author a lot of time, effort and thought because everyone knows what to expect.

The same effect can be tracked with the superhero phenomenon. Superhero’s came back into vogue once film makers started exploring their essential character contradictions. Now it is almost expected that any superhero will have a darker side, and as a person will be totally screwed up.

So, if you hate vampire stories, you now know what you have to do: create unique and compelling characters with loads of internal and external conflicts. Not a very easy thing to do, but worth the investment of time and energy, because these sort of characters generally occupy unique and compelling stories.

22 April 2011

Writing spaces

I’ve moved into a new writing office. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I have moved out. Now the spring is here, with some decent weather, I’ve taken to driving into the forest, walking to a shady spot with the laptop, and writing for an hour or two. For some reason, now that I’m at home more often, I find it easier to concentrate on writing when I’m out of the house. Here’s a picture of the new office, free-range horses and all.

19 April 2011

I Love Wattpad.com

I am officially addicted to Wattpad.com. Writing for an audience is both thrilling and pressurising. Nina Swift has over 2000 page reads so far and 77 official fans. It’s great having an audience read your work as you produce it, but also, they need feedback on their own writing and a regular feed of uploads – at least once a week, preferably 2 or 3 per week as I only upload 500 words at a time.

Working the fan-base takes about an hour a day, which is in addition writing.

From a discipline point of view, I need to write often enough to keep at least one chapter ahead of what I’m posting for my fans – that means draft, re-write and one edit. All this discipline is forcing me to get on with completing the Nina Swift novel which is good

Expediency has forced me to streamline my writing technique to become much more efficient. I now draft a new chapter into a notebook, re-write onto the laptop, and edit only once before posting/publishing.

Did I say I love Wattpad? No, well I do, and I’m addicted to it too.


18 March 2011

Space school is brilliant. Writing science fiction for younger children is challenging, I should know, I’ve been trying to do it for years, but in Space School, Tom and Tony Bradman achieve it in entertaining style. The setting is small enough for a young child to relate to: school life aboard a small space ship. The reason for being on the space ship is simple and plausible to young minds: the remnants of humanity have had to flee earth because of pollution. The stakes are high: the families aboard the Buzz Aldrin may be the only ones left as they have lost contact with the rest of the ships.

The story focuses on the relationships between Luke and his Mother (Captain of the Buzz Aldrin), and his two best friends, Yasmin, and Yori who just happens to be a computer genius. The characters are likable and engaging, and you care about them really easily.

The story is simple, straight forward, and not too complicated for a young child to grasp. It focuses on something a child could make happen with a solution in which a child could play a central part without being fantastical.

The writing is straight forward and easily readable, but at the same time, beautifully crafted, and easily assessable by the younger age group. Illustrations, descriptions, and explanations are contemporary and child focused.

I hope Tom and Tony Bradman can keep churning out these stories to fill that gap in the reading market for young boys that only Beast Quest seems to be tackling. Compared to Beast Quest, I think Space School is much better.

I’m impressed (ok, I admit it, I’m green with envy, this is the sort of story writing I would love to produce for my Jumpers series). I wish Tom and Tony all the best with this series, and will certainly be recommending it to friend’s children.


07 March 2011

Missed Opportunities in Writing

Never turn down a good opportunity. Unfortunately, I did turn down a potential opportunity and have regretted it ever since.

Someone emailed inviting me to join their UK epublishing site. I took a brief glance, clocked that there were less than 650 members and ditched the email. Now I wish I had kept it.

One distinguishing feature of this site was that you could sell individual chapters of your book as you wrote it. Not something I was interested at the time, but having investigated 17k.com I can now see the potential for developing this site to charge 10per thousand words for text novels. I could have offered Wattpad readers the opportunity to read the next chapter before I published it.

The site was in the UK and still in Beta format, I think, and the only think I have come across which could possibly work in a 17k.com way.

I have searched and searched for this site (I can’t remember the name), but without success. If you know of this site, have received a similar email, or are on it, I would love to re-contact them and explore the development potential of the site.

The moral of this tale, is that you should never pass up an opportunity, even if you are not currently interested in it.


03 March 2011

The Book Marketing Plan 2011

Someone once said, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ – I agree, any plan is better than no plan, because it gives you a direction. Even if you strike out in the wrong direction, sooner or later results are going to suggest there might be a better direction and you can always alter you plan, nothing has to be set in stone.

So here is the marketing plan for 2011.

Direction - this is two-fold:
Write a damn good stories - finishing ‘Nina Swift: Gaia’s Brood’ and work on story plans for the ‘Jumper,’ series.
Build a fan base who might buy these stories.

Concentrate on building a fan base in Wattpad.com. Wattpad as nearly a million users, most of whom are within my target audience – the majority of Wattpad users are aged between 11 – 20, female (87%), and the majority (38%) speak English. That’s about 400,000 potential readers in my target group – read the metrics report. Wattpad has the added advantage in that it allows you to broadcast a message direct to all your fans at once.

