What’s coming in 2014

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Ready for a Christmas party? So am I. Almost. Maybe not so much.

My blog has been an accurate reflection of my writing time once school started. Some of you know I have returned to the classroom as a high school literature and journalism teacher.

In between the lessons and grading, I don’t have very much time to blog or write, or party, for that matter. I snatch the moments I can and work with them, meaning to others, I might seem antisocial for not hanging out.

For 2014, I commit to blog and even vlog (yes, a video blog) once a week with information on my writing and marketing journey. There has to be something from my triumphs and/or mistakes that can be of use to you. I plan on sharing those.

Also, in 2014, my fifth novel, Sophomore Freak, will bow right before the summer. It’s the second book in my teen sci-fi novel series, Reject High. The third installment has been languishing on my flash drive for some time. That’s on my to-do list, too. There’s also a sequel to The Revelation Gate there. As you can see, I’m asking Santa for some extra writing time.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Digital Books: The Price Is Wrong

I went to the store and almost bought the second season of Superman: The Animated Series. Not for my five-year-old, for me.

Don’t judge me — I have a bigger point to make about it.

The reason why I didn’t buy it is because I saw the price, paused, and thought about it. You never  want a consumer to do that. Logically, you want their interest plus access to the money for purchase to equal an actual purchase.

If they have to think about it, chances are you’ve lost the sale. In a former life, I used to sell men’s suits. The “I’ll-be-back-to-buy-it” folks are looking for something — a lower price, a cheaper product — but whatever it is, you don’t have it.

Recently, I read a blog where the author advised against pricing your e-books at .99 cents. Yes, it worked for Amanda Hocking, Darcy Chan, and a number of other authors. But he said it devalues your work to price it that low, and he’s right. I’ve seen a bunch of books priced .99 cents and they looked like they shouldn’t have cost any more than .99 cents.

This is a group I do not want to belong to, and neither should you.

Instead, experiment with your pricing and watch your sales numbers. Find a price point where your buyers don’t pause and think about it, and your numbers stay the same. Stick with what works.

Hope this helps!

Paying for reviews: Worth it or not?

With my most recent novel, Reject HighI sunk a sizable chunk of my advertising budget to pay for a Kirkus indie review.

Before you skeptically look at your screen, let me tell you: I have tried a lot of different marketing ideas. For my first novel, The Lost Testament, I hired a PR person, held a book release party, and did a few TV and Blogtalk radio interviews. With The Revelation Gate, I paid for a blog tour and sent out paperback ARC’s. Last year, I mailed out t-shirts and used Pinterest to publicize The Anarchists in conjunction with electronic ARC’s.

With all of those, I spent considerably more than the $425 I paid Kirkus to review my book.

The results of my previous efforts were mixed. A good ROI (Return OF Investment) is to see a considerable bump in sales due to my efforts. Of course, there’s no concrete way to correlate the two. Book marketing is a formula: effective efforts + timing + God’s favor (you might call it luck or the universe) = MASSIVE SALES.

So, was it worth it? Kind of, sort of.

After your review is complete, Kirkus offers you a chance to “publicize” your review in online and print media. Of course, there’s a cost (somewhere north of $1,000) for it. That might be worth it and it might not, but I’m not doing it.

Also, if you want to use a part of their review on your book, you have to publish it, good, bad, or ugly, on their website first. What if your review was lukewarm or they trashed it? You excerpt what they said (they don’t allow you to add words) and pray nobody goes looking for the full critique.

My advice? If you’re going to pay for a review, you can’t put all of your eggs in just that basket. Supplement it by aggressively soliciting Amazon reviews from your faithful readers, book bloggers and reviewers, like Cyrus Webb of Conversations Radio, and book clubs. I’d also go grassroots and advertise on high traffic sites too.

Hope this helps!

 

What the Nook?

To drive early sales, get reviews and create buzz, I released the Kindle version of Reject High a month early and set the price at .99 using Kindle Direct. The process was simple — I uploaded my print-ready PDF and cover files and it was on sale within minutes. 

