Category Archives: Blogging

I am closing down this blog…

No, I haven’t abandoned you, my dear readers! I continue to publish posts on my other blog site here:

http://claudenougat.blogspot.it/

For a while, I experimented with publishing on this blog site here, using it as a “mirror” blog for those who don’t like Google and don’t wish to post comments there. But, as I am working hard on my new book about the United Nations, I have less and less time to duplicate posts. So please forgive me, you’ll find my new posts (I publish once a week) on my Blogspot address, and if you don’t like to leave comments there, you can contact me directly on my email or on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll be happy to read you and answer!

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A Writer’s Life: Can Blogging Help You Sell Your Books?

Conventional wisdom has it that blogging helps to sell books, and the more successful your blog, the more books you will sell.


Not so.

Yet, marketing gurus and hugely successful bloggers like Adrienne Smith maintain that with blogging you can “make a living” (see here).

Perhaps you can if you sell something else than books.

And here is why (in my humble opinion). There are two factors at work: (1) market saturation and (2) TV competition for your free time.

No question, of late, the ebook market has become saturated. If you have an e-reader, I bet it’s full of books you haven’t read, books you uploaded when they went free. 

Over the past three years, there has been a frenzy of giveaways to “gain new readers”, and I confess that I joined the crowd and made my books free several times, with decreasing success each time. Gone are the days of 10,000 downloads (at least for me)! Of course, now 99 cents (the launch price of an ebook) is the “new free” – I plead guilty, I’ve done it too, all the first book of my series are priced like that. 

The end result is the same: way too many books around.

Because the truth is, you’re never going to read all those books you’ve stored up in your Kindle (or elsewhere). 

Another major reason is that people don’t feel like reading novels the way they used to

Don’t get me wrong, the desire to be entertained is as strong as ever – who doesn’t like to unwind at the end of a hard day’s work in front of the TV with a drink in hand? So TV series like House of Cards or Game of Thrones replace long evenings of reading novels.

People read fiction only when there’s a blockbuster around, 50 Shades of Grey and the like. 

Otherwise people prefer to read non-fiction (if they read at all). This is why Thomas Piketty‘s book, Capital in the 21st Century, is immensely successful, in spite of forbidding reams of statistics and a title reminiscent of Karl Marx. 

Ditto for the worldwide success achieved by Karl Ove Knausgaard, an unknown Norwegian writer. His novel,  bizarrely called My Struggle which translates to “Mein Kampf” in German, reminiscent of Hitler’s famous book, is less a novel than a huge memoir thousands of pages-long that traces his “growing up”, his “struggle” to understand the world around him. Book 1 starts off with a witty observation: people love to watch death on TV – war reports from the Middle East, volcanic eruptions, fires,  floods etc  – but turn their eyes away whenever someone dies around them. The corpse is immediately covered with a blanket and whisked away in an ambulance, bodies are stacked in cold storage rooms etc Why, he asks, are we afraid to see a corpse in reality when we spend our time doing so on TV? Good question.

In general, books that express a personal point of view are big successes – much more so than novels that are often seen as fantasy and therefore a “waste of time”. How else do you explain the global success of Eat, Pray and Love, the story of a woman wounded by love who goes in search of herself across the world, from Italy to Indonesia? Elizabeth Gilbert has since written other novels, like, for example, “The Signature of All Things“, that in spite of its intriguing title and subject matter, hasn’t met with the same success – probably because it didn’t give off the same whiff of personal intimacy.

And herein lies the cause of the success of such memoir-like books: they don’t read like fiction, they are one man or one woman’s exploration of their own lives. Mind you, these are people who haven’t done anything remarkable; they have just lived their lives as someone’s child, lover, parent.  

In short they are like you and me and that’s why people are curious. Such books are “literary selfies“.

So if your fondest hope is to be the author of a break-through novel, write a “selfie”…and don’t bother with blogging!

I’ll tell you a secret. Contrary to what you might think, I’m not blogging in order to sell you my books (if you’re curious, you can see them displayed in the sidebars, if not, just ignore them). I only blog because I enjoy it, I simply like to share my ideas with you and hear what you think.

So tell me, how about you, why do you blog? Have you seen a connection between your book sales and your blog traffic?

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Author Bob Rector’s Interview of C.N.

Reblogged from author Bob Rector’s blog, see here. He’s just launching a round of interviews of authors – so keep an eye open on his blog, more interesting interviews are sure to come!

