Track your KDP Sales With ‘Book Report’

Track your KDP Sales With ‘Book Report’

In this tip, I wanted to share a tool with you that I have come to depend on for tracking my books at a glance. It’s called Book Report. It’s a free plugin for your browser that will give you various summarized views of your books published on Amazon for the Kindle.

Once you have installed book report you can easily track your books at the click of a button.

First, log in to your KDP account and click on Reports

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Next, you’ll want to click on the book report link (you’ll figure this out when you get the app.

You will get the following view:

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It gives you your earnings for the period (I blanked mine out) with a drop down where you can pick ‘today’, ‘yesterday’, ‘this month’, ‘last month’ and many other ranges.

It also gives you this view:

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This view shows you how many books and pages were read per day. I took off the number scale to keep my details confidential.

You also get this view:

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This tool is very useful and the great thing is, for most of us, it will be free up to a certain point. Here is the pricing criteria:

Free for everyone for the first two weeks. See how much you can learn from your data.

Free for everyone earning less than $1000/month on KDP.

$10/month if you’re finished your trial and you earned more than $1000 last month.

If you’re interested in using book report, you can get it by clicking HERE.

I hope you find this tool useful.

Writing Tips – Part 4

Writing Tips – Part 4

This is the last in my series of Writing Tips. I hope they have been helpful. If you want to check out the first three parts, you can click on the links below:

dotsTip 31 – Let the Reader Connect the Dots

You don’t have to account for every minute of your characters day. You just need to provide enough information so that time jumps won’t lose your reader. If nothing happens to advance the story during a certain interval, you can leave it out.

Good-talkTip 32 – Tell a Good Story, but Make Your Dialog Count

You can have the best story in the world and do a masterful job describing the people, places and things, but if your dialog is weak, you’ll lose your reader.

Tip 33 – Your Readers have Five Senses

The best writers can transport their readers to real or imagined places. You can do this by giving your reader an idea of how the surroundings look, what the character smells, how food tastes, what the sounds are, and how something feels when they touch it.

Tip 34 – Borrow Techniques from Other Writing Forms

You may not be a poet, but you can borrow techniques from poetry in your writing. Alliteration, rhythm, pacing and other techniques can help your writing move along or have a unique voice.

Tip 35 – Editing and Rewriting is More than Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation

Your editing and rewriting should include checking for: plot holes, character consistency, missing scenes, unnecessary scenes,  and accurate research.

trimTip 36  – Remove Anything that is Unnecessary

This tip may seem redundant as it is part of the previous tip on editing and rewriting. It merits it’s own tip, however. You will lose the interest of your reader if you have a lot of unnecessary narrative or dialog. Trim it out.

Tip 37 – Make Sure That You Get Some Fresh Eyes On Your Work

Use beta readers, join a writing group, reach out to other trusted authors or anyone that can give you constructive, honest feedback on your work. You won’t regret it and the quality of your work will improve.

threeTip 38 – Don’t Share Your Rough Draft With Anyone But Your Editor Until You Revise it Three TImes

You will be amazed at the errors that will reveal themselves each time you revise your document. Usually, after three revisions, it will be clean enough to share with your beta readers and your writing group.

Tip 39  – Collect Your Favorite Writing Tips Into a Notebook or Document

You can create a checklist from your favorite writing tips and put your writing through it as you prepare to send out your revised draft. You’ll be amazed at how many rules you’ll start to internalize the more you write.

Tip 40 – Have Fun.

You need to enjoy writing. If you’re an independent author, the fun may be the only thing keeping you going at times.

More Writing Tips – Part 3

More Writing Tips – Part 3

Tip 21 – Change is Good

Your character should experience or cause a change by the end of the story. If you do this well, it will resonate with your reader.

Tip 22 – Surprise and Satisfy Your Reader.

You can have twists and turns to surprise your reader, but in the very end, give them a satisfying reading experience. You should never have your reader feel disappointment when they finish your book.

Tip 23 – Build Tension and Then Release It

There are a couple of schools of thought on this. I like to have peaks and valleys throughout a book with one large tension arc that lasts through the book.I often use humor to release the tension.

Tip 24 – Use Subplots to Help Your Plot

If there’s an investigation going on, maybe there’s also a budding romance. Maybe there’s a rivalry between two characters that keeps impeding progress. Make it interesting and rich. Remember, real people aren’t one-dimensional.

