C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

Why are we so worried about failure when it’s so common?

I’ve been reading another round of articles from the usual suspects saying how much indie books suck. I ran into a reader who said one of my masterpieces was pretty good “for an indie book.” Yeah, well, piss on that. He only knew I was indie because I told him so. I now have two questions to wrestle: why am I still reading these biased articles that rely on old news and nostalgia? And why do I bother telling anyone but other indies that I count among their number?

We live in a post-empire world.

Indie and niche is a great place to be now, but the bias of what was once true still carries the heavy weight of lazy inertia. I have had lots of jobs, but it wasn’t until I became a writer that people started asking if I was making any money. (Kinda rude, huh?)

Yet myths continue to abound about indie versus trad.

For instance, some people still believe that big publishers must have more brains than small publishers. I worked for big publishers and I can tell you, some of them are really bright, but no more than the rest of the population. I know what a book costs to make. One in twenty of my former employers might know. No indie of my acquaintance would be dumb enough to try to sell an art book without pictures. (Yes, that happened.)

More money means bigger investors, not more brains.

In fact, when you have more money to sling around, you can find some pretty stupid uses for it, like paying rent in downtown Toronto or New York or throwing money at CEOs while reducing editorial staff drastically. When you’re really profitable, you might even be stupid enough to get your lawyers to cheat your authors out of royalties. (Oh, nickel and dimers will do fine for a while and the big wigs can congratulate each other over a round of golf. But reputations and brands will be damaged and then the authors’ lawyers will come. Peons pushed too far become dangerous so Evil isn’t a smart longterm strategy.)

Are there lots of bad books out there? You bet.

Indie or traditional? It matters not. Ninety percent of anything isn’t so great. Mediocrity is not unique to us. In fact, mediocrity and failure is no big deal. Look around. It’s everywhere. Ninety percent of politicians and agents and naturopaths and plumbers suck. There are no exemptions. Have you ever belonged to a class where everybody got an A+ on everything? 

But that’s the beauty of finding your niche and your tribe.

No matter what we do, somebody’s going to love us. (Charles Manson has a bride now.) Someone will eventually fall in love with your voice even if you sing a little flat.

We must all do our best, of course. This isn’t a call to embrace mediocrity.

It’s a call to do your best without getting overly dramatic when someone doesn’t dig your flavor. It’s a reminder that we will all fail with most of our books. It’s a plea to write the next one anyway. I’m making fewer mistakes. I’m getting better with each book. Everybody improves if they don’t quit. My tribe is getting bigger.

Keep calm and carry on doing your best. Write and enjoy yourself. Chill. Failure is expected. One of these days, you’ll write something that will strike a cord outside your niche and, for a moment, you’ll think you have arrived. There is no arrival. There is only the next book and the Sisyphian joys of the labor itself.

When you write, do you ever make yourself laugh or cry or chortle at your genius?

That’s what to go for. Let’s stop being so precious about winning and losing and relax about the numbers. When the work comes from love and you continue to strive, your aspirations are never hopeless.

~ Speaking of turning the legend of Sisyphus upside down, I wrote over 50,000 words in 20 days and NaNoWriMo helped me do it faster than I would have otherwise. I now have a first draft I love. Take that NaNoWriMo haters. The writing process was full of self-congratulatory chortles and laughter. It’s going to be a lot of fun for readers, too.

 

 

 

Filed under: author platform, publishing, self-publishing, writing tips, , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: How to make writing a novel easier than it looks

I write drafts for my novels at a rate of 1,000 words per hour. I can string more of those hours together if I plan ahead with a general outline, but I usually pants it rather than plot it. 

I think of my writing time in terms of word count and hours. Here’s why:

When I wrote This Plague of Days, I didn’t think in terms of hours then. I didn’t budget my time or work to a word count like it was a job. I just put my head down and wrote and revised many times, stealing time here and there without a real schedule. I can’t tell you how long it took to write that epic saga because I went through so many revisions. Also, because my approach was haphazard, I wrote slower then. Though I worked from an outline, the project took longer than it could have.

I was buying into the meme that slow cooker writing was the only way, despite Stephen King’s suggestion that three months ought to do it (and look at the size of his books!) If I wrote that series now, the first draft would take about 300 hours of actual writing time. That’s less impressive than saying it took me years to write TPOD, but it’s more accurate.

(By the way, I just found out the This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition has advanced to the second round in the Writer’s Digest Self-published Ebook Awards! Yay!)

When someone says it took them two years to write their first novel, that’s not true.

Two years equals 17,531.62 hours, including time spent sleeping, showering, goofing off, playing with children and pets and holding down a job, and procrastinating etc. Authors can write as fast or as slow as they’d like and each process is unique. However, there is no direct correlation between speed of production and quality. In fact, for the first draft, quality is nigh irrelevant.

Quality comes with subsequent drafts.

I find most of the jokes in the second revision and the plot problems to be fixed become clearer by the third revision.

Take NaNoWriMo, for example…

I’m planning 55,000 words for my current WIP. That means 55 hours for the first draft this month. As my current schedule allows, I’ll be done well before the NaNoWriMo deadline as long as I continue to protect my writing time.

Fifty-five hours sounds much less intimidating and more realistic, doesn’t it? What’s one work week to you? Forty-four hours? I approach my writing like a job. It’s a job I love, but there’s no waiting around for inspiration to come to me. I hunt inspiration down. Inspiration and efficiencies are habits learned by writing more and doing so consistently.

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.

For my crime novel, Intense Violence, Bizarre Themes, I’d planned on looking for the exit to the book around 50,000 words and topping out at 55,000 words. It took me an extra 17,000 words to wrap it up neatly at 67,000 words. Still, 67 hours to a first draft sounds like much less drama than saying it took me a month. That’s just 16.7 hours per week to come up with a first draft. (For a while in the ’90s, that’s about as much time as I committed to watching television.)

