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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writers and Readers: Cutting the pie so you get the right slice

Imagine we’re speed dating.

Between awkward pauses and wondering if my cow lick is showing, I ask, “So, do you like music?”

“Sure! I love music!”

“Great! What kind of music? Jazz, something heavy you can groove to or…?”

“Oh, you know…just…I don’t know…music.”

“Um…okay…how do you feel about comedy?”

“Love it!”

“Carlin or Hedberg? Stewart or Colbert?”

“Oh, you know…comedy.”

The little speed dating bell rings signalling our time is up. We both collapse onto the tabletop. “Oh, thank god! Next!”

I’ve set up something that doesn’t happen in this cute little scenario, of course.

People don’t go out for a night of music. They go out to dance to a beat or to listen to music or they want it played low and far away so they can talk.

People who love comedian Joe Rogan might just storm the stage if an improv troupe shows up. If that same improv troupe makes all their jokes through the magic of interpretive dance, the audience might just murder the performers and not a judge in the land would convict.

And so it is with books.

Some people (not enough) love reading, but there’s more to it than that.

I write across genres, but people who love my take on our collective dystopian future (killer pandemic starting any day now) won’t necessarily snap up my crime novels. I’d argue the sensibility and voice are similar and the jokes are still there. However, (a) nobody argues their way into a sale, and (b) even the most avid readers are often specific about which genres they will and will not read.

If I had to do it all again, I’d try to focus on writing in one genre and try to dominate that field. However, that’s not really how my mind works and plays. I should say, if I were a different person, I would have done things differently. D’uh. Useless!

But even within a genre, there’s plenty of variability.

If you want a zombie apocalypse with a lot of military action, This Plague of Days probably isn’t for you. There are military elements, sure, but there aren’t any robo-Rambo zombie-killing machines in This Plague of Days.

Instead, the series features three strains of the Sutr virus, each with different effects. The zombies aren’t your classic rise-from-the-dead variety. They’re infected bio-weapons. Instead, ordinary people gain some supernormal capacities and it’s humans versus zombies versus Maybe That’s God versus the crazy stuff that comes next.

Mostly, the story is about what underdogs do under pressure when all appears lost. As for Jaimie Spencer, my protagonist on the autistic spectrum from Kansas City, Missouri? I guess I’ve dominated the autism/zombie niche. You won’t find a lot of Aspergers in this genre.

I always set out to be entertaining, but different.

My Cuban assassin, Jesus Diaz, was kidnapped as a child and abused. Now he’s a hit man who loves movies and makes a lot of jokes to cope with pain. He wants to escape into a Hollywood daydream the same way we dream of winning the lottery. Even though both of them were military policemen, Jesus is not Jack Reacher, not that there’s anything wrong with Jack Reacher. Bigger Than Jesus is different, that’s all. (Somewhere, comfortably ensconced in a platinum writing palace, Lee Child is chortling and happy not to be me.)

So, dear readers, please read the sample provided before you click. I want you to be happy with your purchase. If you purchased anything in error, Amazon is great about refunds.

That’s fair, right?

~ Want a sneak peek of Season 3 of This Plague of Days? Read the Prelude to the next season here. It’s horrific, possibly in the right ways, and possibly for you.

Filed under: Genre, publishing, readers, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How NOT to sell books at a reading

I did a reading a while back. I sold a book. Yeah. One. Let’s just take a moment to take that in. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Okay…here’s what I’ll do differently next time:

1. Advertise and/or promote more and work my network beforehand. Most of my friends are of the cyber variety. I’ve been a nomad/recluse so long that, locally, I don’t have a network. I’m connected to a lot of people who are too far away. Not just Skype calls and a long car ride. I’m talking long plane flights. I’m working on that, mostly through Twitter (#Ldnont) and connecting with local humans within handshake distance. It’s not entirely excruciating.

2. Have a sign. I had brochures, which was a good move. I didn’t have a proper sign that told people the books’ prices. A helpful friend took the money…or would have but, ahem…that turned out to be a non-issue. The forty dollar float in fives proved much more than adequate. (Do make it easy for potential customers by charging round numbers. Nobody wants to search for nickels.)

3. Rock the books you came with. I should have talked more about the books at the back of the room while I was at the front of the room. Instead, I rocked a short story that always gets laughs. I’m very confident reading that story to an audience, so I took the easy way out. I can sell that story, Another Day at the Office from Self-help for Stoners, easily. I should have pushed the books I brought instead, and harder. I should have read a piece from my books that sell most now (This Plague of Days) and a chapter from Crack the Indie Author Code (indies were the theme of the event.)

