NaNoWriMo: I’m Only Going To Say This Once, Okay?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on November 1st.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is that you pull out all the stops to write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days, or around 1,670 words every day during the month of November.

Every year around this time, something else starts too: NaNoWriMo Snobbery. Professional writers, who the other eleven months of the year seem like the nicest, most generous and friendliest people, suddenly start tipping their noses in the air and saying or even writing things about how NaNoWriMo and the people who partake in it are belittling their profession, ridiculing their craft and making a mockery of the 1,670 words they write every single day of the year in order to make a living.

Now, usually I just grit my teeth and try to ignore it, but this year I’m finding it impossible—and we’re not even T-minus 1 week to go yet. (Also, I can’t think of anything else to blog about today.) So I’m only going to say this once, okay?

***RANT BEGINS***

The NaNoWriMo Novel = Messy First Draft

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write a messy first draft, the one that “rough” would be a strong word for, the one that’s for you and you only, the one in which you work out the answers to the questions Would this even work? and What comes between the beginning and the end? No one in their right mind thinks you can go from a blank page to a finished novel ready for readers and their shelves in 30 days, but National Write a Messy First Draft That Might One Day, With Countless Rewrites, Become a Novel Month, just isn’t very catchy.

Also, keep in mind that most commercial novels these days are around the 100,000 word mark. If you thought that the idea of NaNoWriMo was to write a finished novel in 30 days, then the goal—50,000 words—should’ve been your first clue that honey, that just ain’t the case.

NaNoWriMoers = Writers

A couple of years ago I read a heartfelt blog post by a professional, published writer who truly felt slighted by NaNoWriMo. She said that this was her profession, her vocation in life, and the fact that “some people” thought they could come along and do it in the month—do the thing she had spent her adult life perfecting the craft of—made a mockery of it and her. She asked if there would be similar support for National Become a Doctor Month or the like, and ended her post by saying that she dreaded Novembers because of NaNoWriMo.

Now, first of all, get the lady 10 ccs of chill pill. STAT. (See? I could totally do National Become a Doctor Month…) The world really doesn’t need to take arbitrary challenges so seriously. But secondly, who does she think does NaNoWriMo? Sure, there’s a probably a few people in there who have never as much as read a book who suddenly decide to drop everything and attempt to write one during the month of November. But all the people I know who do it are writers.

They are already writing, have always been and for whatever reason, find it difficult to fit writing into their lives every single day. I hate that thing about there’s no such thing as no time to write, because who are we to say what people can or can’t fit into their lives? We know nothing about them. We don’t know what responsibilities they have, or what they’re struggling with. I know someone who works two full-time jobs, survives on less sleep than the average insomniac and has children to take care of. Would you tell him to “just find” the time to write?

Some people, myself included, write more when a deadline is sending us daggers from the edge of our computer screen. Some people write more when they are spurred on by being part of a group whose members are also trying to write more at the same time. And some people have so much going on that they feel they can’t set aside time to write all the year around, but that NaNoWriMo gives them some kind of official permission to do it, just for thirty days.

NaNoWriMoers are, for the most part, writers. Not “some people.”

What Are You Worried About, Mate?

Oh, you write 2,000 words every day of the year, do you? When I say “NaNoWriMo” you say “Welcome to my life”? In the immortal words of Chandler Bing, is your wallet also too small for your fifties and your diamond shoes too tight?

SO THE FUDGE WHAT if you already do NaNoWriMo every month of the year? What has that got to do with other people trying to do it for one month? I just don’t see the connection. That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym… [Sorry, burst into a fit of giggles there; let me try that again.] That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym and work out every day for the next thirty days, and being belittled and mocked and generally held in contempt by people who already do it, just because they already do. There is something missing there, and it’s ALL LOGIC AND SENSE.

On September 11th, Ricky Gervais tweeted about taking a moment to remember all those who had perished during the terrorist attacks. A tweeter from the UK asked him why the world makes an effort to pause and mourn on 9/11, when they don’t necessarily on 7/7, the anniversary of the London terrorists attacks. And Gervais’ response was “What are you worried about, mate?”