I’m very honored to have drawn his interest. He is a remarkably talented writer himself, the author of Letters from the Front, a show that became known as the World’s Most Decorated Play and that entertained America’s troops around the world for fifteen years. Most recently, he has released a smashing novel of romance and suspense, Unthinkable Consequences (see here) that is climbing the Amazon ranks at a fast pace and has already garnered 19 reviews, all of them 5 stars and well-deserved too!

For more about Bob Rector, click here. And here’s the interview, with lots of arresting questions:

April 6, 2014

MY INTERVIEW WITH MULTI-TALENTED CLAUDE NOUGAT

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you the very talented author/artist Claude Nougat. Not only is she a gifted storyteller, she also provided invaluable editing advice to me while I was in final preparation of my manuscript for Unthinkable Consequences.

Claude you are an accomplished author with several books in release, but before we start discussing your word-craft, tell us a little about your background.
I guess you could say I’m a world citizen, I really don’t have roots anywhere. Born in Belgium, raised in Sweden, Egypt, Russia, France, Colombia and finally reaching the US when I was 17 – picking up on the way many languages and forgetting them in turn. What’s left is French, Italian, Spanish and of course English that I learned attending classes at the American Embassy in Moscow. My formative years as an intellectual took place in America, at Columbia U. I graduated in economics not because I particularly liked the subject but because my father felt that studying anything else would be a “waste of time” (what I really wanted to study was paleontology, I love old bones…) Once out of school, I travelled the world over for the United Nations, giving management advice to aid projects in difficulty, a fantastic job. It put me in touch with so many different people – a very enriching and full experience that lasted 25 years till I retired in 2003.

I happen to know that you are also a very talented painter. Do you find that it compliments your skills as a writer? If so, how?
Painting and writing seem to call on diametrically opposed segments of the brain: the mode of concentration is totally different – painting is more intuitive, it sort of “happens” on the blank canvas. You could argue that a book also happens on a blank page, but it is a long haul, not like a painting that can be done in a few hours. A book can take years in the making – my first one (now out as “Luna Rising”, a Sicilian family saga) took 30 years in the making, from the first moment I thought of it (when I walked into a dusty men’s club in Sicily full of old men playing backgammon – they all looked like ghosts) to its most recent incarnation (now out in a brand new edition). A painting only takes a few days, in that sense, a painting is more like a short story or a poem…

Two of your works that I truly enjoyed are Crimson Clouds and Forever Young. Give us a brief description of each.

So happy you enjoyed them! “Crimson Clouds” is about the anxieties of restarting one’s life after retirement. Robert, the protagonist, in his early 60’s, a brilliant manager, he’s still young and attractive and has a lovely and much younger wife who’s carved out her own success as a dealer of contemporary art. But when he decides to renew with a childhood dream of being an artist and produces paintings that are dreadfully academic (a little like my own!), his wife is horrified. They fight over art but what is at stake is their marriage and they separate. He goes to Italy, has some love affairs but his wife wants to save their marriage and comes back to him…

“Forever Young” is set 200 years from now, when the Earth is dying and only the ultra rich, who can afford the costly and exclusive Age Prevention Program (APP), enjoy a perfect life in their gated communities, looking young till the day they drop dead. The book has three major characters, forming a love triangle: Jamie, a young investigative journalist from the World and US Post (the New York Times and Huffington Post rolled into one), his partner Lizzie, a professional golf player (she’s a descendent of the mythical Tiger Woods), and Alice, a beautiful Swiss nurse and an outsider: she yearns to join the APP and is in love with Jamie. There are two options to survive the extinction of life on Earth, both opened only to APP members: fly to another pristine planet similar to Earth or take refuge in Antarctica, the last virgin continent, and wait for the end to come, getting ready to re-settle the Earth afterwards. What will our threesome do?

Why do you write?
Tough question. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write!

What appeals to you most about crafting a story?
The suspense. Digging into another person’s head. Figuring what happens next. If I know ahead what’s going to happen in my story, I don’t feel like writing it at all. I’m my own first reader!

What writers have inspired or influenced you most and why?
All the classics, especially the Russians – I consider Gorki’s Dead Souls an absolute masterpiece, it’s got everything I love, the characters, the social comments, the way a light is thrown on society – much more effective than any sociological critical essay. The same can be said of Bulgakov’s The Master and Marguerite: literally insane fantasy and the most effective and devastating comment ever made about Communism and men’s tendency to fall into dictatorship. But I also like the French, Voltaire’s Candide and Camus’ novels for the same reason I like Gorki. Also the English, in particular the sci-fi masters, Aldous Huxley and Orwell though this is an area where there are lots of remarkable American writers too, from Frederik Pohl to Philip K. Dick and most recently, Hugh Howey. Actually, there are lots of amazing writers alive today from Penelope Lively to William Boyd, David Lodge, Louis Begley, Deborah Moggach, Tracy Chevalier, Siri Hustvedt…

If your writing was music, what would it sound like?
Good God, I have no idea! I guess, cool jazz…

What comes first for you, plot or character, and why?
Character, no question about it. The plot comes next, it develops out of a character’s strengths and weaknesses, yearnings and fears. The setting is often what challenges the characters and pushes them to their (internal) extremes but the challenges also come from relationships between characters.