Being confident, instead of looking confident: I’ll figure it out and try it sometime.

4. I gave a good talk about writing and publishing. Actually, it was a great talk. People smiled and laughed in the right places. At one point I sang and even threatened an audience member with a grisly death, mostly for entertainment purposes. People went away smiling and happy…but they did go away.

The main problem was that I should have ended it sooner. We used the whole time allotted for the event. You’d think that would be delivering on expectations and promises. Instead, it gave people no time to shop for books. They ran to get their parking validated before the library closed. Rather than talk at the front of the room (which I enjoyed immensely) I should have mixed with the audience more before the event began and I should have built in more one-on-one chatting/selling/handshake/hip bump/high-five/hula dancing time at the end of the reading.

5. When the reading’s done, don’t get waylaid by the sweet, little old lady sitting in the third row. Push her out of your way and to the ground if necessary. She is killing you. At least, that’s what she did to me. I should have rushed straight to the back and engaged people there. By the time I answered her tangential question about who I might be related to (I wasn’t and oh, sweet Jebus, who cares?), most people had filed out, off to make sure their parking was free. Damn old lady. And damn parking. And damn me. 

To the one guy to whom I sold This Plague of Days in paperback, may Thor bless you with smart, stout-thighed, stress-resistant children with perfect teeth. It’s great signing a book for a reader who digs what you’re doing.

Back on the net that night, another audience member hit me up on Twitter to let me know he had a good time and was buying my ebooks, not paper. That was cool and eased my roiling sea of torment. Somewhat. 

I’ll do better next time.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Authors: Build a better business card with these tweaks

I met Facebook friend and author Carolyn Arnold as she sold books at an event. She’s given me permission to show you her business card. It’s important because she did something very right.

I think it’s important because I’ve seen a lot of bad business cards. A card that looks cheap might hurt you. A card that’s crammed with too much information really repels people.

Cards that advertise the publisher on one side and another unrelated business on the back? Don’t do that. It saps credibility from both companies.

Look at what Carolyn’s done.

The logos for each platform show where you can get Carolyn’s books. Very good idea. I also like seeing the books in 3D, with spines. (# 147 on the things I need to do to make web presentations of my books prettier.)

Also note the QR code. Scan it with a mobile device and it takes you to her website, carolynarnold.net.

I’m not that technologically advanced yet, but it’s a pretty nifty feature for those who are into QR codes.

Carolyn Arnold Business Card Front 2013

 

 

Carolyn Arnold Business Card Back 2013

 

And perhaps best of all is the killer quote from The Examiner‘s book critic. If you can incorporate any of these helpful elements into your business card, I recommend it. It comes off very professional.

Even when they aren’t aware of it, readers want to be assured they’re in good hands with someone who knows what they’re doing. A business card alone won’t earn you a new reader. You have to be nice and skilled and have good books to sell. There are many variables that contribute to success. If one of those variables isn’t in place, it can suck all the gas out of your engine. Carolyn nailed it.

Have another look at your business card.

Then get out to more events where you can actually use it.

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

FAQs: What book promotion are you paying for?

I sent a close friend the gift of an ebook hoping that he would read it, enjoy it, possibly review it and maybe even spread the word to his vast network of connections. Instead, he sent me a scolding reply: “You’re paying people to read your books!” And by people, he meant him. Ouch. In my defence, I don’t know that he’s read it yet, so that’s my double fail.

Before anybody thinks he’s harsh, a little history and context: I understand that he felt fine paying for the book himself. Also, I got him his first job in book publishing. He’s still thinking about publishing from that perspective. I’m sure he didn’t want to sound mean. I caught him on a bad day. Also, I’m sure he’s worried about me and that’s why he was so undiplomatic and reactive.

However, he’s only thinking of me as a friend and writer. I’m also a publisher.

Publishers have a long history of sending out Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) to key reviewers, the sales force, bookstores and media. That doesn’t require an apology. That’s business and doing less is hiding your light under a shitstorm called, “Everything else that exists to read, do and enjoy.” Yes, you’re even competing against sex! Clearly, books are doomed!

How many ARCS go out from traditional publishers? Hundreds per book. I can’t afford to do that, but I do send out some that way. I wasn’t paying anyone to read my book. I was paying for advertising and promotion (to teh wrong target, I found out.) You can do the same thing for free by emailing a pdf, though if they can’t instantly stick it on their kindle, most people won’t bother with it. Chances are good they won’t get around to reading it even if you make it very easy for them so avoid handicaps where possible. That’s why I prefer to use Amazon’s gift option where possible and within budget.

