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

Write and publish with love and fury.

The blog and book promotion tool you’ll love (that’s easy, effective and free)

Here's one of my Haiku Decks to start off your writing week right.

Here’s one of my Haiku Decks to start off your writing week right.

Haiku Deck is a free presentation tool that uses royalty-free images so you can make a statement with visual impact. Change up your next blog post or make a slick book trailer in minutes, for instance.

Click this link to ThisPlagueOfDays.com to see how I used Haiku Deck to remind readers that my next book is coming soon (and they better buckle up!) It’s actually quite beautiful and even easier and quicker than a YouTube video. The slideshow at the link was my first experiment with Haiku Deck. It took less time to put my trailer for This Plague of Days together than I needed for this short blog post.

There’s nothing wrong with YouTube, Instagram, Vine, and iMovie etc,…. Video can be useful and powerful if used well (and oooh! Moving pictures!) The advantage of Haiku Deck is that it’s free, fast and fun to play with. Consider adding it to your author platform’s arsenal. 

Want to sign up and start making your own trailers, presentations, charts and messages?

You’ll find the way to sign up at the end of each Haiku Deck presentation above. It’s easy to do and easy to share on multiple platforms, but if you do have trouble sharing on your non-self-hosted WordPress blog, no problem. Do what I did with the slideshows above. Load and link a screen shot and bam, it’s there.

Pretty cool, huh?

If you need tips on using video more effectively to promote your books or business, I wrote a quick book on marketing with Vine that highlights what you should be aware of to make it work better. Click the cover for Six Seconds below, for that chewy goodness (for the princely sum of just 99 cents!)

Six+Seconds+copy

~ Okay. We’ve started Monday morning off right. Let’s keep the healthy and happy vibes going. Pardon my excessive happiness today. It’s not characteristic of me, but I’m all ramped up about entering the final stages of publishing my eleventh book. Progress is being made. BAM! Okay, let’s go get ’em!

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writer’s A, B, C: Free tools for finding happy new readers

1. Anonymity is the problem.

2. Discoverability is the issue.

3. Being broke is the obstacle.

4. Prolificacy is the strategy.

5. Generosity is the solution.

Today, I’ll give you three strategies I’m using to sell more books. First, there’s this:

Murders+Among+Dead+Trees+1121-1

This book of suspense is FREE until midnight, March 7, 2014. Have a look, if only to read my favorite three-star review of all time. You might also enjoy it so see for yourself. 

Okay, we all know we can do giveaways to increase our visibility by lowering the risk to new readers, but how to promote it? Here’s what I’m doing:

A. Stop ignoring Facebook groups.

I didn’t mean to ignore anyone. In fact, I’m quite active on Facebook and have made new friends there. After the release of a new book, there’s often a flurry of new friend requests and it’s great fun to interact with readers there because they’re enthused and friendly.

Over time, I’ve joined several relevant Facebook groups. If I had a spare moment (more rare these days) I’d lurk more than I’d participate. Mostly, I’d concentrate on the main news feed. That’s what draws the eye. However, there are plenty of groups to join where you can connect with like-minded people. I’m paying more attention now, making new friends and finding potential readers there.

B. I’m using Wattpad.

It’s a free platform for interaction, improvement, encouragement, feedback, sharing and promotion. Best of all, writers are welcome. Wattpad is not new, but I’ve pretty much been ignoring it. That stops now. It could be a great addition to your platform, too.

Several authors I’ve spoken to have not felt that Wattpad led to conversions. However, like me, they weren’t really active on the site nor did they promote it. To build an audience for the long-term, go where the readers are. Since these readers are also writers, you can expect respect there. It’s a friendly atmosphere.

So, for instance, you can get a sneak peek at my new book now. It doesn’t come out until spring, but I’ve put up the first chapter (The Prelude) of Season Three on Wattpad. It’s not for the faint of heart. Click here to get the link to see the big opening and you’ll also find out what Batman has to do with the apocalypse.

Wattpad’s membership is young and vibrant. I joined early but I wasn’t over there enough. I’m paying better attention now and encouraging my readers, new and old, to get that free sample there. But remember, it’s a social platform. Follow people. Read their stuff. Interact. If you find yourself having fun, congratulations. You’ve just discovered another social medium that’s for you.

