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

Write and publish with love and fury.

The very nearly here, not quite yet, Post-review World

Once upon a time an author named Hale stalked a book reviewer, wrote about it in The Guardian and…well, things got crazy. I haven’t weighed in on this because you’ve no doubt read plenty about this debacle. Besides, I didn’t have anything new to say. I still don’t have anything new to say about that particular incident. It was a bad idea to respond to a negative review and there’s no need to pile on.

I do understand the urge. Oh, yes, every writer knows that urge to respond and demand an apology or…something. Instead, I stay indoors, never go anywhere, and write scary, funny books. It’s a better use of my time and the right thing to do.

So let’s talk about reviews more generally.

We all want them. We can’t promote our books effectively without a minimum number of happy reviews. But there are problems:

1. If you get a lot of happy reviews, someone who didn’t like your book will accuse you of having lots of friends and family shilling for you. Ha! I wish! It’s very difficult to get any reviews on anything and I don’t speak to my family. The point is, some people (I have no idea how many) think five-star reviews shouldn’t be trusted. However, if you didn’t have any five-star reviews, those same people would slay you for it. Crazy, huh?

2. Some people can’t help themselves. They condemn authors for their books and pedophiles for their despicable actions with nigh equal vehemence. Well…I assume so, anyway. I mean, I’ve read some vitriolic reviews where, once you dial it up to eleven, there’s no place to go, is there? But (silver lining) no one really takes one-star reviews seriously anymore, either. They are, with few exceptions, troglodytic. We read them for sick entertainment value, not for direction as to what to read.

3. Some people put spoilers in reviews without warning. That’s not a review anymore. That’s a spoiler and it’s a shitty thing to do. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t and spoiling a work that was years in the making in one ill-considered paragraph? Yes, that’s bad. What’s worse is Amazon lets it happen and allows those spoilers to remain posted without warning.

4. Likewise, authors have been libelled in reviews. Once again, Amazon does nothing if you complain. Unacceptable, and yet we are, at the moment, powerless. It’s the Internet. We’re supposed to shrug and hope the happy reviews drown out the unhappy ones (and eventually, mostly, they do.)

There’s a study somewhere that shows how unreliable reviews can be in an odd way. If the first review that goes up is negative, ensuing reviews tend to be more negative than they would have been otherwise. That’s less about the book, I suppose, and more piling on, hoping to be seen in agreement with whoever spoke up first. Weird.

5. Here’s where it gets weirder: Authors shouldn’t respond to reviews. Goodreads doesn’t even want authors to thank anyone for a nice review. That strikes me as forcing authors to be rude, but it’s their site policy so I abide by it.

Pretty much everyone accepts the No Response to a Bad Review Policy as a given, but no one knows who established this all-encompassing edict. Other industries routinely respond to reviews, hoping to ease their unsatisfied customers’ fury. We don’t. The argument goes that reviews aren’t for authors (true) but we aren’t even supposed to respond when reviews are misleading. We’re supposed to, as Hugh Howey so aptly put it once, “enjoy the burn.”

But wait. If we’re writers who should be thick-skinned and stoic since we put something out in the world…aren’t reviewers putting stuff out in the world, too? How come their writing is exempt from criticism but mine isn’t? Hm. No. Stop thinking about it. Nothing good can come from following the logical conclusion of that reasoning.

I am not arguing for responding to reviews.

The system is broken when reviews allow spoilers, libel authors or when so many people seem to distrust reviews.

Someone at The Passive Voice recommended we tell people, “If you liked it, please tell a friend,” in lieu of reviews. I kind of like that, but that’s what reviews were supposed to be anyway, right? Telling people what you liked so they can share the experience of an interesting, entertaining or enlightening book. I encourage people happy with my books to review them on Amazon. A review anywhere else (except perhaps a busy book blog) doesn’t really get more people to my books.

When I worked in magazines, we rarely gave negative book reviews (or the negative reviews were significantly shorter) because the point was to direct readers to the good stuff. The prevailing opinion was, the good stuff is too hard to find to waste time talking about the stuff we don’t like. I feel the same way. I may find commonality with reviews that tell me what they liked and why. What they dislike often seems more idiosyncratic (and some reviewers can’t seem to bring themselves to like much of anything.)

Maybe hoping for organic discovery through old-fashioned social networks is the way to go. But not quite yet. The apparatus for book discovery is broken. I still need happy reviews to get a Bookbub promotion going. That’s one of the few book promotion services that seems to have muscle and mojo behind it. I also suspect people don’t talk about books enough. I’m unwilling to rely on chats over fences with neighbors to spread word of my literary heights efficiently. Podcasts might be a better answer.

So what to do?

Stop stressing about reviews. Beat up a punching bag. (Reminder from Mom: human beings are not punching bags.)

If necessary, stop reading reviews. Read more books. Write more reviews.

Keep asking for reviews because, hey, that’s all we can do for now.

Don’t stalk book bloggers or book reviewers. Do not go near their homes or places of employment. And if you do (which you definitely shouldn’t!) don’t tell anyone. Jeez!

Cry quietly and not in public.

Treasure the many good reviewers who don’t mistake snark and disrespect for intelligence.

Read your four and five-star reviews obsessively to get your energy and esteem up. Read the negative reviews once, if you feel you’ll have something to gain from them (a murder plot, perhaps?) But never read them twice. That’s just masochism and revenge fantasies.

But there’s a better reason not to respond to negative reviews:

It takes time and energy that you could use to write your next book. And frankly, if someone hates your book, they won’t change their mind. If you try to use your best politician’s smile and the it’s-all-part-of-the-game clap on the shoulder, they won’t buy it. They know. You hate them. They hate your book and therefore they hate you. People will tell you this is wrong. Shit’s about to get real.

