Starting Your Story With A Spark

The first major point of your novel is what I think of as the Story Spark.

It gets the ball rolling.

Your protagonist is going along with normal life as a waitress, a student, a Southern Belle and, bam, something changes.

This also is known as the Inciting Incident.

It could happen on your first page or somewhere in the first few chapters. It needs to happen early, though, because it starts the real story.

What comes before is background or backstory, a glimpse into the character’s normal life and what happened before this conflict occurred or came to a head.

In a movie, the Story Spark typically occurs within the first ten minutes. In a book, it’s often in the first chapter.

The classic example is a murder mystery, where we see a dead body on the first page or at end of the first chapter. As we’ll see, the scene that contains the Story Spark doesn’t need to include the protagonist, though it quite often does. Regardless, without the Spark, there’s no story, and no conflict for our protagonist.

Examples — And Spoilers — Of The Story Spark

WarningThe rest of this article includes spoilers from The Terminator (the first film), Gone With The Wind, and my own first novel The Awakening.

In The Terminator, Sarah Connor in the Climax will fight the Terminator to the death.

The Story Spark occurs in two of the first scenes of the film, when two naked men, one of whom is actually the cyborg we’ll come to know as the Terminator, appear on earth amid lightning. This is important because when we switch to our hero, Sarah, happily cruising on her motor scooter on a sunny California day, we already know there’s conflict on the way.

My very old copy of Gone With The Wind

In Gone With The Wind, though Scarlett is unaware of either at the beginning of the book, the main story will be about her relationship with Rhett Butler and, on a grander scale, about her surviving the Civil War and the death of the pre-war Southern way of life.

The Story Spark occurs when Rhett pops up off the couch, having heard Scarlett’s unladylike declaration of love for Ashley Wilkes, and Ashley’s rejection of her. Rhett laughs, Scarlett throws a vase, and there you have it. The Story Spark for the more sweeping story also occurs at this time. As Rhett and Scarlett spar, the Civil War is declared. Moments later, a blushing beau asks Scarlett to marry him before he goes off to fight.

In The Awakening, the Story Spark occurs on the first page, which is not unusual with a thriller or mystery (see above: dead body on page 1).

Tara’s doctor tells her she’s pregnant, despite that she’s never had sexual intercourse. Her goal when we start the book is to become a doctor. Her plan is to finish college and be admitted to medical school before marrying her boyfriend, having sex, and risking pregnancy. The very moment we see her, in the first paragraph of the novel, she’s encountering the major obstacle:

Tara folded and unfolded the pink referral slip. Her fingers made sweat marks on the paper. “I can’t be pregnant. I haven’t had sex.”

Right off the bat, Tara must deal with the actual turn her life has taken and struggle to explain it to everyone else in her life. That includes her boyfriend, who knows he can’t be the father.

The Tension Before The Spark
  • Gone With The Wind 

In Gone With The Wind, unlike in The Terminator, there are quite a few scenes before the Story Spark.

How does Margaret Mitchell keep readers engaged until then?

Two ways:

(1) As we talked about in Chapter One, conflict occurs on the very first page—the conflict between Scarlett’s nature and the rules imposed upon women in her society.

This actually foreshadows both the major story arcs in the book. We see it again when Mammy insists Scarlett eat before the Wilkes’ barbecue (where she’ll eventually be rejected by Ashley and meet Rhett), so that she’ll eat only tiny morsels there and appear ladylike. Mammy achieves this by playing on what Scarlett wants most—Ashley Wilkes—implying that Ashley prefers dainty, birdlike women.

Seeds are also sown about the Civil War in the very first scene.

Mitchell doesn’t do that by simply telling us war is on the horizon or by giving us a history lesson. Instead, as she weaves in information and descriptions, she frames the prospect of war in a very personal way for our protagonist. Scarlett is talking to twin brothers who both carry a torch for her. She wants to hear about them being thrown out of school (yet another conflict), and they want to talk about war, a subject that bores her. She becomes impatient and insists there won’t be any war.

