7 Things I’ve Learned As A Writer

Hey everyone, I’ve got a new vlog for you all! =)

Since (by my own judgment) I kind of suck at talking to a camera and may have fumbled a couple points, I wrote a basic outline that goes a little more in-depth than the video:

  1. Accept criticism of your work. Let’s face it. If you’re not willing to listen to what readers have to say about your work, you will never develop yourself as a writer. This can be a bit of a balancing act at first, but you have to learn to weigh what is most beneficial to you. There will always be self-righteous trolls out there ready rip apart your work for stupid reasons, but the good thing is that you get the final say and you don’t have to listen to that shit. Only accept what your think would make your story stronger.
  2. Read more. It will make you a better author. This should go without saying. And when I say read, I don’t mean Buzzfeed or Cracked articles (unless of course that’s who you’re writing for), I mean read actual books. Read many books, and in different
    genres and points of view. Not only will it strengthen your prose and dialogue, but it will also expand your horizons and help you see what is necessary to build stronger characters andan addicting narrative. Plus you may find yourself coming up with ideas in a genre you hadn’t previously considered writing in before.
  3. Characterization is everything, because characters drive the plot. This isn’t necessarily something I’ve ever had a problem with, because most of the stories I read deal with strong character development.I also watch people a lot and I think watching a lot of movies has really helped me develop good, strong characters and dialogue. Dialogue is actually one of the first things I write for my story when I’m constructing a scene, and sometimes I’ll even pace around my room like a crazy person trying to act out that scene. But that’s not because I’m insecure or nuts about it, I’m just emotionally moved by it, and strong characters are what I base my entire plot around. Think of characterization as the Force from Star Wars. It’s always there, surrounding everything, but you can’t see it. That’s what strong characterization does. Then the action comes, and it changes them from within, and they react. Given the Force and inner workings of your characters, how do they react? Strong characters are essential for telling a story worth reading.
  4. If you love it, stay in it for the long haul. I can’t tell you how many artists, writers, and musicians I’ve seen quit at this just because they didn’t know how to build an audience, or decided that just because one part of their story or song was crap, they
    should just throw out the entire thing. But your creations are, for better or worse, a mental and emotional extension of you. In effect, they’re your children. And you don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, do you? You don’t throw your kid out on the street just because they slipped up once. Writing a story, just like with any kind of art and even parenting, is about loving and nurturing your creation and seeing it through. So if you really love to write, don’t quit! It’s a vital part of you and I promise that with enough love and dedication, it will get better and you can do anything!
  5. Write in multiple points of view. It will expand your horizons. The fact is, most writers typically start in first person, just because it’s easier to put yourself in your character’s shoes and write his or her thoughts down. Basically, like writing a diary. The problem with this is that first person is a very hard point of view for newbie writers to pull off effectively. For one, you’re not able to see what anyone else is thinking, and two, your entire world will be colored by your character’s perception of it. You have to show equal parts introspection as well as outside action. That’s not to say that you can’t tell a great story with that point of view, but it’s important to be aware of the benefits and limitations that each perspective comes with. I for example wrote my first two books in first person, and while it worked for those stories, I realized it wasn’t going to work for my current story. I decided to try third person limited POV, and while it was a little awkward for me at first, I’ve gotten incredibly comfortable with writing in that style, and my story is much better as a result. So don’t limit yourself.

  6. Remember to write and read with cultural diversity in mind. AKA, #CheckYourPrivilege. Hopefully, you’re not racist, misogynist, or a hater of LGBTQ people. I cannot stress this enough, because it’s a question a lot of straight, white, male authors seem to struggle with. There’s a good quote a friend of mine said a while back, and that is “it takes effort not to be racist”. My point here is that if you’re a white, straight author and your stories don’t include women, people of other ethnicities, sexual orientations, or gender identities, you’re being ignorant and your stories will probably be boring. Consider that it is possible to be ignorant by omission as well; if you’re not including the physical descriptions of your characters and you are a white author, it’s generally assumed your cast is white unless noted otherwise. If you are genuinely concerned with how to remedy this problem, I highly suggest visiting a Tumblr called Writing With Color that will tell you pretty much everything you need to know on how to write with cultural diversity in mind.
  7. Make friends with other authors. Seriously. There are way more of us than you think! Especially indie authors, who need your support the most. Plus there’s nothing more beneficial to your writing than making a few friends who might help you edit and beta read your work. So get out there and make some author friends, because they’re literally all over Twitter. Join a writers group! Even if there aren’t any in your local area, there are plenty you can find online. Sign up for NaNoWriMo. I know that’s in November, but its extension site, Camp NaNoWriMo, is going on all throughout the year to help keep you motivated. You can make personalized writing goals and keep in touch with groups of other authors just like you. You literally have nothing to lose. Even if you’re as painfully introverted as me.

