Have you ever struggled to write a story based on personal experience because you fear revealing yourself in some particularly vulnerable way? While there are writers who prefer to deal with fictional stories, others weave in the events of their lives, including painful experiences, traumas, and things they’ve never spoken about before.
They give these experiences to fictional characters, in possibly fictional settings, distancing the narrative from the real-life details. And yet, in spite of these distancing techniques, for the author it might feel just a bit too uncomfortable.
Self-censorship is often a problem for writers. Even when it comes to fiction, a writer may fear readers will assume a biographical element. One reason is the way literature is often taught in school. We’re encouraged to explore where a writer’s themes and subject matter may intersect with their own life.
You can see it with writers like Fitzgerald. His history with Ginevra King and her influence on characters like Daisy Buchanan and Judy Jones can lead to readers assuming writers, in general, use real people or events as inspiration. However, it would be a mistake to assume too much about what is and isn’t true. But knowing some readers have those assumptions might give a writer pause.
Another issue is how much more personal a narrative becomes when it’s written in first person. Even when the character is completely fictional and not a fictionalised version of the writer, there is still the fear of exposure or discovery. An author might worry about what family and friends will think – this is especially true when it comes to erotic writing.
But when it comes to actual traumatic events and experiences, writing in first person might get closer to the experience. Yet sometimes it can be too painful, or too risky. It can seem like crossing from a fictionalised account into something closer to memoir.
And when it comes to painful subjects, writers might prefer to maintain some distance. You can achieve this by using third person. This might help achieve some objectivity, and possibly allows the author the space to explore things without self-censorship. When you’re worried readers and family will assume something is true, you might find yourself hiding the truth and hiding too much. And then you can run into a serious writing block.
This is why it’s worth considering a third-person point of view to get around these issues. Writers might be put off using third person because it seems more distant. This is because a lot of third-person narratives can be an over-the-shoulder perspective that doesn’t really dwell much in the character’s head.
But it’s totally possible to dig deeper using deep third. Here the character’s thoughts and the narrative merge together to become the narrative. It also avoids the problem of writing thoughts in italics or using thought tags and other filter words.
You can also tackle painful personal topics by changing the gender or age of your main character. You can set your story in a different time and/or place. This can help you establish a safe distance if you feel that’s necessary.
You can also use a mixture of strategies – third person/different age/different location or time period.
Fear of exposure in first-person narrative is a real issue. But if you really want to write about an experience without self-revelation you have a range of options. You don’t have to self-censor if you don’t want to. You don’t have to allow fear of exposure and the judgement of others to silence your voice.
You try so hard to write a kick-ass novel that will wow readers and get everyone talking. Then you go around in circles tweaking and rewriting. Because you need to get it just perfect! And for a while, your book genuinely seems to be getting better. Then you lose a subplot or a character falls out stage left.
Now you’re demoralised and stressed out. Your manuscript has turned into a monster, complete with tentacles. (Where did all these loose bits come from?)
You’ve struggled to find reliable beta readers. Maybe you’ve tried online writing groups only to feel intimidated or frustrated because some of the advice just seemed plain wrong or contradictory.
Unfortunately, serious indie authors and those hoping to submit to agents will always struggle with polishing their work. Everyone does, including seasoned professionals.
Indie writers don’t have a publisher to help
When you have an agent and a publishing house, you have a team working to support you and your book. You can take confidence in trained experts making your book the best it can be.
But when you’re publishing yourself or just starting out, you don’t have these things. Then, you’re often dependent on the conflicting advice of writing groups and beta readers.
Worse, they’re not trained to spot underlying problems, let alone anticipate the way different fixes impact one another in a manuscript. Because when you change one thing it can have a knock-on effect on everything else. Other writers or beta readers can also base their advice on how they would have written the book if it was theirs. That’s not the kind of advice you want. Because it’s not their book, it’s yours.
You need someone who will respect your author voice and intentions.
How developmental editing helps you
That’s where developmental editing comes in. Developmental editing, also known as structural editing or substantive editing, is the first round of editing. This is where a professional assesses the big picture issues in your manuscript. They look for plot holes, structural problems, slow pacing, weak characterisation, and more.
Think about it – how often have you given up on a novel you were reading because the story didn’t seem to be going anywhere or the characters were two-dimensional? A developmental edit highlights issues like this and allows you to fix them. Developmental editing takes your work to a whole new level.
I once knew a woman who couldn’t go into an LGBT bar on her own. She didn’t even like going in with someone else unless she’d had a drink first. Alcohol became her crutch because she never dealt with the original problem. Which was fear of walking into a social environment alone, and maybe feeling judged and self-conscious.