(2) In that very first scene, Scarlett becomes upset, but hides it, when the twins tell her Ashley is getting engaged to his cousin Melanie. This is yet another conflict that will feed into the larger story arcs.

  • The Awakening
Book 1 in The Awakening Series

In contrast, Tara Spencer’s ordinary, pre-pregnancy life in The Awakening and her goal of becoming a doctor are conveyed not by pages of description or scenes before the Story Spark, but through a debate with her doctor.

The two debate both why Tara can’t be pregnant and how it could possibly have happened. This maintains tension as the reader learns about Tara.

Once again, conflict drives the scene and keeps the reader engaged.

If instead I started with a long description of Tara’s typical day at college or pages of narrative about how she’s the oldest of four and loves her brothers and sisters like crazy, or how hard she works at her job, most readers would stop reading.

  • The Terminator

In The Terminator, tension is maintained a different way.

In the very beginning, there’s a brief voiceover about the machines taking over the world, with short scenes of a grim future with machines and cyborgs hunting humans—emphasis on brief and short. Nothing will kill reader (or viewer) interest faster than a long download of information about the world of the story.

In some fantasy novels, readers have a lot of patience for world building, as that’s part of what fans love about the genre. Even there, however, if you’re a new author it’s best to hook your reader early with compelling personal conflict.

After the voiceover, some conflict occurs in Sarah’s day-to-day life, such as mixing up orders from customers, a child putting a scoop of ice cream in her uniform pocket, and a call from her roommate’s boyfriend.

Some of it is played for humor, as when the boyfriend starts sex talk with Sarah, stammers in embarrassment when she pretends to be shocked and not know who it is, then starts the very same lines when the roommate takes the phone.

But mostly tension and viewer interest is maintained by the scenes that are intercut with Sarah’s mundane troubles.

We see the Terminator pull the list of Sarah Connors from the phone book and murder one of them. We also see Kyle Reese flee from the police, steal clothes and weapons, and start hunting for Sarah. The first time through, we don’t know if he’s on her side or is another bad guy after her, which adds another story question for which the viewer wants an answer.

Finding The Spark For Your Novel

Now to your novel. Think about your protagonist’s main goal, the one that will take the entire novel to reach (or clearly fail to reach).

When is the first time something significant happens that blocks that goal and starts the story?

Does your protagonist encounter this obstacle on page one? If not, why not?

Even if you don’t plan to do it, brainstorm some ways you could rearrange your plot to get that obstacle onto page one.

If you’re picturing your Story Spark occurring a bit later, what else does your protagonist want on the first page, and what stands in the way? (This creates the conflict you need to keep reader attention until the Story Spark occurs.)

Odds are in your first draft, you’ll start too early, that is, you’ll start too long before the Story Spark.

Don’t worry about it.

After you finish the draft and let it sit for a while, it’ll be easier to see which part isn’t necessary and where the story really becomes compelling.

Good luck starting your novel!

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on the Story Spark and the other key turning points when starting your novel, check out Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide to Plotting and Writing Your Novel.

Figuring Out Your Protagonist’s Goal

Whether readers care about a protagonist almost always rests upon whether they care about that character's goal.

Your protagonist must have a goal that's vital to her (or him) and hard to reach so she'll need to spend the entire novel struggling to achieve it.

Ask yourself: Where does your protagonist desperately want or need to be by the end of the novel?

Not only must your protagonist have a goal, she needs strong reasons for wanting or needing to achieve it. Otherwise the story will fall flat.

In short, the protagonist must care.

Heightening The Protagonist's Motivation

As an example, let's start with a goal with low stakes that many readers might not identify with.

If my main character’s goal is to get into a summer internship program in Boston at an international company, but she’d be equally happy to live with her parents all summer and work with her friends as a lifeguard at the local pool, the story won’t be compelling.

If she doesn’t care, neither will the reader.

On the other hand, imagine she has the same goal but the following are also true:

  • her student loans are coming due
  • after thirty interviews she hasn’t gotten a single job offer
  • she’s always wanted to live in Boston
  • the internship has a good chance of leading to full-time employment

Now we have a goal she (and the reader) will care about.

