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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writing: The Pregnant Pause and Slacking to Win

One thing about being an indie author that nobody ever seems to say is, relax and stop running from time to time.

Sometimes, the Internet seems like it’s all about motion. We push books and try to pull people in. We follow endlessly and sometimes joylessly. It should be fun to meet new people and find out about what’s new and cool. But everybody needs a break, if it’s at the right time.

I’ve found the right time.

You haven’t seen me lately, unless you checked out my review of Transcendence at AllThatChazz.com or my article on food and emotion at DecisionToChange.com. After doing a major promotion for my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I felt it was time to step back. I’m still busy, but sometimes it makes a lot of sense to get out of your followers faces for a bit. Give your tribe some time off from The Magic That is You.

Spend more time reading and writing.

(I’m reading LT Vargus’ Casting Shadows Everywhere at the moment. Go get it. It’s the kind of demented joy I love.)

I’m working on new books and revising old books, too. This Plague of Days Season 3 launches in June along with The Complete This Plague of Days. I had to get my taxes done (blech!). A collaboration with another author is on the horizon and, between promotions and events and blog tours, I’ll be boosting my marketing and visibility plenty this summer. I don’t want to wear out my welcome by peaking too soon.

The problem is overwork and overexposure. 

There’s a podcast I loved to listen to that I’m now a little sick of. I might love it again, but if I have to hear the same stuff from the same guys too often…well, maybe it’s me. I needed to take a break from them. The relentless self-promotion machines of the Internet? Geez, guys, shut up and take a breath.

I mean, really, don’t you get sick of me banging on and on about writing and publishing sometimes? I would, and I love me (except when I hate me.) 

It’s not just about giving readers and listeners a break, either.

You need a break sometimes. I know you’re all out there crushing it a la Gary Vaynerchuk and perfecting your marketing simplicity through Seth Godin’s genius and…well, slamming your head against the wall. Marketing should be a creative and joyful thing. It certainly can be fun if you are doing the right things and going into it with the right attitude.

The right attitude is excitement.

(Here’s a guy who knows how to enjoy the marketing process and make it fun for others. Help Armand Rosamilia name his new podcast here.) BONUS hint: Many authors complain about marketing. They’d have more fun if they weren’t so whiny about the necessities of business and, instead, look for opportunities to help others and make publicity and marketing into an interactive game with and for readers. But that’s a post for another time. Tonight, we dance.

Take it easy on yourself and others.

If you push the accelerator through the floor all the time, your car’s engine will blow up. Don’t burn out your engine.

Push too hard too often and you’ll end up pushing people away. Instead, try discovering and promoting others, or be still and listen. Let your mind be that cabin in the woods, free of distractions so you can hear the peaceful hum of the Om of the world and the anguished screams of your tormented enemies burning out, flailing and failing.

How do I know when it’s time to take a break?

When my patience wears thin.

When I catch myself getting cynical.

When every interaction with a kid I made feels like an interruption.

When I’m too tired to do anything else.

When I’m too tired to do anything. 

The rewards of slacking to win are:

Rejuvenation, physical and mental. 

New excitement upon your return.

Fresh ideas.

Balance and peace.

Excitement for the tasks ahead instead of weariness.

Writing is my retreat and my solace.

I write every day. But it’s a great relief to you and to me not to talk about it at recess ad nauseum. This week (if it suits you and the timing’s right and if you’re feeling cranky at the world anyway) let’s talk less about writing and, instead, write more.

~ Full disclosure: Between writing sessions I do post excerpts of upcoming books on Facebook or just share goofy news and interesting memes. I love interacting with readers there and I find it relaxing. Hit me up with a friend request there. We’ll be cool together. Bring margaritas.

 

Filed under: author platform, blogs & blogging, book marketing, getting it done, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Amazon’s new sales dashboard got me moving (plus Art that sells books)

Lily BG-1

Click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

I wasn’t going to blog about the new Amazon sales dashboard.

Then I gave it a second look. The quick, detailed analysis is interesting and sometimes disheartening. Seeing all the outcomes across various countries at one glance is great. (Thanks, Australia. This Plague of Days is gaining ground Down Under.) I suspect the new dashboard will be an obsession to which we can lose a lot of time. The clarity delivered is better than what other retailers offer and absolutely crushes mainstream publishers for their lack of transparency. 

More information (or at least data that informs more easily) can change behavior. It just did that for me. Knowledge of weaknesses is more useful than knowing strengths. I checked through which books were moving and which weren’t. I asked myself which books could move better than they do. 

The ebook is also available in paperback for $9.99.

I settled on my funny crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus.

I’d just received three more fantastic reviews recently, so the book is sitting, highly rated, with 17 reviews. But it’s not selling. Several people have told me Bigger Than Jesus is my best book. It’s a fast read with a careening plot and there’s a follow-up with Higher Than Jesus

So why no love for Jesus?

There’s an issue with the title (you can guess) which I plan to remedy with the third installment in the Hit Man Series. Meanwhile,Bigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle I’ve failed to market it well enough. I think of myself as a suspense novelist, but most of my sales are coming from the horror side of the equation with This Plague of Days. Because I was letting Bigger Than Jesus sell “organically” (translation: not doing anything) I wasn’t paying attention to promoting my luckless Cuban hit man.

Bigger Than Jesus is not getting the visibility it deserves, so I must make it visible.

