Sunday, 23 June 2013

How to set up a Facebook author page

It is absolutely essential for all indie authors to have some kind of an online media presence. The easiest place to start, of course, is Facebook. If you're like me, pretty much everyone you know will have a Facebook page, and it is on Facebook that you'll be able to find a lot of new fans. It's also a good, user-friendly place for them to find and interact with you.

However, unless your current Facebook friends have the patience of saints (my don't - drunken confessions have informed me that I'm on quite a few blocked lists ...!) then you'll want to set up a separate page for your author name, your series, or even a major character. While your friends and family might be a good place to start in the hunt for fans and sales, they'll quickly get bored of hearing about it ... All. The. Time. Creating a separate Facebook page allows real fans to come to you without you resorting to annoying those close to you with endless posts about your books.

And it's easy as pie to do. Here I'll demonstrate while setting up a Facebook page for my latest alter-ego, village cricket short story writer, Michael White.

First of all, log in to Facebook and then go to this link to select the type of page you want to set up.

You can choose whatever type you want but for an author it's probably best to go with public figure.

Click on Choose a Category and you'll see Author in the drop down menu.

Now, give your page a name (I went with the wonderfully clunky Michael White Cricket Fiction Writer, check the terms box and then click Get Started.

Next you come to the screen below which asks for a few details.

Here you also have the option to add a external blog, website or Twitter account if you have one. For the question at the bottom I check "no" because Michael White is a pen name. I think this box is for fan sites for celebrities, but if you are the person in question then it's perfectly okay to check "yes".

When you're done, click Save Info.

You'll come to this page.

You can choose whether to add a profile picture now or later. I added a stock photo of a cricket pitch which I bought for the covers of Michael White's short stories. You can change your profile pic anytime, though. When you're done, click Save Photo or Skip to go to the next page.

The next screen gives you the option to choose the Facebook address for your page. This is the link you can use in your books to send people to your Facebook page.

I went with the one they suggested. When you're happy with it, click Set Address.

You'll be taken to your completed page.

Facebook will automatically highlight the Like button so you can be the first person to like your page, and then the area where you can invite your friends to like it.

You're finished! Now all you have to do is add stuff to your page, share it to get Likes and start posting. If you're ready for something a little more complicated, you can set up an Amazon Store for your books in the toolbar. Click here for my guide to doing it.

See, told you it was easy. Enjoy!

Any questions or comments are welcome in the comments section below. And if anyone wants to give Michael White's brand new page some love, here's the link.

Chris Ward
June 23rd 2013

Saturday, 22 June 2013

On maintaining discipline

One year ago, on June 20th to be precise, I took the decision to take my potential career by the horns and pull my writing finger out and use it for what it's for - writing.

From the age of 18 to the age of 33 (as I was then) I had written eight manuscripts, about 80 short stories, and dozens of half-finished novels in a variety of genres. Some of the canned pieces were 100,000 words in length.

When I started self-publishing in January 2012 I immediately saw it as a potential career, providing I took it seriously and did what needed to be done to make my dream a reality.

18 months down the line I'm still not a professional writer but I sell almost every day and have made 100 plus sales a month for six months in a row, a far cry from the 20 sales (if I was lucky) I was making per month this time last year.

Part of that was due to understanding that I needed to increase my output. You can't sell books that you haven't written.

So I pulled my finger out. I deleted the internet connection from the computer I was using to write on, and set up a spreadsheet to keep a tab of my progress.

The result -

370,150 new words, at an average of 1014 per day, or 1234 pages (what a lovely number) in twelve months. At 80,000 words for an average thriller novel that's the equivalent of four and a half novels, or more than one every quarter.

Most traditionally published novelists put out a book every year or so. In the ebook world you are quickly forgotten if you don't keep up the production schedule and continue to build and grow your audience. As a good writing friend of mine says, you're either shrinking or growing.

Just to put things in perspective, I'm not a full time writer. I have a day job, and I also work part time. Some days I leave the house at 7.30 a.m. and get home at 10 p.m. I'm also married, play in a rock band and take part in various community events. I'm not exactly overburdened with free time.

Yet I still managed to write more than four novels in a year. How?


I don't watch TV. TV is rot for the soul. I hate it and the fact that it exists purely to fill bored, tired minds with junk between work and sleep. So that was easy to give up.