Write Nina Swift: Gaia’s Brood in 500 word cycles and publish each new section on Wattpad.com. Wattpad members spend between 11.6 and 33 minutes on the site, depending on country, and two-thirds are reading on mobile phones. So short and intense chapters would seem to be required.

Publish additional short stories on Wattpad.com to draw in the readers/fans.

Continue to offer Helium3.0 as a loss leader to give readers a taste of my writing style.

Use Wattpad and Facebook to funnel readers/fans towards NickTravers.com and sales via Smashwords.com.

Continue to use Smashwords.com as the publishing/distribution platform of choice and hope they get it together with Amazon soon. Lulu.com continue to disappoint.

Maintain the price of Helium3.1 and Helium 3.2, but offer 50% off vouchers as sales incentives.

Design new covers for Helium3.0, 3.1 & 3.2, which will appeal to the Wattpad target audience.

Aim to earn £7,000 per year from ebook sales within 5 years. This may be completely unrealistic and/or wildly inaccurate, but at least it is a target to aim at and monitor progress against.

Get published? You bet. I’m not someone who identifies with being an Indie Author – I always aim for my work to be published by mainstream publishers. Whilst I am happy to take any income produced by e-publishing, my main aim in building a fan base and producing a back catalogue is to attract a publisher.

Lots of SOBAW – Sit On Bum And Write

That’s it, the marketing plan for 2011. What do you think? Do you have a plan? I would be interested hear your plans.

14 February 2011

The Scientific Basis For Story

Language, religion, music, and stories are common to all human cultures. Stories, therefore, must be fundamental the human nature.

But what exactly is it that stories do for us? Are they a survival mechanism in their own right? Or a spin off from some other survival mechanism?

MRI scans reveal that our brains fire off in exactly the same regions for stories as they do for real life, especially in the pleasure, reward, and well being zones. Reading a good story actually produces dopamine and serotonin in the brain in the same way that a real life event does. Scientists trying to coax the brain into artificially producing dopamine and serotonin have discovered that one technique is better than all the rest: get the subject involved in a good narrative - a book or a film.

Not only do we imagine ourselves in the story situation, but chemically, for a while, we actually become the character and feel what they feel, and care about the characters as if they are real people. Even more intriguingly, the brain activity of a person listening to a story becomes aligned with the brain activity of the person telling the story – that’s you, the author.

You know that feeling when you finish a book and wish it would go on forever, well, there’s even a theory for that: this release of dopamine and serotonin is addictive, so readers crave again the same brain experience they have just had. Which is why readers follow the same authors and characters – they don’t just like your stories, they are addicted the high it gives them.

Why is the human race addicted to stories? There is no agreement on that yet, just wildly differing theories, so that’s for the scientist to go figure. In the mean time, we authors can make use of the findings to improve our story telling.
The key to all these chemical reactions appears to be emotional empathy. If you write a good emotional scene, which to the reader feels like real life, it actually becomes real life for that reader.

For an author, the next questions are obvious: who chemically engages people the best? Whose work should we study to make ours better? Unfortunately, the limited amount of research conducted in this area focuses only on film directors, where the master: Alfred Hitchcock, really is the master.

Well I’m off to get a shot of serotonin by watching a Hitchcock film so I can learn how to better addict my readers.


Sources: New Scientist, vol 209, No 2799, 12 Feb 2011

31 January 2011

The Text Novel

I have been vaguely aware of the term text novels for a while, but never taken it seriously. Then, while investigating self publishing platforms in China, India and Africa, I came across the Text Novel site 17K.com in China, reputed to be the largest website in the world

17K charge the equivalent of 3 cents per 1000 characters, with a maximum of 3000 characters per chapter, which sounds trivial until you realise that the most popular story has received 7.7 million hits – that’s a worthwhile income. I tried to upload my stories to the site, but it will only takes Chinese characters. That set me on the trail of Text Novel platforms round the world, with a special interest in India.

Why India? Because as the most populous nation on earth, with 39 official languages, English is widely spoken and read. While only a small percentage of the population have private computer access, half of those under 35 have mobile phones

So far, I have failed to find a specific Text Novel platform in India, but I did discover that Wattpad.com, a Canadian company, and one of the largest Text Novel sites outside East Asia has recently done deals with publishing companies in India.

The other Text Novel site to catch my eye is TextNovel.com. Both Wattpad and TextNovel are entirely free so can’t be used to generate a direct income. However, I write for the teen age group and guess which demographic group inhabit the world of Text Novels – you got it, the teens.

If the world of Text Novels is where my target audience hang out and read literature, however brief in nature, I recon this presents a good opportunity to build a fan base, funnel teens towards my website, and eventual sales.

