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Posts tagged ‘social media’

Full moon craziness?

Yes, yes, I know. Craziness is the common state of affairs for most writers and especially for the publishing industry. But lately it seems that the craziness has expanded to epic proportions — and that’s without going into all the contretemps with SFWA, SJWs et al. Add in the craziness in my life right now — we are on crisis #3 for the morning, none of which are easy fixes — and I am ready for sanity to return, overrated as it might be.

First bit or recent craziness falls under the category of “Things a writer should never, ever do”. It’s not a new story nor is it the worst in the category. But it does point out the permanent nature of the internet and it proves that we should always think about what we just typed before hitting “enter”.

In this case, author Chelsea Cain, a NYT best seller, went on a mini-tirade on Facebook and Twitter. The long and the short of it comes down to this: she’s mad she didn’t make the best sellers list with her latest book. She’s tired of fans asking her to list the order of her books and asking other dumb questions. The FB post was quickly taken down, “at the request” of her publishers in a non-apology apology which, iirc, is also missing from her FB page now. Full admission: I could be wrong on this last part.

You can see screen captures of some of her comments here.

The issue I have with this sort of thing is that it was unnecessary. I can understand why Cain might be upset for not making the best sellers list. But don’t go whining about it in a public forum. Her Facebook and Twitter pages aren’t locked. Anyone can and will see them. Having a public meltdown, even of a minor nature, doesn’t draw new fans to you.

As for being upset when fans ask for the order of books, you just don’t tell them they are wasting your time and that’s what Google is for. You especially don’t tell them that when you have just admitted you spend hours on social media each day. You most especially don’t say that after saying you spend hours on social media each day and that answering a simple question like that would take away from writing time. Wait! Writing time? How about letting it take away from the hours of social media time. Or better yet, why not list your books IN ORDER on your website like most other authors who write series do?

Ms. Cain shot herself in the PR foot and hasn’t done much since then to treat the wound. I hope that, from now on, she remembers that what goes into the interwebs is there forever.

The next bit of insanity comes in a rant by a book buyer against the big evil that is Amazon. Mind you, it is published in that shining beacon — coff coff — The Guardian, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about bias. I mean, how can anyone think there is anything but bias in a post that starts out with:

Amazon.com owes me at least $212.82.

Amazon’s strategy to torture Hachette into reducing prices for its books has been to make the publisher suffer by imposing delivery delays on many of its most in-demand titles.

You see, according to the author of the article, Amazon owes a refund for their Prime membership — because, duh, that membership apparently is a guarantee that you can get any book you want anytime. Wish I knew that when I first signed up for Prime. There are a lot of books out there no longer in print or that haven’t been published yet I could demand as a Prime member. — and for the cost of books they chose to buy at a brick and mortar store.

The sense of entitlement that sort of statement makes has me shaking my head. There is nothing in the ToS for Prime membership that guarantees the “right” to pre-purchase a book. Nor is there anything guaranteeing that books bought while a Prime member will be discounted. Heck, what you get with Prime is free second day delivery, the ability to borrow some books and lots of music and video benefits. It has nothing to do with Hatchette or the article writer’s sense of entitlement.

But let’s look further.

“. . . and for customers, Amazon has reversed its promise of instant gratification.”

What? WHAT?!?!?!

Are we so entitled now that we have to have instant gratification and new hardcover books in our mailbox on the day of publication AND at a huge discounted price?

Yep, the author of the article complains because Amazon isn’t offering new Hatchette titles at the usual discount. Let’s not think about the fact they are in the middle of contract negotiations and Amazon very likely doesn’t have the contractual authorization to continue the discounts.

The author goes on to admit he could buy the Kindle version of the books in question, but since at least two of the ones he listed were for book club discussions, that just wouldn’t work. According to him, you simply can’t flip to a particular page of a book if you have the ebook version. So that just won’t work. Funny, I have any number of Kindle books on both my e-ink Kindle and the Fire that allow me to go to a particular page as well as a particular location. Maybe only Hatchette doesn’t allow that function — but that’s Amazon’s fault because it is allllllllll Amazon’s fault, don’cha know.

