Fixing Failed Fiction

True confession: Yes, I still have far too much failed fiction – novels, novellas, short stories, and half-baked plots – on my hard drive.

And yes, I even published some of it, and instantly regretted it. The reviews were ugly, when anyone even bought one of those books.

It’s been embarrassing. Frustrating. The kind of thing that wakes me up at 3 AM, and I stare at the ceiling, convinced that my successful books were just flukes.

(Hey, at 3 in the morning, anything can seem like high drama, and I can awfulize with the best of them.)

So, yeah. I’m not sure I’m the queen Fix failed fictionof failed fiction, but I’d certainly rate highly on the runners-up list.

Then, last month, when Bonnie (Lynn) Johnston offered me an opportunity to beta test her new Manuscript Magic course, I dropped everything and rushed to try it.

I’ve always liked her advice, and own lots & lots of her reports & courses.

So… let me tell you about Manuscript Magic.

It’s not often I can give a course (or a book, or anything, really) an unqualified rave review, but that course deserves it.

Yes, it’s $197. If you have fiction ideas, plots, half-baked books, or published books that failed… the course is worth at least twice that.

(Seriously, I expected her to charge at least $350 – $400 for this course. It’s that comprehensive, original, and brilliant. No matter what is wrong with your story, she has at least two or three different ways to fix each area where it falters.)

It’s like a university course. The kind that would take at least a semester, and possibly a full year.

But, you get to work through it at your own pace. Lots of videos. Lots of PDFs. Lots of useful information.

So, if you’re at the point where you have books (or book ideas) and you’re not sure why you’re not finishing the book (or why it got snarky reviews), get this course.

In my opinion, it’s worth eating ramen or pb&j sandwiches for a month, if that’s the only way you can afford it.

I’m not kidding.

Take a look at the course.

And, if you want to see a free sample of one lesson, watch this. It’s a 9-minute explanation of what exposition is, and how to use it (and not use it).

In addition to that, I’ve stumbled onto a few other things that are kind of amazing… for me, anyway.

Horwitz kick-started my editing binge

I mentioned this before: Stuart Horwitz’s Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. (Go read my articlescroll down to “Editing Discoveries” – before buying that or his other book, Blueprint Your Best-Seller.)

His book still seems to be amazingly weird, but his advice was what I needed to hear.

I made some great progress, fixing things that were broken in my books. But then, I stalled. (This was before I took Bonnie’s course.)

Meshing character arcs and story arcs

One thing that continually slows my plotting is trying to mesh character arcs and story arcs. Even before taking Bonnie’s course (the one I talked about, above), I knew that something wasn’t clicking in my brain, in that area of plotting.

Then, Chris Fox posted a related video. It was a huge ah-HA! moment for me. Here it is:

(All of his YouTube videos are very good. I don’t always agree with him, but since his book income – and productivity – are light years ahead of mine, pay close attention to everything he says.)

Anyway, after watching that video, I scrambled to find (and print) Dan Harmon’s advice. You’ll find it here: Story Structure 101.

(That’s the first in a series of how-to articles in a multi-part series. And yes, his language can be NSFW. Combined with how Chris Fox explained this… well, I finally have a clear understanding of how stories can work.)

I strongly recommend it.

With this information, I can see a clear path to relaunching older, failed books, and getting stalled books back on track.

Relaunching = Revisiting categories & keywords

In other news… Dave Chesson’s KDP Rocket software has been updated with some very sweet bells & whistles.

See, I’m working my way through Chris Fox’s Write to Market (again), after getting into his Relaunch Your Novel book. I realized I needed to review his Write to Market research tips, to be sure I was current about book categories and keywords.

So, I turned on my copy of KDP Rocket and – initially – thought my favorite book genre as an absolute no-go. The competition numbers (confirmed with KDSpy) were insane.

That’s when Dave’s updates to KDP Rocket made a world of difference. I found three sub-sub-genres that would work for my books. I can compete for those keywords, and in those sub-categories.

And, since I’m rewriting those books anyway, tweaking them to become exact matches for those sub-sub-genres… well, I can’t quite say “easy-peasy.” However, between Bonnie’s course and Dan Harmon’s plot circles, this actually looks like fun.

(If you know how much I hate rewriting anything, you’ll understand: that’s major.)

So, those are my best, most current tips for fixing failed fiction. I hope they’re helpful.

If you have any questions or suggestions, I hope you’ll leave a comment. I’m always interested in your thoughts on these topics.

Writing, Competition, and Libraries

The subject of competition comes up regularly when I talk with new authors.

Competition is real.  You will need to get your book in front of potential readers.  The better your placement at sites like Amazon, the more books you may sell.

Many people recommend finding niches where you have no competition.  And, of course, that can work… if there’s any demand in that niche.

Is that your favorite way to choose a book topic?  Here’s a reminder:  People search at Google for free information. Just because lots of people are searching for your topic at Google, doesn’t mean lots of people will buy your book on the same topic.

People search at Amazon (and at eBay) because they’re ready to pay for information.  Enter your keywords in Amazon’s search to see what they suggest for additional words.  Keep checking results (or use software to do this) to see which search phrases are popular but have little competition.

However, never over-estimate your competition.

One of my most recent successes with viral nonfiction books delivered four-figure profits — in one month — from each of two books in one narrow niche.

  • I entered that niche with no name recognition in that field.
  • My main competitor was a very popular, highly authoritative book that’s over 400 pages long.
  • That book has over a hundred rave reviews at
  • It has a related forum that’s massively popular.
  • I had, at the very most, a week or two to research my book, write it, and publish it.

library-shelvesMost people would look at that and flinch.  They’d think, “Whoa. I can’t possibly compete in that niche.”

My books did well, anyway.  Really well, in fact.

So, another successful approach to niche selection may be inspired by Willie Sutton’s reply when asked why he robbed banks:  “… that’s where the money is.”

To keep competition in perspective, visit your local pubic library.  Remember, their budgets are usually based on how many people borrowed books during the previous year.

Libraries buy and keep books to appeal to the widest spectrum of readers. They own enough books in each popular niche, so the average library patron keeps returning to check out more books.

It’s not as if the library looks at a new book in a niche and says, “Umm… no. We already own the ultimate book on that topic.”

If you’re writing for a niche audience — whether that’s fiction or nonfiction — your readers look at books the same way.  Sure, they may already own the ultimate book.  They’ll still buy your book, if it clearly offers something different.  It could be a newer book.  It might offer something different than the ultimate book.   It might be funnier, more poignant, more insightful, or just better written than the best-known book in that niche.

Libraries represent the shopping habits of many book buyers.  They’ll keep buying more books in their favorite niches, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

Write what you understand.  Write what interests you.  Write what you’re passionate about.

That’s what readers are looking for.

Competition is real, but it’s not a stop sign.