What I Learned from Reading Fiction


  1. Everything will be okay in the end, no matter how awful it seems right now.
  2. Things will get worse before they get better. Much worse.
  3. Don’t try to be a favorite; you know the underdog is going to win.
  4. Mr. Right is right under your nose; you just don’t realize it.
  5. There is a fairy tale ending for you, but it will be hell getting there.
  6. When you finally reach a state of happiness, brace yourself for the sequel.
  7. Live the life of a protagonist. You’ll have a happy ending and the life will be very rewarding.
  8. You can make life easy by being a major antagonist; you just won’t have a happy ending.
  9. The safest bet is to live life like a narrator; you get to see all the action, and you must survive to tell about it.
  10. If you’re not tall, dark, and handsome, don’t live life like you’re in a romance novel.
  11. Imagination can be a million times more exciting than reality.
  12. Reality is a million times safer than fiction.
  13. Make life more exciting by imagining you’re in a novel.
  14. Don’t trust anyone. Ever.
  15. Anything can happen to anybody at anytime.
  16. The more incredible the odds, the more likely things will work out.
  17. Be very afraid of the dark. Don’t go out at night. Don’t do anything.
  18. Good always triumphs over evil, but evil never gives up.
  19. Stay away from fiction writers: They must be totally insane.
  20. How to write better.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

What Attracts Me to Blogs of Fiction Authors


Marketing fiction books and especially blogging are quite a challenge. Nonfiction authors have an advantage: They can attract the target audience with free content, seminars, etc. Very often, a nonfiction book has information that people need or will find helpful. A novel, on the other hand, may primarily serve to entertain. There are very many hot selling fiction books, but it takes a book that is highly marketable from cover to cover and, with rare exceptions, required effective marketing.

Fiction authors who take up marketing start a blog as one part of their marketing strategy, but often struggle with how to attract the target audience.

  • Much thought, time, and effort can be put into a short story that scarcely gets read. Blogs grow very slowly, and most posts don’t receive much attention until a blog has really blossomed. Most blog readers aren’t particularly looking for short stories, especially from unknown authors. And even if they are, there are many different kinds of short stories, most of which won’t appeal to a given reader. In some cases, it might be harder to get readers for free short stories on blogs than it is to sell a short story on Amazon (and that’s a challenge, too).
  • It’s hard to attract an audience when you mostly blog about yourself, unless you happen to be a celebrity (but if you are, attracting a following should be easy). Sure, once you get fans, they might want to learn more about you. Occasionally blogging about yourself reveals your personality and shows that your human. But this won’t attract an audience.
  • Posting about things that don’t relate to your book might get attention if they’re fascinating topics. However, most of the people who check these things out won’t be in your target audience. Plus, if they’re popular topics, there are many other popular resources writing about them online.

So what should you blog about?

You should have some variety. People have varied interests, so this helps you catch different people from your target audience. Variety also helps you reach new readers while also engaging fans; you want some posts for both parts of your blogging audience. (Include the url for your blog in your book; that will help attract some fans.)

Here are some things that have attracted me to the blogs of fiction authors:

  • I like to see snippets of things you’ve done as part of your writing process. Show me a scratch sheet with a word cloud, a photo of sticky notes with ideas for your book, sketches of characters, a preliminary map for your fantasy novel, etc. These kinds of things show the effort that you’ve put into your work. It’s kind of cool; something more than just a book. I like to see this whether I’m just discovering your blog or if I’m already a fan. It gets me interested in your writing.
  • Short poems don’t require me to invest too much time in an unknown (to me) writer. If I like the way you combine words together and express ideas in short poems, this gets me interested in your writing. I’ve discovered a few different authors this way. There is a lot of poetry out there, though. Your poem won’t appeal to everyone, won’t be discovered by everyone, and has to be pretty good to stand out with so many good poets here. No matter what, though, it helps you achieve variety with your blogging and provides a short writing sample to prospective readers.
  • Occasional posts to show what’s going on with your book catch my attention. Cover reveals, blurb posts, debut announcements, rare promotions, rank achievements, and so on give you an opportunity to mention your book without solely saying, “Buy my book.” I enjoy seeing highly marketable covers; they grab my interest. You’re not likely to attract and hold an audience by constantly blogging about your book. But mixing such updates about your book in with many other kinds of posts rounds you out as a complete author.
  • Support for other authors shows me that you’re not focused solely on yourself. I don’t mean that if you reblog Author X’s post, then Author X will be interested in your book. I mean authors in the community recognize other authors who are interactive, supportive bloggers in the community, and we all tend to support one another in various helpful ways.
  • Your experience as a writer and writing ideas attract my interest. I like to discover concepts that I’d never thought about. For example, I’ve read many fantasy novels, but never realized how many challenges fantasy writers face until I discovered a variety of blog posts describing them. Such posts also show me that you’re an experienced author who has spent much time contemplating complex writing problems in your genre.
  • A weekly goal post shows me that you’re organized. It looks professional. It should be a minor thing among other kinds of posts, but it’s nice to see your objectives and progress.