I plan to use Wattpad for developing book ideas and finding new authors to read. It would be fun to write short stories as prequels and sequels. Best of all for me and for readers, I’m interested in writing more stories within the worlds I create. 

For instance, This Plague of Days takes place across continents. It’s a vast and sweeping story of the fall of our civilization. Beyond the books, there are many facets I couldn’t tell within the stream of the serial. I’d like to try out Wattpad for stories about minor characters. What happened to Brandy before Jack finds her at the opening of Season 2? What happened at the Joint Air Base in Charleston, before we get to it in Season 3 of This Plague of Days? Stories like that are fun and lead new readers back to all the work you’re selling. (Mental note: Write more books.)

But Chazz, I hate free. Free is evil.

Pre-sold readers are the best audience for any work. Free short stories are a powerful way to find them. If you hate free, write them on Wattpad and, when you’re ready, delete them from Wattpad. Then put your book up for sale as you normally would. That way, your work is doing more work for you while you’re creating it! You might even get valuable feedback through the process as you gain new potential readers for the rest of your books. Considering all that, do you still hate free?

C. Find your audience with more coopetition.

Horror authors Armand Rosamilia and Tim Baker put their talents together in a scary pack two novellas for only 99 cents. Click here to check out Dying Days: Siege 1 and 2. Working together, these guys are louder and reach more readers. That statement about being loud is also affirmed by their weekly radio show, Friday Night Writes. See you in the forum there tonight. Don’t forget to tune in at 8 pm EST. (I use the TuneIn app so you can listen to Surf 17 in Flagler Beach, Florida no matter where you are.)

Next logical question:

Got a novella or some short stories? Who are you going to team up with so you and another author or authors can get more visible?

Triberr is free, too.

I’ve already suggested Triberr as a way for authors to promote each other more effectively and systematically. This week I was invited to join a new tribe that targeted my readers. It’s a good fit because the niche is more specific and my tribe mates are all really strong bloggers.

This is coopetition (a phrase coined by author Joanna Penn, I believe.) The bloggers with whom I’m cross-promoting share similar interests so, as we tweet together, we expand our reach. Blogs generally aren’t very powerful tools, but Triberr is a fulcrum to gain leverage.

Do it right.

Lately I’ve noticed that a few “gurus” in the business are coming off…well…a tad dickish. “Prideful” my Baptist minister grandfather would say. The barrage of narcissism is off-putting and surely hurting them in the long run. I’m worried they might break their arms clapping themselves on the back that hard. That’s why this is such a great time to be generous and humble.

This isn’t about cheap marketing strategies. It’s an attitude that will make you happier. It’s about being the sort of person who elevates their circumstance by helping others instead of stomping them down and standing on their necks. To quote Patrick Swayze as Dalton from Roadhouse (again!), “It’s nice to be nice.”

Better Twitter.

Every day I scan my Twitter stream for people doing cool stuff. It might be an enthusiastic book review or a factoid or a joke. I don’t care what it is as long as it’s cool, fun or helpful. Retweet freely. Too often, I think we’re looking at Twitter’s “Interactions” stream. That’s a mirror. Look out the window instead. Look at what other people are doing and promote them to your followers to expand your view and your visibility. Your followers will appreciate the curation effort and you’ll have more fun with Twitter.

I’ve also made a conscious effort to go find new cool people I want to get to know. How do we find cool readers who are hot for our work? Hashtags are search handles. Use key words to find and follow avid readers of your genre. Active is faster than passive.

By sharing more, we all get to eat and have a more enjoyable meal. 

~ You read all the way down here? Oh, Sweetie, Baby, Cookie, Honey! For your endurance alone, you deserve Murders Among Dead Trees by Robert Chazz Chute. Click!

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

What resources do new publishers need (besides a darn good book)?

You’re a writer. You have a winning attitude and you clean up nice. You’re determined to publish a book this year. What’s needed?

Scrivener

Scrivener helps me write all my books. After experiencing its ability to organize a manuscript so I can bop around and rearrange elements easily, I’d never go back to Word. There’s a free trial or buy it for $45 USD. I now consider this software a need, at least for me.

