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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Book trailers: Problems and solutions

1. Book trailers are often done poorly. You’re a writer so you probably aren’t bubbling over with a ton of film skills. You could learn, but how many hats can you wear and is this really where you want to put your energy?

2. To make a book trailer well costs time and energy. Oh, and some money, though smart and funny buys more eyes than money. (Want to see examples of cheap videos that work and get eyeballs? Go to YouTube and search Nigahiga and Ray William Johnson, or click this Harry Potter parody brilliance or this crazy Michael Buble/Dexter parody. These guys go longer than a minute, yes, but they deserve it. You probably don’t.) If you still want a book trailer, don’t spend a whack on it. Try not to spend anything at all because it probably won’t work at all. Really.

3. Book trailers can make an author feel great, but readers aren’t necessarily watchers. Love of one medium doesn’t translate to another.

4. The main problem with book trailers is that almost all of them are way too long! It’s an ad. A thirty-second commercial is plenty. Most seem to clock in at over a minute or more and that’s the wrong way to go. How often do you enjoy a long advertisement?

If you did spend a whack of money and saw no return on your investment, at least making a book trailer is fun. You had fun, right? Geez, I hope so.

Unless…How can you turn that frown upside down and twist the book trailer problem around?

You could make your next book trailer a contest among your readers (and potential readers.)

This turns the work over to budding film students and enthusiastic fans. While you were writing your short stories, they were dreaming of buying a new lens for two-shots and becoming the next Tarantino.

1. Turn an advertising problem into a challenge for your readership. Give a couple of months of lead time before the contest closes.

2. Come up with a prize that will motivate your people.

3. Be sure to give them all the information they need to sell the book and make a little movie. Every director gets a free copy or a good-sized sample. The trailer should intrigue, excite and sell without spoiling.

4. Ask the contestants to make their trailer, put it on YouTube and then everyone will vote to decide which book trailer is the winner.

One book trailer is chosen, but they are all up on YouTube.

You don’t just have one book trailer working for you. You have a bunch out there.

I’m still not convinced that you’ll sell a lot of books with book trailers per se. If it adds to your web presence, however, people could be more aware of your existence than they would otherwise be. So don’t make one book trailer that’s perfect and expensive. Have a bunch of them out there that are less than perfect…and still get one you love.

It’s a great way to engage your readership, spread the word and get help.

You can’t do it all. Well…maybe you can, you genius you.

But you don’t have to. Also, it sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Filed under: book trailer, Books, Publicity & Promotion, web reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , ,

TOP TEN: The divide between the published and the self-published

At a recent writers’ conference, I was in grand company. I met a lot of cool people. Almost all of them were traditionally published authors. I watched them ask questions of panels of publishers, agents and editors.

Here’s what I noticed:

1. They don’t want to change along with the rest of the publishing landscape.
Inertia is powerful, even in broken systems. And why should they want to change? Things haven’t actually been good, but they didn’t have to worry about things they have to worry about now with the DIY route. It used to be that they were expected to write, mostly to the exclusion of all else. That was job #1 and everything else was supposed to be, in theory, someone else’s job. However, many authors have already felt this pressure change because more and more book promotion and publicity duties have been unloaded on them by publishers.

2. Some of them are excited to self-publish. Either they had bad experiences with agents and traditional publishers or they simply want more control of their books. Their out-of-print books and their unpublished books may have new life as self-published works. The digital revolution, to these authors, is an opportunity. (Also, some DIY authors see self-publishing as their way into legacy publishing.)

3. Some are still wringing their hands, aggressively…as if that will turn back time. Like the music industry, Blockbuster, milk men, buggy whips and enjoyable air travel, there was a lot of nostalgia in that room. But nostalgia isn’t an argument against the proliferation of ebooks. It’s sadness at loss and change. They mourn the loss of some of the perks. Though many authors complained about the six city book tour and hanging out in bookstores ignored and unnoticed, admit it: all those bookstore signings had cachet. Book signings were part of the dream of being published and it was nice to rely on the publisher to pay for the trip.

4. Some traditionally published authors denigrate indie authors.
That’s understandable. I admit, many self-published books are, at the very least, utter crap. Not just to my taste! Crap! If careless authors call themselves authors, their old world club is no longer quite as special in the new world. However, blanket condemnations are pretty silly. Writers on either side of the divide are amorphous and as unified as a herd of cats. That’s part of our charm.