Tip 25 – Don’t go off on Tangents

Although subplots make you’re writing interesting, going off on too many tangents can make your reader lose interest. You can talk about your character’s love for cooking, but don’t spend two pages taking your readers through the process of cooking a meal unless it’s relevant to your plot or you’re writing a cookbook.

Tip 26 – Don’t be Afraid to Mix it Up

If you’re writing a horror story, you can have something funny happen. If you’re writing a detective story, you can have the character do something outside of the investigation like attend a sporting event or something unrelated. Remember, your characters are human and they do not live a single-threaded life.

bob rossTip 27 – Paint a Vivid Picture of the Surroundings

Whether you are making up the world your character lives in, or you are using a real location, paint a word picture for your reader. You can go to the location and research it if you like or use the place you’re in. I carry a small notebook to make notes about new places I travel to. You never know what might be useful. Another trick, if you don’t travel, is to use Google Streetview. You can virtually drive right down the street in a location and describe what you see in a 360 view. One author who does this surprisingly well is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, usually at the revelation part of his Sherlock Holmes cases. An author, in my opinion, that occasionally spends too much time on this Dean Koontz.

Tip 28 – Leave Some Room for the Reader To Use Their Imagination

The converse of Tip 27 is to let your readers picture the scene based on their own experience. If you’re at the beach, you can use the term ‘salt air’ and most readers will be able to imagine what it smells like. You can say that a house looked creepy with some sounds, sights, and smells without describing every square foot.

Tip 29 – Always Keep the Hero’s Struggle in the Back of Your Mind

Just like in our day-to-day lives, experiences shape who we are and what we do. Bring this realism to your characters. Recalling their past experiences is also a way to weave in some of that backstory that you’ve been sitting on.

Tip 30 – Your Readers are Not Dumb

Don’t treat your readers like they are stupid. After all, they’re reading a book. Don’t lead them by the nose through things that are general knowledge. Don’t condescend.

More Helpful Writing Tips

More Helpful Writing Tips

tip 11Tip 11: Make your characters believable

Give your character a quirk or something that makes them unique. Maybe she’s a chronic nail biter. Maybe he has a unibrow. Maybe a stutter or a limp will give them something that makes them memorable and believable.

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Tip 12: Give your character a secret or something hidden in their past

Think of Batman. He is a superhero/vigilante because he saw his parents murdered when he was young (spoiler alert). Your character is motivated to do what he or she does by the experiences from their past

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Tip 13: Give your character a fault

Realism in a character comes with them wrestling with some sort of demon. Maybe they’re an alcoholic or a recovering drug addict. Maybe they secretly like to where diapers. Give them something that they are struggling with.

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Tip 14: Spread out the details about your character

I know authors that make up very detailed character profiles. Every scar, mole and tic is described in great detail. This is a great tactic to get to know your character intimately, but don’t dump everything on your reader at once. Spread out these details and give them out during conversations or in little snippets throughout your story.

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Tip 15: Give your character an obstacle (or more than one) to overcome in your story

This is what it’s all about. No one would want to read about Snow White if her stepmother loved her and she went right from a happy childhood to living happily ever after. The nature of writing fiction demands an obstacle or two in your story. Make them good and juicy.

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Tip 16: Decide on the tone for your narrative

Whatever tone you choose whether it’s humorous, ominous, serious, or some other ‘ous’, stick with it throughout your book. There are exceptions to this. In Gone Girl, the author tells the story from two points of view with very different tones and does it well. If you’re doing on purpose, that’s one thing, but don’t change the tone of your writing with your mood.

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Tip 17: What is the best narrative point of view?

Usually the choice is between first and third person. Third person gives you a bit more flexibility to be omniscient in your writing. First person, in my opinion is more difficult but can be very effective. The point here is to pick one point of view and stick with it. Be consistent.

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Tip 18: Pay attention to the pace

Don’t let your story move too slow or too fast. Look at it from the readers point of view. Are you being like Dean Koontz and spending four pages describing a tree? Keep your readers interested by keeping a steady pace that is not too slow or fast.

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Tip 19: Use the Three Act Structure

Your story should have a beginning, middle and end. This structure has worked since the beginning of time. Make sure you can find the three acts.

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Tip 20: Use symbols if they make sense, but be subtle

Do you remember in high school when you had to analyze books and find the symbolism. I always wondered if the authors really intended for certain things to be symbols. If you use them, and I do sometimes in my writing, don’t be blatantly obvious or it may seem like a cheap device.

If you want to check out tips 1-10, you can find them HERE.

