Category Archives: PROMOTION

It’s a Business – A blast from the past

(Brad is still busy with life, family and writing. So I thought I’d do a blast from the past. In this case, from last year.)

There are times when I feel like I’m the crotchety parent sitting the kids down to tell them the facts of life. No, not those facts of life but the facts of life about business. It seems like almost every week there is a blog post or newspaper article about a bad contract or troubles in publishing or writers thinking about hanging up their keyboards. Why? Because all too many forget that publishing is a business and it needs to be treated as such.

I’m not going to discuss, at least not much, the publisher side of writing as a business today. Oh, there is plenty out there. Bad publishing decisions coming back to haunt the publishing company abound. But that’s not the point of today’s post. No, today I’m back on my soapbox reminding everyone who wants to be a writer that you have to remember that this is your business and you have to treat it as such.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked with writers, some traditionally published and others indie published, who went into this business with stars in their eyes and rose colored glasses firmly in place. The ones traditionally published just knew that once they signed the contract, the publisher would be spending all sorts of money to promote their book and make it into a best seller. The indie writers who are now wanting to go with a traditional publisher because — duh — they will get this huge advance and will be sent on tours to sign their books and will soon be playing poker with other best selling authors ala Castle.

That sound you hear, that slow thud-thud-thud is my head pounding against the wall.

It would be wonderful to live the life of Castle — less the murderers and other crooks trying to take pot shots at you every week. But that isn’t reality. The reality is that the vast majority of writers who have signed with traditional publishers see little if any real push from their publisher. In fact, the publisher — and the author’s agent — expect the author to do their own promotion. Oh, you might get reimbursed for your expenses if you go to a con or do a book tour but don’t bet on it. Don’t believe me that publishers aren’t spending as much on promotion of those authors they haven’t pegged as best sellers or the newest “best thing ever”? Think back to the last time you saw a book signing at your local bookstore. Now ask yourself how many times a year your local bookstore has such signings. How many of those are authors who aren’t best sellers or local authors?

Now, look at your local newspaper and tell me how large the arts section is and how many book reviews appear per week. Oh, wait. Sorry. Part of the reason there aren’t as many reviews is that there aren’t as many people reading the newspaper. Reviews, especially book reviews, were some of the first things cut when newspapers started cutting costs to make up for the lower advertising revenue and lower subscriptions rates. Few newspapers have their own book reviewers any longer and the books being reviewed are either best sellers or the newest best thing. Hmm.

But, Amanda, you get those huge advances and you don’t have to work any longer.

Wrong.

And this is where you have to remember that this is a business. Most advances, especially for “new” authors fall in the four-digit range. Yes, some new authors get more but they are the except and not the rule. You don’t get the advance all at one time and you aren’t going to see any more money from the publisher until you have earned out the advance and, believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. How can it when publishers use Bookscan to determine how many books are sold instead of a simple inventory tracker program?

That means you have to make sure you have a way to pay your bills between advances. This is why the vast majority of writers aren’t full-time writers. They have families to feed and are like me. They like having a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. Even if your first book is a success, you don’t know that the second book will be. More importantly, if you are publishing traditionally, you have no guarantee that the readers will remember you two years or more after your first book by the time the second book comes out. Remember, when you publish traditionally, you have no control over when your book is released and you are just one of many the publisher is having to slot into a finite number of slots per month.

I can’t repeat this often enough. Writing is a business and the writer is the business owner. Yes, you might sign a contract with someone to distribute your work (a publisher) and promote it (publisher or someone else) but it is still your responsibility to make sure the job is being done. You can’t just sign the contract and sit back and wait for the money to roll in, trusting the person you contracted with to do the job. You need to understand the supply chain for bookstores and the reality of how long a book is left on the shelves before it is pulled. You need to understand the financial aspects of the business and you need to study the numbers when it comes to sell through, resigning authors, etc.

What started me thinking about this again today was this article. The author in question signed a contract with a major publisher for her first book. It was critically acclaimed and not long before it was released into the wild, she quit her job. Yep, you read that right. The author quit her job — the job that helped support her family — so she could promote her book and write full-time. She did so after signing with the publisher for only this one book. There was no second book that would bring in additional advance payments. Nope. Just the starry eyed vision of living the life of a writer.

Now, I don’t want to kick this woman when she’s down but her story is illustrative of the problems so many writers — and folks who start their own businesses — face. They get a great review for a product before it hits the shelves and based on those reviews, quits their regular job to do this full-time. The problem is that reviews don’t always turn into sales and sales, especially for books, will slow down if the author doesn’t bring a new title out in fairly short order. For those authors going the traditional route, that very likely means no payments after the book is released because the advance isn’t earned out. So what are you going to do for money?

This particular author did finally go out and get a job — for awhile. But what struck me is that she doesn’t really seem to want to work. She would rather be writing but the worry and stress of not having enough money has shut down the writing. But a job makes her too tired to write. You see the circle. I feel for her but, to be honest, she needs to man up — or woman up — and realize that the situation she is in is the same one so many of us face on a daily basis. We face it and learn to live with it as we continue to write and put our work out there.

The lesson to be learned is that if you don’t have at least six months — preferably a year or more — of living expenses in the bank, do NOT quit your day job. If you are worried about putting food on the table for your kids or if you are worried about how you will pay the bills, do not quit your day job. It makes it more difficult to write, yes. But this is a business and you learn to adapt. You find the way to carve out time to write. But having all the time in the world to write isn’t worth anything if you are worrying about losing your home or having your utilities cut off.

