Author Archives: Dorothy Grant

KENP, Click Farms, Overdrive, and Hand-selling at AMA-Con

First, a couple notes on things that have been happening in the field since last column:
1. KENP 3.0 – Normally Amazon’s big changes to KU come in July, but this year it came in August. While there was much sturm und drang, really, there doesn’t seem to be much appreciable change from 2.0 for regular indies. The KENP page counts shrunk slightly, to align closer to true page counts when the story’s in paper. The rest appears to be on the back end, invisible to us, mostly targeted at click farms and bought reviews.

2. Speaking of click farms, several indies have recently reported their accounts being locked / books taken off sale after buying “advertising” with a “guaranteed number of readers.” You know that picture of Batman slapping Robin? Yeah, picture that. Here’s how NOT to get your account locked and books delisted:
A.) You cannot guarantee buyers ethically. If buyers or readers are guaranteed, that means you’re paying a click farm to run a program on a laptop slaved to a bunch of stolen iphones, each loaded to an Amazon account, “borrowing” and “reading” them. Unless you’re paying a click farm in North Korea, in which case it’s a poor schmuck pacing down a table, manually finger-swiping every iphone.
B.) If you can’t sign up for their mailing list, it’s a click farm. Real promoters want everybody to sign up for their lists, so they can grow. Click farms say they have a list, but if it’s not obvious and easy to find, then it’s a lie.
C.) If they don’t have a website, it’s a click farm. ESPECIALLY if their only presence is a “closed facebook group.” Again, if they’re not soliciting more people to join them, they’re not right.
D.) If it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true. It’s more likely to be this:

3. Draft2Digital is now able to load books on OverDrive – yes, that means Draft2Digital can now get your ebooks into a library. However, it’s not all wine and roses, and “can” is not the same as “will.” The comments at Passive Voice are illuminating:

And now, on marketing in the flesh:

The North Texas Writer’s Association, also called the Bugscuffle Shooting & Writing Club, ran a booth at Ama-Con up in Amarillo last Weekend. This means JL Curtis, Peter Grant, Lawdog, and myself caravaned up and Alma Boykin met up with us for the booth setup. We then spent two days hawking all our books (and the night inbetween, Jim & I got some sleep while LawDog & Peter were both furiously typing away on their latest books. LawDog’s “Africa & Other Stories” is now out for sale, and Peter’s “King’s Champion” is out to beta readers.)

If there’s anything more painful than an introvert trying to hawk their wares, it’s five introverts trying to hawk their wares. Fortunately, I have plenty of sales training, and everyone else has some “dealing with public” training. So Alma and I wore our spiffy dressy clothes (She went Edwardian, I went ren faire & steampunky with exterior corsetry), attracting eyes and cameras, and the guys took turns pitching in on sales. And we had a bowl with mints and bouncy balls, which attracted younger kids (and their parents, dragged along).

It was excellent at distilling books down to their essence. Jim’s Gray Man series quickly became “Modern westerns, with cowboys versus drug smugglers!” and Alma’s Alexi’s Tales became “Urban fantasy, but with Russian mythology instead! …And a texting cat!”

Interesting divide: People over 40 bought books, and people under 40 wanted to know if it was in ebook. We sold just enough physical books to cover table rent, but not enough to cover hotel, food, and time off work. If we do this again, we’ll have book cards (cover, blurb, QR code & URL to book on Amazon) for the ones on sale, as well as the ones not there!

Also, people may pick up the entire series at once (That happened twice with Jim’s series), especially if you take credit card. (Square worked fine.) So, bring bags! We ruthlessly dumped Office Depot supplies (sharpies for autographing, pre-printed business and book cards, books stand boxes, etc.) in order to present the bag to the happy customer who’d just bought stuff. On Day 2, Alma brought a handful of grocery bags, and life was better!

However, if you don’t have book 1 of a series, people will look interested, and then put the book back down. Most casual readers do not want to start in the middle of the series. I was really kicking myself for not having book one of everything there – or a card with book one to point them toward Amazon.

(I don’t have a good feel how we did on ebook sales. For one, LawDog is through a publisher, so I can’t get those numbers, they may be buried in the tail of a sucessful release anyway. For another, I’d have to get the other 4 of us to all check our KDP accounts and check in. I should do that. Instead I spent two days not talking to anyone, because I had used up all the extro in my vert, and needed to recharge.)

You can see our table setup here:

And for new releases this week, we have two!

Tom Rogneby has taken his talents into noir, with a few hints of supernatural in the background, with The BoogeyMan:

Martin Shelby is The BoogeyMan, a private investigator and fixer for folks who get into trouble too tough and too strange for the police. People only bring him the jobs that require the body of a linebacker and the face of a gargoyle.

Now, he’s been handed a job that pays double, but that can only mean double the danger.

But when the things that go bump in the night look under their bed for HIM, how hard can it be? To The BoogeyMan, it’s just another job.