Yes, you’ll read lots of crap about how writers should separate themselves from their books. It’s a book, not a baby. Except it is. It’s the product of your mind and anyone who hates the book is calling you feeble in the brain. Be real. People tell you to be thick-skinned, but nobody really is. Many of the most successful writers, actors and entertainers on the planet confess that they remember every word of every bad review. You’d have to be a robot sociopath to be so far above the fray when someone criticizes something you put so much of yourself into.

However…when you write more books and get some success, it does hurt less. You become less invested in each book because you know you will write many. Just like having children, if you make enough of them, a few start to look expendable. (It’s a joke, for Thor’s sake. Relax.) 

Anyway, when the happy reviews drown out the negative reviews, that one-star review starts to look silly. You can also take some solace in knowing that if a reviewer hates you enough, they won’t feel the need to come back for more and you’ll be rid of them…if they actually read books before they review them, of course. Oh, yeah. There’s another reason so many people don’t trust reviews anymore. Sigh.

So, to sum up:

Write books and pretend you don’t bleed.

Don’t be a dick. Be nice. Play nice. Pretend you’re nice. Fake it and kill offenders in your next book. (I did.) Cover your tracks so they’ll never recognize themselves.

Pretend you’re happy all the time, especially when you’re not. Rant to a friend if you must. (Mental note: get a friend.)

Try to keep some perspective. You won’t, but it’s true that a review is merely one person’s opinion. It is not a scary diagnosis from a stone-faced internist.

We’re in the entertainment business. Entertain. Seek out entertainment. Don’t be so damn serious.

Remember that no matter how good your book is, someone will say they don’t like it. Don’t let them discourage you from following your star and writing, though. If that happened, then a bad review would really matter.

Until a new way to discover genius books is found, this is the way we live now.

Keep having fun. Don’t forget, this is supposed to be fun.

~ I forget sometimes.

 

 

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Filed under: reviews, web reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The writer, depression and getting the word music to play again

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.

A fellow writer meant well when she told me that if you can allow anyone to discourage you from writing, you shouldn’t be a writer. That sounds tough-minded and strong, doesn’t it? It would be good advice to take, but unfortunately, I’m still human. Darn the luck, my skin is no thicker or thinner than it ever was. It will surprise no one, given the sort of dark stuff I often write, that I obsess over the negative. I do not remember sunny days. That’s who I am. Maybe I could fix it with some talk therapy, gene manipulation and a personality transplant.

So, yes, rude email hurt can me and my productivity. A bad review can ruin the morning and robs me of a night’s rest. I’m prone to depression and yes, I’m feeling it now. Due to several factors, I haven’t faced the blank screen bravely in days. I’ve been ill and trying to keep up with the demands of my new day job and, not to whine, but the depletion started with one condescending, presumptuous email. 

I’m letting a terrorist win. The worry treadmill is running. I’ve written ten books, but the negative cyclotron has kicked in. “How can I be a writer? I can’t even type properly.”

When I observe the disparity between Goodreads ratings and Amazon ratings (work is often valued one star less on GR even if the review sounds equally positive), I have an urge to reevaluate my life choices. If I’d gone to that Second City audition or to film school instead…but that way madness lies. At least until I fix the time machine. But enough about me.

Murders+Among+Dead+Trees+1121-1

What to do when you’re feeling down and not writing*:

1. Call a friend. Do not talk about your problem. Talk about what your friend wants to talk about.

To shore up your ego defences, you’ve already read and reread your happy reviews. Your friend isn’t going to tell you anything new and you’ve already got your “Atta-boy!”

The point of this phone call is to break the obsessive cycle of repetitive arguments, cutting retorts and vengeful homicide plots running through your head. This is a time for jokes. Ask about your friend’s life. 

2. Okay, so, being human, naturally you want another “Atta-boy!” Engage a fan who can’t wait for the next book. A little positive pressure may be all you need to get back to writing the next book in the series.

3. Write a blog post to vent, but only if you must and your friends aren’t answering their phones. (Ooh! Meta!)

4. Remind yourself that this is the firstiest of First World Problems and set the oven timer. How much more wallowing do you plan to allow yourself? More than one more pathetic hour and you’ll burn your life.

The three most powerful words are “I love you.”

The two most powerful? “Begin again.”

~ from Crack the Indie Author Code

5. Read the negative reviews of your favorite books. Choose the classics that you think everyone simply must adore. Realize some people will not be pleased.

Now in paperback!

Now in paperback!

Ev-er.

Or they’re trolls feeding an emotional need that has nothing to do with literary criticism. Or they’re too stupid to get you. I used to think that all readers, because they can read, must be smarter than average. Read some one-star reviews, especially the ones that bring down an author’s rating because Amazon didn’t deliver the book fast enough or they don’t like reading on a kindle and would have preferred paper. Clearly, my supposition about all readers being intelligent was not true.

6. Help somebody else with something. Shovel the walk and bring in the wood and be productive. Productiveness is a habit. This tip works better is you don’t do it for yourself. Do it for the old neighbor with the bum ticker and the broken leg.

7. Read something good that inspires you. Remember this feeling of transcending the great, dirty world? This delicious escape is why you are a writer. 

8. Realize that nothing will be perfect and the critics might have a point about something. Correct errors and move on.

9. But if they’re too harsh and stop you from writing at all, you’ve allowed a rude outlier to rob you, and most readers, of joy. It’s too easy for trolls to throw bombs. You write books, not a few, nasty paragraphs. We’re not allowed to critique reviewers so they’re safe from what you’re feeling now. Don’t let bullies win. Not letting bullies win is another reason you’re a writer.

10. Bing! The oven timer went off.

Start writing again. Anything. Just start. Within five minutes, you’ll be sucked into the other world again. Just get through that first five minutes and write. You aren’t facing a whole book. You don’t have to worry about word count or bad reviews or bruised egos or where to find a Luger, thick rope and kerosene at three in the morning. All you have to do is start writing and get through the first five minutes. Maybe less.