There are many complicated and expensive ways to do that. I’m opting for the easiest vector. This morning, through the Author Marketing Club website, I set up various free ebook sites to give the book away next week. I’ve applied to BookBub and paid a visit to The Fussy Librarian. More visibility and reviews will translate into more love, and more buyers, down the line. 

Dark Higher Than Jesus banner ad

I wouldn’t have changed my strategy if not for the change in the sales dashboard.

The changes make it easier to identify where the ball is not bouncing. Since my crime novel is well placed to fly higher, I’m attaching a booster rocket to it. 

~ Now you’re wondering about the art, right? That’s awesome work done by my buddy, Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design. More than just awesome covers, he can do ads and web banners, too. Spruce up your author sites and campaigns to sell books. He’s a very nice guy and his rates are very reasonable. You’ll be glad you did. Tell Kit that Chazz sent you.

Filed under: Amazon, book marketing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top Ten: Renew your readers’ interest between books

As I finish revisions to the finale of This Plague of Days, I’m entering that crazy time between the writing and the publishing. We all go through it. There’s still editing and proofreading to do and you aren’t done until you’re sick of it and not even then. But I am excited!

Today, I had my first back and forth with Kit Foster, my graphic designer. We talked cover designs. Out of context, my description of what I had in mind was pretty dumb or nigh-impossible, but through the magic of his art, Kit will transform that raw material into something awesome that makes browsers into buyers.

But how do you keep the sales going between books?

Sales always drop off. They call Day 30 after your book launch “The Cliff” because you lose attention from readers as you disappear from the bright, shiny new thing list. Interest can be buoyed and sustained, however. You don’t have to try all the strategies from this list (or any), but I do suggest you try at least one. Experiment and let me know what works for you.

Here are some ideas to extend your influence with all your books.

1. Write more than one book because your next book helps promote the last one. At a book event, authors talk about the next book, but readers talk about the last book.

2. Write more books. The bigger the stable, the more horses you have in the race, cross-promoting each other.

3. Write (slightly) shorter books. Sadly, my next tome (after TPOD) will (again!) be more than 100,000 words. I’m writing huge books. Many will see this as over-delivering and they’ll love it. It can also intimidate those less invested. The main problem is it makes you appear less prolific even if you’re very productive. It’s #2’s horse and stable issue.

I’m not saying you should shortchange anyone, but keep it reasonable. Few reviewers complain about a quick read. If you’ve got that much to say in a single book and you can’t make it shorter, make it a series.

The complete series for This Plague of Days will be over 300,000 words. The first draft took ten months and then I doubled its size in another eight months. Down the line, I’ll put out more books by keeping them down around 60,000 – 70,000 words.

My crime novels took 3 months each, for instance, from concept to completion. That length is what I’ll be aiming for in the future. Feeling more productive and hitting more milestones also feeds my excitement between books and keeps energy high. Less time between books also gives readers less time to forget about you.

4. Write in one genre. If you can dominate one list, you’ll be more effective in focussed marketing efforts and provide consistent branding. (I should have done this, but it’s not how my mind works.)

5. Collaborate. Writing with another author can expand your influence to each other’s audience and, if you work it correctly with the right person, you’ll get more done faster. Some people think writing with a partner is more work for half the money, but actually you have more people helping with the load, increasing productivity. The guys at Self-Publishing Podcast have proved it over and over, so there you go.

6. Cooperate. Soon, a new horror anthology will be released and I’m in it. My bit will be a sampler of Episode 1 of This Plague of Days. In joining forces with other authors, we’ll co-promote and raise each other up.

7. Have more to give away. I serialized the first two seasons of This Plague of Days. In the run up to the launch of Season 3 and the stand alone (This Plague of Days, The Complete Series), I’m using KDP Select to give away episodes as samples. Those giveaways always bump up my sales in between books when I would otherwise be in the doldrums. I’m a big believer in pulse sales to help new readers find me.

8. Diversify. To sell more between books, have more to sell in different media. There’s interest in turning This Plague of Days into a TV series. (It helps that I wrote the story like an HBO or Netflix dramatic series in the first place.) However, I’d love to see it as a graphic novel, too. I want to sell it as an audiobook. Each iteration feeds the potential for another opportunity.

9. Repackage. Converting This Plague of Days from serialized episodes into seasons, and then into one, big book that stands alone? That’s one example of repackaging. It’ll also give a new crew of readers what they wanted since quite a few people seem to misunderstand the cliffhangers and twists of a serial or they hate serials on principle. (I don’t know what that principle is, but I recognize it and I’m listening.)

Taking different books and selling them as one bundle is another way to go. (I’ll be doing this with the Hit Man Series by turning three books into a bundled trilogy with a new and better name for the whole.)

10. Stay in touch with readers between books. I don’t have a large mailing list, but I do connect with a lot of readers on Facebook and through podcasts. I also have a blog dedicated to This Plague of Days.

Recently, when I needed to add more beta readers to my team, I went to Facebook first because I knew I’d find people who are already into what I’m doing. I’ve got three new, enthusiastic volunteers now.

Staying in touch with readers keeps projects alive for authors, too. When I get another tweet or email asking when the next book is coming out, it helps drive me to get to the keyboard as fast as I can to oil the roller coaster. I know my readers and I can’t wait to make them scream.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The real value of TBR lists (that you hardly ever get to)

Besides the chance at author discoverability through also-boughts, what is the value of all those to-be-read books you and I will probably never get to? (I say this with love and without judgment, as an author and fellow hoarder of books and ebooks.)

To shine a light in the dark, I spoke recently with an author who has her books for sale everywhere but Amazon.