Editors

Lionheart for editorial services. They did great job (fast and very reasonably priced) formatting my last book for print. I plan to use their services much more in the future. After many frustrating attempts, I realized I could lose my writing time to formatting or I could hand it over to an expert. (Special thanks to Jordanna East for the tip.)

This editor, Jason Whited, also comes highly recommended by the guys at Self-Publishing Podcast. (I guess he had a small hole in his schedule because if  you use his services before February 15, 2014, he’s knocking 25% off his fee.)

The Graphic Artist

Hire Kit Foster at KitFosterDesign.com to design your covers (ebooks, print, audiobook, web banners, logo designs, advertising.) He works for traditional publishers and indies makes beautiful covers. As regular readers of this blog know, I can’t say enough nice things about Kit.

A website

You at least need an author page. WordPress is cheap and easy. If you expect to sell with affiliate links, self-hosted is better. If you’re going with GoDaddy or Hostgator for a domain name, just get the minimum and avoid all the upsells on features you don’t need. Hover is now my preferred place for domain names because they don’t do all the upselling and the price includes a lot of what other places sell piece by piece. Hover isn’t evil.

If you want to get more fancy so you have superior design, support and a badass sales page, try Squarespace.com. The domain name is included in the price at SquareSpace. I’d have moved my author site over to Squarespace already, but the platform isn’t as friendly to podcasting as WordPress (yet).

Social Media

You’ll need a Twitter account and Facebook. (Free to begin, cheap to advertise upon and of limited effectiveness in that regard.) You’ll notice I haven’t included LinkedIn. That’s because I’m not sold on its efficacy as a tool for authors. Some authors like LI more than I do. It can be useful if you’re looking for a job.

You’ll also find forums for authors there, but I put LinkedIn and Tumblr in the same category: nice but optional. My Tumblr posts my stuff automatically. I don’t hang out there. Sadly, Google+ hasn’t really caught on as much as it will. Google+ will get bigger once Facebook alienates more users.

Sales Platforms

An Amazon account for ebooks and CreateSpace for printing. All these accounts are free to open. Other sales platforms like Kobo etc.,… are by choice and as needed. (Many indies will tell you that you must be on all platforms. That’s a debate for another post. Read that here.)

Understand that you are the publisher now and (what fun!) you’re a business owner. Amazon, Kobo, Apple and the like are not publishers. They are sales platforms. The money you hope to get from these online catalogues is not a royalty. Those are sales figures, not royalties.

Since you’re the publisher, I’d form a LLC (US) or register a sole proprietorship (Canada). Do you have to? No. But I think it’s more professional, keeps the bank account out of the hobby category and the Ex Parte Press logo on the spine of my books says, “Yeah, this is real.” ex parte press logo 1

Some platforms don’t require ISBNs. I think they’re a good idea. In the United States, you purchase them through Bowker. In Canada, ISBNs are free except for sending books to the national library.

An accountant

The tax system is far too complicated for mere mortals. When looking for an accountant, don’t ask for a referral from your kid’s orthodontist. He’s got lots of money and will have a slick, high-priced suit for an accountant a young start-up such as ours can’t afford. Ask a dental hygienist instead. She’ll have someone reliable she’s used for years whose fees are not exorbitant. Your accountant won’t wear a $3,000 suit, but who needs that for a bit of handholding? Big companies need high power to hide their assets. We just need a friendly guide through the system so we can have some peace of mind.

Use Wave or Easy Accounting Pilot or any simple spreadsheet program to record all the income, receipts, mileage, publishing and equipment expenditures. This is a do-it-yourself project. Don’t show up at the accountant’s office with a box full of receipts. If you do, no matter how inexpensive their services, the time they have to take to peer at crumpled receipts will run up your accounting bill.

Report all income and pay your taxes. The good news is, chances are excellent you won’t have any such thing as income for a while. However, that laptop, if used for your publishing business, is a write-off. Consult with your accountant. Ask how much of your office space is allowable to claim. Software and hardware have different allowable claims. Find out how much your government is allowing for mileage this year and keep a mileage log. It probably won’t be much, but when’s the last time you burnt a $20 bill? Lose track of receipts and you torch money and Thor knows we can’t afford to do that.

