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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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

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

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

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

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

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege.

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

Story is the most important thing. Story works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our stories about who we are become who we are.

That quest for privacy? Quaint. Adorable. Amish.

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

Blogs are dead sales platforms.

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

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

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

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

There are exceptional blogs, still breathing.

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

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

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

Living sales platforms are conversations.

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

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

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

Season 2 is the quest.

Season 2 is the quest.

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

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Ebook pricing, free promotions and you

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

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

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

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

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

An interesting thing happened next:

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

Pros and Cons of This Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m doing differently for Season Two

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

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

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

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

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

Season 2 launches Oct 1.

Season 2 launches Oct 1.

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

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

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

About Audiences

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

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

About Price Resistance

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

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

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

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

And please tell a friend. Thanks!

 

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

One of us! One of us! Burn that bushel to sell more books

Crack the Indie Author CodeI’ve rethought free lately and I see now that I got something wrong. I didn’t wade deep enough into the free pool. When we give books away, we shouldn’t focus on getting those same people to buy more of our books, as awesome as that would be. We should build a team of enthusiastic disciples. As marketing guru Seth Godin says, “Nobody says I can’t make a living because too many people are reading my book for free.” 

I had assumed that he simply meant that same group of “too many people” would turn around and purchase the rest of your bookshelf. Therefore, publish a lot of books.

It’s still a great idea to publish a lot of books, but we can go much deeper. Here’s how:

INVERT THE CURRENT STRATEGY

Most authors try to get traction in the short-term by having friends and family buy their books and hope that, somehow, word will spread. That’s a flawed strategy, not least because it’s incredibly hard to get anyone to write a review.

Instead, think long-term leverage. What we should do is give books away to our true believers to build our network of reviewers, allies and preachers of your gospel. Your biggest fan isn’t necessarily your dad (at least mine isn’t.) My biggest allies are on my newsletter subscription list and those who have declared themselves fans. That’s my beachhead. We seed the morphogenetic field and percolate through the culture by sending out free information. (That’s even happening now as you read these words.) To infest the culture, you’re going to need a cult.

HOW TO BUILD AN AUTHOR CULT WITHOUT BEING EVIL

If some loon can convince a group of nerds to become eunuchs because aliens are arriving in a comet’s tail (yeah, that happened) building a cult shouldn’t be too much harder than convincing friends to help you move a piano. Okay, it’s going to be pretty f&$#!!! hard to reach critical mass, but the alternative is obscurity and failure, so gird your loins and strap in.

What each of us needs is a cult of proselytizers to spread our word. They’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends etc.,… We need people — author CJ Lyons calls them “street teams” — to read, review and spread the happy word. We build those teams by giving away free books. This is not new. However, when most of us think about free promotion, we think of a contest giveaway or our five KDP Select free days. There’s much more to do and these strategies require your generosity.

CULT LEADER ACTION PLAN

1. The long-term money starts with your list. Build one. If you don’t already have one, set up a subscription for a newsletter on your author site. I use Mailchimp at my author site, AllThatChazz.com, I give shoutouts on the All That Chazz podcast to new subscribers. I’m thanking them, but I’m also giving their book, business, blog or website free promotion. You have to incentivize now to monetize later.

2. In advance of your next book release, give away review copies to people on your list. CJ Lyons gives away fifty books at a time to her street team (out of a pool of 200, so she’s not asking the same people for an advance review all the time. She published eight books last year.*)

Some churlish people think there’s something wrong with reviews appearing as soon as a book is published. That’s not cheating. It’s actually standard practice in publishing to give out advance review copies (ARCS). Every publishing house gears their publication dates to when reviews can appear in major publications. CJ Lyons admits she’s received a three-star review from a street team member, so obviously membership in her cult doesn’t equal idolatry for every book.

3. Speaking of standard practices, send out more review copies to book bloggers and review sites. Sharing an epub file or a kindle mobi costs you nothing so there’s no reason to hold back. I’ve switched my thinking about paperbacks recently, too, so my focus with CreateSpace is usually (though not always) for promotional purposes and much less for direct sales. I always send signed paperbacks to influential people, editorial team members and people who have inspired me as a special thanks.

4. Write something that is meant as an introduction to your flavor and make it extremely cheap or free forever. It doesn’t have to be long but make sure you show off. Here’s a NSFW example from Johnny B. Truant. He says this one essay about our place in the universe gets 60 downloads a day. It takes just a few minutes to read, but he’s spreading his word and beginning induction into his cult.