(It matters little why she wasn’t on Amazon, except to say it was a misunderstanding of the platform’s requirements, not a principled, moral stance.)

“But we have to be on Amazon,” I told her. “Exclusive or not is your choice, but if you want to reach more readers, you must be on Amazon.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s where so many readers are. Amazon is out front and will remain so for the foreseeable future.”

“Why?”

“Because their customers are locked in.”

“What do you mean ‘locked in’? Everyone could switch to Kobo tomorrow.”

“But they won’t. Amazon has millions of customers whose first device was a kindle and so their library is on kindle. Kindle devices have come down in price and improved, so those readers will stick with kindle. They’re suffering the delusion that someday they’ll win the lottery, move to the French Riviera and finally have time to read all those hoarded books on a topless beach.”

“That’s not rational,” she sniffed.

“If I switched devices, it would be like burning all my books. And maybe that’s irrational, but we are talking about humans, yes? I have so few Vulcan readers.”

“But devices and companies go away. Look at MySpace and AOL and Kodak.”

“And the not-so-bright future of the Nook,” I added. “Yeah, companies go away if they fail to adapt to competition. But all those free downloads to long TBR lists give Amazon an immense legacy advantage. Kobo might be #2 in the e-reader market, but they’re a distant #2. Amazon’s the greyhound out front chasing the rabbit. The others are three-legged purse dogs running in circles around the starting line.”

“That’s ridiculous. If I wanted to switch, why couldn’t I just port my Kindle downloads over to Kobo?”

“Amazon would have to permit that, I’m guessing. They’re different systems. There are workarounds, but most readers won’t do it. For instance, I’ve got Calibre but I hardly ever use it.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s harder to use and more time-consuming than the one-click buy that shoots straight to my kindle. People stick with what they know and what’s easy. For instance, everyone complains about Facebook, but they hardly ever leave and a bunch of those who do leave come back for more abuse. They don’t hang out at G+ because all their friends and family are still on Facebook. Their network is locked in, even if they don’t want to be. For Amazon and Facebook to start to worry, they must have a real threat of competition.”

“I heard Instagram is getting even more popular than Facebook with young people,” she said. “Facebook has serious competition there.”

“For that niche and possibly into the future, yeah, which must be why Facebook bought it already. No competition.”

“Oh,” she said.

“To compete with the greyhound, the little yappy dogs have to take steroids and get going in the right direction. But the greyhound will probably eat their steroids. The big dog always has more money for R&D.”

“You’ve lost me in the canine metaphor. I don’t hang out at the dog track.”

“Come up with a new way to reach customers and someone will finance it. If it’s a really good idea, it will probably be the leader of the pack buying you out, making sure they stay the pack leader.”

“But what about all those companies that fail?”

“Nothing lasts forever, sure. Apple seems to have lost some direction since Jobs died and the stock’s down. Mostly, big companies fail because they lower their standards or try to hold on to the old paradigm instead of improving and evolving. Like how the Big Six publishers became the Big Five. Soon to be fewer, probably.”

“Ah. So…you really think I should sell on Amazon?”

“It’s up to you, but for me, it’s the only platform that’s not optional. There are exceptions. Some authors seem to move romance and crime better on B&N and Kobo. If they choose to pull you out of the haystack and promote you, you might have a shot. But mostly, and for me? If I wasn’t selling on Amazon, I wouldn’t be selling books.”

“So all those free ebooks on my TBR cyber-pile is just Amazon insuring customer loyalty?”

“I wouldn’t call it loyalty. No matter what the Supreme Court and Mitt Haircut say, corporations aren’t people, my friend. Companies rarely inspire love. Call it inertia. Also, I’m sure they really do hope you’ll buy somebody’s books and make a ton of money the way they say it was intended. I’m talking more about customer behavior here, not whether Amazon’s packed to the rafters with cynical geniuses who can see into the future.”

“So what do you think of free ebooks as a promotional tool?”

“It’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but most of the discoverability tools are pretty dull.”

“Sounds like you love Amazon,” she said, her eyes narrowing.

“No. If the little dogs started running faster, I’d bet on them. Until then, I’m riding the big dog. And you know…sometimes…once in a long while, I’ll find an author in that TBR pile I thought I’d never get to. And sometimes, I’m blown away and I want to read more of their books. Then I’m in true buying mode. Free ebooks is fake buying mode. But it does happen that I find someone I like there and spend real dough.”

“Name one,” she said.

“I’ll name three. Alex Kimmell, Jordanna East and Armand Rosamilia.”

“I’ll add them to my TBR pile,” she said.

“Make sure you get to them.”

~ Robert Chazz Chute is an author with ten books in your TBR pile you still haven’t gotten to. How will you ever fall in love? 

Filed under: Amazon, author platform, book marketing, Books, e-reader, ebooks, free ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What did not help me sell This Plague of Days: Publishing problems and solutions PART III

I’ve tried a lot of things to get the word out about my books. Here’s what didn’t work and some things I’d do differently now.

PUBLICITY PROBLEMS

A. There was no detectable return on investment with most of my experiments with book videos from Fiverr.com. Fortunately, I paid little or nothing for them, so call that a reasonable experiment gone awry. Book trailers are generally weak (as I’ve blogged about many times.) If someone ever figures out how to make movie-trailer quality promo videos inexpensively, they’ll have a viable business case. There’s a better way to use video (see Solutions below.)