About sending copies to book blogs

Check out the book blog first. Review the reviewers and their guidelines before you send anything. Many book blogs are awesome. However, I’ve encountered noobs whose site is nigh-illegible, their traffic is minuscule and their reviews give spoilers without warning. I’d rather let a blindfolded med student practice minor surgery on my tingly bits.

Services to invest in

In the previous post, I mentioned Bookbub is a worthwhile investment. The cost of advertising with BookBub varies depending on genre. Horror and science fiction is $70 to push a free ebook. Find the full range of pricing here.

I also mentioned the Author Marketing Club. That costs $105 per year for an annual membership and it’s worth it for the tools and seminars. My book descriptions look better than ever, for instance. The free submission tool got This Plague of Days at number one in Dystopian and Post-apocalyptic. The book sales widget looks awesome.

Where can you cut corners?

Anyone reading this is probably working on a shoestring budget. To make any money, we have to keep our expenses down to nothing or close to it. We blog and tweet and use Pinterest and Facebook and do Google+ and throw Tumblr in the air and shout out of windows because it’s free and we’re trying to engage new readers. I’ve used Fiverr for videos* (see my video/book promotion strategy here) and free apps from Apple and the Chrome Store. 

We get what services we can for free where and when it makes sense. We swap services and cooperate and consult and promote each other for free. We learn to format books and publish DIY wherever we can so we can keep something of what money might trickle in, knowing the odds are heavily against us. (That sounds bleak, but more indie authors are making a living from their efforts than the traditionally published so it’s not all bad news.)

About ineffective promotion services

Lots of advertising isn’t worth the expense. Some sites say they can promote your books and they’ll do so for a fairly low fee. However, you won’t get even that small fee back. Before you go with another of those sites, review the promoters. Reach out to the indie authors you know. Use your Facebook connections to gather intelligence and ask about other authors’ experiences and results. This is most valuable if their books are similar in genre, quality and look to your own. (In other words, don’t blame the book promotion service when a bad cover sunk the author’s efforts.)

I’m always looking for ways to save money so I can put it into pushing books. The other day I realized I was the only 48-year-old walking around a bookstore in old jeans with ripped up hems. I don’t buy new pants! Think what Bookbub advertising I could buy for the price of a couple of pants! And you know what? I wish I had a bigger budget because however you promote your books, you pay. (And I want new pants. I rocked this look in college but it doesn’t fly now.)

If you don’t pay in money, you pay in time.

Without the cash, you lose time with your family (okay, not always a bad thing). You will lose time going to the gym and end up paying with your health. Time is more important than money because you can make more money but the waking hours are all you get. Worse, if you aren’t careful, marketing cuts into writing time. Be careful. Hemingway was Hemingway, but he never had to share your problems.

Expect to pay something.

Can you go viral and pay nothing and still be successful?  It could happen, but to expect it is stupid. That’s not a strategy. That’s hoping something will happen to you instead of making it happen and that’s not the way to bet. Use AMC and Bookbub now at least. Then be clever and different and promote your brand with long-term strategies that will make a career.

Should I set a budget of $10,000 for a book promotion budget?

I’m not buying new pants. 

*I have a new intro video at AllThatChazz.com, in addition to the intro video at CoolPeoplePodcast.com and of course, here at ChazzWrites.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FAQs: Leverage free to move more books

The question comes up constantly: Is the exclusivity of KDP Select and giving away books (“selling” free) worth it? 

Can't have just one chip? Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

Can’t have just one chip? Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

For many, it’s not worth it, but maybe that’s because they haven’t combined enrolment in the program with other tools. When the KDP Select program launched, it was lucrative and an excellent tool for discoverability. Now? KDP Select is not easy and perfect certainly. For instance, top free books used to be listed beside top paid books. Now free ebooks are found by clicking a tab. That’s an important difference. It cuts down on happy discoveries by kismet. People who find free ebooks now are searching for free books (and quite possibly are committed to never paying for a book again.)

However, Amazon is where I move and sell books and get traction with new readers.

Some authors seem to have success moving books on Barnes & Noble if they sell romance or science fiction, but generally? The alternative sales platforms are far less helpful than Amazon and KDP Select.

For instance, sometimes I can’t find books on Apple that I know are there! It’s also a pain publishing to Apple at all unless you go through Smashwords or Draft2Digital. (I used to like Smashwords but now I’m past impatient with their failures to upgrade their site.) Meanwhile, I sell little on B&N. Sony isn’t worth the time it takes for me to format for them even though that’s just a click of a button. Kobo does some things well and they’re in many countries. However, Amazon is preferred because it works best for me. (Maybe it’s different for you but if you’re doing better on a platform other than Amazon, statistically you’re an outlier.)

