You’re writing fiction, but you’re not making sales. When I advise fiction authors, I often suggest that they return to basics. This might mean marketing basics:
- Revise the book’s title, so that it appeals to readers in the genre.
- Redo the blurb to tease readers, and arouse their curiosity.
- Check the book’s categories.
- And so on.
However, everything starts with the text.
A novel may be structurally sound, and written well, but miss the mark, because it’s blah. Fiction is entertainment.
The word “novel” can mean fiction, but it can also mean interestingly new or unusual.
Writing fiction: is your novel packed with the new and unusual?
In other words, is your novel exciting?
It’s impossible to judge your own writing, so beta readers can help immensely, because they can get you into the habit of generating excitement when you write. This won’t happen by accident, it needs to be a conscious goal.
Try sending your scenes to your beta readers when you complete them, with one instruction: tell me where you stopped reading, or found this boring.
Let’s look at some tips for generating excitement in your prose.
1. “New” sells: readers want to learn something new
The human brain responds to novelty. We like new things, new ideas, and new information.
When you wander around the supermarket, check how many products have “new” on the label.
So, while you’re writing, think: “new”.
An example. Your main character might be a private detective, or a cop. How might you make such a common occupation in novels new? Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme is disabled. Perhaps you create a female private eye who’s agoraphobic, but won’t admit it…
Speaking of disabled, Joanna Bourne’s heroine in The Spymaster’s Lady is a blind spy. Ms Bourne uses open loops (see below); it takes a chapter before anyone becomes aware of her disability.
Consider “new” when you’re thinking about your story question too.
2. What’s your story question? Why should readers care?
Readers want to be pulled through your story, so that they don’t stop reading; they want to know what happens next.
In 4 Vital Storytelling Tips To Increase Sales, we suggested:
The easiest way to decide on a story question (even for pantsers) is: who wants what, and why can’t he get it?
You can use the “new” strategy on every page, and you should aim for that, but the story question affects the story as a whole. Not only must your characters care about the story question (they must have goals they’re desperate to achieve), but you must care as well.
Here’s why: emotion. If you don’t care, readers won’t care either.
3. Withhold information: create open loops
We looked at open loops in this article, Writing Fiction: 4 Tips To Build Narrative Drive (Suspense):
“Open loops” are also known as the Zeigarnik Effect—they exploit your readers’ primal desire for closure. When you open a loop, you’re developing both curiosity and anxiety in your readers.
Before you close a loop, open another one. However, do track your open loops: close them before you end your novel.
4. Conflict starts with the antagonist, the “baddie”
Your novel’s antagonist (villain) must be stronger than your main character. My theory is that classic fiction, which remains popular for decades, usually has a powerful antagonist—it seems impossible to conquer them.
- Professor Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes.)
- Fish (Jaws and Moby Dick.)
- A demon (The Exorcist.)
- Kryptonians (Superman.)
According to Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927):
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
Is your antagonist scary enough?
5. Make them laugh: add humor
Your humor needn’t be a rolling-on-the-floor riot.
It can be sly and startling.
From John Sandford’s Phantom Prey: Lucas Davenport 18:
“Probably the least amount of trouble of anything you’ve done today,” Lucas said, as he dropped into a leather armchair. “If you get assassinated this week, can I have those socks?”
Sandford’s known for his humor in his two long-running series, Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers. Humor sets off Sandford’s grim and grisly antagonists perfectly; readers like the humor and comment on it in his thousands of reviews.
When you’re writing fiction, make it FUN
If you’re not having fun, readers won’t either—making your fiction exciting is huge fun.
Try some of these tips; let me know what happens.
Your books aren't selling. You've done everything right, but you may have missed an essential element of bestselling fiction...
That element is suspense.More info →
Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.