It was perfectly obvious what the solution should have been – go in alone anyway, without a drink. When you’re so used to doing something, it becomes second nature.
I admit I haven’t quite reached the level of second nature when it comes to marketing myself on social media. I still don’t like it much. There are a number of reasons. For one thing, a site like Twitter is enormously distracting, so it can become counter-productive to spend much time there. I end up forgetting what I was supposed to be doing.
Another thing about social media is that there’s already a lot of marketing there. And if you need to market yourself – a book or service – it can seem almost impossible to post anything that rises above the general noise.
Fear of marketing yourself on social media
There’s also the fear of being annoying – a lot of people don’t like marketing posts. They’re okay in moderation, but in the writing and book end of Twitter, marketing tweets are in abundance. (And this is one reason why if you’re marketing a book, you should have the best cover design, so it stands out from the rest.)
Authors and editors are often fairly introverted people. But if we want to find readers or clients we have to market ourselves on social media. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, or somewhere else, we need to make people aware that we and our work exist.
One of the downsides of being a writer and working with fiction is having an overactive imagination. This means you can dream up all kinds of nightmare social media scenarios that might result from posting. If we take Twitter, it can be a bit of a minefield. It can also be very difficult to get any engagement when you do post. And some of the engagement tactics are not to everyone’s taste.
Follow trains, which can run foul of Twitter’s Terms of Service, don’t appeal to everyone. They can also lead to a lot of notifications. #writerslift hashtags can end up with a long thread of self-promotion, which can be demoralising if you don’t feel your own posts can compete.
You struggle to be heard and you’re ready to throw in the towel. You know you could try other strategies but they don’t always appeal. Like sharing too much about your private life. Or giving too much away about your feelings. Or talking about your opinions or political views.
Posting personal content
It’s true that posting more personal content can allow potential readers or clients to get to know you. This is why a social media account that only posts marketing messages will be harder for others to connect with.
I recently heard about trauma marketing. This is where you use personal trauma to market yourself. This plays to the victim culture that thrives on social media, but it’s also manipulative and drowns out and cheapens serious trauma. Monetising trauma for financial gain and marketing does seem pretty icky – unless it relates to the topic of your book. In which case, it makes more sense.
Imposter syndrome, perfectionism, failure
If you’re struggling to post on social media, you might want to ask yourself why. Are you afraid people won’t notice? If that is your fear, then the worst thing you’d expect is not to get any engagement. Perhaps you suffer from imposter syndrome or perfectionism – you might be afraid to post links to your website because you’re not confident about either your site, your content, or both. This is likely to be even worse when you’re just starting out. But the more you put off posting, the worse your fear will get.
If you avoid posting, you never deal with the problem, and your voice and your work go unheard.
The fear is driven by avoidance of pain
Humans are primarily motivated by two things – pain and pleasure. Pain takes precedence since it’s connected to our survival. If we anticipate pain because a tiger is coming our way, we will work hard to get away. If we anticipate a flame will burn us, we’ll avoid it. If we think a social media post will bring a ton of trouble on our heads, we won’t post it.
Even if we want success, we also fear it. Because we anticipate, rightly, that not everything that comes with it is good. It brings negative attention, extra responsibilities, extra work. It pitches us into situations where we are constantly in danger of failure, complete with an audience to witness our falls.
There’s also the fear of the unknown and the new, the things we’re not yet accustomed to. When it comes to social media, it’s best to jump in and get in the habit of posting. If you write a blog, try doing it often enough and reposting links to older content so you develop a routine. The more you do it, the less painful it should become.
Mix personal and helpful posts between the marketing
It’s also worth mixing up non-marketing posts with personal posts and posts that are helpful and add value for readers. If your posts seem helpful or you show yourself to be helpful to others, they will remember you more and engage with you more often. You can also post fun stuff – if you’re selling a service, your clients need to feel you’re approachable and friendly.
And if you do attract controversy from a post, it’s not always a bad thing. There will always be people who agree with you or who just agree to disagree.
Which platform(s) would suit you best?
There are courses and mentorships you can do on social media marketing. Some are more helpful than others. But it’s worth deciding first what platforms you prefer to use. If you like visual marketing and social media sites, Instagram and Pinterest might be better. Pinterest is the biggest image search engine outside Google, with a higher income demographic.
Twitter is good for microblogging or threading tweets. But it’s also a 24-hour news site, and you will quickly find yourself sucked into staying on the platform for longer than you intended. This is particularly a problem if you struggle to find time for your writing. You don’t need added distractions. Yes, the site has a big writing community, but sometimes that too is a big distraction.
There are also plenty of writing groups on Facebook, plus writers on Instagram. I’m less familiar with these two.
