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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Cost control for the Indie Author

(Editor’s Note: Everybody tracks income. We aren’t so enthused about tracking outgo, me included. Fortunately, author Mark Victor Young has some thoughts on that today. ~ Chazz)

Guest Post by Mark Victor Young

“When embarking on a new venture where the returns are likely to be modest, or at the very least uncertain, the quickest way to get into the black is to keep your costs to a minimum.” This has been my guiding principle since the beginning of my Indie Author journey. I’m having a great time doing it and all, but I want this thing to be real first and foremost, so anything I can do myself, I will do. My time is free and I don’t mind spending it on myself.

 There are tons of Book Marketing platforms out there who will tell you they have the magical key to success for an Indie Author and it will only cost you $20 per month, or $100 per year, etc. Just put “Indie Author” in your twitter bio and see how fast they find you and promise you success… for a small fee. But at $2.99 per e-book, I make $2.00/book, so I have to sell 50 books just to break even on a $100 expense. How much would I have to do by myself, using free self-promotional tools, to sell 50 e-books? I don’t know, but I know that when I did, I’d be $100 to the good.

 Let’s look at my start-up expenses and see what I consider to be necessary costs and where you could cut corners.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 2.01.30 PM

 

Scrivener is an Indie Author’s best friend. It is a compositional and editing platform that allows you to format your book as a PDF, ePub, Kindle or Paperback and upload it directly to the various sales platforms. This allows you to control your own destiny and not have to rely on one platform (ie. Smashwords) acting as an intermediary with all the others and grabbing a slice of your revenues in the process. It costs about $40 (I found a 10% off coupon online – that is two e-books worth of revenue saved!) and it is well worth it.

 Registering your business as a Sole Proprietorship or Corporation says to the world that yours is a serious venture and is worthy of respect. Registering your business will also have some tax advantages down the line if your sales start rolling. Likewise, paying for a custom domain (myname.com) is a small cost that sends a message that you might be worthy of someone’s hard earned three bucks. Sure, you could just operate as an individual and go with a myname.wordpress.com or myname.blogspot.com and save both fees. I have nothing against this and would commend you on your frugality.

 If you’re planning to offer your books for sale in paperback, you are going to need to see the physical items to really make sure you are putting a quality product out there that will reflect well on you. This will mean shipping yourself some proof copies as well as taking a hard look at the online editing software. But this is also an opportunity to grab some hard copies to use for local, in person sales opportunities (as long as they are what you expected and aren’t full of formatting problems or whatever). CreateSpace (division of Amazon.com) will let you have up to 5 proof copies for a few bucks each plus postage. Make a small change to alter the file and they will let you proof it again (by ordering 5 more copies – see where this is going? J).

 I contacted hundreds of book bloggers through e-mail and social media to ask them to review my first book and only one required a physical copy. This is good, because the postage was frightening! There were plenty out there who would gladly accept a free ePub or Mobi (that I could supply, thanks to Scrivener) for their e-readers. One even purchased the e-book to review it, because she felt it was important to support Indie Authors. Can’t argue with that! But this is a great example of something time consuming but free which will pay off in publicity and promotion. Several bloggers even agreed to publish an interview or promotional feature on me with no mention of a charge at all. I only heard back from about 1 in 20 that I contacted, but I was happy with those responses, I can tell you.

 You’ll notice that I have incurred no costs for book cover design. That’s an interesting story that may be unique to me. My wife is an excellent artist and has a background in marketing and publishing. She designs all my covers for free, so I don’t have any costs in that regard. Sorry – don’t hate me! Here are the covers for my first two novels, which have garnered all kinds of compliments and positive attention:

 Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 2.01.38 PM

 

But that doesn’t mean that someone who is not similarly wedded need bear heavy costs in this area. You may know an artist who could help with this in exchange for you promoting their services on your website or social media. Find an author whose covers you love and ask who they use. If you can’t find something fabulous and free, Smashwords has a list of cover designers, some of whom will charge less than $100 to design your book cover. Sometimes you can also save money by going with a ready-made cover. Here are some my wife came up with and here are some by Kit Foster.

 This is not an area for skimping. Don’t send your book out into the world if it looks like a public domain work from Project Gutenberg. That will send a message that your book should be free, or worse, isn’t considered worthy of a great cover, so won’t be worthy of their time. Don’t settle for something that LOOKS self-published (in the amateurish sense). People do judge a book by its cover, unfortunately, so you will need a great-looking, professional finished product whichever way you go.

 There are no guarantees of success for Indie Authors. But there are no guarantees with or without spending money on third party promos. The more you spend in chasing book sales, the more profit gets eaten up by these marketing and promotional expenses. If you consider this to be a long term, truly independent venture and you keep at it and keep adding to your list of books for sale, even a modest success will be income that is all yours to keep. If, that is, you haven’t already paid out all your profits to third parties in advance. If you’re determined to use some service that you think will really pay off, make a deal with yourself. Wait until you’ve made $100 more in revenues than all the expenses you’ve incurred and then spend it on that great book marketing opportunity. That way every sale it generates will be putting money in your pocket. J

 Best of luck on your own Indie Author journey!