This time, the financial damage totals $212.82, the bag is stuffed with books – including several I was eager to read but wasn’t even been aware had been published. I also emerged with a Barnes & Noble membership card, for which I had paid a further $25 – and that pretty much guarantees I’ll be spending more time and money there in future, in exchange for more discounts and – given the recent evidence – greater availability of the books I want and need to lay my hands on.

This time being his first visit to a B&N, at least when he actually bought more than one book, in at least six months. So now he wants Amazon to pay him for his membership card to B&N as well AND he thinks he will have a great availability of books. Well, I don’t know about the B&N he went into but my local B&N is woefully short on books, especially books in certain genres and certain non-fiction areas. If I ask for them to be ordered, maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Even if they do, there is no guarantee I will get notice if the book comes in and there is still the delay in getting the book.

But Amazon is evil.

It gets better. In one paragraph, the author whines because in two trips to the bookstore to pick up two paperback books, he’s spent $400. The not-to-subtle implication is that it is Amazon’s fault because he couldn’t get the book instantly from them. In the next paragraph, he says he doesn’t really blame Amazon for his lack of self-control but, you see, he was irked and, well, Amazon’s fault implied once again.

The whole gist of the article is that, because of Amazon’s footprint, it shouldn’t worry about things like contract negotiations and making money. It has a duty to provide whatever we want when we want. Oh, the author tries to not quite say it that bluntly and even makes a pass at trying to appear unbiased by noting that neither Hatchette or Amazon are completely in the right in what’s going on. But that doesn’t happen until four paragraphs from the end of a story that is 30 or so paragraphs long. And, in case anyone doubts the sense of entitlement and twisting of facts to suit a point of view, consider this statement:

You need to give customers the best possible array of products, available instantly.

Especially when 20 million or so Amazon Prime members are paying $99 apiece each year for guaranteed two-day delivery — that’s how much they value that instant gratification.

The complete lack of understanding of economics, product supply and the Prime membership agreement is staggering. There is a failure to take into account that there are two parties involved in making products available — supplier and seller. Amazon is the seller. It has to buy the products or reach some sort of agreement with the supplier so it also makes money. It also has to rely upon the supplier to, duh, supply the product. As for the guaranteed two-day delivery, that is for items IN STOCK.

To the article’s author, get over yourself and realize you aren’t entitled to what you think you are. Amazon is a business and is in it to make money. Hatchette is the one who has turned done several proposals by Amazon to help the authors impacted by the prolonged negotiations. Amazon isn’t an angel but is certainly isn’t the root of all evil as as vocal minority wants us to believe.

Building a Blog

Eternity Symbiote

On sale for only 2.99 in the month of June.

In the last 48 hours I have written about 15K words of fiction, which is a lot, for me. I have about 20% of the projected length of the novel remaining, and I want to finish it as soon as possible so I can get on to other projects, this summer being very very busy. I’m having fun with the writing, the other things are both more and less fun. LibertyCon at the end of this month, an accuracy-checking gig for a professor who is writing a textbooks, the second half of my General Chemistry, and a week camping out with my kids.

So what does all this have to do with blogging? Well, about a year and change ago, I commited to a daily blog. I’d been trying to blog regularly, and for some reason I lost my mind and decided daily was a terrific idea. Right now I’m looking back at past me and wondering if she was a little soft in the head. I think she didn’t have enough to do, poor thing…

But why? Well, blogging is one way to do what is sometimes called content marketing. In other words, people come to you not to see ‘buy my book!’ but information that interests them, and keeps them coming back, while you subliminally have messages about your books for sale, just not (usually) hitting them over the head with it. Dorothy Grant addressed this nicely in yesterday’s post, how repeating it a few times when you launch is good, but not too often.

Which, since I only launch something every 2-3 months, leaves me with a lot of space to fill up. I decided right away I would make one day a week a book review day. This not only gave me an excuse to read (I was never catholic, but boy, do I get the guilt thing) so I wouldn’t feel guilty about taking time to read when there was work to be done. I wanted to do at least one day a week to writing tips, techniques, and the industry, but I didn’t want the whole blog to be that.