Alma Boykin has released hilarious and lighthearted stories of witches and wizards dealing with the parts nobody ever mentions in urban fantasies: taking your familiar to the vet when it’s a 100-lb skunk, the IRS won’t let you deduct robes as professional expenses, and typos in the spellbook’s latest edition mean that students get some spectacular results from the example!

Familiar Tales, by Alma Boykin!



The Problems of Success

Most how-to tutorials and blogs are aimed at beginners. This makes perfect sense, since the vast majority of people who want to figure out how to do a thing are those who haven’t done it yet.

We have a lot of that here – in fact, we have a nifty compendium on the first steps in a tab up at the top, on Navigating From Writing To Publication.

But while the problems of beginning are fairly well known and hashed out, once you’ve done more than begun, a second set of problems arises: the problems of success. And these can really blindside you, especially when from the slough of despond “success” looks like a rosy promised land filled with milk and honey.

The first problem is taxes. Very few people are truly aware of just how much of their paycheck has been forked over to the federal government before they ever saw it, and are blindsided by having to pay both halves of social security, much less everything else. (The self-employment tax.) Set aside half – yes, half – of your gross income from indie, for paying the IRS. No, it’s not likely to actually take a full 50 percent, but you have two options here: try to calculate it exactly and risk a lot of stress, panic, and heartburn if you miscalculated and the IRS wants their pound of flesh now, or end up with a nice extra reserve when the IRS is paid off that can go toward debt, mortgage, or being a buffer against rising health care costs and tree-through-the-roof.

The second problem is lack of credit. You see, when you become self-employed as a full-time writers, you find out that banks are extremely risk-averse, and don’t like an unsteady income they can’t calculate. It doesn’t matter how much money you have saved if the loan officer is going “Well, you don’t have a paycheck or W-2 to tell me what you can afford for mortgage payments every month, so we can’t offer you a loan.” Just because I strongly urge you to pay off your credit card does not mean I urge you to cancel that credit card. That ability to draw credit will be your buffer when the ER trip hits.

The third problem is learning to budget and guard your time. This won’t totally destroy your life with one big moment like the IRS or the inability to float a new water heater on a credit card while dealing with the insurance company will… but it’ll destroy your productivity and eat your life in little amounts, leaving the same result in the end. When you’re punching a time clock, life is pretty clear: eight to four is on the job, less lunch, plus commute on either side, and evenings and weekends are for chores, home tasks, and socializing. When you’re at home, the distraction of all the things you could be doing eats into your working time, and the “I should be working” eats into your downtime. If you don’t guard it, it mashes together and you never get to relax on days off (because you don’t take them), but you’re constantly distracted and getting a good solid block of work is rare.

Make sure you have down time. Family time is for family, not for sitting there thinking about how to plot your book while your wife wonders why she even bothered to invite you on the anniversary dinner, much less dress up, because you’ve said six words to her in the past four hours and completely ignored the new dress with its cleavage in favor of staring blankly out into the crowd. Make sure you do go on that hunting trip, or range day, or out with friends for dinner… because not taking time off will burn you out when working for yourself just as surely as it’d do it working for someone else.

Make sure you have up time. There are not only internet blocking apps, there are selective-site blocking apps. Stay off Facebook. You know why employers don’t like facebook? It’s because employees spend their time on it, refreshing and chatting and liking instead of, oh, actually working. Well, you’re the boss now – if you want productivity, you better kick the employee off facebook. Turn off email notifications and phone notifications. Then decide you have a window for social media, and when it’s done, it’s over for the day. (You’ll be amazed at how staying off aggregator sites, whether insty, drudge, facebook, or Gab, activates the same anxiety and cravings as trying to cut out coffee or fast. Social engineers are very, very good at hitting that instant-reward link in our brain that makes junkies of us all. The most crushing realization is when you figure out that people have a hard time seeing what’s not there – and if you aren’t on for a week or two, the most you’ll get is “Oh, yeah, I didn’t see you comment in that post you were tagged in.”)

Also, track your words per session, and session times & locations, and anything else relevant. Because patterns emerge from data that may contradict feelings. Peter feels more productive writing in a hotel without cats to distract… but the words-per-day are far lower, because he’ll spend most of the day on whatever we’re traveling to do. I like writing at a coffee shop, but I spend the first 45 minutes getting coffee, a table, eating the food… if I only have an hour and a half, I have twice as much writing time at home as at the coffee shop. So record your data, and come back later to find out what really helps and what doesn’t.

The fourth problem is learning to say no.

You see, when you start out, you feel like you’re on a deserted island, putting messages in bottles and throwing them out into the ocean, hoping to get a response. And every now and then you will, and it’ll be wonderful to correspond or collaborate. But when you becomes successful, all those bottles with responses will start washing ashore at once… and you won’t have time to do everything.

