The Power of the Review

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

This past month I reached a new milestone with one of my novels, Rescuing Finley. It broke the “800 mark” on Amazon, meaning it had received over 800 customer reviews. And it did so, maintaining a 4.8 Star average. It’s particularly satisfying for two reasons. First, the book has been out for less than 2 years. And second, it was the very book my publisher had rejected (after publishing 12 others), saying they didn’t think the story would sell very well. And the book which solidified my decision to start writing as an indie.

But this post isn’t about me or some important personal milestone. It’s about the importance of customer reviews for authors. And why you should actively seek to increase yours (but only if they’re good ones). I am convinced, they are a big factor in growing book sales.

I mentioned my decision to start writing books as an indie. One of the reasons I did was to be able to market my books more creatively and effectively. To have the freedom to try things my publisher wouldn’t do. Which introduces my first suggestion or tip. I’m a big advocate for the importance of Back Pages. For anyone who doesn’t know what these are, I’m talking about the pages that follow after the reader finishes the last page of your story.

To me, these pages should be all about keeping your reader engaged with you while their level of interest is high. If they loved the book, and you make it very easy, many will do things like leave a positive review and/or read a sample chapter of your next book, and order that one, too (if they like it and there’s a link provided right there). So, one of my FIRST back pages is titled “How You Can Help This Author.”

On that page, I take a few paragraphs to thank them for reading the book and explain how important reader reviews are to book sales, and how important book sales are for me to be able to keep writing more books. Then I politely ask them to consider writing a brief review (even a few lines will help) and provide a link for them to click on, so they can do it now (again, while the interest is high).

Does this work? Apparently so. Rescuing Finley is Book 1 of a 3-book contemporary series. Book 2 already has over 200 reviews 11 months after its release (also averaging 4.8 Stars). I started a second series in 2015 (romantic suspense – a brand new genre for me). Book 1 in that series, When Night Comes, has received 529 reviews so far, and Book 2 has 457 reviews. Book 3, Unintended Consequences, just came out in May and already has 88 reviews (avg 4.8 Stars).

Now, in an effort toward full disclosure, I must admit…many of my traditionally published novels have received over 400 customer reviews, some over 500. They don’t have the back pages in place I’ve talked about. But this is also true: those novels have been out for 5-7 years, or more. My indie novels (with the back pages) have been out for less than 2 years. I think this idea of a specific page asking readers to write a review really matters.

Why is this so important? Because readers PAY ATTENTION to these reviews in a big way, especially when evaluating a book by an author they don’t know. I know I do. I don’t read them all, but I always read at least a dozen or so reviews to help me get a sense of whether this book will be a good fit for me, before I click on “Add to My Cart.” And I don’t just read reviews of books, but everything I buy online. Recently, we were shopping for a spa to help my wife with chronic lower back pain. I must have looked at 15-20 spa models online, and the decision about which one to buy (as well as ones to avoid) was heavily influenced by reading reader reviews.

Another thing I do (besides the back pages), is to always include a graphic that highlights these reviews in any ads or promos I create (see the jpg I created for Rescuing Finley). And I make a big fuss about reaching these milestones on social media.

The final tip I’d like to offer is this: The best way to insure a reader will want to leave a positive review is to work hard to craft a great, climactic ending for your book. Nothing will generate strong motivation to leave a good review than a good book with a great ending. But I’ve run out of time to explain anything more.

I’ll pick up here next month.

TWEETABLES

The Power of the Review @DanWalshAuthor on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2yfHOMv

Consider using a Back Page to ASK readers to post a review – AND give them a link @DanWalshAuthor @NovelRocket http://bit.ly/2yfHOMv

Readers pay attention to reviews, especially evaluating authors they don’t know @DanWalshAuthor @NovelRocket http://bit.ly/2yfHOMv

____________________________

Unintended Consequences:

Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

I’ve Gotta Be Me, She Said

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

Believe it or not, my column this month is about the Characters in our novels. In short, the idea of making them seem and even feel like real people to our readers. This is a major priority for me. I think with good reason.

Last month, I quoted one of my favorite writing quotes: “The secret to great fiction writing is to create characters readers care about, then do terrible things to them.” That article mainly focused on the second part. Today, I want to focus on the first, creating characters readers care about.

At present, my 18 novels on Amazon have received a total of 5,900 reviews (avg 4.6 Stars). I know this because my wife is doing my marketing now, and she just figured this out. One of the most consistent positive comments I get is: “Your characters are so real.” Or, “I feel like I really know these people.”

A few years ago, I did a survey sent out to 3,000 fiction readers, asking them to name the 3 most important things they look for in a novel (out of a list of 7 items). Know what the #1 answer was (it got the most #1 votes and was in everyone’s Top 3)? Characters you really care about.

