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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Downsizing: A dire warning for writers

I finally saw Downsizing, a (black?) (comedic?) sci-fi movie with Matt Damon on Netflix. Anyone who writes should see it. It’s a clinic in how a story can go terribly awry.

There are so many approaches to writing. I’m not usually so Judgy McJudgypants. Someone objected to my use of foreshadowing in one of my series, for instance. You know what? Hop on the bus, Gus. There must be fifty ways to leave your lover…um, I mean, there are lots of ways to write and they aren’t all for you. That said, Downsizing is really bad. 

(Warning: very mild spoilers follow.)

The movie is so bad it’s fascinating. It can’t decide what it is. Kristen Wiig is in it for a hot minute and you’ll soon miss her. I like Matt Damon in most any movie. Christoph Waltz is being Christoph Waltz, for God’s sake! That almost always works! The cinematography is pretty, the actors are able and the premise gets lots of points for originality. This is a watchable mess. However, you’ll soon understand why the film wasn’t a hit. The marketing couldn’t hit a target because the plot was so incoherent.

This movie falls down in the writing and directing departments. At first, the story fails because the plot takes too long to get going. The show starts 10 years before the action begins! They invent a science (and hey, look, I’m sympathetic. That’s hard. I just did that in my latest book.) Sadly, the plot has no destination once it’s finally on its way. This thing is all over the road. Is it a goofy marriage story? Sci-fi utopia? Sci-fi dystopia? Cli-fi? Apocalypse? A mid-life crisis? Is it about a person finally asserting their personhood and making some decisions, daring to be selfish…or unselfish? The director didn’t know, either. You’ll be left a little baffled.

(For a much better movie about a mid-life nebbish figuring out how to take control of his life, watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller. Or the original with Danny Kaye, for that matter.)

When we’re talking novels, it’s often a good idea to “come in late.” In other words, you plop the reader into the action. No info dumps. Get the story up and moving and sift the needed detail and character development amid the action as needed. This is not always so. A common trope in the zombie genre: They don’t show you how the apocalypse begins. In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma and BOOM! Zombies! Same with a movie I love, 28 Days Later. Swimming against that tide, I devoted the first book in the Plague of Days trilogy to the fall of civilization. It’s interesting to me to see how things come apart when societal norms and services break down. In AFTER Life, Inferno, my new zombie apocalypse, we start in media res and get right to the action.

Necessary ad: AFTER Life, Purgatory was just released. 

This post continues below.

AFTER LIFE COVER 2

In the end of Downsizing, the main character arrives at a decision. This is the confusing climax of the movie. You really don’t know what to root for. Did Matt Damon win or lose? You will not understand whether his decision is a brave choice or if he’s just being weak and caving again. (At least I wasn’t sure. They even make the mistake of undermining the global emergency. You won’t even be sure how serious the peril really is. What are the stakes? Who knows?)

Your parents can be a wonderful example or a serve as a terrible warning about what you don’t want to become. So it is with Downsizing. As a writer, you probably won’t like it but you could learn a lot from it. I did.


~ Robert Chazz Chute sometimes comes off as crotchety. He’s really Canada’s sweetheart. Sorry, eh? Check out his latest releases at AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , , ,

CreateSpace and KDP Are Merging

It’s finally happening. We knew this was coming. I’m hoping for a smooth transition.

chrismcmullen

CREATESPACE MERGES WITH KDP

It’s a logical business decision.

The one significant change has to do with when royalty payments are made. See the section entitled Royalties towards the end of this article.

In 2008 I published my first book with CreateSpace, and in 2009 I published my first Kindle eBook.

When I was learning about publishing with Kindle, I asked myself the following question:

Why does Amazon use a different company for publishing eBooks than it does for publishing paperbacks?

It seemed like it would be convenient for authors and cost-effective for Amazon to have a single self-publishing service.

This is finally happening in 2018.

This is the way it should be, and should have been all along.

THIS IS GOOD FOR AUTHORS

It benefits authors for CreateSpace to merge with KDP.

  • It’s convenient to check royalty reports at a single location.
  • It’s convenient to have a single account…

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Writers, Writing and Finding Our Way

I didn’t publish for a year and a half. I was always writing but I’d lost my way. Things got grim for a long time before I found the way out of my storm. A side hustle went away. The demands of an extra job to pay taxes made my hands ache. A business deal went sideways. I felt betrayed. My day job was hard on me physically and arthritic pain woke me at night. Bad health and worries about the future made me an insomniac. Then came the tide of anxiety attacks. Those drowned me. Overwhelming anger and frustration made it hard for me to catch my breath. I was dying and plastering on a happy smile.

A stress leave from my day job reminded me how much solace I found in writing. Abandoning a book I’d been wrestling with for nine months, I started writing fiction I loved. It was good, but I hadn’t learned my lesson yet.

Too soon I was back on the day job. I felt like someone who had gone too far down the wrong road to turn back. Then on March 29, I needed emergency surgery for a detached retina. A gifted surgeon saved the vision in my left eye but the recovery was trying. After two weeks, the doctor told me I was safe to return to my normal routine. “Go live life,” he said. But I didn’t want to go back to my normal routine.

I couldn’t continue with my day job indefinitely. I loved some of my work in healthcare but I needed more of a return on my emotional, financial and health investments. At work, I was a cog in someone else’s machine mired in professional obligations that could often be silly or onerous. Surgery reminded me I was mortal. Time is short. I had to work at what I was meant to do. I was a writer first.