So many blogs from writers are targeted to writers. Think about that… talk about niche marketing. Just how many of your fellow writers are going to buy your books? Now, yes, helping newbies learn is a worthy cause, and it’s part of the reason I do write about writing, or more often, publishing. On the other hand, I wanted posts and articles that would be of interest to the general public.

Take for instance Peter Grant, whose blog Bayou Renaissance Man is very simple in design and layout, but with sheer prolific output and an audience which was interested in the articles he writes on history, guns, and much more, he had a great platform for the launch of his first book. I had a good chat with him on our first meeting about his blog, and it was part of what inspired me to build mine.

Our own Sarah Hoyt is a blogging machine, even though she has been trying to cut back recently. And According to Hoyt is rarely about writing, and only occasionally about publishing. Yet she has a wonderful platform full of fans who refer to themselves as Hoyt’s Huns. This is a power tool in her toolbox of things to help her succeed as a writer, and seller of books.

So here’s the thing, being regular is almost more important than content, but if you don’t have interesting content they won’t come back. I write on food, art, writing, snippets of my work (and rarely, whole stories), social issues, and whatever catches my fancy. I’m not sure, never having compared numbers, how my blog is doing relative to other blogs. However, in the past few weeks, I have seen fans who tracked me down and left me comments praising my work. I have seen, in this year, my ‘followers’ grow, and the daily read-count according to wordpress (I will tell you I know this is highly inaccurate, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get analytics to work with this blog) slowly get higher. And there have been a few days where the hitcount was astronomical, when I hit a nerve with an article.

Is it worth it? Well, there are always days when I can’t come up with a flippin’ thing to write about. I may, in time and given undue pressure by outside commitments, drop back to 3 days a week. It’s a whole lot of work, it is. I may take the art day off completely, as I watch my hits drop like a rock when I do them. However, the art is something I do for me, so maybe I won’t, either.

I do think that it is helping my sales. My books are hanging in there, and I have fans contacting me to tell me they found my book through my blog. I have people telling me how they appreciate my book reviews and it helps them find other authors (doesn’t help me monetarily, but it gives me a kick). It’s satisfying to do, for now. I do think that a network, like we have been building with Mad Genius club and the people who write for it, is a great way to cross-promote books to fans who might not have heard about them. I’m equally uncertain that ‘blog tours’ do anything at all, having participated in one or two and seen no blip in my sales.

Keep content marketing in mind. Social media blasts to announce a book are all well and good, but if you don’t already have a platform of people waiting to hear you speak, who will hear that blast? Besides, this internet thing is the perfect way for an introverted performer to thrive. I love the conversations a blog post can spark, and how they get me thinking, in return.

Don’t feel like you can manage a blog on your own? Try getting together with a couple other friends, setting an iron-clad schedule, and doing a combined blog. If you can stick to it, that would be a great way to keep regular content, and pool a fan base. Like this blog…

Indie concerns

Sarah is still feeling under the weather thanks to a virus that has made the rounds of her family. She pushed her luck by quipping that she thought she’d managed to escape it. Of course, that meant she was next to fall ill. So she asked me to fill in for her today and to offer her apologies. She will be back Wednesday with her regular post and then next Sunday with a new chapter.

After telling Sarah I’d fill in for her, I started thinking about what to blog about. I asked Kate and Cedar for suggestions and they were oh-so-helpful. Among the suggestions offered were doing a post explaining how I am not Sarah or actually writing an over-the-top chapter for her and seeing how long it would take before someone figured out Sarah really hadn’t gone insane. There was also a suggestion to do a post about the literati who, in an interview with the New York Times, said he never read fantasy because there was no death in it. What? No death in fantasy! Someone certainly hasn’t told George R. R. Martin that – or just about any other modern fantasy (of any ilk) author I can think of.