Author Marketing Club

Spend $100 on an Author Marketing Club membership, though even their free tools are good. Do not spend thousands on a publicist. This is especially true if you don’t have thousands of dollars or if you have only one book to sell. Most authors are their own publicity department (just as it is with most traditionally published authors, really).

And remember, the writing always comes first. Twitter, Facebook and promotion is for time that would be otherwise unproductive.

Friends

I don’t have many friends, but through my books, I’ve made friends with new people for the first time in a couple of decades. As I detailed in a recent and surprisingly popular post, friends and allies are not afterthoughts and frivolous relationships. They’re important to help us deal with our questions, our stress and even our workload. No indie who is successful is truly independent. We depend on others for street teams, beta readers, information and support. We’re publishers who crowdfund. We swap services, advice and guest posts and play in our allies’ blog tours and promotional opportunities. This is shoestring publishing that stretches our resources to the limit as we make books to the best of our ability.

Don’t try to publish without support from a writer’s group or like-minded indies, friends and/or family. (Not everyone will be onboard, so don’t expect moon pies from everybody, either.) I’m lucky to have beta readers with extensive military experience. One of my best friends trains elite SWAT and all their input has been invaluable to my crime novels and This Plague of Days. One of my friends is an English major and writer who is vigilant for plot issues and insists I never take a shortcut. Another beta reader is a proud and vocal member of the Grammar Police. Most friends and family won’t buy your books, but with help from a chosen few, you can reach the strangers who will buy your books. Have as big a beta reading team as you can manage, as long as it remains productive.

We need friends to save us from ourselves. I guess that’s true no matter what we’re doing.

What would you add to this list for new publishers who are taking their first steps into the indie pool?

~ This week I went through a bunch of this stuff with a budding self-publisher over the phone. She didn’t have a Twitter account yet, so it got me thinking about the necessities to begin. I think if you start off with the items I’ve listed above, you’ve got a lot of bases covered as you start your journey. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something and I know there are advanced options to add to the list. For instance, going to ACX for audiobook creation is a logical next step after you’ve published an ebook and you’re in print. Please add your recommendations in the comments thread so we can help new indies start off well.

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

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This Plague of Days: How I sold my autistic zombie apocalypse through serialization PART 1

This week, I’m making This Plague of Days a case study for those interested in drilling deep. This will be a series of blog posts about strategies, platforms and book marketing: what worked, what hasn’t worked, what won’t and what might. I hope it helps you to sell your books, if only by avoiding my errors.

Topics will include various format releases, selling in different ways, pricing and publicity. You’ll find out how This Plague of Days became a bestseller (in its teeny-tiny category) and the ways in which I’ve failed miserably. I’ll also hit on how my strategy is changing for the conclusion of This Plague of Days. Season 3 comes out this spring. I’m always experimenting, looking for new and different ways to reach readers and make them happy. Sometimes what I thought was the wide road to glory turned into a goat path into a dead-end. As always, I’ll be honest about it.

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c'mon!On sale until Feb. 1, 2014 for just $2.99. I mean, c’mon!

HOW I LAUNCHED THE SERIAL

My strategy for launching This Plague of Days, Season One was to put the whole ebook out first. I waited a week. The sky didn’t shatter with raging need for my latest contribution to suspense and horror literature. Then, over the next five weeks, I released the book broken into episodes as a serial. Each episode came one week apart at 99 cents each.

Each section ended on a cliffhanger so readers were given a choice:

Wait another week to find out what happens next, come back to Amazon and download the next episode. (0.99 x 5 = $4.95)

Or, preferably:  forget all that nonsense and just buy the book for less money than it cost to get all the episodes piecemeal. I sold the ebooks at $3.99 with pulsing price dips to $2.99 plus a couple of promotional giveaways at $0.00. (More on that in another post, but hey, Seasons One and Two are at $2.99 until Feb 1. Take a hint and have some fun. It’s too cold to go outside so you might as well read.)

Print has been so little of my income in the past that creating the paperback was a low priority. I did that last. (That’s changing, as you’ll soon see in a post coming later this week.)

HOW TO SERIALIZE CORRECTLY

My nastiest reviewer noted with dismay that I’d written it like a television serial (as if I’d somehow done so by accident.) Most people actually liked the format and appreciated its quirks as added value.