Luck was on my side. I’d published many books and some were selling. I found the exit from the day job. Early last year I was involved in four businesses. Now I just have one job. I write in a coffee shop every day. That’s a great privilege. I’m in the brain tickle business again full-time. We live by our wits. Bills must be paid and that is truly scary. I’d tried to escape the gears of the machine once before. I failed then. I’d written plenty but I hadn’t learned enough about ads and marketing. Though I couldn’t make my writing life work in 2011, now, I think I can.

Writers talk about satisfying readers, serving and delighting them. We don’t talk much about the selfish part, the stuff that’s just for us. It’s hard to express the joy of writing fiction, that buoyant vibe that sifts through your brain when you see the movie in your head. It’s a lot of fun turning phrases, spinning the yarn, twisting the plot and discovering what’s next. We get to create. Not everyone does.

I’m not part of someone else’s machine anymore. At 52, I’ve taken control. My father’s about to celebrate his 92nd birthday. I hope I inherit his longevity because I’m just getting started.

I’ve got three books of science fiction coming out over the next three weeks and two more thrillers this fall.

Here’s the first of my new apocalyptic trilogy.

AFTER LIFE COVER 1

GRAB YOUR COPY of AFTER Life INFERNO HERE

The deep vaults of a virology lab have lost containment. They will call this Apocalypse. We call it Revolution.

From the author of This Plague of Days comes a new zombie apocalypse trilogy about nanotechnology gone horribly awry.

AFTER is a biomimetic stem cell capable of enhancing intelligence, health and longevity. Weaponized using brain parasites, it becomes an agent of biological warfare capable of transforming 70% of humans into rampaging killers. No one is safe. Take a deep breath. Get ready. Fight to the death. You might even have to fight beyond death.

Torn between regret and heroic aspirations, Daniel Harmon is a noob whose job is to stop the monster epidemic before it begins. As his Emergency Task Force moves in to secure the Box, the body count rises. A dark conspiracy at the crossroads of corporate greed and science will change our fate forever.

The Revolution has begun. On which side will you fall?

AFTER Life Purgatory will launch August 27 and AFTER Life Paradise will be off the leash September 3.

Robert Chazz Chute’s author page is AllThatChazz.com. You’re welcome to find more fun there. 

Filed under: All That Chazz, new books, publishing, robert chazz chute, Science Fiction, Writers, writing, , , , , , ,

How to Add Expanded Distribution to KDP Print Books

I’m gradually switching away from CreateSpace since they seem to be on track for a shutdown, anyway. Good stuff in this article.

chrismcmullen

EXPANDED DISTRIBUTION

KDP’s print option now includes an Expanded Distribution channel.

It may not (yet) be equivalent to CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution, but it’s another big step in the right direction.

When KDP print originally rolled out, CreateSpace was a much better option.

Since then, KDP has added printed proofs and author copies.

(For authors based in Europe, KDP offers a huge advantage: You can order proofs and author copies printed in Europe.)

KDP lets you advertise paperback books through AMS.

CreateSpace automatically distributes to Canada and pays the same royalties as the US for Canadian sales, which is nice.

IMPORTANT NOTE

If you already published a paperback book using KDP print before the Expanded Distribution option became available, your book isn’t included in Expanded Distribution yet.

Go to the pricing page.

Check the box to enroll in the Expanded Distribution channel.

(This checkbox is quirky. Make sure you only click…

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Writers: The Advantages of Building Your Own Team.

After my last post, someone asked, “What are those competitive advantages indie authors enjoy?”

Deep breath. Here we go.

A bunch of factors spring to mind first: control so you aren’t at the mercy of writing by committee, transparency in reporting, fewer middlemen, no gatekeepers (except the end reader), quicker to market, flexibility in pricing, flexibility in marketing, choice of covers, the ability to switch covers, choice of blurb, the ability to change a blurb, choice of editor, getting paid monthly, control of your career options. Oh, yeah, and a 70% return. The math is good.

Independence is awesome.

Victory has a thousand fathers. It feels great to create art and build a business by your wits without someone else claiming they “discovered” or “nurtured” you for 15% of the take and a license to condescend. And that shit stains forever, y’all.

I’ve made a whack of bold artistic choices I’m sure a mainstream publisher would discourage me from accomplishing. Too bad. Sad baby. I made those unsafe choices anyway and most people tend to dig it. (And if they don’t, I handle it like a man. I cry alone in the car, stare into the existential abyss until I hear the echo and move the fuck on.)

About the shaky detente between agents, publishers and We Who Submit

Let’s step back and admit that not every author is so bitter they want to strangle an agent or editor with their own intestines. Still, there’s a lot of tension in those relationships and anger building to chaos is not always an overblown claim. I’ve worked for many publishers. From the inside, I can tell you many editorial staff exhibit contempt for their stable of writers. There’s conflict and desperation on both sides, especially since authors and editors tend to be paid poorly for all their trouble.

Authors are the backbone of the business but are sometimes seen as inconvenient. When computers can write novels well, publishers will welcome our robot overlords. Stephen King got pissed off at his first publisher because they could never seem to remember his name even though he was making them a fortune. Take a look at some big agent blogs and you’ll see the same symptoms of contempt.

For some damn reason, there are fewer big agents now.

The indie revolution was tragic for them. I don’t know if they’re still making fun of the writers who submit to them under the guise of educating us as to what’s good and bad. I stopped looking at obnoxious agent blogs about the time I started up this obnoxious blog. I got fed up with imperious pronouncements about how “Plots about midlife crises are over!” and “Don’t send me another manuscript that uses the gimmick of synesthesia!”

