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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writers: Who influences you?

NEW THL COVER JAN 2015 COMPLETE

FYI: Grab your free dark fantasy and a free crime novel here. The Haunting Lessons is free today and tomorrow only!


Everything that has ever happened to us goes into our books. Every slight and terrible vengeance, real or imagined, gets poured in. Here are some of my influences:

1. During a podcast, the guest talked about the Hagakure, the book of the Samurai. It had been a long time since I’d read it, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew I had an empty place for that puzzle piece in the next book in the Ghosts & Demons Series.

2. When John Cleese was a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Jon mentioned the Choir Invisible. Besides being a funny sketch and a great poem, the reference set off fireworks in my mind. The Choir Invisible became a complex secret society that fights evil in The Haunting Lessons. (We don’t read enough poetry anymore, by the way. Lyricism seeps into our writing when we drink enough of it.)

3. William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride (among many other wonderful novels and screenplays) always catches the reader by surprise. When you are sure what is going to happen next? That’s when he’s got you. I love that. I do that. It makes plot development a joy and dares you to stop turning pages, even when it’s late and you have to be at work early in the morning.

4. I studied The Divine Comedy in school. When you’re writing about demons and the fight between good and evil (or bad and evil), a quote from the classics slipped into the narrative makes for a big moment that adds to the depth of the atmosphere I want to achieve in a key scene.

5. I loved the action in Mickey Spillane novels. Film is definitely in the mix, as well. When I’m writing the Hit Man Series, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers and Guy Ritchie are never far away.

6. Stephen King’s structural devices from The Stand and It went into This Plague of Days. Chuck Palahniuk’s appreciation for the macabre is in all the horror. Contextualizing the bizarre with the weird and real is a lesson learned from The X Files.

7. As a disappointed humanist, I want to be Kurt Vonnegut. Not the writer per se, but the man. If I ever release my time travel novel, he’s in the mix in a big way. I miss him.

8. When I’m writing action and suspense, Skrillex, Eminem and Everlast are playing in the background. Visceral goes with viscera. A steady diet of standup comedy balances out the blood. The path between horror and humor can be a knife edge. 

9. Fight scenes and sex scenes: draw on experience and each variety of conquering and surrender is all the more delicious.

10. Director Kevin Smith and comic Joe Rogan inspired me to write my first book, Self-help for Stoners. Chasing that dream long into the night continues to keep me going in the face of adversity.

I write original books (if it can be said there is such a thing.) However, we all have our artistic ancestry. What’s yours? What do you recommend?

~ FYI, one more time: The Haunting Lessons is free today and tomorrow and my first crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, is also free everywhere. Hit AllThatChazz.com now for the links.

Bigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle

Filed under: Books, Writers, writing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Weird Al, Kevin Smith, Hugh Howey and Scott Sigler Succeed

The mind virus is created. Spread the infection.

The mind virus is created. Spread the infection.

Price alone doesn’t get attention anymore. Being an author isn’t so special. To really stand out and sell more books,  you’re going to have to be you. 

We in the brain tickle business have never had so much freedom and opportunity  to talk directly to readers. We’ve also never been so invisible. The essence of our book marketing problem is that readers are flooded with noise but our signal isn’t getting through. A plethora of fractured choices leaves us catering to smaller niches. The world has exploded with feasts for the senses and books are not central to our cultural dining experience.

How do we help readers find us? 

To figure out how to better reach our niches, let’s look at artists who successfully engage their fans: Hugh Howey, Scott Sigler, Weird Al Yankovic and Kevin Smith.

Be famous for something else first.

When director Kevin Smith’s Clerks hit, that movie was his introduction to his niche. He has described the film as as a handshake to America that said, “Hi, How are you? I’m Kevin Smith!” Being famous first isn’t  helpful advice, but it’s so obvious, I had to get this one out of the way first.

Pioneer something new.

When Kevin Smith jumped on the podcast bandwagon, there weren’t many musicians in that band or on that wagon. He’s always up for something new or a twist on something old. He abandoned the big studio promotion model to take his movie, Red State, on tour to his fans. Now he’s taking his Super Groovy Cartoon Movie on the road.

The same willingness to adapt applies to Scott Sigler. When his manuscripts weren’t selling to publishers, he sat in his closet and recorded his books as podcasts. When he went back to the publishers, it was still so early in the game, the publishers replied, “What’s a podcast?” But Sigler’s readers found him through audio and ended up buying his work in digital and paper.

Think it’s too late to get into something new? Podcasting is still new. You probably write a blog, but there are millions of blogs vying for attention. There are only a few hundred thousand podcasts.

POD Chazz 2I have two podcasts and I sell the most books where my podcast is most popular. Also, I’m connecting with cool people on Vine. I don’t know what the next big thing will be, but I’m open to jumping into anything early if it makes sense to test it. Just don’t wait until the new social media platform makes sense to everyone.

Embrace Different and get noticed.

Hugh Howey has taken a contrarian approach to fan fiction. He’s embracing it. Instead of guarding the realm of Wool, he’s invited others to play in his sandbox. That one move has already gained him new fans and more publicity. The fact that Amazon decided to promote fan fic makes me think he’s on to something. (And before we get snotty about it, don’t forget fan fic is where the Fifty Shades of Gray‘s success sprang from.)

Kevin Smith just pressed a new album for his cult of rabid fans. That’s right. As in vinyl. They’ll buy it, too. They love him.

Scott Sigler appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience recently. Lots of fiction authors (like me!) would love to get on that show. He got there because he’s interesting, does tons of research for his books and he’s technologically innovative. Couldn’t happen to a smarter guy.

Meanwhile, Weird Al expanded his empire into our territory. He’s written a children’s book. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Build a body of work.