One of my beta readers and a good friend asked that I release it for the Nook as well. 

Ugh. 

I’ll be honest; my experience with the Nook isn’t great. I used Pub It (now Nook Press) for my first two books and never registered one sale. Why? It’s not user-friendly and when you’re marketing yourself, you need a break sometimes. I know three people with Nooks. Where are the other Nook ones?

Furthermore, MS preparation takes forever. I find myself questioning its worthiness when Amazon does it for you and is crushing the Nook in competition right now. 

What’s your preference?

Plotting: I’m a believer. Are you?

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m in the midst of writing my sixth manuscript. It’s the third in my Reject High teen series.

I got stuck. Like all four wheels spinning helplessly in the mud stuck.

I didn’t want to try writing out my plot.

For my first three novels, I created my characters, wound them up and let them go. My major plot points were a function of their behaviors. While I knew where they were going and how it would end up, I let them guide me through the “how.”

With this book, it was just different. I couldn’t do that anymore. My characters were letting me down (they’re teenagers, so there’s that).

So, I turned off my cellphone and iPad, stepped away from my laptop and started writing with my main character, Jason. Once I finished his arc, I worked on his love interest. Three hours later, the entire plot was done.

I’d never thought I’d say so, but I’m a believer in sketching out plots on paper now. Are you? What’s your process?

Writing in a time crunch

My writing process is insane. Don’t try it at home.

I envy those writers you read about who can flick their muse on and off like a light switch. I have, what my editing Jackie Rodriguez calls “writing jags.”

Imagine if your writing muse had the stomach flu. One moment, there’s nothing, and the next, there’s everything. 

One day, I might not write anything, the next, I’ll churn out thirty pages. I don’t pretend to make sense of it. I just ride it out.

You can imagine the flux I was thrown into halfway through my fifth novel when my second daughter was born. In addition, I went back to teaching full-time and we have a four-year-old in Pre-K as well. My peak writing times are — you guessed it — when I’m in school. Balancing my after-school commitments and family time is tough, but you do what you have to do.

To get through it, I grab any and all writing time I have. Ten minutes before I get my daughter up for school, five minutes while she plays in the bathtub. A half-hour when my wife is nursing our newborn, and maybe twenty minutes during my lunch break. My muse has learned to live with it and gradually, so have I.

So, tell me, if you’ve had a similar situation in your field, how have YOU done it?

KDP Success: No rhyme or reason

I’m a fan of Ecclesiastes 9:11:  “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

It reminds me that no matter how many marketing books I read, courses I take, people I hire, or things I do — to a fair degree — timing and opportunity play into success as much as all of those aforementioned things. I believe God orchestrates that timing and opportunity.

You however, may not. But, you have to agree that if you hopped on Apple stock when it first went public (timing and opportunity), you’d be a lot better off than you are now.

For example: I have enrolled my first novel, The Lost Testament, in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program several times since its 2010 release. Each time, my sales haven’t gone above 1,000 on the free download days.

However, on its most recent day, it sold almost 6,000 copies. I didn’t do anything different this time — no marketing collateral, extra scheduled tweets, or promotion on my social networking sites. I set the date and let it ride.

What does this tell you? Should I write a book on how I didn’t do anything special and ended up with the biggest free download date in the history of Great Nation Publishing? Unfortunately — and any experienced publisher will tell you this (if they’re honest) there’s no magic bullet. You can always position yourself well to win the battle or the race, but in the end, aren’t you at the mercy of timing and opportunity?

Self-publishing. . .a bit easy?

While sifting through comments on this blog, I came across someone who said “self-publishing is a bit easy” these days.

Argh.

Well, I admit — anyone can write a novel, upload it to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, or Pub It for the Nook, set a ..99 cent price tag and call themselves “self-published.” As a matter of fact, of the hundreds of thousands of books published last year, I’m willing to bet quite a few of them did just that.

We all want the dream: to write books for a living. It sounds so glamorous — you get that one hit, which sells your backlist, and the next thing you know, you’re rolling in the dough. Very few self-publishers can do that, but it’s more than it used to be.