You made too many mean pronouncements that denigrated good work and nice people, Karen. I hope you enjoy selling real estate now.

On Writing by committee. 

When you’re making the decisions, an agent or editor can’t demand, “Rewrite the whole thing in third person,” and then months later rudely declare that it should be written in first. Again.

Yes, that and similar things have happened many times over. Funny how writers used to worry about getting blackballed by pillars of the industry. I used to know a bunch of pillars of the industry. They hated each other’s guts. Everybody was so sure they were smarter than everyone else. That probably explains the seething hatred and petty squabbles.

Horror stories abound about agents and some editors and publishers. Writers are all Chatty Cathies. We spread gossip faster than the clap and swoon with displeasure. We rage in secret Facebook groups and we don’t forget. I personally haven’t forgiven anyone for anything since…well…never, actually. Anyhoosles, those tearful stories of betrayal have driven many writers to publish their work independently.

Are there good agents? Of course. Ironically, there are probably better agents now. Since they’ve retreated somewhat from the limelight at writing conventions, I hear they look less knowing and are acting more polite. Instead of a struggle to establish who’s the boss in Hell, the business relationship between authors and agents may have a better chance at working on an even keel now.

Quicker to market

Publishers sometimes tell authors they don’t want to “flood the market” by publishing too many books in the same series too close together. That horse poop has nothing at all to do with flooding the market. As any indie will tell you, hungry readers want the next book in the series now (and they’ll forget you if you leave that next book too long.)

This flood warning from on high is beneficial to companies with schedules that work at a glacial pace. It’s about the publisher fitting your book into their timetable and their limited production budget. Print runs are expensive. Big lumbering companies are about the big picture and making your fans wait is part of the slow cook model of making books.

Trouble is, readers don’t appreciate you more when your book finally arrives next year. They want your next novel when you have it ready editorially. Your readers are not interested in the logistical problems of begging the printer in Taiwan to load 5,000 copies onto a container ship. Sure, the publisher is stretching out the bill payments to that printer because the CEO’s golden parachute has to be funded but that’s not the reader’s problem. Turns out, it’s your problem and, surprise! When you’re playing on someone else’s team, you’re the least powerful variable in the publishing equation. 

The crucial difference between us and big publishers.

As Tim Ferriss puts it, publishing is a hit-driven business. They’re all head hunting. Many of us are hunting for the big score, too, of course. It would be great to have one book that moves huge numbers and pays for books that perform less well…and a cabin cruiser in Fiji.

However, our biz does not have to be hit-driven. Many successful indies are going another way, publishing more books to build a backlist that delivers a reliable living. Pulp speed is back, baby! (But, take heart, even slower tortoises can win this race.)

But what about getting into bookstores?

It’s a rigamarole, yes, but you can get into bookstores. You’ll have to go through Ingram. A friend of mine even got his masterpieces into Costco. All it took was good books, persistence, phone calls and salesmanship. I’ve been on bookstore shelves on consignment but decided it wasn’t worth the gas and time to go around restocking. Online is where I make my money and I prefer income that is so passive I can fall asleep on a couch while the gears keep turning.

We can compete on quality and price.

Why aren’t traditional authors more worried about selling online? I know what you’re thinking. Of course, they’re ubiquitous online. They are, but often in a less effective way. The companies that represent them fought Amazon for the privilege of posting prices that are hard for many customers to swallow. If you sell a book for $2.99 or $3.99, do you really think books that sell for three times as much are three times better? These are uncertain times for the average reader.

I’d rather delight more readers at a low price and make up the loss in volume. I know it works because we’re already doing it. It’s still 30% or 70% instead of a big publisher’s boilerplate contract. Independent authors have a better shot at going full-time. If you want to write full-time, I’d encourage you to consider all your options before signing a contract that uses obfuscating terms like “net-net.”

I still see traditionally published Kindle books at prices of more than $15. Some authors can command that. If so, cool! However, some companies even charge more for the ebook than the paper version. That’s messed up and bears no relation to costs of delivery.

My most expensive ebook is $7.99, an omnibus containing three large books. I have a first in series that’s only 99 cents and it makes a profit. I don’t have the expenses of an office in Manhattan and I’m not trying to prop up Barnes and Noble with my pricing. That’s a huge competitive advantage.

But what about those deep pockets big publishers spend on book promotion?

Irrelevant, for two reasons. First, they aren’t spending those big bucks on you. Shelf space for midlist authors has shrunk. The chain bookstores had to make more space for pillows, candles, the coffee bar and more useless crap people buy so they have something to dust. Publishers bet big on the hits so they promote the shit out of the name authors you grew up reading and idolizing.

Second, a couple posts back I talked about a bunch of promotional options for authors. Just like you can have the same iPhone a billionaire possesses, you have access to most of the same promotional options as the rich. You might not be able to afford a billboard or a full page ad in the New York Times, but that stuff doesn’t work, anyway — not compared to the smarter and more efficient online options.

The Real Deal

Many debut authors who go the traditional route are surprised how little their new business partners do for them in the publicity and promotion department. Nobody cares about your book as much as you do. If a company has a couple dozen authors to promote, how much energy do you really think will go your way? Answer: not much.

This is one reason it makes sense to go for the biggest advance you can, by the way. The more the publisher has invested in your contract, the more they’ll want to put into the book’s success. Of course, if you don’t move enough books to justify that big advance, they’ll hold it against you when you try to come back to them with your next book. It’s always your fault as a writer, not their fault as a marketer.

