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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Sell More Books Top 10: Variables that build success

We often don’t know for sure which strategies sell more books so we have to fire a lot of bullets into the darkness. Last week, the best advice I heard, repeated from a couple of authors, was about the willingness to experiment.

When it comes to radioactive isotopes, infant juggling and indie publishing, it’s good fun to mess around. Play with the variables to sell more books. What are some of those variables? Here we go:

1. If your cover doesn’t sell the book hard enough, change it.

Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire wasn’t selling the numbers I wanted. I changed the cover.

WYB NEW COVERcover

2. I played with categories for the Hit Man Series.

My funny and luckless assassin is Cuban, so I tried the Hispanic & Latino category. Didn’t work. I switched it back. Each failure is a refinement. It’s not permanent so relax and fire more shots into the dark.

3. I’m experimenting with keywords, too.

Did you know you don’t have to use a single word (i.e. crime, thriller, action, romance) for keywords? You can add up to seven phrases and it can pay to make them less generic. Cater to your niche and, for more on this strategy, listen to Nick Stephenson’s interview on the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast with host Simon Whistler. It’s called “Quadruple Your Kindle Sales.” That got your attention and turned you into a podcast listener, didn’t it?

Don’t forget to play with changes to your book descriptions, as well. Use keywords where appropriate. Don’t fall into the trap of awkwardly stuffing keywords into the description so it sounds like you’re straining to please search engine robots.

While you’re plugging podcasts into your head, please do listen to my interview on Episode #60 of Rocking Self-publishing. We had a lot of fun talking about how to enjoy marketing your book.

4. I changed the cover for my poetry book, too.

Poetry is hard enough to sell so don’t handicap your efforts with a sad cover like I did. I changed the cover using an image from Pond5 and switching back and forth from two photo editors, Picmonkey and KD Renegade. 

As always, I recommend the awesome cover design work of Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. He wasn’t available this week, so I improvised. It’s an improvement on the original cover (which was my fault, not Kit’s. The original crap cover was my design, too.)

BRAINGASMS FINAL cover

5. My biggest change was long overdue.

My first book was a fun, funny and thoughtful short story collection to read on the toilet. It’s called Self-help for Stoners. Unfortunately, I uploaded my first indie published foray through an intermediary. To make changes to the text cost a lot of money. It needed another edit so I have reclaimed the book from the intermediary. Huzzah!

I did the edit for the second edition. I added bonus material (big tastes of two of my series) so it could act as an introduction to my kind of crazy. Finally, it’s also a sales funnel to my newer books. 

Self Help for Stoners JPEG

I can do more with this book now, like experiment with variables. I can play with the price, keywords and categories. I can change strategies as needed and put it in KDP Select and try countdown deals etc,….

The print version of the second edition will be for sale again soon so I’ll have more to sell for the Christmas season. Most important, with these changes, I’m delivering a better reading experience along with all that awesome hilarity. It’s a relief to be back in the driver’s seat.

6. Speed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about production speed as marketing. I’m changing my production timetable. The third book in the Hit Man Series hits October 1.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

The goal is to put out another crime novel thirty days after that. Thirty days later, the plan is to put out a time travel novel. The books are all written and in the editorial pipeline. I’ll also add an omnibus edition of the first three books in the series.

TWEAKED JESUS OMNIBUS COVER WITH CROSS

The goal is to avoid falling off the cliff. All authors experience the cliff. After a month on Amazon, your beautiful baby is old news and sales tend to begin to slide as you disappear from the list of freshly minted books. Publish a new book more often and all your sales may be buoyed…assuming all the other variables are properly in place. For instance, if the story sucks, nothing can save us.

7. Accept failure as part of the play in the gears.

Please keep in mind that you can put all the sales variables in place, but that does not necessarily mean the book will move. It should move more, but there are too many variables we can’t control. Maybe you’re going head to head against a book with tons of mojo and money behind it. Maybe you’re at the top of a genre that is stone cold. Maybe the book just isn’t that good or you’re an unrecognized genius. (So many of us are. I empathize.)