That said, serialization doesn’t work if you break the narrative the wrong way. Take an ongoing television drama. Let’s say, The Walking Dead or House of Cards. Cliffhangers, wit, surprises and reversals are the gears of the engine that give a serial forward momentum. Each transition should scream, “That’s not the end you expected. Now turn the page for more!”

Not all books are suited to the serial format and it’s not just about taking any book, breaking it apart and selling off the chunks. It’s about adding value to the reader and certainly not making more cash off selling episodes at 99 cents. For get-rich-quick ideas, boy, are you on the wrong blog!

ABOUT ADDED VALUE AND STANDING OUT

With an autistic hero who mostly doesn’t speak and a story that spans Europe, America and Canada, my story is unusual. You meet a lot of characters but they don’t meet each other for a long time, if at all. The plagues start off based in reality and later supernatural elements à la The Stand develop as the Sutr virus evolves. I did weird things with how I laid the saga out, too.

The Table of Contents comprises a long, dark poem with clues to what’s coming. Each episode begins with “Notes from The Last Cafe”, which adds to the intrigue. That mystery is not actually solved until late in Season 3. Also, Seasons One and Two contain a secret. The first three readers to guess it correctly will get characters named after them. I’m receiving guesses every week, but so far, no one has won. (Check out ThisPlagueOfDays.com for more on that.)

THE PROS OF SERIALIZATION

1. My also-boughts proliferated on Amazon so customers saw the work of my brilliant graphic designer, Kit Foster, pepper those lists. They didn’t just see one cover. They saw six, each different, but in keeping with the tone and theme of each season. Repetition and increased exposure got attention to the book it wouldn’t have caught otherwise. Here’s what that looked like:

TPOD 0616 EP 1 cover
The Also-boughts (below) harnessed the power of repetition in advertising.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 3.49.28 PM

 

2. Best of all, readers who dig This Plague of Days went ahead and bought the entire season immediately. Some even took Season One, Episode One as a big, cheap sample and went back to buy both seasons in their entirety.

An important detail that’s a pro and a con

Those people who were tepid on an autistic kid in the zombie apocalypse tended to just try Episode One. Each episode ranges from 15- 25,000 words, so they got a generous read. The zombies don’t actually show up for a while and they aren’t even “true” zombies in the Romero sense. If readers didn’t care for the pace at which I built the tension, early instalments took the hits of less-than-entranced reviews and readers dropped away.

The majority loved it and went on to leave stellar reviews on each season. This somewhat inoculated the books from negative ratings because the non-enthused bailed out. Serialization gave them that easy option.

THE CONS

1. Serials are a harder sell. Some people hate serials and won’t buy them. Others click indiscriminately and then will rank you lower even if they like the book. (Yes, I know that’s crazy, but I’ve seen it. Fortunately, those few are outliers.)

2. Despite going to great lengths to explain and differentiate between seasons and episodes with covers and sales copy warnings, some readers still got confused about what they were buying in what sequence. Each cover was clearly labelled and to some, that didn’t matter. (Too quick to click the one-click buy, I guess.) That got me a couple of bad reviews. I explained to those reviewers in the comment thread of their review that anyone who buys something in error can easily return it to Amazon for a full refund. Still, those negative reviews remain.

3. Episodes that sell for 99 cents make next to no money. Somebody’s going to object to that, but the math on my sales reports says it’s true. I’d have to sell way more episodes to equal the sale of one book/season. In my quest to find 1,000 true fans, this is one of the trade-offs along the way to helping us find each other. I don’t resent the journey.

4. Maybe it’s my sense of price resistance, but I don’t see charging more than 99 cents per episode. You could give less in word count per episode, but you also have to ask yourself, how much and how often do you want to format and upload files? Drag it out with more episodes and other costs rise higher.

5. I can see by my sales stats that The Law of Diminishing Returns has kicked in with respect to sales of each episode. With so many positive reviews on Season One and Two, it makes less sense for me to serialize now. As I move away from serialization in Season 3, those who liked serialization might ding me for it (even though, with the way I priced it, that’s irrational.) 

6. Serialization that’s not hooked up to Amazon’s auto-delivery system is problematic. The customer has to remember to come back each week and download the new episode. I did apply to Amazon to publish this serial with them. I never heard back. Had they gone for it, you might have heard of me before today.