TPOD T-shirtB. Promises of rewards for spreading the word about This Plague of Days didn’t work. I wasted my time and that of my graphic designer trying to come up with cool t-shirts for the campaign. (Fortunately, Kit at KitFosterDesign.com, is patient and kind.) I ended up ordering two t-shirts of my design. They were way too expensive. I wear them.

C. My podcasts (AllThatChazz.com and CoolPeoplePodcast.com) don’t cause people to read my books…mostly or directly. (Interestingly, I can track stats that show a correlation in sales: I sell the most print books in those areas where my podcast is most popular. ) However, as you’ll see below, I think my podcasts help me most in indirect ways.

PROMOTION SOLUTIONS

1. I do have plans to use video again in different ways. Video can work well if done cheaply and with the right content. For instance, the Jesus video has worked to help me sell my crime novel. It’s on the front page of ChazzWrites.com and I’ll leave that up forever. People love that one because it’s so funny and silly and effective. I like the ink in water video at the top, too. That one does grab attention.

I found both on Fiverr.com. Fiverr offerings can be hit and miss. I’ve mostly used the site for video animation. Some other offerings strike me as ineffective, silly and ineffective or sleazy ploys.

One more detail about video 

Using the Vine app did connect me with new readers as well as help me discover a guest for the Cool People Podcast. In the future, I’ll do more short, informal videos. Video book reviews are very effective.

Any video can work if it’s funny, informational or contains a more personal message. The problem with Fiverr videos is that they’re impersonal. Just like with Twitter accounts, people want to hear from the author, not an intermediary. With Vine, Instagram or a quick video (shorter’s better) posted through your YouTube account and to your blog, video is still powerful. Make it yourself while you’re walking around. Make cheap and DIY work for you instead of against you.

For more tips on using video effectively to promote your book or business, there’s this:

Click it to grab it. On sale now for just 99 cents.

Click it to grab it. On sale now for just 99 cents.

2. For future promotions, I need to reach more people. My goal is to plug into a larger network. I’m working toward it. Over the last week or so I have over 1,000 more followers on Twitter. In the future, I also have to find a local company that can make a decent t-shirt without charging an arm, leg and kidney.

WHAT SAVED ME? YOU.

When word did spread about This Plague of Days, I ended up having little to do with it directly. It happened organically.

People with relatives who were on the autism spectrum fell in love with the protagonist. It began to snowball from there, one tweet, email and review at a time.

When you can’t make it happen immediately, sometimes all you can do is wait patiently. If there is resonance, people will find you. I’m eternally grateful to those who share their love of my books simply because they felt moved to do so. People want to share stuff they love so others can enjoy it. If you can’t do anything else, connect with readers viscerally. When book lovers step up to be heard about book recommendations, they are loud!

3. My podcast helps immensely, but not in the way I expected. Because of my podcasts, I’ve appeared on many other podcasts. That sells books. My podcasts also connect me with great people (especially the Cool People Podcast.) I would never have connected with those great people without getting into podcasting.

I became friends with fellow horror author Armand Rosamilia through the show. He’s blurbed my covers and is a great supporter of my work, including this blog. I’ve made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I’ve appeared on Inverse Delirium twice and I’ve been promoted on The 40-year-old Boy and the School of Podcasting many times. Around the launch of Season 3 of This Plague of Days, I will appear on the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast. That’s a big deal to me.

Some strategies fail in one way but succeed in ways you didn’t expect. Experiment as much as you can afford. The more shots you take, the more you hit.

And finally:

Spend more time on writing and more money on the books themselves.

Don’t think about marketing and promotion all the time.

Don’t think about it at all if you only have one book to sell.

Write another book instead.

Whatever else you do, the writing must come first.

Tips and inspiration for the writer's journey to publication.

Tips and inspiration for the writer’s journey to publication.

~ Hey did you know I also wrote a couple of books full of inspiration and writing advice that also manage to be funny? Yeah. That’s right. I made it funny instead of writing another of those scolding kinds of writing and publishing books that make you feel like crap. It would be a good idea to go get those now. You’ll learn a lot from my petty successes and catalogue of failures. Crack the Indie Author Code, people!

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , ,

How I sold This Plague of Days, PART II

This Plague of Days Season 2

If I had to nail down what strategies worked to sell This Plague of Days, here are the elements that had to come together:

1. Good story. A selective mute on the autistic spectrum versus the Sutr plagues + a CDC virologist’s band of refugees on the run as Europe falls to the infected = Cool.

2. Kit Foster’s great covers. You can have a great story, but without KitFosterDesign.com, who would have bothered to have a look in the first place?

3. Serialization. See yesterday’s post for oh-so-many details on how and why that worked.

4. Bookbub. I got a flood of great reviews from the giveaway. Season One was a bestseller in September because of the free Bookbub giveaway. Season Two became a bestseller two weeks later in October.

5. Amazon exclusivity. This Plague of Days couldn’t have been free for the duration of the Bookbub giveaway if I wasn’t enrolled in the KDP Select program exclusively. (Note that while it is possible to price match down to free on Amazon, it’s not dependable or predictable if or when you’ll get the price down or back up when you want it. Price matching to get to free is not practical for pulse giveaways.)

The Ins and Outs of Bookbub

Bookbub wasn’t very expensive in the horror and science fiction categories, though I believe those fees went up since my promotion. (Click here to see Bookbub fees and stats on ROI.) If I wrote romance, I couldn’t afford their advertising program. I’ve heard some complaints about Bookbub lately, mostly about the fees for service. However, author and Cool People Podcast guest Renee Pawlish also raised questions about its reach on her blog. (Click this link to read Renee’s analysis and be sure to read the comments for a lively discussion and more factors to consider).