Naturally, some authors will object to these strategies. I’ve anticipated objections so…

SKEET SHOOTING

PULL! But giving away free books devalues my art!

BLAM! What devalues your art is, though no doubt brilliant, it’s sitting unread. Your light is hiding under a bushel of entitlement. To burn that bushel: Get generous, make friends, build a list and inspire a network.

PULL! But I don’t want a “cult”. 

BLAM! Don’t get so deep in the metaphor that you miss the tasty cheesecake. Chuck Pahlaniuk’s fans really are called “The Cult” but they haven’t established an armed, fortified compound. They’re just really into Chuck’s books…okay, and possibly punching each other in the face. But who isn’t into Fight Club?

PULL! I want my success to happen organically so it’s not a flash-in-the-pan cult of personality. 

BLAM! No worries there, mate. If they don’t like your books, they’ll hate you. Everyone confuses the book with the worst potential of its author.

BLAM! The marketplace is so congested, one “flash in the pan” might be our best chance. Success could come without getting others to blow your horn, sure. However, it’ll probably be a post mortem-type deal. Your genius will be discovered when an Amazon hard drive is pulled from the sand of a burnt Earth by a curious alien who discovers he’s really into cozy mysteries set in Maine with a ghost unicorn as the retired detective out to solve the murders of syphilitic elves. Best of luck.

PULL! I really just want to write my books and do no marketing.

BLAM! Most authors get into micro-publishing to take control of their fate, not leave it to the whims of strangers. (No offense intended, but what are you doing reading this far then?)

BLAM! You can just write more books and hope for the best. That’s not the way to bet, though. This is Art + Business = Art that is read + More Art. If marketing makes you feel impure, why publish at all?

PULL! Free is the finish line for the race to the bottom in book prices!

BLAM! Since few will heed this advice, don’t worry about what the unread herd does. The herd focusses on losing 100 book sales. Your intention is to stun with sales of 100,000 to a million or more.

BLAM! Good art will survive. You can’t build a cult around your books if they suck. In fact, give away more bad books and you’ll sink faster.

PULL! Free means more one-star reviews from people who will never like my books!

BLAM! Why worry about people will only ever download it if it’s free? They aren’t eligible to be cult members. One-star reviews are usually so poorly thought out, no one takes them seriously besides people who give out one-star reviews. When you’re selling chocolate, you don’t grieve for those freaks who only eat vanilla. Sell more chocolate.

*The Self-publishing Podcast has a great interview with CJ Lyons in Episode 32.

Aspire to Inspire eBook JPG~ For more from me on micro-publishing and book marketing, pick up Crack the Indie Author Code and Write your Book: Aspire to Inspire by clicking the covers on this post.

I’m hunting for cool and interested people for my cult. Are you one of us? To sign up for my free newsletter and get a shoutout on the All That Chazz Podcast, go to AllThatChazz.com and do the drill in the right sidebar.

I’m looking for cool and interesting people. Are you one? To be interviewed on the All That Chazz podcast, click the Chazz Has Guests tab at the top of this page.

 

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

Your blog does not matter

 

“Writers should not write blogs for writers!” some expert declared.

Instead, write for readers!

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

I understand the argument, but what about writing about where your passion lies? I’ve written about writing for years now, drawing on my experience first as a journalist, publishing insider, freelancer, then as an editor and finally as an independent author who publishes his own work. I’ll be coming out with a book about writing later this year, so that’s one solution to the problem of writing for writers. But I keep thinking about that advice to write your blog for readers. I think I just figured out why it doesn’t matter.

Blog marketing does not matter. An author’s blog is usually something you discover after you’ve already found the author. Seth Godin’s blog is popular, but I found out about him through media first. Despite his high traffic, JA Konrath is sure that A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing doesn’t net him any new readers. He writes for writers and they come for his opinions and information, not his books. The readers of his blog and the readers of his books are two subsets of his readership with very little overlap. True, I read voraciously, but I still haven’t got around to reading any of his books. (Or John Scalzi’s or Chuck Wendig’s, either, though I love their blogs.) And what of all those successful novelists who blog little or not at all?