All we can do is write more books and play with the variables that we can control. I should get a blurb for the Self-help for Stoners cover, for instance. That task is on my list. Blurbs help. More reviews help. Maybe more review copies to book bloggers is something to change up. Or do you need to change the book bloggers on the list you already have?

8. Make plans.

This might be a new idea you want to resist because you’re an artiste, dammit! I know, but work to word count or page count goals and editorial deadlines, anyway. I always get more done when I pretend I’m a grown up.

9. in that vein, establish systems.

When you learn the steps to how to do something once (e.g. putting out a podcast or compiling manuscripts in Scrivener), write what you did right. That way, you don’t have to start at zero knowledge each time you repeat the task. Systems are flow charts of mistakes you corrected. It’s a great way to avoid making the same mistakes with your next project. Put it in a binder within reach of your desk. Update it as you go.

Sure, taking the time to put what you’ve learned into binders sounds like drudgery. However, systems actually make you efficient and eliminate the drudgery of reinventing the wheel each time. Tiny course corrections steal far less from our precious writing time. (Tip: Take screenshots of your winning Scrivener process to make it less tedious.)

10. Speaking of finding efficiencies, track results.

That which is not measured cannot be improved. Repeat the variables that seem to work. Dump what doesn’t work, no matter how much you loved those seemingly brilliant ideas. Old ideas that don’t work can weigh us down as we climb the mountain.

BONUS:
Get better with each book.

This will happen organically. It will happen faster if you organize the variables in that binder.

Pretty soon, you won’t be firing bullets in the dark. You’ll see what hit and become a sharpshooter.

 

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What gets clicks

You could check your blog’s site stats and wring your hands over SEO keywords, but no one really wants to do that. The most fun thing about Aspire to Inspire eBook JPGblog stats is discovering the creepy search words people use to stumble upon your blog. (For me, it’s often “Cheryl Ladd”.) You could ask your readers what they like, but that probably won’t give you a representative sample with hard numbers. The easiest way to figure out what lights up your blog’s readers? Triberr.

Go to your  Tribal Stream page. At the top, click on “My Posts”. Naturally, you’ll see a list of your blog posts. Each post will show stats for Shares, Clicks, Comments, Up Votes and Reblogs. Go down the list and see which sorts of posts got the most clicks, shares and up votes. Those were the most successful posts.

If you’ve got enough of a track record, you’ve just defined your blog’s current niche. The sorts of posts that get the most shares and clicks on ChazzWrites.com include: book marketing and promotion advice; posts about the micro-publishing experience gone wrong; tech tools to assist writers and publishers. Stuff on writing and editing is popular, too. This tells me that I’m on target with the audience I shoot for here. Like you, I want to achieve two things with my blogs: I want to write what I’m passionate about and I want to be effective.

My posts about blogging better to reach more readers also do well, so this post just got meta. For more posts that smack you between the eyes and hit your brain’s  dopamine lever of happiness, check out the “Related Articles” below. They’re the most popular recent posts on Chazzwrites.com.

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Book Marketing: World Literary Cafe Tweet Teams and how to tweet more effectively

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

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

 You can now vote for the funniest and bestest entry in the Seven Words or Less Contest to determine who gets their name in my next thriller, Hollywood Jesus. Just take a look at the comment thread here and email your vote for the best entry to expartepress AT gmail DOT com. Enjoy!

Do you use World Literary Cafe Tweet Teams? It’s a free promotional tool for authors and, with Christmas approaching, I see a lot of new faces over there today. To use the tool, go to the Tweet Teams menu at World Literary Cafe. Each team has ten members, so you’ll tweet nine others through the day and they’ll tweet you in return. Here’s how it works to spread your word:

1. You will input two Twitter-friendly messages, so make sure you stay under 140 characters. (When people don’t, it’s annoying and I feel bad editing the author’s tweet to make it fit.)

2. Your message must begin with RT @yourtwittername and end with #WLCAuthor

3. Tweet all your team members the same day. Use TweetDeck or some other tweet scheduling program so you don’t beat your Twitter following over the head too hard.