I’d give you a measurement of editing and revision times if I had them, but that varies too widely depending on the book. For instance, I’m putting my time travel novel on hold because I’m not happy enough with it yet to release it. I’ll come back to it in 2015. However, I expect to have my current WIP out in time for Christmas (assuming I still love it when I’m done.) 

Write as slow as you want to or as fast as you can. It doesn’t have to be a job. Hobbies are good, too, so write at the pace you choose.

My point is, we don’t have to be drama kings and queens about the writing process. When you hear of writers putting out a lot of books fast, that’s not really quite as hard as many would lead you to believe. Writing is a time management issue first. The other skills required come into play after we commit to investing the hours.

But it can’t be good because it was written too fast!

Writers who cherish writing slowly have my utmost respect until they insist others write at their pace (and many people write much faster than I do.)

On the Road, Casino Royale, The Gambler, A Clockwork Orange, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and As I Lay Dying were written in less than six weeks. I wonder if any of those famous books were actually written in less time than that if the authors had tracked their hours.

Fast writers manage fear because they think about each book project in terms of a formula:

Word count goals + hours x perspiration (divided by distraction)

Prolific writers manage their time, that’s all. No drama. Inspiration usually arrives at the keyboard at about the same time we do.

Write. Revise. Edit. Enjoy throughout. (Now don’t tell anyone how easy it is to get to big word counts or they might start to think that writers aren’t special snowflakes!)

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I just published my 15th book. Imagine how many more I could have written if I hadn’t been sucked into the vortex of “Must See TV” back in the day. 

Filed under: My fiction, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top Ten: I wasn’t going to do #NaNoWriMo but…

I’ve published three books in the last month.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL

IVBT FINAL 2D cover

 

I’m revising an ambitious time travel novel that I want to get done in time for Christmas. I already write a couple thousand words a day minimum and edit plenty. Every month is Nano for me, so why National Novel Writing Month?

1. I’m always excited about the next project and I have a new book I was going to work on that is going to gain a lot of visibility. Slowing the process is putting off success for later.

2. I was going to write this new book anyway, but doing it in conjunction with NaNoWriMo will help me speed my timetable.

3. I’ve published fifteen books in three years, so the back catalogue is solid, but I want to reach out to new readers with the next project. When this new one hits, all my work will get more attention.

4. I need to take Ex Parte Press in a new direction. At first I thought the new idea wasn’t for me. Then I realized that, just as happened with This Plague of Days and Intense Violence, Bizarre ThemesI could do something unique with a familiar genre.
This Plague of Days S3 (2)

5. I have another huge book waiting to be edited. I’m proud of it and it’s going to be strong, but it’s also a stand alone book, more literary and packed with Shakespeare. It has to wait while I do something with wider appeal that is the basis for a series. (Don’t sniff. Literary is just another genre and I love it all.)

6. This new book is an urban paranormal fantasy with a realistic context. It’s still my style of creepy and scary (with jokes), but I want to finally write a story with a female protagonist. My books definitely aren’t for dudes only, but it’s time for a book from me that resonates even more with female readers.

7. As I write this post, all my Internet friends are challenging each other to do writing sprints and get in on the fun of NaNoWriMo. November is the one month of the year when a writer can feel part of a large community of fellow toilers. It doesn’t have to be such a lonesome pursuit.

8. Competition and fun fuels forward motion. I want to harness that power.

9. Spurred to write now instead of wait, I started this morning. My word count on the first draft of the new project is 3,812 words. I just reread it. They are good words. I’ll keep most of them.

10. Most of those people who claim to take years to write a book are counting procrastination time. NaNoWriMo blasts through that mental block and propels us forward so we write now right now. We free ourselves of the perils of the inner hypercritic and finally get the story out. We can perfect it later. Free your mind and commit to the risk of NaNoWriMo. It’s writing, just as it ever was, but this time it’s with friends cheering us on through the process. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Filed under: My fiction, NanNoWriMo, , , , , , , ,

The very nearly here, not quite yet, Post-review World

Once upon a time an author named Hale stalked a book reviewer, wrote about it in The Guardian and…well, things got crazy. I haven’t weighed in on this because you’ve no doubt read plenty about this debacle. Besides, I didn’t have anything new to say. I still don’t have anything new to say about that particular incident. It was a bad idea to respond to a negative review and there’s no need to pile on.

I do understand the urge. Oh, yes, every writer knows that urge to respond and demand an apology or…something. Instead, I stay indoors, never go anywhere, and write scary, funny books. It’s a better use of my time and the right thing to do.

So let’s talk about reviews more generally.

We all want them. We can’t promote our books effectively without a minimum number of happy reviews. But there are problems:

1. If you get a lot of happy reviews, someone who didn’t like your book will accuse you of having lots of friends and family shilling for you. Ha! I wish! It’s very difficult to get any reviews on anything and I don’t speak to my family. The point is, some people (I have no idea how many) think five-star reviews shouldn’t be trusted. However, if you didn’t have any five-star reviews, those same people would slay you for it. Crazy, huh?

2. Some people can’t help themselves. They condemn authors for their books and pedophiles for their despicable actions with nigh equal vehemence. Well…I assume so, anyway. I mean, I’ve read some vitriolic reviews where, once you dial it up to eleven, there’s no place to go, is there? But (silver lining) no one really takes one-star reviews seriously anymore, either. They are, with few exceptions, troglodytic. We read them for sick entertainment value, not for direction as to what to read.