If you want to up the stakes, let’s say:

  • her parents both got laid off from their jobs last year
  • they moved to a one-bedroom apartment in a rural area
  • she’s sleeping on the couch and living far from any urban area with the types of jobs that she trained for
  • she can only afford plane tickets to this one last interview

Now we really have a conflict and so a story.

Active v. Passive

To be engaging, your protagonist must strive for her goal.

That doesn’t mean you need a superhero for a main character. In fact, as I talk about in Super Simple Story Structure, in a battle with the antagonist, your protagonist generally should be the underdog.

It does mean your protagonist must do as much as she or he possibly can to move forward within the limits of the world and the character you’ve created.

Goals And The Terminator

WARNING – Spoilers for the first Terminator film below!

In the first half of The Terminator, from an action hero perspective, Sarah Connor is not particularly active. She doesn’t know how to fight or have any special skills or knowledge.

But for who she is and where she is in life, she does everything she can.

When she’s out at a bar and grill and sees a television news report that two women named Sarah Connor have been murdered, she immediately tries to call the police. The payphone, the only option in the 80s for calling when you’re away from home, is broken.

She’s made a big deal about seeing the news report, which might make it obvious she’s worried. So Sarah leaves the bar and grill, blending with a crowd and staying alert.

When she realizes someone is following her, she enters a nightclub, paying a cover charge just to get in and use the payphone. She persists in trying to reach the correct person at the police station despite being transferred all over. She follows the instructions she gets from the police, then follows the instructions of a stranger, Kyle Reese, when he’s able to fend off the Terminator. She also listens to Reese’s explanation despite how crazy it sounds.

In other words, Sarah Connor is the opposite of the idiot in the horror movie who is alone in a strange house at night, hears noises coming from the attic, and heads right up the stairs to have her throat slit.

Writer Heal Thyself

Ironically, though most of the above advice–including The Terminator analysis–came from my own book on story structure, I had trouble in my latest novel with the protagonist's goal and motivation.

In my early drafts of The Worried Man, a mystery that will be out May 1, 2018, my main character found her boyfriend's dead body in his apartment. The police suspected suicide or accidental overdose. She and the boyfriend's son rejected the thought that either had happened, and the protagonist set out to uncover the truth.

These aspects of the book haven't changed.

But in the early drafts she had met the man a few months before and dated him, but they hadn't spent much time together. She didn't meet the son until after the boyfriend died.

While she had a family history that made her identify with the son, it wasn't clear what that history was.

The feedback from agents I ran the story past and the story editor I worked with was the same:

The main character didn't have a strong enough reason to investigate the death or to doubt that the police detectives in her city (Chicago) could do a good job.

In the current version, I made these changes:

  • the protagonist and the boyfriend are about to move in together
  • she finds his dead body the night before the move
  • she has a close relationship with the son and just finished renovating her condo to create a sleeping loft for him
  • her mother emotionally abandoned her as a child, and she's determined the son won't grow up believing his father did anything that contributed to his own death and left the son without him
  • police investigated her parents for a crime they didn't commit and never uncovered the truth, so she doesn't trust the police to do their jobs or to be fair

My first reader of the final version had no idea of the feedback I'd gotten about the lack of motivation. He also didn't know what changes I'd made in response.

I was very happy–and vastly relieved–when his first comment was how much he identified with the main character and how he completely got why she took the investigation into her own hands.

For the next book in the series, I hope I'll remember what I learned!

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you're looking for articles about your goals as a writer or marketer/publisher, try Set A Single Goal (And Stop Managing Your Time) or Hitting Publish: Why Your First Goal Isn't To Sell Books.


What To Include In Your Book Launch Schedule

Once again it's March and I find myself getting ready for a May book launch.

New Book, New Series, New Genre

Last year I was launching the fourth and final book in my Awakening supernatural thriller series. (You can read more about that in When Working Harder Might Not Be The Answer Part 1 and Part 2 if you like.)

This year I'm launching Book 1 in a new series. I'm also publishing in a new genre–mystery/suspense without any paranormal or supernatural element.