You can gut out five minutes. You don’t even have to act tough to start. Just start. An appreciative audience is out in the future, waiting and hoping you’ll get through the next five minutes. Maybe less.You will fall back into the groove and the word music will begin to play. And a one, and a two and a three…

If none of these suggestions work, call a doctor. Maybe it’s exercise, kale shakes and an anti-depressant you need to elude the mean reds.

 

Filed under: book reviews, publishing, web reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Marketing Top 10: When less is more

Some marketing efforts are hurt by doing too much. Here are 10 examples:

Season One: Sponsor of the Cool People Podcast.  Can't have just one chip? Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99. Season Two hits this September.

Season One: Sponsor of the Cool People Podcast.
Can’t have just one chip? Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99. Season Two hits this September.

1. First there were big author tours. Then radio. Now, podcast and blogging niches are more effective.

Many marketing efforts benefit from going small, personal and specific. Instead of getting a few minutes on radio (while people are in their cars or having breakfast and definitely not buying) better to get on a podcast. Instead of planes and multi-city tours and paying for plane fare, podcasts yield more exposure to a smaller, targeted and invested audience.

Podcasts are usually easier to access. You’ll get more time and sell more books with a podcast interview than by trying to squeeze in a few words between car ads and the giggling Morning Zoo Crew. 

The same principle applies to blogging. I’d rather be featured by a big book blogger than in a local newspaper. (Ask your dad what a newspaper is. If he’s old enough, he might even still get one.)

2. Curation with commentary from bloggers is valuable. Bots drawing from dozens of tweets are not.

Before I knew what Paper.li was, I emailed someone to thank them for including me in their daily electronic newspaper. I soon realized that there’s nothing special about inclusion by bots in an array of harvested tweets. However, when someone reblogs my posts, that’s a personal recommendation that’s much more effective. (Thanks for all the reblogs, Armand Rosamilia!) When someone gives me the mucho bump of love on Twitter, it means more and helps more. (Thanks for your ongoing support and enthusiasm, Eden Baylee!)

Curation tools like Scoopit! are also valuable, as long as the post includes commentary. The difference is that a human makes those choices. “Set it and forget it” is nice for thermostats, but bleating out content without evaluation and recommendation is craptacular, both for the tweeter, the tweeted and, most importantly, our readers.

3. Too much email contact leads to friction. Ease off.

I have a couple of newsletter subscriptions that hit me daily. They’re too relentless. When I fall behind, the emails pile up in my inbox. I tell myself I’ll get around to reading it all, but deletion is more likely. I do open newsletters that fire at me at a slower rate. Give me a chance to look forward to hearing from you.

How much is too much? Wait until you have something to say, something new to announce or something to offer. Too much rah-rah-rah is so much blah-blah-blah.

Similarly, If you’re relying on book event promotions that arrive in an email blast crammed with other book events, find a way to stand out. My morning Goodreads email feels like a firehose aimed at a teacup. (Sadly, the teacup in this analogy is my brain.) Do something different and approach potential readers in varied ways. When one nail is hit too much, too often, it cracks the wood. (That’s a better analogy!) See Item 5 for what I’m doing differently and Items 7 and 8 for effective e-blast options.

4. Use a professional to get things sorted out.

I was briefly part of an affiliate program on another of my blogs. The product was good, but the program was plagued with technical problems. A day didn’t go by without an update on how said problems were being fixed. Then they weren’t. Again! I dumped the program.

I am an Amazon affiliate on my author site. It’s relatively simple. I get updates from them once a month and each update is relevant to me. That’s what to aim for.

5. Complications make us weary.

Make your offers uncomplicated.

My first draft of my viral video offer (details here) was too complicated. I ran it past a friend who suggested tweaks. I had explained too much and made too many jokes instead of getting right to it. I make a lot of jokes in my books, but when it comes to offers and promotions, people just want to know their rewards and prizes and what they have to do to get them. That’s all.

6. Tweet to content.

I use tweet teams sometimes, but much less than I used to and only for special occasions. We all have book tweet and email fatigue, don’t we? Make your tweets funny or intriguing. Tweet to your blog. Your website is the proper locus of sales. Twitter is not where to sell hard or often. Twitter is a place to help people find good stuff.

This has several positive effects:

Helping people tells them you’re not an ass (and if you are an ass, you can’t hide.)

You build your mailing list on your website, not on Twitter.

Your author site is your public face. Potential readers connect with you there, not through a sales link.

Twitter can still be useful, but when it’s not hooked up to content, readers stop paying attention.

7. Aim at targets.

Bookbub works best as a book promotion service because it doesn’t send out a long list of books to everyone. Bookbub knows what genres subscribers are most interested in. Romance readers don’t get sales copy to horror books. Fewer people receive the message, but those people are more likely to buy and less likely to saddle you with one or two-star reviews because they just aren’t that into you.

in the marketing war for our attention, sniper rifles work at long distances. Shotguns do not.

8. Be choosy.

For the last two days, I’ve done a free promotion of Episode One of This Plague of Days. (The sale ends at midnight and, as I type this, it’s the last few hours of the sale. Grab it free or, if you got this too late, Episode One is only 99 cents so, you know the drill.

I’ve held #1 in Dystopian and #1 in Post-apocalyptic for most of the two-day run. That’s probably mostly due to being chosen as a featured author on Freebooksy. They’re choosy, so their email blasts are taken more seriously than some other book promotion services.

Thanks to everyone who helped me give thousands of copies of Episode One away to spread the word. I appreciate your Facebook entries, tweets and clicks. And I don’t forget who helped me. Sincerely, thank you. I have a lot of friends and allies through this blog and I’m grateful.