3. Some people put spoilers in reviews without warning. That’s not a review anymore. That’s a spoiler and it’s a shitty thing to do. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t and spoiling a work that was years in the making in one ill-considered paragraph? Yes, that’s bad. What’s worse is Amazon lets it happen and allows those spoilers to remain posted without warning.

4. Likewise, authors have been libelled in reviews. Once again, Amazon does nothing if you complain. Unacceptable, and yet we are, at the moment, powerless. It’s the Internet. We’re supposed to shrug and hope the happy reviews drown out the unhappy ones (and eventually, mostly, they do.)

There’s a study somewhere that shows how unreliable reviews can be in an odd way. If the first review that goes up is negative, ensuing reviews tend to be more negative than they would have been otherwise. That’s less about the book, I suppose, and more piling on, hoping to be seen in agreement with whoever spoke up first. Weird.

5. Here’s where it gets weirder: Authors shouldn’t respond to reviews. Goodreads doesn’t even want authors to thank anyone for a nice review. That strikes me as forcing authors to be rude, but it’s their site policy so I abide by it.

Pretty much everyone accepts the No Response to a Bad Review Policy as a given, but no one knows who established this all-encompassing edict. Other industries routinely respond to reviews, hoping to ease their unsatisfied customers’ fury. We don’t. The argument goes that reviews aren’t for authors (true) but we aren’t even supposed to respond when reviews are misleading. We’re supposed to, as Hugh Howey so aptly put it once, “enjoy the burn.”

But wait. If we’re writers who should be thick-skinned and stoic since we put something out in the world…aren’t reviewers putting stuff out in the world, too? How come their writing is exempt from criticism but mine isn’t? Hm. No. Stop thinking about it. Nothing good can come from following the logical conclusion of that reasoning.

I am not arguing for responding to reviews.

The system is broken when reviews allow spoilers, libel authors or when so many people seem to distrust reviews.

Someone at The Passive Voice recommended we tell people, “If you liked it, please tell a friend,” in lieu of reviews. I kind of like that, but that’s what reviews were supposed to be anyway, right? Telling people what you liked so they can share the experience of an interesting, entertaining or enlightening book. I encourage people happy with my books to review them on Amazon. A review anywhere else (except perhaps a busy book blog) doesn’t really get more people to my books.

When I worked in magazines, we rarely gave negative book reviews (or the negative reviews were significantly shorter) because the point was to direct readers to the good stuff. The prevailing opinion was, the good stuff is too hard to find to waste time talking about the stuff we don’t like. I feel the same way. I may find commonality with reviews that tell me what they liked and why. What they dislike often seems more idiosyncratic (and some reviewers can’t seem to bring themselves to like much of anything.)

Maybe hoping for organic discovery through old-fashioned social networks is the way to go. But not quite yet. The apparatus for book discovery is broken. I still need happy reviews to get a Bookbub promotion going. That’s one of the few book promotion services that seems to have muscle and mojo behind it. I also suspect people don’t talk about books enough. I’m unwilling to rely on chats over fences with neighbors to spread word of my literary heights efficiently. Podcasts might be a better answer.

So what to do?

Stop stressing about reviews. Beat up a punching bag. (Reminder from Mom: human beings are not punching bags.)

If necessary, stop reading reviews. Read more books. Write more reviews.

Keep asking for reviews because, hey, that’s all we can do for now.

Don’t stalk book bloggers or book reviewers. Do not go near their homes or places of employment. And if you do (which you definitely shouldn’t!) don’t tell anyone. Jeez!

Cry quietly and not in public.

Treasure the many good reviewers who don’t mistake snark and disrespect for intelligence.

Read your four and five-star reviews obsessively to get your energy and esteem up. Read the negative reviews once, if you feel you’ll have something to gain from them (a murder plot, perhaps?) But never read them twice. That’s just masochism and revenge fantasies.

But there’s a better reason not to respond to negative reviews:

It takes time and energy that you could use to write your next book. And frankly, if someone hates your book, they won’t change their mind. If you try to use your best politician’s smile and the it’s-all-part-of-the-game clap on the shoulder, they won’t buy it. They know. You hate them. They hate your book and therefore they hate you. People will tell you this is wrong. Shit’s about to get real.

Yes, you’ll read lots of crap about how writers should separate themselves from their books. It’s a book, not a baby. Except it is. It’s the product of your mind and anyone who hates the book is calling you feeble in the brain. Be real. People tell you to be thick-skinned, but nobody really is. Many of the most successful writers, actors and entertainers on the planet confess that they remember every word of every bad review. You’d have to be a robot sociopath to be so far above the fray when someone criticizes something you put so much of yourself into.

However…when you write more books and get some success, it does hurt less. You become less invested in each book because you know you will write many. Just like having children, if you make enough of them, a few start to look expendable. (It’s a joke, for Thor’s sake. Relax.) 

Anyway, when the happy reviews drown out the negative reviews, that one-star review starts to look silly. You can also take some solace in knowing that if a reviewer hates you enough, they won’t feel the need to come back for more and you’ll be rid of them…if they actually read books before they review them, of course. Oh, yeah. There’s another reason so many people don’t trust reviews anymore. Sigh.

So, to sum up:

Write books and pretend you don’t bleed.

Don’t be a dick. Be nice. Play nice. Pretend you’re nice. Fake it and kill offenders in your next book. (I did.) Cover your tracks so they’ll never recognize themselves.

Pretend you’re happy all the time, especially when you’re not. Rant to a friend if you must. (Mental note: get a friend.)

Try to keep some perspective. You won’t, but it’s true that a review is merely one person’s opinion. It is not a scary diagnosis from a stone-faced internist.

We’re in the entertainment business. Entertain. Seek out entertainment. Don’t be so damn serious.

