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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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

#NaNoWriMo: Take a chance. Deliver.

I’ve finally begun reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63: A Novel.

Feeling a bit burnt out, I reached for an old reliable author to get me into relaxed creativity mode. The fire in the wood

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store.

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

stove is burning bright and hot as a cold blizzard’s squalls pull at the house. Under my wool blanket, I’m cozy and this book feels comfortable, too. Different story, same old friend in King. I’m one of his Constant Readers. To my delight, King has an Easter egg for writers right off the top. 

His hero, a teacher grading essays, complains about his students “writing like little old ladies and little old men.” Heh. Yeah, I know exactly what he means: Grammar and spelling correct, but boring. Tried and true narrative, but too safe. I want surprises. The development of the story has to be logical, sure, but please, take a chance! Dare to take the reader by the hand and shove them on the roller coaster they didn’t plan to get on. Give them the adventure they didn’t know they wanted.

For instance, in Season One of This Plague of Days, I did a lot of plausible things with strange characters (and I put the implausible in a context that makes it believable.) In Season One, you see a kid on the autistic spectrum operating in our world (i.e. at the end of it.) That was cool, but to heat up the narrative and quicken the pace, I had to go deeper into the implausible and still attempt to make it as believable as it was fanciful. 

In Season Two, the story takes some new turns and we’re in Jaimie Spencer’s world more than he is in ours. Though many people loved Jaimie in Season One, I wasn’t interested in making Two a copy of One. If One is a siege and Two is basically The Road, I had to take the crazy train to places people hadn’t seen before in an apocalypse. The virus that came to kill humanity keeps evolving and that takes us down unfamiliar roads. The Plaguers and I are happy with it.

People love Same Thing Only Different. Too different is a gamble, but some gambles pay off.

Changing a character people love is uncomfortable at times, but certainly do it if the story demands it. (By the way, nobody loves Jaimie more than I do, but he ends up doing a lot of questionable things for a Christlike figure.) I demanded development and change, so I got dreams, a touch of magic and some big questions for the surviving humans caught in the teeth of the gears of existence. If Sartre could read my apocalypse over a lunch of cold milk, ham sandwiches and angst, I think it would spark an interesting discussion about the existential subtext of ambition versus chaos theory. You know…sliding in the thin spaces amongst the bloody zombie attacks, scary new species and terrorized, grieving humans.

Dare to be wrong and, surprise! You’re right.

Sometimes it’s just simple mechanics where writers wimp out and opt for their grammar book over Art with a capital A. In Higher Than Jesus, for instance, a character uses the non-word “father-in-laws”. The correct plural is “fathers-in-law,” of course. Trust your readers to figure out that you know when you’re wrong. Better to stick with what’s true rather than what’s correct. The speaker of “father-in-laws” is an old, homeless guy whose education isn’t terrific. Talking like a Harvard law professor does not fit, so wrong is right.

Most readers will go along and the very few who will think you’re an idiot were never going to like your work, anyway. Grammar fascists don’t read for the enjoyment of reading, so relax and focus on the readers who are with you for the right reason. That reason is Story (and to forget we’re all going to die, and maybe soon, in Death’s razor claws and unforgiving, crushing jaws.)

I like prose that is edgy. Lots of book lovers love it when we’re gutsy.

I like Chuck Palahniuk a lot, perhaps especially when he cruises the experimental. I like much of Norman Mailer’s work for its simplicity. However, I love Stephen King. The narrative is straight A to B. Snobby readers might call it “muscular” or “workmanlike.” That’s old code for not “literary” enough or too pulpy by half. But who do you want telling you a story? An arid auteur who tells it correctly or a writer who get it across right? The writing I’m talking about is visceral. It affects you. It makes you think but it doesn’t have to call attention to itself too much. Have something to say and mean it. Lofty’s fine if your feet stay on the ground. 

Don’t give me fancy writing tricks. Tell me the story, please.

You know all those New Yorker short stories with the super-opaque endings where it’s so very arty you can’t figure out what the hell the last paragraph is supposed to mean? Where they try to trick you into thinking vague ends equal powerful conclusions? You’ve surely read those stories so bathed in antiseptic that they have no honest feeling or real humor. The words are all in the right order but they can’t make you care. It’s hard to define, but when a book has no heart, you know it. 

I suggest you do the opposite of all that empty scribbling and I’ll try to do the same.

A good short story, or a solid book, should deliver a punch and satisfaction (or at least anticipation of the next book in the series) with its last line. It should not generate a confused look on the face of an intelligent reader. 

