The Transformative Power of Story

The transformative power of story, an essay by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi.During the year marking the end of a lonely childhood and the start of an awkward adolescence, I fell in love with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Chancing upon the novel provided the first confrontation with a character so familiar, the story seemed to reveal my deepest hopes and desires. It mattered little if fictional Jo March lived during the tumultuous years of the mid-1800s when war threatened to tear the U.S. apart, a world unfamiliar to a girl coming of age in the drug-infused, blue jean clad 1970s. Jo March was a second-oldest daughter, a rebel and a writer. Just like me.

Several years after my love affair with Little Women, I found myself dozing in a 10th grade English class alongside a brood of other disinterested teenagers. Mrs. Steiglitz droned on about the new assignment; outside the bank of windows, spring sunlight mocked the fidgety students trapped in the classroom’s shadows. From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Mrs. Steiglitz opening a weighty tome. The book wore a cover so rich a gold it seemed the providence of kings.

Flipping to a page, she read:

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

The phrase’s unfamiliar syntax and striking message dragged me into a proper sitting position. My attention centered on the gold clad book cradled in my teacher’s palms. A disconcerting awareness followed. Not one other student in the somnolent class was similarly mesmerized.

During the following week’s reading of Hamlet the sad majority of students sat bored and unmoved. They were rude travelers ushered into a foreign bazaar whose every peacock color went unappreciated. Shakespeare’s achingly beautiful poetry issued from their mouths in a stilted mess until Mrs. Steiglitz, in a fit of frustration, dispensed with democracy and gave me the honor of reading the second half of the play. Grappling with words heaven-sent, I crossed the border from dull childhood into the divine.

To the willing initiate, story possesses transformative power. To read is to live. Yet for reasons as murky as they are depressing, many human souls never catch the knack.

Ask a bibliophile for a list of her favorite pursuits and reading may sit above travel or parenting or even the joys of romance. She knows she’s a member a secret society. Turning the page unlocks a door that leads into a lion’s den where her life is in danger. Turn the page and she finds herself on a frigate tossed by raging seas, or in ancient Egypt bowing low before a merciless Pharaoh. She dons a gown of Elizabethan England or steps into Jimmy Choo red heels and takes New York by storm.

On the journey inside a book, she becomes an adventurer or a princess or a modern day protagonist grappling against impossible odds. Some days she sheds her human self completely and stalks with a panther’s grace or soars on an eagle’s wings. She draws back the curtain of the ordinary world and slips into a place of extraordinary possibility.

In short, she becomes someone else. In doing so, she enriches the person she already is.

Photo © Dreamstime

New Author? Simple Steps to Success

Tips for new authors by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi.Recently I enjoyed a delightful conversation with a debut novelist that reminded me of the steps required to succeed in publishing.

If you’re new to the process, take a deep breath. Believe me, many writers publish a first book without a clear understanding of the tasks undertaken to reach visibility. I was among them. A traditional deal didn’t materialize, my critique partners suggested I publish Treasure Me independently, and I was off to the races.

If you’ve done your homework (and I hope you have) the bulk of your time pre-publication was spent learning to tell a story in a compelling fashion and familiarizing yourself with reader expectations for the genre in which you write. And it goes without saying great cover art is a must.

Now you’ve set your story on the world stage. Here are a few tips:

Forget Free. If you have nothing else to sell, what’s the point? Free books on Amazon or other sites rarely offer a quick avenue to reviews. Too many books are now given away, and eReaders are chock full. Sadly, many readers equate freebies with low quality unless you’ve built a backlist with impressive review scores.

One Reader Then Another. Here’s the exception to the rule, above. Every writing career begins with a small group of avid fans. I know a New York Times bestselling author with a mailing list of thousands and 800 core fans. The minute she sends out a mailer announcing a new release, she’s assured hundreds of immediate downloads or paperback purchases. Needless to say, her core readership (not to mention her mailing list in total) continues to grow.