Remember that no matter how good your book is, someone will say they don’t like it. Don’t let them discourage you from following your star and writing, though. If that happened, then a bad review would really matter.

Until a new way to discover genius books is found, this is the way we live now.

Keep having fun. Don’t forget, this is supposed to be fun.

~ I forget sometimes.

 

 

Filed under: reviews, web reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , ,

As a writer, what’s optional? What’s necessary? What’s real?

1. I think charity, political action and social justice is important. Let’s not lose sight of what’s important.

(For instance, I’m trying to help a guy find a kidney.) 

This post is about doing what’s necessary and managing our time better as writers and publishers. Don’t click away. It’ll be fun. You’re going to like this post a lot, trust me, but before we proceed, please consider that at least one good kidney is what’s really necessary. Please sign your donor card. Follow @RSawatsky and retweet him. #DudeNeedsAKidney! Spread the word to change and save lives. Thank you.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming…

Organ donation matters to all of us but Amazon and Hachette’s machinations really don’t much. I try not to get too caught up in industry debates that don’t affect me and hurt my productivity if I give them too much energy. I’ve commented on Amazon versus Hachette, but I don’t live and breathe that debate because I feel no agency in changing the outcome. Amazon and Hachette are gonna do what they’re gonna do.

Meanwhile, I’m publishing my fifteenth book at the end of the month. (That averages out to five a year, so clearly I’m a slacker.) My point is, it’s better that I spend time telling stories instead of scurrying around the ankles of giants.  

2. If you can’t afford to pay an editor, you can swap services, use your writing group or crowdsource. Finding a good editor is hard. Harnessing the hive mind, if you have enough solid people on your side, is easier in some ways. If you can afford to hire an editor, don’t stop there. You probably still need to crowdsource to get a lot of eyes on your manuscript before you release it. More proofreaders in your beta team now mean fewer problems later.

Beware of people who approach you about editing your next book. Better not to answer them. Best to depend on the team you develop and choose. Finding help gets easier as you go along. Don’t despair and take the time you need. Also, there’s zero shame in taking that job you need to pay for the professional assistance you need. You’re a full-time author if you put in a lot of hours, no matter what job is listed on your tax form.

3. I got a bill. As a result, I have never been so focussed as I am now on the famous 80/20 rule. That which does not advance my writing career in some tangible way is a waste of my time and I am ruthless. Priorities are: family and friends, exercise, writing, a certain degree of social interaction and the pursuit of happiness along career lines.

I write and exercise early in the day to make sure that gets done. Everything has a schedule and I am plugged into it.

Why exercise? Because we’re sitters and sitting is the new smoking. Self-care puts the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting other passengers in need. Do that or we’re all gonna die.

4. Experiments are conducted. That which works, stays. That which does not is jettisoned. Bookbub and BookGorilla and Freebooksy are still in. I try smaller services sequentially (separating promotions) to see if they have an effect on daily sales. They don’t (for now) so they’re out. I’ll revisit them periodically to see if they’ve grown their subscriber lists substantially, especially if they’re free services.

If I can spend an afternoon at some kind of author event and if I’ve just reached one new reader and touched their hearts? I’ve wasted that afternoon. 

I’m not playing small ball, anymore. I don’t hang out hoping for individual conversions. I make alliances with my fellow author army for mass mind invasions. I experiment with keywords and categorization. I give sermons to the masses. Scalable stuff. I don’t want twelve disciples. I want a vast cult of love that spreads among strangers by word of mouth in airport lounges and through the matrix as fast as the newly converted can warble at each other excitedly about my last book and my next book. I am a happy infection.

Don’t get me wrong. I love every reader who gets me. I’m not trying to sound harsh. I’m trying to maximize my time because I’m not immortal (yet.) Only the willing are drafted. I’m prepared to sell my books and ideas but it’s an invitation, not a hard sell that makes me hate myself and lose psychic energy.

If I have to spend time convincing them to take my book into their hands? They aren’t ready for me. They’re ready for James Patterson. Godspeed.

5. It’s best to hire someone to do your graphic design. I always recommend Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. He is awesome and if you employ his talents you’ll undoubtedly sell more books.

If you can’t do that (due to financial emergency or scheduling issues), kdrenegade and picmonkey are options that work best together. There are many editing programs. Whatever we do won’t be as good as what a professional can do for us, but it might do until we can redo those covers with the pros.

Do do your best or you’ll rue your doo doo book covers.

6. Book formatters can make your work look great and elevate your art with their art and sensibility. Pay them if you can afford to do so. Otherwise, let’s not be quite so hard on amateur formatting attempts as long as it’s functional.

For instance, book formatters will insist that your print book must begin on the right. The people who care about this are book formatters. They can be hypercritical of details no one else notices. Also, unlike the formatting experts, I prefer seeing the title at the top of each screen of an ebook. I tend to read ten books at a time and the header they disparage as unprofessional reminds me which book I’m looking at instantly. (Did I mention I don’t have a lot of time to spare? Yeah.)

If you don’t care about certain details, you can do it yourself without expense or worry you’re doing too much that is wrong. Experts love to tell you you’re wrong. Non-experts, too. Especially non-experts.

There is much to obsess over. This is not one of those things. Prioritize what matters to you.

7. I blog when I have something to say. Otherwise, I write books.

Chasing the dragon by posting to a blog twice daily (or more) in an effort to boost blog traffic is so 2004.

8. YouTube videos of cats freaking out = a gravity well from which no one escapes. Don’t go there. If you do, you’ll write one less book this year.

You can’t feed your cat by watching cats on YouTube unless you film your own cat to make money on YouTube. You didn’t think all those crazy situations caught on video were accidents, did you? No. That’s a conscious plan to monetize cute (and steal your writing time.)