5. I found many authors I listened to weren’t angry at indies. They weren’t pointing fingers with nonsense “pay your dues like I did” rhetoric. Instead, they were worried that they themselves couldn’t adapt. Look at the demands on the self-published: write, revise, edit, review, format, upload, distribute, promote, market, repeat, improve and next time so it all faster. So much for self-publishing being the lazy way to get published. The mantra is, “When will I have time to write in this environment?” Indies worry about this, too. Though more books will be published digitally, somewhat fewer may be produced per author. As my self-published author friend Jeff Bennington observed recently, half of his time is spent writing and the other half is spent marketing. Somewhere in there, Jeff mixes in a job and probably eats and sleeps a little, too. There’s simply so much authors have to do to have a chance at getting noticed (and perhaps even getting their books bought.)

6. Some view digital publishing as part of the decline of literature. Hm. That’s an interesting one. The digital revolution propagates more books conveniently therefore there are many more books out there. If you are very concerned about the difference between low brow fiction and vaunted literature (say “literature” with a royal British accent), then go write some literature, you big baby. If it can’t be found amid the din, that doesn’t mean it’s not available. It’s means you can’t sell it. If the argument is that you don’t like the taste of the hoi polloi, that’s not digital publishing’s fault. That’s your fault. Or maybe it’s the educational system’s fault. Or the human brain isn’t as good as you’d like. You can blame readers, I suppose, but that’s a rather unprofessional stance. Most people who claim their stuff is good but out of step with their fellow humans are really just writing stuff that can’t connect. On the other hand, lots of people (well…English majors) will love you high-lit writers after you’re dead. So there’s that.

7. Some traditional authors are very concerned about the change in gatekeepers.
It’s not a small group of editors anymore. The market is the gatekeeper. Democracy can be scary because the group may go where you don’t want it to go. There’s still a very strong market for vampire books and bodice-ripper romances and yes, even the Jersey Shore, for instance. If actual readers don’t want your fiction, there might still be a market for it with traditional publishing (which, by the way, isn’t disappearing completely) but traditional publishing is less adventurous the bigger the press. You’ll have better luck with a small press or DIY. It’s as if the kids who ran the chess club suddenly had to contend with a bunch of dumb jocks getting a voting membership…and the lunkheads want a kegger.

8. Authors want reassurance that bookstores will survive. What am I? A freaking miracle worker? You want a combination of Harry Potter and Merlin to fix it so more bookstores won’t die? Magicians are on film, TV and in books. Hey! I love bookstores, too! But that’s more nostalgia. (See point #3.)

9. Many authors will carry on with their traditional publishers. They got in early and they got in good and they’re going to ride that train right to the end of the line and hope the fuel doesn’t run out. Yes, they wonder about the pittance publishers are throwing them with regards to ebook royalties (or wonder how well those sales are recorded.) Yes, they’ve had spats with their agents. But a broken system isn’t a dead system and there is…eh, has been…much to recommend it.

10. Indies and the traditionally published agree: its about the writing.
We all love good books. We may be dubious about how it’s delivered, but the core product is no less valued on either side of the divide. The concerns about the delivery and quality may vary, but we’re all writers and readers.

It used to take a powerful store of hope to be a self-published author. Now more faith is demanded of my traditionally published friends.

Filed under: authors, DIY, e-reader, ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, Top Ten, Writing Conferences, , , , , ,

Bookstores: How sick are they?

Cover of "Glass Houses"

Cover of Glass Houses

Recently I’ve seen what I call “backlash” articles* about the health of bookstores. You’ve probably seen them, too. In the wake of the Borders chain closings, some media are hitting back with counter-programming (either out of nostalgia or as a way to stand out.)

Their message is simple:

“We love bookstores and they aren’t all dying. Look at this tiny independent where the defiant owners are making a brave stand.”

I love brave stands. I’m also fond of truth and this is an obvious case where the part is not the whole. It reminds me of all the people who object to the digital revolution with, “Look at all those e-books with all their different platforms. It’s a mess so it won’t survive.” I dislike stupid stands.

Perhaps the problem is confirmation bias. They’re looking for reasons why what will happen, is happening, won’t happen. Whatever bump in the road they find they take gleefully to be an insurmountable obstacle. Actually, multiple platforms for e-books are a sign of health (assuming competition is good in that it keeps prices down and choices up) and of growth (as in growing pains due to rapid, unexpected expansion.) The technology to make us all publishers is developing.