One thing that’s really important to point out here is that spreading yourself too thinly over multiple platforms could be a real mistake. It partly depends on how efficient you are and how well you manage your time. You could use scheduling tools and have particular days you post on a platform. You could use one or two platforms more often and others only once or twice a week.
If you fear posting on social media, ask yourself why. If you’re worried your posts will look silly, there are plenty of silly posts on social media and people aren’t looking for perfection. If you’re worried your blog posts and website aren’t good enough for people to see yet, it’s still worth throwing yourself in there and posting anyway. You could just be suffering from imposter syndrome and some traffic to your site could build up your confidence.
Fear of marketing yourself on social media is no joke. Many business owners are held back by it, never reaching their full potential. The same is true of authors.
One of the most important things is to remember social media is designed to reward users and keep them on the site. It’s meant to be addictive. So, if you’re a writer or you have a small business, you need to be careful you don’t spend too much time there. Social media blockers like Cold Turkey can be very useful in terms of managing your time on these platforms.
If you’re an indie author and you want to attract readers, your book cover design really matters. It’s one of your most important marketing tactics.
Have you ever gone into a bookstore and felt overwhelmed by all the books to choose from?
What motivates you to pick up an unknown book?
Snappy or intriguing title? Or were you attracted by the cover image? Did it call to you to investigate further and check out the back cover blurb?
Cover design is the magnet that draws the eye and piques curiosity. It can draw attention even from the other side of a bookstore. Even from a distance, when you can’t yet read the author’s name or the book’s title.
And that’s why your book cover design matters.
Of course, book covers accomplish other things too. They indicate genre, age group, connect to existing trends, even hint at the story’s atmosphere (creepy, suspenseful, erotic).
Cover art speaks to emotions – and this is important in marketing. There are genres where speaking to emotions is particularly important – romance being the primary example. But you might be in the mood for something suspenseful or creepy. Horror and thriller covers also speak to a potential reader’s emotions.
The style of the cover might connect to a particular subgenre or resemble the cover art on a more famous book. This is a way for publishers to indicate fast that if you like those other books in this category, you’ll probably like this one too.
With so many books to choose from, a design department has to come up with ways to make it easy for the right readers to find their book. The cover art offers visual clues. The book’s title might also offer clues.
Your book needs to stand out from the crowd. In a saturated market – and this is particularly true on Amazon – you need people to see that your book exists. And that it looks professional, intriguing, exciting.
If the cover is plain and offers no hints about the genre, someone browsing on Amazon is likely to ignore it.
Book buyers are accustomed to helpful cover design – covers that act as filters for what they do and don’t like.
The cover design should attract the right readers. It should never trick people into thinking the book is something it isn’t. For example, you wouldn’t put a historical couple embracing on the cover of a modern horror novel. If a reader buys the book on the basis of the cover alone, they are going to feel cheated.
Also, if the cover art and design are subpar, it will be difficult to stand out from the crowd. Furthermore, if the design is poor, potential readers will likely draw conclusions about the overall quality of the book, including the story, characterisation, formatting, etc.
A good cover shows the writer has taken a professional approach to their work. But it also allows the writer to better compete with traditionally published authors. If your book looks like a traditionally published book, it’s more likely to draw readers.
As well as using high-quality cover art, you should ensure your covers look good as thumbnails because this is how they will appear on sites like Amazon. Equally, you need to make sure your fonts match your genre and cover design, and that the text is clear and readable both at full size and in thumbnail.
Most people cannot produce great cover art or choose the right fonts for their own books.
Even people with design skills can do a bad job because cover art and what works for the market are not their specialties.
Also, cover art should be chosen on the basis of what appeals to readers rather than what a writer might want. This might seem annoying, but if you want to attract sales, you have to put yourself in the place of readers.
It’s worth doing quite a lot of research on your genre, particularly in relation to the newest styles and what the traditional publishing industry is producing. Design departments in publishing houses have experts who know what they’re doing. If they’re following a particular trend, you can jump on board.
Indie authors who want high-quality book covers have a number of options. You can hire designers for bespoke covers, or you can visit a site that is selling premade cover art. In the case of the latter, the fonts are already in place. You just need to change the title, author name, etc.
Some premade cover art sells for hundreds of dollars, but there are decent covers for well under $100. If you only want an ebook cover, the price is lower. If you want a back cover for a print edition, you’ll have to pay more.
Likewise, if you want to add in banner advertising, and ads for specific social media sites, that pushes the price up further. However, a streamlined set of marketing images to use on multiple platforms is a great professional look that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Sites providing premade covers
Please note – I have not tried any of these services, so I cannot recommend them. They are just examples of the kinds of sites out there.