9. Don’t complain. Never explain. 

Someone at Thanksgiving dinner and on Christmas Day is caught up in outdated misconceptions of what you do. This is an energy suck. Do you really want to have that same conversation about how ebooks aren’t real books, the smell of paper blah-de-blah and your publishing venture is not legit unless a trad publisher pays you a pittance and abuses you with ferocious contract terms? 

Don’t get sucked in. Instead, agree with the Uncle Bozo. Tell him he’s absolutely right. He hasn’t changed his mind about anything ever, anyway, so stop butting foreheads. Your aspirations don’t matter and books don’t pay. Tell him what he wants to hear.

Then tell him, “Fortunately, you can remedy that.” Thank him for his concern as you say, “I’ve got my books in the trunk of the car. You can buy them right now! Thanks again! Be right back!” Don’t wait for his reply.

Bring them all. Before he can protest, tell him you have change for big bills. (With Square, you can also take his credit card.) Refuse to leave until those boxes are empty and his trunk is full. His choice is to buy your stuff or admit he was being a prick and trying to make you feel bad about your aspirations.

Uncle Bozo will never bother you again.

10. Look to others’ successes to figure out how to proceed and what practices to copy.

Don’t waste a minute worrying that everyone else is playing this game better and getting luckier and selling more books than you.

They are all doing much better (often succeeding by accident while you try guile!) They’re all doing great and thinking about buying a boat. You suck. I suck, too. I know! I know! But worry doesn’t help that. Writing the next book helps that.

You’re going to write that next book, anyway, no matter what the “market conditions” are. So go do that. No bullshit.

And stop checking your sales dashboard stats for green arrows ten times a day!

~ This post was briefly titled, “As an authorpreneur…” Then I changed it to “As an writer…” and it went out like that. Oh, for God’s sake! We now return to our regularly scheduled self-loathing….

 

Filed under: author platform, publishing, Rant, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What if What We Think We Know About Writing, Publishing & Promotion is Wrong?

TWEAKED JESUS OMNIBUS COVER WITH CROSS

Problem:

Blogging is dead. I’ve been spinning out gold here for years. Maybe I should have spent more time writing books instead because my blog stats are fairly static. This site gets pretty decent traffic when I post, but it’s not growing as I’d hoped. Still glad to do it because it’s a compulsion, but I don’t do it as often and I don’t do it to sell books. I’m here to gain allies, share information and rant when the pressure builds too high.

My book sales come through Amazon promoting me, perhaps the occasional ad, pulse sales and, most important, word of mouth. I experiment with categorization and keywords and KDP Select. I write surprising books with many twists and turns and emotional gut punches. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been teetering on the cusp of success a long time and sometimes that’s lonely and sad. That’s when I stalk around the house naked, overcompensate for my doubt, pour a stiff coffee and start shouting, “Tonight I shall drink from the Chalice of Glory!” 

Solution:

We all need an author page, but do we really need to blog? Instead, go where it’s easier for consumers of information to consume. Twitter, when used well, is one option and less time-consuming.

Note, too, there are far fewer podcasts than there are blogs. I’m back podcasting after taking a hiatus. My podcast stats not only bounced up nicely with one new episode this past week, but the numbers were pretty steady in my absence. To catch the latest All That Chazz podcast (The Hit Man Edition) click here.

The Oft-repeated Wisdom May be a Lie.

Gird your loins because this is going to get scary. Here’s what we think we all know for sure:

Market your books by writing more books.

Well, yes and no. If you have a hit, your new adoring readers may want to read everything you write and then it finally will pay to have a huge back list. However, it amazes me how many readers are very genre-specific in their tastes. More books doesn’t necessarily translate to more sales.

I know this goes against everything you’ve read and it goes against what I believed until recently. But, as Tucker Max said on the Self-Publishing Podcast recently, “Book discovery is broken.”

My Evidence: 

1. Some authors are making good money writing fairly crappy books, and fairly few. (So much for the “Make-it-great-and-it-will-certainly-sell meme.”) What makes them hot? Genre choice is one major factor, I suspect.

2. It’s surprising how many authors seem to do okay with their first book or two. Or they get featured on podcasts and whatnot despite being relative novices. Is it their marketing machine, their genre of choice or luck? (More about the touchy subject of luck in a moment.)

3. It’s disheartening to find (in my informal and unscientific survey) that there are solid, experienced authors who:

(A) appear to be great at marketing,

(B) have an impressive number of books to sell, and yet,

(C) one of their series is actually selling and just about everything else is not. Read (C) again. Aren’t you glad your girded your loins? I know it’s counterintuitive, but it’s what I’ve been told by authors with a lot of books out there (as in more than thirty).

Some authors are blaming cannibalization from Kindle Unlimited for their recent sales dip. Or is it that the recession still rolls on in too many places? Or is it that readers already have too many free books to read? Can we blame our sales platforms? The narrow availability of Bookbub and the ineffectiveness of non-Bookbub sales tools? As a last resort, I suppose we could blame ourselves, but don’t wallow. I’m here to open the Box of Depression, not stuff you in deeper.

The Lie We All Need to Believe

On a recent publishing podcast, somebody who is making many thousands of dollars a month said something like: “Any author with persistence will make it big.”

Math says that’s not true. We won’t all make it big. Many of us won’t make it at all. Like the stock market, everybody can’t ride high by sheer force of will. If persistence alone were the issue, I’d have fewer writer friends constantly worried about money. I think some of us have to work smarter, but many of us are certainly working very hard. Telling us to bear down even more isn’t really helpful and may be damaging to our health, our relationships and our self-esteem.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

About luck

People who do make it big will usually say something humble about being lucky. Then they’ll detail the strategies to which they attribute their success. They might be right or they may be rationalizing. They might not attribute enough of their success to luck and organic growth. But more important, can their experience translate to ours? If you’re not in the same genre and working in the same time frame with the same resources, can you replicate what they did to earn readers?