Because I'm seeking new readers as well as trying to reach existing ones, I hope you'll find my launch plan helpful wherever you are in your career.

As in any business, it's always more of a challenge to draw in new customers than to sell additional products to existing ones.

Because of that, I felt I needed a more detailed schedule/plan than I had last year.

Feel free to copy and paste any part of my plan and modify it to fit your books.

The tasks to do begin this week, but I created the schedule by working backwards from the May 1 launch date.

What It All Means

A few notes on the reasoning behind certain tasks and on vendors you might not be familiar with:

  • Book Funnel is a service that allows you to easily deliver free ebooks to readers who are reviewing your books or to whom you want to give an ebook for other reasons (such as for a bonus for signing up for your newsletter). (See Nos. 2, 9, & 10 in the plan below.)

Right now it's only $20 a year for a basic account. I signed up last night.

  • As I wrote about in Reaching More Readers PublishDrive is where I upload my files to distribute ebooks to a boatload of platforms. (Nos. 17, 23, 29.)

For the other platforms, I upload directly.

Q.C. Davis Mysteries, Book 1
  • I'm setting a later preorder date for Kindle than for Kobo, Nook, and iBook/iTunes (Nos. 19 & 21) because last I checked, in terms of where your book ranks on Amazon's charts, it's better to have more sales on the first day than a bunch of preorders.

Why do a Kindle preorder at all in that case?

I want to have a Kindle link available before the release to put on my website and into the back matter of my other books.

  • Vellum is the software I use to convert Word files to files for the various ebook and paperback platforms. (No. 8.)

It's very easy to use, but so far available only for Mac.

  • When Darkness Falls is an urban gothic horror novel and my only novel in Kindle Unlimited (which means it's not available on any other ebook platform). (Nos. 12, 16.)

Because it's in KU, I can run a Kindle Countdown sale. I'm hoping by doing that for the same week as the new release, at least some readers who buy or borrow it will find their way to my Q.C. Davis series.

Gothic horror in Chicago's South Loop
  • The Charming Man is my working title for Book 2 in the Q.C. Davis mystery series.

As you'll see in Nos. 36-40, I'm holding off on most of the advertising and outreach to bookstores on The Worried Man until Book 2 is also out. That way the effort and funds have a chance of selling two books in the series rather than only one.

It's possible I could sell three rather than only two if I'm superproductive and get a preorder for Book 3 underway in time. (Working title The Fractured Man.) That seems unlikely, but I'm ever the optimist when it comes to time.

  • The people I mention sending paperback books to in No. 35 are ones who love mysteries or loved my previous books and who know a whole lot of other people that they might tell about The Worried Man.
The Book Launch Schedule

The Worried Man (Q.C. Davis Mystery No. 1) Launch Schedule

Completed? Date Task(s)
1. __X_ Goodreads

__X_ Facebook

March 12 Create Goodreads and Facebook review teams & invite friends
2.  __X__ March 16 Create Book Funnel Account
3. Contact Kobo re: Worried Man preorder and release date
4. March 17 Contact my book groups re: reviewing advance copies
5. Invite Goodreads readers who like Sara Paretsky and Elly Griffiths to join GR review team
6. Email mailing list re: chance to read and review
7. March 18 Add Coming Soon to
8. March 19 Create Vellum files for review teams
9. Add files to Book Funnel
10. ___ Goodreads

___ Facebook

___ Mailing List

March 23 Contact reviewers re: links to ebooks on Book Funnel
11. March 24 Add Coming Soon to all Bios online
12. ___ Countdown scheduled

___ Just Kindle

___ Digital Book Today

___ Other(s)?

Schedule When Darkness Falls 99 cent Kindle Countdown (for 5/1-5/8) plus ads
13. ___ Fussy Librarian


___ Bargain Booksy


March 26 Schedule New Release ads Worried Man
14. March 30 Contact designer re: paperback cover
15. April 1 Final Edits (if any)
16. April 2 Schedule When Darkness Falls 99 cent ads (for 5/2)
17. ___ Kindle Upload