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Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Creative Cursing in Fiction

Sometimes, a fictional character has a personality that includes swearing. When the character needs to swear in the dialogue, the author is faced with a dilemma: Should the author use real four-letter words, which some readers may find offensive, or find a creative way to achieve a similar effect?

The answer may depend on the audience. Some readers prefer the real word to be used instead, while some readers find the actual words offensive. For teen books, the views of their parents are important, too. The better you understand your target audience, the easier it is for you to decide which will may have a better impact on sales.

Many traditionally published books have found creative ways for characters to swear.

One way is to replace a typical curse with another expression. For example, if you want to say, “You $%#@-ing moron!” you could write, “You flaming moron!”

It has to fit the character and genre. For some personalities, it would be okay to say, “Great bazookas!” instead of, “&#$@!” However, in some cases this wouldn’t suffice.

Another option is to use a milder oath, like “Shucks!” or “Golly!” instead of “%#&@!” Don’t exercise this option if it does an injustice to the character. Many characters won’t get away with an oath like “Fiddlesticks!”

You could try making up your own words, like “Oh fuzzlewuzzles!” Both the sound and look of the word must fit the character in order to pull this off. Just imagine Bruce Willis saying that in Die Hard! (There’s an example where any substitution wouldn’t have had nearly the effect that his famous line had. Again, you really have to know your audience.)

Yet another alternative is to use an ordinary word with very similar spelling, like ‘buck’ or ‘crab.’ Beware: The first time the reader sees this (perhaps, in the Look Inside), he or she may be thinking that the author simply misspelled the word (since it’s off by only one letter) – thinking, maybe, “If you can’t even spell the four-letter words right, this must be a horribly edited book.” It will take a little repetition to convince the reader (who may give up before it repeats) that it was intentional. Also, differing only by a letter, it may be too obvious – perhaps using the real word or something more different is better.

Occasionally, a writer states something of the sort, “Insert favorite expletive here.” This can only be used rarely, and only in an exceptional context.

Arguably the best oaths ever were written by Shakespeare, who didn’t need any four-letter words at all. Those oaths were loaded with creativity, and could really make a person look bad. Again, such curses probably won’t suit most characters and genres.

Those are some examples of creative cursing. Do you have experience with this? Or can you think of other ways to do it?

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Need Your Help: How Do You Describe Facial Expressions in Fiction?

So I recently posted about the importance of facial expressions for authors. Today, I received a comment about facial expressions in fiction. It was a good question: How do you do this effectively?

I’m curious about this, too, so I posted this question here. I know there are several great fiction writers out there, so I’m hoping some of you will share your ideas about this.

We can just say that the girl looked happy. But show is often preferred over tell, right? There are also other ways to show that she was happy (e.g. she was jumping up and down, waving her arms wildly, when she saw me get out of the bus), but suppose we wish to describe facial expressions (not necessarily happy ones). Who has some good advice for how to do this?

How about describing faces, period. I’ve read some books where a face was described as “angular,” for example. I didn’t have any idea what that meant, so I really had trouble visualizing the character. If you have suggestions for how to describe a face in clear terms that will aid in visualization, with or without facial expressions, please share your ideas.

Thank you.

The funny thing about this blog is that when I ask for comments, very often there aren’t any, but when I don’t, sometimes there are plenty. Perhaps today will be an exception to the rule. 🙂