After his many movies, Smith has a plethora of podcasts he’s begun, sponsored, abandoned and continued. His motto is, “Monetize.” He monetized conversation and found a way to keep his connection with his fan base between movies. Before podcasts, his ongoing conversation with fans happened through Twitter. Before that, his was one of the first message boards on the Internet. Keep up with innovation.

Weird Al has made music parodies for decades now (and weirdly, he does not appear to be aging.) It might surprise you to discover that half his songs are originals, not parodies of popular music. His fans know every lyric of his extensive musical inventory, though. Weird Al puts on an amazing show and, though many love him as a comedian, he doesn’t get the respect he deserves as a musician. He and his band have incredible range. They have to be great to convincingly parody so many artists of different styles. Keeping up with the music and being brilliant explain his staying power. His fan base renews so parents and their children have grown up loving Al. He didn’t get that status by being a one-hit wonder.

A bigger inventory is key to successful book marketing. Like I said repeatedly in Crack the Indie Author Code, your one sure, long-term strategy is to write plenty of good books. By occupying more digital real estate (like “Also boughts”), we send up a bigger flare to help readers find us.

The more shots you take, the more chances you have to hit. Once one book hits, all your sales rise. Do not bet it all on one spin of the wheel.

Be available.

Cool+People+Podcast+FinalQuite often you will read complaints about social media, particularly from authors. How many more blog posts will bleat, “But I just want to concentrate on writing my book…”? That’s not social media’s problem. That’s your time management problem. Figure it out and do what you enjoy when you can. (For instance, Vine’s a blast, it goes to my Facebook and Twitter, and it takes six seconds.)

Don’t complain about social media. Complaining about having to talk to readers makes you sound like someone potential fans don’t want to know, love and support. Whining doesn’t make you a diva or an auteur. It makes you a pain in the ass. 

Hugh Howey bubbles over with success, but he’s definitely not churlish. He’s friendly and nice. When I asked him about appearing on the Cool People Podcast, he got back to me right away even though he was on the road. (I’m interviewing him for the show next week! Can’t wait! If you have questions you want me to ask him, submit them to expartepress [AT] gmail [DOT] com.) 

Be available where readers congregate.

Smith and Weird Al tour. Scott Sigler is as close as your earbuds for free and when I sent him a tweet, he got back to me. Hugh Howey’s YouTube channel is plenty busy. If you aren’t talking where people are, you’re either praying or talking to yourself. Whether it’s social media or speaking events, go meet new people.

But it’s not just about sending signals out.

You don’t get much love hiding in a hole. To  engage people, be responsive when you can. For instance, Weird Al found himself waiting for a plane. He tweeted a phone number. “Anybody want to chat? I’ve got five minutes to boarding.” All his fans who couldn’t get through undoubtedly appreciated the gesture. It speaks to the sort of person he is (i.e. someone you want to know, love and support.)

When I met Kevin Smith, he couldn’t have been nicer to me. (Same with comedian Mike Schmidt, who has the same knack for remembering the name of everyone he meets and putting them at ease.)

Here’s the key: Be nice and listen to what they’re saying.

When you’re talking to someone, speak to that person as if, for that moment, he or she is the only person in the world. It sounds easy, which is why it’s so crazy more people don’t do it. (I’m confident divulging this open secret because, if you aren’t already genuinely nice, you won’t be able to fake it.)  Also, successful authors are always interesting, intelligent people with diverse interests. To be interesting, be interested in your world and in others.

Social media isn’t working for everyone.  

Episode 3 launches today! If you've been holding back on jumping in, now's the time!

Episode 3 launches today! If you’ve been holding back on jumping in, now’s the time!

Maybe that’s because we aren’t loveable, helpful or engaged enough. I’m not saying you have to engage “everyone”. That way madness lies. Besides, the writing has to come first and getting everyone on board isn’t the point. The point is to engage with people who get you and your work. I don’t need millions of readers who can take me or leave me. I need a few thousand die-hard cultists who call themselves an army, build fan clubs, buy books, leave happy reviews and don’t hate. That seems achievable. At least it’s easier than attempting to appeal to everyone (which too many people try to do.)

To the naysayers, I ask, “If social media is a lost cause, what is the alternative? Smoke signals?”

And are you being Weird Al enough?

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I’ve written the Hit Man Series, writing and publishing guides and most recently, This Plague of Days. TPOD is about a flu pandemic that turns into a zombie apocalypse as seen through the eyes of an autistic boy. It’s a serial, so you can gamble 99 cents on Episode One and buy the episodes a bit at a time, or grab the discount and get all of Season One for just $3.99. And by the way, when I’m nice to you, I’m not faking it. I only fake orgasms. In supermarkets.

Filed under: All That Chazz, audiobooks, author platform, book marketing, podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers, Writing and When to Swear

TPOD 0420 2

Apocalypse Art for This Plague of Days by Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com

As I work on This Plague of Days revisions, there’s a big difference: This is the first of my books my 13-year-old daughter is allowed to read. No one is swearing in TPOD and any sex is PG-13, at most. Sometimes I think this serial (to be released at the end of May) could be suitable for Young Adult. However, I’m also not pulling back on elements of horror that range from Hitchcockian allusion (The Birds) to classic horror (a gross-out or three). It’s a post-apocalyptic world and things aren’t pretty. 

Crass Commercial Considerations

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

I’ll admit it: I want This Plague of Days to sell to a wide audience. I want it to go huge! Multiple translations and audiobooks and mass consumption. I want this serial to be made into a movie or a franchise with TPOD lunch boxes and T-shirts at conventions. I don’t want to return to a day job and a very popular serial without cursing will help me toward that goal. I watched an interview with director Kevin Smith recently in which he breaks down the movie market. The same principles apply to us: R sells less than PG-13. Soften the blow. Make more money.