It will be interesting to see how prices for advertising change in a more competitive market. I advocated for Bookbub early on. However, while strategies may be long-term, tools are not. As more services like it arise, Bookbub won’t be the only free ebook promotion service on authors’ minds. In fact, many of you may already be using The Fussy Librarian or opting for the multitude of promotional services listed at Author Marketing Club. If you want more options, I suggest you support those services. For instance, The Fussy Librarian’s influence is growing and the operator has pledged to keep fees from authors low.

We don’t have to hit home runs with big services if we percolate into readers’ consciousness by hitting a lot of singles, doubles and triples. (There goes the only baseball analogy I understand.) Book bloggers and smaller, up and coming book promotion companies may be viable options or become more so. Author Marketing Club makes it easy to hit a bunch at once. 

Some book promotion services aren’t very strong, but it’s a new year and our infrastructure is deepening. Other book promotion services that have been around for a while are harder to get into.

If you get onto Pixel of Ink’s offerings, that’s a tribute to luck, your blurb and your cover art. Some services ask for so many reviews before allowing inclusion, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. For instance, it gets to a point where the author thinks, I needed the service more when I had fewer reviews! If a book promotion service demands fifteen to twenty rave reviews to qualify for inclusion, they better deliver sales at a reasonable rate (whatever “reasonable” is will vary by author.) 

The Ups and Downs of Amazon

Over a year ago, several gurus said the advantage of being exclusive with KDP Select was gone. In the last few months, I’ve read several successful writers again report that they’re moving books on other platforms and anyone who doesn’t broaden their reader base with more platforms is an idiot.

I guess I’m an idiot, but I’m a happier idiot than I’d be if I’d diversified as many have advised. I did experiment quite a bit with those other platforms and ended up pulling several books back after good trial runs. They did nothing for me. My books sell on Amazon and, as long as that continues, I’ll stick with it.

In my experience, the other platforms are far behind the Mighty Zon and can’t seem to come up with ways to get my books moving there. Vague terms like “establishing a presence” on other platforms and worries about putting my eggs all in one basket won’t dissuade me as long as I still see returns on my work that the other platforms can’t seem to touch. KDP exclusivity is not as lucrative as it once was, but you don’t torch the car because it’s not as good as when you rolled it off the lot. If I want to escape KDP exclusivity, the worst case scenario is I’m free of the agreement within 90 days.

I’ve talked to writers for whom diversification is working. If that’s you, carry on happily. See my screenshot of my latest news from Smashwords?Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 7.16.53 PM

No, it’s not time for me to diversify yet. When it is time, that jump can be made in pretty short order.

If Kobo were to offer to pluck me out of the rough and promote me, it would be a different story. If Apple weren’t so difficult to deal with, I might go for it. I’m not banning my books from other platforms forever, but I won’t abandon the exclusivity at KDP as long as it’s still working. It’s important to understand that other platforms work differently from Amazon. Other platforms choose what they’ll push at customers much as brick and mortar bookstores do. With Amazon’s algorithms and search engine, the customer’s choices determines what is marketed to them. The readers are the gatekeepers there.

This allegiance to Amazon is not an ideological stand. It’s accounting. The other platform paid me pennies. Amazon still pays me dollars. As soon as I’ve determined I’ve squeezed as much as I can out of Amazon promotional opportunities, I’ll give Kobo et al another try. I hope the other platforms will have stolen the best ideas from other players by then. At the very least, everyone should take something from what Smashwords does best: give us promo codes so we can better publicize out work. Amazon is the industry leader. I’m surprised the other platforms don’t experiment with emulation more.

~ As stated in yesterday’s long treatise, one author’s poison is another author’s chocolate latte birthday cake. Amazon’s still cake for me. 

Next post: What didn’t work for me in promoting This Plague of Days.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

World’s Biggest: The Unfortunate Death of the Last Big Bookstore and What Happens Next

For a long time I’ve predicted the thinning of bookstores. They’re not going away completely, but you’ll have to drive farther afield to get to one. When I was a sales rep for numerous publishers, the bookstore chains decimated independent bookstores. Most of the little stores I visited with my sample case and catalogues are long gone. Now, it’s the chain’s turn.

Still, I got a shock this week. My shrine is closing.

In the heart of Toronto lies a huge bookstore, three levels and 64,000 square feet. Soon it will empty to the bare walls. The World’s Biggest Bookstore is shutting its doors in February. It was great for treasure hunting. The Indigo book chain’s lease won’t be renewed and tourists and book lovers won’t wander into World’s Biggest anymore. This store, a champion of the paper book, will be no doubt be replaced by high-end condos for people who trade stocks on Bay Street. 

When the sale was announced, the owner of the property (son of the original bookstore owner, Jack Cole, who founded the store in 1980) said the deal is about a real estate sale, not the slow death of the bricks and mortar bookstore. Whether for a massive real estate sale or for other reasons, World’s Biggest is the flagship of the Indigo fleet. It’s going down and will not resurface.

It was a destination bookstore and we won’t see its like again.

Whenever in downtown Toronto, if you could read, you just had to go there to browse. I never left without an armful of books. I took out-of-town friends there to wander the aisles. It was such a great place to hang out and…brace yourself for the unexpected…they didn’t even have to sell coffee, knick knacks and dustables in order to lure people to shop.