Some Helpful Writing Tips

Some Helpful Writing Tips

This is the beginning of a four part series that will list some writing tips. Many of these are likely familiar to you. Some of them may be new. For each tip, I’ll try to give some context on how I’ve either used or observed the tip being used. I hope they are helpful to you.

Tip 1: Read more than you write.

I’ve published other posts about the importance of reading. In order to learn the craft of writing, you need to study those that have mastered it before you and add to the body of work. This makes sense if you think of it in the context of other disciplines. If you aspire to be a surgeon, I would hope you would want to read about and observe many surgeries before attempting one yourself.

Tip 2: Observe life around you for character ideas

As you may know, I travel around the U.S. quite a bit. It is a great opportunity for me to people watch. Many of the characters in my books are composites of people that I’ve observed or interacted with. If you see a nerdy looking guy jotting down notes in a tiny notebook at the airport or on the rental car bus, it might be me.

Tip 3: You don’t need to outline, but have some kind of plan

I’m not a plotter. I am more visual in nature. I do, however, like to plan out my books using visual methods. I use a technique called mind mapping to create a road map for my books. I published a post on this technique a while back. You can find it HERE.

Tip 4: Don’t write for a specific market. Write what’s in your heart.

When I tried outsourcing my book promotion, someone told me I should write a western because they were hot. I also see that romance and erotic novels are popular. I don’t read books in either genre. I’m not a fan of either genre. I may have a smaller niche readership for my mystery and detective novels, but I enjoy writing them and those that read them enjoy the genre as well. My wife will tell you that, if I tried to write a romance novel based on my expertise, I’d have trouble filling more than a page.

Tip 5: Try discovery writing

This is a technique that Stephen King talks about in his book, On Writingone of the best books on the subject of writing that I have read. If you have well-developed characters and the basic road map for your book, just turn them loose and see how they handle the situations you throw them into. When I wrote the second book in my detective series, I did a good amount of discovery writing. I would go back and read sections of dialog that would have me laughing out loud. I felt like I was reading it for the first time. I used this technique quite a bit in the third and fourth books of the series.

Tip 6: Take your story ideas from real life

I try to read the news online every day. At least two of my short stories and most of my fourth detective series novel came from an expansion of stories that I found in the news. Of course, embellishment is needed in some cases. In my story Heal Thyself, I found a story about a man who had been in a motorcycle accident and ended up paralyzed. I took this story and pondered what would happen if the man woke up and had not only spontaneously recovered from his injuries, but had the power to heal others. It explores the good and bad side of these powers.

Tip 7: Observe and analyze what is going on in the market and in your genre

I read a lot. I also research the publishing industry and media in general. I have a set of successful authors that I follow and I observe how they have developed over the years and how their characters evolve. I look for trends and try to predict what might be successful. I also talk to other authors about what works for them. Many authors are willing to share their successful tactics. Those that aren’t probably aren’t enjoying much success.

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Tip 8: Observe World Events 

There are major changes going on in the world today. The things happening to our planet in terms of politics, human rights, the environment, and in religion make headlines every day. Use these things to come up with story ideas and you might end up educating yourself as well as your readers.

Tip 9: Read and Write Multiple Genres

This may sound contradictory of Tip 4 about writing what’s in your heart. It’s not. I enjoy mysteries. I also enjoy detective stories. I am a fan of science fiction and paranormal. I have written stories and novels in each of these genres. A prime example of this is Stephen King. He is recognized as a master of horror writing. He also writes fantasy. If you read the books in his Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch) he has branched out into the detective genre and has done a wonderful job.

Tip 10: Butt in the Chair, fingers on the keys

You can do all of the research and preparation in the world. At the end of the day, you have to dirty the page. If you don’t write, you won’t produce anything that can be read. You should try to write every day, even if it’s just a paragraph or two. It’s like having a muscle that you are developing. If you work it every day, it will strengthen. If you don’t, it may atrophy.

Backstory – Is it necessary? How much?

Backstory – Is it necessary? How much?

1) Use the flash back technique sparingly: Unless you a

When I completed my first book, I tried to make sure that all of my characters were fully developed. I created biographies for each of them using templates that I found on the Internet. These templates included sections for physical attributes, motivations, character traits, family background and other biographical details.

In my Frank Rozzani Detective Series, the main character has events in his back story that motivate who he is in the present time. These events pushed him into his career as a private detective and forced him to relocate. My first draft of the book had two full chapters devoted to Frank’s back story. I thought that readers would want all of this rich detail about his former life in Syracuse, NY along with his family history and the tragic events that brought him to the present day in the story. I incorporated this as a flashback. I was excited about it and sent it off to my editor.