__ Kindle PreOrder set

___ Nook Upload

___ Nook PreOrder set

___ iBook Upload

___ iBook PreOrder set

___ Kobo Upload

___ Kobo PreOrder set

___ GPlay Upload

___ PublishDrive Upload

April 8 Upload Final Files on All eBook Platforms & set pre-order dates as noted below
18. April 8 Create KDP Print edition
19. ___ Nook

___ iBook

___ Kobo

April 9 Upload for 3 eBook Platforms PreOrder
20. April 16 Upload cover and manuscript files on Ingram Spark
21. April 17 Kindle PreOrder Begins
22. ___ Awakening

___ Unbelievers

___ Conflagration

___ Illumination

___ Also add 1st Chapter of WM to Illumination

___ When Darkness Falls

___ Also add 1st Chapter of WM to When Darkness Falls

___ Super Simple Story Structure

___ One-Year Novelist

___ Creating Compelling Characters

Update Also By and Bio in previous books with Worried Man (include links for Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo, website for others)


23. ___ Kindle

___ Nook

___ iBook

___ Kobo

___ GPlay

___ PublishDrive

April 26 Final Book Files Uploaded
24. April 27 Add Worried Man To Goodreads
25. ___ KDP Print

___ Ingram

Publish KDP Print & Ingram editions
26. Contact review team re: KDP Print edition
27. April 29 When Darkness Falls Countdown price to 99 cents today
28. April 30 Schedule Goodreads Ad for Worried Man
29. ___ GPlay

___ PublishDrive

April 30 Publish
30. May 1 Worried Man Live on all
31. May 1 Contact review team re: eBook editions
32. May 1 Contact email list New Release Worried Man
33. May 2 When Darkness Falls 99 cents ads run
34. ___ Awakening

___ Unbelievers

___ Conflagration

___ Illumination

___ When Darkness Falls

___ Super Simple Story Structure

___ One-Year Novelist

___ Creating Compelling Characters

May 2 Update back matter with GPlay and print links and upload new files
35. May 3 Send print copies of books to Merry, Anne, Dan L., others who might spread the word
36. June Contact Bookstores in Chicago area re: signings/release parties for The Worried Man and The Charming Man
37. June Set release date for The Charming Man
38. June/July Schedule Worried Man Ads for week of Charming Man release
39. Charming Man release week Run 99 cent sale for 3 days on The Worried Man
40. After The Charming Man is released Schedule Goodreads Kindle Giveaway

If you have other questions about the schedule, please ask in the comments.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Writing When Injured Or Not Well

When I was in my twenties, I developed tendinitis in my hands, wrists, and arms. I was working at a temp job as a secretary to 27 people, typing 90 words per minute all day long at a bad keyboard set up.

I was also writing a novel when I got home and playing guitar.

At the time, there wasn’t a lot of awareness of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, or other RSIs (repetitive stress injuries) from keyboarding.

Dealing With Advice

A lot of people implied or outright said that it was all in my head or due to stress. The suggestion that I could somehow fix myself simply by relaxing only made me feel worse.

My fingers went numb during the night, my hands and wrists tingled, and pain shot up my arms from my hands. Yet the doctor I saw through the company's workers compensation policy told me to keep working unless or until there was nerve damage. Then I could have surgery, which was the only real treatment option at the time.

That struck me as a phenomenally bad idea.

I quit the job and moved home to my parents' house in the hope that a few months of not working would help my hands heal. Instead I plunged into depression and anxiety.

Not Working, Not Writing, Not Functioning

For the first four or five weeks home, I found it very hard to get out of bed.

Once I did, I lay on the couch and watched television until the late afternoon. 

I struggled to figure out some other type of job I could do to support myself again. All my work experience, though, had to do with typing and computers. I don't remember writing, and playing guitar hurt my hands.

I felt worthless.

The main things that I thought of as being who I was — a musician, writer, a hard worker — had all been taken from me. And I didn’t know how I get them back. (All of this also coincided with a break up with my boyfriend of six years, so I'd also lost my primary relationship.) 

In one way, whether I could write fiction or not “should” have been the least of my worries. I hadn't made any money writing by then, so it wouldn't help me back to living on my own and supporting myself.