There are many other bookstores, of course, but they’re all lookalikes.

In the announcement, the owners of World’s Biggest invited customers to slip down a block or two to visit nearby Indigo locations. I have a chain bookstore down the street from my home that looks exactly like all the others. I don’t need to go to Toronto to get that experience. I don’t even have to drive five minutes to my nearest Indigo bookstore to look at paperbacks. The Starbucks looks busier than the bookstore most days and Amazon’s catalogue is more extensive than any bookstore could possibly offer, anyway.

Amazon is the World’s Biggest now.

My social scene will have to come from Skype and social media. My destination now is my keyboard, my kindle and the ease of the one-click buy. For the Starbucks experience, I’ll set the coffeemaker between the couch and the wood stove. Goodbye, World’s Biggest. I won’t dwell on nostalgia or write a treatise on the tragedy of any more lost bookstores or pen an ode to the smell of book glue.

I write. I read. I stay home. The world turns, turns away, and moves on.

Filed under: Amazon, book marketing, publishing, , , , , , , , ,

Why I no longer swear in my books

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]When I wrote my crime novels, I wanted verisimilitude. I’d watched Goodfellas repeatedly, The Sopranos religiously and, of course, I’d been through high school. Naturally, I’m acquainted with an impressive list of swear words and they don’t bother me.

Swearing seemed like a good idea at the time.

Bigger Than Jesus is about a Cuban hit man who, after a very rough childhood and military service, ends up working for New York’s Spanish mob. The subtext is sad but the jokes and movie references come fast. The language reflects reality. In other words, the characters swear quite a bit.

(And the sex scene in Higher Than Jesus? It’s so steamy and frank, that scene was all my dad wanted to talk about after he read it. Sigh. That’s a different post.)

When I wrote the crime novels, I thought any dialogue that reflected the way people really speak was the only way to go for me. I thought that if readers didn’t accept swear words in fiction, they were reality-impaired. Suck it up or don’t read my books, was my policy.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Well, I do still think people who don’t accept appropriate use of swear words in fiction (and author autonomy to write what they want to) are reality-impaired and intolerant.

But “Suck it up or be shunned,” made me intolerant, too.

Swearing will alienate some readers.

I knew that, of course, but I thought verisimilitude was more important. Now, after two volumes of This Plague of Days — which is devoid of such strong language — I’ve decided I’ve lost nothing by omitting obscenities. Those who aren’t offended by swearing don’t seem to miss it if it’s not there. There’s just no value added, or at least not enough value added, to keep the swearing in. I think I can attribute many of my happy reviews of This Plague of Days to the fact that I did without (though I do skirt it a bit. More on that in a minute.) 

Is my self-censorship a (possibly pathetic) bid to gain more readers?

The short answer is, yes.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]The longer answer is, it didn’t start out that way. Jaimie Spencer, the hero of This Plague of Days, is autistic. He’s seventeen, but he’s a sensitive kid. A book that included a lot of swearing just didn’t feel right for the tone of the piece. Much of the drama happens around the Spencer family in Missouri and somehow, zombies or no zombies, peppering the text with f-bombs just didn’t fit this story or the readers likely to enjoy it. I salted it with Latin phrases, instead.

The really long answer is that it saddens me that some readers are so sensitive to curse words. I hate that they wouldn’t read some of my earlier work because of that sensitivity. However, my writing is about much more than swearing. I can do without it and not hurt the dialogue or the story. This Plague of Days is effective suspense and horror and this stylistic choice doesn’t affect that. Many of the people who love This Plague of Days are related to people on the autistic spectrum. They’re more comfortable spreading the word about the serial and sharing it with family members and friends because I changed my policy on swearing.

The f-word can be a crutch.

Use it too much and dialogue risks a feeling of laziness and sameness. Increase the frequency and the impact suffers. Working around that obstacle has proved so minor, I wish I’d done without cursing from the beginning. “She cursed him as she sliced his throat,” can serve just as well, or better, than a string of expletives.

We all know the words. My kids knew the words when they were quite little. Amazingly, they didn’t learn those words from me. They had to go to school for that. There’s no shock to it and sometimes it just gets in the way and the reader’s eye skips over it. I want all my words to count. I insist on delivering impacts to brainpans and adrenal glands. Swearing doesn’t do the job.

I have not suddenly become a prude.

My daily vocabulary reflects the full range of human experience, though the monologue in my head contains much more swearing. (I get points for holding back, right?)

In This Plague of Days, a “damn” might squeak in from time to time. My mother said that was okay since that was her swear of choice. North Americans tend to find British people saying, “shite” kind of charming. I use that. However, even that little is very sparse in This Plague of Days. 

I’m not claiming that no one could possibly be offended by something I wrote. I’m sure someone will clutch their pearls over the discussions between the religious wife and the atheist husband. That’s sure to annoy both sides, in fact. Reviewers have described the story as “creepy”, “scary” and “terrifying.” Well, I should hope so. Swearing or not, it is still very much horror and suspense.

I haven’t gone soft and I’m not writing children’s books.

This Plague of Days contains many scenes that are descriptive of the gore of war. There are some whimsical touches, but much of the story feels real enough you might worry I’m not a horror writer, but a futurist. However, like Twitter’s 140-character limit, the omission of cursing in my zombie apocalypse has forced me to be more clever. Sometimes the omission of swear words has even opened up new avenues for character expression. By that, I mean that there are some really good jokes in This Plague of Days that hinge on the power of irony and understatement, not f-bombs.