When I received my editor’s comments, she slashed nearly all of the flashback chapters from the book. She said that it was all unnecessary and that I should be more stingy with the back story and spread it out throughout this book and the ones that would follow. It was a blow to my ego at first, but in hindsight, she was absolutely right.

After this eureka moment, I started looking at the way other writers used back story in their work. Some of them, like John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard use back story very sparingly and only reveal details when they are relevant to the current story. Others like Dean Koontz and, in some instances, Stephen King, use back story to develop their characters into living and breathing people full of complexity. I wanted to land somewhere in the middle and I think, with my first book, and to a greater degree, my second book, I have succeeded somewhat.

Have I mastered the use of back story? Absolutely not. I don’t think, as writers, we ever truly perfect any aspect of our writing. I thought, however, that I would post some tips that I use and that might help you as you look for balance in sharing character background information in your work.

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re writing a book about time travel, you can really confuse your reader by jumping back and forth in your book. If your reader starts to wonder where and when the story is taking place, you might lose them. If you must use flash back, consider doing it in short doses, such as in a character’s dream. If you have to devote a chapter to it, be certain that the details are relevant to the story.

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2) Consider giving past information as part of a conversation: This technique might involve a character telling their story to another character as part of a conversation. You want to avoid long monologues by your main character. You should try to make the reveal of the back story more of an interactive scene between the characters.

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3) Incorporate portions of background details as a summary: Many authors use this technique to indicate what has happened in the past. They will reveal details in the character’s background with single sentences.  Here is an example:

“As an attorney, John vigorously went after cigarette manufacturers. He wanted nothing more than to be victorious in cases against them while securing high punitive damages for his clients. This passion was fueled by the deaths of both of his parents from lung cancer.”

believe4) Make the back story believable and realistic: As an author, you should think out the main points of your main characters’  back story. Don’t invent events just to suit your story. The back story should be grounded in some type of reality. You can’t have your character defeat their enemy with a complex form of martial arts if studying the techniques do not make sense in the characters background. Maybe he or she was in special forces or spent time in Asia.

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5) Create a situation where the information needs to be known: In my first book, Frankly Speaking, the main character is single and is being pursued by a beautiful, successful woman. Despite her obvious hints, he resists her. When things finally come to a head, he reveals the details of his wife’s murder to her and explains his reluctance to get into a new relationship. This is a case where the reader was aware of some of the details, but other characters were not.

I hope that these tips about back story were helpful to you. I learn more about the different methods to reveal character background details as I read more and apply the techniques that I’ve learned to my own writing. Those things that motivate your characters might be the things that keep your readers interested, especially if you have multiple works that feature the same cast of characters.

Point of View – Writing from a Different Perspective

Point of View – Writing from a Different Perspective

This blog post stems from my recent reading. As you know, besides writing books and short stories and recording my audio book, I am an avid reader consuming 3-4 books per month. My reading genre is mostly fiction with some non-fiction mixed in. Lately, I have been reading the work of some noted authors that have jumped on the young adult fiction bandwagon and some that have written for characters that are opposite their gender. The results, in my humble opinion, are mixed.

Let’s start with those that have been able to write effectively from a perspective that is quite opposite their own. Most notable is J.K. Rowling. Her Harry Potter series and, to some extent, The Casual Vacancy, were very effectively written from the point of view of 10 year old children through young adults. She represented their emotions, actions, and reactions quite accurately and demonstrated how, over the course of time, they learned from their experiences. Because of her abilities, she was able to cross over to adult readers in a big way making her an international sensation who at one point had more accumulated wealth than the Queen of England.

Hunger Games funnyMoving on to American authors, a trio of women rise to the top in terms of success. Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games Trilogy, and Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, have all logged huge best-sellers with their angst-ridden cast of teen protagonists. Of these series, I enjoyed The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins was able to write a compelling saga. The first book was a sizzling page turner. The second book, however, reminded me of the movie, Back to the Future II. It was just a vehicle to compel the reader to read the third book. The third book was very significant in terms of character development. These books, in particular, depicted the main character, Katniss Everdeen, as a flawed individual that doesn’t always do things perfectly and make the right decisions. This makes Katniss compelling as a main character.