It’s a business, damn it, and you need to look at it that way. Have your business plan. Have your promotion plan. Know that you aren’t going to get a regular salary that is the same from paycheck to paycheck.

And since I am a working writer, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the series will be released soon. You can check out snippets from the book starting here. (Edited to add, Dagger is out and you can find it here.)

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Halloween Tricks and Treats

This Halloween brings with it the usual tricks and treats in the industry. AAP and traditional publishing is touting a fairly small increase in sales as a huge gain. In the same breath, they crow about the continued slowing of e-book sales (without admitting that slow down is only in trad sales and mainly due to high purchase price). Depending on your point of view, those bits of news can be tricks or treats. Two other news items are definite tricks or, as I like to put it, “What the [expletive deleted] were you thinking?” moments. Fortunately, there are some treats out there.

Let’s look at the “tricks” first.

B&N continues with their efforts to shoot themselves in the corporate foot. It’s no secret they have been behind Amazon when it comes to e-book readers. The Kindle came out Nov. 19, 2007. The Nook e-book reader was available for pre-order for the first time on Oct 20, 2009. That is a delay of almost two years before BN realized it needed to get into the game. It has played a game of catch-up since then and is now throwing in the towel. At least that’s the way it looks. The most recent victim, er indication, is the Nook Glowlight Plus. For those not familiar with the Glowlight Plus, it is BN’s alternative to the Kindle Paperwhite (in a side-by-side comparison, the Paperwhite, the Paperwhite came out on top. The only reason the Oasis didn’t was the price differential.) However, it now appears that BN is phasing out the Glowlight Plus. If you try to buy one, I hope you are willing to pay for a refurbished model because BN isn’t selling new ones. Nor does it appear there is a replacement reader or updated reader coming down the line to replace it. Is this the first tangible example of how BN is going to abandon at least the hardware side of e-books? If so, how will this impact their e-book platform, both for traditional publishers and for indies?

The second “trick” comes from Australia. Gould’s Book Arcade in Sydney has been around since the Vietnam War. Back then, it was a gathering place for antiwar protesters. From what I’ve been able to learn, it’s well-known for its used books as well as remaindered, rare and out-of-print books. But, like many bookstores around the world, it has been facing financial troubles for some time. Now it appears the store has three months before it either has to close its doors or move to a new location. None of this is new in the industry.

What makes this a “trick”, at least in my book, is the attitude of the store owner. Unfortunately, it is an attitude I see all too often in not only the publishing industry but in life in general. Claiming that she is a socialist and “I don’t understand capitalism,” Natalie Gould wants someone to swoop in and save the store. In fact, she would have no problem with local government buying the store, saying, ““If I was (Sydney lord mayor) Clover Moore I’d buy the building. They (the city council) have got plenty of money.”

I would lay good money on the fact Gould has changed little, if any, of the way the store operates over the six plus years she says she’s struggled to keep it open. Reading her comments, it is clear she sees the store more as a place of protest, a gathering place and piece of local culture rather than as a business. She wants to keep having her fun on someone else’s dollar. This failure to adapt to changing demands — or, or perhaps and, in this case the change in the neighborhood — she dug her heels in. Now she wants someone to come in a bail her out. Doesn’t this sound a lot like traditional publishing and it’s failure to adapt to changing consumer demands? Traditional publishing (the Big 5, especially) dearly wants things to go back to the way they were decades ago. Instead, readers are looking elsewhere for their reading enjoyment. They aren’t paying the high prices for e-books from the Big 5 and its ilk, instead turning to indie authors.

Now for the treats.

I’m a fan of a number of the old horror films. One of my favorites is The Haunting. This 1963 film stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, among others. It is based on the book, The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. The movie airs tonight on 8:30 CST on Turner Classic Movies. This isn’t one of your heavy special effects movies or hack and slash movies. It is one, however, that scared the crap out of me when I was younger and still gives me the chills, especially when it comes to the performance by Julie Harris. I highly recommend it. I also recommend the book, as well as Ms. Jackson’s The Lottery.

Then there’s always Poltergeist. Who can forget Carol Anne saying, “They’re here”?

Finally, I have three titles on sale through today in honor of Halloween.

Witchfire Burning (Now on sale for $2.99)

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Skeletons in the Closet (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lexie Smithson’s family had never been what most folks would call “normal”. They had more than their fair share of oddballs and loners and even crazy cat ladies. Most families in Mossy Creek did, especially if they lived on the “wrong side of the tracks”. But things took a decidedly sharp turn to the left of weird the day Lexie’s sister came home from school, complaining about how Old Serena Duchamp had given her the evil eye. When her mother decided it would be a good thing to confront the town’s resident witch, Lexie knew life would never be the same. How could it when their loved ones began returning to the old homestead the day after their funerals. Lexie knew she should be happy none of her neighbors reported mutilated cattle or corpses with missing brains. But that can be hard to do when your loved ones have passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet is a novella set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe. It is the first of a series featuring Lexie, her family – both living and dead, not to mention furry – and their friends.

Nocturnal Haunts (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lt. Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. She’s learned that real monsters don’t always hide under the bed or in the closet. They walk the streets and can exist in the best of families.