How to begin building a fan base? Join a book club in your area and, in person, offer your book for free in trade for an honest review. Contact other regional clubs, and make the same offer. On Goodreads, take the time to become friends with a handful of readers in your genre, send direct message, and ask if they’ll review.

A freebie on Amazon may result in thousands of downloads then radio silence. Cultivating 50 true relationships may result in 48 reviews—and readers interested in joining your mailing list for news on future releases and promotions. Trust me, it is that simple.

If you’d like pointers on a serious review push, read Reviews Sell Books.

Write Fast—And Well. Have you begun work on your second novel? Please do. Bibliophiles don’t wish to fall in love with a single work. They want to discover a new author with a healthy backlist they can spend months savoring. As you pick up fans for your debut, dazzle them with sneak peeks of book two on your blog or through email.

One, Two, Three—Begin! Once you’ve published your third novel, the real fun begins. If your books are page-turners, offering your debut at a steep discount (or free) will spur sales of your newer releases. Periodically I offer backlist titles for 99-cents, and enjoy weeks of additional purchases rippling through my other works. This is how working novelists pay the bills.

By the way, take care not to discount a new release too quickly. Consider waiting a minimum of four months. If your core readers purchased at full-price, how will they feel if the work is on discount a few weeks after publication? Cheated, no doubt—and when you publish the following book, they might refrain from buying. You will have taught them to hold out for a lower price.

Use Free Creatively. You’ll find oodles of blog posts on the necessity of free books but, frankly, I don’t agree with the strategy. A well-written and beautifully plotted novel takes months of work. Why give it away? Write a short story and offer it free. Or write several. Connect with other authors in your genre and publish an anthology free or at a discount. I continue to gain new fans whenever readers stumble across Her Books Presents: Book Club Picks, Cooking With Our Characters and Lost Love Letters: An Indie Chicks Anthology.

Photo © Dreamstime

Books and the Bride

Publishing and personal news by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi.

Despite the advice you’ll find in the Help for Writers section of my website on the necessity of blogging, as of late I’ve ignored my oft-repeated injunction. In July, the first of my four children will marry. Preparing for the nuptials is a … [Continue reading]

One Father

An essay on the Big Brother program by award-winning novelist Christine Nolfi.

On Sunday Jameson trudged through the door with Q, a bashful 9-year-old boy from a disadvantaged home in North Charleston. Q has four siblings with a 5th on the way, a mother just a few years older than my son and a father in prison. My son is new … [Continue reading]

Available January 22

The Impossible Wish, the January 2014 release by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi.

Look for the third book in the Liberty Series The Impossible Wish on January 22nd. … [Continue reading]

Happily Ever After? You Bet

The best New Year's resolution, an essay by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi.

Why dodge the truth? I write uplifting novels because I’m a sucker for happy endings. I know, I know—you’re convinced the modern world is drowning in a deluge of bad news and man’s enmity for man. Perhaps you feel doubly disheartened because the … [Continue reading]

Dive Deep

The joy of reading, an essay by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi

To my way of thinking, most people are emotionally land-locked. They seem happy enough, the busy bees and the slackers, the viciously ambitious and the sadly confused. Your employer sits on this continent with her irritating habit of texting her … [Continue reading]

Tips for Writing Great Stories Faster

Write great stories faster, an essay by award-winning novelist Christine Nolfi.

How do career novelists produce one page-turner after another? No one earns a living as a novelist (or a journalist, for that matter) without learning a few tricks to keep the words flowing. I’ve never experienced writer’s block, probably because … [Continue reading]

Wish Sneak Peek

The Impossible Wish, the January 2014 release by bestselling novelist Christine Nolfi.

I'm having far too much fun completing The Impossible Wish, my January release. A sneak peek of a conversation between two of my favorite characters, Theodora and Ethel Lynn: Ancient Theodora Hendricks deposited her buckskin satchel on The Second … [Continue reading]

Second Chance Grill Weekend Sale

second chance grill

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