Tell us a little about how you formulate your plots.
I don’t formulate them at all. I have a general idea and jump in. As I write, it all unfolds in front of my eyes like a film.

Talk a little about themes. At what point in your writing process do you address them?
Never. I don’t believe in writing with a theory in mind that you want to develop. The themes come naturally as a side-effect of the plot and characters. Forever Young really deals with major issues threatening life on earth but I hope that doesn’t show. The intention is to entertain, not teach or preach.

Tell us a little about how you create your characters.
Observation. People around me are warned! But most of all, I draw characters from my own inner self. Whatever looks logical for the character, given who he/she is, gets written down. The characters dictate the creation, not the other way around. I’m sure you know what I mean, because I can see that’s how you create your characters too.

Which characters have you created that are most vivid to you, or continue to reside in your heart?
The young man in Luna Rising, he is stuck in his life, he hates it and he’s trying to get out of it. Obstacles on his way, coming from the ghosts in his family, are so numerous that he is forced to become a hero or…die! Contrary to a lot of my readers who disliked Kay, the wife in Crimson Clouds, I actually love her. That’s why I rewrote Crimson Clouds (now the second edition of what was originally called A Hook in the Sky). I wanted to make it clear that for her, winning back her husband is a huge undertaking and he’s constantly cutting her down. So I added whole sections to the book giving her side of the story. And I also love Alice in Forever Young: she’s the outsider who should be in, but is constantly left out. But that doesn’t discourage her, she’s a brave, determined woman – at any rate, that’s how I think of her and painted her (at your behest!) and I’m thinking of using that portrait as a book cover…

ALICE
Portrait of Alice at dawn – oil on canvas by Claude (2014)

You definitely should! Talk to us a little about writing good dialogue.
Bob, I think that’s where you’re the master! In any case, I follow your system: see the people talk, hear them talk (go in a trance if necessary!), take time to speak the dialogue out loud, and you’ll hear it when it’s too long or repetitive or useless. Then, there’s only one solution for it: cut, cut, cut!

I agree. For every line of dialogue that makes it on the page, I probably toss a dozen more. Do you have personal, social, or political convictions that worm their way into your writing? If so, give an example.
I suppose I do though I try very hard to not let them “worm” their way in. Yes, because they can be truly worms that punch holes in the plot. I am convinced that much of contemporary art is not good and I guess that worked its way into Crimson Clouds (mainly in the form of fights between Robert and the women in his life who are all contemporary art fans). Likewise, I’m convinced that income inequality is a major evil of our time and it’s become one of the premises of the brave new world you find in Forever Young.

What do you find most difficult about the craft of storytelling?
Avoid repetition. Not talk down to the reader. Realize that they’re bright and don’t need to be either lectured to or have to be told anything twice. So again, I cut!

Amen! Talk to us about your greatest “Ah-ha!” moment when you read over a passage or chapter and said, “Wow, that’s really good!”
Are you speaking of my own work? I don’t have such moments, ever, when it comes to my own writing! Other people’s writing, yes. Right now I’m into Siri Hustvedt The Blazing World and there are a fantastic succession of such awe-inspiring moments! Just to quote one (out of a dozen or more) when she describes the protagonist’s father: “Harriet’s father was physically awkward, prone to self-conscious pats of his daughter’s arm or quick, hard hugs that were more like speeding collisions than expressions of affection…He liked to expound to us on philosophy…He believed in tolerance and academic freedom…But it is not what is said that makes us who we are. More often it is what remains unspoken.” That last sentence is fantastic!

Many writers create different working environments or conditions that help them focus on the job at hand. Tell us about yours.
Nope, sorry to disappoint. No special environment. I work wherever and whenever I can, in between womanly tasks like cooking or making beds. I leave the gardening to my husband!

We’re in agreement, although I don’t make beds. Don’t see the point. What frustrates you most about being a writer?
The marketing. I hate book promotion but it’s a necessity – especially in today’s environment, with millions of books available on Amazon with just a computer click.