Yes, I know Fifty Shades of Gray is bondage porn that makes a ton of money off a wide audience. However, this isn’t that. This Plague of Days is about an autistic boy who is a selective mute. A plague spreads across the earth and as the mayhem goes up, society spirals down. Bad things happen. However, the story revolves around the boy and, though it’s third-person limited omniscient, much of it unfolds through the boy’s filter. His special interest is English dictionaries and Latin phrases. Nothing is lost if I don’t make TPOD a cursefest and I’ll gain more readers.

The Irony I Frankly Don’t Understand

Many people are comfortable with just about any depiction of violence but get squeamish about certain words and sex. We’re downright weird about cursing. It’s in mainstream media and on any school playground, but in print, daily newspapers put in coy asterisks like this: f***. As if our brains don’t just fill in the word automatically. Swearing is ingrained in everyday conversations, but we pretend it’s not.

Watching a show like Dexter on a non-Showtime channel, censors ensure the dialogue sounds silly. “Mothertruckers?” Really? (The practice was played to great comedic effect when, in the latest Spider-Man movie incarnation, our beloved hero blurts, “Mother Hubbard!“)

Meanwhile, I get queasy about certain entertainment that is considered mainstream even though it’s extremely violent. I’ll never see Jodi Foster in The Accused and I refuse to watch A Time to Kill. Frank depictions of sexual assault and child rape are not something I want to

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

see. I can’t watch CSI or its many iterations. That whole Special Victims Unit thing feels way too voyeuristic and definitely not for me. (I’m not campaigning for a cleansing, by the way. I don’t want art censored. What I don’t like, I don’t watch, read or listen to and that solves my problem nicely.)

Ever since I had kids, I’m generally more queasy about violence that’s too realistic. I’d rather keep my violence diet to thrillers like Bigger Than Jesus. Though there’s plenty of death and even allusions to Jesus’s abuse as a young teen, it’s treated carefully, not graphic, and balanced by the hero’s sense of humor. The funny makes the horrible feel safe, somehow. 

This Plague of Days’ post-apocayptic genre puts the story into a realm that isn’t ours…at least not quite yet. 

Sex and Curses Have Their Place: Serving the story

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

My crime novels are funny but still gritty and hardboiled. The swearing in the Hit Man Series is a need. It would have been unnatural to write workarounds for simple, salty language. Acting too coy would have drained too much realism away. 

As for sex, in Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz is constantly running for his life. The book plays out like a long chase scene. Beatings and murder don’t put the hero and heroine in the mood, even for a quickie. There is a great romantic love interest in Lily Vasquez, but her intimacy issues with the hit man aren’t about sex. Lily and Jesus’s drama deepens character and shows the impact of his awful history on his life. Through their interaction, the reader understands Jesus more and sees why he’s so screwed up (particularly about women). The reader ends up empathizing with a guy who kills for money. As for Higher Than Jesus, the sex scene with Willow Clemont and Jesus is both integral to the plot and erotic. Sex raises the stakes.

The Balance:

Despite any commercial considerations and the joy I feel at being able to show my daughter what I really do,

story has to come first.

Gee, I hope she likes it.

~ Chazz has new websites: CoolPeoplePodcast.com, onlysixseconds.wordpress.com, DecisionToChange.com. In the latest podcast at the author site, AllThatChazz.com, there’s some swearing (in a funny rant) and a fresh reading from Higher Than Jesus.

Filed under: book marketing, Genre, Horror, rules of writing, This Plague of Days, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amazon sales secrets you’re probably missing

When you scan your book sales page and stats, it can be pretty dry, depressing and really not tell you much except what happened in the past. I’m more interested in what will happen and how I can make it so. There’s more information on Amazon than you’re currently using, but it’s all right there if you look. You can use this data to become more profitable. Delve deeper to divine what’s really going on with your readers. Here are some ideas about discovering who your readership is and how to reach them:

1. Categorize for Visibility

Yesterday I mentioned optimizing your books’ visibility by examining your sales and how your books are categorized. You may be invisible in a large genre category, but if you can drill down and pinpoint an appropriate category you could make your book a bigger fish in a smaller pond. In a category that is too general, you’re in a sea of books and harder to find. But don’t just look at the stats and numbers Amazon supplies at Author Central. There’s much more you can do. Let’s go further than the usual cursory glance at graphs, numbers, green up and red down arrows.

2. Surprise: Paperbacks versus Ebooks Revisited

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

Micro-publishers are often told that ebooks are the crux of our business and that’s where our focus should be. I agree that’s true in general but that doesn’t hold true for all books.

Naturally, we often compare sales of one book to another. Each of us probably has a good handle on which of our  books sells most and least, if only for curiosity’s sake. Now compare each ebook against its brother in paper. I discovered one of my books in paperback, Self-help for Stoners, outsells the ebook version. I’ll hold back on making easy jokes about why this would be (Okay: Paper makes for good rolling after you read it. Happy, Stoner Stereotype Brigade?)

The why is just guessing and doesn’t matter, but the what is significant to me. It tells me the revamp and reload I’m planning for Self-help for Stoners (also discussed in yesterday’s post) is worth my time. A new edition in paper will be worth the effort.

The same thing is happening with my writing and publishing guides. I’m sure this is so because they are reference books. According to a recent study, students still prefer paper reference books to ebook texts. Since they sell better in paper than ebook form, I plan to reformat Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire

When I revamp these paperbacks, I’ll sell them in a smaller size. They’re currently huge honking trade paperbacks. I couldn’t get them down in size on my first attempt, but the next edition will be more like a thick 5 x 9. If the software won’t cooperate, I’ll call on a friend who is a book designer to help. With a smaller format, I’ll be able to bring the price down and sell more paperbacks. (Expect the format change at the end of summer to coincide with release of my next guide on writing and publishing. Don’t wait! Get them now or grab the ebooks. People are loving them.)

