Thursday, September 18, 2014

Modern Marketing for the Indy Writer Part II

Part One: Evaluate, Strategize, Execute, Re-evaluate.


Part II
Sales Targets & Solid Foundations


In Part One of this series, my short-term goal was simple: I wanted you to take a serious look at your current marketing efforts and truly evaluate how your book, your cover, your website everything you're doing stacks up to the competition.

But my longterm goal for this series remains the same: I want to change your mindset. I want you to walk away from this knowing that you can and should be selling more books.

But how many? How many books should you be selling? 

That's what we're going to look at today.

What are your goals? Do you have goals? How many books do you realistically expect to sell? What is the book-moving capacity for your chosen target market? These are the the very same questions I've asked every marketing client I've ever worked for, and these are the questions you should be asking yourself—and they're definitely questions your publisher should have very specific answers for (more on publishers at a later date). 

Don't worry about answering yet. Just think on it for a moment. First let me map out why it's so important we address these questions, and why I think you need a sales target.


Setting Sales Targets

The biggest mistake I see so many indy-artists make is that they don't set sales targets when they publish. They either don't have a specific target in mind, or if they do, they've set their sights way, way too low. Yes, low. Setting an achievable and realistic sales target is the first step you need to take to build a solid foundation for your marketing platform.

So why are goals so important?

A sales target is the foundation of any business plan, and yes, publishing and writing is a business.

First, we can't plan a marketing strategy unless we know exactly what we want to achieve. For instance, selling 100,000 units will require a vastly different strategy (and resources) than selling 10,000 units. Second, if you don't set a goal for yourself then it's absolutely impossible to gauge the success or failure of your (or your publisher's) marketing efforts.

If you've ever worked in sales (selling cars, clothes, real-estate, whatever), then you know that every sales person is given a quota. This is done for two reasons: one, it's a great kick-in-the-ass motivator, and two, it's the only way to gauge how well that sales person is doing. Are they exceeding their quotas or falling behind? Should they get a bonus or get fired?

Publishing our books should be no different. We need to know if our marketing efforts are working and helping us reach our projected sales targets?


So how many books can we expect to sell? What should our goal be?

Sales goals aren't about what you want to sell. It's not about wishful thinking. It's about what you should expect to sell (assuming you've researched your market, worked your butt off and done all your homework). I'd love to sell a million books, but I know that's not realistic as a goal—not right now, and not for a while.

So what is a realistic number? Fifty books a month? Five Hundred? How about five thousand?

The answer depends on what market your targeting, and the only way to answer this question is to thoroughly research your target market. We must know what the potential for our market is. We must have a firm grasp of what kind of sales other independent authors are doing in our chosen market of SFR.


Market Research

Before I published, before I wrote my first chapter, I spent months studying what the best-selling indy-authors were doing (in my very specific target-market of science-fiction adventure featuring ass-kicking cyber-women in a dystopian corporate-run future). I looked at how many books they were selling (you can find all sorts of sales data online), who was publishing them, who was editing them, who designed their covers, how often they released titles and what efforts they took to market themselves.

If you haven't already done this, then this should be your very first marketing research assignment. And it's important that you focus on what the best-selling indie-published authors are up to. Don't bother comparing yourself to the trads. Traditionally-published* authors are working with the kind of marketing-muscle we don't have, and their strategy will be very different from what we're capable of.

*SIDE NOTE: By 'traditionally-published' I mean published by one of the big, well-established publishing houses—the kind of house that's willing to unleash an entire marketing team behind your book series, the kind that's going to get you in magazines, on all the big web sites, on TV, youtube, and put you on extensive book tours. So, for the sake of this series, I'll be counting all the small ePress publishers as independents.

While doing your market research it's doubly important that you (again!) be brutally honest about how your book stacks up to the competition, both in terms of the writing and presentation (covers, book pages, websites, etc.). Take some time and read some of these books, too. Find out how your book compares, how it looks, how it reads. Examine how their marketing efforts differ from yours. Chances are you'll end up with some great ideas.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. But this kind of market research will reap huge rewards. I promise.