4. You must also tweet the WLC daily tweets as a payment and courtesy to the folks at WLC. They provide and maintain this service free, so do that. They do a lot for authors at World Literary Cafe, so check out all their services. They’re useful for lots more besides Tweet Teams.

5. Please read and reread the instructions carefully to make sure you’re compliant with the rules. Daily tweets are randomly audited to make sure everybody plays fair.

Those are the basics, but I’d like to add something more: Add something more to your tweets besides, “Here’s my book + Amazon link.” I understand doing it that way. I’m not saying don’t. I’m saying do something more and different. If that’s all you tweet, it’s not seductive. I see some curmudgeons handwring over how much Christmas book spam clots our Twitter feeds. As I’ve said before, I’m not some tweet narc telling you what to do. However, there’s stuff you can do to tweet more effectively. For instance: 

People like gifts. Do a giveaway so you’re giving them a sample of what you’re about:

RT @rchazzchute FREEBIE! Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire Jedi mind tricks to get it all done + much more http://amzn.to/TuXSxB #WLCAuthor 

RT @rchazzchute Free to download Write Your Book Top 10s so writers become authors, #promotip tools http://amzn.to/TuXSxB #WLCAuthor #inspire

RT @rchazzchute #GIVEAWAY Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire For anyone who wants to #publish http://amzn.to/TuXSxB #WLCAuthor #Amazon #free

Instead of just tweeting “Orangeberry Book Tour”, make it funny or informative: 

RT @rchazzchute Author interview for the #crime thriller Higher Than Jesus  at http://www.ravinaandreakurian.com #WLCAuthor #hardboiled #sex & #violence

 Or send them to a useful link on your blog or a podcast:

 RT @rchazzchute #PODCAST The Death by Ewok Edition #Unicycling is cool http://bit.ly/UQOLYK #WLCAuthor + free book @ #writing & #publishing

 RT @rchazzchute Marketing Your Book: #11 is really harsh. Sorry. http://bit.ly/X2QAzw #WLCAuthor plus a #free book @ #writing & #publishing

Sure, it powers your tweet if you’ve got a podcast or your free Amazon days are on, but you’ve got a blog so bring them back there a bit  instead of just shooting out the sales link without context. Give people a chance to fall in love with you a little. If they like your tone, your information, book covers or even your amazing eyebrows in your author photo, that’s a better shot at a sale.

Some of those curmudgeons I mentioned don’t like quotes from books showing up in tweets. So what? I love quotes. If you love it (and have compelling quotes that nab eyeballs, hearts and minds) then go ahead and do that. And if you don’t love it, don’t do it and unsubscribe. This is the Internet. There aren’t many rules, only guidelines. That’s why I love the Internet. 

Think about what works on you. What compels you to click a link? Then do that.

How about it? Really. What does make you click a link? Does it all come down to the title of the book, area of interest or mentions of sloth genitalia? Today I mentioned that the book that I’m giving away cures bad breath, pigeon toes and athlete’s genitalia. That worked.

"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 books about writing and publishing, the Hit Man Series, suspense and very quirky self-help. Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire is free until Saturday. Since you’ve endured reading all the way down here, you’ll no doubt grok it. Grab the giveaway here and if you love it, please review it. Cheers!

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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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iCarly, Art and what it means

Find tons of tips and inspiration here.

Free until Dec 15! Please click the image to learn more about writing and publishing.

The news came in last night that I am no longer an artistic hero to a friend of mine. My fall from grace came when I announced on Facebook that I looked forward to seeing the series finale of iCarly. As a crime novelist whose anti-hero gets tortured and frequently kills, clearly I’d damaged any tough guy rep I’ve built in the Hit Man Series. I’m not too torn up at my fallen status in the eyes of my friend, but his joke did get me thinking about the big question: What is the nature of Art and what’s good Art?