3. “Frequently bought together”

Crack the Indie Author CodeFrom your sales page topped with your author bio, click through to see what’s selling under the “Customers Also Bought” list.

We spend a lot of time, energy and free giveaway days trying to get on this list on other author’s sales pages to increase our books’ visibility. When Self-help for Stoners came out, over time it became clear that readers found me through my connection with director Kevin Smith. On the Self-help for Stoners sales page, Amazon still has my book paired with his book, Tough Sh*t, under “Frequently bought together.” However, on my main sales page, Kevin’s not on the author list anymore (discussed in #4). I noticed him dropping away as other authors took his place.

If your book is paired with another author’s, you could work together to promote both books, either through advertising together or doing a podcast for mutual benefit, for instance. 

4. “Customers Also Bought Items By” 

On your main sales page on Amazon, look at the list of authors under this category, down the right sidebar. Number one for me as of this writing is John Locke. That makes sense since Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus are funny and fast-paced crime novels with contemporary references. (I’m suddenly self-conscious about constantly plugging my books here, but since it’s my damn blog and I’m drawing on case study experience — poof! — I’m over that self-consciousness. I’ll hold on to all the other neuroses, though.)

Here’s the current screenshot from my sales page:

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 3.07.29 PM

If the same authors turn up consistently over time, that’s a stronger indication you share a common niche and audience. The Guy Kawasaki occurrence here is no doubt because he just came out with APE and that’s the identical reader demographic who would go for my Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire.

How is this useful and what does it tell you?

Aspire to Inspire eBook JPGThinking about the authors on your page could give you an idea where your readers are coming from. For instance, if you did a blog tour and soon noticed a familiar author on your sales page list, it would serve you well to guest blog for them again or host them on your blog.

It’s rare in book marketing that we can identify a causative marketing solution. That’s positive feedback that is actionable. (Is “actionable” too jargony?) Usually, when we see our sales go up and down, we can’t link it to a particular event. For instance, maybe your sales today came about because of a recent press release or maybe it was that giveaway you held two months ago. Who knows? Establishing causal relationships between promotion, publicity and sales is rare unless you’re doing a measurable campaign (like a rewards program, for instance.) Whenever you can identify something that worked, do it again!

I know a couple of authors on my “Customers Also Bought Items By” list personally. I suspect they show up here because they’ve been kind enough to promote me. I’m especially pleased to see Chuck Wendig on this list. I don’t know him. All we’ve exchanged are a couple of funny tweets and I’ve read a couple of his books. However, we both wrote funny writing advice books, so that’s undoubtedly the common audience.

From what I know of the other authors, it suggests to me that I’m hitting male readers somewhat. I reach writers who read about writing and publishing, of course. However, from that list, I suspect most of my readers are female, between thirty and fifty-six, well-educated and into suspense with romantic elements. It’s my crime novels in the Hit Man Series that will make the splash with most of them.

What this analysis could reveal

I want to know who reads my stuff so I get more ideas about how to reach them. That helps me target bookBigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle reviewers who have demonstrated that they tend to like similar work by authors on my “Customers Also Bought Items By” list. It might also help me choose which blogs to apply to for a guest post. If the authors on this list have already guest blogged there, that’s a clue. I might also request guest blog spots from some of the authors on the list directly since we already have readers in common.

This awareness is most helpful by finding those authors most like you. Watch success and emulate it. What might I learn from these authors whose audience overlaps with mine? I could learn a lot from figuring out where my fellow authors appear, which book reviewers adore their flavor of madness, how they handle their blogs, their book releases etc.,….

I loved Stephen King’s On Writing, but as much as my Maine town has in common with Derry, I can’t learn much from him about reaching new readers with a shoestring book promotion budget in the New World Ebook Order. In the author hierarchy, Mr. King is on a distant planet from little old me. Authors closest to me talk my language and we can relate to each other’s problems.

What this analysis shouldn’t tell you

Don’t avoid engaging your audience by relying on numbers and conjecture. The real fans will tell you what they like best (and, if polite, let you figure out what they liked less by simple deduction.) I don’t write what I’m told to write, but I listen. Readers have told me that, after reading the Poeticule Bay short stories, they want full novels about the creepy town in Maine everyone wants to escape. That bumped it up on my priority list. Others have emailed to request that I please get to that dystopian thriller with the autistic protagonist I mentioned once. I’m on it. Thank you for your encouragement and support as I prioritize what comes next from Ex Parte Press.

Love acknowledged and that said, I write what I’m inspired to write. This analysis is to figure out how to be found by more people, not to figure out what to Higher+than+Jesus+Front+1029produce before I’m found. I’m not interested in identifying my audience so I can try to write for, or pander to, any one demographic. That’s artificial and would yield sub par results (at least in my case.) I write for myself first and hope others enjoy what I enjoy. The writing, insulated from any audience but one, comes first.

This analysis gives me ideas about how to help readers discover my books once I unleash my mind viruses upon the world. In art (or Art, if you prefer) the customer always comes second. I don’t chase markets. I stay true to my vision. The market will chase me…eventually.

Me B&W~Robert Chazz Chute writes blog posts that are way too long. He even (by Thor!) writes about himself in the third person in that little bio thingy at the end of blog posts. He’s also the nut behind the All That Chazz Podcast. But perhaps, if you aren’t allergic, he’s your kind of nut. Find out at AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: Amazon, ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Year in Indie Publishing: Lessons learned

Just released! Paranormal, crime, weirdness and murdering Delusion.