When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

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Filed under AMANDA, PROMOTION, WRITING

Blurb Writing Example – King’s Champion

Context: Just after 8am, on a rare morning shift. (I don’t work day shifts. So when I do, I need All The Caffeine.) I settle down at my desk, having accomplished the usual flurry of morning tasks, and am contemplating how best to be the best I can be (or braaaaaaaainsssss….), when I get an email from my darling man. This, then, was conducted entirely by email and squeezed in around the edges of the demands for work. It’s not my best blurb, but it works… and it’s an example of how these things get created and changed.

And yes, I still want to rewrite the final version. But there’s a time to shoot the engineer and begin production – and we’ll be re-evaluating blurb and cover as the market changes, in a few years.

8:02am – Peter
Cedar needs the blurb for the book cover. Have you got one yet? If not, can you let me have a draft by 10 a.m.? I’ll work on one, too, and send it to Cedar later this morning after I have your input.

***
8:34 am – Me
I don’t like the blurb I have; please rework it or shoot me your version.

After twenty years of peace, war is coming. Old men can feel it in the wind, as rumors of black wings bearing death in the night grow.

Osiric, the former king’s champion, stumbles into a raiding party on the way back from a friend’s grave. In the rubble, he finds evidence of old foes with a new plan, and an alliance with darker powers.

Now he’s in a race to uncover their plot, before it buries him!

***
8:45am – Peter
How’s this?

The Kingdom has known decades of peace… but time has eroded its will to defend its way of life. Old foes are stirring, with new plans and an alliance with darker powers.

Owain, once King’s Champion, feels the harbingers of a new threat on the wind, as rumors grow of black wings bearing death and torture in the night. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid.

Now he must race against time to uncover the threat and deal with it… before it deals with him!

Love you!

***
9:01am – Me

After decades of peace, the Kingdom of BlahBlah is an unsuspecting prize for an alliance of its old foes and new, darker powers.

Owain, once King’s Champion, feels war in the wind as he hears rumors of black wings bearing death and torture in the night. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he discovers their reality and fights his way through a deadly raid.

Now he must race against time to uncover their plans, and defend his land and king again!

***
9:11am – Peter
My latest:

After decades of peace, the Kingdom has grown lax. Old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers vital information.

The Kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

I think this is close to what we want. If you agree, I’ll fire it off to Cedar.

***
9:28am – Me

What is the name of the kingdom? You really want that in there, because that sets a lot of expectations for worldbuilding. The kingdom of Estarria vs. The principality of Al Andalus, or the Celestial Court of Xongshu… “The kingdom” without a name is too ‘generic mock-medieval European’ and will drive readers off because there’s been a lot of bad fantasy that did that… and I can’t remember it.

What do you think of the other minor tweaks?

After decades of peace, the Kingdom of Blahblah has grown lax. Now, old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

***
9:46am – Peter
I like it. We’ll go with it.
***
King’s Champion

After decades of peace, war is threatening the Kingdom of Avranche. Its old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Blurb Clinic

Okay, a bunch of you requested blurb clinics. And I was innocently sipping my coffee when I looked up and saw a swarm of fingers pointed at me, including one from Sarah as she rapidly ran away. I get it, I get it. The other people on this group blog write actual, y’know, books, and then try to write a blurb once a book. I write blurbs, and only every now and then try to write a book. So, blurb clinic!

To start with, I’m going to repost the text from the last blurb clinic, with three added notes:

1. Readers like characters with agency. This means the characters go places and do things, they don’t just have life happen while they’re there. Blurbs must reflect this agency – they must show your character going and doing and plotting. The shorthand for this is “Don’t use passive voice”, because nothing kills agency faster (and adds length) than putting the action verb on something other than the character. But it’s not solely grammar. “Bob had survived the war, and was hiding on the sidelines as conspiracies rose in the court to entangle him” is very passive. “After surviving the war, Bob is hiding out as a mere florist in the court’s staff. But when he uncovers a new conspiracy…” that has agency.

2. The first person introduced is assumed to be the hero. “In the house of Rlyeh, Cthulu lies dreaming until Captain Carter disturbs him while searching for lost treasure!” If the readers don’t know Cthulu, that makes Cthulu sound like the protagonist, and possibly hero. “After finding lost civilizations on six continents, Captain Carter is close to solving his biggest mystery yet: the location of the lost temple of R’lyeh! But dread Cthulu lies inside, dreaming…” Makes Captain Carter the protagonist.

3. Lead with your protagonist. No matter how interesting your world, people won’t care until you give them a person to care about. This is one of the essential paradoxes of science fiction and fantasy: people are attracted to the genre for the setting, but they stay and come back for the characters.
“After two hundred years at war, the Empire of Man has come to a stalemate with the Scourge. Each side is deadlocked, seeking some advantage, and sending teams to scour dead worlds in search of lost tech left behind by the forerunners. Blah blah setup setup infodump….” is not how to start a blurb.

instead, try “Captain James Carter of the Go Lightly is scouring the ruins of dead races in search of any lost technology that could turn the tide of interstellar war. When he contracts the virus that killed an entire race, Command orders him to become a suicide bio-bomber! Will one man’s search for survival put all humanity’s star systems at risk?”

Links to prior blurb clinics:

https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/22/blurbs-ad-copy-and-cover-copy/
https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/01/10/blurbs-short-and-sweet/

Blurbs, Ad Copy, and Cover Copy: A blast from the past and present-day Blurb Clinic

First, let’s establish terms, because they’ve gotten muddled. “Blurb” used to mean a pull quote on the cover of a book. “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread! –Famous Author in Same Genre.” Pull quotes are a journalistic device of lifting selective quotations out of an interview, article, or review, and highlighting them to make the article or item being reviewed sound really juicy.