Right now, Peter has a fantasy that should be out by the end of next month if he wants to keep to the time table for the year. He also has (not in order) the third Laredo book to write, the seventh Maxwell, the third western, a short story for anthology with Tom Kratman, a collaboration with an awesome author that’s being planned, his own blog to write…

When he got asked to be in another anthology, one he really wanted to be in, he had to say no. Because he’s stretched too thin. And when asked for guest articles on another blog (over and above the once-monthly blog here), he had to turn them down, too. In fact, most of the above should be considered on the back burner, because he can’t write on six things at once… he can write one thing at a time, with breaks to work on a second when he gets stuck on the first.

The fifth problem is when to end a series. There have been a couple posts here on that, as it’s started to become a series-ous consideration for our authors. Brownie points for the first person to link ’em! (It’s almost midnight and I have to work an early shift tomorrow. You have archives and search tools, we have years of posts. Dig around and discover the wealth of the archives!)

The sixth, related, is when to jump to a new genre, or start a new series, or write a standalone. Because series get a certain number of fans, and an indie author can start to plan on how much a new release ought to bring in. But standalones are extremely hard to market or sell, and a new genre always caries the risk of losing all the readers who like their genre, and like you as a good writing in genre… but aren’t willing to follow you to the new genre.

Avoid getting yourself in a position where you feel you have to crank out your main series to keep the income up. That’s not good for the fans, the work itself, or for you when you feel trapped and stale. (If you want to feel trapped and stale, there are plenty of cubicle jobs I can heartily recommend as reminders that you shouldn’t do that.)

…and note, this is often more a feeling, a fear of failure or of reduced income, than it is an actual data-driven decision. Man is a rationalizing creature, not a rational one, and we often use data as an excuse for our made up minds.

Seventh… I know I’m missing some. What problems of success have you seen or dealt with? How do you mitigate these?



Ripples of Good Fortune

This morning at breakfast, at a little cafe in tiny town, Texas, JL Curtis, Peter, myself, and two other good friends were teasing LawDog. His book officially comes out on Monday, but in order for the book to be ready for all the publicity and scheduled boost, it’s already soft-launched and live. He’s already overtorqued and wound tighter than five dogs on leashes after the same ball.

He blames us all for the book being published. Which is kinda funny, because he’s to blame for all of us being where we’re at. Many years ago, there was an internet gun forum that had a little section set aside for people to tell stories. LawDog posted some wonderfully hilarious stories, which encouraged some other people to write their own stuff.

It was, in fact, his thread “Lines I’d like to hear in a Horror Movie”, that got another mod, Larry Correia, writing a book that was a wonderful take on gun nuts vs. horror tropes. (Seriously – Monster Hunter International is a great story if you don’t watch B-reel horror movies, but if you do, it’s hysterically funny, and full of “I know what movie you pulled that from!” and “You did WHAT to that trope?”)

When another moderator named Peter Grant was medically retired with a disabling injury, Larry’s success at first self-publishing then trad-publishing (this was before KDP and indie publishing like it is today) led him to tackle writing as a way he could support himself.

As well, that sucess propelled Marko Kloos, after countless rejections, to try indie-publishing Terms of Enlistment. He’s done awesomely, and has since been picked up by 47 North, Amazon’s SciFi imprint.

Meanwhile, LawDog had moved on to a blog, and kept telling stories there. That blog inspired others – in fact, the first time I went to Alma Boykin’s blog, I was amused and amazed to see LawDog up on the sidebar as “The Blogfather.” It’s a small world, sometimes!

His blog also led to JL Curtis, who goes by OldNFO here in comments, starting his own blog, and then writing his own books. Darned good ones, too! Latest release: A novella chronicling the last of our military trying to evacuate after CalExit. The Morning the Earth Shook!

And last and certainly least, years later when we’d moved from I’m-Allergic-To-Everything, Tennessee, to Tiny Town, Texas (Peter was homesick, and this looks just like some parts of the African veldt. Besides, it has LawDog and his lady.)… I was sitting on the couch in a sling bored and frustrated enough that I finally decided I’d publish a little something I’d been sitting on, because I couldn’t fly, couldn’t clean, couldn’t cook, couldn’t just about anything else. So why not? I blame Lawdog and JL Curtis for failing to talk me out of it, and my own darling man for not only aiding and abetting, but for fixing all the formatting after I… let’s just say there were painkiller-inspired decisions and attention span involved, and that’s not a good thing when formatting or copyediting. And that’s how Scaling The Rim went from a hard drive into the wild.

So it’s all LawDog’s fault. And now he’s finally publishing!

Check it out!

LawDog had the honor of representing law and order in the Texas town of Bugscuffle as a Sheriff’s Deputy, where he became notorious for, among other things, the famous Case of the Pink Gorilla Suit. In THE LAWDOG FILES, he chronicles his official encounters with everything from naked bikers, combative eco-warriors, suicidal drunks, respectful methheads, prison tattoo artists, and creepy silent children to six-foot chickens and lethal chihuahuas.