Conclusions

1. This doesn’t mean I’m saying you shouldn’t swear in your books. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do so stop feeling threatened.

2. This doesn’t stop me from writing books with so-called “bad words” in the future, though I think I’ll continue to do without. This bears repeating: Those who aren’t offended by swearing don’t seem to miss it if it’s not there. I don’t miss it. Anybody read any Vonnegut and think, This isn’t bad, but it would be so much better with a bunch more f-bombs? (I did, however, note that Norman Mailer could have cut back by half and helped Tough Guys Don’t Dance.)

3. This doesn’t mean that I think swearing is bad. It might be right for your books and I admit that, when done right, a string of obscenities certainly has its place.

4. I also have to admit that I think doing without swearing (in the text!) has made me a better writer.

5. This isn’t a moral stand. It was a solid artistic choice that stumbled into a good business decision. I confess. I want to be read by a wider audience. This is one of the ways I’m accomplishing that.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Horror, readers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How NOT to sell books at a reading

I did a reading a while back. I sold a book. Yeah. One. Let’s just take a moment to take that in. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Okay…here’s what I’ll do differently next time:

1. Advertise and/or promote more and work my network beforehand. Most of my friends are of the cyber variety. I’ve been a nomad/recluse so long that, locally, I don’t have a network. I’m connected to a lot of people who are too far away. Not just Skype calls and a long car ride. I’m talking long plane flights. I’m working on that, mostly through Twitter (#Ldnont) and connecting with local humans within handshake distance. It’s not entirely excruciating.

2. Have a sign. I had brochures, which was a good move. I didn’t have a proper sign that told people the books’ prices. A helpful friend took the money…or would have but, ahem…that turned out to be a non-issue. The forty dollar float in fives proved much more than adequate. (Do make it easy for potential customers by charging round numbers. Nobody wants to search for nickels.)

3. Rock the books you came with. I should have talked more about the books at the back of the room while I was at the front of the room. Instead, I rocked a short story that always gets laughs. I’m very confident reading that story to an audience, so I took the easy way out. I can sell that story, Another Day at the Office from Self-help for Stoners, easily. I should have pushed the books I brought instead, and harder. I should have read a piece from my books that sell most now (This Plague of Days) and a chapter from Crack the Indie Author Code (indies were the theme of the event.)

Being confident, instead of looking confident: I’ll figure it out and try it sometime.

4. I gave a good talk about writing and publishing. Actually, it was a great talk. People smiled and laughed in the right places. At one point I sang and even threatened an audience member with a grisly death, mostly for entertainment purposes. People went away smiling and happy…but they did go away.

The main problem was that I should have ended it sooner. We used the whole time allotted for the event. You’d think that would be delivering on expectations and promises. Instead, it gave people no time to shop for books. They ran to get their parking validated before the library closed. Rather than talk at the front of the room (which I enjoyed immensely) I should have mixed with the audience more before the event began and I should have built in more one-on-one chatting/selling/handshake/hip bump/high-five/hula dancing time at the end of the reading.

5. When the reading’s done, don’t get waylaid by the sweet, little old lady sitting in the third row. Push her out of your way and to the ground if necessary. She is killing you. At least, that’s what she did to me. I should have rushed straight to the back and engaged people there. By the time I answered her tangential question about who I might be related to (I wasn’t and oh, sweet Jebus, who cares?), most people had filed out, off to make sure their parking was free. Damn old lady. And damn parking. And damn me. 

To the one guy to whom I sold This Plague of Days in paperback, may Thor bless you with smart, stout-thighed, stress-resistant children with perfect teeth. It’s great signing a book for a reader who digs what you’re doing.

Back on the net that night, another audience member hit me up on Twitter to let me know he had a good time and was buying my ebooks, not paper. That was cool and eased my roiling sea of torment. Somewhat. 

I’ll do better next time.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When Readers Wander Away

Readers wander away.

There’s so much new and shiny stuff out there. There are new word confections to smell and taste, luring readers away from The Magic That is You. Let’s talk about reader attrition and how to combat it because keeping an old reader, fan, friend, client or spouse is easier (and less expensive) than gaining a new one.

I used to listen to all of the Smodcast podcast network religiously. Then I wandered away to get lost in the labyrinth of choice. I subscribe to more than 100 podcasts. Smodcast had some funny stuff, but I’m more into news and politics as the world blows up in slow motion, so I moved on to the plethora.

Almost everybody moves on.

Crack the Indie Author CodeAudiences are fluid. In my first book on writing and publishing, I said ten percent of people love you no matter what you do and ten percent hate you no matter what you do. The remaining eighty percent are consumers who may enjoy what you offer them, but they aren’t committing to the long haul. The passengers you have on the Crazy Train now won’t be aboard at the last station.

Confession Time

This week I went through boxes of files looking up addresses of former clients for my new business venture. It felt like cavorting in the Huge Catalogue of My Carnival of Past Failures. I had names in there I didn’t recognize. There were a bunch of clients I saw, once, years ago. Another group saw me a few times and they felt that was plenty. People move, lose jobs, get new ones, divorce, move again, remarry, forget about us and die. I probably pushed a few away by not nodding on cue, too. I’m lousy at that. I wonder how many of those addresses aren’t dead and stale?

In the end, I came up with a minute mailing list of hardcore fans and a few fringe possibilities. Twenty years in the business and to count the letters I’m sending out? You could count them all on your fingers and toes…but not all your toes.