It’s a crazy whirly-gig, isn’t it? Willie Wonka’s murdering kids in that factory and he’s the hero of this surreal business.

All authors must promote themselves.


Big budget or small, it’s pretty much up to you. Even if you get a little flurry of activity around the launch of your book, you’re tasked with keeping the good vibes coming. To put that in perspective, I’ve published a lot of books but the biggest hit is still paying out five years after its launch. If I were with a big publisher, I’d be old news, remaindered and forgotten by now. The window for success is so much narrower in the trad world. Bookstores return books for credit and they are not patient with a book that has a slow build. I hung in there long enough to take off eventually. Big publishers and bookstores don’t do “eventually.”

The Less Cruel Way Out

Your parents want you to be a doctor and they probably know best. Go save lives. However, if you’re bent on breaking their hearts, publish now and kill them fast. The alternative is too cruel. To get that publishing contract and a tiny advance, you could blow the best years of your life — or the time you were supposed to be in med school — building a Jenga tower of form rejection slips.

Worse? Leave it to a stranger you don’t know but somehow respect more than your judgment if you want. You might never get published if you wait for your turn in the machine.

The odds are forever not in your favor. A worthy agent may take on one or two clients a year. That is one tiny needle to thread with your big ole creative camel. You could be the writer-in-residence in Permanent Aspiring Mode. It’s a dingy place and you might deserve better.

Sure, it’s possible your writing sucks. However, lots of great work goes unpublished for reasons that have nothing to do with quality of writing.

Here are some examples of why you may not be among the chosen few:

Shrug. Sorry, we’re still not ready to bring back Westerns. We’ll jump on that bandwagon after somebody else does it. We’ll try to catch the market after that genre is played out because we’re donkey slow. Still got a metric shit-ton of poor Harry Potter knock-offs in the back. Those skids of books insulate the warehouse.

And vampires will never come back (except they always do) and we’ll manage to be amazed every time.

And we only aspire to publish serious literary works that don’t sell and oh, look, we won’t be publishing anything this fall because we’re out of business. Time to parlay this utter failure into an industry consultant job at Hachette. I know what the kids want these days with their “Hey!” and “Whoa!” and, “Like…gnarly!”

And zombies are dead. Except they aren’t, but they are…we’re confused. We don’t understand why that market still sells and we don’t think it should. We lead readers…or we would if only they liked what we tell them to like.

Shut up! The grown-ups know what they’re doing! 

In conclusion

Suddenly, the independent route to publishing seems much less fraught with obstacles and terrors, doesn’t it?

~ Humbly submitted for your consideration by Robert Chazz Chute. Check out my books at AllThatChazz.com if you’re of a mind to love suspenseful SF and killer thrillers. And if’n you ain’t, well, shucks.

Filed under: publishing

The revolution is over. We won.

When you’re going through Hell, keep going. Heaven is waiting on the other side.

If you’re an indie author who dares to tell someone you write books, eventually, some knob will ask, “Self-published?” As if you’re supposed to be ashamed that you not only write but run a publishing business. We’re getting past that stigma but good news, like progress, doesn’t arrive everywhere at the same time. A cousin of mine, for instance, is convinced I’m staying up nights, pining for a publishing deal from Manhattan. Nope. Sleeping pretty well these days, actually.

Casual observers don’t know that “self-published” does not mean you’re working alone. You hire editors and designers. You’ve got spreadsheets to manage. There’s advertising to pay for, stats to watch, taxes to pay and lots of invigorating work to do. It’s a business pretty much indistinguishable from many publishing firms. There’s pressure, sure, but we can boast several competitive advantages. We’re typically small businesses but small businesses are the backbone of the economy, right? Independent doesn’t mean we’re starry-eyed goofballs (at least, no more so than in any other industry.)

I worked in traditional publishing for several years so I don’t feel much allure from that camp. That’s not where I get my validation. I’d consider a hybrid deal but my terms and aims would not fit the boilerplate contracts most publishers offer. And I’m not complaining, by the way. There’s room for everybody to do their thing. Personally, I don’t need to be in bookstores if I’m finding readers and making money from online platforms. This is not a rant against the traditionally published, merely an assertion that we are taking our place as peers, not wannabes and also-rans. All my writing heroes were traditionally published (or hybrid) so no disrespect at all. 

Here’s the thing about building confidence: don’t look for validation from the uninformed.

Relatives don’t understand that our art is not necessarily a hobby, a simple passion project or pathetic therapy. It’s okay if it hasn’t taken off and grown wings but most of us expect to make a profit from all that hard work. We value and respect what we do with the written word. We’re deadly serious about telling great stories and writing books that can stand up to any competition.

Many of us are going from business losses to supplementary income to careers as full-time writers. Going from loss to profit is the arc of great redemption stories and many businesses, too. If you don’t feel good about your status in the industry — and many of us have been unsure — it’s time to relax into the rhythm of creativity, productivity, quality assurance and self-assurance.

Why should casual observers know our business, anyway? That’s not on them. It’s on us.

Outsiders don’t know the advantageous math of independent publishing. I don’t blame them for that and I don’t worry about it, either. A fierce commitment to independence and control insulates me from that criticism. Now, when someone looks at me askance and asks if I’m self-published as if it’s a dirty word, I tell them I’m an author and a publisher. I’m in the publishing business. Entrepreneurial artists aren’t losers. We are beasts clawing and chewing up our share of the market and finding readers who love our work. For us, the market is the gatekeeper.

When I started this blog, we talked about a lot about the self-publishing revolution. That’s so 2011. I’m over it. The foundation is built. We’ve gone through Hell. Now we’re doing the daily work to build larger readerships, legacies, empires and castles in the sky. 