Ultimate+twilight+synopsis_8314bf_4859936I gave a try at reading the Twilight series. I found the characters too depressing and angst-ridden for my taste. They were downright depressing. I was surprised at my reaction due to the success of the series and the movies. I sate with my teenage daughter to watch the first Twilight movie and experienced the same reaction. I am, however, far removed from being a teenager myself. My reaction was a burning desire to kick these teens in the seat of their pants and tell them to comb their hair and get a job. I must be getting old.

harry-potter-divergent-tris-memeAs for Divergent, I have gone to see the movie with my daughter. My first impression was that it was as if Harry Potter and The Hunger Games had a baby. The story was a good one. I have the first book on my “to read” list. The characters definitely had some depth in the movie.

stephen-king-and-jk-rowling-funny-picturesNow on to male authors that write as characters that differ from themselves and do it well. The first is Stephen King. In the Shining and, to a much greater extent, in It, King writes very believably as a child. At no point did I find his writing not believable as he took on the point of view of children. They make fun of each other and form a bond that only childhood friends can do. In The Shining, this bond comes between Danny Torrance and Dick Halloran is due to their psychic ability, in part, but there is also a mentor/mentee relationship. In It, King is able to write as several different adolescents and give each a distinct and memorable personality.

hh quoteThe second author that has written effectively from a young female perspective is Hugh Howey. Howey is the hero of independent writers who has turned his dystopian Wool series into a huge bestseller without the benefit of a major publisher. Wool and his earlier Molly Fyde series are written from the perspective of young women. Howey does this effectively and is able to realistically depict their actions and emotions.

hcquoteNow for those writers who have not done this effectively. The first author, who has been running hot and cold with his work recently, is Harlan Coben. I recently read Missing You which Coben wrote from the perspective of a female New York City detective. I was disappointed in this work. His female character was both unrealistic and not likable. He was inconsistent with the way she reacted to situations. Coben has also created a young adult series based on Mickey Bolitar, nephew to his frequent protagonist Myron Bolitar. The stories within the Mickey Bolitar books make them worth reading. The main character, however, is not a realistic teen. His points of reference are not contemporary, but are those of a 40-something year old man in terms of music and other cultural aspects. He makes a lot of wrong decisions in terms of hiding things from adults. I’m not sure that most teens would push things to the limits that he does without seeking help.

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John Grisham has also jumped into the YA market with his Theodore Boone series. Theodore Boone is a 13 year old only child of small city attorneys. He is enamored with the law and aspires to be an attorney. He is a straight “A” student and always seems to make the right decisions. He listens to his parents and is the favorite of judges, teachers, and the school principal. All of these adults defend him to the fullest even when it appears that he has done something wrong. While the stories are interesting, Grisham makes Boone too perfect. This 13 year old has the reasoning ability and intellect of an adult. He says all of the right things. This is not to say that a child like Theodore Boone is unrealistic. What is unrealistic is his popularity with other kids. In my recollection, kids like Theodore Boone would have been labeled as nerds or brainiacs in school (I was one) and would also be subject to regular ridicule and pranks. Theodore Boone is not.

koontzDean Koontz has also written a series of eight books based on his character, Odd Thomas. Odd is a twenty-something short order cook with psychic abilities. In his early Odd Thomas books, Koontz portrayed him as a simple and likable character. Odd was believable and spoke in simple dialog. I just finished the last in the series, Saint Odd, and found Koontz to be portraying his main character in a much more verbose fashion that is similar to his other books. He spends many paragraphs describing the plant life and the architecture. This is contrary to how this character viewed his surroundings in past works. Koontz even tries to justify this by referencing a novelist mentor that Odd has been getting pointers from. This new point of view from this character made the later Odd Thomas books a bit plodding and less genuine.

So, what is the message in all of this? As authors, I think it is important for us to truly understand the perspective of our characters. Don’t write a book as a teenage girl based on the way you see them in sitcoms or reality television shows. Write from this perspective based on real experiences and insight. Your readers will not find sincerity in your work if they find that you are misrepresenting how a character would think, react, and learn in a situation. If your target audience is young adults, you have to appeal to their world.

As a struggling author, I have found that readers resonate most with works where I have written based on what I know. I give my characters attributes that I know a lot about and this comes across as sincere. The private eye/mystery genre that I write in is not the “hot” style right now. Authors of Romance and Young Adult fiction are finding a much higher rate of success. I have avoided writing in these genres, however, because I’m not sure I could write believable stories or create compelling characters.

With all of this being said, do you agree or disagree? Have you had success with writing from the perspective of characters different from yourself? What tips do you have?