John Locke came up with a blogging strategy that helped him sell a lot of books, but he didn’t blog every day to do it. In fact, Locke blogged sparingly. He crafted each blog so he could leave it up for months and, using keyword searches and Twitter, drive traffic to his blog by going out and getting potentially interested parties. (Read Locke’s book on marketing to find out more about that.)

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

There is a caveat to these grand pronouncements. I’m not saying don’t blog. I’m saying that it’s unreasonable to expect a tiny engine to move that mountain. You need a website, but fairly static pages might do. Yes, I know (we all know by now, don’t we?) that a blog that changes often and has a lot of posts is smiled upon by search engine spiders and that boosts rankings. But that website you love so much isn’t the burning bush that’s converting believers. That website is where you send readers when you attract them by other means.

What should you spend more time on (and by you, I mean me)? Well, tomorrow night (Sunday at 9 PM) I’m going to have a chat on Blogtalk Radio with Sandi’s Tuttle. Tune in here. So there’s that.

Have a podcast, make personal appearances, show up on other people’s podcasts, do campus radio, do press releases (and make follow-up calls when they ignore you.)

Time for an angry tangent: A reader on a forum called on indie authors to send out press releases because she didn’t think we were brave enough or bothering to do so. She didn’t know what the heck she was talking about. Traditional media has a history of ignoring us because they don’t realize there are no gates to keep anymore. They’ll get over that. Too late, but they’ll get it. In the meantime, I’d love to sit down with that reader who thought we don’t do enough to help our cause and let her know all the things we do any given day, many of us after the full-time job is done. As if sending out a press release was a brilliant and heretofore unknown marketing strategy. She does not know the struggle. Indie authors are some of the bravest people I know in business. That grenade-thrower didn’t understand that just because you can read doesn’t mean you know anything about the writing biz.

Paranormal persuasion and scary stories (including two award winners.)

There are plenty of things you can do that could help your career more than writing a blog: Optimize your sales page on Amazon so readers can find you, for instance. Play with Amazon categories to get listed in the top ten of a subcategory to get traction. According to Klout, Twitter and Facebook help me reach more people than my blogs do (and my Goodreads blog presence doesn’t make a dent.) Becoming a star on YouTube could help more than a blog. If I’d starred on SCTV and become rich and famous at 22, I’d be better off now. (Time machine’s broken, so I’ll have to fix this the old-fashioned way: I’m going to need a DeLorean, a broken town clock and a bolt of lightning.)

What else can you do? You can do all the things you’ve heard about (or have already done): guest post, blog hop, do giveaways, comment up a storm, use free day promotions (to less and less effect), hold contests, pay for ads (though I rarely recommend that), send out more copies to reviewers, contact book bloggers, do signings, approach bookstores, make an app, cultivate powerful friends, save the life of a celebrity or write a book about cute cats.

Click to get Bigger Than Jesus here

So why blog? To serve the burning passion of a thousand stars going nova, I suppose. To express. To help. To have an active site for readers where I can send people who are interested in finding out more about me and my books and my process. On this site, I write for writers. On my author site, yes, there are plenty of links to my books, but mostly I talk to readers directly through my podcast. (Every week this summer and fall, I read a new chapter of my crime thriller Bigger Than Jesus for free. Those who can’t wait for the next instalment can get it all at once here.) Most of all, I write my blogs to discover what I think about things. (Like today.)

Do I expect any writers will convert to my book readership? A precious few, if they like my voice here because there’s some transfer of style in my other writing. No matter what I write, I’m a fan of twisting expectations, sneaky surprises and lots of jokes. I’ll expect most conversions will come when I publish the non-fiction books about writing. There are also niche blogging opportunities. For instance, I think if you’re a crime novelist and you blog about forensics in depth, you might gain interested readers from your blog to your books. Niche marketing is a buzzword, yes, but it does mean something.

The single most important thing you can do to help your career is write your next book.

If your blog is getting in the way of your book, then it’s time to take another look at your priorities.

And by “your”, I mean “my”*

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

*More on this tomorrow…

 

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Ultimate Blog Challenge: How to avoid signal fade on your blog and in your books

Authors, podcasters, bloggers, bloviators and cultural icons of all kinds: Everyone is subject to signal fade.