I’m a writer and a publisher, all in, loud and proud. 

~ You can check out my books of science fiction and suspense at AllThatChazz.com.

If you’re a fan of my work, just into the Inner Circle on Facebook here.

Filed under: publishing

Book promotions: Good, Bad and Fugly

As authors, we are all searching for greater visibility for our books. That search leads us to pursue various promotional avenues. The attempt to promote can be frustrating. Let’s take it as a given that you have great covers, enticing blurbs and solid stories between those covers. Today we’re exploring ways to sell masterpieces:

FACEBOOK ADS

Everybody says Facebook ads are the answer (except a bunch of people who tried them, started crying and failed.) Frustration is understandable. The FB interface is not user friendly. Most of the authors I know who achieve success with these ads have to do a lot of testing to get the results they want. Getting clicks without paying exorbitant rates requires a lot of testing and targeting your audience carefully. There are several courses and books on the subject. When you test your ads, keep your expenditures low until your variables align for success.

AMAZON ADS

These can be hit or miss. I suggest checking out Mastering Amazon Ads by Brian Meeks. Everything I could say on the subject would be me doing my best impression of his pet parrot.

PROMOTIONAL SITES

There are a plethora out there: Fussy Librarian, Booksends, Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, Red Feather Romance, etc.,…. One author told me ENT isn’t as effective as it used to be since Facebook changed its policies. In a recent promotion, I tried ENT, Freebooksy and BookGoodies. My giveaways landed with 547, 978 and 303 respectively. Not stellar, though I would expect that little push to pan out eventually because the promotion was for the first of a big series. Of course, the granddaddy of book promotion sites is Bookbub. You have no doubt heard it’s harder to get in than it used to be. It’s still worth trying that locked door on a regular basis. Sometimes they forget to lock it and you can sneak in.

NEWSLETTERS

The command that we must all have a newsletter is so ubiquitous it’s become a tired cliche. It can be difficult to entice people to join a newsletter. We all have so many cluttering our inboxes, mostly unread. I’ve signed up for quite a few but eventually disengaged from almost all of them because there’s so little value there. To get newsletter subscribers, you have to give away something good. However, if it’s too good, aren’t you just getting people looking for freebies? Cull your list when you can. Subscribers who don’t care what you have to say unless you’re giving out Amazon gift cards aren’t your target demographic. A smaller list that is engaged is far more valuable than a huge list of Looky Lous.

There’s a theory in the ether that building a huge newsletter list is protection against changes in the whims of online book retailers and ultimately, we should plan to go direct to the reader. Going direct is so far beyond the budget and technological capability of most authors that it’s almost silly to think too hard in those terms, especially for fiction. It’s not impossible but for most it’s unlikely.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a newsletter. I’m saying I find no joy in it and I don’t send out enough of them. Since there’s no conversation, it feels like I’m Tom Hanks trapped on an island trying to signal a passing ship with a pen flashlight. Do your newsletter better than I do my newsletter. I’m stuck talking to a volleyball named Wilson and he’s utterly useless in the conversation department.

IN-PERSON MEETUPS

This can take the form of book signings or going to book fairs. This is Old School and a far less efficient way of finding your tribe. If you enjoy the experience, great. Make sure you’re clear on your goals and if it’s not working, pour your energy elsewhere.

Here’s the trick: don’t count on selling a lot of books in person unless you’re already selling a lot of books online. I once saw a popular horror writer with a long line of eager fans waiting to engage with her at the Toronto Fan Expo. Beside that popular author were ten more writers looking lonely, envious and impoverished. On the other hand, a friend of mine goes to a lot of book fairs with the aim of networking with fellow authors and publishers. It’s helping him build his empire. Selling paperbacks is secondary. He rarely sells a ton of books at these things but that’s not necessarily his goal. 

PODCASTS

You must have a hook, a show structure, solid planning and a good mic. Good guests and compelling content could conceivably grow an audience to which you could market if the subject matter aligns. I’ve been involved with many podcasts and hosted my own. My best advice is to plan to invest more time in prep than the actual podcasting part. Too many podcasters have no plan and don’t know who their audience is. Your content needs to be exhaustive but your audience must be very specific. Since there are so few ways to promote a podcast effectively, it’s a real meritocracy and an intimidating mountain to climb.

AUTHOR WEBSITES

You need one. You knew that already. Don’t make more websites for different books. You’ll end up ignoring a website that way. Conglomerate. Post. Be sexy. Do stuff there. Your author site is not the hub of all you do as an author but it is the face people see when they bother search you out.

Just starting out? You still need an author site. A simple WordPress blog is fine. Wix and Squarespace are a bit fancier. Just do it (and use Sumo to help grow your readership and ROI.)

BLOGS

They’re dead. Yes, I know you are reading this on a blog, but as a book promotion vehicle for fiction, it’s iffy at best. I used to blog here every day (back when people asked, “What’s a blog?”) Then I figured out I’d spend my time better writing another book, and another and another. Now I only blog when I’m sure I have something to say that may be useful. (If someone gets grumpy about what I write here, it’s even less useful to me. We only have so much energy and you can’t make more time so manage those expenditures carefully.)

FACEBOOK LIVE and YOUTUBE

Video killed the radio star. Video grabs more eyeballs on Facebook. Video is so, like, Now, baby. So Now. And you can even do it with your phone.

Who is a solid model for how to use video best? For non-fiction, I’d say the guy who does it best is Chris Fox. Since his videos will inform your fiction enterprise, as well, here’s his channel on YouTube.