I don’t have time here to give a lengthy set of instructions, so I’ll share one thing I do that, to me, may be the most important. That is, I let my characters react to what’s happening in the story the way they would if they were real people. Even if what they say or do changes or rearranges the plot. When I’m writing, much of the time I feel more like an invisible scribe, spying on my characters and jotting down the things they say and do.

It’s fair to say, as much as half the things that go on in my novels were not in my mind when I first created the synopsis for the story. One of the things I hate most when watching a TV show or movie, or reading a novel, is when a main character says or does something that seems totally forced, not at all in keeping with their personality (as revealed in the story so far).

I think what some writers do is start with the plot, then create 2D characters to populate their story. As the plot unfolds, they force their characters to say and do what’s needed for the scene to keep the plot intact and moving forward according to plan. I do have a main plot in my story and several key plot points in mind, but my goal is different. I want to create 3D characters then let them dictate all the details. And, if necessary, I will let them even change what I had in mind for the plot.

Because to me, once a main character becomes real (usually happens for me within the first 50-60 pages), I have to let them be who they are. Let them do and say exactly what they would if they were real people. Once they do become real to me, I go back and make any needed changes in those first 50-60 pages, so they seem like the same person throughout the book.

You might think this process must play havoc with the novel’s plot. But it doesn’t. I see these plot-changes-made-by-the-character as temporary setbacks. A tradeoff, so to speak to get the kind of characters readers really care about. I know where I need the story to go, and we’ll get there eventually. But not with 2D characters who say and do forced things real people would never say or do.

Well, that’s the idea. I’d love to hear how some of you handle the challenge of “Creating Characters Readers Really Care About.”

TWEETABLES

I’ve Gotta Be Me, She Said by @DanWalshAuthor on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2x9KIku

Let your characters react to what’s happening in the story the way real people would.~ @DanWalshAuthor on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2x9KIku

I’m like an invisible scribe, spying on my characters, jotting down what they say and do.~ @DanWalshAuthor on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2x9KIku

____________________

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

How do you overcome a Sagging Middle in your novel? Throw Grampa Down the Stairs

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

What in the world am I talking about here? Throw Grampa down the stairs? Let me assure you right off, although both my grandfathers passed away years ago (my wife’s grandfathers as well), I would have never done anything to hurt them.

That is, in real life. But in my books? I actually did this very thing (with my wife’s full approval).

My post today, believe it or not, is actually about plotting, albeit a very specific aspect of plotting. Most fiction experts agree (I’m not one, but I’ve read their books), conflict and tension are at the core of great fiction writing. The best stories include lots of both.

One of my favorite writing quotes is (though I don’t know who to credit): “The secret to great fiction writing is to create characters readers care about, then do terrible things to them.” Speaking of terrible things, this sounds like a terrible thing to do as a writer. But it’s not. It’s essential to create a great story and, if you think about it, most of the great movies you’ve watched and books you’ve read have followed this advice.

It came to my rescue as I wrote my 2nd novel back in 2009, and it came to my rescue again this week, as I’m writing Novel #19.

One of the common problems fiction writers face is the “danger of the sagging middle.” That’s where you have a great beginning all worked out and maybe even a great climactic ending. But as you get well into the story, it dawns on you that the middle hundred pages are kinda flat. You didn’t plan on it, didn’t see it coming but, now that you’re here, you realize the story is starting to sag.

I’ve stopped reading several novels that began with great promise because of this sagging middle, so I’m very sensitive to this issue as a writer. I don’t want my readers to do the same thing with my books.

As I said, I faced this dilemma while writing my second novel, The Homecoming. I was at the 1/3 point, could see the finish line off in the distance. But the chapters in that middle-third were starting to sound and feel like “blah-blah-blah.” Even to me (definitely to my wife). The story involved a young boy who’d lost his mother, an aging grandfather who just met his grandson a few months ago, and the boy’s father, a war hero. The father and grandfather had just reconciled after years apart at the end of Book 1.

When I realized the middle chapters were getting stale, I talked to my wife and asked for her help. The two of us began to brainstorm some plot possibilities. Aided by the above advice (and since I’d already created characters readers cared about), I knew it was time to do some “terrible things to them.” The idea popped into my head, and I said it out loud. “I know, we could throw Grampa down the stairs.”

My wife’s answer? “That’s perfect. That’ll do it.”

So, that’s what I did. I arranged for Grampa to fall down the stairs. It wasn’t a fatal fall (though he did need to be hospitalized). And this event became the first domino to a host of other significant (and tense) plot developments that safely took me all the way through the previously sagging middle-third.

As I said, I’m writing my 19th novel now, called Saving Parker (Parker is a dog). And I’m just about at the same point. The beginning’s been going great. And I’ve already worked out a great ending. But I’m looking at the chapters up ahead, and all I see are the makings of a seriously sagging middle.