9. More text = more confusion.

You’ll notice I have a lot of sales links to the right. This blog has gone through several redesigns over the years and I’ll be renovating again soon. However, the other day as I was researching book promotion services, I ran across a website that was literally like reading a phone book. The crammed type fuzzed the signal to noise. It was nearly unreadable. That’s not a good sign when the blog owners set themselves up as book marketing experts. More white space adds focus and more punch to the text. (See below for my post on blog scanning vs blog reading.)

Crack the Indie Author Code10. Small is an attitude that’s easier to relate to.

My writing and publishing guides are journeys through the mud of independent publishing. I chronicled the struggles more than the success. Success teaches less than mistakes can. I was (and continue to be) very honest about my mistakes over the last couple of years of steering the Ex Parte Press imprint. Instead of telling anyone what to do, I did research and gave opinions and examples. I experimented. I tell you what worked for me and what didn’t work. I’m just now beginning to feel like I have a solid idea of what I’m doing. Mostly because now we have more tools at our disposal than we used to have. Independent publishing has matured.

We’re walking together to find our way here. I don’t listen to some experts because their viewpoints come from such a different experience. One indie guru’s solution to marketing problems is to throw money. I don’t know what he’s talking about or to whom. Others are well-established because they came to self-publishing early with trad publishing inertia and lineage mojo. 

They aren’t us. We’re small, but we are getting bigger.

We’re getting traction. We have better tools now and we’re honing them.

No matter what, we’ll remember where we came from and the friends who helped us up and out.

 

 

Filed under: blogs & blogging, book marketing, book trailer, Books, getting it done, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What should I get upset about today?

I was somewhat amused to find that Goodreads has just about doubled its membership to 20,000,000 members in the last year. They reportedly added 4,000,000 in the last four months!

This post is not about the success of Goodreads. It about perspective and resistance to change.

When Amazon bought Goodreads, remember the wailing that GR had sold out to the Devil? Some threatened to cancel their GR memberships. A few actually did so. I wonder how many have quietly returned?

In a related story that doesn’t look like one, the guys behind Triberr invented a new button for the site a while back. You hold your cursor over the button for a flicker of a second and the post you’re about to share is approved. Soon after, someone complained about the improvement. What did these guys think they were doing? Why can’t we just click? If we don’t go back to the way things were, dogs and cats will live together!

Today? What was different and strange and scary is not so scary. New normals can be dangerous, but not all new normals are equal. Buttons and Goodreads? Not a big deal compared to all the serious problems. For instance, we live in a surveillance state yet most people shrug and ask, “Well, what can we do? Pass the mashed potatoes garnished with cynicism, helplessness and ennui.” Puts a bad book review in the right light, does it not?

I’m not saying we can’t complain. I’m saying that some problems require louder complaints, and action. The Gatling Gun of Despair is firing constantly. Choose your targets wisely.

Related articles

Filed under: Amazon, publishing, Triberr, , , , , , , , ,

Amazon buys Goodreads. Mostly? So what?

Death and Resurrection (How appropriate!)

Sometimes change is forced upon us. It sure was forced on me today so I had to redesign this blog. Then I got the news Amazon bought Goodreads. More change. In both cases, it was worrisome at first, but I think it will work out fine. Mostly.

This Plague of Days 0328Today’s trouble started as I redesigned one of my new websites. I clicked a few buttons. Nothing good can come of that. I tried what I thought would be a five-minute experiment with this blog. I found I couldn’t revert to the merely acceptable design you usually see here. (The user interface in WordPress themes is a little different from with my self-hosted blogs, so I hit unexpected snags.) I couldn’t put the broken vase back together and Mr. and Mrs. Brady told me not to throw the football in the house! My five-minute experiment turned into lost hours. I did some pretty creative swearing. 

After I worked through the redesign, I reloaded my lost widgets. That took quite some time. Then, too late, I realized WordPress had saved my widgets. I just had to scroll down farther to find them. I lost a lot of time reinventing the wheel. However, perhaps it’s for the best. I found a couple of things that needed updating and now I’m pretty happy with how the blog looks. I get enough traffic here that it was time to spruce up. I won’t wear a tie, but I had a shower and put on clean underwear for you guys. Hope you like the new look.

Let’s talk about the Goodreads acquisition by Amazon

Some are panicky that this move heralds further world domination by the mighty Zon. Getting Goodreads is good for Amazon, but will it make that much difference to us? Some GR reviewers are saying they won’t be back since their independence has been compromised. Some authors are hoping the change will help them sell more books (yes), revamp GoodReads’ awkward interface (God, I hope so) and clean up the overly hostile atmosphere at GR some have suffered (which probably won’t change.) 

I don’t recall making a buying decision based on a GoodReads review. I prefer the user interface at Shelfari, by the way, but I don’t think I made any buying decisions over there, either. Like most people, I go to where I’m buying and decide there. I weigh genres, covers, descriptions and samples. I read reviews, but I don’t decide not to buy because of reviews. However, not everyone makes their shopping decisions the way I do. I’m guessing most people probably read the reviews and never look at samples. 

I’m not worried about the dreaded Amazon monopoly. Amazon made a good move for Amazon, but I don’t think they’re out to get us. Indie authors are a tiny factor among many larger variables. Interestingly, GoodReads assures us that the links to Kobo will not be shut down and GoodReads will remain an independent entity. I’m sure that’s true…for a while.

The part I don’t believe

Neither Amazon nor GR wants reviewers fleeing to some new, truly independent site. Their announcement about the buy-out makes the right noises about not shutting down the feed to Kobo. However, I can’t believe that will remain GR policy. Amazon is getting their data now and will further optimize with that information. However, if you spent a buttload of money to buy a company, would you let it continue to feed your competitors? I wouldn’t and I’m the nicest guy you know. I’d wait a bit to let the happy PR machine make everyone settle down and get comfortable. Then I’d announce one day that “There’s been a slight change in policy.” Do what everyone feared incrementally and you can do almost anything. I’ve seen it happen before.