FACEBOOK FAN CLUBS

I finally started up a Facebook group for my readers and I love it. The complaint  about hosting a book promotion tool on a site you don’t own is that the platform can change the rules of exposure, kick you out or fade away. I doubt Facebook is going away but it can cost you to try to be seen there.

Here’s what I love about talking to an inner circle of book readers, though: it’s not just about book promotion. My tribe likes my books and I like talking to them. I don’t know what to put in a newsletter unless a new book is about to come out. I do know Facebook and I enjoy it. I’m engaging with people who know my work and dig what I do. They get me. I dig them back.

I started this up very recently but I’ve found it to be casual, easy and one of the joys of my day. I talk about writing, the writing life, reading, sneak peeks, movie reviews, going to the gym, my insomnia, not going to the gym…whatever. Plus, people in my group are entered into a draw to get a character named after them in my next book. See? Fun. No selling and no drudgery. 

It’s a lot more fun than worrying about newsletter content, open rates and unsubscribes. It’s real engagement on both ends. Goodbye, Wilson. 

WRITING THE NEXT BOOK

This used to be more reliable, simple and organic. Developing a series and building a popular franchise with strong stories? All that is critical. However, book promotion techniques and paying for advertising are necessary now, too. You must pay to advertise just like any business. Even Coca Cola still feels the need to advertise (for some damn reason) so certainly we need to invest in advertising to get noticed. Don’t try to do everything on the cheap. That mindset hampered my early efforts.

WRITE THE NEXT BOOK FASTER

This is different from Writing the Next Book. This is the acknowledgement that writers who can produce good work at pulp speed build a list faster. They have more to sell. Their fans are less likely to forget them. Their books will appear in more also-boughts throughout Amazon’s eco-system and the Zon promotion algos will be kinder to them.

AMAZON PRIME PROMOTION PROGRAMS

This isn’t something you can apply for. You have to get picked. Recently one of my books was picked up for promotion, first in the UK and then America. If you get that invitation email, take the deal. From my research, it’s Amazon giving you a nice boost. Take the win. 

WATTPAD

It’s a platform for readers of a certain age: young but not children. Got a book about teens? You might get exposure there. I experimented with it for a couple of series. However, to make it work, your content has to fit with that demographic and you have to engage there. I abandoned it because, to gain visibility, I would have to be on it constantly. I know an author who got a lot of reads and encouragement there. Her efforts did not result in any sales that she could measure, unfortunately. There are exceptions and Wattpad has a lot of good press. However, those success stories definitely seem to be outliers.

TWITTER

I wouldn’t pay for advertising there. I don’t know anyone who is making that work very well as a book promotion tool. We’re told not to beat Twitter over the head with “Buy my book! Buy my book!” Oddly, the two authors I’ve met who did feel they got some ROI out of Twitter were doing just that. I don’t recommend it simply because of the 80/20 rule. I’d rather invest time and money according to the Pareto Principle.

INSTAGRAM

I don’t have enough data to say much about the ROI on sites like Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest but I doubt there’s much gold to be mined there at this time for most genres. Approaching people about your books where they don’t expect to encounter your pitch is like trying to walk up the down escalator (with the escalator zooming at high speed.)

MEDIA

Occasionally I see people promoting the idea that all you have to do is get on Good Morning America and you’ll sell books. (I don’t even have a television anymore. Is that still a thing?)  Here’s the counterintuitive truth from someone who used to be in media: it’s difficult to get into big media and it mostly doesn’t move the needle. If you’re selling non-fiction, that’s a different story, but a major network show is out of reach for most of us. You’d make more sales running for president or becoming a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

For fiction? Forget it. Oprah made her book club work. She was the only one.

PUBLICISTS

There are a lot of people and a few organized services out there scamming authors by claiming they can move that needle I was talking about. All you have to do is pay them several thousand dollars and they’ll promote you to major media outlets. Don’t do it.

When they say, “Promote you,” in most cases that just means they will send out press kits. I knew several publicists when I worked in trad publishing. Those glorified envelope stuffers had very high opinions of themselves. They often looked down on authors and always looked down on the sales force. The publicists never earned their keep. You’d have more hope getting to know a journalist personally so you’re in their address book, not a stranger pushing an envelope and a book on their desk.

If you feel you can gain traction with traditional media on a wide scale, make press kits yourself. Save those several thousand dollars for your Facebook ad experiments and Bookbub promotions. If you’re going for it, try smaller markets first, like your newspaper. If a journalist calls back, you get in your local paper and you’re a hero for a day. If the newspaper’s advertising department calls back instead of a reporter, tell them you’re dead and hang up.

THERE’S MORE TO SAY BUT…

What about book clubs? What about buttonholing strangers in dark parking lots? What about my pet thing I can’t believe you (a) didn’t include, (b) forgot, (c) got all wrong, or (d) I’m a book publicist and how dare you, you bastard? What about getting my family to write reviews?

One more thing, then: please don’t ask your family to write reviews of your books. They’ll screw up your also-boughts because they aren’t your target demographic. You write about lesbian robots doing battle with centaurs and Aunt Tildy only buys cookbooks about bacon. Worse, they probably won’t write a review even though you’ve given up your dignity and you’ll still have to face them next Thanksgiving. Don’t do it.

This piece is already too long. I’ve got to get to bed and I have a big day of writing  tomorrow. Good luck out there, friends. Oh, and if you are a fan of my work, please do join the Inner Circle here. See you on the inside. 


Cheers!

