September 2010


Sorry for the brief delay with this post–had some deadlines to meet! Let’s continue discussing how to add sensory details to everything we write, bringing our stories and even nonfiction pieces alive. Last time I talk about sight and sound. Today, let’s look at touch, taste, and smell.

Touch--Being able to describe with your writing how something feels adds an extra dimension to your story. As with sound, we don’t always think about all the textures in our environment. But when we take the time to consider what’s around us then find the perfect word to describe it, we can successfully bring our readers into the story so they can experience it for themselves.

Think about some of the textures immediately around you right now: the grain of a wooden desk, the smoothness of a glass window, the fuzziness of carpet fibers, and so forth. Consider using descriptive words like gritty, mushy, or jagged in your writing to bring out an exact sense of what you want your reader to feel. Don’t forget to use similes, metaphors, and analogies as well to compare the object you want your reader to experience to something that will trigger an immediate response because of its familiarity or precise picture it paints. An example is saying that “The rain felt like icicles piercing your skin.” Much more descriptive than telling you the rain was cold!

Taste–Sometimes we need to get a little creative when trying to insert taste images into our writing. What we’re writing about may not always provide the perfect set-up to describe how something tastes. For this sensory detail, you definitely need to think beyond the obvious food and drink tastes. For example, the air near a beach can taste salty. Falling on a football field may cause you to taste the grimy soil!

Looking for creative places to add taste sensory detail is well worth it. Most people have a fairly strong sense of taste. And, taste is one of those things that engraves itself into our memory. So, sprinkling familiar taste sensations throughout your writing is a great way to engage your reader. Remember too that taste and smell go hand in hand. So, sometimes, you can offer a sensory detail for taste simply by describing how something smells then mentioning how that smell effects the sense of taste. For instance, if you’re describing freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in terms of smell, you can add how the smell alone makes your mouth water thinking about the gooey chocolate melting on your tongue. Here, I didn’t specifically talk about taste but implied it through smell and texture.

Smell–Much like taste, scents tend to stick in our minds for years and years. Think about a certain perfume or cologne an old girlfriend or boyfriend wore, the way your grandmother’s kitchen always smelled, or how your newly born baby smelled. Smells have a way of lingering. Capitalize on this in your writing to bring readers into your story by helping them recount scents from their past. I guarantee if you write about how your grandma’s kitchen smelled, your readers will begin to drift back to their own grandmother’s kitchen. This is exactly what you want, because now they are making connections from your story to their own lives, thus investing themselves in your story.

Adding sensory detail in the area of smell can immediately pull a reader into a scene or help bring a character to life. Smells can create a warm, cozy environment ( bread baking, smoke from a fireplace, cinnamon cider, etc) or one you’d want to run from (the smell of a hobo or an inner city alley). Using the sense of smell is a great way to evoke the specific emotion you want to elicit from your reader.

After you’ve added the five senses into your writing, go back through your manuscript and highlight each instance of sensory detail. Use different colored highlighters for each sense, which allows you to see which ones you’ve perhaps overused or, worse, which ones you haven’t used at all! It’s a great way to get an immediate visual of how well your use of sensory detail is balanced throughout your story.

If you have any other tips for how to make sure you’re adding enough sensory detail to your writing, or any ideas for how to creatively insert the senses, please leave a comment to help others.

Happy Monday…and happy birthday to me!!

My family and I celebrated my birthday last night. My oldest son (13) thought he could get away with making fun of my age by getting me a card that went on and on about my birthday cake: how it’s blazing in flames, super huge to accommodate all the candles, etc. In describing the cake, the writer hit on all of the senses in order to help me visualize and experience exactly what it would look, feel, smell, taste, and even sound like (the boom from the eventual explosion!).

The description reminded me of an excerpt from a workshop I recently taught on how to engage your reader by using all of the senses throughout your writing. This is one of the best ways to involve your readers in what you write and help them experience your characters, settings, and action. Often, we don’t include enough of it in our writing, or we’re off-balance with the type and amount of sensory description we do use.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, including the five senses can go a long way to help bring your writing to life. Let’s look at some specific ways to incorporate each sense:

1. Sight–This is perhaps the easiest sense to use and, for that reason, probably the one most frequently added by writers. One great way to add sight sensory detail is by describing colors, especially specific color hues. Instead of calling something “red,” for instance, you could say “tomato red” instead. And, describing the brightness or darkness of aspects of a setting will change the entire mood of a scene.