Yes, I think most writers would agree with you on this. Do you think male and female writers approach storytelling differently? If so, how?
I never thought it was a gender thing. For me, it’s not and I don’t believe there’s any gender determined difference. Character-wise, sure. I should think we’re all different in the way we approach work, whether it’s writing, painting, music or economic analysis.

If a young person just starting their working life said to you they wanted to be a writer, knowing what you know now, what would you say to them?
Hey, that’s a tricky question! I don’t think of myself as a guru… On the basis of my own experience, I would say, be ready for the long haul, chances are that your first book won’t make a ripple. So don’t get bitter about it, it happens to all of us. Be ready to befriend your competition. Actually, a lot of writers see other writers as rivals and that’s totally wrong. Writers are terribly different from one another, there’s space for everybody, and we can help each other!

Great advice, Claude. As always, I enjoy your stimulating views on writing. Thank you for participating.

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Readers vs. Watchers: The Digital Revolution is Not Over

Lately a huge controversy has developed around the theme “Indies are Beating Traditional Publishers”, and one publishing guru, Mark Coker,  the father of Smashwords, has loudly predicted that self-published authors will outrun traditional publishers by 2020, see here. Indie authors, carried forward by the digital revolution that has lowered production costs and leveled the field, are in a feisty revolt led by Hugh Howey; find all the rebels on his Author Earnings website here.

This race between indies and publishers, no matter how exciting, obscures something much bigger: the sea change that is investing the entertainment industry as readers lose out to watchers.

We’re into a brave new digital world where the written word is losing out to the image.

Evidence of this vast change is still anecdotal, but putting all of it together, it adds up.

Take ebook sales. After years of exuberant growth, ebook sales started to flatten out in 2013. I’ve blogged about this before (see here). At first, I thought it was nothing to worry about: a physiological slowdown that indicated the market had reached maturity, that it was better balanced between printed and digital books (good news for the publishing industry!). But now I’m convinced the situation is actually much more serious than that.

It’s the book market’s very survival that is threatened.

Why? Look at what’s happening to the entertainment industry and more generally to our cultural life. Particularly noteworthy:

  • people are about evenly divided between readers and watchers: those were the results of a recent survey carried out in the UK and reported by the BBC (see here) and it’s obvious that the divide is very likely to be the same in the US or any other Western country;
  • the performance of the tv and videogame industry suggests that more and more people watch films and play videogames and less and less people read books.

The videogame industry is huge and has become as big as Hollywood. It is projected to grow from $67 billion in 2013 to $82 billion in 2017, a change happening largely at the expense of the movie and music industries (see this interesting article here explaining why this is happening).

TV is no longer an ‘idiot box’. The ponderous New York Times itself in a recent article signed David Carr (see here) came out with that arresting statement. Look at what David Carr has to say about TV’s “New Golden Age”, here’s a screen shot of a high point in the article:

What a feast indeed! There’s no doubt that TV series, like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones etc are entertaining and well worth watching.

What is worrisome is that more and more intellectuals who were once upon a time big readers now binge on TV series. I know I have – I recently enjoyed for several weeks the Danish political TV series called “Borgen” centered on a fascinating female politician. My consolation is that it is considered “the hottest show in Europe” (see here). And here’s the trailer, you can get it no matter where you live:

In our brave new digital world, the image is displacing the written word, it’s as simple as that.

The ebook has proved to be a neat way to make the written word more accessible to people – on your mobile devices the written word can now follow you anywhere, in the waiting room at the dentist’s, on the plane, in the bathroom, in your bed.  

But the written word has to fight against films and music and videogames, a tough fight!

As to the suggestion that Smashwords is a big success and therefore we shouldn’t have to worry (see article below), there’s no secret: the number of writers who decide to self-publish is increasing exponentially and Smashwords is the platform of choice for them – user-friendly and able to upload  ebooks everywhere, from Apple‘s ibook store to Kobo to Barnes and Noble (though you still have to upload yourself on Amazon’s KDP).

But please note: Smashwords’ success does not translate into increased sales for ebooks worldwide. The two aren’t related.

Don’t get me wrong. The flattening of ebook sales is not for tomorrow morning, there are still big markets to conquer, in particular India, the country that reads the most in the world, see the reading data here.

I’m talking about a long-term trend, that is affecting the written word in all its forms, including blogging. It is now well known that blogs based on the written word alone have much less traffic than those lavishly using videos and photos (see tips #9 and #25 in this comprehensive how-to article for bloggers, click here).

Images win out every time!

The handwriting is on the (digital) wall. This is the end of an era that opened with Cervantes’ Don Quixotte in 1605, the first great novel of modern times, and was propelled by Shakespeare, Molière, Voltaire, Dickens, Goethe, Tolstoy, Tolkien and so many fabulous writers over the next four centuries.