~ Find out more about Mark on his website, MarkVictorYoung.com.

 

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To all writers: A Call to End Hostilities (and focus on writing)

I should be writing my book and not blogging, so I’ll try to make this brief. This week someone I like very much called for self-publishers to stop pooping on traditional publishers for their choice to be awesome with the Big Five, agents and brick and mortar bookstores. There is a perception by some, possibly fuelled by the release of the Author Earnings Report, that indies hate writers who aren’t indie. Not true of anyone I know, by the way. It’s largely a myth. No one’s mad at traditional authors. What we often object to are contract terms from traditional publishers. Many of us consider Big Five ebook royalties egregious, for instance. Many of the authors trapped within the tight confines of those contracts feel much more grumpy about it and take it personally, so no controversy there.

Hugh Howey is calling for publishers to amend their contracts for ebook royalties that better reflect reality. Not so long ago, a famous agent claimed that ebooks were priced as high as paper books because they cost as much to produce and deliver. The fact that this statement was clearly nonsense didn’t seem to perforate the screen of what Romanian Canadians call “bool-sheet.” However, said agent is no longer an agent so maybe the dizzying cognitive dissonance corrected that person’s career path.

The debates and finger pointing comes in cycles.

I’d hoped the internecine vitriol had died down but it’s back, wearing tap shoes and has gone from acoustic and unplugged to plugged in, amped up and cranked up to eleven. The shite is stirred and the reaction to Hugh’s numbers, by some, is to complain those numbers aren’t accurate. Oddly, admissions to those mathematical vagaries are already in the report, but why discuss the truth of the big picture when you can argue over details that will eventually be revealed as more data pours in.

Amid this fracas, the call went out not to allow the pro-indie rhetoric to get out of hand.

Indie publishing is not, I’m told, a religion. Agreed. Good. As an atheist, I’m allergic. I was also told self-publishing is not a revolution but a disruption. With that, I do respectfully disagree. “Disruption” suggests impermanence to me. After self-publishing, how are you going to keep us down on the farm now that we’ve seen Paris? Contrary to what you may have heard, not all indies are hoping to be picked up by a “real” publisher. Some sure are hoping for that and good luck and bless them, too. (Me? I’d rather get a graphic novel going, or a series with Netflix, HBO or AMC or a movie contract or a video game deal or domination of zee vorld!…but that’s another post.)

Some (many?) traditionally published authors are going indie and others straddle the fence and opt for the hybrid sweet spot. All excellent choices as long as we go in eyes open with informed consent. As I’ve stated many times, this blog is about indie publishing, but I love all writers: aspiring, published, unpublished, indie, hybrid and mutant. The only writers I don’t care for are the ones who talk more than they type.

When I heard the call for indies to behave themselves, I nodded. Frankly, I’m tired of the indie versus trad argument. Having gone through this news cycle several times before in its various incarnations, I’m done. Nothing wrong with saying, “Let’s all play nice.” It’s about the least controversial thing anyone could say, surely!

Then the other shoe dropped through the glass coffee table.

In the very same thread that called for indies to be nice (ahem, to our betters) shots were fired the other way and several commenters took the call for indie authors to mind our manners as license to tell us how much we all suck. I don’t think that’s in the spirit of the peace treaty. I respect your choices. Please do not make assumptions about why I’m an indie author. Please do not generalize about why we’re “all” anything. No one has to justify their life choices to anyone who isn’t a business partner, spouse, federally appointed judge or priest, okay? And maybe not even then. I’m not fighting you, so why are you still fighting?

Repeat after me: We are all individuals! We are all individuals! If you write or read, by all that is unholy and wrapped in bacon, I love you all more than a basket of puppies and kittens slathered in chocolate sauce under a pile of thousand dollar bills.

Go in peace to your pad of paper or laptop or rock and chisel.

Write a book.

Read a book.

Love a book.

 

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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.

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Ebook pricing, free promotions and you

The complete first season is FREE for two days. Click now.

The complete first season is FREE for two days. Click now.

Generosity feels great and, in this incarnation of the book business, generosity is a marketing strategy if done right. Today, a giveaway and a case study in real time. (If you don’t know anything about This Plague of Days, check out ThisPlagueOfDays.com for sneak peeks.)

I released This Plague of Days, Season 1 as a serial. There were many reasons for doing it this way. I wrote it like a television mini-series and serialization opens up marketing opportunities. On the first day of Season One, I published the complete first season and Episode 1. Four more episodes followed each Monday. The episodes sold for 99 cents each or readers could get the whole season for $3.99.

For my initial giveaway, I put the first episode up for free for two days. I don’t believe in long promotions. By the time you’re done more than two days, you’ve exhausted your connections and momentum slows. I gave away about 1500 downloads of Episode 1 and stayed at the top of the Post-apocalyptic and Dystopian charts on the free side of Amazon for those two days. It’s really exciting sitting at #1 and #2 beside Hugh Howey.