The alternatives usually suck.

The other book sales platforms continue to refuse to steal the best ideas (i.e. promo coupons from Smashwords; user interface and customer focus from Amazon. And they still wonder why the Mighty Zon is the big dog eating their lunch. True, KDP Select is not a flamethrower anymore. It’s a six-gun. However, the competition is still trying to figure out slingshots, so going with Amazon exclusively 90 days at a time is still the best bet.

Yes, be careful of exclusivity.

When you in enroll in KDP Select, do not set it up to automatically renew. Reevaluate whether the program is working for you every three months and change tactics as necessary. If it becomes intolerable for some reason, we can bail out within 90 days.

To make KDP Select work, use the Author Marketing Club and Bookbub wisely to make the promotion go big.

I recommend doing no more than two days of free at a time. Have lots of other books to sell, preferably series or serials. Pump those promo days with the tools at AMC (like the free ebook submission tool.) Bookbub is probably the best PR tool available. It costs, but that’s because it targets readers interested in your genre so it works. You can promote sales of free ebooks or discounted books (under $2.99.)

If your goal is visibility, being in KDP Select is only one tactic in a larger strategy. Brace yourself for bad reviews from the one-star wonders. That tells you you’re reaching new people who don’t get you. Don’t worry. Others will get you and what you’re doing. Giving away books so new fans can find you isn’t the death of literature. Obscurity is our enemy. Get the most you can from KDP Select and use these tools to avoid wasting your promotion days.

I highly recommend serialization.

It’s working for me. Episode One of This Plague of Days promotes all the other episodes in the serial plus sales of my other books. I give away individual episodes. However, I don’t generally give away all of Season One except to book bloggers for reviews. This Plague of Days is a sprawling story that’s my investment in a long-term career so I give away the appetizer but sell the other courses. All my strategies are long-term strategies.

Who shouldn’t use KDP Select to promote their books?

I’d caution anyone with just one book to hold off on great expectations and write more books before waging major campaigns. Once readers discover they love you, have something else ready for them to buy.

Don’t go big if your book isn’t ready for prime time. More publicity for a bad book will make it go down in flames faster. Get back to the keyboard instead, develop, work with your editor or find a new editorial team.

If you already have a huge mailing list and a substantial fan base, you have more options instead of relying on KDP Select and exclusivity could hurt your sales figures (though I’d still consider it for one three-month contract period at KDP Select.)

If you find me unpersuasive and giving books away in the hope of finding new readers offends you, don’t do it. Gifts should be given with a light heart.

 

Filed under: Publicity & Promotion, publishing, This Plague of Days, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Easy tech tools for authors and publishers Part 1

Time to tell you about BannerSnack. With this app, you can easily construct banners and ads for your author site. You’re going to love it.

This is a free tech tool I picked up at the Chrome Store. I just started playing with it, but I’m already very impressed. Not being comfortable with HTML often holds us back from doing more with our websites. There are several ways to work around that problem without learning programming language. BannerSnack makes it easy (even if you just go for the free options with watermarks). If you’re going to use it a lot, premium options aren’t unreasonably priced.

Here’s an ad I created for a book promotion on my author site, AllThatChazz.com:

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 11.50.29 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 11.50.39 PM

You can start from scratch or choose to start from a wide variety of templates and sizes to get your unique message out.

If you want to make your website more spiffy, I suggest you play with BannerSnack. The interface is intuitive so you’ll have a banner, ad or button up and running quickly.

In Part II, I’ll show you an even cooler and easier tool to make presentation of your books,

and your author site, beautiful and inviting.

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

Odd and unfamiliar literary genres

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

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

People argue plenty about genres. Is Literary Fiction just another genre or The Standard? In an age of ebooks and fewer bookstores, must we be so strict about classifying genre? When is cross-genre going to get more respect? When will hardboiled come back? Why isn’t funny neo-noir bigger?

Okay, those last two are more personal to me because of my crime fiction friction (and the first question is a snob test. If you answered “The Standard”, get out.)

Let’s talk about literary genres you probably don’t think about much (yet): 

Boomer lit

Claude Nougat introduced me to Boomer Lit with A Hook in the Sky. Tailoring fiction to an age-related niche is an interesting idea. Can Zoomer Lit be far behind?

I picture further fragmentations: Debt Lit for the trials of our depressed global economy; Sandwich Lit for the generation stuck between supporting their parents and their children; Hack Lit for needful cottage-dwellers in the cottage industry of electro-self-help in an e-commute/quasi-agoraphobic Internet world without trees.

This is worth considering:

If you can identify an audience, you can create a genre. If you can create a genre, or at least put your stamp on it, you could sell more books.