THE LAWDOG FILES range from the bittersweet to the explosively hilarious, as LawDog relates his unforgettable experiences in a laconic, self-deprecating manner that is funny in its own right. The book is more than mere entertainment, it is an education in two English dialects, Police and Texas Country. And underlying the humor is an unmistakable sympathy for society’s less fortunate – and in most cases, significantly less intelligent – whose encounters with the law are an all-too-frequent affair.



How to Successfully not Market your Book: Or Doing it All Wrong (Almost) By Alma Boykin

Alma Boykin here. I have been successfully getting in my own way and not marketing (fiction) books since December 2012. In the process, I’ve managed to make pretty much every mistake you can do as an indie author, bar one. Dorothy Grant, Cedar Sanderson, and others have written a lot about how to market your books and stories. So here’s a quick guide on how to successfully not market your book, thus ensuring that only the most selective, discriminating, or lucky readers will ever find it.

1. Have absolutely no online presence of any form other than an e-mail address and occasionally chiming in on certain websites. This was my technique after I released A Cat Among Dragons in December 2012. No social media, no blog, no web-site, nothing. Just write and release and see what happens. I was pretty successful at not selling the book. Today, summer of 2017, this technique would be even more successful since so many more people have begun publishing their work.

2. No social media presence ever. I did give in and start a blog, Cat Rotator’s Quarterly,(Alma! I added the blog name and link! You should promote it! -Ed.) in February 2014, but I have no Twitter, Facebook, G+, LiveJournal, Snapchat, Pinterest, or whatever other social media platforms are out there. This is another great way not to tell people about your books. What they don’t know about, then can’t find. HOWEVER! If used properly, social media can help not-sell your work. Some of the best ways are to overload anyone who follows you with near-daily announcements about “Only three years, two months, and a day and a half until the release of [book]!” or “Hey, boy my book! Buy my book!” The more often you remind people to buy your work, the more they will drop your feed and flee the company of your works. Think of it as the electronic version of the whiney 5-year-old in the back seat asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I gotta go. Are we there yet?”

2a. Make it hard to find your books on your web-site. You can use white on black text, busy backgrounds that readers have to read over, page tabs that are hard to read… The options are nearly endless (see the blog link above).

3. Ignore the current conventions for cover design. Let’s say you wrote a dark romance novel with a little tasteful D/s in the plot. Sure, use that great landscape photo you saw on Pinterest for the cover art! The cheerful yellow and red flowers in the meadow under soft, puffy white clouds in a blue sky will do an excellent job of leading to very surprised readers once they get your book and open the cover. Another option that seems to help not sell books is to cram a cast of thousands (think some of the art-by-the-yard historical paintings from the 1600s-1800s) cover onto your book. Oh yes, the one that looked so good on your desktop monitor? Go for it. Thumbnail, schlumbnail, it’s your book and your cover so why not? Genre and designs are challenges to be overcome, not guidelines to work within.

4. Don’t market. Do not use BookBub, E-book Soda, the Amazon marketing tools, link exchanges with other writers, a mailing list, nothing. Do not tell people your book has been released. To paraphrase Fight Club, “The first rule of Not Selling the Book is Don’t Talk about the Book.” What people don’t know about, they can’t buy. If you truly feel compelled, put up a small blog post, without links to your sales platforms, saying “Um, yeah, so I just released the next book.” Granted, if your sales criteria and genre do not meet the requirements for things like BookBub, you have a major advantage in not marketing, but if by unhappy chance you do manage to get 50 decent reviews and have a sweet romance releasing during Romance Week, avoid marketing sites like the plague. The unmentioned book doesn’t sell, which is your goal, right?

5. Ignore genre trends. Dang it, you are going to write the next great angsty vampire teen romance. So what if everyone says that subgenre is no longer selling? Or you have a Fifty Shades-ish idea for a romance between a billionaire businessman who “knows the ropes,” ahem, so to speak, and the city restaurant code inspector who fails the kitchen in his private club? Do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that a market is saturated. The more saturated the market, the lower the odds of readers seeing your book on the real or electronic shelves. That’s your goal, remember?

6. Ignore pleas and offers to alpha read or edit your noble, pristine work. It is perfect just as it is, fresh off the printer (or screen). Those are not tyops, those are just alternate spellings that have not been discovered yet. And formatting is for wimps.

7. Wait until the middle of the series to release novel-length works and to offer them in print. Nothing chases away readers like finding that the first dead tree book is #7 in the series.