Once you start spending some time online getting to know the books and authors you’ll be in competition with you'll also start to develop a more complete picture of how Amazon works, and how to manipulate Amazon it in your favor. I know when I did this a huge dime dropped for me. I knew then that there was a huge potential to sell a lot of books. And I was right.


Numbers! Numbers! How many, already!

After doing my research I came to the determination that it was possible for me to sell 10,000 books. That number became my goal. I gave myself three years to hit that mark. And because of that research I thought that number was doable, even conservative, though I had no idea if I'd actually achieve it.

Again, this estimation was calculated based on what I saw other indy writers selling, how many titles they had vs. the single book title I was releasing at the time, how many units they sold per month, how I thought my book stacked up against theirs, in terms of quality of writing (story, characters, narrative, etc.), and of course the look of the book (packaging and branding).

Whether or not I would hit this number didn't matter, though I'm extremely happy to say that I did. And it took a lot less time then I thought. But what really mattered was that I had a realistic target in my sights. It was realistic because I'd done my research. I knew what kind of sales were possible. I had a firm goal in mind and I was determined to reach it—and because of that research I had a pretty good idea as to how to go about it.

Best of all, doing this research got me excited enough to actually sit down and finally write my first novel. Something I'd wanted to do for decades. It was the exact motivation I needed.

Depending on your perspective, selling 10,000 books either sounds like a lot or a little. For me, it was a mix of both. I’ve been around the block enough to know that 10,000 books is a drop in the bucket in the publishing world, but I also knew that selling 10K would be like totally freaking awesome for me as a first-time indy-writer-publisher. And it was.

Now that I'm getting set to publish the third book in my series, my new goal is to sell 100k by 2018. I've raised that number up from 10k, because I know that books sell books, and the more you have the more you can sell. Again, this number has not been pulled out of thin air. It's based on what I see similar titles doing. It's not just wishful thinking. It's based on the research I've done into my target market. I also know that if I don't reach this goal I'll have no one to blame but myself. Right now I'm falling way, way behind in my writing milestones and it's putting a serious damper on that 100k goal. But this is my fault. Not Amazon's. Not my lack of publishing support. It's my fault.

Your own sales goal will have to be based on your own research. It's all about how your book stacks up to the competition, how well it stands out from the crowd, and what your target market will bear.

Which brings us to the next section.

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT #2: MARKET RESEARCH

This is what I did before I published, and if you haven't already done it, now's the time.

  1. Pick your target market (smallest, most focused sub-genre on Amazon). Mine was Sci-Fi/Genetic Engineering.
  2. Find four best-selling books by four different best selling indy-authors within that target category. These should be books that you think your readers will also enjoy.
  3. Study these authors. See what they're doing to market themselves—this includes their online presence, who they picked to edit them, who designed their covers, and in some cases who published them if they went with a third-party publisher.
  4. Lastly, research how many books they sell, by month, by year and by total sales. There's a few ways to do this. The easiest is to look them up on a sales tracking site. You can also estimate their sales by their Amazon ranking. If they're ranked between 2k and 3k, then they're selling around 1000 books a month. If they're in the top 1000, then they could be selling a few hundred copies a day. Top 100 ranking means they're selling thousands of copies a day! Use this data to determine your sales target and time-frame to reach that goal.

It's a lot of work, but take heart in the fact that this assignment serves a number significant purposes. I know when I did it I learned a f*deleted-by-editorial-staff-ton about Amazon and how it worked. By the time I published I felt I had a pretty good handle on things. I felt confident that I was launching my book properly, and that it would slot in well into my target market. Within a few weeks, that list at the bottom of my Amazon book page (where it says "People who bought this book also bought these books…") featured all of the very same books that I had researched. Their readers had become my readers. I felt like I'd nailed my target market.


Next Week: Product & Branding

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love and Sex in the Dark Future by Angelia Sparrow

Romance is all about transformation though the power of love. But what happens when love bumps its nose against control, against a whole world designed to keep everyone in their place and everything moving smoothly?