I’ll leave you with that quibble, and refer you to the great David Gaughran’s blog, Let’s Get Digital,  where he has a much more sober, non-alarmist analysis. Be sure to check out the comment thread, too.

Happy Bunny Day! I understand he craps chocolate eggs…so…no, I wouldn’t eat that if I were you.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , ,

Amazon: My last stab

GET BIGGER THAN JESUS, FREE ON AMAZON TODAY, TOMORROW AND FRIDAY

Free promotions sure aren’t what they used to be. Last December, with Amazon’s old algorithm, friends of mine made big money. Success on the free list actually translated to success on the paid list. Then everything changed and many of us have been slow to react, me included. I notice that, among my writer friends, many (most?) are selling their books on KDP Select exclusively, five free days and all, for the first three months and then they aren’t renewing with KDP. They’ll continue to sell on Amazon, but there are plenty of other places to sell besides Amazon. After that first three months of trying to take advantage of the Amazon advantage, they put their work up everywhere else, too. That’s what I’m doing with the foundation book of my crime novel series, Bigger Than Jesus.

BY THE WAY: 

Bigger Than Jesus is available for free in ebook form

until Friday, and then that’s it.

As The Hit Man Series continues, I don’t know if I’ll go exclusive at all, even for those first three months. The math just doesn’t seem to add up to a marketing strategy that’s advantageous. In truth, it hasn’t been helpful to many indie authors for some time. I stuck with it because of the timing as my previous books launched. I have three books to release before Christmas and the eggs won’t be going into one basket anymore.

Someone asked me recently, “What’s the latest success strategy for indie authors?” I encountered some resistance when I replied, “There isn’t one.” We’ve had the publicists, advertising, press releases, blogging, podcasting, Twitter (and various  derivative Twitter strategies), Facebook, Pinterest (maybe?), the 99 cent strategy, blog tours, free, Goodreads, book bloggers, etc,…. Some combination of these elements may work for someone. Though they’ve all been effective for someone individually in the past, no one strategy seems to deliver a knock-out punch. When I say there isn’t one, I don’t rule out the possibility of their effectiveness in the plural, if you have the time to do all that. (You don’t. Go write instead.) 

Which brings up the question: Will Amazon change its algorithm again so it makes sense for us to stay exclusive with KDP Select? Who knows? Amazon’s algorithms and their rationale may be deduced, but are never made explicit. That information is solely on a need-to-know basis. (Apparently, we don’t need to know.)

Amazon is good at what they do — or has been — but it’s unreasonable to expect they’ll be right all the time, even with their vast resources. More to the point, Amazon’s looking out for Amazon, not me. My evidence is they aren’t making the exclusivity clause worth it for a lot of authors (even the true believers who, in the past, made a lot of dough.) I’m losing sales on other devices because I’m not selling enough with KDP. The Amazon sales don’t make up for lost sales elsewhere. Listening to my writer buddies, it’s clear I’m not alone in that assessment.

This is a business decision and has nothing to do with damning Amazon. I’m not one of the haters whining about monopolies and painting Amazon as a bully. The market is a competition and Amazon is on top because they made a lot of great decisions early on. However, I’m not looking for a new mom to take care of me, either. Being indie doesn’t mean supplanting one boss with a new boss just because it’s easy to go on inertia and formatting anew is a pain in the ass. Next month, as soon as my three months are up, Bigger Than Jesus will be available more widely (Hello Kobo, Nook, Sony, your smart phone, your iPhone, your iPad…maybe even your toaster.)

As for book marketing’s next knock out punch? People will tell you they know what the next big thing is. Some will even try to sell you books based on giving away one ultimate secret of indie author success. I think those people are often well-intentioned and they give out a lot of good information. I’ve read a bunch about marketing ebooks lately and, frankly, I’m also skeptical about some of those easy, plug-and-play answers.

Only one strategy I know of seems like anything close to a sure thing and (WARNING!) it’s a slow, steady grind. It’s not a popular idea because it’s not easy and quick. 

Write more books.

(Do a great job!)

Put them up.

(Do what promotion you can that doesn’t interfere with your writing schedule.)

Write more books.

(Make sure they are wonderful.)

I aspire to inspire, but as for marketing? Hm. Sorry.

“Write more books” is honestly all I’ve got in stock at the moment.

I’ve said it before and it’s still all I have to say on that subject.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Your Publishing Dreams Don’t Matter: Jabs & Counterpunches

A comedian once said, “You know who cares about your problems more than you do? Nobody.”

I’ve opened and closed two alternative medicine practices. The first time I shut it down because I moved far away. The second time was November 1, to write and publish full-time (and here we are!) With each experience I learned this: It is stupefying how unimportant I am. When a business is over, it’s over. People with whom I’d developed long relationships moved on, disappeared and, for them, I no longer exist. They came for a service and they have no interest in checking out what I’m doing now. For most, you have one role that fulfills their needs and just because you’re interested in something new means nothing. I’m not bitter. (Really!) But I was…inexplicably…surprised. On my last day of work, there were no fireworks. Just a little second-guessing: What have I done?! And rum. I toasted my wall certificates and twenty years of service now behind me.

I had a similar surprise with the birth of our first child. I thought the universe should stop, leave us alone and just send in the checks, thank you very much. And shouldn’t every child born in a hospital receive a plaque that stays up forever? (True story: as I stood by She Who Must Be Obeyed while she was in scary labour, a client walked into my office and complained to my secretary that I wasn’t available. And she was really angry about it. As an accomplished massage therapist, even I couldn’t pull said client’s head out of an ass that deep.)