As a stay-at-home dad, I’ve watched a lot of kid shows with my children. Most shows came and went as the kids went through stages. Teletubbies was a short foray followed by The Wiggles. Dora the Explorer was great but the kids outgrew it and declared it a “baby show” quickly. iCarly hit my kids at just the right time. As the stars of the show got taller, so have my kids. The two constants have become Spongebob and iCarly. Somebody told me they thought the stuff that qualifies as Great Art is the stuff that lasts. (Not sure about that. How long does a shooting star last?)

Let’s address the worry first: What’s a grown man doing watching iCarly? It’s simple. I have a pretty bleak outlook and monstrous rage I sublimate with humor. iCarly is silly fun and in each episode I was sure that everything would work out okay. Entertaining TV lights a candle where there is so much darkness.

It is clever silliness, though. If you are a little older and you watched the iCarly finale with your kids, there was a moment when you roared with laughter and your kids have no clue why. They did a tribute to another iconic moment in television history: The group hug/group shuffle from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That bit was a wink and a nod for the old ones watching with their kids. I loved it.

Watching iCarly kind of balances out my favorite shows: Dexter, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. I’ve also become riveted by season 1 of a Showtime drama  called Sleeper Cell which is a taut story about an FBI agent who is out to bring down terrorists. He’s undercover and also happens to be Muslim. I mention these shows not to try to win back any lost cred, but to say that Art comes in all shapes and sizes, tastes and brands.

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Recently a troll went to work on a colleague’s blog, acting unnecessarily rude in a comment thread. My first reaction was what troll’s want: I was annoyed. Then I thought about the chasms and vast distance between iCarly and Sleeper Cell and how I enjoyed them both for different reasons. A commentator from On The Media mentioned recently that he didn’t think a famous self-published author’s work was very well-written. He then added, “But how great does it have to be when you can buy her books for $2.99 cents?”

I suspect the troll doesn’t understand what the commentator groks: There is no real Art in the sense that “This is The Good and This is the Bad.” There is nuance and too many variables for our pea brains to handle when it comes to what people like. The commentator allows a nuance that doesn’t register in Troll World: If you get it cheap, you don’t expect it to be perfect. And what a relief that is! We all strive for excellence, but nothing is perfect. Through that lens, I saw the troll differently, too. In Troll World, criticism is used to try to control others so you feel better about yourself. How else to explain anger directed at artists that comes with a heat that should be reserved for perpetrators of genocide? My annoyance melted to pity. How sad and lonely trolls must be when they project such anger. They bring no joy because they have no joy.

There’s room for all kinds of Art. That book you love? I hate it. The book I love? You hate. Someone once said criticism (distinct from trolling) has value because it isn’t merely subjective. It is intersubjective. Yes, when it’s practiced at a high level, you can provide measures and good reasoning why I shouldn’t like something. However, like and love is like laughter: It is involuntary. Bad reviews are often irrelevant. I notice now that a vocal group (the minority?) don’t trust good reviews, either. A good critique is often entertaining, but that does not automatically equate to believing the critic. Several times I have soothed a fellow author’s hurt feelings over a bad review by pointing out that people often pay no attention to a bad review, especially if it’s poorly written or the reasoning is shaky. Criticism is an art in itself, but I give it a small a, not a capital, because it based on what others speak, write, produce, act, direct or sing first. I’ve read a lot of art criticism, but for its own sake, not to determine which movie to see on any given Saturday night. The critic is not me. To believe the critic, he or she has to share my sensibilities. How often do we match up so well that we can switch out our opinion for another’s judgment? Rarely.

Art is the place where we meet strangers in safety. You wouldn’t want to meet my characters in real life. They’re dangerous. I write

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

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

stories of Bad versus Evil. But I’m complex and I have an emotional range. There’s room for a sponge who flips burgers and whose best friend is a starfish who is so creative in how entertainingly dumb is. And there was room in iCarly for Sam to get into and out of trouble by beating people with a slab of butter in a gym sock. Spencer hanging with an ostrich? Priceless. And we need Gibby and Guppy to be freakishly obtuse and endearing because all your surreal friends in real life are in jail for possession.

