Telling the Story

psychopomp-3d-dls-8pxls-2Do you know the difference between a novel and a non-fiction book? A non-fiction book is based in truth. However, the biggest mistake that non-fiction authors make is equating truth with a dry recitation of facts rather than the telling of a story. Despite your history teacher’s attempts to bore you with lists of dates and tables of facts, history can (and is) actually interesting. People want to know why something happened or why someone acted or reacted as they did. They want to understand the reason for events, and that’s where your story telling ability comes in. You need to show them why; you need to give them the story surrounding the event.

All stories, both fiction and non-fiction, are just that—stories. When writing a memoir, biography, or other bit of non-fiction, you still need to follow the same guidelines as an author writing a novel; however, you have a major advantage. Your story is already loosely defined for you. You have the timeline, timeframe, characters, major conflicts, and key dramatic elements, all you need to do is add the story components.

You need to develop your characters so that your readers can see them the way you do—are they shy, dynamic, geeky, or ne’er do well? The characters need depth, life, purpose, and motivation to go along with that dramatic moment. Does the moment you’re recording have to do with star-crossed lovers, a robbery gone wrong, a heroic deed, or just a crazy moment that changed the character’s life? You also need to build up the environment. What was the time period like, the culture, and the society? Help your readers understand your character’s perspectives, actions, and reactions. (For instance, the American culture and societal mores are much different today than they were in the 1970’s and understanding that can help the reader connect with the character and their plight.)

Also, just as a fictional character has wants, needs, fears, and motivations, so do your non-fictional characters. By using a first- or third-person point of view, action verbs, and a show-not-tell writing style you can catapult your readers into the story and help them appreciate the little slice of true life that you are sharing with them.

Here’s an example of a memoir that, while historically accurate, is rather dry:

In 1973, Terry got a job for the local newspaper. She did many jobs while there, such as typesetting, layout and design, and bundling (which is the bundling of flyers, ads, and other inserts with the paper). However, her favorite job was junior reporter.

Her first really major story involved the murder of a local schoolteacher. When the body was discovered, Terry was at the school to cover the latest protests.

Here is that same example, but written in a more story-like way:

1973 was a tumultuous year. It was the time of flower power, (Viet Nam) war protests, hippies dropping out, dropping in, and dropping acid, flag and bra burnings, and it was the year that Terry saw her first murder victim.

As a junior reporter for the local paper, she was at the school covering the latest protest when the screams ripped through the air.


Now, which memoir would you rather read?


3 Places That Can Help You Increase Your Book Sales

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“Don’t be your own roadblock to generating more sales.” That has become my new motto.

When I published my very first ebook—a dream dictionary called “On Dreams and Dream Symbols.” I couldn’t wait for the public to see it, so I put it out using KDP Select and CreateSpace (the biggest and most recognizable distributors, at least at that time). From another independent author, I heard of a distributor called, Smashwords, so I also put my book out through them, too.

However, the formatting and submitting process via Smashwords was such a dismal experience that once I finally got the book out there, I did little to follow through. I spent my time writing, editing, and getting subsequent books ready for publication. And when those books (“Escorting the Dead,” “More From the Masters,” “The Starstone,” and “The Globe of Souls”) were ready, I went right to Amazon and their simple-to-use formats and templates.

Now, several years later, I’ve taken a break to update some of my earlier books, including the dream dictionary and I was faced with a decision: What to do with the Smashwords version of the book? I could leave it as it was, but it would be out of sync with the Amazon version. I could update it and spend hours (or days) frustrated with their formatting demands; or I could just pull it from their site. To help decide, I did some research, and what I found shocked me.

The distribution through Smashwords accounted for 83% of the sales of that single book. I knew I was getting sales from places like Barnes and Noble, Overdrive, and Apple, but I hadn’t really paid much attention. I simply accepted the checks from Smashwords and continued with my writing. At least, until now. Now, I’m paying attention.

While Amazon is a big name and readily recognized as one of the top vendors, it isn’t the only vendor…and Kindle isn’t the only venue for viewing ebooks. By limiting myself to only Amazon with my other three books, I was creating my own roadblock to potential sales. In fact, there are several other sites that are worthy of your attention as an independent author and can help your books get the attention they deserve and need.

While Amazon is the largest name out there, and they do have relatively easy-to-use templates and formats, they do have a rather limited distribution. Smashwords distributes to a more varied audience (including users of Book Nook, Google Books, Baker and Taylor, Overdrive, Open Library, and iBooks)—and, incidentally, their formatting for fiction books has vastly improved and is probably as easy to use as the KDP for Kindle formats on Amazon. Also, like Amazon, Smashwords lets you offer samples of your books, which I have always found useful.

However, there are two other sites worth mentioning: Bookbaby and Booksmango, both of which do paperback and ebooks (Smashwords only does ebooks). All three of these other distributors cover channels outside of Amazon, and each of them have good and bad points.

  • Smashwords is only for ebooks, but they do have a broad range of channels and they let you create samples.
  • Bookbaby is for paperbacks and ebooks, but they charge extra for you to make changes to your already published books. (So, get it right the first time.)
  • Booksmango is for paperbacks and ebooks, but if creating a non-fiction book with tables, graphics, or charts, you need to turn those items into images.

I’m sure there are other sites out there, but these are the top three that I noted. Just make sure that you check out one or more of them for yourself. Don’t block your sales by limiting yourself to just Amazon. Remember my 83%, and just think how many more sales you could be making.