Diagnosis?

Silly Narcissism and Advanced Entitlement Syndrome.

The disease is a pandemic, a silent killer of your hopes and dreams of literary legacy.

And so we come to your dreams in publishing. I have dreams, too. And they don’t matter, either. No one owes us a chance. The only way to develop an audience is to give people a reason to pay for your book with your unique voice, your twisted plot, your different take, your soaring prose, your quirky charm and wit. Or at least have a sexy cover and write a book blurb that makes them suspect you might be capable of these talents. People pay for books because they read your amazing blurb or someone they trust recommended it or you got a good review or a great intro from a celebrity or won a major contest or they received a free excerpt and (this is critical) you entranced and engaged them. 

Jab:

Your friends and family? They’re already tired of you going on about your book.

(Don’t feel bad. It happens to everyone. I’ve already exhausted my friends, too. And I have so few.)

Counterpunch:

Extend your reach somehow.

Get into Goodreads, do a podcast, hold a contest, do a give away, do press, make an event.

In short, do something that engages strangers with your work. That’s right. Scary strangers who may hate you. Your mom can only buy so many copies.

There’s a parallel in stand up comedy. It’s really hard to get a start in stand up. First, you have to be funny and you need to write a lot. The hard part is the on the job training where you get onstage at open mics and start impressing people or humiliating yourself horribly in ways you never really forget and hardly ever live down without therapy.

Some comedians start out with “Bringers.” A Bringer is where a club manager will let you on his stage to do your act as long as you bring a bunch of friends to fill seats and pay for the two-drink minimum on a Monday night at 11:30 PM. It’s scuzzy. You perform (a bad act) for free, the club gets paid on an otherwise off night and, you hope, your friends laugh. They’re your buddies so they probably will laugh. And that’s the problem. It’s safe and you won’t know what’s really working and worse? You probably paid for half their drinks and their tickets. Instead, perform in front of dangerous strangers.

Artists must write and paint and dance and sculpt and perform for strangers. It’s not really working unless people—who could hate your work—love your work.* Your publishing dream is a nightmare until people you don’t know start a buzz about your books.

This is not to say that friends can’t help you in your publishing journey. I am saying friends can’t carry you all the way around the track. You must somehow figure out how to expand your network beyond the people you know and the immediate few contacts of the people you know. We must all write for strangers. After they decide they like what you write, maybe you could be Facebook friends.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Do wake up to make them happen. 

Yes, that sounds like the platitude pasted under a sunset in one of those inspirational posters people routinely ignore.

*”It’s not really working unless people—who could hate your work—love your work.” Please note: Many of your critics make no distinction between you and your work and you certainly won’t, either. I was being coy. Art, especially now, is a business of personality. This business couldn’t be more personal. Those strangers who hate your work will actually hate you and they all want to cut you with rusty spoons.**

**This point is only mildly overstated for full effect. Have a nice, productive day.

Filed under: ebooks, getting it done, Publicity & Promotion, self-publishing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Self-publishers: Why I went multimedia (and why you should, too)

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Boy, did I have an eye-opener this morning that left me spinning! I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when you write and publish and do your thing, you naturally assume everybody gets your message at the same speed and time. Well, I naturally assumed that.

And I was wrong. Again.

Last night I posted a little promotional trailer for my books. It wasn’t anything fancy nor was it specific to one book. I was just playing around with iMovie. I had never messed with it before and I didn’t even look at a tutorial or read a help topic. I wasn’t feeling great, so I thought I’d use an otherwise unproductive Sunday afternoon to do something fun. I’ve blogged about book trailers before and generally I take a dim view of them. Let’s be honest: most book trailers suck. In fact, I might argue that the little movie I made kind of sucks, but first, a review of my problems with book trailers:

A book trailer is a commercial. People don’t like long commercials and most book trailers go on way too long. Nobody watches a commercial and wishes it was longer except for the old Old Spice commercials (that showed wit) and the commercials for the beer favoured by The Most Interesting Man in the World. From my research, I found what most authors have found: book trailers don’t sell books. John Locke points out that little movies about your books appeal to the author’s vanity but don’t do much for most readers and do nothing to increase sales. Some say that if you’re going to make a book trailer, make it funny or forget it. Or spend some real money on it, go big or stay home.

Despite all that, I did make that trailer for my books. (It’s in the post directly below this one if you’re curious.) Given all that I’ve said, why bother with a trailer at all? I made it for a very specific reason. It’s posted on YouTube, but really, I’m sure that’s not going to do anything. I posted it on Google+ and Facebook, but that’s probably nothing more than an idle curiosity or for people who, I’m almost sure, already know what I’m up to for the most part. For me, the trailer had to be of specific use for Goodreads.

I put the trailer on my Goodreads author profile. There are many authors on Goodreads and it’s a great forum for book lovers. If you want to read reviews and find books you might not otherwise find, it’s the place to be. I was slow to adopt Goodreads, but now I love it. However, it’s not a good place to promote yourself as an author and when you do much of anything outside of your own profile, you have to be very careful not to appear spammy. Sure, you’re filled with joy at the latest review or publishing milestone, but venture out into the forums with that same joy and someone will call you out pretty quick for subverting the mission of Goodreads. It’s for readers, not for writers. (If, as an author, you want to advertise on Goodreads, there’s a proper route for that and it requires payment and mucho dinero.)

I was shocked and embarrassed to find that I’d already violated Goodreads’ etiquette. I got a really great review for one of my books and I thought it only polite to thank the reviewer with a note on the post. The Powers That Be don’t want authors to thank reviewers. I can see, in the big picture, why they don’t want authors to do that. Maybe reviewers would be less honest if they were self-conscious or trying for thank you notes from authors. Worse, authors might also fall into responding to bad reviews, which we should never, ever do. Mmmm…almost never ever.