Now, “blurb” has become a term for the Ad Copy, or Cover Copy, which means the one to three paragraphs of “What’s it about?” on the back of the book, on the website under description, and right next to the cover thumbnail on promotional emails.

Sarah tackled this subject, under https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/18/going-indie-for-dummies-but-what-is-it-about/. And then she tackled me, and said I had to explain how I do the voodoo that I do so well.

Now, I personally feel that’s about like asking all y’all “how do you write stories?” There are a lot of guidelines, but no hard and fast rules beyond it must be truthful about the contents, and hook the reader’s attention.

Interestingly enough, those of you who have written poetry will be at an advantage here, because you’re familiar with making every syllable, much less every word, count.

Like haiku, there are length constraints. Some promotional emails are very specific about the character limit (letters and spaces) you may use. Other places, like Amazon, will let you ramble on and on, but they cut the “above the fold” that browsers see to only 3-4 lines.

I recommend that you try to keep your blurb to the promotional length, so that you don’t have to come up with a new one for every promotion you want to run. Functionally, this means you’ll want to keep it within 300 characters. This will also force you to write long, then cut it down to something short enough to be exciting, picking and choosing each word for best effect.

Now, what words do you write?
First, We’re going to go to the heart, the core of your story, and break it down.

1.) A Character
2.) wants something
3.) But something opposes them.
4.) The stakes if they fail are: —-

Note: This should all be information the reader will have by Chapter 3.

But, you say, I have three people, and this one wants this, and that one wants that, and this other wants… Yes, true, most stories have more than the protagonist and the antagonist. However, unless you’re doing an epic fantasy, there’s one (or at most two) central protagonists whose actions and choices drive the plot. As Harlan Ellison says: Who does the story hurt? That’s who it’s about.

Epic fantasy breaks this guideline, because it generally has three to five separate viewpoints and storylines, not necessarily going on at the same point in history. Thus, you’ll end up doing a one-sentence-per-storyline to keep it in the limit.

Returning to that list, sometimes you’ll also add:

5.) What is the first plot twist?

And, especially for SF/F stories:

6.) What are the 3-5 most important unique names involved? Use 3 of them.

(This is because people tend to tune out after 3-5 unfamiliar terms. So, if you start with “Xaarath Fthagn of Marakis Prime is a gleeple of the Tuurathi”… you’ve already lost a chunk of readers.)

Finally, the best piece of advice: when you think you have a good piece of ad copy, try reading it out loud, and then saying it like you’re answering the question “What’s it about?” at a party.

You’ll probably find yourself hesitating before words, dropping them, changing phrases, possibly even skipping and combining entire sentences. This is normal and good. Write down the spoken version, and it’ll be smoother on the reading as well as the delivery.

Now, on to examples. Riffing on Sarah’s post, these are all Cinderella variants. I warn you, they’re going to be rather rough, because composing a blurb usually takes me two to three days, and I need to get this done by Saturday night for the post to go up.

Fantasy:

Ella’s sheltered world died with her father, leaving her a refugee on her step-mother’s estates. Now exiled to kitchen servitude to hide the reminder of the unpopular and doomed marriage alliance, she must dodge her increasingly paranoid sisters and parlay old ties with the Fae to win back her rightful place in the palace. Unfortunately, every gift from the Fae comes with a cost, and midnight is coming all too soon…

Science Fiction:

It’s just a temp job, right?

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella and her shipmates must cater to the increasingly bizarre demands of the galactic upper class, while seeking a new captain, contracts, and alien allies to find a way back to the stars!

Romance – Science Fiction

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella must move among the galactic upper class while avoiding being fined . Getting back to the stars never seemed so far away, until a favor given freely to the local aliens is repayed in the oddest way. In the middle of a ball, Ella’s won not just the prince’s assistance, but his heart.

With freedom in her grasp, she must choose between the stars, or love…

Thriller:

Time is ticking away…

Caught between a malevolent murderer and an enigmatic conspiracy, Ella must find out who killed her father. All signs point toward something happening at the palace ball, and the prince may be the author of the conspiracies – or it’s next victim!

A few notes – if you’re going to have more than four lines of test, break it up into multiple paragraphs. When viewed on a small screen (kindle fire, iPad, phone…), even a normal-looking paragraph becomes a wall-o-text.

Taglines- sure, knock yourself out.

I’m at work today, but I’ll be checking in. What are your blurbs?

(And if you want to read something pretty nifty, Holly Chism has modern gods working together to stop Loki after he lost the last of his sanity! https://www.amazon.com/Godshead-Holly-Chism-ebook/dp/B00AGI1AGY/ )

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, PROMOTION, Uncategorized, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Series and Multiple Simultaneous Releases

For Dan Z, who commented:

Advice on managing/planning a series. For example, if you know from the get go that your story is too big for just one book (or just one set of characters or what have you) is it better to write out the entire series, in essence building up a backlog, and then publish each volume individually on a regular schedule? or perhaps release them in pairs or other multiples? or to forego the entire idea of a backlog and publish the whole series en masse? or to dial that back a bit publish each story as it gets finished, whenever that happens to be?

It Depends. On what? Well, first and foremost, on your writing speed and skills. Second, on your experience level as a writer. Third, on the planned length of series, which ties into fourth, the marketing tactics you planned.