Now obviously we’re talking about two entirely different points on the Things That Matter Scale, but Gervais’ response to that has really stuck with me, because I’m sure that tweeter couldn’t answer it. (Because what was he worried about? Non-reciprocated  sadness?!) And so, if you are a professional writer and you don’t like the idea of people doing NaNoWriMo, what are you worried about?

(Side note: agents and editors can probably answer that question because they do have something to worry about: the influx of newborn manuscripts that start arriving in their mailrooms come December 1st from the small minority of people who think you can conceive, draft, rewrite, edit and polish a novel in just 30 days. But for the rest of us, what does it matter?)

NaNoWriMo + Time = Bestselling Books

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Cuckoo by Julia Crouch and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (which, by the way, was one of the most unsettling, nerves-on-a-knife-edge thrillers I’ve ever read) all started their literary lives as NaNoWriMo projects. You can see the full selection of published NaNoWriMo projects here.

Fun: Have You Heard Of It?

The whole point of NaNoWriMo—more so than writing 50k, I’d say—is FUN, as in, the having of it. During NaNoWriMo, you can sign up for groups, even meet those groups in your town or city, and create a buddy list that will help spur each other on for the month. It’s great craic, as us Irish would say.

And sometimes, having fun is reason enough to do something, all by itself. This is one of those times.

So NaNoWriMo Snobsters, stop taking a dump all over it, would you please? And bring your nose back down until it’s parallel to the horizon while you’re at it. Thanks ever so much.

***RANT ENDS***

What do YOU think?

(P.S. What do you think about NaNoWriMo, NOT what you think about 9/11, 7/7 or Ricky Gervais. I know how this internet thing works and I’m telling you right now, that’s NOT what this post is about, okay?)

UPDATE 2015: You might also be interested in… My debut thriller, Distress Signals, will be published by Corvus/Atlantic in June of next year and I’m chronicling the publication process and my attempts at writing a second book in almost no time on this blog, in a series called Book One/Two. Read the first installment here.

The 11 Ingredients of a Sizzling Book Description

oldpost

Good morning from France! I have finally made it here and not only that, but I also managed to fit 25 books—including several hardbacks—between my checked and carry-on luggage and didn’t get charged a cent in excess weight for them. (The Aer Lingus luggage limit is 20kg per passenger excluding carry-on. My bag was 19.9kg and evidently nobody noticed that I was struggling to pick my carry-on up off the ground.)

Such is traveling when you’re still holding out on buying a Kindle and the selection and cost of English books out here is ridiculous.

But anyway. I have sunshine, reading material, a Nespresso machine and time to write—I mean, really? What more could a girl want?

Mark Edward’s Kindle sales would be nice. Setting up camp on the #1 spot on Amazon.co.uk bagged Mark and his writing partner Louise Voss what was reportedly a six-figure publishing deal, and their success was all the more amazing because it happened in a very short space of time. So what did Mark do that the rest of us didn’t or don’t? Well, besides writing some riveting thrillers, he continuously worked on his product descriptions (the “blurb” that appears on your Amazon page), redrafting and tweaking them until they were just right, watching his sales data to see how his changes affected Amazon customers’ decision to buy. 

Today Mark is going to share with us the 11 ingredients of a sizzling book description, which I have to say is the first guest post I’ve been sent that made me want not to post it but to keep all this to myself… But of course, that would be mean and I strive to be lovely (!) so here it is:

There are only three things you need to do to become a multi-platinum, world-conquering ebook tycoon with a fleet of yachts and sales figures that would make James Patterson spit with envy:

  1. Get people to look at your book page
  2. Convert them into a paying customer
  3. Keep them coming back for more

Yep, that’s all you have to do!

There is no magic formula for making this happen. But you can give yourself a much better chance of breaking into the upper reaches of the Kindle chart by making sure you get the important things right. One of the most vital of these is your book description – which comes under the conversion point above. When you have that potential reader on your page, their mouse hovering tantalizingly-close to that ‘Buy’ button, they will be looking at a few elements: the cover, the reviews, the sample…and the description.

If your book description doesn’t grab them and make them feel ‘the need – the need to read’ then you’ve just lost a customer. When my co-written book, Killing Cupid, was stuck just outside the top 100 last year, I couldn’t work out why it was selling fewer than some of the books above it. At that time, Amazon used to handily give you the percentage of page viewers who bought the book. Killing Cupid’s conversion rate was relatively weak. The reviews were good, the cover was strong – so was it the description?