So, we had another what we now affectionately call a “Throw Grampa Down the Stairs” conversation and came up with a similar perfect solution to the problem. I won’t tell you what it is, because the book isn’t out yet (release date is Nov 1st). But I’m all energized again about writing the book again, and I believe it will have the same punch as the first 2 books in the series (Rescuing Finley and Finding Riley).

So…have you ever faced this dilemma? How have you overcome your sagging middle (I’m talking about your novel, not your abdomen)? Tell us your story.

TWEETABLES

Throw Grampa Down the Stairs by Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

How do you overcome a Sagging Middle in your novel?~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Create characters readers care about and then do terrible things to them.~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

Dealing With Profanity in Christian Fiction

By Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

People swear a lot these days.

They swear when they’re angry, and even when they’re not. In recent years, it’s not uncommon to hear the F-word, for example, tossed around in casual conversation as almost the adjective-of-choice for everything and anything people are talking about.

The prevalence of profanity is just a sad fact of life. Well, here’s another one. There’s no swearing allowed in Christian Fiction. Period. None. Nada. I learned this rule very early on after signing with Revell, the primary publisher of my traditional fiction novels.
I was told there’s something of an “unwritten contract” between CBA publishers and Christian fiction readers. Regardless of the widespread use of profanity in secular books and movies, our readers expect to find a safe harbor when they open a Christian fiction novel, a “clean read.”

As it turned out, this wasn’t a hard rule for me to swallow. I was a pastor, had been for over twenty years. Swearing and profanity wasn’t a part of my life (even when I got angry). But as I continued to write novel after novel, I realized the unique challenge this rule presented. All my novels had bad guys who did bad things and SAID bad things (at least they would in real life situations). The challenge was: how do I create sufficient tension and conflict in the bad guy scenes so they came off as credible and realistic?

What I discovered was, it can be done. It takes more work, more thought, and more creativity (IMO), than simply letting my bad guys swear as much as they please. I have to figure out how to inject tension and emotion into the scenes themselves, as they unfold, since I can’t let the anger come out through the dialog.

To me, the challenge is similar to the early scenes in the hit movie, Jaws. I watched a show where Steven Spielberg explained that his plan was to have the big monster shark show up almost at the beginning of the movie, but they couldn’t get the prop to work. So, he had to figure out how to create the tension and fear he needed during the first 2/3 of the film without the shark. To his delight and surprise, NOT having the shark actually shown in those scenes worked out better. People were totally terrified anyway (I can hear the tense, scary music in my head right now).

I still write this way (no swearing) in my indie novels, even though “technically” I no longer have CBA publishers and editors looking over my shoulder. Here’s an example from my latest book, Unintended Consequences. Keep in mind as you read, the whole book is not like this scene. This is a moment where my hero and his friend, Joe, are trying to rescue some French people who’ve been captured by Nazis, and are now being tortured. They are sneaking through the basement of a Nazi headquarters.

Jack was so glad they hadn’t hurt Renee, but he didn’t have the heart to tell her what they had done to her brother, Philippe. He was locked in the room next to hers. Clearly, he had been severely beaten. Bruises all over his face, his lips split. One eye swollen shut. Jack knew he was still alive. He had moved slightly when the little metal door slid over, but he didn’t even look up.

“You ready to do this?” Joe said, his pistol held at the ready.

“Let’s end this,” Jack said, referring to the horror going on through the open door.

The sound of a whip striking someone’s back. A shrieking scream. A man shouted some vicious-sounding French things with a German accent. Another crack of the whip. Another scream.

Joe walked through the doorway first, his pistol leveled in front of him. Jack was right behind. “Hey Fritz,” Joe yelled.

There were two Germans in the room, an officer seated in the corner like an observer and a massive soldier with rolled up sleeves, holding a whip. The Frenchman was facing the wall tied to a post, his back a bleeding mess. The Germans turned to look at the intruders.

“Englanders!” The officer screamed as he stood.

“No, Americans,” Jack yelled and shot the man between the eyes as he reached for his sidearm.

The big German was unarmed except for the whip, which he raised toward Jack and Joe. His face filled with hatred.

“Here you go,” Joe said and shot the man twice in the knees. The man screamed in pain and dropped the weapon as he fell to the ground grabbing his legs.

“How many bullets I got in this thing?” Joe asked Jack.

“Five bullets a clip.”

“Okay Fritz, here’s two more.” Joe shot him in both shoulders. The bullets sent the man flying backwards against the wall. “How’s that feel?” Joe walked right up to him. “Hurts, doesn’t it? You shouldn’t hurt people, Fritz. Don’t you know the golden rule? I only wish I had more time so you could feel some more of the pain you dish out on others. But we gotta go.” He raised the gun and shot the German between the eyes.

And see? Plenty of tension and conflict, but no swearing. Let’s get a discussion going. Share with us how you have handled this issue in your novels.

TWEETABLES


Dealing With Profanity in Christian Fiction by Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

What does leaving profanity out have in common with the blockbuster movie Jaws?~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.