So, if you want to read sections of Nina Swift: Gaia’s Brood as I write it you much visit Wattpad.com or TextNovel.com – You can even read them on your mobile/cell phone.


29 January 2011

Constructing a Multi-Layers Framework for your Story

Constructing a grid with many layers provides not only a framework in which to build your story and story world, but also provides the opportunity to test whether your story and characters work before committing a huge amount of time to writing. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of getting three-quarters of the way through a story and realising it’s not working and we don’t know how it is going to end. However, this is a very process driven way to go about story writing and if you’re the sort who likes your characters to lead you all over the place, stop right here, because you will only feel frustrated.

To construct a multi-layered grid you start with the most basic elements of the story: The premise – often a ‘what if.....a boy were to meet a girl on a bus,’ etc.

Next you construct the characters, and the villain (arguably the most important character): who are they, what are they like, how do they relate to the villain of the piece, how do they relate to each other, what are they all after, how are they going to grow as individuals during the story?
Got your characters sorted? Now give each one a moral flaw and an immoral action in your story, this will make them much more interesting and give the other characters something to react against.

The thematic story line follows next: what is the story really about? What value are you trying to convey to your readers when they read this story. It could be a moral point, a political point or something quite ordinary like ‘true love never fails’ or ‘love needs more that true love,’ whatever takes your fancy. If your story has an underlying theme it will automatically have more depth.

Now you need to decide what everyone is after, this is the thing that drives all the characters to act and react against each other, it could be money, love, happiness, saving the world etc, though it doesn’t have to be what they eventually end up with.

Now map out your main scenes and briefly what happens in each, making sure each is a consequence of the actions taken by characters in the previous scenes.

At this point you should have a good idea if your story is going to work or lose its way.

You can carry on giving your framework more layers if you wish - it really depends on how much freedom or direction you want in your writing.

26 January 2011


In the year since I actively started marketing Helium3 as an e-book I’ve learned quite a lot about e-marketing. Here are the main things I think I’ve learned:

It’s difficult - it takes a good deal of time and effort.

The returns don’t justify the time investment, yet – but hopefully the hits will grow eventually until the time input does become justified.

No one will read anything from a self-published author unless it’s free. This means everyone need at least one book which is a loss-leader – if they like the free one they may return for another, and if they liked it enough they may pay for one.

Quantity is more important than quality, though, ideally you want both. A long backlist is important, because once a reader decides they like your work they will often return to purchase other books from you, especially if they feature the same characters.

Size does'nt matter – a lot of the best selling e-books are more novella than novel, often less than 20,000 words. In fact, brevity seems to be preferred when reading online. Whether this has to do with the nature of reading from a screen or the social settings in which the works are read, such as on a commute to work, is unclear. So it’s ok to write a trilogy of 25,000 words each rather than one saga of 80,000 words.

There appear to be three main approaches adopted when marketing e-books:

  • The scatter-gun approach – getting the book listed on as many sites as possible.

  • The funnel approach – channelling potential readers towards one sales website by contributing to as many blogs, chat rooms, and discussions as possible.

  • The third party approach – paying someone else to undertake on or both of the above approaches.
    I prefer the funnel approach, because I think I will get more return for my effort and I can keep a tight control over marketing efforts.
A lot of independent authors seem to spend a lot of time promoting their book to other independent authors – many of the site chosen to list work appear to only attract other authors.

There are plenty of people prepared to make money our of helping independent authors sell their works – typically these people promise lots, charge high, and deliver little. Do it yourself.

Everyone loves a special offer – discount codes really do work.

In future posts I will be working these ideas up into a marketing plan for the coming year.

18 January 2011

New Year Reality Check

With the new year I’ve decided to review where I am with my writing, so here goes:

Helium3 is never going to make it into print in it’s current form. It gets out of the slush pile, which puts it into the top 10% of manuscripts being submitted, but it never gets any further. Even got into the final thirty of the Chicken House/Times Children’s Writing competition. I know this because Barry Cunningham, from Chicken House, only read the last thirty runners up and he referred to the end story line of Helium3 in explaining why the runners up didn’t make it.

Helium3 has serious story flaws, not many, but enough to matter. The main characters are great, it’s fun to read, and at least 3000 people have liked it enough to download it, but ultimately the flaws can only be fixed by a complete rewrite – from the premise upwards. This would make it into a completely different story and I’ve already moved on to other things so it’ll just have to stay the way it is.

I can still make a bit of money from Helium3 as an ebook, because even with flaws it’s still better than the majority of ebooks out there. More importantly, I can use it to attract people to my website for the better stuff I am/will write now I know what I’m doing.

Smashwords.com is by far the best publishing/distribution platform on which to sell Helium3 as an ebook.

I’m not reaching my target audience. The teen audience I’m aiming at are not the ones downloading Helium3 from Smashwords. I need a marketing plan that drives/attracts my target audience to my website to download from Smashwords.com - more about this in later posts.