Anyone can self-publish, just like anyone can dribble a basketball, sing a song, or program a computer. But, not everyone is Amanda Hocking, Kobe Bryant, Christian Aguilera, or Bill Gates.

To me, saying “anyone can do that” is a cop out. Tell me about someone who does self-publishing well, and how they worked their tail off to be recognized — not just write anything by anyone and press “upload.”

You market yourself. . .how? (Part 1)

Recently, a friend asked me, “How do you market yourself [as an indie/self-publisher]?”

Aye, there’s the rub.

Indie and self-pubbed authors want to sell books, but don’t necessarily know how. Witness almost any self-publishing outfit that will offer you bookmarks, business cards, placards, postcards, and the like as marketing collateral (don’t fall for it — do it at Vistaprint for less). To date, I’ve never bought a book because I received one of those things alone. Have you?

So then, we go to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and other free forums to promote ourselves. I’ve unfriended/unfollowed quite a few people, due to the “Check out my book/buy my book/like my status/watch my trailer” flurry of automated tweets.

I can’t speak for you, but ad nauseum sales pitching turns me off. Be doubly-concerned with your consumers and what they want, not always just what your bottom line demands. It’s my belief that investing in the former will take care of the latter.

So, how do you market yourself? Honestly, without investing time or money, you can’t do it effectively. Trust me, I’ve tried. Pumping out a book a year is a lot more difficult to do when you’re learning how to market, actively marketing, and putting it into practice. Either your sales or your writing will suffer.

Here are two tried and true tips that worked for me.

  1. Come up with a marketing plan (with achievable goals) and follow it. You don’t have a marketing plan? Why not? I found a template online and then asked Stacey Shearer (here’s a link to her Facebook) over at Shearer Message  to help me polish it. Convince yourself that you don’t need a marketing plan. Then, try to get your books into Barnes and Noble, or Lifeway, or just your average, run-of-the-mill bookstore. They’ll all want to know how you plan to sell books before they shelve you. A plan on how to sell books sounds awfully like a marketing plan to me.
  2. Run a contest. Fine, you have a “limited budget.” Do what I did for The Anarchists. Run a “Name a Character Contest,” where you receive entries via your Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, however you want to do it. Promote it on your social networks. Use a randomizer to select the winners and promise them a free book and a mention in your book as long as they sign over the rights to the character (a.k.a. they promise not to sue you if it’s the next Hunger Games). In the end, you have created people who will promote your brand. They have a connection to you and your work. So, they got a free copy. You don’t think they’ll tell other people about their character in your book? That’s word-of-mouth advertising, and anybody in marketing worth their salt will tell you that’s worth its weight in gold — if you can generate it.

Hope this helps! Stay tuned for my take on Kindle Direct Publishing and whether it’s worth it (or not).

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare famously said in Romeo and Juliet, that “A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”

So, why are the names of your characters important?

They’re probably not terribly pivotal, but I try to make them meaningful in my novel-writing. To me, it’s like naming your child — if you happen to have 20+ of them. Any old name would work, but does it fit them? What purpose does it achieve?

My characters are less cardboard cut-out inventions and more “friends in my head.” Though I use a character building worksheet, I don’t refer back to it much after the personality is established. You don’t want your character to do something because you (the author, Almighty Oz, the string-pulling deity scribe) say so, but because they do so as a function of who they are. If I care that much about a character’s ideals, morals, and motivation, I’m less likely to label them “John” (no offense if your name is John), and keep going.

For example, Jason, the protagonist in my new book, is a scrawny, 15-year-old black kid with anger issues. He’s been suspended from school for fighting and sent to an alternative school. On his first day there, a bully picks on him and Jason fights him — not because I told him to, but because a 15-year-old kid with anger issues, a messed up home life, and fresh off of punishment really wants to keep his iPod. To do that, he fights for it. But, is he fighting for the right to keep his property, or for MORE than that?

Could Jason be called “Mark”? Probably. It’s about what fits your character as you go along, and I always pictured him as a Jason. Do what works for you. After all, a rose could be a “table,” but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

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