Giving visual details about a character–either how that person looks or the clothes he wears–will bring him to life in your reader’s mind. If you mention that your character has a sword tattooed on his shoulder, your reader will see that every time he is pictured. Another way to add sight details is to compare the way something looks to something else, either with metaphors or similes. You can also visually describe objects using shapes, patterns, or the flow of lines. Think specifically and concretely when describing things you can see. It’s much easier to picture a skinny, gray and black-striped kitten than a cat.

2. Sound–We don’t often think much about all the sounds around us, but there are many. A great exercise to jump start our sound perception is to find a quiet spot indoors and get still. It may take a few minutes, but I guarantee you’ll begin to hear sounds–the quiet ticking of a clock in another room, the annoying dripping of a faucet, the buzz of a fly. Now go outside and do the same thing. If it’s noisy outside, try to focus on one sound at a time and really “hear” it. Try to describe the sound of a motorcycle rambling down your street, or a child crying, or the wind rustling the leaves. Think of all the specific verbs you can to accurately describe the sounds you hear.

I remember writing a children’s story a while back, and I had re-created a scene from my childhood to use as a fictional scene. In this scene, my friends and I were playing baseball in August in the Midwest. The temperature was in the 90s and so was the humidity. As I wrote the story, all the sensory details from one particular day came back to my mind. I remembered playing second base. It was so hot and still on the field, I could literally hear the ground sizzle as I stood in the field waiting for the batter to hit the ball. That’s hot! It was just the sensory detail my story needed to show, not tell, how hot and humid it was on that playing field. And, thinking about it made me really glad I now live in Colorado!

Just like sight, including sensory details for sound will bring your reader into your story. And there are so many wonderful and fun sounds we can use in our writing. Make a list of sounds you hear throughout the day (You do keep a notepad and pen with you at all times, right?), and use that list to help you choose just the perfect sound when it’s  time to write. Think of sounds like “whistle,” “ping,” “thunder,” “bubble,” or “smack.” Sounds can be metallic, soft, irritating, or melodic, just to name a few. Have fun choosing from all the amazing sounds around you to create the perfect image for your reader!

Come back next week when I’ll finish the discussion on sensory detail by talking about touch, taste, and smell!

Welcome back to Part 2 of our discussion on how to market your book. Last time we talked about using interviews, book signings, magazine articles, postcards, and the power of partnerships to help market your book. Today, let’s continue the conversation with in-person visits, speaking engagements, and online marketing.

1. In-person visits: If you write for children, in-person visits to schools or libraries where you read parts or perhaps all (if you write picture books) of your book to your target age range can’t be beat. First, you have a captive audience, and second, kids get real excited when they get to meet a genuine author and have that author share his or her book with them. This is nothing but a good thing for the author who is then being talked up by the kids to their parents and grandparents–the ones who need to be influenced the most!

Take advantage of these opportunities by making your reading as fun and interactive as possible so the kids will not forget their experience. Leave them with a token gift that has the name of your latest release on it, and send them home with a marketing sheet of that latest release along with a mention of other books you’ve written. If done properly, these visits will almost always translate into sales and into helping you gain a reputation with your audience. The most important key to these visits is to really connect with the kids and don’t be a phony or condescending. Both are a big-time turnoff for children.

If you don’t write for kids, you still may have an opportunity to do in-person visits, depending on the nature of your book and who your audience is. Think of all the places your audience may congregate, and try to set up a time there where you can share your book in an informal and personal way. Some authors have had success going to coffee shops and doing readings, if their book is of the poetic or literary type. Others may schedule a time at an organizational event where they make themselves available to discuss and answer questions about their book.