The other thing I cut back on was my social life. I still go out on occasion, but I used to go out every weekend. The fact was, that time I was sitting in a pub shooting the shit was time I could spend writing. I also cut back on a lot of hobbies. I used to do loads of stuff - climbing mountains, snowboarding, playing cricket. I still do some (because what is writing without life?) but I cut back so I could spend more time on something that I hope will be my career. In ideal circumstances, in a couple of years I'll be able to quit my day job and take up all my hobbies again. That would certainly be worth the sacrifice.

So, in short, what I'm trying to say with this, is that if you have genuine aspirations to be a writer, then you have to get disciplined. Stop expecting to sell tons and tons within a few days of release. It DOES happen, but it HARDLY EVER happens. Ideally, don't expect to sell a single copy for the first three years, then bust your gut getting as many high quality books out as possible. In the long run it'll be worth it.

That's all for now. More instructional stuff coming soon!

Chris Ward
June 22nd 2013

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

What Makes a Good Character and Avoiding Steve Syndrome

(Note: Originally published on my main blog, A Million Miles From Anywhere in November 2012. Apologies to readers who've seen this before - this is it's new home and I'll be bringing you new content soon)

What makes a good character?

I’ve been reading a couple of books recently (yes, really) and a couple of thoughts came to mind regarding characters, their development, and the empathy readers have with them.

In one book I read a few months ago, a YA dystopia, the male lead’s only recognizable feature was his spiky hair. On top of this he appears to be good-looking.  No surprise there. The female lead is a teenage girl who appears to be Bella out of Twilight with a different name. Several reviewers have mentioned “great characters”. Um, why? The guy is a TV presenter transposed into a sci-fi novel. The girl is a high-school girl of regular attractiveness and intelligence who will obviously at some point get with the guy. There’s nothing at all that makes either of them special or makes them stand out.

And perhaps here we have the answer.

Do readers, particularly young adult readers, merely want a character that they can pretend to be? So that they can pretend to be in the book itself, interacting with the other characters as if they were real?

Another recent book I read, an acknowledged sci-fi classic, had a review bemoaning the lack of character development. The book was set on a foreign planet, and revolved around a guy finding out what was going on in his world. Which he did, and it was great. Why would I need the guy to have some kind of big change in his life? The story wasn't just about the guy, it was about the whole world around him.

Another issue I have is with empathy. Matt Cassidy, the central character in The Man Who Built the World (that's him looking miserable on the cover), is an alcoholic, borderline wife-beater who hates pretty much everything. He’s intentionally detestable, in fact I went out of my way to give him no redeeming features. The point of the book is such that through his story you discover why he is how he is, and whether he can find redemption. You're not supposed to like him.

I once had a blogger pull out of reviewing the book because they couldn’t identify with him. While I fully respect the reviewer’s opinion this pleased me in a certain way because I don’t want my readers to identify with him. I want them to pity or hate or be repulsed by him.

I don’t write books with swimwear models or high school nice guys for characters. If you find one, you can be sure he or she won’t last long. Charles de Molay, star of my favorite of my unpublished novels, Hooks, is a cripple. Dan Barker in Head of Words is a nutjob.  Even the Tube Riders have their issues. Marta - the only one close to being good-looking, hardly ever gets to wash and her dreadlocks are a case of more grime than intention. Switch has, for want of a better expression, a fucked up eye, and Paul is balding and overweight. It’s not just about their looks, either, but their actions.  In a lot of books nothing seriously bad ever happens to the main characters, or they never do anything bad, take your pick. In Tube Riders, Marta sleeps with guys to pay her rent (or at least she did before the book starts). Paul does even worse. Switch kills without thinking whether his victim deserved it or not.

A reviewer recently said my book contained “real people”. This was perhaps the biggest compliment someone could ever give me. It doesn't matter if they liked it or not, they gotit.  In real life people don’t always do the right thing, and they certainly aren’t always good-looking. For every Che Guevara (cool enough to spawn a billion t-shirts) or Aung Sung Suu Kyi (gorgeous - at least in her youth, damn) there are hundreds of thousands of 'heroes' that are nothing much to look at. It is totally possible for someone who isn’t cool or an oil painting to have an adventure, to be a hero.

So what do I think makes a good character?

I used to suffer from something I call Steve Syndrome. I would have a couple of main characters who were more distinctive then everyone else would be a Steve (apologies to anyone called Steve!). This would be a character who had no real features or definition and often a generic name (the first character I identified as having this problem, in my third novel, Resort, was called Steve - hence the name). In Tube Riders, both Paul and Simon were originally Steves.  Marta and Switch were always pretty well-defined, but I had to make a real effort to make Simon and Paul distinct. Paul I made fat and more unattractive, while with Simon I went the other way, making him more feminine, almost androgynous.