Encoding the MP3 after the Memorial Day podcast

Encoding the MP3 after the Memorial Day podcast (Photo credit: rbieber)

Signal fade equals audience entropy. Most people stop reading and listening over time because there are so many new things that demand our attention. Most of the fans and followers you have now will not be your fans and followers in the future. You might make one wrong move on Twitter and insult irradiated Japanese disaster victims like Gilbert Gottfried did. Maybe your fans will jump ship to the new simply because we’re programmed to seek out fresh experiences. They’ll get bored of your schtick. If you’re Jay Leno or Dennis Miller, it’s over, but for the rest of us, there’s still hope. What to do?

1. Don’t fall into schtick. Keep your writing and your words fresh. The person the masses will listen to the longest and with the most interest will be the one who says the unexpected. When I write a Facebook post or have some fun on Twitter, there’s probably a joke coming. Ah. But how will I arrive at that twisted coda? “Expect the unexpected.” That’s what my wife says when I tickle her. I didn’t take the threat seriously until I woke up in the middle of the night with her braining me with a frying pan. (See? Twisted coda sneak attack!) A better example is Chuck Palahniuk. He didn’t write Fight Club and then keep writing the same book again and again (as many authors do). He dipped into experimental fiction and several of his books are a jazz fiction fusion. It’s not all the same. You don’t have to change your unique voice, but be flexible how you use it.

2. Grow your base. This is tricky, because you don’t want to waste energy chasing down people who won’t dig you. Director Kevin Smith, for instance, was flummoxed to learn that one of his movies was advertised at great expense in The Ladies Home Journal. There’s not a chance that advertising paid for itself. That magazine’s readers probably couldn’t abide his penchant for profanity and Star Wars-obsessed dialogue. Instead, be you but in more places, so people can find you. Do guest blogs, grow your twitter following, appear on podcasts or whatever other book promotion you do. Most important on this to-do list, and the only one that is critical, is write more books. Be prolific. If your bookshelf and your base isn’t growing, it’s shrinking and dying faster than grandma.

3. Add to the mix. Host guest posts on your blog. Do interviews to get out of your head and into someone else’s. Link to a variety of blogs using Scoopit! to give your readers a smorgasbord. Bring more minds into your mix. Co-author a book. Have a guest on your podcast or play off your stooge of a brother. Try joining a writing group. Try a writing partner. Add a new voice to your old formula.

4. Set your mind free. This step is one way to accomplish #1. Too many people have the same thoughts because they’re talking to the same people all the time. Check out a book, a topic, a podcast or a blog you wouldn’t ordinarily read to get some fresh input to fuel your output. Go to court and watch arraignments for a couple of mornings this week. Get a tour of a morgue. Read this for a change of worldview instead of watching regular news. Take a language class and hang out with your fellow students. Learn the piano. Buy a homeless guy a coffee and talk to him. Go to a different church or hang out at a gay bar. Do something different from what you’ve done.

5. Step away from the keyboard. If it were up to me, I’d never go anywhere and never take a vacation. However, She Who Must Be Obeyed insists on vacations once a year at least. I hate leaving my writing bunker. I’m always here! Why try to alter my agoraphobic tendencies? However, every time I come back, I have fresh insights, more energy and new, aired-out ideas. You need a reboot, too.

Small-town terrors and psychological mayhem in Maine.

6. Write in more than one genre. If you’re into different types of fiction or want to branch out into non-fiction, do that. Cross-pollination will feed both grafted branches on your tree. More new people will have another way to discover The Magic That is You. Aside from my crime novels, I’ll publish a book on writing and I just published another fiction collection of suspense recently. Don’t just sit there. Juggling is energizing.

7. Or narrow your focus. The alternative is to own a topic so much, to be so unique, that anyone interested in a particular topic will have to read you. Certain names spring to mind for this rarified stratum of writer: Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. Of course, these guys take on big topics like economics and entrepreneurship and how to achieve success, but maybe you’re the master storm drain coupler of the Midwest. If you can drill down deep and achieve mastery of a subject to the degree that it makes you a specialist, your audience will have to read you to know what’s up. Whatever you do, own your category or aspire to own it.

8. Expand your outlets. You write, say, books of horror. What about podcasting about it as well as writing it? What about audiobooks? What about t-shirt sales on Cafe Press or Zazzle.com? How about graphic novels of your existing work? What about serious speaking engagements or stand-up comedy? How else can you not just monetize, but be different? Different and more is good. Different boosts your signal to a wider audience. More is more. Some people say less is more, but those people flunked math.