7. Now that my Amazon sales page is populated with all those episodes from Seasons One and Two, it looks too busy. I’d rather just display the seasons (and eventually The Complete This Plague of Days) so it’s easy for readers to zero in on those books and click buy. How long must I wait before I can clean it up? I can’t simply unpublish the episodes in case someone’s still thinking of getting around to finishing the serial episode by episode? Do I wait a year? Two? Three?

CONCLUSIONS

You’ll note that the Pro column has two entries and I list seven disadvantages. I wish the analysis were that simple.

In my final analysis — not necessarily yours — the disadvantages I list are the cost of getting the book known. In this case, any damage was mitigated by moderate success. Serialization helped readers and hardcore fans find This Plague of Days (and in some cases, my other books.) Therefore, the sacrifice of getting roughly 30 cents on the sale of episodes is the cost of experimentation. For advertising so well in the also-boughts on Amazon, it was worth it. Season One has 72 reviews so far. Season Two has 31. That’s much more attention than my other books got. (Shocking because Murders Among Dead Trees is genius, dammit! And only 99 cents until February 1, 2014. I’m trawling for reviews from the bargain bin so…well, you know. Check it out, if only to read my favorite three-star review ever.)

Those two pros carry more tonnage than the feather-light cons. I don’t regret serializing Seasons One and Two. Without serialization, I wouldn’t have those problems. Some problems are the good kind to have. Without serialization, I’d probably be (even more!) anonymous in the literary landscape.

That’s why marketing Season 3 will be interesting. The revolution will not be serialized. Stay tuned.

~ This is a case study which may or may not apply to you. I’m not telling anyone what they should do. This is just my experience and my reasoning on serialization. Next post: Amazon, Bookbub and all those other platforms.

 

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brainstorming better book titles (and what can kill a good one)

1. The tone of the title should match the genre. If your thriller’s title makes potential readers think of young adult romance, keep brainstorming.

2. Non-fiction titles tend to be linear promises to provide solutions to a problem you have identified. Deliver.

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

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

3. Intriguing is good. Confusing is not. That’s a fine balance. I loved the titles Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus. However, it’s pronounced “Hay-soose” and it’s about a funny, hardboiled Cuban hit man. Titles you (and I) have to explain (endlessly!) are not good titles. The cover treatment by Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design saves me from readers who buy my crime novels thinking they are religious books. Also, I do have another solution to this problem. I’ll explore that next year, after a couple more books are written. In the meantime, I remain an idiot for thinking those titles would serve me better than they did.

What? You thought I write these blog posts because I get everything right the first time? Ha! No.

4. When you’re brainstorming, think in terms of keywords. A short, killer, catchy title can be helped a lot by a more explanatory subtitle. Don’t go overboard with keywords, though. If you run out of breath, forget the rest halfway through, or can’t cram the whole title on the cover, rethink. We’ve got to be able to read the title without squinting, so don’t cram it.

5. Generally try to avoid titles that are very long. After catching the title in a wisp of conversation, the potential customer has to remember it all the way back to their computer or the bookstore so they can order it.

6. What’s the central theme, promise or event that’s crucial to your story? Brainstorm titles out of that.

7. Think in terms of brand and series. Can you connect titles in some way? A is for Alibi is already taken, but think about what might fit. I have two new series planned for the end of next year that connect tangentially to existing books.

8. Come up with a bunch of titles and throw out a bunch. Don’t get too attached to a title early on. Some authors feel they need a title before they can begin to write. Your story may change, so just keep that WIP title tentative and to yourself for now.

9. You can take titles from phrases from the Bible or Shakespeare or be completely original. Go for memorable. However, don’t let the absence of a title stop you from beginning to write. It will probably emerge from the manuscript organically. Use a focus group of trusted friends or fellow writers to save you from your worst impulses.

10. Build a brand around your author name, not your title. I don’t want people more excited about my title than they are about me writing another book. That’s why the name “Robert Chazz Chute” is so big on the cover. Make them want to buy the next [insert your name here], not the title. I don’t really like the title, Doctor Sleep, for instance. But it’s Stephen King! Of course I want to read it!