So how does one distinguish oneself on Goodreads without running afoul of the Goodreads sheriff and the good townspeople? Be nice. (I hope that’s not an act, Dexter Morgan.) Engage. Act like a reader and be passive about your self-promotion. Keep the self-promotion to a minimum and keep it on your page, no one else’s. No spam mail and nothing that could appear to a reasonable person as a personal agenda. Crank the helpfulness and interest up to maximum and just be you. (Unless you’re a serial killer.)

Goodreads devotes a lot of instructional text to authors so we can learn the proper rules of comportment and etiquette on the site. If you don’t adhere, they might kick you out or at least make you feel bad. Most author pages look pretty much the same, so I made a trailer to put on my page (not to send out to The People of Earth, awaiting applause.) Some people are more willing to watch a little movie than read through your witty little bio and personal mind map of the dreamscape you intend to self-actualize. I hoped to distinguish myself by having a little movie where many authors do not.

(Yes, at the end of this post, I’ll tell you the shocker I got, but first…)

So I have books on Kindles and smartphones and e-readers thither and yon. And now I have video (be it ever so humble.) I also went with audio. Here’s where things get really interesting. Podcasts are the new radio. I hardly ever listen to old radio unless I’m trapped in a car in a snow bank in a snowstorm with two broken legs and cannibalizing a Lutheran in a coma. It still astonishes me when I say the word “podcast” and get a blank look. I listen to podcasts constantly. The wonder of internet radio allows me to get through all the mundane tasks, like washing dishes, doing laundry and spaying the neighbour’s cat with lawn darts. Blindfolded. (Me, not the cat. Where’s the sport, otherwise?)

Writing and producing and performing a podcast seemed to me the natural companion strategy to writing books. I wrote Self-help for Stoners, Stuff to Read When You’re High. Why not cross-promote with a weekly comedy podcast that features excerpts from the book? I called the podcast Self-help for Stoners and naturally the tagline is Stuff to Listen to When You’re High. It’s up on iTunes. The combination is an easy fit. I had a little background in radio. I’m not at ease on the mic at all, but I’m relearning those skills, like how to sound natural again.

The book is a weird hybrid I could easily draw from for a weekly comedy podcast. It’s mostly fiction with suspenseful elements, but there are funny stories, parables, exhortations, weird facts and brain tickles. When it’s preachy, it’s preachy on purpose and, I think, entertainingly so. There’s even a sci-fi story in the mix! It’s a collection that most publishers wouldn’t touch, but from my background in traditional publishing, I decided that those reasons were bad reasons. I had a book with a hook. (And no, you don’t have to be a stoner to enjoy the fun. Many people are surprised when they find some stories challenge the idea that being a stoner is even a good idea.)

If that sounds like a lot of work that has nothing to do with writing books, you’re right…sort of. I write full-time. This all I do, so I have more time than most. Yes, I know how lucky I am and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my family’s support. I tell them every day. As She Who Must Be Obeyed ventures out into the real world each morning, I say, “Win that bread and bring home that bacon, Ward!” She says, “Have a good day, June.” And then I skip (no, not metaphorically) back into the house and to my desk, into unreal worlds. The book feeds the podcast, but the podcast can inform the rest of my writing and, most important, touch an audience I would not otherwise reach. I podcast so the books I write may be read.

But what about you, you, you? Podcasts are everywhere on any topic you can dream up. It’s cheap promotion. It’s fun (mostly). You might make new friends and find a new readership. If you aren’t already podcasting, you should consider it. Or think about advertising on a podcast. That’s also inexpensive compared to traditional avenues. Podcast the same way you blog: talk about those things that ignite your passion, stimulate your skull box or tickle you silly. Get a friend to co-host and you’ve got a conversation. (I have no friends so I’m doing it solo. “But someday…” he said wistfully.)

But that’s not all. There’s Facebook, of course, though that’s generally more for tight amigos than business. Facebook has its problems as a business outlet (but this post is already too long and overuses the delightful parenthetical so let’s move on briskly.) Aside from blogging for writers and the self-published here, I also post on my Goodreads blog and on allthatchazz.com, the site for my readers. (If I ever say “fans,” drag me out into the street and reinvent the guillotine.)

Whenever I have down time (among the many tasks of formatting for ebooks, formatting for print, administrivia and…oh yeah, actually writing my books) I maintain three Twitter accounts. You probably know me from @RChazzChute on Twitter and such industrial films as “Whose Thumb is in the Fry-o-later?” @RChazzChute is where I meet most of my writing friends and fellow self-publishers. I got frustrated with Twitter’s whacky algorithm that slows me from following more people, so I went for more Twitter accounts.

@Expartepress (from my company name) is geared to readers and for activism. My pets are free speech, Occupy Everywhere and sovereign choices wherever no one else gets hurt, like eating Lutherans, for instance.

To promote the podcast, I let loose on @THECHAZZSAYS. I do an explicit comedy podcast, so when I have something edgy to say, it’s probably there (though some of you are already pissed off at me for the cat spaying joke. Most everyone who isn’t a Lutheran is okay with the cannibalism joke, however.)

So my target audiences are: Writers, Readers and the People of Earth With a Sense of Humour and an Interest in Fiction. It’s a small target but I can hit it.

What and how much is right for you?: Yes, multimedia promotion is a lot of work but don’t whine about the workload if you choose it for yourself.  Whining is unattractive.

I only do as much as I enjoy and the core writing always comes first. I wrote 11 pages of my new novel this morning, thank you very much.

Wait, wait! What about your terrible mistake? You said you’d tell us why you’re a complete idiot, Chazz! Oh. Right. Ahem. I’ve written this blog for some time. I’ve talked about my books and I’ve blogged about the craft of writing and editing extensively. I figured regular readers already knew what I was up to. However, this morning a fellow writer commented that the book trailer was cute. And…wait for it…up until she saw the trailer, she thought my books were all non-fiction. 