My strategies going forward:

1. Still blogging, but less so. Podcasting more. Worrying less.

2. I’m holding off on the spin-off of the Hit Man Series I’d planned. Common wisdom is that many thriller series don’t seem to take off until you’re at book #5 or above. Hollywood Jesus and The Divine Assassin’s Playbook, Omnibus Edition just launched and I’m at Book #3. I hope to bring the sales of my crime novels up as the charms of my funny Cuban assassin, Jesus Diaz, are discovered. Therefore, I’ll write more of the Hit Man Series, faster. Come for the action and stay for the jokes as he falls out of the frying pan and into the napalm.

3. Work in popular genres. I’m not talking about chasing trends so much as acknowledging that I can write in more genres than I’ve allowed myself in the past. To get where I need to go so I can write more on a full-time basis, the work needs to pay.

Choosing more popular genres first is the equivalent of choosing to paddle the white water to get where I need to be (and get there faster.) I can still make any book a labor of love without throwing away profitability.

For instance, I love my upcoming time travel book. I’ve been stunned to discover there are a lot of fans of time travel who are asking me to hurry up and put that one out. My next book is another crime novel, but I’ll get to it all. I am putting books out faster now, but it may be speed of production within a genre (not necessarily flat numbers of books) that helps me avoid the infamous Cliff of Visibility from which we drop after thirty days on the market.

I also produce more books because, as with this blog, it’s about doing what I love. Produce as much as you want, but don’t pin all your hopes on any one book. Just write because you want and need to.

Opening up to New Possibilities is Another Way Forward

Recently, a publisher approached me about writing a ghost story for an anthology. It’s an honor to be asked, but that genre doesn’t appeal to me. Or rather, it didn’t appeal to me.

I noodled with a few ideas. Then I started losing sleep over it. Unless we’re talking Poltergeist, my problem with ghosts is their lack of agency. What does a ghost want? How are they a threat? How could I make readers care? Did I really want to write this at all?

The key question I ask for all my book ideas persisted:

How could I transform an old idea into a fresh and cool story?

She Who Must Be Obeyed doesn’t ask about my insomnia, anymore. She just meets me at the breakfast table with, “Busy brain?” The insomnia finally paid off. I found the hook and the angle I needed to get into the story. I want to write for that anthology now because I found the key to the main character. I also want to write a series of books on that foundation.

I never looked down on ghost stories. I just figured they were for other writers to write. Now I know I can still write whatever I want. The difference is now I’m going to let myself play in a much larger playground.

Excuse me. I have to go write a metric crap-ton of books now. For the love of it.

 

 

 

Filed under: Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, What about Chazz?, What about you?, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Quick Top Ten: Make revisions painless

Books in progress litter my desk. As I revise manuscripts, there are certain words I watch for. When I see them I ask, “Who cares and who needs it?”

Here are some of those watch words and cautions:

1. Sentences that begin with “And…” (It’s not that it’s wrong or bad, but it’s often not necessary.)

2. Sentences that begin with “And then…” Sentences are sequences and usually work without this tip to the reader.

3. He felt, she heard, he sensed, she saw… Just describe the scene. Not “She saw a crocodile rise from the swamp.” Instead, “A crocodile rose from the swamp.”

4. Was. This crops up a lot in most writers’ first drafts. “She was fighting,” becomes “she fought.”

Gerunds are passive and they are not our friends, especially when overused. I don’t use adverbs much, though I don’t ban them. It’s a novel, not a telegram. Besides, I’m suggesting crafty guidelines here, not edicts about what not to do.

5. Look out for: just, own, up, down, so, it. These are words that we add to sentences that sometimes fail to add meaning. 

Just surfaces a lot. We can often do without “just.” Or we might use only or merely. 

“He sat down in the chair,” becomes “He sat in the chair.”

“So, he murdered the butler,” becomes “He murdered the butler.”

“Their own boat,” becomes “Their boat.”

“It” often replaces the noun you should probably use. “It’s up to you,” could be, “This caper is up to you,” or “The fate of guinea pigs everywhere is up to you.” See how it’s better? I mean, see how specificity improves clarity?

6. Careful of exclamation points that hype excitement that does not exist.

7. Semi-colons have fallen so far out of use that they now stop readers cold. Punctuation should be visible, yet not visible. Punctuation marks are the life-preserver under your seat on the plane. You know it’s there, but you don’t want to pause a moment to think about why it’s there. 

8. Use dialogue tags besides “said” sparingly. Let what is said carry the weight of the message.

9. Empty pleasantries are death.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“How are you?”

“Good.”

This trite exchange is what we do every day. In a book, it’s a waste of time. Also note that those four lines possess no conflict. A better way to go would be to answer “How are you?” with “You’re late.”

Or try, “He greeted her at the conference room door with an officious sneer and ushered to her seat without a word.” 

If the dialogue isn’t clever or funny, or if the exchange fails to reveal character or advance the plot, skip it and go to the action.

Don’t count on readers’ patience. Tell the story.

10. Everyone watches for run-on sentences. We break those up, of course. Also consider varying sentence length.

Sentence length is not something many readers will register consciously, but lots of short sentences together can feel stilted and staccato. (This device can be used to great effect in an action sequence or to make a point, however.) Many long sentences in a row tire the reader and can feel like a drone.