    So those are my Top 7 Things I’ve Learned As A Writer, and I hope they help you too =)

The first chapter in my post-apocalyptic sci-fi series “The Burntown Chronicles” is FREE on Kindle until Saturday =)

From today until Saturday, you can get the first part of my monthly post-apocalyptic science fiction serial The Burntown Chronicles free for your Kindle here =) Get it fast, I’ll be putting out the second part very soon!

Synopsis:

July, 2021. When the small rural town of Kentsburg, Mississippi finds itself cut off from the rest of the outside world following a terrible thunderstorm one evening, no one thinks much of it, although several teens can recall seeing flashing red lights on the horizon just before the power went out. The next morning, even stranger things begin to happen.

Nobody’s car will start, clocks are frozen, and all cell phones are mysteriously dead. Then come the circular drones that some farmers have started digging up in their fields–heavy devices which house a plethora of deadly weapons to kill anyone who interferes with them.

In the days following the aftermath of what many refer to as “The Shock”, an unlikely young antihero named Markus Huxley rises, eventually declaring himself de facto leader of a place henceforth known as “Burntown”. Influenced only by his haunted past and an unusual penchant for fire, the future of those who remain in Kentsburg under his reign seems uncertain.

With the town’s older residents dying off, the younger teens soon turn to drugs and alcohol in order to cope. And so the parties rage on, even as the world has seen fit to end in fire…

Google Keywords and Insights – Valuable Tools For Indie Writers!

Every once in a while, I have to admit I’ll buy those certain self-help books. You probably know the kind I’m talking about. They’re the kind of books geared specifically toward people who have the dream of writing, of being a best-selling Kindle author like Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, J.A. Konrath, etc., and every single one of those books purport to tell you how to get there, how to rise to the top, and how to successfully market your book.

Of course, there is no blueprint path to success. Well okay, there is a blueprint, but it’s largely dependent on how you build the house and use the materials that counts.

That’s not to say that none of those “how to be successful!” books contain important advice, because many of them do. I have one on my Kindle written by H.P. Mallory herself, entitled Quit Your Day Job: A Guide for the Self-Published Author, in which she explains all the various starting points we all are pretty much aware of. You must have a Facebook, a Twitter, a personal blog, professional-looking books and covers, and perhaps the hardest rule to master: use tag words appropriately.

Now that sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right? Not necessarily.

I know this for a fact, because I’ve changed my keywords many times with varying results until I started to finally get steady sales. Now I am by no means an expert on this, nor have I sold loads of books myself. What I have learned, however, is that keywords themselves are crucial, as are the keywords you can assign to your book on the Amazon product page for people to agree with. If more people start agreeing on the tags, your book has greater chances of getting noticed. The catch is, you only have so many ways to really get this right. The better side? You have an infinite number of chances to do so.

First, let’s look at Amazon KDP. You are able to choose up to 7 keywords to help direct people to your book. On the product page, you can use up to 15 under the “Tags Customers Associate with This Product” section. Of course the question we all have to ask ourselves is, “How should I tag my book?”. It sounds like a simple question, right? Not always. Here’s an example:

My book Blue Car Racer is currently tagged with the following: teen, gay, domestic violence, abuse, high school, adolescence, young adult. These are all simple terms of course, and my trial/error method of getting to them wasn’t easy.

Now here’s the tricky part. Should I be tagging it “domestic abuse” or “domestic violence”? They almost mean the same thing. “Gay” or “homosexual”? Should I even be tagging it as “gay”, being that it’s more of a minor theme in the book? Should I use broad search terms or more targeted ones?

Thankfully, you can dispense with the headache for a bit, because Google provides two extremely helpful (if underrated) tools that can aid you in placing all the pieces right in this horrendous puzzle called self-publishing. They may not guarantee you success, but they will pave a path to figuring out how to be successful, and trust me…in the end, you’ll find yourself putting down that self-help book of advice, because there’s more than one way to be successful. I haven’t seen any indie author that used the same straight-cut formula to become successful. We all should use the same basic tools, but it involves a lot of trial and error.

That said, here’s one of the things H.P. Mallory suggests in her book on the section about tag words.

Google Keyword Tool – This tool can be used to type in your tag words, and a list will pop up telling you how popular those search terms are. It even suggests other keyword ideas for you, and gives stats on global and local monthly searches using your terms as well as highlighting the competition level for each. The more you can use that fit your book and preferably are rated low under the competition column, the better. Try to use both specifically-targeted as well as more broad keywords.