I’ll admit, going after the literati kind of appealed to me but I wasn’t sold on it. So I went searching for something else. That’s when I came across this post, “An Open Letter to Indie Authors”, by J. M. Gregoire. I highly recommend every author – indie or not – read and think about what is in the letter because it contains some pretty darned good advice.

I also understand what made Gregoire write the letter. The frustration expressed in it is something many of us share. How often have we shaken our heads after seeing an author attack a reviewer – either on their review site or on Facebook or Amazon – because the review wasn’t absolutely glowing? How often have we at least previewed an e-book that looked promising from the description or because we’ve already read something by that author only to find that it needed a really good editor? And yes, in my mind, this also applies to traditionally published books all too often these days.

So, what advice did Gregoire give to indie authors and publishers? (Note that I am paraphrasing some of the points and then giving my own thoughts afterwards.)

1. Don’t publish your book if it isn’t ready for primetime.

In other words, quantity does not trump quality. Yes, the more titles you have out there, the better your sales will be. However, if you are continually putting out what basically amounts to first drafts without proper editing, copy editing and proofing, you will drive away readers. They may forgive one or two stinkers, but not a continuing line of them.

2. Do your research before hiring an editor.

To start, understand what an editor is and make sure the person you are hiring knows as well. An editor isn’t a beta reader or a proofreader. An editor is someone who knows story structure and genre conventions as well as the technical aspects of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

From Gregoire’s “letter:

Beta Readers – These are the folks that read the pre-editing rough draft, and tell you what they do/do not like, what they feel does/doesn’t flow well.  They are there to analyze the story itself, not edit anything.

Editor – An editor does just that.  Edits.  Looks for mistakes – grammar, spelling, punctuation, made up words that don’t exist in any language never mind English, etc.

Proofreader – The proofer reads the final product through to catch any mistakes or typos that may have been missed somewhere along the way.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve talked with other authors who have paid big bucks for an “editor” only to discover they got nothing more than a glorified proofreader or beta reader. So please, do your homework, ask for references and samples of their work and make sure you both understand what an editor does before you sign any contract with them.

3. Social media is our friend – up to a point. There are a lot of folks out there who will “friend” every author they can find on Facebook and then volunteer to beta read. Please read and take very careful note of what Gregoire says here. Too often these folks can be more headache, and heartache, than they are worth.

Note here, choose your beta readers carefully. While I almost always have one who doesn’t read the genre of the book just written, my main betas are familiar with the genre and its conventions. The reason I have the one non-genre reader is to make sure I haven’t fallen back into tropes that signal those familiar with the genre but that will leave those not as familiar out in the cold wondering why my characters are acting as they are. I’ve heard horror stories of authors getting notes back from their betas with suggestions that make you wonder 1) if they read the same book you wrote and 2) what they were on when they read it. These are often the same beta readers who want to continually “help” you as you are writing, offering advice and plot ideas that not only don’t work but would never work in anything you write.

4. Books are judged by their covers.

Yes, I know there are those who say e-books aren’t judged by their covers. Bull. I agree with Gregoire here. We still look at the cover image on the description page and judge how “professional” the book is by how the cover looks. So put some time and effort into your covers. If you aren’t an artist, find one who can help. However, don’t spend a great deal of money on your covers unless you are already getting a nice income stream from your writing or have a job to supplement your writing. Spending a grand or two for a cover is insane. Heck, even spending a couple of hundred can be. Find yourself a graphic artist who is good and who is willing to work a deal with you for cover art. Ask other writers for recommendations. Most of all, look at their portfolios and see what sort of art they do. Finally, have a set date for delivery. Any change to that date has to be agreed upon in writing. Otherwise, you may find yourself waiting weeks or months, your e-book done but without a cover.

5. Don’t be an a-hole.

In other words, think before speaking – or hitting the “enter” button. If you don’t like a review, pull up your big boy pants and move on. Not everyone is going to love your book. Ranting and raving at the reviewer isn’t going to do you any good. It will lose you readers because that rant will make reviewers hesitant to review your next work and readers will simply move on to the next author. The drama might be entertaining for a few minutes but it isn’t something that will bring them back to your books later.