Ack!

Gulp!

Well, that’s humbling. I thought I’d already reached my immediate circle with my promise of suspense, fun, literature and frivolity. I failed to do that with someone who has guest blogged here and comments often. That’s not her fault. She’s a peach. The fault is mine. Maybe I didn’t talk long enough. Maybe I wasn’t short and pithy. Maybe the titles were misleading. For whatever reason I am not at this moment discerning through my haze of tears for fears, it took the book trailer for her to hear, “Hi, I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I think you’ll enjoy my fiction.”

If I can’t promote general awareness of my books, actual sales are farther off than I thought.

Her confusion is a signal to me. If it’s true for one, it’s often true for many.

Clearly, I have more promotional work to do. Much more.

You probably do, too.

Filed under: book trailer, Books, getting it done, Publicity & Promotion, readers, self-publishing, Social Media, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s a trailer for my books.

Did this on iMovie today. I’d never used iMovie before, but it was fun to play with. Just took a couple of hours, two cans of diet pop and half a bag of salt and vinegar chips…well, those last items might not have been altogether necessary. Books, book trailers, the Self-help for Stoners podcast on iTunes…I’m multimedia now!

Will a book trailer make a difference in sales? Doubtful, from what I’ve researched, but it might draw more attention to my blog and author profile on Goodreads and that’s why I did it. The exposure on YouTube might not hurt, either. I’m sure I’ll do something more elaborate (but just as short) in the future and make each trailer book-specific. For now? This makes me happy.

Filed under: book trailer, Publicity & Promotion, , , , , , ,

How serious is the hate for indie authors?

I’m feeling a tad depressed. I just read a bunch of posts in a forum from The People Who Fun Forgot. They were looking for ways to avoid even looking at indie authors’ work. Any indie exposure, it seems, might burn like a spicy plutonium chalupa with battery acid sauce. Some people held on to some perspective. For others, art was something to grumble at and be protected from while searching for “real” books from “real” publishers. How dare self-published authors offer something someone else might enjoy? Perhaps it’s promotion fatigue, but some people seem to think that just because they don’t like something, it’s automatically spam and valueless to anyone! Someone even suggested the establishment of a censor board to decide which indie offerings are worthy. I had to reread that several times. I’m still not sure if the intent was satirical. Gee, I hope that was a joke, but I don’t think so.

These angry posts and censorious efforts sound far more narcissistic than anything a self-publisher has ever done.

It’s a book, not  a crime. And if it be a crime, it is not a crime against literature but against personal taste. As in “individual”, one person’s taste.

As in, “Get over yourself, Butch!”

Another complainer said she was especially picky about offerings that were inexpensive. Wait! Wait! Why not be more picky about the much more expensive ebooks from traditional publishers? As John Locke says of his 99 cent ebooks, he doesn’t have to prove he’s as good as the traditionally published. Trad authors have to prove their books are ten times better than his for the prices they charge. Many of his readers certainly don’t want him censored. They’re grateful—happy, even— to receive such cheap entertainment. I eat 99 cent books like Tic Tacs. A 99 cent book isn’t a risk. It’s a Tic tac. If you like one, have more. If you can’t afford a 99 cent ebook, what the hell are you doing with an e-reader, anyway? If that’s the case, read at the library. In the job search section.

Being super picky over indie books doesn’t make you a connoisseur of literature. It makes you the sort of person whose company you wouldn’t tolerate in a stuck elevator for more than five minutes without considering how you could make strangulation look accidental. (If this is you, please consult your therapist. Next session’s topic: “Why do I feel such a need to be a petty bully over small things? And why do I feel such joy kicking the crutches out from under people?”)

I’m not for low standards, per se. It just seems absurd to insist a 99 cent book reach a higher standard. Every ebook gives readers a sample. If you don’t like the sample, you don’t have to buy it. And no, your time is not that precious. The President of the United States has time to read fiction for pleasure and you’re not working on a cancer cure, so get over yourself and read a few reviews on Goodreads if you need some help with your book shopping, for Christ’s sake!

You know what I love about the break from traditional publishing? The range of price and the freedom of choice. The “flood” of new books is not something I’ll drown in. I revel in the onslaught. The hunt for a good book is part of the joy of reading. (You even get to read while you hunt, which was frowned upon when the prey was deer.) The search is part of the fun, like wandering through a bookstore and dipping into samples to see if I can find a treasure. And, it bears repeating, just because a book is traditionally published is no guarantee it’s going to be any good. Yes, they’ve got typos, too. (And remember all those books “by” Sarah Palin?)

What of all those indie authors who were traditionally published last week but decided to abandon that enterprise for greater creative freedom and the other allures of independence?

Are they to wear the scarlet letter, too?

I was shocked that people who you’d think were book lovers could be so down on free thought, cheap books, free speech and more choice. All those good and happy things were just too damned inconvenient for them, obstacles in their search for stuffy books only semiotics enthusiasts might approve. (And by semiotics enthusiasts, I mean people from 1980s English departments who worshipped structuralism and used literary criticism as a weapon to stab writers in the parts of the brain that connect expression to entertainment. They pretended to love literature and creativity that was a mask. They may have started out as readers, but by their third year, the joy of reading and literary escape was shamed and beaten out of them. Now they only read to tear writers down to feel good about themselves through petty power plays, bad reviews and the destruction of the world, one idea at a time. You know. Like Bond villains. With herpetic lesions on their anuses.

I don’t think these curmudgeons and snobs are the norm. Are they…?

If they are…I have to go make toast in the bathtub now.

Filed under: authors, book reviews, censors, e-reader, ebooks, self-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.

Write to live

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