An interesting thing happened next:

A bunch of readers liked Episode 1 but they stuck with the individual episodes. I watched my dashboard charts light up green with sales of Episodes 2, 3, 4 and 5 as people who got Episode 1 for free worked their way through the serial. The complete book of the season sold a bit, too, (at $3.99) but it seemed for readers to jump from episodes to the season at once, the discount would have had to be even deeper.

Pros and Cons of This Strategy

Pro: I gained a bunch of reviews for This Plague Of Days. Most readers dug it.

Con: Readers of Episode 1 only see the dad is an atheist and they may not stick around for the sweep of the story’s longer arc. The atheist dad has doubts about his lack of belief and his religious wife has doubts about her faith. I don’t dump it all in Episode 1 so, with serialization, you get judged by what you lead with. I’m not complaining. If you do something similar to what I’m doing, stay true to your vision, but don’t expect everyone to wait patiently for the payoffs later on. I have secret seeds planted in Season One that don’t bloom until Season Three.

Con: You’ll always get your worst reviews from free promotions.

Con: Some people who click free will never click “buy”. (Actually, that’s unfortunate, but it’s not really a “con” per se. I mention it because I anticipate resistance to these tactics. However, it’s not a true deficit in that it’s mostly irrelevant. These readers aren’t in my long-term equation for the same reasons the cobalt industry, Cadillac and Vera Wang don’t target me as a customer. Just as I’ll never be in those businesses’ target demographics, I’m hunting for converts, not free book shelvers.

Pro: All those downloads got me Also-bought listings and Amazon started selling the book for me with their mailing list. That’s a major plus on the brand visibility side of the argument.

Pro: As summer sales of Season One ebbed, I saw the momentum from July evaporate. I did what few say makes sense. I put the price up to $4.99. No one’s buying the episodes now, but they are buying the complete first season at the higher price. That could indicate that Season One was underpriced. Probably, but as I’ll argue below, that’s okay. I’m in this for the long-term. Discoverability is more important than sales for now.

What I’m doing differently for Season Two

In This Plague of Days, I’m trying to give a B movie an A treatment. To get traction for an unknown serial aimed at a smart crowd in an unfamiliar format, I think the starting price was fair and good for Season One. If you didn’t jump aboard before, for two days only, Season One of This Plague of Days is free to download on September 18 and 19th. (If you love it, please review it.) Season Two will also have some bonus material in the back.

Why give away an entire book? Isn’t that evil and the death of literature?

Season One is the gateway drug to Season Two and, for two days only, the first taste is free.

I’m using Freebooksy and Bookbub to let the world know. This publicity does cost money, potentially a few nasty reviews and maybe I’m leaving money on the table. However, it will get my name and Season One into the hands of at least 5,000 people. (If that doesn’t sound like much to you, consider that 5,000 paid sales equals a bestseller in Canada. I expect to hit #1 and #2 again and have some sales momentum behind me as I slide into the October launch of Season Two. This is marketing as an exercise in delayed gratification. I’ll sell more of Season Two because I’ll get more readers in on the ground floor of the serial. Besides, it’s a one-time only sale. Most readers will find the cash for the full price under their couch cushions, so let’s not get too dramatic about the losses or gains.

To put it another way, a la Seth Godin, “Too many people are reading my free ebook is not a problem” (as long as there are other books to sell.) To paraphrase author Cory Doctorow, Free isn’t my problem, “obscurity is my problem.” And finally, I quote myself for emphasis, “Generosity feels great…(and) discoverability is more important than sales for now.”

Season 2 launches Oct 1.

Season 2 launches Oct 1.

The Rationale: Season Two of This Plague of Days launches in a couple of weeks.

The story and the virus evolve together. This time out, TPOD has a different pace. Season One was like a television serial. Season Two is the action movie. It gets more paranormal and it’s loaded with surprises, chills and blood spills. Expect new villains and more twists from Ireland to Iceland to the Indianapolis Speedway. You’ll see the invasion of New York, the Midwest and the terrible events at Canada’s border with Michigan. It’ll sell for $4.99 this fall. In a month or so I’ll do a giveaway of Season Two, Episode 1 only.

Eventually I’ll put This Plague Of Days across more platforms and go for a price match so Episode 1 of Season One will be perma-free. I’ll experiment with price points, but the complete Season Two will never go free. The law of diminishing returns kicks in if you’re trying to get people to jump into the middle. (Ironically, you could jump straight into Season Two without reading Season One and you wouldn’t be lost at all. However, people don’t believe that. I never got into Ally McBeal because I missed the first episode.)

About Audiences

People who love zombies were very patient with Season One. The zombies don’t show up immediately but the dread keeps rising so I guess the suspense satisfied them until the heavier horror kicked in. They don’t have to wait for any action in Season Two, so I expect this phase of TPOD will go big all the way to Christmas (especially as other promotions kick in.)