6. Don’t overextend yourself.

That’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t overextend when it comes to time. Most of us can’t write book after book after book without a break. There comes a time when we not only hit the wall but it falls on us. We need time for a real life. The cat needs petting, the dog needs walking and the family would really like to have a conversation with you that doesn’t revolve around how long it is taking Character A to accomplish something.

It also applies to finances. How many of us know authors who financially strap themselves to go to every con, attend every writers’ workshop, etc., all in an attempt to “promote” their work? Cons help with networking but, on the whole, don’t have the same impact (in my opinion) they used to when it comes to winning over new readers. All you have to do is look at cons to see that they have the same basic concom every year and the same authors/publishers get the choice panels. If you aren’t one of the chosen ones, you are paying to rent a table and hoping someone buys enough of your books to pay for the table. Forget about recovering the other hundreds or thousands of dollars it costs to go to the con.

Am I saying not to do cons? No. But I am saying to be smart about which ones you go to and how much money you spend.

That same caveat about being aware of how much money you are spending applies to publishing your e-books/print books as well. Yes, you will have loss leaders. We all do. But if you are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars just to get your e-book into the market, consider how long it will take you to recover that cost and how many copies you will have to sell.

In other words, all the above advice, as well as everything Gregoire had to say, comes down to this: writing is our business and we have to treat it that way. Just because we can do it anytime and pretty much anywhere doesn’t make it any less so. Yes, we can do it in our PJs and we are our own bosses. But we still have to take pride in what we do and we have to put out the best product we can. So don’t rush it. Don’t skip steps – especially editing. Do invest the time into getting a good cover. Finally, follow Jim Baen’s rule and “don’t be a butthead”.

(Cross-posted to Nocturnal Lives.)

To Kickstart or not to Kickstart. That is the question.

Publishing has changed. We all know this. Or we should unless we’ve been living in a very deep and dark cave or listening to the every more trite reassurances from legacy publishing. Not only have the number of legacy publishers shrunk (the Big 6 is now the Big 5), but they have discontinued lines and orphaned any number of books and authors. The number of legitimate small presses has increased, many of them filling niche markets. Then there is the explosion of self-published books. Some of them are excellent, better than much of what is coming out of legacy publishing, while others aren’t worth the bandwidth it takes to download them. But that’s true of a number of books, no matter who the publisher is.

But with the influx of small press and self-publishing titles comes the question of how to fund your projects. There are a number of platforms online now where you can promote a project, ask for backers and funding. One of the best known is Kickstarter. And, before someone gets their back up, this isn’t a rant against Kickstarter. It’s not even a rant against those who use it. It is, however, a cautionary tale for both authors, editors and those who might consider backing them.

A little background. I’m not a huge gambler, especially when it comes to my hard-earned money. Unless I know someone really well and am very familiar with their proposed project — and everyone involved in it — I’m not likely to invest money in it. I’ve had family members and friends invest in every get-rich-quick scheme to come through the mail or over the internet and have watched them lose their proverbial shirts. So, I tend to err on the side of caution.

I’ve also seen the problems that arise when authors or editors pitch a product over Kickstarter or other platforms and never deliver. Not that long ago came the story of an award-nominated (possibly award-winning) author and editor with a small press who hadn’t paid royalties to her authors for years. She’d even run a kickstarter campaign, iirc, to raise money to help pay the authors. The campaign hit its goal but the authors saw nothing. It wasn’t until friends of one of the authors involved took to social media — and then others took it up — that the author/editor started reverting rights. There were tons of mea culpas, but the harm had been done.

To counter this, you have folks like Larry Correia. Larry has run and recommended some very successful Kickstarter campaigns for games, etc., that I’ve heard nothing but good about. He and Howard Taylor are two of the very few I would back. But I digress. This isn’t about the good ones, except to tell you to be very clear about what you are supposed to get and when before you hit the pledge button.