I’m convinced that titles really don’t matter quite as much as we’d like to think.

I can name a lot of titles that shatter these ten well-meant suggestions. It’s like naming a band. Lots of band names sound pretty stupid or obtuse at first, but if the music is any good, people don’t even think about it much. I doubt everyone was enthused about the name The Beatles or Led Zeppelin on their first encounter (before hearing the songs.) I didn’t like the title Fight Club. The book is about so much more than that. However, I got over it quickly.

It’s true for TV shows, too. The first time I heard the name MASH as a little kid, I thought the TV series had something to do with potatoes. The Pink Panther? I didn’t know it was animated, so I pictured an actual pink panther skulking through the jungle. Without seeing it (and hearing its musical theme by Henry Mancini) I had no idea it was destined to become so iconic.

To sell more books, what’s ultimately more important than the title? Your graphic artist.

A good graphic artist can build on an awesome hook. A bad cover can sabotage even your most clever title.

A great title doesn’t matter if no one can see it. Don’t undermine that title you’ve put so much thought into. You need an excellent graphic artist to support your efforts. A great cover maximizes the power of your title and your author name. That’s why I use…wait for the shameless, enthusiastic plug for my Scottish buddy…

Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com

Check out his portfolio for powerful images

that pump up all the authors he serves.

By the way, Crack the Indie Author Code 2nd Edition is out in paperback at $9.99. Smaller format, with jokes.

By the way, Crack the Indie Author Code 2nd Edition is out in paperback at $9.99. Smaller format, with jokes.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. With my serial, This Plague of Days, I’ve written two bestsellers. However, my catalogue of my inspirational errors in the early going will tell you more about the challenges of being an indie author. Get Crack the Indie Author Code. I don’t scold you and it’s actually pretty funny. The 6 x 9 print version is about ten bucks and Christmas is coming, so get on that or Christmas is cancelled and Santa’s elves will turn into goblins. It’s up to you to save Christmas from rampaging goblins. It’s up to you and you alone. No pressure.

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

This Plague of Days: Season One arrives in paperback! (Plus stuff for you)

Special thanks to Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com for his kick-ass cover skills! 

If you’re looking to get a cover, I always recommend Kit! Plus, he’s Scottish!

Have a look at the beauty below (i.e. buy it) and be sure to check out his portfolio.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]

This Plague of Days, Season One teaches Latin proverbs and brings you into the mind of a very unlikely hero on the autistic spectrum. Zombies attack and royal Corgis are in big trouble. Maybe the Queen, too. (That’s my motto: Give the people what they want.)

This book makes a great Halloween gift, Christmas present or something to scare the bejeebers out of friends, family and enemies. If you’ve been waiting for the paperback, here you go. Working on getting Season Two out in print next. 

Serialization pros and cons

Not into my books but want more about publishing in savvy ways?

Season 2 is the quest. Expect big trouble in Ireland and Iceland because I think countries beginning with I are narcissistic and need to be taken down a peg or two by bloodthirsty zombies.

Season 2 is the quest. Expect big trouble in Ireland and Iceland because I think countries beginning with I are narcissistic and need to be taken down a peg or two by bloodthirsty zombies.

Okay, if you came for the pithy stuff about the downside of serialization and why I collapsed to the haters and won’t serialize Season Three of This Plague of Days, you’ll want to check out this post: 

Why I won’t do this again

The contest that challenges you to find a secret hidden in plain sight

Yes, there’s also an intriguing contest going on and your immortality is at stake.

Find the secret, win a life everlasting in book and audio form.

I love a mystery wrapped in an enigma concealed in a burrito, don’t you?

~ Robert Chazz Chute is…writing in the third person again. Get your NaNoWriMo inspiration and hope for the publishing future by reading Crack the Indie Author Code in paperback and ebook. Just kidding about the Ireland being narcissistic thing. You know I love the land of my ancestors. But Iceland? Well, you’re on notice for realsies, Icepops!

Filed under: Amazon, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, This Plague of Days, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Marketing books: Thirteen video options

Season One of This Plague of Days is free until midnight tonight.

Season Two launches in two weeks.

Book trailers are problematic. Video can be done well. It often isn’t.