The other thing that surprised me was how readers with family connections to autism, developmental delays and handicaps responded to the story. The protagonist is on the spectrum and those readers enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. It’s not a long screed (and certainly punchier than this post) but those readers responded well to discussions of what it’s like to be the parent of an autistic kid. The family loves Jaimie, but they don’t romanticize his disabilities and his sister treats him like a normal kid treats a sibling who is often difficult to live with.

About Price Resistance

Selling episodes at 99 cents with 30% to me won’t keep me in cat food, but it did help with visibility. I gather those who started buying episodes in Season One will mostly choose to get the complete second season so they can find out right away what happens to the Spencer family and the British refugees.

It seems the greatest resistance to price increases lay not with the readers, but with yours truly. More readers are discovering my books at higher price points. I guess those higher prices make them confidant I know what I’m doing. So, while I’m still advocating short-term discount promotions, the trend with all my book prices is for them to climb. Done right, with a giveaway of sufficient numbers, free can still work. If I thought I could get more traction on other platforms, I’d try a different strategy. However, regarding promotion, it appears the other platforms are still lacking.

If you’re reading this on September 18 or 19th, 2013,

grab your free copy of the complete first Season of This Plague of Days here.

And please tell a friend. Thanks!

 

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We’re Indie. We don’t lie down.

I’m revising Crack the Indie Author Code: Aspire to Inspire, a book I’ll soon release that is basically the best posts, chosen from over 1,000 articles on this blog. As I edit, rewrite, add and subtract, I’m struck by how I return to a certain theme of independence among indie writers. We need that stubborn streak. The voice in my head asks others to take the risks I take. I encourage other writers to follow their dreams. Encouraging others is part of my dream, too. My tone is sometimes matter of fact and, at other times, defiant. Sometimes the advice is contrarian. If that doesn’t suit your taste, at least sometimes it’s whimsical and I kill a mime.

It’s not easy being indie. We’re still largely ignored by mainstream media. It’s hard to get reviews. Bookstore managers tend to look at us with nail heads for eyes. But I’m doing the thing I always wanted to do and no one stands over me telling me how to do it. That’s worth a lot to me. The writers and publishers who read this blog are a very helpful group. I appreciate that.

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada. I’m thankful for my family of believers, the people who support my campaign and the suspense lovers who read my books. Crack the Indie Author Code will be available very soon, but the blog will continue after publication. I will continue to aspire to inspire. (To the doubters: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!)

Thanks for reading ChazzWrites.com. 

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UBC #31: Ebooks are the new slush pile. Are they the new blog, too?

To check out all the books by Robert Chazz Chute, click here.

I once had a business meeting to attend in Toronto and, despite a snowstorm that put a lot of cars off the road, I kept going after it was clear I should turn back. After three hours of white-knuckling the steering wheel, I made it to the meeting on time only to find that I’d risked my life for nothing. The meeting was cancelled because everyone else who was to attend had their priorities straight. Clearly, I have a stupid character flaw. Once I commit to something that isn’t working, I often don’t abandon the task, even when it’s obvious it isn’t working. 

It’s time to examine priorities, not just for me but for you.

What are we doing that helps us get closer to our goals?

What needs to change? I have a cool idea.

First, let’s talk blogging. Lots of people are interested in yesterday’s blog: Your Blog Does Not Matter. I learn a lot from research and it’s fun, but the Law of Diminishing Returns is a knee in the groin. If I’m right that our blogs don’t matter as marketing tools, why blog? I should clarify that it’s not that I think writers don’t read. May Thor help them if they don’t. But a lot of power readers love books — and buy them to read copiously — without a thought to ever writing books themselves. That frees up a lot of time to read and buy more books. Writers are logophiles, but, to be read more widely, we need to reach bibliophiles and plenty of them.

We need to reach out to book reviewers and book bloggers to get word of mouth going, yes, but I think there’s a way for our blogs to matter more to the general book buyer, especially if your blog is information-oriented.* I’m going to have to try a different blogging strategy because, blogging the way I am, just for the love of it, isn’t helping my writing career. Whenever you choose choice, you choose freedom. That’s good, but, even with the old blog heater running full blast, it’s snowing so hard my windshield wipers can’t keep up and there are too many indie authors in the ditch.

Case in point: I’ve blogged a fresh entry on this blog every day for the last two months. June was the Author Blog Challenge. My blog traffic shot high consistently. I made new friends, gained subscribers and have fresh contacts. July was the Ultimate Blog Challenge (and this is my last post, #31, for that challenge.) The former had under 100 participants and I’m told the latter has five to ten times that. Still, I earned far more traffic during the Author Blog Challenge. It doesn’t take too long to figure out why the ABC was so successful for me. I talked to my audience rather than a more diverse, disinterested crowd and that crowd had to come to me. Not many did. They were into blogging qua blogging, as my old philosophy prof would say. They weren’t necessarily into suspense or the intense indie book reading proliferation experiment I promote here. I’m not blaming the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Nobody owes me their patronage. This isn’t about that. It’s about finding strategies that actually help me (and you) get discovered by new readers who care about what we write (and might even — egad! — pay for our work.)