Chazz

 

Filed under: publishing

Writers: Beware of the Investment Gap

If you ask a proud native Portuguese speaker if their language is very different from Spanish, they might say, “Of course, Portuguese is very different! How dare you?” Some slapping and spitting might be involved.

In practice, there are many similarities and Spanish people can often understand Portuguese speakers quite well.

Welcome to the Investment Gap. 


The Investment Gap can hurt you.

An in-depth article on book design will tell you that page 1 has to start on the right. Deeper dives into old-school book design say a blank page should precede each new section. That would look wrong to many eyes but you’ll also notice a ton of praise gets thrown toward these detail-oriented articles — praise of other designers and writers, anyway.


Here’s the thing: most readers don’t even notice, let alone care. That’s not a Knowledge Gap. That’s the Investment Gap. 

We all want our work to appear professional and present our words well. Of course, we do. However, beware of minority opinions from experts who go too deep into what normies don’t give a shit about. Lean hard on your beta reading team. Enthusiastic readers look for story strength. Our fellow writers (and some tyrannical editors) can be too rigid in their opinions about what’s “right.”

Notice I just used quotes around the word “right” without actually quoting anyone? There’s that pesky Investment Gap again. To most people, those quotation marks connote irony. However, I had a professor who said that was a sin punishable by  fingernail extraction. “I wonder what they think that means?” he asked with a sneer. Well, doofus, everybody knows what that means. It’s so common, people make air quotes with their fingers in conversation to let you know they’re being ironic. Try to keep up.

Dr. Laura pretended to be mystified by the word spiritual. That’s weird because rest of us know what spiritual means: you don’t go to church, enjoy chai tea after yoga and have a ravenous appetite for cat versus yarn videos on Facebook.

I used a colon for that short list of nonsense. My Grade 9 history teacher reserved colons for longer lists. Horrors! See? There’s the Investment Gap again. And screw you, Mr. Penny. Only nine items or more, my Irish ass.

What does the Investment Gap mean to you?

Do you want to break into omniscient at the end of a chapter to convey foreshadowing? If you can do it well, go ahead. Beware of blanket bans on writing techniques. Writers sometimes do that to other writers, mistaking personal preference or what they were taught with divine proclamations. Art is more flexible than that. Close the gap between real world practice and theory that doesn’t suit your artistic preferences. Clarity is necessary but straitjackets are for insane asylums.

Cormac McCarthy wrote The Road without quotation marks for dialogue. If that choice makes your skin crawl, your skin is on too tight. The Road is a solid book and I didn’t even notice all that solid text. “But not everyone is Cormac McCarthy!” Cormac McCarthy wasn’t always Cormac McCarthy.

“Don’t ever write in second person POV! That hasn’t been done well since Bright Lights, Big City!” Jay McInerney’s monster hit was published in 1984. That was 34 years ago. Let’s live a little, shall we? (BLBC only gets a 3.8 out of five on Goodreads. That suggests to me there are a lot of rigid writers reviewing books on GR.)

Book lovers don’t mind experimentation as long as it works.

In film, the expression is, “If it plays, it plays.” That’s a useful guideline. Readers are invested in plot and characters and, for them, it’s all about the execution. Stay real. Your thousand true fans won’t use the word participle in a review. Do not cater to outliers. It’s boring.

In a debate about cliffhangers among writers: “Hate ’em!” But it keeps most readers coming back for more. They’ve been trained to accept cliffhangers by many decades of television viewing. If the story grabbed them, they’ll be back to find out what happens next. I finished every season of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul with a mixture of elation and disappointment. Wow, great story! And what? How long do I have to wait for more? 

We tend to be more sensitive to the opinions coming from the loudest people in the room. You remember the mean reviews from people who aren’t your audience. Don’t take hater advice at face value. Don’t listen to a vocal minority at the expense of your story (or your marketing). A lot people find pop-ups on author sites annoying, for instance. That’s an honest reaction but make no mistake: pop-ups work.

A very few old-fashioned folk will get their orthopedic shoes in a twist over the difference between folk and folks. Calm down, Aunt Myrtle. Go back to your crossword and try to use the word dandle in casual conversation. Weirdo.

In short: invest in writing advice that works for you and your readers. Remember the 80/20 rule and put most of your energy where it counts. Don’t trust everything you hear, think or read. Including this.*

*Sentence fragment! Murderize him!**

**Murderize is not a word!***

***I know. (Blows out match.) Your car’s on fire.


~ Robert Chazz Chute is writing another apocalypse series as you read this. His author site has a pop-up to subscribe at AllThatChazz.com. Sorry about your car.

 

Filed under: publishing

The Job Requirement Many Writers Ignore

I’ve spoken to many authors who are trying desperately to write more books faster. I understand the giddy and nervous impulse. When we don’t publish, we can easily get forgotten. It often takes more frequent publication, more followers, more email signups, promotions, sales, pre-orders and/or constant drip advertising to keep sales inertia going. We all fear becoming forgotten. We don’t want our income to slide away so we focus on production instead of consumption. More red arrows than green in your Amazon dashboard? Panic. Spreadsheets showing a downward trend? Panic and poop out another book in your series, quick!

But we need to feed our imaginations, as well.

We need to read more books. You can feed your mind in many ways. One of those ways is reading widely, inside and outside your genre. A good writer is a good reader first.

This is not a new thought. I’m going to acknowledge up front that I’m stealing this idea from an amazing writer, Zoe York. One day last year, Zoe mentioned how lucky she felt to have writing and reading as her job. That offhand remark stuck with me. Zoe’s right. Reading is part of our job. Whether you see other authors as your competitors or comrades, we need to read more than our own manuscripts.