I’ll be honest, I have avoided discussing raising money for a writing project in this manner for a couple of reasons. The first is that I haven’t done it so I’m not intimately familiar with how the process works. The second is because I feel that this is a decision that each writer or editor has to make for himself. But events over the last six months, and especially the last few days, changed my mind.

Let’s start with having a Kickstarter for a book you want to write. I went to the Kickstarter site and did a search for “publishing” and then narrowed it to “fiction”. Of the first hundred or so titles I looked at, maybe eight of them will make their funding. Of those, most are asking for less than $1,000. In fact, many are asking for less than $500. Yet, for each one nearing completion of their funding requests, many, many more are not. One that stuck out to me was for a YA paranormal where the author admits she doesn’t see herself as a YA author even though she’s already written one YA paranormal series and who then attaches a snippet of the proposed work that isn’t safe for anyone under 16 to read. Maybe I’m strange — okay, I KNOW I’m strange — but telling your potential investors that you really don’t consider yourself to be a writer of the type of book you want them to buy into isn’t exactly the best way to convince them to hand over their money.

Then there is the one for the “small press” that is looking for something in the realm of $40k — and they may actually make it. Good for them. Of course, as an author and reader, I have a few questions that I don’t see answered in their description. The first one — and the most glaring — is the fact that they state their works are fanfic or based on fanfic. Yet I see nothing saying they have permission from the networks or original creators of the characters and settings to publish their work. Hmmmm….that is sort of a red flag. At least for me.

Then, when you start going through their levels of support to see what they offer, I have another red flag go up. When you read a certain level, you can get “free” editing from their editor-in-chief. Now, this may be the best editor in the world but first, if you are “investing” in this company at this level, the editing isn’t free. You have paid for it. Just as you have paid to receive copies of the e-books involved, often at more than you’d pay for them if you waited for the books to be published. But I have another concern. How many new or wannabe writers are investing in this or similar Kickstarters for the editing — often spending money they don’t have — only to find out they aren’t getting quality editing? Or even anything above proofreading or copy editing? (Now, I’m not saying that is what would happen here, but it is something I have to ask myself and something I hope everyone else is asking as well.)

But that’s not the only thing I have concerns about. It takes time to set up your Kickstarter page. Time I’d rather spend writing. It takes time to promote your project and then, if you do make your goal, it takes time to complete everything you have pledged to do as well as to keep your backers informed. Then there’s the ego hit if you don’t make your goal. Does that mean no one will buy your book and you should just move on, possibly even to another profession? No, it just means that the project didn’t hit with those who were looking for something to invest in on that particular day/week/month.

And all that brings me to what set me off on this topic. Friends of mine invested in a Kickstarter campaign because an author we know and trust was to have a story included in the pitched anthology. They invested to get a copy of the e-book and advertising space. Months have gone by and they found their in-box filled with many, many e-mails from the editor of the anthology. It included, iirc, one where he promised to sing. None of the e-mails said anything about how to get their advertising space, etc., and the project page said the book would be released in November. Well, here it is the beginning of December and no e-book. Things came to a head for them yesterday when they received notice that the hard copy of the book was now for sale and would they — as well as all the other backers — book-bomb the project. Oh, and still no copy of the e-book and no news on advertising space.

One of my friends took to Facebook and in a very tame manner expressed her disappointment because she felt she had not been given what she’d been promised and stated that she would probably never do another Kickstarter again. The editor’s response? Well, he came in all puffed-up and in-your-face and defensive. Instead of contacting her personally on a private IM or e-mail, he publicly took her to task for not loving all he had done to keep everyone informed, etc. In fact, iirc, he said she was the only one to be disappointed and that everyone had loved all the e-mails keeping them informed (or at least words to that effect).

Now, I happen to know other backers of this particular project, as well as several authors involved. So I know that there are others who felt the 50-plus e-mails were excessive since they said nothing new. It got to the fact that there were some who simply hit the delete button without reading them. The lesson here is the same one restaurants need to remember when they give less than acceptable service to customers. They probably aren’t going to say anything. They just won’t come back. That is the situation that editor now faces, not only with potential backers but with writers as well.