Google Insights – What this one does is a bit similar, but this is for after you’ve compiled your list of keywords. Basically, you can type each one into the search field and filter results for the category, location, and any period of time ranging from 2004 up until the current month. What then pops up is a graph that shows you the popularity of the term over the period of time you specified. It also breaks it down into regional interest and top searches using the term.

I haven’t exactly tried this method yet, but in my opinion, these tools can really help if you’re confused about how to tag your books, and I frequently am.

Before you try all this though, here’s a few good books I recommend that have helped me along the way:

The Taleist Self-Publishing Survey
Quit Your Day Job: A Guide for The Self-Published Author
Social Media Marketing for Writers

Good luck and happy marketing =)

A Brief Introduction To Me & My Books

Hello everyone! So far, this makes blog #3 for me as an author. I do have one on Blogger, but I haven’t been using it lately. Truth be told, I’m more of a Tumblr guy, though that one is more of a personal/artistic endeavor than I intend this to be.

First of all, I suppose I should say a little about me. I’m currently 26, I live in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and I have been a writer and poet for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I decided to start writing seriously. I got into self-publishing thanks to the help of my dad showing me a newspaper article about Amanda Hocking, and I’ve since learned quite a bit about the publishing business thanks to authors like J.A. Konrath. Within the course of a year, I finished my first novel entitled The Orphaned Ones, from which the quote in my header is taken. I did release it for a time on Amazon Kindle to test the waters, but I have since taken it down for very rigorous comprehensive editing.

The Orphaned Ones will be the first book in a series of 7 planned full-length novels and 1 novella concerning a group of vampires known as Orphans who have been abandoned by their makers and are mercilessly hunted down by an opposing organization called the Council. Much of the story takes place in the midst of World War II, but the history of some characters extends back to the Dark Ages and all throughout time up until 1950.

The second book I wrote, Blue Car Racer, is a young adult fiction novel about bullying which takes place in a small rural town in the early 1990’s. Earlier this year, I entered it in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest for publication by Penguin Books. I was ultimately cut, but I’m still proud to say that Blue Car Racer churned ahead up to the semi-finals. It is currently available on Amazon Kindle here.

I can’t say that I really have a favorite genre to write in, though I find YA is the easiest. Horror is a bit more of a challenge for me, though I think it largely depends on what the writing style is and the time period in which it takes place. Science fiction has always been an interesting realm for me, mostly because it’s the first genre I really got into as a kid. I remember reading Star WarsThe Tripods Trilogy, some books from the Aliens franchise as well as Predator when I was in middle and high school.

Another series I’m working on is called The Chronicles of Burntown, which is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story about a rural town in Mississippi called Kentsburg, but is later renamed Burntown by the main protagonist. All of their electronics and cars have stopped working after an unknown event they call “The Shock” occurred, and many of the kids’ parents have died off in the ensuing months. The teens take to drug and alcohol abuse as a means to cope. Meanwhile, some of them begin finding large circular devices planted out in the fields and attempt to piece together what happened. The concept is to construct a 10-part Kindle serial where each of the characters gets to be narrator.

You could say I already have a full plate with these ideas, but trust me, it’s more like a banquet! I suppose I’ve more or less been trying different things in the field of self-publishing because I refuse to believe that there is such thing as a set path to success in this business. I’ve seen many authors try a different approach, then another, then another. Ultimately, everyone will choose what works best for them. My latest approach is to stop all this madness of promotion and marketing I’ve been attempting, because for me, it takes away from writing anything else.

Some authors are self-publishing gurus, some promise to sell you their secrets for the low price of $79 per e-book/audio session/subscription/seminar, some give you great advice that works for under $2, some just say “keep Tweeting” or what have you.

What I’ve come to learn is that virtually NONE of these methods are 100% effective, because it all comes down to one person, and that’s YOU. You’ll find what works best for you on your own time. That’s my advice, and I’m not even successful yet, but I’m certainly learning =)

Anyway, this is me: Peter von Harten, a poet/author/cinephile/electronic musician/equal human rights activist/lover of Applebee’s half-price appetizers and microwaveable steamed-vegetable bags.

I hope you like what you’ve read so far (given that this first post is quite informal), because you’ll be hearing a lot more from me! =)

Current planned novel projects:

  • Otherworld series
  • The Orphaned Ones series
  • Providence, A.D. series
  • The Swarm
  • Fluke
  • Dr. Westley’s Child
  • The Women Who Write Letters
  • On Vulture’s Wings
  • Eristad, God Of The Underworld
  • 8mm
  • Gone By Nightfall short stories
  • The Chronicles of Burntown serial