Yet after my fear that I'd never be able to move out of my parents' house again was my fear that I wouldn't be able to write. Without writing, I wasn't sure who I was or how much I'd get out of life.

Health And Writer's Block

A while back I wrote an article Six Ways To Get Beyond The Myth Of Writer's Block on issues that get labelled “writer's block” with suggestions for dealing with each.

Looking back at the article, I realized it contained an underlying, unspoken assumption. Which was that the person who wants to write but can't is otherwise generally healthy and physically well. (I revised it to try to address that.)

But many people live with chronic conditions that make any type of work or pursuit, including writing, far more difficult if not impossible. Many others are fortunate enough to be generally well much of their lives but nonetheless go through periods where their mental, physical, and emotional health limits whether and how much they can write.

Because of that, I'm sharing what I wish I'd known when I struggled so much with physical pain, depression, and anxiety. With these caveats:

  • What in retrospect I think would have helped me might or might not be useful for you
  • I’m not a doctor or health professional, and this is not medical, psychological, or psychiatric advice

First Things First

If I could go back, I'd tell myself that to love writing and to write can be a wonderful thing, but sometimes other things need to take priority. Things like physical, emotional, and mental health.

I felt I had to figure out all at once (a) all my health issues, (b) a new occupation, and (c) how I'd ever write again without severe pain.

And I felt like a failure because I couldn't.

Now I'd tell myself that before I could write I needed to be sure I kept breathing and stayed alive. If I was able to write and it helped me do that, great.

If writing made me feel worse, though, then it was okay, and quite possibly necessary, to mentally set it aside for a while and focus on whatever would help me keep functioning.

No Overnight Fixes

While I rarely feel the extreme anxiety I experienced during the year and a half I moved back in with my parents, I've had a few times nearly as bad.

Likewise, life events sometimes trigger weeks or months of depression. It's like a broken bone that hasn't quite mended. Stepping a certain way or falling sometimes breaks it again.

And though my fingers rarely grow numb, if I am at the keyboard too long, my hands still get sore despite the many accommodations I've made over the years. (Those accommodations include using ergonomic keyboards, dictating, switching computers, stretching more, and taking regular breaks.)

If I'd know that decades later I'd still be dealing with many of these issues, maybe that would have made me feel worse.

Multiple Keyboards and RSI

But maybe not.

Because for me the hardest part was that I kept wanting to wake up one day and have my old life back. I only started to feel better emotionally and mentally when I realized that wasn't happening. That the only place I could start from was where I was.

Accommodations And Work-Arounds

In the long run, my need to find a new type of work led to my retraining and becoming a paralegal and later a lawyer. As a result, a decade later, I was far better off financially and professionally than I had been when I developed the tendinitis.

For the physical aspect of writing, and generally to deal with my on-going hand, wrist, and arm pain, I made dozens if not hundreds of small changes like the ones I mentioned above, as well as lifestyle changes.

There were changes as small as:

  • leaving the aspirin cap off so I didn't hurt my hands with the safety top on the bottle
  • paying someone more than I earned per hour to clean my small apartment so that I didn't cause burning in my arms by scrubbing
  • learning that running cool water over my hands for five minutes or holding a cold soda can could ease pain temporarily

Adjusting Your Writing Routine

I also had to adjust my writing routine. I'd once written for 1-3 hours at a time and focused on writing novels only.

Now sometimes for days or weeks or months at a time I couldn't do that, so instead I did some of the following:

  • Visualized scenes in my mind
  • Interviewed my characters in my mind
  • Wrote by hand in very short bursts (as writing by hand also made my hands worse)
  • Wrote very short poems (less than a page each)
  • Used an old tape recorder to record scenes (this was before any decent dictation software was available, and I couldn’t have afforded it even if it had been)

Some of these strategies came in handy years later when I was working so many hours that for stretches I could only write in small increments of time. (See Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.)

Flexible Writing Goals

I also found that I needed to be far more flexible in my goals. Though it definitely took me a long time to make peace with that.