A great story can be read aloud in the flicker of a dying campfire. If the story’s solid, your rapt audience will worry about the characters in the book. They will be blissfully unaware of the starving bear watching from the woods behind them, sniffing the air, drooling, and measuring the distance to the fading circle of light.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute: author, podcaster, perpetually worried. If you want to learn more about This Plague of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com. Or just zip over to AllThatChazz.com and buy some books. That would be good. Also, Season One of This Plague of Days is in paperback and Christmas is coming. I’ll let you connect the dots from there. Thanks!

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Author Blog Challenge 16: Why ebooks?

One of the writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge questions how we came to choose ebooks. Did you ever see the movie Annie Hall? Woody Allen gets stopped by a cop after crashing into several cars. He drops his license and the cop says, “Pick that up.” Woody tells him he has to ask nicely because he has a problem with authority. The cops sighs and says, “Please.” Woody picks up the license. “I just have a thing about authority,” he says, “don’t take it personally,” as he tears the license to bits and lets the wind carry the shreds away.

Cut to a few years ago: I was at a writing conference in Victoria, British Columbia. There I met the first person I’d ever met who had given up on paper books completely. It was ebooks or nothing for her. It was the early days of early adopters and missionary zeal. It all seems evident to most of us now, but at the time, the self-publishing revolution was still new to many. Naysayers and doubters noted that Stephen King had tried an ebook and it hadn’t achieved flight. Actually, what hurt that venture was a lack of convenient reading technology and he said he wouldn’t continue the story instalments if there was an insufficient audience of subscribers. It wasn’t the death knell to ebooks. Mr. King was just a little ahead of the audience. Seeing the future at that writing conference was the moment I’d been waiting for: the technology was catching up with my anti-authoritarian temperament.

Sex_Death_&_Mind_ControlFor me, the revolution was less about ebooks per se and more about the potential for achieving autonomy. I began to prepare in earnest. I stopped buying Writers Digest and started researching the net for all the latest information. I didn’t want to read the old guard’s bias toward so-called “real” publishing still evident in industry magazines. The web was full of what I needed: new friends and DIY information.

Go back farther for a little history: Before Amazon, ebooks and CreateSpace, there were vanity publishers and scandals and writers defrauded, writers ignored by the establishment and a market that was very much a buyer’s market. By “buyers” I don’t mean actual readers like now. I mean agents and editors who were reluctant to take a chance on new authors. I didn’t even bother knocking on the palace door.

I had worked in traditional publishing for five years in a variety of capacities and I wasn’t that impressed with most of my colleagues. Almost all of the publishers I worked with from those days are gone. Harlequin (where I got my first publishing job) is still around. So is Douglas & McIntyre. That’s about it. Cannon Book Distributors, Lester & Orpen Dennys, The Canadian Book Information Centre, and numerous publishers I repped are all bankrupt and gone.

Instead, I wrote for myself, not a nameless agent’s whims. I went away and did other things: magazine columns and editing. I dabbled and freelanced. I wrote short stories and entered contests and several of those ended up winning awards. Eventually those stories found their way into my collections (Self-help for Stoners and Sex, Death & Mind Control.) I wrote several books, but given my experience with traditional publishing, I was averse to even trying to get my work published. I just wasn’t interested in going anywhere to a gatekeeper on bended knee. Let the palace burn. My practice was to write a book and then, before I could even think of sending it anywhere, I wrote the next one. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Like Woody Allen in Annie Hall, I was headed to jail and I didn’t care. Jail was preferable to being a cog in a machine. I hate having a boss so much, I haven’t worked for anyone else since 1991.

With self-publishing, finally what some considered a flaw in my character can be a virtue. I approach the work not as a self-publisher, but as a publisher. I have higher hopes and lower overhead than all those companies I worked for so long ago. It’s not a question of whether founding Ex Parte Press and doing the DIY thing is a good idea. My personality allows nothing else: Does not share toys, does not play well with others. Many are familiar with “ex parte” from watching Law & Order. The strict Latin definition means “from one.” Sure, I still hire out jobs I need done that other people can do better, but basically, Ex Parte Press is “from one.” Is it scary? Sure. But then, this morning, I got two beautiful reviews, one for my new crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus and the other for Self-help for Stoners. I get all the blame and all the credit and I didn’t have to ask permission from The Man. I haven’t felt this free since I was twelve when I didn’t have to work at all. I am Spartacus. I am Woody Allen in Annie Hall. I am a child again. I am a free man.

Filed under: 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.

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