8. Release series out of order, although this technique is not as effective as some others. The last Colplatschki book (#8) will actually be the first in in-series chronological order. Which leads to …

9. Allow bad reviews to determine what you release and if you “finish” a series. Although this may fall more into “How to Chase Off Readers” than strictly not selling books. This also falls into traditional publishing’s bailiwick, since they are very good about stopping series in the middle if the publisher’s lack of marketing has hurt sales of the earlier books. Learn from the Big 7, er 6, ah 5. They have spent the past few years laboring hard to become masters of not marketing.

10. Ignore release dates of other books. Let’s say Brandon Sanderson, Brad Thor, Larry Correia, Michael Z. Williamson, and Stephen King and Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele are all going to release books August 1-4. Of course this is the best time to launch Angsty Teen Vampires from Tacoma! No one will have any money left to buy your book, and they won’t see it because of the full-page ads and Amazon sales blitz and big posters at Barnes and Noble. That’s a great way to not sell books.

I’ve also written so cross-genre that no one is quite certain how to categorize or market my books. I’ve written alt-history that is closer to secret history except for the heavy sci-fi elements, but that has so much actual historical background that it almost needs footnotes in spots (almost). I’m going to release a YA (but it’s not, really) in September that is sci-fi but also coming of age and exploration and school-drama and planetary exploration and hunting and oh heck, YOU figure out how to sell it. And I released a steampunk story, Language of the Land, that lacks a bunch of the “things you have to have to call it steampunk.” And urban fantasy set in Colorado and rural Kansas that includes a texting cat and Russian mythology but no elves, vampires, werewolves, or the other now-seemingly-standard UF elements. (Links added. Would it kill you to mention your book names and add them now and then? If people are interested, let them know where to go! -Ed.)

The few things I’ve not done yet to not sell books include getting into hissing fights on-line, insulting readers or saying that if readers disagree with my politics they should stop buying my books. I’ve noticed that the latter technique seems to work very, very well for not selling books, but it does imply that you had readers to begin with. And I’ve never, ever gone after anyone who left a bad review of my work. Even I don’t want to replace the author of You Know Which Book on the Marketers’ Wall of Shame.

And yet, despite my valiant efforts at not marketing, people still find my books, like them, and tell others. If I marketed, I’d do better. I know this. I have lots and lots of excuses for not marketing. I marketed my non-fiction. And I survived, and sold.
But if you want to not market, just follow my advice above, and you too will successfully not market and not sell books. Unless people like your books. I can’t help you then.



The Bookshelf Collapsed

I like my reference books and cookbooks in paper, even while I like my entertainment in ebook form. There’s something about using the physical memory of how far in, or underlining, highlighting, crossing out and writing and aside, that helps me to remember the information. (Or, in the case of the cookbooks, you can find that my crockpot chili recipe has about 7 more spices added, tomato sauce crossed out and tomato paste written in, “drained” written next to the canned items… because the end result is the perfected form of the cookbook’s basic suggestion.)

As I’ve moved from place to place over the years, I have often given away books – and sometimes gotten them again because I didn’t realize how much I’d use them. Others accumulate, because I think I’ll use ’em, or may need this or that hard-to-find information or recipe. But when I was putting the latest cookbook on the shelf, it collapsed.

Don’t know why. That cheap chipboard has held up through being disassembled and reassembled across five moves, over ten years… okay, maybe I know why. But after I went to the local itty bitty town’s hardware store and cleaned ’em out of 1.5 inch right-angle brackets, and ensured those shelves will have to disintegrate in order to collapse again, I did start taking a long look at what books I really use, and which ones I can let go.

I’ve kept all the cookbooks with stories. Lowbush Moose and Other Alaskan Recipes – great book, full of hilarious stories about the people and places in Alaska as it was transitioning to statehood. (Tired Wolf and Smokehouse Bear complete the series, and are also awesome. Good recipes, too.) I’ve kept the ones for research (Rocky Mountain Wild Foods Cookbook), and the ones that work with our current diet… and one of good South African comfort foods, for when my love really just needs an “I love you” in the form of bobotie and kerkpoeding.

While I was at it, I started on the next shelf down, with the writing reference books, taking out the ones that proved blah and keeping the ones that proved useful. Well, more useful. There are some where the purchase price of the book was worth the one sentence of insight, but I’m not going to keep the rest of the book for that.

Ones I’m keeping:

The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Fishman, J.D.
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
The Positive Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Meditations on Violence: a Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence by Rory Miller
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Reni Browne & Dave King
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
What Every Body Is Saying by Joe Navarro

What reference books do you keep and use?

—And now, for the part where I encourage you to entertain yourself and support the author!–

For those of you who like to listen to your novels, I’ve got not one but two new audiobook releases for you!

Peter’s second in the space opera Maxwell series, Ride the Rising Tide, is now out in audiobook:

Trapped in the Dragon Tong’s search for a lost legend, Steve Maxwell finds a way out by enlisting in the Lancastrian Commonwealth Fleet.