So the lesson here is that if you do a Kickstarter, be careful with how you contact your backers. Lay out in clear and concise terms when you will be completing the project they are investing in and how and when they will receive their awards. Don’t go onto social media and get into a fight with someone who has expressed concerns about the project. Take it into the next room and try to work it out. And, for the love of Bog, don’t blame someone else for what happened. Throwing a co-worker under the bus isn’t the way to do business.

Most of all, if all you are doing a Kickstarter, be realistic about what you are asking for and what you are willing to give in return. If the amount you are looking for is actually going to cost you more in time and effort, then maybe you need to rethink your plans. As a reader and potential investor, if you are getting an e-book in return, are you paying two or three times more for it as an investor than you would if you wait for it to be published? If you are, you’d sure better either know the author and want to help them out or you’d better be getting an early release for it. As a writer looking to invest for the “editing” services, make sure you know exactly what you are getting for your money. Also, be sure the person who is going to be doing the “editing” is qualified, especially for the work you want them to look at.

In other words, do your homework.

For those doing the Kickstarters, be clear in what you want and what you are offering. Think long and hard if it is going to be worth your time and money and effort to set up the project page, do the promotion and then do the administrative end should the project actually make its goal. And — and I can’t repeat this enough — be darned sure you are ready to take the ego hit if the project doesn’t make its goal. If you aren’t, then stay far away from projects such as this.

Most of all, if you are running a Kickstarter campaign, always follow the most important rule Jim Baen instituted on Baen’s Bar: Don’t be a butthead. (in other words, don’t spam your backers. Don’t expect them to do your promo for you and don’t — I repeat DO NOT — get mad at them when they express disappointment because you haven’t followed through on what you’ve promised.)

A few thoughts and, maybe, a brief snippet

I want to start by thanking everyone for their understanding about the open floor I had to put up last week. I try not to do so very often but last Tuesday was one of those days when everything converged to keep me not only away from the computer but out of the house. I’ve still been kept away from the house a great deal of late and off-line, but things are getting better. Which is probably a good thing since my work laptop has something odd happening with it where it no longer likes Yahoo and there are a number of sites — including mail sites and file sharing sites — that it seems to be blocking. So, once I finish here, I’m tearing into the firewall and other programs that are supposed to be protecting me and see if HAL has taken over.

Some of you were kind enough to leave suggestions for topics last week. Some of them, like the suggestion to discuss copyright and fanfic, will take more thought and research than I’ve had time to give to it yet. So, give me a couple of weeks — to get some deadlines dealt with — and I’ll do a post on copyright, fanfic and filing off the serial numbers.

Several of you wanted to talk about how to deal with the current dry spell so many writers seem to be experiencing right now. Not so much a dry spell on the writing front but on the sales front. That seems to be a topic a lot of folks are talking about. I wish I had a response that we could all implement, but I don’t. I’ll admit that over the last few years, I’ve seen a trend in my own sales where sales seem to slow a bit in July, drop through the floor in August and then slowly start picking up in September. Whether that means anything or not, I don’t know. It could be as simple as people are on vacation or are getting ready for their kids to return to school. But sales do seem to be cyclical and they do pick up.

I just haven’t found any quick fix for the decline. I’ve tried blog tours. It’s a lot of work for what didn’t always give a return that made it worth the time. I’ve had a trailer made and it had no impact on sales. I’ve tried putting titles up on all sales fronts and only on Amazon’s KDP program. I’ve changed the pricing — up and down — and changed the tags. Facebook and Twitter and snippets, oh my.

What I’ve learned is that different tactics work for different genres. The blog tour worked to an extent for one of the novels written under the pen name. It worked, not so much because it increased sales a great deal but because it got reviews up on Amazon. The reviews weren’t always glowing but they were always honest and the good reviews outweighed the bad ones. Those reviews do help because potential readers will look at the number of reviews and the average rating when considering whether or not to try a book by a new author.