—The Writing Segment —

Writing speed and experience are tied together: if this is your first book, you may not know how long it’s going to take for you to write the second one, much less the next 6. This was one major stumbling block for many authors in trad pub: after taking years to craft their first book and put it through the query process, it got picked up and did well, so the publisher turned around and said “We’ll take two more in the series.” Now the author, who may have taken 5 years to gather ideas and get the first book written in its final form, suddenly has less than a year to come up with and write the second book. It’s not as good, because the author didn’t have the skill set for pulling ideas together and writing to deadline, nor the practice at writing sequels.

The advice to overcome this used to be to keep writing the next book and the next, so you had many out in slush piles at the same time. These days, the advice is different.

New Author Option 1: When you have the first one done, start writing the second while the first one is out to beta readers. If it is working, then write that sequel! What you learn by writing the second book will really help with editing the first one, so leave that until you’ve finished the second. Now is the time to learn the skills of formatting, covers, and blurb, but most importantly, keep writing the second book! Once you have two written, then you can edit both while writing the third. Then, you can decide whether to:

A. Publish each book in 30-day intervals,
B. Publish each book in 60 or 90-day intervals,
C. Publish Book 1 & 2 simultaneously, then Book 3 within 30 days
D. Publish Books 1-3 simultaneously, followed by Book 4 within 30 – 90 days.

To make the best choice, proceed on to the marketing techniques portion of this article.

New Author Option 2: When you have the first one done, start writing the second while the first one is out to beta readers. If it’s not working, or you end up switching to other things, you might give it a couple months. After a couple months, especially if it’s clear that the grand plan of writing the series-of-twelve really isn’t going to work right now, pull out the original book and use the distance that time has helped you gain to struggle through the learning curve of editing your first book. (A different skillset than writing!) Then publish the first one, because it’s better to have it out there, delighting readers, than sitting on a hard drive waiting for months or years or eternity for its sequel to join it.

Experienced Author: If you have 5 books out and have your process fairly well down, and have decided you want to break into a new genre or series, then this may be a great idea. You not only know you can do this, you also know how long it’s going to take you, and can plan the marketing accordingly. Don’t, however, do this on an existing series.

— The Marketing Segment —

Why do I keep mentioning 30, 60, and 90 days? Because those, along with the one-year mark, are important cutoffs in your book’s visibility. The first 30 days your book is out, you have the chance on being on the Hot New Releases list – a list that required far fewer sales to make and stay than the bestseller list. As a new author, especially if you don’t a have a following due to blog, forum, or other group, your primary challenge is being visible enough that people who have never heard of you will find you and give you a try. (This is also a major challenge for established authors, but it’s a different playing field. Your first 100 sales will be the hardest sales you ever make; The 101st will be far easier than the 1st.)

Amazon has a multiplier to the visibility that specifically promotes new books – after 30 days, it decreases, leading to “the 30-day cliff”, as in “my sales just fell off a cliff.” However, there are multiple cliffs at 30, 60, and 90 days, and another at 12 months. Savvy authors on a fast release schedule will therefore schedule releases so the day one book drops out of the Hot New Releases, the next one is launched and can take advantage of that multiplier. After all, every book is a potential entry point to a series, and if Book 3 catches a potential reader’s eye, they’re likely to go to Book 1 and start reading.

Newer authors may not have the skill and experience to be able to write quickly enough to meet multiple 30-day releases, or to get everything together quickly enough for their next release in 30 days. If so, all is not lost – just reschedule to get out within 60 days, or 90, to catch some of the same boost.

Reader Behaviour & Releases: Netflix has revealed a wonderful amount of human behaviour in storytelling to those of us who create for a living. For the first time, we can really see that people like to binge-watch* shows they’ve discovered and fallen in love with… and that when they run into something they like, they prefer to go back to the beginning of the entire show, or at least the prior season, and watch it all the way through. Furthermore, if the plots are complex and tangled, and they know a new season is coming out involving the same characters, they’ll often rewatch the last season or last few episodes.

What does this have to do with book release schedules? Everything! We’re in the entertainment business, not the book business. This means when people find you, and like you, they want to binge-read your series, so especially if you have a 4+ book series, the more you have available when they find you, then more they’ll tear through before they run out of material, they disengage, or something else takes higher priority.

Readers also have a finite attention span, and are far more likely to remember the book they read last week over the one they read three months ago. They’re more likely to remember you as an author they like if they’ve enjoyed three of your books instead of just one. So, once you have readers it’s a good thing to give them more to read right away, and more coming out soon, so they will get in a habit of looking for new stuff by you, and remember your name.

Here are two authors who experimented with multiple releases at once to break past the “Is the series worth investing in? Will they actually continue?” that the midlist death spiral trained into readers, as well as having the next book right there for readers to immediately get.

The Liliana Nirvana Technique
http://www.hughhowey.com/the-liliana-nirvana-technique/
Lindsay Buroker’s Secret Pen Name Experiment
Launch:http://lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/pen-name-launch-first-month-earnings-marketing/
Followup:http://lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/pen-name-update-at-10-weeks/

Some notes from other authors who’ve tried multiple-simultaneous-release, with less stellar returns:
1. This turns your release into one-shot. If you release 4 books separately, even at 30-day intervals to keep something eligible for the hot new releases list and take advantage of the release visibility boost, you have four releases to learn about and fine-tune your titles, covers, blurbs, release promotions, availability in paper, as well as proofreading and formatting. So you need to be on top of your game, in order to avoid massively dampening the effects of your single launch.