Confession Time

I love reading but I, too, feel the temptation to write more than I read. This is ultimately a time management problem. I have to make time to read, write, eat, exercise, sleep and do all the million other things required of adults. But people do manage these things. If they can, so can I.

Solution: Time

I committed myself again to reading more and I am doing so. Low priorities are off my list. High priorities get done. No one will give you this time. You have to make time or take it. Please do so. Reading feeds my fiction. Good books inspire me to write better. Bad books can illustrate what to avoid. Non-fiction can provide the factual context that makes fiction more believable and powerful.

Reading is the love that led you to write. Keep that love going. Tend those fires. Rekindle your love. Read.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the suspense writer who wrote “have eye sex with a book,” in the concluding paragraph of this article. He had the good sense to delete that nonsense. Sadly, He wasn’t mature enough to hold it back from this signature line. If you’re already a fan, you can join his new fan club on Facebook here.

If you aren’t a fan yet, head over to AllThatChazz.com to explore what killer thrillers and apocalyptic fiction he has to offer.

 

 

Filed under: publishing

Should you quit the day job? Writing and finding focus.

I used to work as a Virtual Assistant off and on for the graphic designer, Kit Foster. I left his company to focus on writing. Sadly, apart from liking a Facebook post or two, I haven’t had any contact from Kit in a while. Authors still reach out to me looking for information regarding KFD. Since I haven’t worked with Kit since early 2017, I’m afraid I’m quite useless with regard to those queries. I’ve got more laser focus now and, if you can narrow your endeavors to better manage your writing and publishing energy, I recommend doing so.

A bit about quitting a job so you can spend more time writing…

I had four jobs for quite some time. Four! FOUR! Can you believe it? Neither can I but there it is. I ran myself ragged. I’m now down to two jobs: my publishing company and my clinical work. Depending on a bunch of variables, I may be down to one job by the end of this year. Working on my latest series, I’m just as busy doing two jobs as I was spinning four plates. Crazy, huh? I’m in a much better situation now. I still have to work hard to make time to get to the gym but I have to move heavy shit and do cardio to avoid falling apart. My schedule is still full but I don’t feel like I’m running a marathon day in, day out. I even take days off to relax, unwind and recharge. Don’t work so hard you forget to shower and don’t confuse busyness with business.

Negativity and scarcity can lead us to work too hard or work too hard at the wrong things.

A lot of people will tell you that publishing is more competitive than ever and the Kindle Gold Rush is over. This mindset can make you think you have to produce faster, do more and be more in an unending, self-destructive spiral. Don’t fall into that trap. Plan time off and take time off because no one will give it to you. Work at your pace rather than sacrifice quality. It’s not about filling up the page in a panic. It’s about filling the page with something good enough to revise so it becomes great (or at least solid and enjoyable).

We have to be more savvy about publishing than before, yes. Advertising has become more complex and mistakes can be costly. Though I’m very glad to have a backlist of a decent size, simply publishing more books isn’t the powerful marketing strategy it once was. Don’t be discouraged. This is still the best time in the history of the world to be a writer.

Some say the book market is oversaturated. That’s like saying there are more websites than there are stars in the sky so there are too many websites. You’re still looking at websites. Readers are still looking for books to read. You can still win fans. As I’ve said many times, I wrote for free for years and I will always write because I love it. It’s not like I have a choice! I’m not going to abandon writing to take up knitting or animal husbandry. I’m a writer. I write. You’re reading this so accept your fate. Write.

I joked the other day that Amazon pays so well I bought underwear at Walmart and didn’t even check the price before my purchase. Things are looking up. I’ve hired a new editor and I’m putting together a fresh apocalypse. (If you liked This Plague of Days, you’ll probably dig the next one, too.)

No matter the stage of your writing journey, at some point you will ask yourself  how you can best allot your work time. Is this your moment to make the jump from the midlist to the big time (or, at least, the bigger time)? Are you ready for a new beginning?

That’s not where the questions end.

Is writing a hobby, a serious income supplement or a career? (Note: there are no wrong answers to that question. Your response will frame your focus, however.)

More questions:

Can you quit the day job? Is that possible? If possible, is it desirable? Would you be happier or more stressed if you became a full-time writer? What does the money math say about how you should spend your time? Does your transition to the writing life have to be all or nothing? What sacrifices might others in your family or support network have to make? How much money do you need banked before you make the leap? Are your debts paid off? What do you need to be safe and comfortable (not just survive)? How many months of consistent sales is enough to make you confident quitting the day job is the right move now? Do you really want to write and publish or do your just want out of your old job? What are all your options? 

Even more:

What would your day look like if you could control it completely? Can you work to a schedule? Do you have to hire more help to make the writing life work? Much of our work is solitary but, generally, publishing is played best as a team sport. You’re the captain now. Got a plan, Captain?

Beyond calendars, budgets and math are the personal questions only you can answer.

Are you running away from something bad or running toward your dream? How do you feel about burning bridges? Will you be lonely if you become a writer? Do you have the discipline to take your work to “the next level,” whatever that means to you? What does success look like to you?

I’m still working on many of those variables but I can say that the more I focus my time, energy and attention, the better results I get and the happier and healthier I become. Happy writing, everyone. Happy life.

~ Chazz

To check out my books of dark and funny SF and killer thrillers, go to AllThatChazz.com. Cheers! 

 

Filed under: publishing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

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

Available now!

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.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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