However, for the urban fantasy stuff, the blog tour didn’t work as well. Does that mean such a tactic won’t work for others? No. It just means that, for me at least, I will have to think twice before putting in the time and effort to do an other blog tour for more of the Nocturnal Lives books. I’ll do a few guest posts — hint, if you need someone to fill in on your blog one day, give me a shout. I’ll be glad to as long as I can link to my Amazon page — but a blog tour of a week or two where I’m on different blogs every day is a no go now. I’d rather be writing my next book.

As for the rest of it — especially Facebook and Twitter — social media is a way to keep your name and the titles of your work in people’s minds. But it is a balancing act. You don’t want to do so much promotion that your Facebook page or Twitter feed is nothing but one long ad for your latest novel or short story. (Hint: I’m seeing more and more people posting on their walls that if they get a friend request on Facebook from someone and, when they go to check out that person’s FB page it is dominated by self-promotion, they will refuse the friend request.) So, before you start spamming your page and feed with info about your latest release, stop and think. Are you going overboard? Look at your last three to five entries. If they have to deal with your work and have all happened in the last couple of hours, you are going overboard. Step away from the keyboard and breathe. Post something different.

There’s another pitfall to social media sites like Facebook that a lot of authors fall into. That’s the creation of a page for your latest novel or series or whatever. Every day I’m getting invitations to “like” some author’s new page. That’s annoying enough because it does take time to figure out if it is a page I want to be involved with — and this is something you need to think about. When you “like” a page, it shows up on your wall. Your “friends” can see your likes. So do you really want to like that latest invitation? For example, how will your Christian publisher react if they check and see you’ve liked a number of pages for books that are about demonology or the like? — Even if I am interested, do I have time to follow them?

Worse are when authors or fans create group pages and add you without asking. I’ve finally reached the point where if people do that and I don’t know them well, I will not only delete the group but will unfriend the person responsible for adding me.

Social media is just that — social. For the average indie author who is struggling to make a name for himself, it isn’t a major sales tool. It is a tool to be used, carefully and sparingly. You have to walk that thin line between promotion and becoming a pest. So think about what you like, and don’t like, to see and apply that to your use of Facebook and Twitter and then see if it yields any results. Just remember, those results may be long term and may not show up right away. That’s especially true if you are distributing your books through Smashwords (where sales may not be reported for up to six months for outlets in their premium catalog) and not putting them directly up on sites like Amazon, Kobo or BN.

So, what can you do to help pump your sales? One of the best is to check your product description on Amazon or the other sales pages. Do you give the potential buyer enough information to hook them without giving them too much? Is it well-written? How about formatted? If your description has more than one paragraph, make sure there’s space between the paragraphs so it is not only visually pleasing but also an indication that your book is properly formatted. Have you checked to make sure there are no misspelled words? You’d be surprised how many descriptions I’ve seen with spelling errors, even for books released by the major publishers. That description is the first impression your writing is going to make on a reader. So make it the best you can.

Then comes the tags you use for your book. Each site has a different number of tags you can use, so you have to be careful not to just cut and paste from site to site because you may wind up losing that one tag you really want there.

So what tags should you use?

First of all, understand that your tags are different from the categories you select for your books or short stories to be listed in. The tags are basically the meta tags or descriptive words that help readers find your books when doing a general search on Amazon or another store site. They are keywords treaders might input into the search engine for the sales site. If you write a romantic suspense novel set in Dallas around a wedding that has a murder and blackmail in it, the tags I’d use are romance, suspense, Dallas, wedding, murder, blackmail. That’s six and, iirc, Amazon lets you tag up to seven words. So I’d figure out something else, maybe the profession of my main character, to use. Anything that I think someone might use as a search term.

Tags you don’t want to use are your name, title of the book or series title. Why? Because they are already associated with your work if you filled out the information page properly.

So, here’s a challenge for each of you. Take your current wip and put a sample of the product page description and your tag words in the comments below. I’ll be back later, after I clean house, to see what you’ve done.

Now, for the brief snippet from Nocturnal Interlude:

“Don’t you dare die on me now!”