“Developing” implies transition from stupid to primitive to flawed to workable to better to a higher state (and eventually to a new tech.) Instant/indie publishing is not going to be perfect all at once. Nothing is, though not long ago I heard a Luddite say he wasn’t going to buy a computer until the tech wasn’t “perfected.” Hahahaha! He was calling from the corner of Unreasonable Expectations Boulevard and Are You High? Avenue.)

There is  a reductionist view with a subtext that categorizes anyone who predicts the demise of bookstores as a gloating goblin. I’m not gloating. I love bookstores. As (I’ve often pointed out, having milk delivered to the house was convenient, too.)

But I’m not saying bookstores will disappear completely. You’ll just pay more if you want the premium paper product. Heck, you already do that, but the price of old media will rise more. You can still buy turntables, for instance, but if you want to hear the scratches on Billy Joel‘s Glass Houses, you’re paying a very high price for a new needle to make that old pig spin.

Paper books are going to co-exist with e-books for some time…at least until consumers really get kicked in the teeth by manufacturing costs. Books get cheaper when produced in volume, but as digital sourcing rises, e-books don’t have to replace all paper books to make paper book production go from unattractive to cost-prohibitive.

There are too many variables and my brain is too small to say precisely when it will happen. I’m simply confident it will occur and one day, maybe even you will say, “Oh, look, darling! A bookstore! There isn’t a bookstore within 2 days’ drive of our house! Let’s go in and buy coffee and look at their tiny collection. How quaint!”

Yes, Virginia, 100 years from now there will still be paper books.

But you’ll be sewing and gluing the binding yourself.

*Chazz definition: A backlash article is an article written to assure the reader that the writer is the sane voice of wisdom when in fact they’re really just knee-jerk contrarians railing against all evidence. Like how the writers at Slate work from the premise, “We’ll hate on what everyone loves and make snide remarks at what everyone thought unassailable because we’re the sophisticated cool kids! Anything goes as long as it doesn’t agree with Salon.”

Filed under: Books, DIY, ebooks, Media, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: How to Publish on Smashwords (by Guest blogger Rebecca Senese)

Image representing Smashwords as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Firstly, thanks to Robert for allowing me to do a guest post on his blog. This is my very first guest post and I’m thrilled to “be” here!

This is an exciting time to be a writer, full of opportunity and scary possibilities. It’s easy to become paralyzed. I know I felt like that for some time over the past year as I watched the e-book market explode. I knew I wanted to start putting up my back list of pre-published short stories but I wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. I decided to jump right in.

One of the sites I decided to post my work on was Smashwords. According to their website, they claim over one billion words published. That’s a lot of typing!

Of course, the very first step is to create a free account at Smashwords. Make sure to print out and read their publishing agreement. This is true for any site you wish to publish on. When you load up your work, you are effectively acting as your own publisher and need to know what kind of agreement you are making with the site that is acting as a distributor. Take the time to print and read the contract before putting anything up. Remember to take responsibility for your own writing career.

Next I downloaded their free style guide. This guide, written by Smashwords founder Mark Coker, provides a step-by-step manual for formatting your book to meet Smashwords’s requirements.

Once you’ve completed the proper formatting, Smashwords takes your single format file, processes it through their Meatgrinder software and outputs it into approximately 10 separate ebook formats, including ePub, PDF, Mobi (Kindle) and RTF among others. There’s no trying to figure out how to do it yourself. Smashwords’ Meatgrinder does it for you!

I created my cover page and formatted my first short story according to the style guide and I was ready. From the top menu, I choose Publish. This took me to the upload area.

Section 1 “Title & Synopsis” included Title, Short Description (400 characters allowed), Long Description (4,000 characters allowed) and Language of Book with a part for adult content.

Section 2 is Price and Sampling. Unlike Amazon, Smashwords allows for free content, readers set the price (with a note that Barnes & Noble no longer accepts books with this option), or with a price set from a minimum of 0.99 cents or up.

Sampling allowed me to choose the amount of my work available for a reader to download to review before buying. I chose 40% as an option, to give readers a good chance to read my work. I have downloaded e-book samples that don’t even go past the table of contents page before the sample is done. I never got a chance to even taste the author’s writing. That’s not a book I would buy. Sampling is the equivalent of being able to pick up a book and crack it open to take a look at the writing. It’s a good idea to give readers a real opportunity to see if they like your work and also to get hooked on your story. Give them enough to really get into it and they’ll want to buy to find out what happened at the end.