What’s good Art? That’s not the big question I thought it was. The nature of Art trumps the question because Art is so much bigger than that question. Art is multidimensional with infinite variety, as varied as we are. There’s room for everything and for everyone’s individual taste.

And now, one last time: “Gibby!”

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire as well as a bunch of books of suspense including Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Self-help for Stoners. His new book, Murders Among Dead Trees, is the definitive collection of his short stories. It will be released later this week. To hear the All That Chazz podcast, go to the author site, AllThatChazz.com. For all the links to Chazz’s books, click here.

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#NaNoWriMo: 50,000 words isn’t the end. Learn from my mistake.

Free to you Nov. 26 – 30, 2012

Crack the Indie Author Code is free to you as an ebook, Monday to Friday, Nov. 26 – Nov 30 at midnight. As National Novel Writing Month draws to a close this week, please consider picking up the book and its  follow-up, Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. Both books are packed with information and inspiration for what lies ahead, no matter where you are in your writing and publishing journey. That’s the ad, but there’s more you need to know. Learn from my mistake: Don’t stop there.

Some say there are too many books. I’m a huge fan of choice, so I say there are too many books still in drawers and forgotten on thumb drives after NaNoWriMo is complete. Sure, let it sit in a drawer so you can be realistic when you get back to it. (Have a rest and relearn your children’s names.) However, please don’t let your trip to publication end at 50,000 words.

I believe many of the books that languish after NaNoWriMo can be salvaged with revisions and editing. Okay, maybe not all of them, but many. NaNoWriMo is a fun challenge to begin the process, like a hard swim in the ocean. In braving the waves and heading straight out to sea, you complete 50,000 words or more. That’s certainly an achievement, but it’s not the finish line. You have to swim back and make it to shore. Otherwise, all your hard work is written on water. 

An incomplete manuscript niggles, doesn’t it? I know. I have several manuscripts waiting for me. I wrote for years before I began writing full-time, so I built a bank of manuscripts to return to. It’s easier to keep your head in the game when you see one manuscript through to completion. Those big books I’ve written are awfully intimidating when I go back to them to tinker. I’m afraid to lose the thread. It helps my process to be in media res, not just for the characters but for me as I write and rewrite. I will get to those books, of course. I’ll immerse myself again and get back into it, but at first it sure feels like trying to do the butterfly stroke after a long absence from swim practice. I’m always most excited about the newest project, so those books, as worthy as they will be, get pushed farther back in the drawer.

In stopping and starting, I’ve lost energy, time and money. Please learn from my mistake and see NaNoWriMo through to its logical conclusion. Keep swimming.

UPDATES

When I wrote Crack the Indie Author Code, there was a Big Six. Now, with the merger of Penguin and Random House, it’s the Big Five. As

Find tons of tips and inspiration here.

I wrote Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, Kindlegraph was the tool to autograph ebooks. Now authors can write inscriptions across publishing platforms using the update, Authorgraph. I mention these two updates not just because I want you to know the latest. I mention it because I published those two books on writing and publishing very recently. Publishing’s landscape is changing so fast, even ebooks updating before anyone can click the “Publish” button. Bookmark ChazzWrites, hit follow and keep coming back for the latest.

Speaking of the latest on changes in the publishing industry, you will certainly want to hear: the latest episode of the podcast, On The Media, from NPR. It’s called Adapt or Die. It’s an excellent summation about the year in publishing. Topics include: The myth of piracy, Amazon versus everyone, getting around Amazon, knockoff books, the bookstore battle over the Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Chef and the future of the industry.

~ Robert Chazz Chute was a martial artist when his life was still ruled by macho BS. He writes about writing and publishing, suspense and escape while making jokes to distract readers from the existential abyss that will consume us all. He likes puppies. See his author page and listen to his podcast at AllThatChazz.com.