Like the children’s writers, you can also do library visits. Design some marketing materials such as fliers and posters, and work with the library to promote your visit. Be sure to indicate the nature of the book you will be discussing so you get the right audience to come see you. You could incorporate a book signing as well, but make sure that you spend most of your time in Q & A, reading, or discussing your book. The idea behind the in-person visit is much like a campaigning politician: you want to appear personable and in-touch with your audience. People will be more excited about your book if you can get them excited about you.

2. Speaking engagements: These are different from in-person visits in that they’re not meant to be quite as informal and personable. Of course, you still need to be personable, by taking questions after you speak, meeting with your audience, and so forth, but the main idea is to more formally address your audience on a topic related to your book, or perhaps the book itself. If your target audience isn’t part of a group that would naturally congregate (as in a trade industry, people that share a hobby or sport, or a religious denomination), check around your community for places where you could speak then advertise to bring your target audience to you. Certain civic groups are often in need of speakers, and if you can find familiar ground between their needs and what your book is about, you should be able to capture an audience using their resource channels. If your audience is such that they do form established organizations, find out if they have national or state chapters, if they hold regular events, and how they book speakers.

The frequency, regularity, and group size you speak to is a huge part of any author’s platform, both before the book contract and after. Once your book is released, speaking is an excellent way to promote it and capture a following as an expert in your field (even if that field happens to be writing novels).

3. Online marketing: This segment of the marketing mix for has become the largest for many writers for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s free. And with all the advances in technology, this segment is continuously growing and changing to the writer’s advantage. Here are a few ways to capitalize on this form of marketing:

• Schedule a virtual tour for your book–many authors swear by these tours for generating interest and a following for their books. The way they work is that you contact other writers in your genre, organizations related to the topic of your book, book review sites, and any online source where you believe you might find your audience. Then schedule specific dates or time frames when these various places will showcase your book and perhaps an interview with you on their site or blog. Announce this schedule on your own website, blog, and other social media you use to let your followers know where you and your book will be–virtually speaking–and when.

It’s helpful to hold book giveaways or contests throughout your tour to keep people interested and checking in with you. And be sure to have something a little different on each site (talk about something unique in each interview, for example, or focus your discussion on a different aspect of your book) so people will want to follow your tour. At each stop on the tour, make sure to lead them back to your website to purchase your book.

• Announce your events: Use the likes of Facebook and Twitter to let your audience know what events (speaking engagements, book signings, etc.) you have coming up, as well as any reviews that have been written about your book (the good ones, of course!), or any articles it was mentioned in. This may not translate into direct sales, but it’s just one more way to promote.

• Video trailers: More and more, we see authors turning to video trailers to promote themselves and their book. Whether it’s formatted like a movie trailer with a built-in teaser, or if it’s a short clip of you speaking on your topic (or both), this can be a very effective way to get people’s attention about your latest release. You can simply post such trailers on your own site, or incorporate them on your virtual tour. These work well with pre-buy situations before your book ever hits the shelves to start creating pull-through interest for your book.

• Hanging out in forums: Going onto others’ blog sites or forums where your target audience may be lurking is a great way to give yourself some exposure. If you have a book on kite flying, and you begin commenting on posts (based on the expert advice given in your book) where kite-flying enthusiasts hang out, you now have a built-in, captive audience to which you can promote your book. Be careful not to use your posts strictly for publicity, however, or you will turn people off in a hurry. Take some time to set yourself up as an expert, include your website address on your posts, and just happen to mention that you wrote a book on the subject!

Being on these forums and blogs can also help you find potential places to speak on your topic as well as find some hidden places where your audience might be.

There are a couple of downsides to online marketing. One is that it can be extremely time consuming. It’s important to see which forms of this marketing work for you and stick with those. And, you must be disciplined about the time you spend marketing online or you will no longer have any time to write! The internet has a way of sucking us into its abyss. Another downside is that sales from online marketing cannot always be directly tracked. Sometimes you may get feedback from your buyers telling you how they discovered your book, but often this is not the case. But whenever you’re getting the word out about your latest release and promoting it directly to your target market, some good will come of it.

If you have an experience with any of the above when it comes to book promotion, or if you’ve done some other creative forms of marketing that haven’t been discussed, I’d love to hear from you. Us writers are always looking for great marketing ideas that work.

Happy Labor Day!!