Section 3 is Categories which open up to the right, from general categories to more specific subjects.

Section 4 is Tags that I used to tag my e-books.

Section 5 is eBook Formats and the default is set for all of them. I left all the defaults in place. My thinking is that the more formats, the better for a reader to find one that works for her.

Finally, Section 6 Covers and Section 7 Select File of Book to Publish are where I was able to upload my cover and my e-book file. Section 8 is the Publish button. Once I pressed this, my file was uploaded for processing.

My first e-book took about twenty minutes to upload. Others have taken as long as four to five hours. It seems to depend on how many other books are being uploaded at the same time as yours.

After uploading my first ebook, I created my Smashwords author page under My Smashwords tab. Here I uploaded a photo, a small bio and was able to link to my website, blog, Twitter account, Facebook and LinkedIn. On this page, all of my uploaded e-books are listed with a tag cloud at the bottom of the page.

Smashwords includes a Dashboard tab where you can obsessively track your sales or sample downloads. As one writer suggested online, the best thing to do with e-books is to publish and forget it. It’s very tempting to check on the Dashboard every day or every few hours and become disappointed when you aren’t rivaling Amanda Hocking’s sales. The best cure is to keep writing and keep publishing. The more e-books you have available, the more chance you give the readers to find you and like your work. When that happens, they’ll look for more.

That’s my plan as I continue to move forward into this new world of publishing. And I’m sticking to it!

Rebecca M. Senese is a writer of Horror, Science Fiction & Mystery. Now that you’ve read about how she uploaded to Smashwords, complete your research and go by her stuff!


Website: http://www.RebeccaSenese.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/RebeccaSenese
LinkedIn: http://ca.linkedin.com/in/RebeccaSenese
Blog: http://RebeccaSenese.wordpress.com

Filed under: authors, DIY, ebooks, publishing, self-publishing, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Kevin Smith strikes out…on his own (explicit video)

Kevin Smith introduces Indie Film 2.0:


“True independence isn’t making a film and selling it to some jackass.”

Kevin Smith is rejecting The System.


What can we learn from thinking sideways?

People tell you shouldn’t go indie.

Think about what their motivations might be.

Filed under: DIY, getting it done, Media, movies, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, Writers, , , , , , , ,

Writers: DIY vs traditional publishing

Figure 1:Conceptual Model of Philosophical Com...

Image via Wikipedia

Last month I posted a piece in appreciation of director Kevin Smith after attending one of his Q&As.

Today I ran across Alex Greenwood’s guest post, Shoot the Gatekeepers on Shelly Kramer’s blog. It reminded me again of that indie spirit I love to see.

I’m not telling anyone to go independent exactly. Going rogue is not for everyone because not everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit.

You can find the knowledge and tech support you need to make it happen, but if you don’t want to do all that in the first place, it’s not for you. I guess that’s why I straddle the line here between traditional publishing and going indie. I talk about how to get an agent and a publisher. I also talk a lot about maintaining control of your work, DIY, and marketing yourself to the world. Authors from both sides of the coin need many of the same skill sets, anyway. For instance, even if you’re a traditionally published author, you’re crazy to depend on your publisher to promote and publicize you much at all and none of those efforts are sustained.

It’s frustrating when one entrenched camp mocks the other for their choices. It’s especially bad when those opinions are not so much informed as they are outmoded dogma. For instance, once again today I ran across writers and editors who fail to make a distinction between vanity publishing and independent publishing. I gritted my teeth. Then I found the link above, took a few deep breaths and smelled the roses of someone who gets it. Thanks for a solid post, Mr. Greenwood. I love the indie spirit.

Here’s the shameless plug: If going alone is for you, I’m an editor so I can help. However, if you’re going the traditional route, I’ve been on the inside, so I appreciate what you’re going through and can help with that, too. (At my business site you’ll find more information on getting editing help for your manuscript or web content.)

Here’s the crux: I love books, no matter how they’re produced. It’s about story! Love of story is at the heart. Contrary to what you’ve heard, the medium is not the message. I care much less about a book’s process to publication than I do its narrative. Sometimes I think people who fetishize paper over electronic books love stories much less than they think they do. They’re worrying too much about how the story go to their brains. Dump that worry. Just get your art out there!