9. Change your process. So you’ve always outlined and plotted your books in great OCD detail? Instead, start pulling it out of your butt and see what surprises you’ve got stuffed up there. Or vice versa. Do you write one book a year or one book every three years? Resolve to write your next book in one month and then hold yourself to that promise. Do you write longhand in a library? Go to the coffee shop opposite the men’s mission and get a window seat and write there. Surprise yourself not just in what you write, but how you write it.

10. Change your support system. For my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I added an ex-military buddy to my beta read team. I didn’t know he’d be interested in the book, but on a whim, I asked because of his military expertise. He read it in a day and was very enthusiastic. When he came over with the marked up manuscript, we talked for three hours. Not only did he give me helpful ideas for the current book, I got great ideas for future books in the series. For my next book, I’m hiring a new editor to add fresh insight and plan to mix and match my beta read team.

Your signal won’t fade so fast if you vary its energy, amplitude and range. New people will tune in to replace the fans who wandered away. As for the fans that stay with you through all your books, podcasts and creative incarnations? They’re the ones on your mailing list you should pay particular attention to. Encourage conversation with them. They may even hang in long enough to warn you when you are getting stale, selling out or losing your freaking mind.

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

How-to: What can you get done?

Some time ago a writer friend on Twitter asked:

“I have two novels I’m working on. I could write this or revise that, but I really am not invested in which one I should do first.  Which should I do first?”

My answer:

“Do the thing that is closest to done.”

In the next week or so, we’re going to be inundated with advice about new year’s resolutions and changing our lives and making ourselves better people (sweating, remodelling and starving ourselves, if necessary.) I have something planned for that, too, so buckle up for more on that later.

As you evaluate what to do next, especially in your writing, do the thing that’s closest to done. You need to get your work done and out there. No, I’m not saying publishing is a sprint (though it is that and a marathon, too.) No, I’m not saying you have to change. Maybe you’re one of the few who have everything going for you. But probably not. That’s not saying anything against you. It’s just statistically likely that you’re just as screwed up as most everyone else. Few of us will keep our high-minded resolutions past January 15th. But we could. It’s our choice to screw up and our choice not to. You can do everything right and still fail, of course, b

English: Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

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ut your chances of not failing are much better if you at least play, participate, ship, compete and do.

As Seth Godin says, “You’ve got to ship.”

As Bruce Lee said, “You must compete.”

As Larry the Cable Guy says, “Git ‘er done!”

Oh my God, I just quoted Larry the Cable Guy. Shit. I really have to change my life around.

 

Filed under: getting it done, What about Chazz?, What about you?, writing tips, , , , , ,

Write. Commit. Do.

Last Saturday night I went for a long walk with She Who Must be Obeyed. We talked about the future.  I’d analyzed the finances. I’d considered my options. Now I have  a plan. I’ve been on both sides of the argument for and against self-publishing (and a lot of those arguments against were good objections when they were true not so long ago.)

It’s time for some grown-up decisions since I’ve been a kid in long pants for some time now. I have a manuscript to publish. Well, several, actually (and plans for more.) What to do with them though?

I’ve read Seth Godin, JA Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Barry Eisler and Cory Doctorow. I’ve read multiple defences of the status quo from legacy publishing. In the end, the latter were not convincing. I’ve spoken to Rebecca Senese about her experience with Smashwords and Jeff Bennington blogged in this space about Lightning Source. I kept an open mind as long as I could and decided I have to jump. Now.

Inspired by Kevin Smith, I see where the puck is going and I will not chase after where the puck has been. I’ve decided to pick myself, go big, go indie and publish my books myself. I’ll be using Smashwords and Lightning Source.

What are the main reasons I’m committing to indie? I’m looking forward to having the first book out by November. Traditional publishing would take much, much longer than that even if I struck a deal tomorrow (and the royalty rates are not favorable.)

I have had mainstream interest in the first book. I was concerned that self-publishing is seen by some as cheating the system, an evasion of gatekeepers who ensure quality. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I reject that premise.

JA Konrath ran the numbers. Ross Laird was very persuasive. Barry Eisler really got my attention when he said opting for self-publishing came down to a business decision versus an ego decision. That rang true for me personally.