The only strategy for growing a readership that anyone seems to be sure of is: WRITE MORE BOOKS! So, first, spend more time on your books than your blogs. The core writing has to be scheduled before any other writing you do. I haven’t been as good at this as I should be lately because I was too focussed on the Ultimate Blog Challenge. That’s stupid, stubborn me, driving through a snowstorm again. I knew the latest challenge wasn’t garnering more traffic a couple of weeks ago, but I’d made a commitment. I learned something more, though. I can blog like crazy and still not matter because I’m not publishing my blog posts where new readers and book buyers gather.

There’s an alternative marketing strategy that makes more sense. 

There’s a way to go to where readers are and

build more ebook presence on the web

instead of hoping readers will somehow discover our blogs.

Small-town terrors and psychological mayhem in Maine.
These are the foundation stories of the coming Poeticule Bay Series of suspense novels.

Here’s how: In time I’d otherwise use for blogging, I can put together a micro ebook to increase the size of my cyber bookshelf and build name recognition. It’s already been observed that Amazon is the new slush pile for traditional publishing. Maybe self-publishing isn’t just the new slush pile. Maybe ebooks are the new blog, and vice versa. I’ve already noted that I intend to make a book out of blog posts, distilling down the sweetness and goodness for indie authors. I’ve been missing out on other opportunities to expand my bookshelf for new  readers.

For instance, today, I noticed a free book on iBooks that was 10 Strategies to Something or Other. Regular readers know I have a fondness for top ten formats for blog posts and they’re pretty popular, quick and fun to write. That’s really not so different from many of the offerings on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and so on. Why not blog for free where it can do me (and you) more good? On those platforms. You know. Where the readers are. 

CLICK: You can already publish your blog to kindle here. Or check out any top free lists to see the sort of things you can write about that hits readers where they live. In the back of every ebook/blog you publish, link to your paid books. Depending on what you write, you could even write the equivalent of a few blog posts and (gasp!) actually get reimbursed for your time, trouble and expertise. Imagine the possibilities.

Click to get Bigger Than Jesus here

Publishing our blogs on self-publishing platforms is one way, largely unexplored, we can make more sales because we’re reaching people who are already in the book marketing venue. I know most of us don’t think of blogging as publishing, even though we write our blogs and hit a button that says “Publish” every day. It’s time to slow down, turn on the GPS and figure the alternative routes out of this blinding snowstorm. It’s time to get flexible and find what works so I can find my readership, help them find me and sell more books. Maybe you, too, if you’re interested.

No, I’m not discontinuing blogging here. Now that the blog challenge is over, though, I’ll do a little more curation via Scoopit! and post a little less. I’ll prioritize better than I have done and maybe get outside while it’s still summer. I still have podcasts coming out every week and three books in the editorial pipe this year plus Bigger Than Jesus coming out in print soon so…yeah. Lots to do and, like everyone, our waking, working hours are limited. Now that I’m through the blog frenzy of the last two months, I will concentrate more of that time on coming out with more books…and maybe a few blog posts/ebooks on iBooks and Kindle. I’ll let you know how that experiment works out. 

~ BONUS: I had a fun interview on Sandi Tuttle’s show last night. We talked blogs, the publishing revolution, being indie, inspiration and ritual goat sacrifice. Have a listen here.

*Publishing more short stories could help you, but I doubt it. That might double down on getting ignored, but that’s a different post for another day.

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Ultimate Blog Challenge: Get yourself free

I had a  surprising conversation last night. It was largely about Sarah Palin. I detailed various aspects of her run for the vice presidency which did not put her in a good light. She wasn’t ready and she tried to bluff her way in. I was fair, but I went through a list of things she had done and said that anyone who follows politics would know. The surprise part was that it was my nine-year-old son asking the questions as we went on a power walk.

This led to other tangents about the people with whom we don’t want to associate, like bullies, twits and half-term governors (not that she’s calling to come over and kvetch over coffee.) The larger lesson comes from a Bare Naked Ladies’ lyric, “If there is some you can do without in your life, then do so.” It’s good advice because hanging out with the wrong people, whether it’s around a barbecue or in business, sucks life energy away. In the past, I ‘ve tended to cut people loose, but not nearly fast enough. I told myself I had to pay my dues or put up with it or be more patient or be nice and the problem would go away. Problems don’t tend to go away on their own, especially when those problems are people.

I’m not even sure what my reasoning was for waiting so long to but the dead weight. In a couple of cases I thought I didn’t have a choice financially (not true as it turned out) or I worried getting away from bad people would be complicated. I was wrong. Keeping stupid, mean or incompetent people around was far more complicated than disentangling myself from their clutches.

To the boss, the publisher, the financial adviser, the various people who called me friend but acted differently when it suited them: I am thinking of a two-word answer. The two words are not “Thank you.”