 

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#NaNoWriMo: The key tip to write a much better book

When we plunge into writing a book, there’s lots of enthusiasm on the front end of the challenge. But how will we fill all those pages, especially in that saggy middle where we really don’t know exactly what’s going to happen? How will we give our story verisimilitude? How will we make readers care about our characters and give the book depth? Where will all the conflict come from? How will we sustain our enthusiasm all the way to the end of NaNoWriMo?

There is a solution that many writers shy away from to their detriment. They want their protagonists to be likeable so they make them Christlike figures. This saps a lot of juice from your book. Here’s why you must make your characters more flawed:

1. With flawed characters, there’s much more to write about. A former writer on Seinfeld said recently that stories that focussed on Jerry were always the hardest to write because he had the fewest flaws. George and Kramer and Elaine had plenty of neuroses and quirks, so that allowed the writers plenty of material with which to play. Give your detective an obsession or a hobby that doesn’t help him. Nero Wolfe had the orchids upstairs. Monk has OCD. Everybody has a blind spot or maybe even a fatal flaw that your plot can turn on.

2. Flawed characters have an interesting past that has a bearing on the present and future. My hit man in Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Then Jesus was abducted and abused as a child. Those scars interfere with his love life now. He wears very expensive suits and can’t stand to have sex without his clothes on because he has emotional scars. He also doesn’t want a lover to see the physical scars across his chest. His psychological quirks go deep, dealing with PTSD, addiction and his relationships with women. He falls in love too quickly always searching for a woman he can idolize and worship. Or is he really looking for mom?One of my favorite chapters in Higher Than Jesus is the one in which my hit man goes to group therapy (and fails miserably at it.)

You don’t want to stop your narrative cold with flashbacks too often, but if you can weave those flashbacks into the story well — and if those flashbacks are compelling enough — you’ve got a tool to give your readers a much richer story.

3. Flawed characters create tension. Your plot should spring from character. For instance, Jesus Diaz is prideful. If there’s a problem, he feels he has to handle it. Other circumstances conspire to make him feel he can’t simply call the police to handle his issues, but his resolve is key to that plot point. Higher Than Jesus would be at least a third shorter if Jesus solved problems the same way normal people solve problems.

4. Flawed characters have more conflict with their world. Jesus has a hard time relating to anyone else as a “boss”, for instance. He’s not a guy who is meant for the 9 – 5 world, especially with his limited skill sets in finding people, his inability to work in law enforcement because of his shady history and the creative uses he finds for super glue. Tension and heat increase from friction so be mean to your protagonist and make at least some of his problems his own damn fault.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

5. Readers relate to flawed characters. A novice writer asked me to read a chapter from her paranormal romance. The hero was very heroic — blandly so — and had an impossibly heroic name. The heroine was everything you’d expect from a heroine and more. They’d never done anything wrong and never would. They were always right, always predictable and always relatively safe because they were amazingly capable. Meanwhile, most readers think they should get to the gym today and most of us won’t make it. When you write your hero as if he’s Superman, he’s boring and you have a book the length of a comic book with just as much believability. Go Batman. In the ’60s comics, he was written as The World’s Greatest Detective, kind of Sherlock Holmes in a cowl with a cool car. The character’s real surge came when writer Frank Miller tuned into the underlying subtext of Batman’s vibe: He’s a billionaire with Daddy issues who trains himself to become a psychotic badass vigilante who won’t kill, but he’s no boy scout, either. That’s much more interesting than relentless virtue.

My hit man is obsessed with movies (just like me). Movies are our society’s touchstone, so Jesus has seen the same movies you’ve seen and sees the world through that Hollywood prism. He not only wants the Happily Ever After ending; he thinks he deserves it. Through movies, I make readers share a common interest and knowledge base with a hit man.

Consider Elmore Leonard’s characters: They’re often a bunch of criminals doing crazy things you’d never do, but some of their traits remind you of your crazy, racist Uncle Larry or that nutty girl you shared a room with in second semester before she dropped out to go to Art School. Flawed characters are people we know and believe because we’re surrounded by people who are flawed.

Resist the urge to make your characters better than human. In fact, we’ll like and believe them more if they aren’t perfect.