Click it to get it.

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

Case in point: Self-help for Stoners.

Zombie Erotica

Warm Bodies introduced this idea to me. Jay Wilburn discusses this genre  further on Armand Rosamilia’s blog. Creeps me out, though I guess The Corpse Bride gave it juice and Frankenstein originated it. We romanticize the dead  all the time (Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kennedy, Marty Feldman.) 

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the ...

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the trailer for the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But sexualizing zombies? Hm. Could be a tough sell to a broad audience (depending on initial hotness, location of mortal wound and room temperature). However, we don’t need a broad audience. We need an identifiable and reachable niche of fans, fanatics and possibly freaks.

New Adult

For post-adolescent readers aged 18 to 30 or 18 to 26 (depending on whom you ask), this is mostly for those readers who are finding their way to their quarter-century life crisis. (Don’t wait for a mid-life crisis! Get started young when you don’t understand how little you really have to complain about! You still have so many crises to look forward to!) Click here for a list of popular New Adult reads on Goodreads.

New Adult is a very welcoming genre in that you can stick zombies or aliens in there, too, if you want. It’s typified by its target age-range and less by its subject. A popular misconception is that New Adult is for sub-literate people who don’t like to read. That’s not how people who write New Adult describe their work, so we shouldn’t, either.

Lad lit

Not a new genre but under-appreciated and not near as popular as Chick lit. This is fiction about young men and their lives, sex lives, failures and aspirations. It would be bigger if more men read books. Nick Hornby was crowned King of Lad Lit (by someone or other) with High Fidelity. I like High Fidelity the book, but I love High Fidelity, the movie. FYI: John Cusack is a demi-god. Also, we watched the credits to find out who that awesome young unknown was. It was Jack Black. His singing at the end of the movie was so awesome, we thought he must be lip-syncing. Nope! And that’s how I became a Tenacious D fanboy.

Dystopian versus Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic:

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 include these three not because they are new or all that odd, but because they are often confused.

Apocalyptic is The Big Bad Thing that’s coming to kill us.

Post-Apocalyptic is how the few survivors deal with The Big Bad Thing. 

Dystopian comes after the fallout from The Big Bad Thing, when it becomes The New Normal. Like George Orwell’s 1984. Or getting felt up by the TSA.

~ The events in This Plague of Days, my coming coming-of-age Aspergers plague thriller, occur as society collapses. Things go from apocalyptic to post-apocalyptic. If the series sells enough books, we’ll get to see how the world devolves into a dystopia. I’m looking forward to finding out, assuming the real world flu pandemic doesn’t kill us all first. This Plague of Days launches at the end of May. To find out more, go to ThisPlagueofDays.com.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, readers, This Plague of Days, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Marketing Your Books: #11 is really harsh. Sorry.

 

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. This book is free to you until Saturday, Dec. 15! Please click to get it now.

Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire is free on Amazon Tuesday to Saturday. 

Here’s where to get it on Amazon. 

 

(No Kindle? Get a free kindle reading app here.)

 

Now, continuing from yesterday’s post, let’s talk more about book promotion:

6. Try a variety of approaches. In Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, I talk about my successes and

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

failures. I learned a lot from the failures and I hope you will, too. What has worked best is appearing in more than one spot at a time. (Amazon free days plus blogging plus World Literary Cafe Tweet Teams plus appearing on other podcasts, for instance, is an example of repetition across different platforms.) Too often, we bet the farm on one thing and end up disappointed. Some guest blog their brains out, but their level of success varies widely. Pace yourself to avoid burnout.

7. Be willing to be flexible. There’s still a lot of resistance to podcasting among authors, for instance. They worry about the cash outlay (which is minor by most standards) and the technology obstacle (which is easily dealt with, especially if you get help as I suggest.) Resistance to marketing isn’t any different from resistance to sitting down to write or a reluctance to dealing with paperwork or exercise: Begin and it’s not so bad. I’m sympathetic. I put off getting my tax number for the IRS for some time. When I sat down with a scotch to finally deal with it, it was over and done long before the scotch was gone.

8. There is no magic bullet. I’d be very suspicious of anyone who says they have The Answer. I’ve read many books from people who say they have it, but they sometimes suggest things that don’t make sense to me, don’t apply to me or my book or are unethical. Look at these proposals as if you’re the consumer. Have you ever bought anything off a Facebook advertisement? I haven’t, so I’d never buy Facebook advertising. That’s not being inflexible. That’s doing what makes sense to you.