2. This is expensive. If you’ve published several prior books and have your A-game when it comes to covers, proofreading, et. al., then you can drive the costs pretty far down, but you’re still doing 4-5 sets of cover art & design, and any editorial you pay for, as well as the promotional slots at the email lists / banner ads / AMS ads / any other promotion… all at once, without prior sales to feed it.

3. It is far harder to sit on 3-4 books than it looks. Most authors overestimate their production speed and their reservoir of patience when it comes to producing but not releasing… and the sustained production speed post-release. (The 4 down and 1 in the hole technique needs the 5th to be almost done. It does not work nearly as well on two down, and the third out in three months, the fourth out about a year later.)

4. Sitting on the books means that you don’t get reader feedback (other than beta readers) to help improve your writing. While I’d never recommend taking every single review on Amazon as the revealed gospel direct from the mouth of G-d, if you get running themes in your reviews, it means that readers are consistently seeing something. Peter had reviews noting that his protagonist in his very first book was too good to be true, and the writing (which was British English, not American) was stilted. (That’s British for you, to American ears.) He’s used that feedback to improve both the character and his writing as a whole.

5. Promotion to get people aware of the books is critical, since you don’t have time to grow word of mouth. (Unless you already have a blog or other following. But if you have said following, why make them wait?) When it comes to one author doing KDP Select, another doing permafree, someone else going wide… remember the two examples I showed you are several years old, and individual promotional techniques have changed in effectiveness since them. Work according to the market you have, not the market they had back then.

6. Preorders are a mixed bag. Some people have found they work great, especially when you’re in the high numbers of a long-running series, to make sure people order right away and don’t forget you after they ran out of books to read. Most people have found they completely destroy release date rankings boost and stickiness of visibility, because the sales apply when the book is ordered, not when it’s released. (On Amazon. Itunes, last I checked, still does release-date rankings per file shipped.) Most authors go with a maximum 4-5 day preorder that lets them have a URL ready for all the promo sites they can get, lets them get everything uploaded and double-checked, but doesn’t spread pre-sales out over a month or more.

7. Sales will still reflect the size of the niche. Weird West is a tiny niche genre, while urban fantasy is large. So if you’re writing about ranching radioactive spiders in the wild west while fighting indians and zombies, and having shootouts with mad inventors in the streets at high noon… that actually sounds pretty darned awesome, and let me know about it, but in the meantime, don’t expect to sell as many books as Jim Butcher.

8. Keywords – try staggering your keywords. If you have more keywords for the series than the 7 slots per book, don’t use the same keywords for every book! Overlap is great, but if you’re putting out 4 books, you have 28 keyword slots – and each book can act as a draw into the series.

In summary, multiple releases can be an extremely flashy way to break into a genre, and can work very well – but they come at the cost of the sales lost while you didn’t have the books out, and the risk of only having one launch to get all your blurbs, cover art, promotional lineup, and so on right.

Anyone tried this? What did you find worked well, and what didn’t? How about staggered quick-succession releases, every 30,60, or 90 days?

*A note on binge-watching: this is defined by netflix as watching 2-6 episodes of the same show in one sitting. In broader cultural context, it’s defined as watching all available episodes in a show as time allows, until either the viewer runs out of content, drops the show, or a higher-priority show/activity displaces it.

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Guest Post: Selling myself in different venues

Everyone welcome fellow Indie Author Christopher Woods! He’s had a rough week, but as you’ll see, it was in a good cause. I am also disappointed I didn’t get to hang out with him and sell books, but there will be other times (We must chat about cons, soon). He’s been, as you’ll see, exploring non-traditional outlets for sales. Although I still say that selling yourself has a funny connotation, Chris! 

soulguardWhere can a person set up and successfully sell their books? This is a question a lot of self-published authors must ask. The answer is complicated. There are the Sci-Fi conventions which are the regular spots a self-published author will find fans of their work, provided they write Science Fiction or Fantasy. For those who write in other genres there are conventions for them as well, but I write Sci-Fi/Fantasy so that’s all I can speak about at the moment.

I’ve done a few different things over the last couple of years since publishing my first novel, Soulguard, in September of 2014. I set up in a Home Depot where I used to work, which sounds odd but I sold about fifteen books. I’ve done a couple of rallies at libraries with varied success. And I’ve done a few conventions, including HonorCon, LibertyCon, and Fanboy Expo. HonorCon had the best results in physical sales, thirty books.

The newest venue I decided to try was the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville, TN. I rented booth space there and offered to share the booth with local authors, including Cedar Sanderson, who wanted me to post about the results of using the fair as a venue for book selling. Unfortunately, Cedar had an accident on her way down to join me and was unable to participate. Thank God she and her First Reader were unharmed. I was a little disappointed that they couldn’t make it, as I was looking forward to meeting Sanford, and having a little time in the booth to talk to both of them. Something for another day, I suppose.

Now to the fair. I’m sure most of you have been to a fair at some point. It’s loud, it’s crowded, and it’s hard for an introvert to cope with honestly. But the Tennessee Valley Fair was a place where over a hundred thousand people go thru a ten day span. With that many people coming through, there would have to be some readers. There were. Over the ten days, I sold about fifty books, both hardback and paperback.

Most of us know that physical sales are just a small part of our reasons to set up in the conventions. We have cards, bookmarks, and gifts. All of these are ways we put our names in front of many people. Along with my fifty book sales, I gave out close to eight hundred bookmarks to interested parties, as well as five hundred business cards. Whether these pan out over the next few months is still to be discovered.