Self-publishing is not the quick route to publication some people think it is. I won’t be skipping lightly over editing. I’ll be doing most everything a traditional publisher would do. I’m a tad intimidated by the tech side of things, but I’m a smart guy. I can generally figure most things out or ask for help. And I worked inside traditional publishing for five years so I’m not intimidated by a lot of things that would worry others. I’ve written and published a lot already so I’m not going in starry-eyed. But I am optimistic and excited. Much of the time, this is going to be fun!

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go with a New York publisher, a Canadian press, a university press, a small press or a micro press. I am saying this is the right choice for me because it suits my temperament and it suits the material (cross-genre, late YA with humor and sex, drugs and school bullying wrapped up with some literary pretensions.) Books coming later fall into horror (a plague’s coming so buckle up) and two fantasies (one with a vampire cannibal cult, the other is angels in the End of Days). Also, there’s a sexy and occasionally horror-oriented short story collection. Down the road I can see two non-fiction books, as well. Lots to do.

This is my time (before it’s too late…I hope.) I’ve started up several businesses to  employ myself. I haven’t had a “real” job working for someone else since 1991! I’m used to living on the edge of the real world. Self-publishing is for me. It might not be for you. I need choice and independence. I need to be a control freak about some things. (Okay, a lot of things.)

So, thank you to everyone who responded to my Twitter announcement last week with such kind wishes.

And before anybody tries jumping on my head about my decision,

let’s try this:

I’ll be me. You be you.

Filed under: My fiction, self-publishing, short stories, , , , , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: Five Advantages of Fast Writing

Traditional wisdom is that it takes a lot of time and energy to write a book. That’s generally true. However, that counts the entire process. It takes a long time to revise, edit and hone aWriting_fast book until you feel you’re ready to let it go. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a first draft quickly. Some purists will protest that haste will decrease the quality of a writer’s work in favour of quantity. Sure. I have a different take on that objection. Assume your first draft is going to suck anyway. Since you’re best writing is rewriting, it’s best to have something to revise. For many writers, if they didn’t write the first draft in haste, they might not have anything to revise at all. You can’t edit a blank page.

So here’s my contrarian view on why  fast writing can be a very good thing:

1. You maintain your enthusiasm for the project because you get the first draft done quickly. Marathon writing takes endurance. A sprint can be advantageous, especially if you haven’t completed a manuscript in the past and you’re developing those muscles.

2. When you write in haste, you can see the whole project’s development at once. You’re less likely to drop threads when you get the first draft done in a short time. If you’ve read Under the Dome by Stephen King—a huge and heavy book of great length which, in general, I enjoyed—maybe you noticed that he seemed to have a supernatural element on the protagonist’s side that is never explained and soon forgotten. It took him three years or so to write it. That might be why something’s amiss.

3. Increased productivity primes your art pump. If you produce a lot, you tend to produce more the rest of the time, too. It’s the literary equivalent of, if you want the job done, give it to a busy person. Artists need to get into the habit of production and treat their work as a business and a craft (instead of something that can only produced when the planets align and you have a handy vial of unicorn blood to consecrate your art-making ceremony.)

4. Increased production equals more money in the long run. That’s not mercenary. That’s math. If you can produce four books (and sell them) in the time it takes someone else to write one, you’re ahead (unless the other guy is William Styron, but he’d be ahead in any case…and he’s dead.)

5. You may not sell everything you write. In fact, if you’ve got an agent, an editor and a publisher between you and the market, there’s an excellent chance someone will stand up at some point and say, this isn’t ready for your customers. (They may or may not be right about that. When Robert Munsch‘s publisher told him the world wasn’t ready for Love You Forever, he took that controversial children’s book elsewhere. And had a hit.)

My point is, if you spend ten years writing a book and it does not sell, you will be sad. If you have other books to sell, the one disappointment won’t sting so much. You know how every second Star Trek movie was great and the others suck?  It evens out when you have more out there.

If I sound like I’m blaming, shaming and pointing fingers, I apologize. I have been guilty of acting like a dilettante about my fiction. I’ve had to gather unicorn blood before I could summon the muse. That’s changed recently as I’ve reevaluated. I’m motivated now to go into heavy production and get to work on the revisions for my books and, as Seth Godin puts it, “Ship!” (Also, see the post below on Lessons Received from An Evening with Kevin Smith for the whys and wherefores. )

My book production won’t happen overnight. But it will happen faster than it was happening. Boo-ya!

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Twitter Time Management

Twitter logo initial

Image via Wikipedia

(This bears repeating & retweeting.)