How this new video trend can ever be reversed, I have no idea.

Any suggestions?

Personally, I do see a silver lining: writers will always have a lot of work on their hands, even in this new image-obsessed world: because the images must tell a story, and writers are the story-tellers par excellence

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A Writer’s Quandary: To Blog in a Niche or Not to Blog?

Like every writer who starts out, I was told I should have an Internet presence, an easily recognizable brand. That’s why I started this blog back in 2009 as a way to brand myself. I also got on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and scores of other sites.

On day one, I had one reader visit my blog: my husband. On day two, my kids joined in, I had three readers. Today, 419 posts later, I am nearing the 400 mark of daily visits and 10,000 visits per month. Lately I started a mirror blog on WordPress with the same posts because I have followers over there who hadn’t realized that my main blog is here. For some obscure reason, the Word Press and Blogger universes are separate.
If I look at my Google stats, I’m read everywhere, from Canada to China, though most of my traffic comes from the States. My bounce rate is very low, time spent on the site is fairly high (5 to 6 minutes) and some 20 percent of my visitors return. Inexplicably, traffic fluctuates wildly, the Alexa ranking can go as high as 2000k and as low 200 k. Still, not too bad, considering a total of more than 150 million blogs worldwide. That mind-boggling number comes from WP magazine, see here, with an estimated 170,000 new blogs added everyday! 

A tsunami of blogs. Such numbers make one wonder whether there aren’t too many blogs around…

So was it worth the effort? Because, don’t kid yourself, to maintain a blog is a BIG effort. Some people have real short posts and can do it everyday.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. I always have tons of things to say about everything and then, there’s a bigger problem: like a lot of writers, I don’t fit into a mold. Yet, to succeed, you need to do niche blogging. And Google’s newly launched “semantic search” system (I posted about it, see here) works best if you blog in a niche and turn yourself into an “expert” with a resulting “author page” that stands out.

If you don’t blog in a niche, the danger is that Google bypasses you, your blog doesn’t turn up in searches and you get forgotten in your corner.

That worries me.

It means that if you want to stand out, Google forces you to stay in your niche. Thinking “out of the box” is not allowed! That’s tough for writers (like me) who are broadly interested in the human condition. Posting about all sorts of different subjects weakens your status as an expert: for Google, you can’t be an expert in a vast array of things.  

Because Google’s algorithms confuse expertise with critical thinking. The two are not the same. You can be an expert in your domain and a very poor critical thinker. The ability for critical thinking depends more on how you appraise a situation than on how much you know about it.

Go tell Google computers!

Looking at my blog as a whole, the experience has been positive: my readership has grown steadily overtime and lately I’m getting more and more comments. That’s a real satisfaction and I’m thankful to those of you who have taken the time to comment. But I worry. Have I done something wrong? Like any writer, I aspire to get my fiction read by the greatest number. Does that mean I should do like my fellow writers, discuss books and writing problems etc?

The trouble is I don’t often feel like “talking shop”. My interests are varied and to talk shop, there are plenty of wonderful writers’ and readers’ communities like Goodreads, Shelfari, TheNextBigWriter, ReadWave, Authonomy etc and I’ve joined them all, at one point or another.

It all boils down to one question: who should the blog be for? I believe it’s a two-way street. A blogger needs an audience. You always write for somebody, to either convince or entertain that person or both. You need to ask yourself what kind of audience inspires you and stimulates you – and write for that audience. Because if you’re not stimulated, you can’t write. At least, that’s the way it is for me. If my blog is not exclusively aimed at other writers  that’s because I just can’t limit myself to other writers. When I blog, I have in mind  all sorts of people and their problems and not just writers and writing. Sure, writers interest me too. The upheavals caused by the digital revolution make publishing a particularly fascinating subject and I want to know as much as I can about it and share that knowledge. But for me, the world doesn’t end there.

Am I wrong? I guess only time will tell…when my blog hits the 10,000 visits a day mark!

I have a question for you and I’d be grateful if you could drop a word in the comments below. Am I right to go out in all directions or should I focus on a niche and write only about books, the publishing industry, writing techniques? Do you enjoy reading my posts that are never twice about the same subject or would you prefer to visit my blog knowing exactly what you are going to find? As a writer, are you also tempted to blog beyond any given “niche”? After all, writers are observers of the “human condition”, and that means their interests cannot be contained in a “niche”…

Photo credit: Visit Carol Manser’s post “How to Choose a Good Niche Blog Topic”, on My Second Million blog, click here.

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