Monday, December 15, 2014

Footnotes in Fiction

I am working on a rather lengthy historical novel (editing) right now. But, I felt I must take a break to address this issue. Footnotes have generally been reserved for non-fiction, but some fiction authors make use of them. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Morrell is probably one of the most recent example of footnotes done well.

In non-fiction, readers sometimes skip the footnotes and come back and read them when they finish the chapter. In fact, when footnotes are endnotes at the end of the book instead of chapter, I frequently just read them when I get to the end of the book. In non-fiction, you can do that. Footnotes do not add anything to a non-fiction story except more background. If you are writing a fiction book and using footnotes like this, it will fall flat.

You see, footnotes in fiction should add to the story - and not everyone can do that well. Many authors, famous authors, have tried and not fared well. Footnotes, by nature, break up the story. If you want to explain something, do it in text without diverting the reader down a side path. However, footnotes can work very well when they are part of the story. Still, I do not recommend them.

Most of the manuscripts I edit come from authors who have had little professional (university level) writing education. They majored in business, nursing, education, or didn't even attend college at all. Some of them don't even read the genre of books they are writing (or read any books at all).
Please note: If you want to be a professional writer, you at least HAVE to read or hire someone who does read to completely ghostwrite your book. If you do not read, you have no clue about plotting or how novels work, and quite frankly, you will end up sticking a glossary in the center of the book and switching from civil war south to gypsies in Europe halfway through. Yes, you can be self-published, but no, you should not be. Harsh, perhaps, but truthful. Would you want a doctor working on you who didn't read medical journals to keep up with the latest developments in medicine? Would you want a mechanic working on your car if he didn't even own one car of his own? On the road, do you want to be anywhere near the driver who has never driven a car before? 
As you can see, I do my own "footnotes" on my blog. They do break up the text, and you can come back and read them later. Despite the fact that I know how to use footnotes (although don't base your opinion of that on the way I use them in my blog), I would not want to insert them into fiction. You have to be completely immersed in the fantasy world of your book to make people happy about reading them.

The authors I work with are not. They have done a lot of research and want to share bits of information they learned. This can be done just as well by adding the information into the story subtly and discriminately. The reader should be able to know that you did a good job with your research just from reading it. At the same time, the reader does not need to know everything you researched.

This is true of non-fiction, too. When I write a scientific paper, lets say I  look up 20 - 40 papers on the topic. I read through the abstract and determine which ones apply to my topic specifically. The abstract may weed out 10 - 20 that I do not have to read. As I read the rest of them in full, I again weed out some that are not quite addressing my topic. In the end, I may have 5 - 10 papers listed in my bibliography, and I may only have 3 pages of writing, but as long as the paper is focused it will be well received.

Now, in some non-fiction books, you pick them up and there are hundreds of footnotes. For the most part, these are references and not explanations of text. Frequently, they expand the story - "This marriage later caused the War of the Roses (see also Dexter, 1989)." If the story doesn't cover the War of the Roses, it is appropriate. Unfortunately, fiction writers tend to use footnotes to explain the story further: "Sarah has blonde hair and blue eyes and is a very pretty girl." Again, this can be used well, but it is not recommended. Explaining the story (in footnote or text) is NOT necessarily expanding it.

Yes, all rules in literature are made to be broken. However, if you do not know them and understand how to use them and when to break them, it is best to follow them.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday - Cyber Monday Sale

I am trying to capitalize on the Black Friday crowds this weekend for my titles by running a sale on my books on both CreateSpace and my website.

I am also going to give away all my currently published e-books on Cyber Monday.

And I currently have a Goodreads Giveaway and will run another one in December.

I admit, I have not put as much effort into advertising these as I should have, but if I get any response from them, I will let you know.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Goodreads Giveaways

So this week in honor of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, I will be giving away several of my books on Goodreads.

I have found Goodreads giveaways to be a great way to get reviews for your books (expect about a 50% return - 4 books given away should give you about 2 reviews).

With these reviews, I am going to try a new tactic I learned from participating in other people's reviews - the nudge. I will include a "packing slip" that has technical information and a note to please provide the book with a review.

There are dangers in Goodreads giveaways. On person, upon not being selected by Goodreads to win immediately gave me a 1 star review of my book - I hadn't even sold one copy so I protested - there was no way this person could have read the book to have reviewed it.

Also, the reviews you get are usually only posted on Goodreads.

Limit your reviews to the United States. The first two giveaways I had were international - I opened them up to all English speaking countries. For one, this is very expensive. It cost more than $10 each to send the books to most of the people who won (not sending prizes will get you banned from future giveaways). I was giving away 10 books, so I spent a lot of money (not including the cost of the books). Second, people in other countries do not always "get" American literature. I have had my  children's book reviewed by several teachers and child educators - all of them thought it was great for the 5 - 7 year old age target. Those from the international community felt it was too difficult for small children to read. My inspirational, historical romance (set in 1739 U.K.) received bad reviews because it was "Christian." One British person gave me 3-stars because I accidentally left one Americanism in the last chapter of the book. I received great reviews from the American community and ho hum to bad reviews internationally. In fact, several people did not seem to understand that "inspirational" MEANS "Christian," which brings me to my final point:

Be sure to spell everything out in your Giveaway (and in your book blurb for that matter). Not everyone knows what inspirational means in the romance community. If you have written a book that could even remotely be skewed as "Christian" be sure to spell it out. If your book contains offensive material - add that to your description. Even if you don't find it offensive - if someone,  somewhere could find it offensive, let people know. In general, people are squeamish about violence, foul language, sex, drug and alcohol use, etc. Basically, go to a movie store and see why movies are rated above "G" and that will give you a good list of things to check for in your book.

As a final note - If you give away 10 books and only have 20 people sign up, you really haven't lost anything. All you needed was 10 people. The number of people who signed up for some of mine were 700 - 900, but I am having far fewer people signup for my latest ones because I am trying to use my description to weed out those who won't like the book's subject matter or writing style. Really, you do not want reviews from people who hate reading fantasy books if that is what you have written.