If he survives long enough to earn a commission, he’ll be able to hunt down the pirates who killed his mentor. To get there, he’ll have to slog through rain-swollen swamps, dodge incoming fire on a ‘peacekeeping’ mission, and face down a gang of angry smugglers. Even far away from enemies, a mistake can turn a spaceship into a deathtrap.

It’ll take resourcefulness and courage to succeed…but Steve hasn’t come this far in order to fail.

On the Western front, Rocky Mountain Retribution is also now audiobook for you:

In the post-Civil War West, the railroads are expanding, the big money men are moving in, and the politicians they are buying make it difficult for a man to stand alone on his own. So, Walt Ames moves his wife, his home, and his business from Denver to Pueblo. The railroads are bringing new opportunities to Colorado territory, and he’s going to take full advantage of them.

Ambushed on their way south, Walt and his men uncover a web of corruption and crime to rival anything in the big city. And rough justice, Western-style, sparks a private war between Walt and some of the most dangerous killers he’s ever encountered, a deadly war in which neither friends nor family are spared.

Across the mountains and valleys of the southern Rocky Mountains, Walt and his men hunt for the ruthless man at the center of the web. Retribution won’t be long delayed…and it cannot be denied.



Here comes the halfway mark

Welcome to June; almost half the year has now gone by. How are you faring on those goals you set at the beginning of the year? This is a good time to evaluate, regroup, and start again. For those of you who are or want to become full-time authors, and even those of you who don’t, now is a good time to put down your author hat, pick up your business manager hat, and answer a few questions for yourself.
1. What is your total word count for the last 6 months? For each month? Week? Day?
2. What is your average word count per month, week, and day?
3. How many hours did it take you to write the last story/novel? (Hours actually spent writing, not calendar time from start to finish)
4. What was your average words per (actually writing) hour?
5. What time of the day is the most productive for you to write?
6. Was that increase in productivity at home or away?
7. What other factors led to it?
8. How many hours a day do you spend on writing business other than actual writing (including research, billing, marketing, etc)?

If you haven’t been keeping track, then how do you know what will help you, what works best for you, and just how good you can be when everything is awesome? How can you plan a production schedule if you don’t know what it takes to produce your product? If your method of creating new work is to sit down at a keyboard, sometimes, and hope that a novel shoots out of your fingers… hope is not a business plan. Keep your day job a while longer, and get ready to quantify your creative side.

If you have been keeping track, or you can pull some rough numbers off files and blog posts, now is a good idea to take a look at the story that the numbers tell. Are you more productive in the morning or evening? When you have 4-hour blocks to write, or when you have an hour to squeeze in? When you’re at home or at the coffee shop? (Or, in one writer’s case, in the van at the grocery store’s parking lot, getting “one last thing I forgot” and really finishing a chapter without the kids interrupting?) Do you write better with music or without? Does it go faster if you can write every day for multiple days in a row? How often did you lose a week to being sick, or other emergencies?

This isn’t about forcing you into a rigid schedule. This is about helping you realize what you need to be at your best, and about how much time it really will take you if you’re trying to plan out the next book, the next series, the next year. It’s about “The cover artist needs at least a month, so between the beta readers, the copyeditor, the cover artist, etc. I’m looking at a release roughly in this month… and I can reserve a slot roughly by then, because I’ll know if I’m on track, which means the final draft won’t have to sit waiting for ‘next available’ slot with anyone else.”

Writing is a very personal thing, that takes place a lot in solitude and in our own heads. This means that the immediate moments, and the low points and high points, tend to overwhelm all the day-to-day, and the story we tell ourselves of how we’re doing and what works best for ourselves… may not actually match reality. This is why I like numbers: they take all of the crisis-of-the-moments and the unique cases and let you step back and get a bigger, broader picture. They also let you focus on things you can change, and do better – because what you measure, you can alter.

Sometimes they say things we don’t want to hear, like “You’ve only averaged one day a week at the gym in the last 3 weeks. This is why you’re not getting any better. It doesn’t matter what the reason is this time, last time, the time before… you’re not going to get better until you go three times a week.”

Sometimes they say things that we really didn’t expect, like “While you feel more productive writing at the coffee shop, you really are only pulling the same numbers as you do at home, and have the driving time and the extra cost of lattes.”

Sometimes just tracking forces a change in habits, like “If I start writing with my first cuppa, I can get 1,000 words in. If I check the news first, it’s hit or miss if I write anything at all… oh, look, I realized this and now I’m skipping news in the morning, because otherwise I have to record a big fat zero in my daily word count…”

And sometimes it’s simple little things like “My writing speed doubles when I get to the scenes I’m really excited about. Huh. Maybe I ought to find or make something about each scene that’s cool and interesting, or skip ahead… because if they’re boring me to write, are they going to be just as boring to read?”

You’ve got a little over half a year til 2018. What are your goals and plans for the second half? What are you going to track?

For an awesome goal accomplished, Tom Rogneby got three novellas rolled into an omnibus: Quest to the North, Lost Children, and The Lady of Eyre are now all available for only $4.99 in Coming Home!