If you’ve read The One-Year Novelist, you know I am big on setting specific goals with time frames. When I struggled with depression, anxiety, and physical pain, I had to adjust that strategy.

During the worst of my depression, I didn’t set any writing goals at all. If it made me feel better to write, then I wrote. Otherwise, I didn’t.

When my depression became more manageable and my tendinitis was slightly better so that I could work at a job though still in a lot of pain, I started writing in a journal when I could. From an emotional perspective, that was an easy way to write because I never show my journals to anyone.

But I didn’t set any goals for writing a certain amount per day, week, or year.

I had a general goal in mind wanting to write another novel. But I didn’t worry about when I would be done. I just aimed to finish at some point down the line.

That was unusual for me, because I love lists and plans. They help reassure me that I won't lose track of anything and ease my anxiety.

In the darkest times, though, lists and plans made me feel worse. They emphasized what I felt I “should” be doing and couldn't.

So if I could go back, I'd tell myself to try letting go of lists and plans now and then. They can be useful tools, but they're not the right ones for every circumstance.

That’s all for today.

I hope some of my story gives you some ideas or inspiration if you're struggling with injuries or health issues.

Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. For more on anxiety and well-being, you might find Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life helpful.

The Top 5 Reasons Your Friends Won’t Read Your Book And What You Can Do About It

Maybe you gave your friend a paperback of your first or latest novel. Or you emailed a link to download the e-book free or buy it for a low price.

Yet your friend hasn't read it or reviewed it.

Or maybe, as several authors I’ve spoken to recently have done, you had a party where you gave away 25 paperback copies of your novel to your friends and colleagues and asked them to please read it and consider leaving a review.

No one did.

What can you do other than feeling disappointed?

Below are five main reasons your friends and acquaintances don’t buy or read your novels and what you can do in response.

Reason 1: They Don’t Like Reading

It seems shocking to those of us who love to read and write novels, but some people simply don’t like to read and/or they find it very difficult.

I recently heard a podcaster who believes that paperbacks and e-books alike will disappear entirely in favor of audio because reading is hard. While I like listening to audio while doing other tasks because it makes good use of my time, I can read much faster than a narrator can speak, so it’ll never replace reading for me.

Also, I love the experience of reading a book.

If your friends find it difficult, though, they may read if they have to for work, but the last thing they’ll do when it’s time to relax is read your novel or any book.


If your friend is not a reader, pushing your book will do nothing but make that person feel bad.

If your friend is otherwise supportive of your career as an author and wants to help, ask your friend to pass your novel on (or recommend it if it’s an e-book) to someone who does love to read the type of book you’ve written.

Be clear about what type of reader that would be and about the genre of the book you've written. Don’t task your non-reading friend with figuring that out.

Reason 2: They Don’t Read Your Genre

Some people love to read but don’t happen to read what you like to write.

They may enjoy stories or narratives but prefer to read about real people, so they read biographies rather than novels.

Or they read novels but they love mysteries and you write westerns, or they love romance and you write horror.

It’s tempting to think that our friends should be willing to switch genres for us.

But if you think about what you love to read and don’t, it can be hard to switch to an entirely different genre.

I will cross over a little bit, but not that much. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but if a friend who knows what I like recommends a sci-fi book I’ll check it out.

On the other hand, if my friend wrote a long literary novel about a highly dysfunctional multi-generational family where everyone behaves horribly to everyone else and is deeply depressed, I’d rather bang my head against the wall than read it.

And if I did read it, there would be almost no way I could honestly write a positive review or, even if I set honesty aside, that I would know what to say that would be positive.

I just deeply dislike that kind book, despite that many such books win prestigious literary awards.


Despite that this type of friend loves to read, your solution is the same as for Number 1 above.

But there is good news. Because your friend overall likes to read, she’s more likely to know other readers or to understand who would be the best person to whom to give or recommend your book.

Reason 3: They Read An Average Number Of Books Per Year

Most of the research I did listed 12 books per year as the average number that people read.

Keep in mind, though, that this number is skewed by voracious readers. These are people who read anywhere from 2 to 5 books per week or more.

If we take out those people, most people read only 1 to 4 books per year.