Write your story. Make it the best you can. Send it to agents, publishers or directly to fans. Whatever. Just commit to art and the value of your creativity.

Filed under: DIY, getting it done, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rejection, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , ,

The Publishing Revolution will be televised, podcasted, tweeted and POD

Publishers want their authors to have these platforms, and with them an established following before they launch a book. They don’t have the skills, resources or inclination to go viral, but they do expect authors to shoulder that job. A good manuscript isn’t going to be enough for publishers, especially as the tech wave gathers strength. Publishers will be changing their expectations because non-English publishers are leading the charge to a revolutionized industry. They want you to have a website, a platform and a ready-made fan base (for the same reasons Hollywood keeps redoing old but familiar formulae, making movies out of old TV shows with varied success.)

This is not news, but it largely applied to non-fiction writers. Now many publishers are expecting the same electronically interactive wizardry from fiction writers as well. You still have to be a good writer, but your teeth should be straight and you should be comfortable in front of a live studio audience. It’s preferable that you be a gorgeous celebrity, so get to work on that if you haven’t already been interviewed by Regis Philbin.

The best case scenario for non-fiction writers is an area of expertise, a writing track record, a platform (preferably with a lot of speaking engagements to large groups.) The killer outline in their book proposal is a must, but so is a business plan and  a business case.

For fiction writers, publishers are going to be looking for many of these elements soon if they aren’t already. In other words, it’s more important than ever that you be ready to do the work of getting the book known. Advances used to be there so the author could eat while he finishes the book. More publishers will expect you to eat bark off trees and use that advance to hire a publicist and do your own tour of the Midwest, thanks very much, possibly in the actual Partridge Family bus.

The economic crunch will mean fewer books. It may also mean better books, but smaller promotional budgets. No matter. Those budgets were barely there unless it was for a book that didn’t need it anyway. (Read: King or Koontz.) As a result, more authors will flee to what smaller publishers who are left, or go DIY.

And what’s next beyond that? A writer friend of mine is writing literary travelogues on his Blackberry. The length of each epistle is determined by the limit of the text message file so it makes for nice uniform chapters. It turns out he’s ahead of his time. Cell phone novels are huge in Japan. They’re typically written on trains ( it’s a commuting culture) by urban young woman from age 15 to 24. Then they are uploaded to websites and followings grow. These romances (featuring lots of sex and violence in fairly simple language) have been picked up by eager publishers who get the cell novels to bookshelves, often at lengths of 300-400 pages. Many of the authors didn’t even consider themselves writers when they started out. Now they’re in bookstores all over Japan. Nobody’s doing something that innovative among the big publishers yet. Look for the phenomenon to catch on in a year or two, and expect it to be reviled by critics who’ll long for the dusty and respectable old days. Meanwhile the kids will eat ’em up.

Self-publishing houses getting more sophisticated. If they are smart–and they’re smaller so they’ll change quicker than the big guns–they’ll work harder to assist authors in promoting themselves. DIY is going huge. Much of publishing promotion has always been DIY since marketing budgets have always been miniscule. The person most interested in selling the author’s books is always the author, anyway. That may mean Do It Yourself marketing, or maybe it means you’ll go whole hog and form your own publishing company with the shipping department organized in your mom’s garage. Or maybe you’ll have no inventory and go Print on Demand in full.

More good news: the short story is coming back. Your audience has a shorter attention span and lots of distractions. They want to read something quick over lunch or on their commute. They’ll take short fiction with them on their MP3 and IPOD. You can serialize your fiction on your nifty new website to keep them coming back for more.

Big changes are coming and if you’re tech-savvy, you might have a good shot over the rest of the herd. If you aren’t tech-savvy, you’ll have to pay to get someone else to do it. Maybe you can teach yourself a bunch of website skills on YouTube.

Another fresh resource:  a book on establishing your platform before you send your manuscript is out by the woman behind Writer Mama. It’s called Get Known before the Book Deal by Christian Katz. I recommend you have a look. No sense letting everyone have another advantage over you. 

How will you survive the coming Publishing Apocalypse? It’s up to you. Literally.

Filed under: Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, Writers, , ,

Bestseller with over 1,000 reviews!
Winner of the North Street Book Prize, Reader's Favorite, the
Literary Titan Award, the Hollywood Book Festival, and the
New York Book Festival.


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

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More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

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

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Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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