There were a few things I discovered as I sat in the booth and watched people. First the placement of my booth was not bad. The air conditioned building I was set up in has two places where the bathrooms are located. One end has the ladies downstairs and the gents upstairs, directly above. The other end is just the opposite. Now, that made things inconvenient for my trips to the bathroom since my booth was right in front of the ladies room and I had to climb the stairs every time I had to go. But I realized about two days in that almost every woman who attends that Fair comes into the air conditioned building and uses that bathroom. Every man who accompanies them waits just outside and right in front of my booth. So most of the folks who attend would see my banner. This generated some of the sales I made.

You have to learn to read which people to talk to, as well. Some are just looking as they pass and all of them have been dodging carnival barkers throughout the whole event. If you speak up, many will run away in fear of being harangued into buying something. You have to watch for that spark of interest, sometimes hard to catch. This means you have to watch the crowd instead of playing with your tablet or phone. Most Cons are full of people who enjoy the genre you are working in but this place had people from every walk of life. After a while, you begin seeing the same responses from people, that stop and double take when they see books. Those are readers, perhaps not readers of your genre, but readers. Those are the people you can talk to.

Surprisingly, the question, “Did you write these?” came from almost all of them. The more I thought about it, I realized this was another difference from a Con. Authors set up at Cons to sell their books. People at the Fair set up to sell anything. Many of the folks who wouldn’t have bought the books only did so after learning that I wrote the books. But I’m happy to sell my books to anyone willing to buy them.

The biggest detriment to my days at the Tennessee Valley Fair was the noise. There was a group who rented thirteen booths and set up a laser tag arena. Unfortunately, it was just through the curtain behind me. My eye was twitching by the time I had done ten days with that. The long hours wouldn’t have bothered me quite so much if not for that.

This is not really something you want to do alone. The hours alone are rough and if you plan to do something like this, you want it to be local. Ten days of hotel rooms alone would be more than a person could afford. My family lives close to Knoxville so it made things much cheaper when I got to stay with them.

Ideally, there would be several authors who would work shifts with all the participants’ books out to be seen and bought by the crowds. At the end of it the tally could be made and the money dispersed to the authors. It would take some time to establish something like that as a yearly thing but I think it could be made to work.

As for me, I’m exhausted, more mentally than physically. Even with the noise, my opinion is that the trip was a success. Sure, it could have been better, but it could have been much worse. Now I’m going to go lay some tile and give my mind a rest while working my back. In a day or so I can get back to the keyboard to write more on the next novel.

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Mailing List Basics – And New Books!

Mailing list campaigns

I am a big proponent of having your own mailing list – it’s a direct link to people who like your books enough that they want you to tell them when a new one comes out. No worry about the middleman, no having the list be hostage to some company or platform that might go bankrupt or fold. Seriously, happy readers get new entertainment, and you get paid. What could possibly be better?

That said, there are a couple things to keep in mind. Peter uses Mailchimp, so all my examples are going to be drawn from there; Aweber and others may use slightly different terminology, so interpret as you go.

1. Quality over Quantity

Never forget your mailing list is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end goal is to sell more books. Getting 1,000 people to sign up for your mailing list means nothing if they don’t buy your next book. We’ve taken a really low-key approach to mailing list growth: it’s on Peter’s blog sidebar, and otherwise we haven’t pushed it.

Other authors have run rafflecopters for free books or run Facebook ads where the call to action is a mailing list signup – but while they’ve expanded the amount of signups dramatically, the amount of opens / clickthroughs has dropped correspondingly. Some have still come out way ahead, others came out with a larger headache, more expense, and further in the hole. Proceed with caution, do research.

As a result of our approach, we have a fairly small mailing list, but while industry average for promotional emails is 19.3% open rate, 2.7% click rate… Ours is, on average, 49.6% open, 10.7% click rate.

Given that many inboxes these days have a “promotional” tab that exile everything that makes it past the junk mail filter, 50% open is pretty darned awesome. As for that 10% open rate – that includes clicks to other authors on cover-reveal emails (usually 4-5% click rate), and the westerns (8% click rate, because a lot of the scifi readers don’t read westerns.)

2. Specific parts of the promotional email

Subject lines

I’ve found that if the headline is “(New Book Title) is out!”, the open rate drops dramatically. “September Newsletter”, on the other hand, works awesomely. Amusingly enough, there’s an upsurge of sales anyway with the former: a statistically significant number of people will read “(Book Title) is Out!” and then go to Amazon and buy the new book, without ever actually opening the email.

Overall, though, “August Newsletter” gets more sales over the next 48 hours than “King’s Champion is out!” So September is “September Newsletter”, and not “Forged in Blood is out!”

Preview (The line you see on some email systems after the subject line)

“You’re getting this email because you signed up to hear about news and new releases from Peter Grant – and we have news for you!”

Why? Because the average interested reader may or may not know what the new release is named, and on the first cup of coffee, “King’s Champion is out!” may hit the same mental spam filter as “Hot sexy Tasmanian Devils!” So I give ’em a reminder why they’re getting the email. You’re getting this because you asked for it! Don’t reflexively hit that “spam” button or the “unsubscribe” link!

Body – This thread needs pics!

Put in the book cover. Many people are visual, and so you want to give them the “this is what you want” in visual form. (I know, I’m talking to writers, who tend to think in words. When talking to artists, I have to remind them to add words to the email instead.)

Put in the blurb. Make sure you use line breaks, paragraph breaks, and don’t give ’em a wall of text. This email may be read on a cell phone – make sure everything’s readable in mobile format, not just on a browser set at your monitor’s size.