This problem is easier to recognize when you read your manuscript aloud. If you run out of breath before the end of a sentence, it might be too long. Or you need to do more cardio.

Me B&W~ Robert Chazz Chute hates to tell anyone what to do. Ever. He’s also a fan of the sentence fragment, so this isn’t about being the grammar police. It’s about helping writers and editors make books more readable. These are guidelines. The only rule is, if it plays, it plays.

FYI, the third book in the Hit Man Series is Hollywood Jesus, Rise of the Divine Assassin. This funny, gripping crime novel launches October 1, 2014. Early feedback says it’s the fastest pace to an adventure since you fell off your bike and got road rash when you were a kid.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

The Omnibus will be launched at the same time.

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL

 

Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cost control for the Indie Author

(Editor’s Note: Everybody tracks income. We aren’t so enthused about tracking outgo, me included. Fortunately, author Mark Victor Young has some thoughts on that today. ~ Chazz)

Guest Post by Mark Victor Young

“When embarking on a new venture where the returns are likely to be modest, or at the very least uncertain, the quickest way to get into the black is to keep your costs to a minimum.” This has been my guiding principle since the beginning of my Indie Author journey. I’m having a great time doing it and all, but I want this thing to be real first and foremost, so anything I can do myself, I will do. My time is free and I don’t mind spending it on myself.

 There are tons of Book Marketing platforms out there who will tell you they have the magical key to success for an Indie Author and it will only cost you $20 per month, or $100 per year, etc. Just put “Indie Author” in your twitter bio and see how fast they find you and promise you success… for a small fee. But at $2.99 per e-book, I make $2.00/book, so I have to sell 50 books just to break even on a $100 expense. How much would I have to do by myself, using free self-promotional tools, to sell 50 e-books? I don’t know, but I know that when I did, I’d be $100 to the good.

 Let’s look at my start-up expenses and see what I consider to be necessary costs and where you could cut corners.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 2.01.30 PM

 

Scrivener is an Indie Author’s best friend. It is a compositional and editing platform that allows you to format your book as a PDF, ePub, Kindle or Paperback and upload it directly to the various sales platforms. This allows you to control your own destiny and not have to rely on one platform (ie. Smashwords) acting as an intermediary with all the others and grabbing a slice of your revenues in the process. It costs about $40 (I found a 10% off coupon online – that is two e-books worth of revenue saved!) and it is well worth it.

 Registering your business as a Sole Proprietorship or Corporation says to the world that yours is a serious venture and is worthy of respect. Registering your business will also have some tax advantages down the line if your sales start rolling. Likewise, paying for a custom domain (myname.com) is a small cost that sends a message that you might be worthy of someone’s hard earned three bucks. Sure, you could just operate as an individual and go with a myname.wordpress.com or myname.blogspot.com and save both fees. I have nothing against this and would commend you on your frugality.

 If you’re planning to offer your books for sale in paperback, you are going to need to see the physical items to really make sure you are putting a quality product out there that will reflect well on you. This will mean shipping yourself some proof copies as well as taking a hard look at the online editing software. But this is also an opportunity to grab some hard copies to use for local, in person sales opportunities (as long as they are what you expected and aren’t full of formatting problems or whatever). CreateSpace (division of Amazon.com) will let you have up to 5 proof copies for a few bucks each plus postage. Make a small change to alter the file and they will let you proof it again (by ordering 5 more copies – see where this is going? J).

 I contacted hundreds of book bloggers through e-mail and social media to ask them to review my first book and only one required a physical copy. This is good, because the postage was frightening! There were plenty out there who would gladly accept a free ePub or Mobi (that I could supply, thanks to Scrivener) for their e-readers. One even purchased the e-book to review it, because she felt it was important to support Indie Authors. Can’t argue with that! But this is a great example of something time consuming but free which will pay off in publicity and promotion. Several bloggers even agreed to publish an interview or promotional feature on me with no mention of a charge at all. I only heard back from about 1 in 20 that I contacted, but I was happy with those responses, I can tell you.

 You’ll notice that I have incurred no costs for book cover design. That’s an interesting story that may be unique to me. My wife is an excellent artist and has a background in marketing and publishing. She designs all my covers for free, so I don’t have any costs in that regard. Sorry – don’t hate me! Here are the covers for my first two novels, which have garnered all kinds of compliments and positive attention:

 Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 2.01.38 PM

 

But that doesn’t mean that someone who is not similarly wedded need bear heavy costs in this area. You may know an artist who could help with this in exchange for you promoting their services on your website or social media. Find an author whose covers you love and ask who they use. If you can’t find something fabulous and free, Smashwords has a list of cover designers, some of whom will charge less than $100 to design your book cover. Sometimes you can also save money by going with a ready-made cover. Here are some my wife came up with and here are some by Kit Foster.

 This is not an area for skimping. Don’t send your book out into the world if it looks like a public domain work from Project Gutenberg. That will send a message that your book should be free, or worse, isn’t considered worthy of a great cover, so won’t be worthy of their time. Don’t settle for something that LOOKS self-published (in the amateurish sense). People do judge a book by its cover, unfortunately, so you will need a great-looking, professional finished product whichever way you go.

 There are no guarantees of success for Indie Authors. But there are no guarantees with or without spending money on third party promos. The more you spend in chasing book sales, the more profit gets eaten up by these marketing and promotional expenses. If you consider this to be a long term, truly independent venture and you keep at it and keep adding to your list of books for sale, even a modest success will be income that is all yours to keep. If, that is, you haven’t already paid out all your profits to third parties in advance. If you’re determined to use some service that you think will really pay off, make a deal with yourself. Wait until you’ve made $100 more in revenues than all the expenses you’ve incurred and then spend it on that great book marketing opportunity. That way every sale it generates will be putting money in your pocket. J

 Best of luck on your own Indie Author journey!