For more tips, inspiration and motivation for National Novel Writing Month, check out Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, on sale now.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code, Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, Self-help for Stoners, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit).

BONUS:

A fresh podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com which explains how you can get free ebooks. 

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#NanoWriMo Tip: How to finish with a flourish

Jodi McMaster asked a great question: Got any tips on how to approach endings? As a matter of fact, I do! I talk about story arcs and related whatnot in the writing guides, but here’s my take:

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

1. Some people think you have to have happy endings. I prefer satisfying endings. A satisfying ending isn’t necessarily a happy one, but it should be generally perceived as an inevitable ending in retrospect. Surprising, yet logical and inevitable when you look back on it. That’s the ticket to reader happiness. It’s a tough order to fill, but it works every time when you do it right.

2. I love surprise endings. Twist endings are shunned in some literary circles, but the readers in those circles are squares. I once read a literary critic sneer at surprise endings as “too, too O. Henry.” Oh, please. “Too” O. Henry? As in the guy who wrote some of the most memorable, popular and enjoyed fiction of his time and beyond? It’s not a cheap ending if it’s logical and entertaining. Do that and nobody minds a surprise ending.

3. No cheap tricks, such as “And then the little girl fell out of bed and realized it was all a dream.” A really bad movie called Wisdom with Emilio Estevez did something like that. It was not wise and that’s why you’ve never heard of that movie, unless some unfortunate movie goer was speaking about lousy films on which to spit.

4. Readers should not be puzzled with your ending. If you’ve read a bunch of winning short story contest entries at some pretentious lit mag, you’ve read this sort of ending. It’s the nebulous ending favored by some very expensive MFA programs. It’s the sort of ending that’s so vague, it’s unsatisfying or downright opaque. You read it and reread and wonder if there’s any meaning behind that poetic last paragraph? Then you wonder if you just had a stroke and that’s why you can’t figure out what the heck the author is trying to say. Annoying. You can have intriguing endings. You can’t have loose ends that read like a quantum physics equation.

For Higher Than Jesus, my first ending was clear-ish. One of my beta team told me to make it more explicit and less poetic because that’s the last impression the reader gets before they go write a review. He was right so I rewrote the last paragraph for more of a punch between the eyes.

5. It should be an ending but you can hint that there’s more to come. I love leaving the door open a little. When readers invest themselves in a character, it kind of hurts to say goodbye to them. Characters should be so rich that the reader feels that the heroine’s and hero’s story will continue beyond the life recorded in the book. Hope for more from your characters in the future is uplifting. It can also uplift your sales when you turn one book into a series.

6. If you’ve got a too-easy ending, think about it longer. At the end of Casablanca — a movie I love — there aren’t any Nazis at the plane checking travel documents, the point the structure of the movie turned on. They could have wrung a little more tension out of that final plot point if there was some question of an external factor keeping Ilsa and Victor from getting on the plane, too.

7. Don’t stay too long saying goodbye. This is the dreaded viscous ending. Think of the last Lord of the Rings movie. It didn’t have one ending. It had five endings that dragged on and on. This was meant to appease lovers of the book. It made my butt numb in the movie theatre. Instead, hit your last power peak in the story and opt for the short dénouement. (Note that the end of the trilogy had a little of Casablanca’s plot niggle, too: Why all the walking when you can ride a giant eagle and zip back to the Shire in no time?)

8. Be very careful about killing off your protagonist. It’s a lot to ask of a reader to go through a whole book cheering for a character and killing them off at the end anyway. (See Point #1 again.) Remember how everybody hated Alien 3? There was lots to hate, but consider (spoiler alert) that after rooting for the little girl to live all through Alien 2, she dies in her cryotube at the beginning of Alien 3. It wasn’t a great start and it did not get better. Why? Because the audience was cheated of their earlier victory. It’s not that you can’t kill off a protagonist, but be smart about it and give the reader a payoff to make the sacrifice worth it. If you’re going to kill off Bruce Willis on an asteroid in Armageddon,  for instance, it better serve the cause of saving the planet from said asteroid. (This was back when Bruce Willis was more popular. We’re okay with killing him off earlier in the show now.)