Dystopia is a popular form of SF, and much of it recently has written for the YA market. (I was deeply disappointed that the Divergent series is written in present tense. I'll just wait for the films) The teens, when everything seems the bleakest, is a prime time for dystopia. I read 1984 and Brave New World, as well as Nourse's The Blade Runner (about an illegal doctor) in my teens. Since then, Ira Levin's This Perfect Day and other books have been added. I've even written a few. My husband likes dystopias. They're almost the only fiction he reads.

Sex in dystopias tends to fall into one of three categories: highly restricted and regulated, used by the government as a constant distraction for the citizens, or slotted into pure routine. Love is discouraged in all forms of totalitarian futures, because love inspires people to irrational acts of individuality and throws society out of kilter.

In 1984, sex is regulated and love is only directed at children or Big Brother. Spouses “do their duty to the Party.” Our hero has or had a wife. He's as fuzzy about that bit of history as he is the year. He doesn't remember what became of her. There is even an Anti-Sex League, dedicated to abolishing the orgasm, and complete propagation by artificial insemination. When Winston and Julia do fall in love, they are crushed under the state's heel, and tortured until they betray each other and despise each other. Their love is not powerful enough to bring down the state.

In The Giver, the Anti-Sex League won. All emotions, all memories, all connection have been abolished. Family units are together for the convenience of the State. And sex is eradicated by a pill. No romances break out to disrupt the steady rounds of society.

On the flip side is Brave New World. Love is meaningless. Early childhood conditioning renders sex a pleasant habit, emotional connection impossible and monogamy an aberration to be stomped out. Families have been eradicated, and freemartins are 70% of the female population. (the term comes from cattle, and indicates a sterile female, twinborn with a male calf) The society shunts its individualists and thinkers off to an island, but there will never be a revolution out of love or romance. The words have no connection to the people.

This Perfect Day, The Sentinel Stars and other futures make sex as dull as possible, part of human routine, like eating or going to the bathroom. This dulls the people and makes them not reach for more than gray little lives.

When reading a SF romance, we tend to expect that if it's a dystopia setting, the lovers will escape it, like Logan and Jessica of Logan's Run, or destroy the system. Indeed, for a happy ending to occur, one or the other must happen. I was collected in Circlet's Like an Iron Fist, which was dystopian erotica. I caught up with CTan, the editor, later and mentioned I was the only one who had an unhappy ending to my story. She thought and agreed it was odd.

While the sex in erotica may transform the couple, it seldom transforms the world. The question becomes whether love in a romance is enough to change the world.

Tell me about your favorite dystopias, and how love can change them, or how your lovers escape.

And while you're at it, pick up a free copy of Nikolai, a fairly unconventional SF love story, (I call it a dark future, kinky, gay Pygmalion) at http://brooksandsparrow.com/NikolaiRevenant.pdf

Or email me at angeliasparrow @ gmail for a .mobi or .epub
 
 
 
Nikolai Revenant Excerpt:

Ligatos followed him in and said a word to the driver, a big man with long dark hair. The prissy blond—the lawyer, Nick presumed—slid into the front beside the driver. Nick just looked around himself as the limo pulled out of the garage beneath 201 Poplar. It rose smooth and whisper-quiet to the street levels and cut through the minimal traffic, a shark among the lesser fish.

“Nice car,” Nick said, still staring at the driver’s hair. If this man could get around the appearance laws, he could get around anything. Long hair was a three-year offense on a man, just as short hair on a woman was a five-year. “Bullet-proof, deep tint. Got a high-powered engine, it sounds like.”

The only response was a conspiratorial smile.

“Fuel-cell, biodiesel or just ethanol?” He had a feeling he already knew the answer.

“Fuel-cell.”

Nick gave a low whistle. The C.S. did not have fuel-cell technology. The United States refused to trade it with them. This foreign-made car just clinched what he already knew about his benefactor. “I’ll bet you got some big fortress of a place, way out in the country, too. All the rich folks are shaking the city dust off their shoes and setting up their own little plantations these days.”

“I live in the city.” He settled back into the seat as the driver cruised the late night streets of Revenant territory, Poplar and Central, Pauline and Danny Thomas. Past the projects, fallen yet again into disrepair, and the concrete canyons and one-way streets of downtown, darkened for lack of nightlife. In the distance, the Beale Forbidden Zone glowed, contraband generators and alcohol lamps casting lurid shapes in the night.

Nick’s eyebrows went up. “That ain’t safe for a man with money,” he said after a long pause.

“You won’t be seeing my home for some time.”
Nick shrugged as much as he could manage. “Whatever you say. I’m the one sitting here in cuffs.” He tried not to think about how cold and numb his hands were. He squirmed a little and got them into the small of his back.

The smile turned into a far less pleasant smirk, making Nick wonder again what that mouth would feel like on him, what it would taste like against his. Vlad had been the first after two years of celibacy and now he couldn’t seem to stop the desire.

The car rolled into an underground garage, somewhere in downtown. Nick had gotten distracted looking at his benefactor and it was hard to read signs through the deeply tinted windows. It stopped and a big black man wearing a gun opened the passenger side door. Another anomaly. Ten years ago, weapons had been forbidden by law to the Sons of Ham.

Nick hesitated, staring, and the guard pulled him out of the car and onto his feet. He stumbled a little and regained his balance just in time to meet a shove between his shoulder blades.

“I’m going!” he snapped, which earned him another shove toward the bank of elevators on the far wall. He walked as fast as his off-balance position allowed, which wasn’t fast enough for the guard, who shoved him most of the way.

Ligatos followed, taking his time. Nick heard him talking to the men behind him, catching only the words, “Excellent reflexes” and “Good balance” in voices that were not Ligatos’.

“I wasn’t wrong about this one,” came Ligatos’ voice. Nick waited in the elevator until Ligatos joined him.
 
 
About the author:
 

Angelia Sparrow is the author of 17 novels (12 published and 5 in various edits) and nearly 90 short stories. She lives quietly in the MidSouth, crocheting and knitting when saving or destroying the world becomes too much. She runs Inkstained Succubus Press with Gabriel Belthir. Her next release is unknown, but will be showcased at http://brooksandsparrow.com She blogs at angelsparrow.blogspot.com and as valarltd on Livejournal, Pinterest, Tumblr and FetLife. She can be found on Facebook as Author Angelia Sparrow, or under her own name.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Think Like A Reader by Lynn B. Davidson


I think one of the most important things to remember when using social media is to try to place yourself in the reader’s position. With only one book out and one book being released soon, I still feel more like a reader than a writer most of the time. One of the things that still makes me scratch my head is some author’s social media strategies on Facebook. When I see authors posting ads in groups that don’t allow promo, or posting political opinions or trashing other authors I wonder if they have thought about their actions from a reader’s perspective?

There are many kinds of Facebook groups. Some allow promo, some don’t and some are hybrids. When you join a Facebook group, take a look around the group and read the rules before posting an ad for your book. The last thing you want to do is turn off potential readers by the appearance that you can’t or won’t follow rules or directions.

For Facebook groups that allow ads, look at the last fifty posts. Are they all ads for books with few or no comments? Chances are, those groups are not attracting many readers. If the group is not one where you would find a new read, it probably isn’t where your potential readers are looking for new books. I’m not saying it doesn’t have value or you shouldn’t post there, but it may not translate to sales.

For Facebook groups that don’t allow ads, don’t try to circumvent the rules. People are perceptive and will see through your attempts to try to subversively advertise for your book. Remember authors are readers too, and you don’t want to irritate authors in your social media strategy.

Refrain from posting about your political views. People with differing political views read all genres of books. If there is any chance that what you are sharing is going to offend someone with the opposite political view, you may have just turned off a faithful or potential reader. This also applies to posting your religious views.

Don’t trash other authors or books. They only thing that some people hold as dearly as their political beliefs is their love of their favorite books. Faithful fans will not appreciate your distain of the characters they love. They also may decide that if you hate something they love, that they wouldn’t like your work.

Facebook can be a wonderful and useful tool for writers, especially if you are aware of the pitfalls. If your goal on Facebook is to attract new readers, keep faithful readers and interact with other writers, keep in mind how what you post may be perceived.



Sincerely,

Lynn B. Davidson
 
 
 
 
 
Golden Perspective:
 
Evie and Tyler were captured as slaves and forced into intimacy by the captors. As time went by, they found solace and love together, but when they miraculously escape, Tyler must finally tell Evie the truth. He is a prince on his planet, and marriage with an Earth woman is unacceptable. He loves her, but he has to put the needs of his people first. Heartbroken, she understands.
 
Evie begins a new life on this alien planet where she meets the gorgeous and loyal Dylan. Dylan’s single minded pursuit and devotion convinces her that they can overcome their cultural differences, and love once again is possible. Tyler sees Evie falling in love again, and realizes nothing is more important than loving Evie.
 
Now he must win not one, but two hearts. Can Evie overcome her fears and learn to love these two men, and embrace the vibrant and sexual culture that would have all three of them loving one another? 


You can also find Lynn B. Davidson at these locations:
 
 
 
 
  


Monday, September 15, 2014

Meet the #Author Monday - Rachel Leigh Smith #giveaway #scifi #romance


Please tell us a bit about yourself:

Well, I live in central Louisiana with my family. I have a half-crazed calico named Zoe. Currently I’m catching up on the TV show Arrow so I can jump in watching the third season and watch The Flash spin-off. I’m the oldest of four, and a massive Dark-Hunter fan.

Tell us about My Name Is A’yen:

It’s the hero’s story, A’yen. And he’s a humanoid alien. His life has been on hold for the last year, and he’s mourning the death of his lover when he meets the heroine, Fae. She’s looking for A’yen’s homeworld. That he doesn’t believe is real. Along the way he discovers there’s more to her than meets the eye, and he comes to believe his homeworld was real, and that they’ve found it. But of course it’s not that easy. There’s a powerful group that doesn’t want this planet found, and they’ll stop at nothing to make sure it remains a myth.

What inspired you to write this particular story?:

A’yen walked into my head in a dream on the night of May 16, 2012. I was spinning my wheels on the novel I was working on at the time, and decided to dive into this strange world and see what happened. Every day was an adventure, because I had no idea what was going to happen next.

Please share a favourite snippet from your book:

Pink tinted her cheeks, she stared at her shoes, and her fingers stopped their gentle massage. A’yen lifted her chin with his finger, to see her eyes. “We weren’t that loud. Pete is very good at tall tales.” He ran the tip of his thumb along the bottom of her lip. “The point is, the way I talk to people above me terrifies my mother. It’s a miracle my mouth hasn’t gotten me killed.”
Pete giggle-snorted. “It almost did that one time. Remember? I went down with you and Wayan to a festival on Centron.”
A’yen grinned at the memory. “Oh yeah. I told the governor’s wife if she didn’t get her hands off my ass and out of my pants I was going to break her fingers.”
Fae covered her mouth in a failed attempt to stifle a laugh. “I bet you did.”
In my defense, I had no idea who she was, but her bodyguard had me on the ground in two seconds and almost broke my fingers. Then I had to apologize to her and the governor before they’d let me leave. If the governor hadn’t found it so funny, I’d be dead.”


Which comes first for you – a character's looks, personality or name?:

For my heroes, they come to me with all three. Looks, personality, and name. The heroine I usually have looks and name right off, but finding her personality is often a challenge. With Fae, A’yen’s heroine, it took two drafts and a class at a writer’s conference to figure her out. Sometimes I still feel like I don’t know her as well as I should.

Any tips for aspiring authors?:

Finish your first draft!

Questions for fun:
If you had the power of time travel, is there anything you would go back and change? Why/why not?:

I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve watched too much Doctor Who and Star Trek and learned my lessons about changing the past. It never works out like you intend. There is one event in my own life I wouldn’t mind erasing, but at the same time without that event I wouldn’t be where I am. And I don’t want to lose where I am.

What super-power would you choose?:

Flying! Then I could go see my besties in Iowa and New York whenever I want.

If you could have three wishes, what would they be?:

Hmm.... I really don’t know. All I know is I would abide by Genie’s three rules from Aladdin: No wishing for more wishes. No wishing for someone to fall in love with me. And no wishing to raise the dead.

Coffee, tea or wine?:

None of the above. Coke and hot chocolate are my weaknesses. And I’m in love with a drink at a local restaurant chain called Sex in the City.

What is your favourite book? (aside from one of your own!):

That’s like asking a mom to pick a favorite child! Currently, I guess I’d have to pick Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon. I have a MAJOR crush on Ash. As in before I started answering these questions I downloaded a wallpaper of his god seal from Sherri’s website...

Favourite genre and why?:

Romance! It’s 98% of what I read. I love everything about it. When I’m reading a book that’s not romance, or doesn’t have a strong romance sub-plot, it can be a chore at times to make progress on it. I’ve been working on A Storm of Swords for a month now.

Favourite colour?:

Purple. Most of my clothes are purple, my computer is purple, my Nook cover is purple, my favorite eyeshadow set is purple, the quilt on my bed is purple, my favorite hoodie is purple. I kind of have a problem...


Upcoming news and plans for the future?:

Books two and three of A’yen’s Legacy will be out next year, and there are more to come! I have four and a half written, and another two planned. And I’m sure there will be more after that, I just haven’t met the characters yet. There’s also a prequel story I hope to get up some time next year as a permanent freebie. I’m looking forward to attending my first RWA conference next year too.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!

Thank you for having me.


Bio: Rachel Leigh Smith writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family and a half-crazed calico. When not writing, which isn’t often, she’s hanging with her family, doing counted cross-stitch, or yakking about life, the universe, and everything with her besties. There may also be Netflix binging . . .

She blogs sporadically at www.rachelleighsmith.com, can be found on Twitter @rachelleighgeek, and hangs out on Facebook, www.facebook.com/rachelleighsmithauthor. You can sign up for her newsletter here.

Buy Links:

Blurb:
They've taken everything from him. Except his name.

The Loks Mé have been slaves for so long, freedom is a distant myth A'yen Mesu no longer believes. A year in holding, because of his master's murder, has sucked the life from him. Archaeologist Farran Hart buys him to protect her on an expedition to the Rim, the last unexplored quadrant.

Farran believes the Loks Mé once lived on the Rim and is determined to prove it. And win A'yen's trust. But she's a breeder's daughter and can't be trusted.

Hidden rooms, information caches and messages from a long-dead king change A'yen's mind about her importance. When she's threatened he offers himself in exchange, and lands on the Breeder's Association's radar. The truth must be told. Even if it costs him his heart.



Question for readers: Who is your favorite romance hero?




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Thursday, September 11, 2014

SFRB Recommends #23: The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke #writing #craft


The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers, and Set Up Your Novel for Success by Jeff Gerke

Book Blurb

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

As a writer, what you do in your opening pages, and how you do it, is a matter that cannot be left to chance. The First 50 Pages is here to help you craft a strong beginning right from the start. You’ll learn how to:
  • introduce your main character
  • establish your story world
  • set up the plot’s conflict
  • begin your hero’s inner journey
  • write an amazing opening line and terrific first page
  • and more
This helpful guide walks you through the tasks your first 50 pages must accomplish in order to avoid leaving readers disoriented, frustrated, or bored. Don’t let your reader put your book down before ever seeing its beauty. Let The First 50 Pages show you how to begin your novel with the skill and intentionality that will land you a book deal, and keep readers’ eyes glued to the page.

Recommendation

This is a great book and not just for the first fifty pages. Jeff spends the first part of the book giving us an inside view of what it’s like to be an acquisitions editor. He outlines the whole process and tells us what is guaranteed to kill your chances of getting a deal. The rest of the book is spent going over what every author needs to know about the first fifty pages and what they need to accomplish. He uses a lot of examples to show how and why things work (or not). I like this book because it touches on the entire novel experience, the three acts, and what you should know about your characters before you even start writing.

This book recommendation is brought to you by Sabine Priestley.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ingredients Of A Perfect Hero, part one: Compassion

My first post here on the Brigade blog was about my idea of a perfect hero. I included a list of what I have to have in a hero. Here it is.
My perfect hero is a man of compassion. A man who never gives up, no matter how much life beats him down. He's a warrior with a strong sense of justice and loyalty. He's a protector of those weaker than him, male or female, animal or alien. Most importantly he's not afraid to lay down his life for the one he loves. And he's not afraid for her to know it.
Today is the first in a three part series where I'm going to expand on this paragraph. After all, I write romance for the hero-lover. I love nothing more than a hero-centric romance. The second part will be about warrior qualities and post on October 14th. The third part will cover the hero as protector, and post on November 11th.

What is compassion? Let's ask Merriam-Webster.
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
That's a big definition. One could call it high concept. We're going to look at it from a romance perspective. What does it mean to have a compassionate hero? The easy answer is he helps people. But the easy answer doesn't help a writer imbue a hero with compassion. A compassionate hero helps people, yes, but there's more to it.

Compassion is a mindset, a way of looking at the world and truly seeing the people around you as people with problems, people who are hurting in some way. It may not be visible, but that doesn't mean the hurts aren't there. In writing we call these things character wounds. A compassionate hero is aware his heroine is hurt in some way, and he doesn't stop at wanting to help. He actually helps.

It's all the more meaningful an act when it requires the hero to step outside of his own pain to help the woman he's falling in love with. This is what I did in my debut novel, My Name Is A'yen. A'yen is a man trapped in his grief and having a very hard time dealing with it enough to let it go. It's not until he sees her pain that he realizes he's not the only hurting person. Her pain is different from his, but no less real.

A compassionate hero is also a sacrificial hero. He's willing to do whatever he must to alleviate the suffering of the one he loves, to the point of sacrificing what he most wants. This includes being willing to sacrifice his future, his dreams, and even his life.

In real life, people who step outside their pain to help other hurting people are the ones who actually recover from their hurts. The same is true in fiction. When a hero steps outside his pain, focuses on the heroine, and helps her deal with whatever has hurt her--physically or emotionally--it begins his own healing process. When A'yen helps Fae, by being willing to sacrifice one of the things he holds most dear, it enables him to heal, and it enables Fae to heal. Does it hurt him to do it? Absolutely. But he does it anyway, because compassion is so much a part of him he can't imagine not helping her.

It's also true in reverse. Compassion is a key ingredient for a perfect heroine. But compassion in a heroine doesn't make us swoon. When it comes from the hero, which is a place many readers don't expect it to come from, or have never experienced in their personal lives, it makes the hero memorable. And that's what we're all after, isn't it? A memorable book, with characters who never quite leave our readers alone.

For the last few years, with the rise of paranormal romance, the alpha male is EVERYWHERE. I'm not a big fan of the paranormal alpha male, to be honest. Recently, this alpha male has taken what I consider to be a bad turn, and become a bully who doesn't care about anything except his own satisfaction. That type of man is a not a hero, and it's a good way to make me wall-bang a book and never read that author again. Why? He has no compassion.

Don't be that author! A man of compassion is a key ingredient to keep readers coming back for more. It's why Dark-Hunter fans love Acheron so much. It's why Mel Gibson in The Patriot resonates with so many people, me included. It's why Captain America is so popular. It's part of why we love Groot.

Compassion is also an attitude. It doesn't mean the hero has no backbone, or is a sucker for lost causes. It means he cares about the people around him. And honestly? There's nothing more attractive to me than a man who cares and makes the effort to show it.

Rachel Leigh Smith writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family and a half-crazed calico. When not writing, which isn’t often, she’s hanging with her family, doing counted cross-stitch, or yakking about life, the universe, and everything with her besties. Her debut novel, My Name Is A'yen, releases September 12th.

She blogs sporadically at www.rachelleighsmith.com, can be found on Twitter @rachelleighgeek, and hangs out on Facebook. You can sign up for her newsletter here.

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