Just released! Paranormal, crime, weirdness and murdering Delusion.

Hundreds of mugs of coffee and almond milk later…where am I now? I quit my part-time job to work at writing full-time. It’s been one year, one month and sixteen days. Today, a look back on the first year of Ex Parte Press and lessons learned:

1. I published Self-help for Stoners and Sex, Death & Mind Control first, just before I quit. I went with Bookbaby as the intermediary on those two. In hindsight, not the best choice. To change absolutely anything costs. I should have gone more DIY up front so I’d have more flexibility with those titles. (Also, their responses to my requests for information have been very slow.) Unless things improve with BB, I will pull them eventually and republish without the intermediation.

2. I published some short stories through Smashwords. Smashwords hasn’t paid off, though I think it will the more I publish through that platform. I hurt myself early on with a bad DIY cover. Short stories are a tough sell, but my collections sell better. (Oh, hey! Just published the definitive collection: Murders Among Dead Treeswhich is two previous ebooks plus much more, bonus commentary and a sneak peek. More about that later. Nice cover, huh? No more DIY covers for me! My graphics guy and go-to dude is Kit Foster. Check his portfolio.)

3. In the first few months of the year, I wrote a lot but worked on promotion too much, too soon. I should have allocated my time to get more books done and worry about promotion less on the front end. Writing more books and expanding your bookshelf is the only sure way of grabbing more eyeballs in the long run.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

4. In May, in a simulcast across North America, I gave director Kevin Smith an autographed copy of  Self-help for Stoners. It now resides in his bathroom. Though I got onstage, I was still too shy about promoting myself and hampered the opportunity by getting offstage too quick. The follow-up press release campaign was a waste of money and time. The appearance on Smodco’s podcast was a better stab at being a publicity monster, but due to a mistake that wasn’t mine, that effort, too, was hobbled because it aired at the very end of the Valentine’s Day podcast. Personally, it was a very positive thing. Professionally, less so. (When I see Self-help for Stoners stats go up, I have to wonder if that’s a delayed positive outcome, though.)

5. I had a disappointing falling out with a publisher in June. Everything was peachy until the promised money didn’t arrive on the timetable agreed upon. I relearned a lesson I should have picked up by now: Don’t work with angry people (and, when they are uncommunicative, that doesn’t mean all’s well.) Good luck to them. I remain righteous.

"Worthy of Elmore Leonard with shades of Thomas Harris..."

“Worthy of Elmore Leonard with shades of Thomas Harris…”

6. By June I’d published another collection, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories. In July, Bigger Than Jesus, my first crime novel, was ready.

I later discovered that TDK &OS had production issues. I think Scrivener used an earlier draft it shouldn’t have. As soon as I found out about it, we went into whirlwind mode, corrected the text and published a new edition of The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories. (Nonetheless, sales plummeted on that title. Nuts.)

I found some things I want to change in the paperback of Bigger Than Jesus, though the same problems didn’t appear in the ebook. Scrivener is a great program, but there’s still quite a learning curve. Next problem, finding an equally great and affordable program for editing print books. Formatting print books in Scrivener is too hard (at least for me.) 

7. I podcast Bigger Than Jesus through the summer, a chapter at a time. The podcast continues to grow and the last episode of 2012 (airing this week) will be #62. I’m pleased with it, but my mistake was to focus too much on marketing the first book. I’d named the podcast Self-help for Stoners (reasoning that at least I’d have an identifiable and easily entertained audience.) I later switched it to the All That Chazz podcast because my author site is AllThatChazz.com and the new title reflects the variety of whimsies I offer. The podcast has listeners worldwide, but I’m still most popular with the beautiful stoners of California.

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

8. By September, Higher Than Jesus, the second in the Hit Man Series was ready. I need to get more reviews, but the feedback tells me I’m on the right track (i.e. clever twists and reversals, even more funny dialogue, less swearing, more sex.) There’s a prejudice among some authors that a book has to take a long time to write for it to be any good. I don’t agree, if it’s the right book and the right writer. That’s one of the many points I argued in…

9. Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire released this fall. I drew on years of experience from working in traditional publishing and I’d been writing about writing for years. It was going to be one book, but that proved too big and overwhelming. I made it into two books. Boiled down from more than 1,000 posts on this blog, I revised, revamped and added bonus and updated material. I need more sales and reviews, of course, but in the long-term, these two are a score on the non-fiction side of Ex Parte Press. I’m sure there will be more books in the Writing and Publishing Series in 2014.

Grab Crack the Indie Author Code here.

Grab Crack the Indie Author Code here.

So what was learned? This is Item #9. By now, you’ve no doubt noticed there’s always a kick in the teeth. I learned that when you farm out editing work to an unfamiliar editor who misses deadlines and doesn’t get back to you, don’t be surprised when you’re disappointed. When the manuscript finally arrived, she’d made four or five corrections toward the end (perhaps trying to make me think she’d read the whole thing.) That set production back two months so all that editing had to be accomplished by someone else.  A costly delay.

10. Anxious to publish, I had plans for two more books in 2012. I wanted to get on with revising the big book: my ambitious, dystopian, coming-of-age thriller. I also began writing the third in the Hit Man Series, Hollywood Jesus.

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship. This book is free to you until Saturday, Dec. 15! Please click to get it now.

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship.

Then I learned the most important lesson yet: Balance. My work schedule caused problems with my health. Family obligations were  ignored. You can work nineteen and twenty-hour days. I don’t recommend it for long. I slowed a little and took more time with Murders Among Dead Trees. I got stuck on a couple of the stories and needed to take my time to make them better. The short, “Another Narrow Escape”, flowed out all at once and came easily. Others needed tinkering. I took the time I needed and Murders Among Dead Trees is just out. That’s the last of my short story collections. People buy novels and series much more, so that’s what I will write.

I’ll release the next books in early 2013…but I’ll be more flexible about what “early” means. I’ll also wrestle with the kids more.

So, as 2012 draws to a close, I have eight books up on Amazon (that by February will mostly be available across all platforms, not just Amazon.) ChazzWrites.com is a finalist among the best self-publishing blogs of 2012. This morning, Roger Colby from Writing is Hard Work (say that a little louder, Candy! It sure is hard work!) nominated me for Blog of the Year. John the Aussie never misses an opportunity to hit the “like” button on my posts. The books on writing and publishing will help a lot of people and the Hit Man Series will distract many from their pain and doom as they enjoy hilarious and hardboiled revenge fantasies. Today, I’ve never been more poor, but I don’t think I’ve been happier. 

What did I do right in 2012? I wrote every day and consistently. Then I rewrote. I got Dave Jackson to help me with my podcast and I got Kit Foster to design my covers. I asked for help when I realized I couldn’t do it all. I gathered allies and made a lot of friends through this blog. This is good. This is what beginning again looks like. It’s only my first year in indie publishing, not the last.

Never mind the Mayans. Year Two starts now. Tally-freakin’-ho!

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#NaNoWriMo: You can’t murder Miss Marple

Free to you Nov. 26 – 30, 2012

There’s an essential difference between a book that stands alone and a book in a series. In a one-off, anything can happen. In particular, you can kill off your protagonist. You’d be very unhappy with an Agatha Christie novel that ended with the gory strangulation of that sweet Miss Marple using piano wire. (What is it about piano wire that we always associate with strangulation? Was there a sale? Home Depot has lots of wire, but none in the category of “Piano”. Barbed wire would be meaner and razor wire would be more efficient. Yes, I spend too much time thinking about these issues.)

Though Sherlock Holmes went over the falls because Conan Doyle was sick of writing his “mere entertainments”, Sherlock survived in the end. It’s generally bad form to take a reader in hand and walk them through an intriguing story only to kill off the protagonist. It often makes the reader feel they’ve invested a lot of time and energy into a hero or heroine for naught. Kill off the intrepid heroine and, unless you follow her into an amazing Afterlife, readers will feel cheated of the victory they expected. Exceptions exist, but downer endings without some larger goal achieved easily go sour. Be careful about killing off the good guy.

When you write a series, character is even more important than usual because no matter what pressure cookers you throw your protagonist into, the reader is pretty sure he or she will come out reasonably okay in the end and uncooked. Character is key. Sacrifices are demanded. Red shirts are required. Captain Kirk was responsible for the deaths of many of the Enterprise Crew. Everybody would be much safer if they stayed home on Earth, but, whether we’re writers, appreciative readers or just out of Starfleet Academy and beaming down to the planet in Come-Eat-My-Face Red, “Risk is our business.”

Click the image to get Higher Than Jesus

The trick is to get the reader invested in your protagonist’s goals, make them real and ensure they are sympathetic. For example, my hit man, Jesus Diaz, is an orphan with a history of childhood abuse. That’s explored in the first book in the series, Bigger Than Jesus. In  Higher Than Jesus, he’s dealing with moral issues around what he does for a living while battling Vicodin addiction and some bad guys who are much worse than he. He’s also in love again and out to save the future Mrs. Diaz. Despite everything against him, Jesus is also a funny guy and the deeper the trouble, the funnier he is. That’s his key to multiple books.

Somebody asked me if my inspiration for that quirk was Spider-Man. I used to collect comics and yes, Spider-man is, as they used to say in the Silver Age of comics, “a real cut-up”. However, I first discovered the power of the funny in myself when I encountered a guy with a knife intent on slicing me up. My fear fuelled something in me and I was never as hilarious as when I was sure I was about to die. It was under the controlled conditions of an Operating Room, but still…

Click it to get it.

Click for suspense and hilarious frivolity in Self-help for Stoners.

~Robert Chazz Chute is the author of crime novels, two books about writing and publishing and several books of suspense, including Self-help for Stoners. He has hugged the man who inspired the book, director Kevin Smith of Silent Bob fame, but it was a man-hug. Self-help for Stoners is in Kevin Smith’s bathroom for reading when the whim strikes. Hear the podcast and consume the muted glory that is his author site at AllThatChazz.com.

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Twitter Etiquette, Book Promotion & the Narcissist Inversion

How much should authors tweet to promote our books? Buckle up, because I’m about to get a little contrarian on your brain. We are told that Twitter is a conversation and if all we do is promote our books, we deserve to be unfollowed. Agreed! Let’s be clear about that. I agree. Okay? We get it!

But…there’s always a but… it’s tough to find the balance. If all you get from an author is “BUY MY BOOK!” then, yes, absolutely, the complainers are right. That’s too much. I’m not sure how they feel about all the promotion I do of other people’s books. Maybe that’s offensive to somebody, too. Anyway, work out your own cost/benefit analysis and do that UNFOLLOW math.

Now comes the contrarian counter programming: You want me to find the balance? I’m trying.

But is your view balanced?

I’m going to turn the narcissism charge around on the accusers and usual suspects for a change.

1. One person’s sensibility isn’t everyone’s sensibility. We’re taught in school to never start a rant, argument or sentence with the words, “I think.” This programs our brains to think they aren’t subjective machines. We mistake our words for universal law. I call this “King (or Queen) of the Universe Syndrome.” K(orQ)US is a common affliction which makes the afflicted think everyone should share their opinion. For example, I’m infected right now. (The only antidote I know is to go for a walk at night and look at stars.)