9. More specifically to Jodi’s question: Great endings and great books spring from character. What does the protagonist want? Are they  worthy of that goal? As we make the reader care and amp up the tension along the way, the story is all about the obstacles in the protagonist’s way. When we’re through the obstacles, failures and reversals of fortune, have they won the day? Does the hero or heroine mourn the sacrifice it took to get them to end of the story but at least reach a higher level (e.g. wiser, stronger, redemption, making the family unit whole, saving the world, saving themselves, vanquishing their enemies, winning love etc.,…)? The protagonist doesn’t have to meet all their goals to provide a satisfying ending, but for the reader to be satisfied, they should feel that the trip was worth the time and the stakes were high enough.

Another example from movies  (and a spoiler alert ahead): Michael Keaton is awesome in the film Clean and Sober. However, as good as Keaton is in the drama, the ending is unsatisfying. It ends with Keaton declaring his first days of sobriety, but it doesn’t feel like he’s really earned the achievement. He goes through a lot, yes, but it seems like he gets sober through an unlikely inability to get his hands on any drugs rather than an act of will and discipline. Sobriety is something that happens to him, not something he went out and did or didn’t do. Heroes own the locus of control. That’s why everyone’s a sucker for a training montage in any sports movie.

10. The clue to a great ending is often hinted at in the beginning of the book. Your opening is a statement of the core problems the protagonist faces. Your ending is the solution to whatever that problem is. At the opening of Higher Than Jesus, I’ve got my hit man, Jesus Diaz, about to kill a guy in a sleazy after-hours joint in Chicago on Christmas Day. Jesus needs money and he has to get rid of the bad guy. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that at the end of Higher Than Jesus, he’s clearer about his own character and why he does what he does. The payoff is wisdom and growth and…much more I can’t tell you.

My first clues to great endings were in reading Esquire magazine. Any great magazine article saves a little punch at the end. (Newspapers use the inverse pyramid model, so all the good stuff it’s up top and they edit coarsely by cutting from the bottom.) Magazine pieces always end on a strong note. It can be ironic or funny or powerful or triumphant or geared to make you cry. Read a bunch of those articles and then compare that feeling to the feeling you get at the end of your book. If you have a similar tickle in your brain and pull at your heart, you’ve got a memorable ending with punch.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of two writing guides: Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. They aren’t your Grampy’s and Grammy’s guides to writing and publishing. Lots more inspiration, zero scolding and tons of ideas and motivation for writing your books to completion. (“To completion” is not an orgasm joke. That’s a terrible euphemism. Don’t use that!)

 

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NaNoWriMo: My crucial mistake

The first time I tried National Novel Writing Month, I did a lot right but I did one crucial thing wrong. 

What went right:

1. I created a loose outline before NaNoWriMo started so I wouldn’t write myself into too many corners and dead ends.

2. I planned my calendar and even reserved babysitters to make sure I had enough time to write.

3. I wrote more than the bare minimum each day (1,666 words) so I got ahead of my word count goal early. You don’t want to derail your NaNoWriMo challenge just because you had the flu for a few days or other work demands pulled you away unexpectedly. 

The crucial mistake:

It’s okay to paste in the broad strokes to fill in later (e.g. “insert awesome sex scene here” or “this is the chapter where little Bobby discovers he can crush badger skulls with the power of his mind.”)

However, as I reached 50,000 words, I stopped short. I didn’t write the last scene before typing “The End”. Later, when I returned to my manuscript to revise and edit, the magic momentum was gone. The missing end sucked my enthusiasm for the project. NaNoWriMo is a sprint and it feels great to cross that finish line. Fifty-thousand words isn’t the only finish line. Build the skeleton of the entire book and you’ll have something more solid to work with when you’re done.

For more on National Novel Writing Month and brainstorming tips, tricks and inspiration to carry you to the end, get my new book, Crack the Indie Author Code.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

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Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

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

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An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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