Most of them are too long. Production values are typically lower than viewers’ expectations. We’re trained to expect CGI on the level of major movie studios. Also, there’s little evidence trailers generate any sales. Go big and you’ll spend money with no return on the investment. Go too small and you might not be proud of it. Here are magnificent options, ranging from giving up and doing zilch to going big. Since I’m in touch with reality, most options are no-budget or low-budget.

Alternative 1

Don’t do it. It’s not worth the bother.

Alternative 2

Play with iMovie in your spare time. If it’s fun, great, but certainly don’t lose writing time to it. 

Alternative 3

Rather than worry about making a little movie and learning an editing program, do six seconds on Vine and/or fifteen seconds on Instagram. Focus on one quick, easy message. Don’t spell out the link to the camera. Leave the link in the caption. Note that people love video with cats.

Alternative 4

Upload to Youtube from your camera, iPod, iPhone or Android. Viewers will be more forgiving of low production values if they see you didn’t try to make it fancy. Just talk to the camera with a joke and/or announcement.

Alternative 5

Video pulls more clicks to your blog. Combine it with punchy posts for greater effect and more subscribers.

People have more tolerance for a short, laid back video than they will for long blog posts. For instance, yesterday’s post went deep into serialization and book pricing strategy. It was only for the most serious of book marketers and publishers. However, many more readers will click the video above and read this blog post for information because it has video and the text is breezy and scannable.

Alternative 6

Focus on what’s cool or ironically cool. Make it fun for you and the viewer. Try for the opposite of earnest and don’t try to tell too much of the plot of your book. Let the visuals do more work. Entertain first and come sideways at giving out information. One of the best book trailers I’ve seen was an author who talked about the glamour of the writing life while he scrubbed toilets.

Alternative 7

As I’ve suggested in the past, try a quote trailer. A quote trailer simply pulls intriguing quotes from your book. Don’t forget to include a buy link. Keep it short. No spoilers.

Alternative 8 

Use Animoto, as I did, for the video above. I already had the book covers. It took all of five minutes to use the free option for a video shorter than 30 seconds. The fire effect was appropriate and the music was a nice fit. Cool, huh? Animoto includes sharing options so you can export it to Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, etc.,…

Alternative 9

If people don’t respond to your stabs at filmmaking, try making it more about you and how you can help others instead of making it about the book. Video reviews and how-to stuff get more hits. Funny’s always good, too.

I put up video of my podcasts to get more viewers and listeners. Some people simply prefer video to audio, or a YouTube video is how they will discover a podcast. Interaction in an interview setting can be easier to pull off than talking directly to the camera. Some people, like Hugh Howey, do it well and even dance for reviews. For most of us, solo videos look like hollow-eyed, stuttering hostage videos pleading for ransom under the threat of death.

Alternative 10

Have you set up your YouTube channel yet? It’s a great place to collect your video book reviews, too. Video reviews get more attention on Amazon than written ones, so it’s worth doing, for you and for authors.

Alternative 11

Go with Fiverr.com and get help to create quick videos like I did for my promotion plan for This Plague of Days. Check out my video samples at the link.

Alternative 12

If you really want to go big, get a semi-pro involved. There’s no proven ROI and most professional video production is expensive. Therefore, consider approaching a drama class or a film school. If your book trailer becomes a school project, at least your vanity project will benefit the education of a young actor or filmmaker in a concrete way. You could go the Scott Sigler route and make it a contest. Since every entry went up on YouTube for judging, Sigler’s books got multiple ads and multiple hits.

Alternative 13

I think Kevin Smith and Steven Spielberg are available for princely sums, but if you’ve just won the lottery, go with any of the above options and get your video production done free or cheap. Starving children everywhere would appreciate your generous donations. If you’re rich enough to consider professional directorial help, good karma’s the better way to go.

BONUS

Are you on Bookbub? Here's what the email looks like for my TPOD promo. Sale ends at midnight, never to return. Enjoy.

Are you on Bookbub? Here’s what the email looks like for my TPOD promo. Sale ends at midnight, never to return. Enjoy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.53.17 PM

Bookbub allows you to showcase deals to many targeted readers who are interested in your genre. Got a deal? Get noticed with Bookbub.

Filed under: author platform, book trailer, Books, Publicity & Promotion, 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.

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

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