I love Twitter, but as Seth Godin says, “Twitter is never done.” You must be careful how you use it.

Here’s how: I post often on Twitter. However, I never post to Twitter from my desktop. Twitter is for the iPod. Twitter is for the in-between times. Twitter is for down time. Twitter is productive time when you would otherwise be unproductive. Twitter is for commercials (if you aren’t already saving years of your life by saving your TV shows on PVR and zipping through commercials.)

I use Twitter to:

Help people find links to useful information.

Say something funny and read something funny.

Answer questions and connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise know.

If it isn’t useful or funny, I’m doing something else.

(Plug: you get fresh updates on the latest publishing links on your right of this screen so this blog always has updated content through the day. Follow me @RChazzChute!)

Filed under: Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Twitter, , , , ,

Agents and (Non)Acquiring Editors: A Word on Gatekeeper’s Remorse (Some don’t have any!)

J. K. Rowling, after receiving an honorary deg...

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When a book is a great success, the rumors eventually emerge. JK Rowling was rejected six times. Meyer of Twilight fame? Fifteen times. All authors have stories of deals that almost went through. Many tell stories of cruel writing groups, insensitive english professors or critics that were hypercritical. When one writer triumphs and rises above these obstacles, all us of share a little of that. In German, it’s called Schadenfreude. In English it’s called “Nyaa-nyaa, nya-nya-naaaaaah!”       

Editors who reject books that go on to great success interest me. First question: Do they still have their jobs? Answer: Yes, of course they do.       

In Hollywood, you fail up. (Getting any movie made is such an accomplishment, you can have a string of failures and be a working director like M. Night Shyamalan.) If the rumoured stats are trues (85%-95% of books not earning their advances) publishing surely has the  highest tolerance for failure of any industry. There is no product research. “Product research is the first print run,” as they say. (Due to technology and Seth Godin forces, that’s changing. That’s another post.)       

Agents who pass up gold and editors who turn their noses up at diamonds answer predictably: “It’s a subjective business.” Yes. It is.    

Second Question: “But if these people are the experts who are supposed to know better, why do so many of their books tank?” Should we put so much stock in the opinion of people who are so often wrong? Dick Cheney doesn’t get to make credible predictions on foreign policy anymore. Why are we held in such thrall by agents and editors who have similar track records?      

The other common reply is, “I can’t represent it if I don’t love it.”       

I call bullshit. I’ve slogged through the slush pile. I worked as a sales rep for several publishing companies. I represented, and sold,  many books I never even got to read. (There were too many–especially when I worked at Cannon Books which listed hundreds and hundreds of books each year.) I even sold some books I actively loathed.       

The key question is not, “Do I love it?”        

The key questions are, “Can I sell it? Will lots of other people love it?”       

The idea that you can’t represent something unless you “love” it can set a ridiculously high bar for manuscript acceptance. You’ve read lots of books you liked and were glad to have read. How many were so good you really “loved” them? No wonder it’s so hard to get an agent if love is the accepted standard. (Love is not a standard criterion in business practice. You may think art is exempt from standard business practice. That’s one of the reasons this industry is in so much trouble. Artists worry their art is compromised, but without the business side? No art.)      

CORE ISSUE:       

Writers, particularly those yet-to-be published, are expected to have a thick skin.      

That is useful, though any really successful author will tell you the harsh critics hurt just as much as ever. They feel the pain, but aren’t supposed to complain.     

Some editors and agents     

 (PLEASE NOTE: NOT ALL EDITORS AND AGENTS!)     

act as if their mistakes aren’t mistakes.      

Therefore, their mistakes will be repeated.     

When ego gets in a writer’s way, he or she can’t learn and improve. That same principle should apply to gatekeepers. However, when gatekeepers make mistakes, some seem to say, “Not my fault. That’s just the way it is. I didn’t love it enough.” I say, “The new economy is making million-dollar companies, often out of billion-dollar companies. The coffee’s brewing and it’s a quarter past Massive Industry Fail. Wake up! And open up!”      

When you see an agent blog wherein the agent rips new queries, keep in mind that of all the many queries they analyse, they may accept only a handful (some perhaps two a year…or less.) Also, don’t work with snarky people because mean people suck and eventually they’ll be mean to you.     

This post was critical, not snarky. If I were snarky, I would have named names.      

Filed under: agents, Editors, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Writers, , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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