Good luck finding a new pin cushion who is half as entertaining because,

as bad as our relationships were,

I was always awesome.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , ,

Author Blog Challenge 21: My Top 20 Best (Worst?) Advice for Authors

Обкладинка книги "Над прірвою у житі"

Обкладинка книги “Над прірвою у житі” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Be weird. Draw outside the lines. Live larger. Be different. If you can’t dare to be a little strange, or stranger, you sound too much like everyone else and there’s quite enough of that. Does your book’s title sound like all the other titles in its genre? Yes? You’re already boring me, mate, and I say that with love. Be three times more daring and ten times more clever.

2. Don’t write what you know. If we all did that, where would science fantasy be? Instead, write what you care about. You’ll get enough research to fill in the holes if you care enough to give your story verisimilitude. It’s always more about relationships, characters and action than it is about the guts of your ship’s stardrive engines, anyway.

3. Lose your thesaurus. You don’t need more words to tell me the story. The right words are the ones that come to you right away. If you use the word “epigonation”, you’re showing off and annoying your reader. A stupid thing to do, especially when you wanted to sound more intelligent. That must have been your aim because, unless you are sending your books back through a time tunnel to the time of Christ, you certainly weren’t trying for clarity in your reader’s mind.

4. Spam me. I don’t mind you telling me about your books one bit. I might be interested and I like to know what my options are. If you hit me over the head too much, of course I’ll ignore or unfollow you, but that doesn’t mean you should be silent. That means be clever and funny and engaging and giving most of the time. Lights are not for hiding under bushels. Light that bushel on fire and throw illumination.

5. Get into fights on the Internet. If you are getting along with everyone all the time, you’ve either got nothing to say or you’ve got no spine. Neither attribute attracts me to what else you might have to say within your book. I’m not advocating douchebaggery or fighting for fighting’s sake. Instead, have the courage to disagree with idiots while pretending to be civil and acting as if you don’t want them dead. We all know the truth.

6. Tell, don’t show. I know, I know. Somebody’s head just exploded and no amount of repainting ever covers up that mess. However, in grown up writing class, we encounter circumstances where telling is sometimes more appropriate. It saves the reader time and skips over stuff the reader doesn’t care about so we can get to the good stuff. Be more Elmore Leonard. Be less mime. Tell when you need to. Show when you need to. There aren’t rules, only guidelines. Learning all the rules before you break them? Sounds like a waste of time on a detour, doesn’t it? Instead, just write what works and stop mucking about.

7. Strangle your strict inner grammarian. If you write for clarity, that will cover most grammar rules, anyway. Some people are still holding on to stuff from eighth grade simply because it’s what they learned in eighth grade. The rest of us are splitting infinitives with wild, naked abandon, ending sentences with prepositions and using the word “hopefully” like a normal human (i.e. technically historically wrong) — and we don’t care. And sentence fragments? Rock! Common parlance trumps grammar. If it didn’t, none of us would communicate the way we do now. Strict grammarians fantasize about a language that isn’t organic and instead is frozen in amber from Dickensian England. They’re nuts. If language could freeze (and therefore die), we’d all still be angry cave people, grunting and pointing like New Yorkers in a Brooklyn deli.

8. Stop rewriting. I’m talking about your first chapter. You’re never going to get your book finished that way. Plunge! Get your atomic turbines to speed, Batman! Write and keep moving forward. Write like I’ll chase you in my Mustang with a twelve-gauge full of rock salt if you don’t finish two chapters tonight. (Because I will.) Rewriting is for later. A first chapter, endlessly written  and rewritten to perfection, does not a book make. Rewriting too soon is a formula for you, drooling on your deathbed, wondering if you should have taken out that comma on page three, and then put it back one more time before all trace of your existence is erased and there’s no book as evidence you ever were, you zero legacy stiff!

9. Stop reading old classics and start watching more movies and reading more comic books. Your english professor thinks Hemingway is the shit because that’s what he was taught in 1980. This is generational data lag. If you insist on classics, read: Crime and Punishment (so dates will think you’re deeper than you are); Hemingway’s short stories (not his novels); Portnoy’s Complaint to instil the value of a sense of humour in literature (a rare thing, that); A Confederacy of Dunces (for douchebag cred with hot Lit. majors at the dean’s cocktail parties and the nerdy chick at the bookstore) and Catcher in the Rye (in case the writing thing doesn’t work out and you turn to the next logical career choice: serial killer.) And nothing at all from Ayn Rand. Nothing! You have nothing to learn from her unless you’re going for what not to write, do, think or be.

Why movies and comic books? Because you need to make your storytelling more visual. (Hint: If most of your “action” takes place in a suburban living room much like your own, think harder. If you’re writing a certain kind of literary fiction that demands domestic ennui and the reader’s patience (yes, the reader — as in one reader — your mom), at least spice it up somehow. Make your main character do their sensitive contemplation by the river (so they can fall in or throw themselves in or get thrown in by a helpful plot enhancer). Or put them in the kitchen, next to the handy knife block so we get a sense that something might actually happen. Events must occur!

10. Stop writing huge, ambitious books. Write shorter books and make it a series so you have hope of making some money.

11. Write for the money. You think love and passion will get you through a whole book? No. There will come a time when you hit a wall, figuratively and literally, with your manuscript. Maybe you won’t want to do one more draft or you won’t have the energy to get up early and write another chapter. Screw that weak, loser talk. If you’re writing with the hope you’ll make some money some day, you get up. You’ll go the extra clichéd mile to yank out the clichés from your manuscript like black, seething tumours. Your kid wants to see Disney before she’s too tall for the rides. Your other kid wants to finally get an iPod for his birthday since he’s the last of his friends to get one. (Ooh, that one hits close to home.) Write for money because you need it. Write for money because, if it’s just a pleasant hobby, what’s at stake when the going gets rough?

12. Pay attention to how much better every other indie author is doing than you. Get angry, envious and jealous of those talentless, lucky hacks. The reasons are similar to #11. Take your ugly motivation wherever you can find it. (Notice I just told instead of showed — #6 — and you didn’t mind.)

13. Put references to popular culture in your books. Traditional publishers always eschewed that in manuscripts.  That’s why you have to infer so much about pop culture from old novels instead of knowing specifically what people paid attention to. The worry was that contemporary references to movies and issues would date the book. I can’t imagine why. What’s modern now will be a period piece in the future. So what? They might sell more books if they paid attention to what served the story and what was most entertaining instead of sticking to rules from from Lit. 101. (See #9) It works for John Locke’s readership.

14. Stop confusing process with product (Part 1). Neo-Luddites who wax poetic about the feel of a paper book are fetishizing the medium of dead trees over the book’s content and are possibly high on glue from all that sniffing. For people who claim they value the written word so much,  they seem overly concerned about the package it’s wrapped in. It’s fine to prefer a paperback to an ebook, but expect to pay more for the privilege and, by Thor’s hammer, stop whining to authors of ebooks about your fetish! When’s the last time you went out of your way to tell a used car salesman you think he’s shifty even though you weren’t buying a car from him anyway? What purpose does complaining serve if you never intend to buy our books? If you don’t want ebooks, then don’t buy them and don’t feel you have to tell me about it. We’re getting creeped out. (Alternative: buy my paperbacks, too.)

15. Stop confusing process with product (Part 2). Last week somebody called someone else a hack because he advocated writing fast. (No, it wasn’t me who was called out, though I have advocated writing faster if you’re up for it.) It’s the writing snob’s equivalent to a George Carlin joke: “Anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster is a maniac!”

The mistaken subtext here is to think that anyone writing more quantity than you must be suffering in the Quality Assurance Department of the Writer’s Brain. Consider that A. Slow writing is no guarantee of quality, either. B. What counts is the end product, not the speed with which it arrived. (The slow writing advocate in this case admitted she hadn’t actually read any of The Speedy Author’s books, so she was letting her ass talk too much, wasn’t she? C. If someone else can write faster than you and you resent them for it, that might be jealousy talking. (See #12) Or D. Maybe you just aren’t as smart as The Speedy Author, you prejudiced dummy.

16. Wait for inspiration before you write because less competition would be great for me. Oh. For you? Not so much.

17. Offend your family. Disguise them, but use them. If they didn’t want you to use all of that useful childhood trauma, they should have been nicer when they had the chance. That time you got locked in the closet after the unjust beating? That’s rich writerly soil, right there. Rename your brother Larry so he’s Harry in the book. That ought to do it. Larry’s a moron.

18. Start building your author platform long before you need it and don’t whine that it’s hard. Your book is a loudspeaker. Without a platform, your loudspeaker is pointed at empty stands in a cavernous stadium. You don’t want to do this. Why do you think that matters?

19. In fact, hey, that’s another rule! No whining, period! Nothing worth doing is going to be easy. Besides, it’s unattractive. I once stopped watching a blog because a writer felt people weren’t grateful enough for her words. Gratitude is great (see yesterday’s author blog challenge post, below) but demanding unending thanks when you really haven’t done that much in the first place is petty narcissism. Writing professionally is about generous narcissism.

20. Stop reading Writers Digest and Publishers Weekly. There’s nothing in a paper magazine you can’t get in pixels faster and cheaper. WD is a holdover from traditional publishing and that’s why their advice is still weighted toward agents and the New York cadre. Those are lengthy pursuits with questionable ends that eat up your life. It’s procrastination in the guise of relevance and productivity. It’s patriarchal, systemic paralysis by matriarchal, editorial analysis. Chasing slush pile dreams is what my friend, author Al Boudreau, refers to as “dinosaur hunting”. (Brilliant, yes?)

As for all that crap in Publishers Weekly that spouts everything you need to know about traditional publishing? That’s all stuff you never need to know before you have a book written and probably not even then. What possible difference could knowing the industry make when they only ever talk to themselves? They talk too much about trad publishing because that’s where the ads come from. It’s incestuous, out of date and out of touch. If you want to know something about publishing that’s not out of date, read Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith and Passive Guy and Russell Blake and Jeff Bennington or even (for the love of Thor) this blog’s curations for that matter.

BONUS TIP: Instead of listening to the dinosaurs who refuse to see the meteor coming, be a contrarian. Contrarians are more interesting.

Wait.

What do you mean, you agree? What kind of contrarian are you, listening to some twit you don’t even know telling you, “My Top Twenty Best (Worst?) Advice for Authors”? As if I’m preaching the bloody sermon on the Mount! What kind of nonsense is that? Go ahead and write and make your own mistakes and write your own rules.

This blog post was for, as they say, “entertainment purposes only.”

Does anybody really learn anything much from another person’s mistakes?

For anything that really matters, you have to make those life altering mistakes for yourself.

I’m not your dad. I’m another writer, tap dancing for change.

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Don’t Be the Sneetch: An Open Letter Response to Shannon Hale

See on Scoop.itWriting and reading fiction

English: Mint Julep candies, made by Necco.

English: Mint Julep candies, made by Necco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was an interesting post. The original post Anna Elliot refers to (Shannon Hale slamming self-publishing and asserting the superiority of the rotten treehouse that is trad pubbing) sounds like a rather quaint, outdated and out of touch view of indie publishing. Rather than feed the flame of division with further comments, I shall retire to my hammock with a mint julep and allow Jorge to fan me as I contemplate what an idiot Shannon thinks I must be. When the sobbing’s done, I shall focus on Anna’s anti-Sneetch letter so I can recover from the drubbing. I’ll let Anna do the work on this one because I could not reply without using harsh, four-letter words. Such is my rage and sorrow. Decide for yourselves at the link. ~ Chazz

See on indiechickscafe.com

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Author Blog Challenge: I love the voices in my head

Michael Clarke Duncan at the Warner Brothers L...

Michael Clarke Duncan at the Warner Brothers Lot in Burbank, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge is to choose a favorite literary character. That’s tough. I mean, I relate to Tyler Durden from Fight Club, but the cognitive dissonance kicks me in the pills when I realize that, beside the insomnia and ennui, I am not even Tyler’s alter-ego. I have a few things in common with Portnoy from Portnoy’s Complaint, though. Ugh.

This isn’t a dodge and I don’t mean to fall into douchey pimping, but the truth is my favorite literary character is whichever one I’m writing at this moment. I have several works on the go, so let me introduce the interesting people I hang out with while strangers assume I’m staring off into space and drooling:

Legs Gabrielle is a very funny comedian whose career has fallen through the floor. She finds herself back in Poeticule Bay, Maine, in the house she ran away from as a teenager. A killer has come to town, the Sheriff disappears, the deputy is cute, her sister has cancer (and might also be crazy.) I love Legs’s sense of humour and she’s a pleasure to write for the jokes that work as  counterpoint to her emotional depth. Hollywood has rejected her, but she’s the star of her own book soon.

Chili Gillie is a Michael Clarke Duncan lookalike, Legs’ bodyguard and has Mike Tyson’s voice. He’s a sweet man who only looks mean when needed. He’s the calm rationality around which the crazy revolves. His presence is extraordinary, but he’s the most normal of my characters. Both Legs and Chili are the stars of the first story in Self-help for Stoners and Chili shows up again in Bigger Than Jesus in a larger role. I’ve got big plans for him.

Dr. Circe Papua turns up a lot in my fiction. She’s a psycho psychotherapist who is magically persuasive and can be deadly if provoked. I love her cunning, unexpected lethality. Circe’s complex relationships with her patients often demand a battle of wills and wit. She shows up in different incarnations in Self-help for Stoners, Vengeance is #1, Corrective Measures and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit).

Jesus Diaz is a mob enforcer who doesn’t want to be what his tragic childhood and circumstance has made him. He wants, above all, to fall in love with the right woman (if he can ever find her) and go relatively straight. He’s the main character in my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus and I like him most for three things: he’s clever and prefers to lie rather than fight; he’s not really all that tough despite his profession; and he’s funny. I like funny people and chapters that whip along, full of pops and surprises. The series reads like a Cohen brother’s movie. Bad things keep happening even though you think you have an easy way out. This book will be out very soon and I’m jonesing for it. Just nailing down the cover and then we’re just about there. Jesus Diaz originally came to me as a story for Self-help for Stoners, but in that incarnation, he’s a much older, wiser and experienced assassin.

Jack (from Corrective Measures and Sex, Death and Mind Control.) Jack is a serial killer who I find interesting because of the way he sees our world. He thinks about vengeance quite a bit, but I’m actually more interested in writing him when he’s not himself. He’s fascinating when he’s trying to fit in and working through his twisted motivations and problems. He’s a dark avenging angel who has to hide his wings (metaphorically, that is) as he punishes people he decides deserve bad ends.

What’s fun is, eventually, I’m going to have all these characters meet in one book, but they have a lot of work to do before they meet. I have a lot of books to write before that happens, too. It’s exhilarating, daunting and pretty cool. Yeah, I said so myself.

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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