9. Beware of gurus. In my writing and publishing guides, I warn authors to be careful about one-track prescriptive advice. Instead, I present encouraging information about what you can try, but to help, not to pontificate on how to “Do it my way!” There is no one way for all books or all authors! Some experts have been in the field so long, they should be appreciated for their experience, but some of their information is dated. I approached the writing guides as a fellow traveller. I’m not the guy telling you what to do to succeed. I’m the guy walking beside you saying, I tried that trail. It’s pretty steep and dangerous. Try this. See what you can handle. See what works for you. 

10. The only sure thing is to write a good book and put a really good cover on it. Okay, there are good books that get ignored all the time. However, when you go through all those heavy marketing efforts, make sure you’ve hitched your wagon to a star, not a stump. The answer is certainly not to put out a bad book with an ugly cover. I tried a do-it-yourself cover and it hurt. Write the best book you can. Put the best face on it you can. Then write more good books to expand your chance at being found. A big bookshelf is your friend at home and on the web.

11. (Given the title of this post, you skipped right here, didn’t you?) Here’s the blasphemy you’ll hate: You are not above marketing. If you think you can poke along and do nothing to be discovered, your odds of failure shoot way up. Brilliant prose doesn’t count for near so much as we’d like to think. Writers tell other writers that the prose is paramount. Meanwhile, readers flock to Fifty Shades of Gray. I wish literature mattered as much as writers say, but the readers’ sensibility determines our success in the market. I’ve read plenty of suspense that, frankly, I don’t think is all that great. Though I can write rings around them, those authors are doing better than me financially. Bitter pill. I’m sorry. I hate it, too.

12. Ease up on the gas pedal. Your daily word count and the editorial side of production is your first priority. Do not exhaust your network and blow out the marketing engine by trying to push too much all the time. The guy who announced he now hates Rafflecopter might lighten up if he saw fewer half-assed promotions with uninspiring prizes.

13. Get help. I read as much as I can stand about publishing, of course. (Note to anyone writing about writing and publishing: Please make it more fun. Thanks.) But I also mean delegating where possible. I have been resistant to advertising in the past, but for a few dollars, Masquerade Crew helped me move more books recently than I could have on my own. I’m seeing the benefits of that small outlay now as I roll closer to achieving escape velocity. I had to admit to myself that I can’t do it all. I tried and it led to sleepless nights, bad health and my wife crying.  Progress is being made because I asked for help. Friends and fans and colleagues stepped forward to assist. (Thanks again, guys!)

14. Change a losing game. Most indie buddies of mine are going the same route. Either they’ve already abandoned KDP Select’s exclusivity or they do it once for 90 days and then open up to the wider market on more platforms. Market share is in flux. Amazon is still the big dog with about 60%+ percent of the ebook market, but iBooks are getting bigger because Apple’s devices are becoming more ubiquitous. Kobo’s revamped their platform and they’re present in more countries. When I first approached Kobo, they acted like they were trying to get rid of me. They’re apparently much more user-friendly now and I look forward to taking them for a test-drive after Christmas when my own KDP exclusive contract runs out.

Those are my thoughts on book promotion. What are yours?

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

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

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Self-help for Stoners, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit), Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. Check out all the samples here or for all the links and the All That Chazz podcast, check out AllThatChazz.com.

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Book promotion: Don’t trust the ferryman Part 1

Tips and inspiration for the indie author's journey to publication.

Tips and inspiration for the indie author’s journey to publication.

The Bigger Than Jesus Finale is up on the All That Chazz podcast. It’s the last two chapters of Bigger Than Jesus in which Jesus does battle with Salvador Dali and the FBI.

Advice doesn’t last. Yesterday someone said how sick he was of Rafflecopter giveaways. It seems it wasn’t so long ago that Rafflecopter was a new promotional tool. Many reading this are asking, “What’s Rafflecopter?” It’s still new to many, but for this expert, it’s over. At least, he thinks so.

You can argue that many giveaways aren’t big enough to bother with or you can argue that a giveaway doesn’t make anyone read a book. However, I do think proclaiming a popular promotional tool dead is premature. Everything does go away, though: It looks like free isn’t so effective anymore and may hurt  paid books this season. Remember when MySpace and Friendster were, briefly, the new thing? Remember when 99 cents was a huge deal? Nothing lasts. What conclusions can we draw about book promotion from this knowledge? Let’s mull:

1. Not everything works forever, so keep your eyes open for the next new thing. Yesterday’s post mulled the question of adapting books to your audience. I’m also trying a reward program where I give more free books to the people who read my books and free advertising on my podcast for signing up for a free newsletter. Free may be out, but generosity and interaction haven’t given up their place among vital promotional tools yet.