2. You’re telling me what to do. I don’t like to be told what to do. I’m interested in what other people think, but I like to decide things for myself. I don’t wear a collar well — everybody gets the devil’s advocate thing — but there’s a larger point: There are no rules. It’s the Internet. The only rules are in service contracts. Etiquette changes. Etiquette is not universal. Aside from the blogs of hyper-marketing gurus and scolds, we can do what we want. It’s the Old West and that’s what we love about the Internet. You and your tin badge don’t have no jurisdiction outside of town, Sheriff.

3. Twitter is a microblogging platform. People use it in all sorts of ways: to search out new customers, to find new friends, to discover grisly pictures of weird roadkill and cute baby animals. Some use it like it’s Instant Messenger. To some, a blog; to others, a flog. There’s a lot more diversity to our choices than simply insisting that people “engage” you all the time.

4. If I’m filling up your feed, you’re the narcissist for not following enough people. My incoming tweet stream is a roaring river of information, diversity and neural input. I love that. Even the most verbose can’t dominate my stream for long because I’ve got so much input coming at me from so many cool people.

5. What’s your problem? It’s free. Twitter is free and opting into someone’s stream is free. Complaining about something you got for free is beyond the “First World Problem” category. It seems rude to me.

6. The agony I’m putting you through is voluntary and your safe word is UNFOLLOW. If you are following anyone against your will, please call the police and take jujitsu so no one can snatch your autonomy from you again.

7. Just because you’re not interested, it’s not necessarily spam. It might just mean that you’re not interested. That doesn’t make all authors spammers. That makes you a Lookie-Lou. You’re a browser who has no intent to buy. What good am I doing you? What good are you doing me? What is this “Some pigs are more equal than others” con you’re trying to pull on me?

8. You’re a delicate doily. With Netflix, PVR and DVDs, the populace is trained not to sit through commercials to get to the good stuff. We used to have to sit through ads and now we don’t. (Tangent: Have ad rates come down significantly to reflect this fact?) But Twitter is not Netflix, PVR, or DVDs. It’s live people and a bunch of them are offering you the opportunity to sample their wares and delight you for hours for less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee. And it’s not killing you. Ignoring stuff is easy. The people who are delicate doilies stopped reading after the first paragraph of this post, for instance. They only read stuff they agree with. Hm. I should try that. It sounds peaceful.

9. You’re limiting my creativity. One morning I watched Kevin Smith’s Twitter feed fill up as he wrote a long treatise on art and aspiration. I loved it and couldn’t wait for the next tweet of argumentation and inspiration. However, some people complained he was filling up their feed. His answer was, “I’m expressing myself here! If you don’t want to read it, don’t.” That unfollow button is so darn handy.

Some people take a dim view of following too many people, but I think that means your interested in your world. However, if you’re really not interested in what someone has to say on Twitter and it offends you in some way, maybe you’re meant to follow only those for whom you’re a true fan. And if you’re a true narcissist (or weak-minded or insecure in your convictions) I suspect you follow no one on Twitter because this is Sparta and following is for sheep! Or some such macho BS.

10. To write, narcissism is necessary. It takes a truckload of delusion to write and allow the words outside of your house for others to read. Why should anyone care? Most won’t. Writing is a quixotic affliction. If we had a choice before birth, the smart babies would choose to be better at math so they could get a paying gig. Writers don’t choose writing. It chooses us. The crazy narcissism of expecting a readership to discover us? That’s what keeps us writing (and from stepping off that high ledge.)

11. We are all narcissists. All social media taps into the secret we keep from ourselves. We are all the stars of our own movies and the little people are waiting for our grand pronouncements. Let the extras eat after me. Deliver the pheasant under glass to my trailer.

12. I won’t miss you. I’m not into making rules for others, just the odd argument that is hopeless in the face of cultural entrenchment. However, if pressed for a rule it would be: When clicking unfollow, don’t tell anyone. “I don’t like what you’re saying, so I’m announcing to everyone that I’m leaving! I’m taking my marbles and going home!” How petty. That’s the ultimate douchey, narcissist move.

There once was a guy who was very rude to me on Twitter. I unfollowed. I never listened to his podcast again, either, but I will never name him. I’m sure he didn’t notice my absence or care. We’re both better off.

13. You’re not engaging me in conversation, either. That’s what Facebook is for. Seriously, I have noticed that the people who insist the loudest that they be “engaged” in conversation, are waiting for me to come to them. They’ve never tried to “engage” me with anything. They don’t retweet anyone. They wouldn’t pee on me if I were on fire. They are princesses, sitting on pillows, waiting to be asked so they can experience the delight of pointing their noses at the ceiling and saying no.

14. There are too many people on Twitter to have a conversation with everyone. That’s a silly, unrealistic requirement. That’s math. If you insist I engage you constantly and personally you, who’s the narcissist?

That’s the equivalent of requiring authors to go door-to-door…and…and…hey! Waitaminute! That’s the answer! I could sell my crime novels door to door! Excuse me. Gotta run.

No, before I go pound on strangers’ doors, one more:

15. Somebody I kind of like said that the only way to sell is by not selling. To me? That seems like a slap in Art’s face. Maybe that’s shame and fear masquerading as etiquette and high-mindedness. Whenever we tweet about our books, yes, we risk turning someone off. That’s focusing on the wrong end of the equation. What about all the people turned on to our books? Don’t focus on the I Hate Everything Cult. (There’s a clue. They hate everything! They only download books for free so they can crap on the dreams we are fulfilling!)