It’s a good set of tales – if you haven’t been following the saga, and you enjoy heroic fantasy and the antics that small boys (and their dogs) can get up to, check it out! You don’t even have to pick up the earlier books in the series to enjoy this set – but once you read this, you might find you want more…



Managing Viewer Expectations with social media

No, not reader expectations in books. Y’all are authors, and there are better authors than me to talk about that. Let’s talk about your online presence. How much social media do you have to have?

Well, actually, you don’t.

There, I said it. It’s heretical in the age of Everything Always Online!, but it’s true. There are some authors who have an almost entirely offline presence. There are some who barely check in on one or two forums, and their websites were last updated in 1998, and still they sell. This doesn’t mean they don’t market; it means any marketing they do may be in person, or by selling short stories to magazines and anthologies, or by placing ads in trade magazines with their target market. One lady has almost no online presence for her cookbook, but when she shows up at a gun show with a gingham checked tablecloth and plates of lemon bars as free samples, recipe is on page such-and-such, she sells gangbusters.

Anyway, your online footprint. First, the most extreme case: don’t be That Gal On Twitter, the one who hadn’t published yet but was sure Larry Correia was a total loser, because she had way more twitter followers than him. *migraine salute* Yes, they exist. And folks like that are a useful lesson that having a million followers doesn’t pay the bills.

Second: the writer who has a website for the planned sweeping book series, a presence on twitter, facebook, google +, you name it, he’s there. He’s poured 500,000 words into facebook arguments in the last month alone! But nobody’s buying the one book he has out, despite spending 12-15 hours a day building up his online presence! What marketing trick is he missing? *full frontal facepalm* Write the next book. Seriously, get off mytwitface, and write the next book.

Here’s where viewer expectations start to come into play. You see, if you’re active all over mytwitface, and suddenly you disappear off to go write the next book, two things are going to happen to the people who follow you, and you get to decide which is worse: most people won’t even notice you’re gone, and some people will constantly try to drag you back because they miss your content.

If you could steel yourself to taking a full week off mytwitface, without some Dramatic Announcement that you’re going offline, you’d find when you got back that the majority of folks never even noticed. Social media platforms are designed to make the user feel like they’re drinking from a firehose of content, and they don’t notice when something’s missing.

Personally, I’ve varied facebook from daily to once a month, and people don’t notice when I’m gone; they only notice when I post and they see it. So no, you really, really don’t have to be on them as much as you think you do.

As for the people who try to drag you back? That tells you a lot about what kind of content you’re known for. “We miss pictures of the lambs and how the dogs are doing!” vs. “Hey! This guy is wrong on the internet! Let’s you and him fight!” Neither one of these is bad, just different – but they are different, and let you know a lot about how you’re known. Think about what sort of time, emotions, and energy you want to put into that.

On your online persona: Alice Cooper has, when mentoring young musicians, been extremely firm about the need to seperate your stage persona and your private life and sense of self. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and crash hard. Turns out it’s true with social media personas, too, when you start performing for the public.

I have an acquaintance who’s known for being Angry On The Internet. She’s constantly called to come pour vitriol on trolls, knuckleheads, Someone Is Wrong On The Internet, whatever. I’ve seen her on a slow day when there’s no one to be furious at… and she literally was reaching out to people, trying to find something, anything to be vitriolic at, and getting desperate, because her online persona was her true self, and she couldn’t cope without being furious. Now, that works for her, but I sat and wondered what the long term mental, emotional, and physical damage has to be of living All Drama, All The Time. (Other than teenagers, and even those bouncing balls of out-of-control hormones manage a lot of chill and happy moments.)

So think about what you’re known for, and what toll that takes, and if that’s what you want. If you don’t… change it! You’re not dead, you can too change.

Third online footprint: the daily blogger. Blogs work at optimum for crowd draw if they have new daily content 2-3 times a day, to keep people coming back. This is, however, not feasible for most people. (Even Mad Genius Club is only a daily blog, and that’s with all our contributors writing!)

Generating enough means finding or creating content, and that can take hours of a day itself, to the point that the blog rapidly becomes a chore instead of a joy. Several ways to make it much easier are to build a buffer, mine your archives, acquire contributors, have cross-blog conversations, and grow commenters.

If your viewers expect new content daily (or multiple times a day), it’s just not human to expect that you’ll never have disruptions to your schedule – so generate your content ahead of time, and schedule it to appear on a regular basis. (I am, for instance, writing this early last week, and scheduling it so it’ll post while I’m busy dealing with a funeral.)

If you have sufficient archives built up, feel free to mine them for material: audience turnover & new audience growth ensures that something three years old will be brand new to the viewers who just started coming regularly in the last 6 months. (Whether you label this as old material or not is up to you: I’ve seen it done both ways, but haven’t yet talked a daily blogger into running an A/B test to see which generates more traffic. I suspect it’s when it’s not mentioned as being a rerun.)