2. Not everything works. Some authors are sure Pinterest is an excellent promotional tool. I think it’s been big for crafters and it’s certainly fun, but most people are just there for fun, not shopping for books. Personally, I’m doubtful of Pinterest’s power to help me that way. (Still love it.)

3. Not everything works right away. A fellow did an Amazon KDP Select giveaway for a few days. He didn’t really give away that many books. He failed to promote the promotion. In my opinion, he’s declaring KDP Select free days dead for the wrong reason. He took one sample and he didn’t let enough people know he was doing it. He wasted his free days because he expected the free days to do all the work on their own. A one-prong attack is betting big on one roll of the dice. Bad strategy in Vegas and a bad bounce for authors.

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship.

More tips and tricks to steer your authorship.

4. One promotional approach doesn’t work for everyone. One of my points in Crack the Indie Author Code is that no one really knows The Answer to selling gigabytes of books. There is no one answer and, if there is, it never lasts long. There are many ways up the mountain, but you can’t necessarily take the same route twice. What worked for one author won’t necessarily work for you now. For instance, many of the authors who do very well now were traditionally published first. Their cult followed them into self-publishing. They didn’t start from scratch and you can’t duplicate their career highs. Learn, yes. Copy, no.

5. Promotional strategies change fast. Last year at this time, before the change to Amazon’s algorithm, if you managed to do big giveaways of books, you were rewarded handsomely. Less than twelve months and it’s a new game with few rules.

~ In tomorrow’s post, I’ll lay out #6 to #13 on more book promotion options. In the meantime, please check out the samples from Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. The first three reviews are in on the former and they’re happy. (I wonder if, despite my protests that there is no one way, people are still looking for a book promotion panacea. Tomorrow I’ll tell you why I’m so suspicious of panaceas.)

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Writers: What really happens in book marketing meetings (Plus: What sells books)

Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store.

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It’s interesting to see the profession of book sales rep disappear. I was a journalist first and that’s evaporated. Later I was a book rep and that’s on the way out, too.  Book sales was somewhat romanticized. From the inside of the industry, book marketing isn’t romantic at all. Occasionally I hung out with authors and going to book fairs and sales meeting in nice places was fun. Yes, there were a few cocktail parties. Most of the year, however, you’re hauling so many samples around in your car, the shocks go. You spend a lot of time trying to get to the next appointment on time and worry about finding a good place to park.

I met some really nice booksellers. I also met many awful book retailers. The crux of that problem was that the young booksellers were doing it as a joe job and the older booksellers got into the job for idealistic reasons. No one tells aspiring bookstore owners that, not only are the big chains going to force them out of business, they won’t spend near as much time reading as they planned. Instead, they’ll spend an inordinate amount of time calculating the GST, paying the GST and trying to assist book buyers who aren’t informed book readers. (e.g. “I want to buy a book for my daughter I heard about on the CBC last month. You know. That one…? It’s by that guy? With the thing…? Surely you know that one!”)

So I dealt with the bored and disillusioned. Not exclusively! It’s just that those negative people are the sales experiences I remember best. That miserable bookseller in Owen Sound was an impatient sort who, when I dared to use the word comedy, corrected me and told me the book was “humour.” I’m surprised she was familiar with either facet of the concept. Then there was the condescending one north of Toronto who thought I was stupid since I was still enthusiastic. She beat that out of me quick. “Okay,” I said. “For the remainder of this meeting, I’ll power through the list and act just as pissed off as you appear to be. Happy? Am I smarter now?”

It wasn’t all bad. The owner of the now-defunct Frog Hollow Books in Halifax has a special place in my heart. She was a sweetie, had a great store and she bought a lot of merchandise from me gladly, even in the press of the Christmas rush. I wish that bookstore was still around.

What I find interesting in other people’s reports of marketing meetings is they say sales rep opinions  are valued. I hear of book reps getting input into the list, commenting on the marketing challenges and the dubious appeal of certain covers and so forth. Book reps on some planet get to turn something down and require changes in order to make a book sell. I repped sixteen publishers of various sizes and I can tell you, my input didn’t carry any weight. It wasn’t asked for, either. I was their traveling salesman. If the book didn’t sell, they figured it was my fault.

At a sales conference, the editorial team is selling their enthusiasm for the list they built. In my experience, if we dared to mutter about a lousy cover, we did so among ourselves. Voicing any reservations would be met with derision. We weren’t graphic artists, so maybe the cover proved to be lousy and many booksellers would tell us so as we made our rounds. However, in the context of the sales conference,we were getting flown out to someplace nice for one reason. We were supposed to sit there, take notes, and listen. The graphic artist and the editor got to have opinions on anything creative. Our job was to sell their old ugly dogs with the same conviction as the cute puppies. If we didn’t believe the dogs with mange and pushed-in snouts would sell, obviously we were idiots or traitors to the cause.