I spent days studying and analyzing the books with higher conversion rates. What was it about their descriptions that made them sell more? Once I’d come up with some theories I put them to the test, re-writing the description.

Sales doubled within an hour.

A couple of weeks later, the book was No.2 on Amazon.  The conversion rate from visitor to sale was much higher. All was right with the world.

I’ve spent a long time studying descriptions, and am also a trained marketing copywriter. I am now available for hire to write or critique book descriptions. [Editor’s note: this post is from forever ago. Mark is no longer offering this service.] But if you want to do it yourself, here are my 11 ingredients that will make that blurb sizzle.

  1. Make it clear. Your potential reader needs to know with a quick skim read what kind of book this is, what it’s about and what the story is. The story is the most important element here – if you’ve written an erotic romance that will give Fifty Shades a run for its money, make sure people know that.  Though remember, it’s the relationship at the heart of Fifty Shades that made it such a smash. You need to get that across in a very lucid way.
  2. Write in your genre.  There are certain rules that apply to every genre. Find some popular books in your genre and study the description. The backs of paperbacks can be better to study than self-published books, and first novels that were big hits are the best of all.
  3. Don’t be afraid to reference other books or writers. Your potential readers are looking for hooks that will tell them quickly what kind of book this is. If you’ve written a grown-up vampire novel you could do a lot worse than say that it’s for fans of Anne Rice.
  4. The book is more important than you. There can be a temptation to boast about your own achievements or credentials. Unless you’re an Olympic coach and you’ve written a guide to strength training, readers won’t care. Most of them won’t even notice or remember who wrote it.
  5. The first line is the most important. If you don’t get the first line right, they won’t read on (this applies to the book itself too). Your first line needs to encapsulate the whole book. It needs to draw people in, hit them where it feels good and make the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. Not easy – but worth spending time on.
  6. It should be as long as it needs to be. There is no hard-and-fast rule about length. Maybe you can summarise your mieisterwerk in a few sentences. Maybe you need to write four paragraphs to really draw people in and get them involved. Size doesn’t matter. That’s what my girlfriend tells me anyway.
  7. Don’t be boring. The moment your potential reader feels bored, they’re gone, clicking on to the next book on the also-bought bar. Every line has to be compelling and move the story on. Just like your book, in fact.
  8. Make them laugh, cry, cower. It’s all about emotions. How is your book going to make people feel? Is it heartbreaking or hilarious? Chilling or hotter than Angelina Jolie sunbathing in Death Valley? Again, look at the words most used in your genre. They are clichés for a reason. They work.
  9. Use testimonials. If you have some quotes from well-known writers or experts, use them. These are generally best in a block rather than scattered through the text. If you’ve got a quote from your Auntie Maureen, you might as well use that too. Just don’t reference her as your auntie.
  10. Make your characters live. As well as the story, it’s vital to get a good sense of your characters across – and, most importantly, their big problem. What terrible dilemma do they have to resolve? What personal demon do they need to conquer? You need characters and problems people will identify with – but they have to be big problems. Having a broken dishwasher just isn’t exciting enough.
  11. Make the reader desperate to know what happens. You have to end your description with a cliffhanger. You need to lead the reader to the point where they are so curious that, were they a cat, it would kill them. Make sure you don’t give too much away. Be intriguing. Make them feel like Anastasia when Christian tells her he’s about to show her something really new and exciting.  Make them go ‘Holy crap!’”

Thanks so much, Mark.

I would just add that the ability to edit your book description like this is a huge advantage self-publishers have over traditionally published books, which settle on a blurb quite early on that then gets passed along the lines to catalogues, retailers, etc. and to my knowledge, can’t be changed. But you can change yours as much as you like, and so continually experiment with what works and what doesn’t. And now that Mark has generously shared what does work, aren’t we all considering spending the weekend redrafting our product descriptions…?

If you want to know more, Mark has a free download for newsletter subscribers, Write the Perfect Book Description and Watch Sales Soar. You can find out more about Mark’s books, his journey to self-published (and published) success and how what he’s learned along the way can help you on his website, Indie HQ