Other contributors, often called guests posts, take some of the content-generation burden off your shoulders. Even aggregators like The Passive Voice has people with keys to the blog to manage comments and contribute posts while the blog host is on vacation. The main drawbacks of guest posting are that your fans come for your material, so traffic goes down proportionally with the number of guest posts run, and getting / filtering guest posting offers appropriate to your blog. On the bright and shiny, hey, free material your viewers will like, and driving eyeballs to nifty people who ought to get more exposure and sales. Can be awesome!

This, by the way, is where “blog tours” come in. Originally conceived as guest posts across several high-traffic targeted audience blogs, they can work… as dashing out a bunch of posts and then posting them in sequence to low-traffic blogs that are nothing but guest posts, they’re hard work and heartbreak.

Cross-blog conversations are one of the great things about writing blogs online: it’s a chance to take somebody else’s blog post, and explore it in depth on your own, then engage in an extended conversation with them. I’ve seen a bunch of first responder blogs do a round-robin where they came up with a 911 call scenario, and then each person wrote about the fictional incident as it passed through their part of the first responder world – police dispatch, police, EMS, ER Doc, hospital nurse – from both a technical “Here’s how it goes down” and a emotional impact on the responders, and on the community, level. Don’t be afraid to engage in the social part of social media, and link to others for more than just an excerpt. More than one daily blogger maintains a sidebar of folks they find awesome and interesting – and if life happens, they can post “No free ice cream today – go check out the folks on the sidebar.”

Finally, growing commenters: a few minor notes.

first, the shorter and smaller your comment box and comment space, the shorter the comments your audience will tend to leave. The bigger the comment box / comment space, the longer people tend to be. The longer the blog post or comment area, the more in-depth discussions tend to get, and the lower-drama they get. Twitter’s 120 characters is optimized for bumper-sticker philosophy, and the road rage levels of stupid drama that engenders. Facebook’s promotion of “shorter is better” by putting more than 120 characters below the fold, and increasing font size on shorter updates, again promotes drama at the expense of clarity – by design.

Second, the way to get comments is to ask questions, and to respond yourself in comments. Even then, its’ very hard. And the questions can’t be obvious comment-bait; that doesn’t work when a masseuse is going “If you like the new tattoo, like or favourite this video!”, it doesn’t work on the blog equivalent, either.

Third: moderation in all things. Whether you plan to have a comment section where only sycophants are allowed (I don’t recommend it; it’s generally unhealthy and vicious), or one where anyone can join in, you will need moderation. Because trolls exist – they range from a psychopathic stalker with a fixation on short Asian chicks and some of the worst writing known to man, to paid positions whose job is to show up anytime a product, service, company, or political position is mentioned, and either promote it or denigrate any opposition to it. Neither of these are interested in conversation or growing your web presence, and should be removed from the comment stream. On the other hand, even the best spam filters often catch innocent commenters, and need to be regularly checked.

And yes, this takes time and mental energy. Factor that in to your social media plan.

And when all else fails, manage your viewer expectations with the Big Dramatic Announcement that you’re cutting back, and here’s the new schedule. Make it a manageable schedule for you, and then stick to it! Webcomics still thrive on a M-W-F release schedule (Girl Genius), and some even on a Tue-Thu release. (However, you must stick to the schedule. Nothing kills site traffic faster than inconsistency with updates despite a posted schedule – and kills the discipline and motivation to continue updating!

Accept that you’re going to have a steep traffic hit when you implement, because you will – but again, while eyeballs are important, having books to sell to those eyeballs is far more important than eyeballs alone.

Peter recently did this on his blog, Bayou Renaissance Man – he took his lowest-traffic day, Sunday, and announced it would be a one-post day, focused on music. While it did drive traffic off a cliff on Sunday, it didn’t affect the rest of the week – and he has one day a week now where he can be offline, recuperating and working entirely on other projects.

He’s also, as I type, working on other posts and queuing them up, and there’ll have been a notice that due to death in family, posting will be light and inconsistent. This way, even if we are completely swamped with real life and not near, or paying no attention to, online – the viewers will be informed, happy, and come back when there’s more content.

So bottom line? You don’t need nearly as much social media as you think, but if you’re doing a blog, you need consistency and consistently good content to keep people coming back. However, you don’t always need fresh, original content created by you. And no matter what, the most important part is writing the next book.

Speaking of the Next book, Tom Rogneby just released Lady of Eyre! Swinging between high fantasy and everyday adventures related in a high fantasy tone (The derby of the pine chargers! Yeah, anybody who’s been a boy scout or a boy scout parent knows where that one’s going…), it pretty awesome. Fair disclaimer: I wrote the blurb. I wrote the blurb because I like the story! I did not write the story – it’s better than if I had done it!