If your friend falls into that category, it’s a big commitment to read your book. If the person already has a couple favorite authors, that fills the reading quotient for the year.

So this friend may in theory want to read your book and be excited about it but may simply not get to it for a long time.


This friend may very well buy your book to be supportive, so go ahead and tell him about it or give your friend an autographed copy.

If your friend is really excited for you, ask if he will shelve the copy somewhere where other people might see it, maybe on a shelf above his desk at work, on a coffee table at home, or on a virtual shelf on Goodreads.

That way, your friend can help you even if there’s no time to read the book right away. The same friend might also be willing to post a picture of himself holding the book on social media with a note about how excited he is to have it.

As far as actually reading the book, don’t push. Putting on pressure makes it less likely your friend will want to read, as it will make it seem like a chore.

Give it a little time and back off and you may be surprised to find one day that you have a new diehard fan or a great review.

Reason 4: They Read A Lot More Than Average, But…

It can be especially upsetting if you have a friend who talks about books and seems to read a lot of fiction, but who doesn’t read your novel.

Because most people read only 1 to 4 books per year, though, a person can read much more or much more quickly than average and still not read a lot.

Someone who reads 12 books a year, for instance, is reading more than average. And if that person likes to read novels, she probably has a number of favorite authors who put out at least a book a year. Once that person reads each book by a favorite author, that leaves only a few slots left.

Also, how much people can read depends on what’s happening in their lives. If your friend just had a newborn or got a promotion or is caring for an aging parent, there simply may be almost no time to read.


If your friend doesn’t read your genre, see Number 2 above.

If your friend does usually read the type of book you write, ask what format is the preferred one. If your book is only available as an e-book, and your friend only reads paperbacks, you may need to wait until you issue a paperback version of your book or offer to print a copy from your word processor for her.

Also try the approaches in Number 3 above.

In addition, because your friend is a bit more of a reader than those in previous categories, you can feel a little freer to let this friend know how much it would mean to you if she would read your book (and post an honest review if she’s comfortable doing that).

Finally, be sure to read Number 5 below, as if your friend is not reading your book, it may be the reason why.

Reason 5: They're Afraid They Won’t Like It And Don’t Want To Have To Tell You

Your friend may love to read and may read in your genre and yet still hold off on reading your book.

That’s because it can be very awkward if you read your friend’s book and you really don’t like it. You are then in the position of needing to lie to your friend and/or, if you’re being pushed to write a review, to write something that will hurt your friend’s feelings or that you might not be comfortable writing.


If you are giving the friend a copy unsolicited, make clear that you are not pressuring that person to read it. You can say something like, “I promise I won’t quiz you on it.”

You can also say something like, “If you love it or hate it, I hope you’ll post a review, because having more reviews, even if they’re not all 5 stars, helps a book sell.” (Which is true.)

That way, your friend knows that you understand that you may not love the same types of books. Also, it’s unlikely your friend is going to post a truly bad review. If she or he doesn’t like the book, either there will be no review or you’ll get a neutral review.

You can also tell your friend that if she fears she doesn’t have time to read it, it would be helpful to do the things suggested in Number 3. That way if your friend doesn’t like the book, she can avoid mentioning it but still be supportive in other ways.

One Last Category

There are acquaintances and friends who simply will never buy or read your book and it has nothing to do with whether they are readers or not.

You may have referred clients to them, donated to their political campaigns, or given gifts at baby showers, christenings, and birthdays for each of their children, but even if you directly asked them to, they won’t get around to spending a few dollars on your book or reading it if you give it to them.

Often these are people who don’t understand how important writing is to you, particularly if you have another career.

Regardless what you say, they’ll see it as a hobby that there’s no reason to get excited about or support.

Or these friends may simply not be very supportive people. Presumably they have other great qualities about them that you value and that’s why you’re friends.

Appreciate those qualities and let go of your hope that they’ll read your books or be encouraging about your author career.

Hopefully, though, most of your friends don’t fall into this category!

If they do, you may want to make an effort to add some more positive, supportive friends to your circle.

That’s all for this week.

Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly