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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

I like you more when your dog dies: Niches, conversations, dead blogs and a contest.

We don’t sell anything unless we tell stories. To sell stories, we must have stories about our books.

Seth Godin’s blog and books sell because they’re short, pithy, smart and he owns his niche. To own a niche now, you’d do better define a new one. Don’t try to take Seth’s purple cow, tribe or incisive observations about case studies. (Note: “Case studies” is the more scientific word for “stories.”)

Define your own niche and you’ve got a better shot at selling more books.

For instance, my next book is about Romeo in a drug-infested, coming-of-age thriller in New York. Shakespeare plays a role in finding the modern Juliet. Coming-of-age and thriller aren’t normally such cozy neighbors. My last book was a zombie apocalypse with an autistic hero and Latin proverbs. Not a lot of competition in that end of the zombie market.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege.

Familiarity is overdone. Differences define us in the market. (e.g. Bookstores are still crammed with Harry Potter knock-offs, but there’s only one JK Rowling.) Take something familiar and find a way to make it original again and you’ve got something.

Story is the most important thing. Story works.

Podcasts don’t sell unless they’re rich in content and tell stories. From business success to how-to and gee-whiz science, podcasts don’t work as sales engines unless they tell aspirational stories. From the startlingly different (Welcome to Night Vale) to personal confession (Marc Maron’s WTF) stories must be told and be relatable.

I’ve noticed more authors seem to be shifting their cyber-presence to Facebook and away from Twitter. They’re all Twittered out. Tweets are solid tools of discovery and live-tweeting makes the Oscars watchable, but Twitter tends to be less about story and connection. We need a little more space to achieve resonance.

Facebook offers more opportunity for personal connection. FB’s post length helps, but it’s also subtext. On Facebook, you have friends

Twitter is less friendly and more competitive. On Twitter, people have followers and people pay attention to numbers gained and lost. On Twitter you use ManageFlitter and WhoUnfollowedMe. On Facebook, if crazy Aunt Sadie unfriends you, you’re relieved you can swear again and her abandonment confirms your politics are sane.

Personal stories help us plug into each other’s pleasure centres.

The mind often fails to make distinctions among what’s real and illusory, cyber and real world. On Facebook, Story is the carrier wave of connection: “This is my child, my dog, my life!” we tell each other.

Since we don’t know what the hell we’re doing and we’re all scared, our connections reassure us. “Maybe I’ve screwed everything up, but at least I’m making the same mistakes as everyone else in our journey toward a better tomorrow.”

That’s why your photo catalogue of a glorious tropical vacation on Facebook doesn’t fit into the brain’s three-prong plug of connection. People love shared stories of failure, vulnerability and happiness, but only after that happiness is earned by failure and vulnerability. We root for the underdog and rags-to-riches stories, not Donald Trump. Your new car is nice for you, but I like you more when your dog dies. My dog died. Commonality is currency. Because I want to be loved, I love you when you’re suffering insomnia from worry, too. Misery doesn’t just love company. It insists on it.

Though we are each mysteries, we like to imagine we are each other.

Each of us is just as challenged and sad and lonely, but we hope to be rich some day, too. When the money and success roll in, we tend to forget all this stuff about connection. We blame the poor for their poverty, give luck no credit for our rise and trumpet all our hard work to the exclusion of any variable that does not bow to our big ol’ brains.

No wonder the rich and poor hate each other (except the poor want to join the resented rich, too.) Meanwhile, the rich would rip out their own throats with car keys from their repossessed Lexus if they had to get by on less than $100,000 a year.

Our class boundaries break connections. That’s why celebrities seem so otherworldly in person. They lost their shock collars and passed the invisible electric fence! They made it, so we can, too! Unless they’re the children of celebrities. Those lucky devils get a sneer and a Barry Bonds asterisk beside their fame.

Our stories about who we are become who we are.

That quest for privacy? Quaint. Adorable. Amish.

Jonathan Franzen worries about our attention spans, the death of literature and loss of privacy. He worries about the horrors of the Internet, just about every week it seems, in the Huffington Post. Horrors.

Blogs are dead sales platforms.

You have to have an author site, but you’ll get more juice from connecting on Facebook. Twitter will serve you better than a blog because it serves more people.

A blog is too much of a commitment for the reader. Too few blogs are “appointment reading”. A blog is a magazine at the doctor’s office. You only pick it up when there’s nothing else to do and you’d rather be doing something else.

I am subscribed to many blogs. They’re up there somewhere, forgotten in an RSS reader, added to a long reading list I will never get to. The blogs I actually read daily don’t have to be stuck in my bottomless bookmark bin. I go to them.

Blogs fail because signals go out but they don’t connect. Like this post, a bad blog post pontificates. I’m doing it now, connecting less, to fewer people. Still here? You’re already hoping the meta will stop and I’ll somehow pull out of the dive and land a punch and a point in the final sentence. How will I bring us home after such a depressing, meandering trip? I’ll show you. Indulge, a moment more, before the doctor calls you in to talk about those test results.

There are exceptional blogs, still breathing.

You can tell which blogs still have a heartbeat. They have a large and active comment community who aren’t just there to fight. (The Passive Voice is necessary to indie writers, for instance, as is David Gaughran’s blog.) Their lure is a story of aspirational subtext: Read this and you will succeed as we analyze the mistakes and triumphs of others.

And what are comments but the back from the forth? The best comments are more stories, resonating and rising up in conversation.

Commenting as a sales tool is less effective than it once was, back when people still asked, “What’s a blog?” Commenting doesn’t sell, though it can hurt you if you’re a dick. Some commenters never communicate human warmth. They think their intellect and snark will win people over and drag eyeballs back to their own dead blogs. They’re wrong. We only go back to their blogs to see if they’re rude to everyone (yes, always, yes) and make mental notes of what books not to buy.

Living sales platforms are conversations.

Facebook is a bigger sales engine at the moment, coming at you sideways, fun and friendly and under your defences.  We tell stories in conversation with friends. That’s where the connection lies, even if it’s a lie. We share our failures and hopes and dreams and we don’t look at our watch when we’re on Facebook. (That’s how the wasted hours slip away and books don’t get written, too.)

Facebook falls short in some ways, but that’s where I can talk with Hugh Howey or Chuck Wendig or Robert J. Sawyer. Facebook is alive with conversation. That’s the hot, three-pronged brain plug of connection we crave.

So who cares about this shit? Too long to read. Meet me on Facebook and maybe we’ll connect in a conversation. Blogs are dead. I killed it. Just now. I regret nothing.

Season 2 is the quest.

Season 2 is the quest.

~ There is a secret in This Plague of Days. You’ve already read it. No one has guessed it yet. If you suspect you know, DM me on Facebook or DM me on Twitter. Praise and adulation will be heaped upon those who guess correctly. First prize is a signed paperback. Three winners will appear in my next book. Adulation for all will happen on the All That Chazz podcast.

Filed under: author platform, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are readers changing and what does that mean to writers?

A friend of mine is an old-school, English major sort of guy. He was extolling the virtues of literature as we once knew it: contemplative novels; long treatises on the nature of the human condition; and “serious” novels chosen by a small cabal of unknown gatekeepers. His eyes gleamed for the nostalgia of MFA glories, tiny lit mag aspirations and the New York Times bestseller lists of old world, analog publishing.

This is the sort of conversation that takes me places I didn’t expect to go. Only in talking it out, and writing it out here, have I discovered and understood what I think about New versus Old writing, reading and publishing.

The “issue” is, have readers’ tastes changed?

All generalizations weaken questions and answers, but there’s validity waiting down there in the dark. Let’s delve.

Pre-WWII, many schools in the first world taught Latin and Greek. Long recitations of poetry were valued. My mom was an excellent example of that brand of scholarship. Two days before she died, riddled with cancer and taken low by the drugs meant to ease her pain, she recited, “The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. My father listened, tears in his eyes, as her voice came, suddenly strong. “Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands…”

Latin’s gone and Greek’s forgotten, unless you’re Greek. Rote recitation has ebbed. Penmanship as a skill is dismissed as obsolete. With the economy what it is and university fees rising, majoring in English is quite a luxury. I’m sure there aren’t as many women’s studies or Medieval studies programs as there were when I was in university. There’s a greater emphasis on job prep now. If you’re some kind of doctor or engineer, you can still make university pay. It seems we have less time to think about big issues, though. Like what happens when the doctor fails and what awaits us in the Abyss?

I guess, for that, there’s idiotic YouTube distractions and warm, fuzzy Facebook memes.

The rest is up to us, the writers.

Some curricula we’ll miss and others we’re glad to let go.

I feel very lucky to have received the one course in university I relished most. The Foundation Year Program at the University of King’s College was the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history. Best course ever. They called it a “programme” because they were the sort of Canadians who aspired to reek of British universities’ plummy pretension. Those Brit professors they emulated would look on us as snow-shoed colonials, but where else in Canada could you ask “what is the soul” and watch duelling professors fight over the answer for half an hour?

It was a great opportunity. Job skills were approached somewhat tangentially for many of us. We don’t know how to weld or split the genes for Monsanto that will kill us. With the death of newspapers, our journalism degrees are largely quaint and useless, but damn, we’re great conversationalists.

But that’s more nostalgia. What about now?

Many high school students and their families are seriously challenging the value of a university degree given that no jobs are waiting. Add  in the costs of paying off that bill for most of the rest of their lives. Or never.

University fees have put on a lot of weight and are suddenly much less sexy. As the middle class shrinks down to the working poor, the dream marriage of career and long, happy retirement is doomed.

The generations who dressed up for air travel and studied Greek laid the groundwork and built the infrastructure for our modern civilization. They were sharp enough to use slide rules to deliver humans to the moon and back and dumb enough to invent the atomic bomb.

From what I’ve observed, “kids today” are probably up for the great and bad challenges, too. However, our politicians suck and so bridges and highways crumble and kids starve.

All civilizations that manage to rise, fall. We’re on the slide. As writers, we can help slow the inevitable, discourage idiots from hastening the collapse and/or entertain everybody on the way down.

What are the “classics” going to be for students now?

To Kill a Mockingbird? The Old Man and the Sea? Romeo and Juliet? Goethe?

I don’t think so. What students across North America and beyond will have in common as adults are these new classics: Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Glee. These are our culture’s touchstones at the moment. 

And get used to a much more transient definition of “classic”.

Lucy crying at Desi for a job at the club is classic comedy for today’s waiting-to-die-on-a-ventilator-in-a-few-minutes generation.

For us? I’m not sure they make funny sit-coms anymore. And I don’t think I’ll be in an old age home some day screaming deafly, “Anybody remember that Frasier episode where Niles had heart surgery?”

This year’s college freshmen aren’t talking about their common love of Tolstoy. Take any pair of well-educated, first year roommates and, if and when they talk culture, they’ll be talking about the good old days of The Sopranos and The Wire. They’ll speak of Hollywood all the way back one decade, when the movie machine didn’t suck like Dyson vacuum cleaners. That’s if they aren’t talking sports.

Pop culture, not Euclid, is our commonality now. When you’re looking to make new friends on a bus trip, don’t ask what your sexy seat-mate loved about Dante’s Inferno. (Trust me, I tried it. It’s not the touchstone I’d hoped for.)

The habit of reading is established (or not) in our early years or in jail. But it’s not all on parents and educators and the prison industry. The market has changed, too. Our attention is fractured by so many choices. Writers are competing with Grand Theft Auto and free Internet porn. Talk about quixotic aspirations!

What does this mean to writers? I’ll tell you what I told my friend about writing and publishing:

1. Authors are expected to produce more books faster to gain readerships and hold them.

2. Series and serials are in. Writing books like a TV season (as someone complained of This Plague of Days recently) is in. No, I mean to say it’s IN! As in, that’s what I meant to do!

3. Pop culture references are in. They light up the cozy familiarity cells of the brain. Trying to make books “eternal” with zero pop references? Out.

4. More genre mash-ups are in. I sure didn’t see zombie erotica coming, so slice that mash as thin as you want. Keywords are relevant. Bookshelf labels are much less relevant.

5. Pulp. We can push back the walls of what readers expect from pulp, too. The Cuban assassin in my crime novels is politically aware and has a lot to say about drug addiction. My latest work tackles global warming, US foreign policy and the nature of God, though the recipe’s nutrients are hidden in the neuro-fudge cake of zombies versus vampires.

6. Niches are in. Appealing to a deep niche is achievable. Trying to appeal to wide audiences is out, or at least it’s something that happens to you. It’s probably not something you can make happen.

7. Ebooks are here to stay. Seems obvious, but there’s still some resistance from publishers on the remote island of Manhattan who don’t know the war is over.

8. Shorter books are in. I once thought that meant short stories are coming back, but by my sales stats, either I was wrong then or I’m impatient now. The economics and timelines of more books, faster, demand shorter books.

9. Intermediators will return with honor. The more books you write, the more you wish you had help. This week I lost four hours of writing to formatting a print book. We, the relentless writers and publishers, need help. We’ll be looking for more minions and partners, though, not publishers. After months of sixteen hour days, I am exhausted. Viva la outsourcing!

10. Hybrid authorship is becoming more appealing, as long as we retain our e-rights and audio rights. Once the Big Five stop chiseling their contracts in stone, call me.

11. Book prices will still be all over the place, charging what the market will bear.

12. Jonathan Franzen will still complain about social media comprising the end of the world, but Huffington Post will give up publishing his rants. The Amish aren’t Huffpo‘s demographic. The irony of complaining about social media on the Internet will swallow itself whole and disappear in a flash of yin quantum, pixelated justice, balancing out Franzen’s Neo-Luddite yang. Gee, I hope media starts ignoring Anne Coulter sometime soon, too.

13. Blog posts like this one won’t survive. Too Long To Read and too snooty by half. Unless you’re deep in my niche, who’s got the time for these presumptuous pronouncements about my betters?

Relax.

Breaking Bad taught as much or more about the dangers of hubris than any Greek tragedy.

Everyone’s reflex to hate the future is just resistance to change away from the comfortable. Nostalgia is not thinking. It supplants thinking. It’s an old blanket that’s getting ratty.

We will adapt until the grid collapses and we start eating rats and insects to survive. Then we’ll have more time to devote to those deep conversations we’re not having. Those end of the world stories around campfires are going to be awesome.

~ Find out more about my books and podcasts at AllThatChazz.com and ThisPlagueOfDays.com. Defy expectations and love me for me, because I miss Heavy D.

Filed under: publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

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

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