Nurture the readers who think of themselves as fans.

The people who dig what you do? We all dig them back. Fans are awesome. They’re helpful and they’re motivated to leave reviews and they get us. Engage them. And why wouldn’t you? They’re fun and they know where you’re coming from so you have lots to talk about.

Fans are the people who are most like you. Our minds connect.

Be tolerant of people who don’t get you. 

You can even welcome these folks because most of them don’t hate you.* These people can change their minds. They might take you or they might leave you. They aren’t invested in you, but they might buy what you’re selling.

Ignore haters

They won’t change their minds because they hate everything. Hate is all they have and most of them can’t even be funny about it because they’re serotonin-disenfranchised. Haters are in no one’s demographic and they’re already cursed enough. They’re unhappy and it’s not really about you. The poor things can’t seem to enjoy anything. Move on quickly and don’t let them get any of their default setting on you. 

Own a genre

If I had to do it all again, I’d focus on one genre and write only that. That’s not how my mind works, but that’s my problem. I’d also write series exclusively. Preferably I’d set out to claim a beachhead in a big, well-read genre. (Read: Hardboiled with jokes wasn’t a big enough genre.) 

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

When you get lost in the woods, experts tell you to stay in one spot so you can be found. Same with literature. Moving targets, unless you’re Isaac Asimov forty years ago, are harder to find.

Go out of your way to find new readers and maybe even fans.

Facebook is the place to nurture community. Twitter is the place to find new people, discover new things and begin conversations. LinkedIn is where you go for people to talk at each other and say how everyone’s doing everything wrong in order to impress potential employers. (Sorry. That was my experience.)

Bookbub is hot. Author Marketing Club is hot. Publicists with small lists or lists that are too general and unsegmented** are cold. 

Write more quality books.

With each book, we get better. We refine our style and process. Write more. Be better. Build a bigger fire so the rescuers can find you.

Be different enough that you stand out.

People love identifiable genres that challenge expectations. Everyone loves “same thing only different.” It makes them comfortable, and you discoverable, without boring them. I’ve already said enough about this in previous posts, and this post is too long, so…

Go where readers are.

Writers are excited to meet with other writers. Meeting readers often freaks us out. Feel the fear and poop your pants anyway. It’ll make a great story. Do signings, readings, conventions (for readers) and get a business card with your hottest book cover on it. Everyone has hot and cold runs. Make sure readers get a chance to remember you at the top of the hill so you have some inertia to get up the next hill.

Be honest, but be nice. Be a person.

From the I-shouldn’t-have-to-say-this Department: Jerks around the world try to justify the jerkiness with, “I’m just being honest.” Probably a lie. Chances are, they’re just being mean to make themselves feel better.

A blogger I’ve followed a long time lost me today. I detected a mean tone in something they wrote that didn’t sit right and gave me indigestion. It didn’t sound like they were trying to be helpful and the smart and funny didn’t outweigh the nastiness. I need more positivity in my life. I’m a bit low on serotonin, too. Goodbye, blogger.

You’re supposed to lose some readers.

The only thing you can depend on is Change. As you progress as an artist, a bunch who did like you won’t be along for the whole trip. Maybe you switched to a genre they don’t read. Maybe they’re the sort of people who prefer bands “before they sell out.” (Read: “…before they become popular” or “before they repeat themselves too much.”) Maybe they only love underdogs or you squeaked out too much happiness when your book took off and now they feel resentment. Maybe they outgrew you or vice versa. Perhaps we aren’t so awesome after all and don’t deserve them. Not every book is going to be a home run and that’s where some readers will step off.

I lost a reader recently who loved Season One of This Plague of Days but didn’t like where Season Two took them. I’m helpless in this regard. I followed where the Art took me and Season Two is markedly different in some aspects. However, for the characters and story to evolve and do things and go places, I had to use different gas in the narrative engine. I promised something different from the usual zombie apocalypse and I’m delivering. Most people dig it. However, it pains me most to lose a reader who loved the first iteration but was less enthused about the next. It saddens me they won’t see the big payoffs on the way in Season Three.

I’m the literary engineer and the conductor, but I’m also a passenger on the Crazy Train. I go where the train takes me to the end of the line. I wonder how many fellow passengers I’ll have at the last stop?

This is why we all need those fans to nurture us in return.

People will buy your stories or not, but most readers will never say a word to you. As a writer working alone, driving the train through the night? It’s lonely work. We go through long, black tunnels between books. In the dark, every engineer looks back into the quiet train and wonders, Is anyone really still back there?

*Note: It’s not you, the writer, who should be hated. It’s a book, not genocide, though some people come on so strong in their negative reviews, you’d think babies were being slaughtered with each chapter.

It is legitimate to dislike a book, of course. But readers don’t generally distinguish a book from its author. Neither do authors. When we see a bad review, we don’t think, Oh, they didn’t like that book. We think, She hates me. She probably does. A lot of people are that harsh, for one thing. Also, since your book is a product of your mind, so naturally we identify with our work.

**Unsegmented refers to mailing lists where the subscriber doesn’t identify which genres they’re interested in hearing about. Send your romance sample out to everyone and a bunch of readers will grab it and dislike it because they signed up for steampunk and wouldn’t read a romance with a gun to their head.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write a bunch of stuff that’s funny and suspenseful and strange. I’d tell you more, but I have to dash off to be ignored and invisible in a totally different field. See my books here. Buy them, even. Thanks.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, publishing, , , , , , , , , ,

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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