~ Find out more about Mark on his website, MarkVictorYoung.com.

 

Filed under: author platform, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Chazz Redemption: Course Corrections along the Publishing Way

There is much to do. I wrote the first drafts for three books in two months. If you’ve noticed I’m not posting quite as often here, that’s why. I’m gearing up for Christmas (yeah, I said it!) and trying to catch up on a list of new priorities. Here they are:

1. I’ve got Self-help for Stoners back from BookBaby. It was my first book and I wasn’t confident I could upload it myself way back then. I was so shy. It’s out of the hands of the intermediary so now I can make changes without it costing an organ donation (because all my organs are my favorites.) After a fresh round of edits for the next edition, it’ll be available again.

2. I’m behind on my print editions of This Plague of Days. Catching up with Season 3 fast. The Omnibus will be ready soonish (i.e. a month if the formatting goes as planned.) I’ve developed a list of people I want to send the TPOD Omnibus to. Time to get the series more attention and reviews.

3. I think I’ll make Murders Among Dead Trees available in print, as well. I happen to think it’s one of my best books. Print is mostly a promotional tool for me, but paper versions are also important to some readers. Print is also useful as a price anchor for the ebooks. It lends legitimacy. Plus, I have a book fair coming up.

4. I’ve got to track outgo better than I track income. I want less drama at tax time and I have to trim expenses.

5. The next book in the Hit Man Series is now with the beta team. I’m going to change the title and change how the book ends. I decided to do that as soon as it went out to beta readers. Panic is so creative. These are small but important tweaks because I’m going to rebrand the series. (More on that in another post.)

6. Revise two more books. One novel is in time travel and the other is a crime story. The plan is to come out with a new one about every 30 days to boost my visibility. The cliff we all tend to hit thirty days after a book launch is horrific and I already swing back and forth from depressed to somewhat manic.

7. What’s changing with the new writing? Shorter books, generally. I still have another huge standalone book banging to escape a drawer.

Also ahead? Faster pacing. More jokes. (More on that another time, too.) I have deadlines in my mind. If I don’t meet sales targets with certain books, I’ll be changing genres. I’ll also be embracing pseudonyms. Readers of this blog know I’m averse to pen names generally. However, I reserve the right to change my mind when it suits me and when evidence arises to my first opinion.

8. Get back to podcasting. I’ve taken the summer off for a number of reasons. It’s time to find some guests for the Cool People Podcast (check out the guest page here.) I also need to finish up the Higher Than Jesus read on All That Chazz.

After that read is done, I plan to change the podcast format a bit. It’s time for a revamp with books, too. It took me years to write This Plague of Days. I’m proud of it. It’s my Star Wars. Now I’m focusing on series books that come out faster. 

That’s enough of a list for now. I have more to do, but long to-do lists are just another way to procrastinate. For more fun, write a to-done list. Plan to accomplish something specific and by when. Write it down and cross it off, all in one day. Feels good.

The kids are back in school and I’ve been bone-deep grieving dead friends.

Time to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, Red.

 

Filed under: author platform, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Beat the World’s Plot Against You

Life happens. It’s time for me to happen to life, not the other way around.

In the last few days, someone stole from my family and made my daughter cry. A close friend’s child died. Frustrations dot the landscape. I thought I’d be done another book by now but life keeps getting in the way. Clearly, it’s time for a pattern break.

“Rise up and take the power back.” ~ Muse from The Resistance

I am not a flake, but I speak it fluently. Once upon a time, someone told me to pick up every penny (back when Canada had pennies.) The act of picking up pennies in the street was supposed to be a message to the universe: “I am open to abundance!”

After picking up a filthy penny in the rain, it occurred to me the message I was sending the universe was, “I’ll take whatever crumbs you choose to send me.” Worse, I was sending myself a message: “This is all you’re worth.” Screw that hippie bullshit.

1. Everybody feels pushed around sometimes. Push back by doing a kindness to someone else. Transmute the energy into something positive.

2. Tonight I spotted an author’s comment on a troll’s review, thanking them for the mean review. Authors: Cherish your fans. Set trolls to ignore. You do not have to pretend to love the whip. Stop being grateful for crap. I didn’t think the author was classy and above it all for petting and encouraging the troll. It looked more like grovelling for a penny covered in dog crap.

3. Exercise. Don’t feel like taking out frustrations on weights and ellipticals? Find your jam. Dance. Make love. Make sex. Rock on. Get happy. When we act happy, we fool our bodies and brains. No? Not yet? Dance harder.

4. Get enough sleep. Black out your room. Sleep naked. Fewer blankets are better. Can’t sleep? Revisit #3, points 5 & 6.

5. Phone a friend. Complain, but not for longer than three minutes. Then ask about them. Get out of your own head. Help them solve their problem.

6. You don’t need advice. Hardly anybody does. Just give yourself the same advice you’d give a friend in the same predicament.

7. Write. Not your book. Not yet. Write what you will do (not to do. Will do.)

Choose the two top priorities. Everything else on a long list won’t get done. Mark what time you will do these things. Keep that appointment.

8. Write. Make it the first thing you do. If not that, write at your high energy time.

9. Eat something that’s good for Future You. Don’t eat what Now You wants. Now You wants a hot fudge sundae on acid. Future You wishes you’d eaten a salad.

10. Do it all again until your are out of the unproductive funk. Then keep doing it. Write on. Write harder. Can’t make happy art? Fine. Fierce art is awesome, too.

Or do what you want. This is what I’m doing.

Damn it.

One day soon, we’ll all be brilliant together….

Filed under: getting it done, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You never know what's real.

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Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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