What about readers who actually enjoy reading a good book? What about your fan base, out there somewhere, searching for you? You’ve got a Twitter beacon but they can’t find you because you’re being so darn polite, you won’t risk a shout into the darkness. You don’t want to risk annoying people who don’t care about you, anyway! Grow a spine and tweet. Yes, for the love of all that’s chocolate, balance it out as best you can, but go ahead and tweet about your book without all the worry. You won’t kill anyone. And if you do, call me. I know a guy who’s good about making bodies disappear.

Does beating Twitter followers over the head with sales offers work? No. But keeping our magnificence a secret shame sure won’t do the job, either. Authors: toughen up and find your balance. Twitter etiquette fascists: for the sake of Art and your own enjoyment, ease up and toughen up. Or get out.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute, the award-winning writer and author of the world’s first bathroom/marijuana/suspense/humor book Self-help for Stoners and the twistiest, funniest crime novel Bigger Than Jesus (among other things.) 

Follow me on Twitter @rchazzchute.

Or unfollow me on Twitter @rchazzchute.

 

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UBC #28: The zero money approach to book promotion

Small-town terrors and psychological mayhem in Maine.
Reached #18 in shorts on Amazon!

Each morning, author Al Boudreau asks a question about the writing life and publishing on Facebook. This morning, he asked which we preferred: A big launch of our books or a soft launch? Other people have their own answers. Here’s mine, as I wrote it this morning:

My short answer is: Hint and be clever about promotion rather than try to spend our way to success.

Sorry about my long answer, but it could have been even longer: I used to work in trad pub, so I kept all details secret. Now I hint and promote a bit for upcoming books (especially those in a series because, knowing it’s a series, that appeals to readers more.) The hints comprise things like the odd progress report, tweeting love and my Six Words or Less Contest in which the witty and pithy winner will have his or her name in the next book in the series. That’s really selling the foundation novel as it promotes the next one.

[Wanna play? Scroll down the page for the SIX WORDS OR LESS CONTEST. Entry deadline, July 31.>

With respect, I think there’s still a bit of inertia from old to new model with thinking in terms of a big launch. Except for ARCs to media and long lead times on seasonal books, Trad publishing is much about keeping it under wraps and then blasting PR and promotion for a short period of time (in part because they have so many other books to move on to and because the obsession is short tail vending and beating quick return deadlines in bookstores.) We’re kind of like classical music. We don’t get rock star tours and roadies, but we can sell lots in the long term because our books are available until we evolve past the Internet and start reading each other’s minds. (Or heat death and an ugly extinction, whichever comes first.)

With long tail marketing, though we don’t have the resources for a huge launch with cap displays and buying bookstore space, all our energy isn’t spent in a tiny retail window, either. Publishers have largely abandoned big launches anyway. Most midlisters never get that dreamed of release party and all their publicity is really up to authors who thought they’d get more logistical support.

Our books can go up faster with low overhead and they are on sale forever.No returns. Rather than blast potential

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

readers, I hint because I wouldn’t want to tire anybody out. “Oh, there’s Chazz talking about Self-help for Stoners and Kevin Smith again,” wears me out, too (hence more books are critical.) That’s okay, though, because we’re better at social media than trad publishing has been. Social media is personality based. Who cares what Random House’s twitter is on about? I want to hear from individual authors, not faceless corporate entities. Corporations are not people, my friend.

Big launches feel like putting all the chips on one roll of the dice, which is an awful way to start your trip to Vegas. I just hint and hope the dribble never becomes an embarrassing orgiastic fit or a drone. Just my opinion as the author of the hilarious crime novel Bigger Than Jesus. (See what I did there? Um…yeah. See, there’s such a fine line between fun promotion and self-loathing.)

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UBC #23: Loves & hates & the Fab Blog Award

Future Pull awarded me a Fabulous Blog Award. Cool! Thanks so much! Part of the deal is I thank the blogger who gave me the award. (Ding! Done!) Then I  a. name five fabulous moments; b. name five things I love; c. name five things I hate; d. pass the award on to five other deserving bloggers.

Fab moments. The first three, you’d expect:

Click it to get it.

Click for Self-help for Stoners.

1. Marrying She Who Must Be Obeyed AKA The High Queen.

2. The birth of The Princess.

3. The birth of the Prince.

4. Healing a woman confined to a wheelchair for 12 years. She’s still walking, driving, travelling and living independently.

5. Meeting director Kevin Smith and giving him an autographed copy of my first book, Self-help for Stoners.

Loves in no particular order:

1. Celebrating with chocolate croissants when I finished my first crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus. It was an orgy.

2. A good book  and me by the fireplace during a snowstorm.

3. Hot, sweet coffee.

4. My Mac.

5. See 1, 2 and 3 of Fab Moments above.

Click to get Bigger Than Jesus here

Hates:

1. Power-mad twits.

2. Hateful twits.

3. Bigoted twits.

4. Right-wing radio (That’s pretty much 1, 2, 3.)

5. I guess it really all comes down to twits.

Bloggers (tough one):

1. Writing is Hard Work  Helped me in my struggles with Scrivener.

2. Let’s Get Digital  David keeps me informed on the latest in digital publishing. Smart fellow.

3. Eden Baylee’s Blog She’s an erotic writer who writes erotica (and that was a really fun author interview).

4. Matthew Iden He’s been especially helpful on keeping me current on the new Kobo platform.

5. FUONLYKNEW Cool reviews. (Love the animated graphic on her blog, too.)

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NSFW: Make stuff

As you regular readers know, I love Kevin Smith. Here’s another reason.

(And yes, this applies to books, too.)

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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

All the dark fantasy fun of the first three books in the Ghosts & Demons Series for one low price.

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

You never know what's real.

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

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

I interview the people you need to get to know.

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