Call to action: Put in the link to buy it! Say something like “Buy this Here:” Really, it’s okay to ask for the sale when people have signed up to buy your stuff.

Country-specific sales: We’re exclusive on Amazon, so what I’ve done is I put in the top 5 countries’ sales links. You can break this out on your KDP (and other) dashboards. While you may not have many Canadian, German, UK, or Australian fans, the ones you do have will appreciate taking the time to put in a direct link to click and buy. They appreciate with money! (I actually have this set now to the top 5 countries that are clicked-through on the mailing list – making it easy for the people who see it to get the books.)

3. Avoiding Spam / Junk filters

First, the easy one: in the body of your email, do not provide link text that’s different from the link but can look like http text. What do I mean? I mean, “King’s Champion on Amazon” is far better than “Amazon.com” and “Amazon UK” is far better than “Amazon.co.uk”

Otherwise, some spam filters are going to detect the difference and flag it just like emails that ask you to update your bank info at “Wellsfargo.com” and the link sends you to “Phishingcentral.com”

Second, the harder one – DMARC means you want a custom domain name.

What is DMARC? Here, check this post from Mailchimp – the other major mail providers have since joined. https://blog.mailchimp.com/yahoo-changes-may-affect-your-deliverability/
Basically, you really want a custom domain and email, because if you’re sending from SomeAuthor@Gmail.com, but it’s coming out of mailchimp’s servers instead of gmail’s, it won’t get authenticated as sent from gmail – and thus it’ll get bounced to spam.

And last but not least,

4. Getting people to sign up – or buy the next book?

It’s a truism of marketing that you can only have one effective call to action at a time – so while you can ask people to buy the next book, or sign up for the mailing list, or leave a review, asking them to do multiple things will drastically reduce the number of people doing anything at all.

Do I believe the truism? It depends on placement. If you ask busy people to do one thing, they will – if they want to. But if they don’t want to, they skip right past and don’t do any of the other things you’d like, either. If you give people with time multiple options, they’ll choose what they want.

Mailing list emails are a great place for single call to action. People don’t tend to spend a lot of time on any single email, and you want to get them to do one thing before they delete the email and move on without looking back. So “The new book is out! Buy the new book!” is a pretty great message for an email.

“Buy the next book! Review the last one! Enter this raffle! Check out this book by someone else!” is asking too much, and the clicks go down dramatically.

(Random aside: I try to have something people can do for each email. So if I send out a cover reveal email, then I provide a link to another author who overlaps with the reader’s tastes under “check this out!” at the bottom. 1-2 authors good; 3 is really pushing it.)

The back of a book, being arrived at without the pressure to get through 35 emails and on with their day, is a great place to try multiple calls to action. Thus, it’s a great place to stick “Please leave a review”, and hotlinks to “other books by this author”, and, yes, a link to a mailing list signup.

Note that on the cell phone version of the kindle app, Amazon has a page that pops up before you get to the back matter with 1.) a link to next in series, titled “buy the next book” in bright yellow bar. 2.) a number of stars to tap for leaving a review. Amazon puts a lot of effort into selling books, and this tells you they’re trying to get you to dig in your virtual pocket for more change (or reviews) before you have a chance to put the book down, leave that headspace, and go back to other things.

(This also prevents most readers from seeing the back matter you put in. Eh, can’t have everything. Kindle device readers, on-computer readers, and crossloaded devices will still display it, so stick it in!)

Blogs are the inbetween ground – while a single call to action works best, you can stick in multiple calls to action and options, like “Here’s my latest book, which you want! Already got it? Sign up for my mailing list so you’re one of the first to know when the next one’s out!”

5. Emails as feedback / audience engagement

Obviously, when a new book is out, you want readers to go forth and enjoy the new book. But most of us aren’t releasing a book a month – so what do you do if you release two books a year or less?

You can keep fan engagement going with other announcements: sales, con appearances, interview links, previews of the upcoming covers, update on how the dogs are doing (Some authors’ pets have fans of their own), and questions you’d like fans to answer.

Some authors will test their covers in their mailing list “Here are two possibilities for next cover. Which do you like more?” Some will ask their fans to pick (from a small list) a name for a bit character, or who ends up with whom among the side characters, or what color the wedding theme should be, or if they want the next book to be in series X or Series Y.

Asking fans for their opinions is not only excellent market research / reader feedback, it makes the fan feel like they have an investment in the book, and they’re more likely to promote it via word of mouth when it comes out.

On the other hand, this can easily grow to be an enormous time suck. Don’t become someone who answers emails for a living, and writes as a hobby!

6. Calls to Action:

Would you like to motivate me to keep writing these columns? How about giving yourself a real treat while you’re at it? There’s an easy way to do both: my darling man has not just one but two new books out, that you can pick up and enjoy!

If you like sword and sorcery, justice and old men who apply experience and cunning to overcome evil and enthusiasm, then you want to give King’s Champion a try! It’s right here on Amazon!

But even better, if you’ve already read that, here’s the story of a sword from across space and time! Peter has a story in Michael Z Williamson’s new Freehold anthology, Forged In Blood! Follow the story of Kendra Pacelli’s sword from ancient Japan when a surly ronin is called upon to defend a village against a thieving tax collector who soon finds out it’s not wise to anger an old, tired man… to Peter’s own story set in the founding of the Freehold on the planet Grainne, to the far future!

Thank you!

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