It sure didn’t feel like the powerful position some portray. Lots of articles on the publishing process mention the input of the sales team on titles. Not so in my experience. I watched editors and their minions show covers, talk about the books and maybe pass out review copies. True, we’d worry over price points. We’d look at the page count and comment that the heft of the book was light for the expense. (“People buy books by weight,” was a common bit of wisdom. “Green covers don’t sell it’s a golf book,” was the other bit. That was true, I think.) However, the publisher and their editors had already committed their resources to the books by the time we came into the picture. By then, they would understandably be reluctant to make major changes in their plans for two reasons: expense and ego. We weren’t going to change a done deal.

In the hierarchy of the book industry, the editors and publicists put themselves above the salespeople, especially if anyone referred to books as “product.” (Only a few did that.) Sales reps weren’t creative. We just did the grotty part with the filthy lucre that allowed the creativity to continue.

Many editors idolized some authors. Privately though, many put the authors at the bottom of the hierarchy. Yes, writers are the engine of the industry who provide the art to sell and a reason for editor’s existence. Perhaps it’s envy or resentment. Maybe it’s because acquisition editors see themselves as gatekeepers so they feel they made the authors.

In a less complex analysis, everyone’s the star of his or her own movie and authors come and go like background extras.

And some, being arty and human, are a pain in the ass. For instance, I sold Matt Cohen‘s books. For some he was an icon as well as a somewhat famous Canadian author. However, there was a bookseller nearby who didn’t care for his books and refused to stock them. When the publisher took the author out for lunch, naturally they stopped in to see how his books were selling. I soon got a angry memo. “What’s going on?!”

What was going on was not every bookseller is obliged to carry every book and the publisher’s embarrassment wasn’t a factor in the decision. The bookstore owner simply didn’t like Matt Cohen’s books. The proximity of our house to the store didn’t convince the owner. I despised that bookstore owner (a notorious and cadaverous blowhard.) I agreed with his right to stock whatever he pleased, however. Personally, I found Cohen’s books neurotic, but not in a good way.

At first my territory was Toronto (and in the summer, Cottage Country, too.) Later on, I worked for a book distributor so I sold books wholesale across the country as well as in downtown Toronto, Ottawa and all points north and east. I can’t say I ever felt like more than a minion. It wasn’t that the editorial staff was particularly unkind. It was simply that we had no creative input. That’s why I wonder about these reports I’ve read about the publishing process. When in-house editors tell authors, “Marketing didn’t like this or that,” are they really hiding behind the closed doors of those marketing meetings? Is it just a ploy to bring down the author’s expectations from the sky-high hopes, dreams and promises that originated in the editorial department?

Blah, blah, blah. You’re an author. You want to know what sells books. I’ll tell you.

I sold hundreds of books at a time. Some I read, but there wasn’t enough time to read them all. Instead I recited the catalogue copy and gave my impressions for each book’s appeal. If there was any kind of marketing campaign, I’d talk about that. It’s a gift to a book’s potential (and the haggard sales rep reciting the same spiel for the 100th time) to be able to say, “We think this one has a shot at the Giller,” or, “We’re putting a lot of work into getting this one on that particular CBC show you like etc.,…”

What sells books is word of mouth for a book with good writing that tells a compelling story. It takes a lot of incompetence on the publishing team’s part to overcome that. The other thing that sells books is the human connection between the book sold and the person who wrote it. What helped me sell the most books was meeting the author. Booksellers are on the frontlines of retail, far from the cocktail party action. They want to hear a sales rep’s funny story about meeting That Author.

One of the better people on the planet? One the sweetest people you could ever meet? Amy Tan. I sold her books. I sold a ton of her books. Utterly charming and genuine. When I met with booksellers, I didn’t talk much about her book. I sold her to them instead. We push the people we like harder.

When you get invited to a sales conference (if you ever do) or go on a book signing (arrange your own if your publisher won’t), remember to treat the minions well. Be nice. Be fun and memorable. The sales reps will remember you. The booksellers will hand sell you book.

Extra tip:

That’s why it doesn’t matter so much if a lot of people don’t come to your bookstore signing.

The customers may come or not, but the bookstore staff are always there.

Make a good impression and they’ll hand sell your book.

And the next.

And the next.

What really sells your books?

You do, through the force of your creativity, the shimmer of your personality and audience you cultivate.

Filed under: Books, Editors, getting it done, links, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, Useful writing links, 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

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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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