Therefore, the first thing that I believe is important is memorability (is that even a word?!). A good character has to be memorable. And not just by having a cute smile - that’s not memorable, it’s generic - they have to have some feature or mannerism (or both) which makes them stand out.  It doesn’t have to be good, and it doesn’t have to be bad.

Also extremely important is voice. People talk differently. Some people swear, some people don’t.  Some people say certain words more often than others. Some people talk in long sentences, others talk in short, clipped phrases. You should (within reason) be able to write a three- or four- way dialogue without using any identifying dialogue tags yet still have the reader know who is speaking each time. If you can do that, you’ve got it.

Also very important to me (as you’ll notice from my character descriptions above) is flaws. I hate good-looking, perfect characters. Boooorrrriing. Have you ever met anyone who was perfect? (Actually, I have met a couple of people who were, and god they were dull).  Perfect characters are only allowed in comedy, because their very perfection can make them hilarious (see my novella series, Beat Down!, for an example).

So what do people think? Obviously few people agree with me. I’ve sold roughly 1000 books this year so far. How many has Stephanie Meyer sold? A billion? Even the book I was complaining about above has probably sold double what I've sold. So, I’m likely wrong (except in my own head of course!), but I’d love to hear your ideas on what you think makes a good character.

June 19th 2013
(originally published 27 Nov 2012)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

How to add an Amazon Store to your Facebook Page

Take a quick look at my Facebook page. There, next to the Mailing List is a button saying "Store".

If you click on this button you go to this page, where you can see all of my books -

Why is this awesome? Well, not only can my fans easily view my bookstore and click the links to go straight to the Amazon page for each book, but the links go through my affiliate account so any purchases make me a few extra pennies.

Personally I think this is really cool, and it's pretty easy to do. In this blog I'll tell you how.

First of all, big thanks to Phyllis Zimbler Miller for this guide and YA author Elle Casey for posting this information on this thread on Kindleboards. This is basically a pictorial step-by-step guide comprised of this information.

To do this, you will need a Facebook page for your writing. That is a proper page, which people "like", not a personal page.

You will also need an Amazon Associates account. If you don't have one, sign up here.

Finally, you will need to add a Static I-Frame to your Facebook page. This is pretty easy, just click this link, the big blue button in the middle and then select the page you want to add it to. Easy.

Once you have your I-frame ready for your Facebook page, log in to your Amazon Associates account and click the "astore" button in the middle of the picture below.

In the sidebar, click on Category Pages.

Then, Add Category Page (please note, there are more options in these pictures than you'll see because I've already set a store up).

Then, Add Products.

On the next screen, choose the field you want to search and then enter your book name or ASIN. Of course, you can create a store for any products you like, not just your own books. You can see the results below when I put in one of my books. Click Add to add any products you wish. They will then appear in the Added Products box.

If you want to order your books in a certain way or add specific text, click on the book in the Added Products box on the left above, and this box will appear -

Add your order or text and click save.

When you've added all the books you wish, click on Back to Category Pages, which is at the bottom of the search results page.

Then click on Continue at the bottom of the first screen.

Next to you come a page where you can decide your colours and design, as well as give your store a name. When you're done, click Continue at the bottom of the page.

The next page you come to allows you to add extra stuff such as side bars, wishlists, and the like. I kept mine simple, but it's up to you. When you're done, click Finish & Get Link at the bottom. You're almost there!

On the next page, select the second option, "Embed my store using an inline frame". Then highlight and copy the link. To make sure your store covers the full screen, edit "width" in the link to say "100".

Now, return to Facebook. If you've already added your inline frame, it'll look like the "Welcome" button below (this is from my pen name's page).

Click it and you'll see this -

Paste the link into the box (deleting the information that you can see above first). You'll then get this rather scary message -

This terrified me, and stumped me for about twenty minutes. Don't worry, simply change "http" to "https" (maybe this is obvious to the computer types out there, but I struggle with the complexity of a typewriter ...!) The red message will immediately disappear. Click Save & Publish (the blue box on the top right) and you're done.

Now all you have to do is edit the button itself. Put your cursor over the button and you'll see a little pencil appear in the top right corner. Click it and you'll see this box -

Click "Edit Settings" and this box will appear. Now you can rename your store or at an icon or picture.

You'll remember from my first picture that I had a nice little icon for my store. This was actually a stock icon I bought from a stock photo website called Pond 5. You can do the same or add a picture of your own. Anything will do.

And you're done! Good luck with your store - I hope many people visit it (and feel free to visit mine anytime!)

Chris Ward
June 8th 2013