I wanted to post today about ideas that can work for us when it comes to promoting our writing. Not all these ideas will work for every single person, and some may work better than others, depending on the type of writing you do. If you write for kids, you may have better success with personal visits than if you write adult nonfiction. But I believe there are tips and ideas in here that every writer can use with success at some point or another. Because there are quite a few, I will break this post into two separate articles, the second of which will be posted next week.

1. Interviews: Whether you’re able to get a radio, TV, or print spot on your behalf, interviews can be an excellent way to not only promote your work, but also to promote yourself as an author. People are more likely to buy from you when they feel they know a little about you. As you allow your personality to shine through and make a genuine effort to connect with your audience, that can go a long way toward book sales. An added benefit is when the interview is connected to, and points the audience to, an event that is soon to take place with your book, like a book signing or a speaking event.

2. Book signings: Books signings have met with varying degrees of success for most authors. Popular authors can always generate a crowd, so they can set up national tours and have lines of people waiting for them when they get to the bookstore. But for most of us “average” or beginner authors, we need more help to draw the crowds in. As mentioned above, if you can arrange an interview ahead of a book signing, that will boost your book-signing audience.

Also, realize that it is going to be up to you to promote your signing, and don’t wait for the bookstore to do it for you. If you can start promoting 2-3 weeks ahead of your signing with fliers, Facebook/Twitter announcements, postcards, word-of-mouth, etc. you will see much bigger crowds than if you left it up to the bookstore promoters.

3. Magazine articles: It’s amazing to me how many authors neglect this very rich soil of book promotion. If you wisely target magazines that are relevant to the book you’re promoting, you will have a built-in, captive audience to which you can market your book. Some magazine publishers will offer to let you promote your book in your closing bio instead of paying you for writing the article; some will let you promote and pay you too! If someone is interested enough in your topic to read your article, there’s a good chance they’ll also be interested in your book.

Also, you can use the magazine space to publish an excerpt of your actual book. In this case, you’re not doing any extra work, so if you don’t get paid, it won’t be a huge deal. And the benefit is that the readers are now getting a firsthand glimpse of part of your book, which should entice them even more to buy it. When you consider how large certain magazine readerships are (and you should target the largest ones you can), this is really a big bang for your buck (especially since it’s not costing you anything).

For those who write for children, consider writing articles for industry magazines, or trade magazines that target issues your children’s book may deal with. You can also write for newsletters that different children’s organizations or even writers’ conferences may publish.

4. Postcards: Postcards can come in two forms–direct mail postcards that show up in a person’s physical mail box, and e-postcards that show up in an email inbox. The downside of the first type, is, of course, the expense. It will cost to get them printed and delivered, although you can print them yourself with the right software templates and graphics packages. But there is still an expense involved. The upside is that is can make more of an impact when someone actually holds the card in their hand instead of it being viewed on the computer and being only a click away from being deleted.

Postcards work best when they are sent out as part of a marketing mix and not just by themselves. They can be used as a follow-up, for example, to a larger internet push you did a couple of weeks back. Or they can be used as a reminder of a speaking event you are holding in conjunction with your book promotion. You can also give them away at book signings in hopes that people will pass them on to others, or as a reminder of an event that is to be held at a future date after the signing.

Postcards can be more useful to people and therefore, stand a higher chance of not being tossed, if you put something worth keeping on the back side (a calendar of your events; an activity that may tie in to your book, like a recipe or a kids’ game, etc.)

5. Establishing partnerships: This works best for nonfiction books, but I’ve known some fiction writers who have gotten very creative and come up with organizational partnerships for their novels, too. Find nonprofits or various organizations that provide a natural tie-in for the topic covered in your book, and approach them about working with you to help promote the book as a resource. Many writers have hit the jackpot with partnership promotions as the organizations will make the book available on their website, advertise it in their publications, and take it with them to sell along with their own resources when they travel to industry events.

Partnerships are worth investing some research time into, as they can pay off with huge dividends if you find partners who are willing to work on your behalf.

Come back next week when I’ll discuss speaking engagements and online marketing! In the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments about what marketing efforts have and haven’t worked for you.