Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 1): Interview with fantasy author Cynthia Vespia

Vespia Books

Frequently I rant about the time I have to spend marketing and promoting my writing instead of actually writing. It’s no secret that marketing is not my favorite author hat to wear, and I know a lot of other authors who feel exactly the same way. But the fact is, in today’s writing industry, the author must carry most, if not all, of the load when it comes to promoting their work and marketing their masterpieces.

Now, I’m a struggling author, just as many of you are, so I don’t have a big marketing budget and I can’t afford to hire someone to do my marketing for me. My promotions are limited mainly to social media marketing, usually the kind that’s free. Even when I have a little money to put into marketing, I don’t really know what avenues would be effective enough to be worth it.

A lot of the information about book marketing that is out there on the Internet today is geared toward marketing your non-fiction book, whether it be self-help, or how-to, or even a cookbook. These articles tell you how to show potential readers why they need your book, how your book can help them, which is great, except most of their strategies do not apply to marketing fiction.

As a result of this discovery, I’ve been doing some research of my own into the matter, but I’ve found that the effectiveness of any marketing strategy depends on many factors, and results vary from author to author.  In this eight part series, we’ll take a look at my findings and interview seven different authors to learn what they’ve found to be effective in marketing their own work. All work and no play makes us all very dull writers, so we’ll get to know a little about each one of them and their books just for fun.

It’s my pleasure today to interview speculative fiction author, Cynthia Vespia. I have review several of her books, including her Demon Hunter saga: The Chosen One & Seek and Destroy and Hero’s Call, Lucky Sevens, and Life, Death and Back. In addition to her great storytelling, Cynthia is also a talented cover artist, designing most of her own covers, as well as working freelance.

Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?

Cynthia: Once upon a time I was a young mind hungry for books. I’d read Piers Anthony; C.S. Lewis; and comic books (my favorite being The Punisher). Then one day I stumbled upon a book by Dean Koontz called Intensity. To make a long story short it got me hooked and I knew then I wanted to write. My first novel, The Crescent, was written after seeing a documentary about female gladiators narrated by Lucy Lawless. I self-published it back when self-publishing wasn’t cool. It was fun to see my book in print. Flash forward to today and that same story is in pre-production as a feature film.

Along the road I’ve written several more books and short stories, each of which I’m very proud of. I received a Best Series nomination in 2009 for Demon Hunter.

Kaye: What made you decide to go with self-publishing?

Cynthia: I was published by small publishing houses but I never really saw any benefit when I could do the same things they were doing and they weren’t even really promoting me much. So much like a lot of other authors I’ve gone the indie route.

Kaye: As a fantasy writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?

Cynthia: Honestly, the majority of my work is completely created in my head. Recently the type of research I’ve been doing is for superpowers, modeling, and locations for the Silke Butters Superhero Series. And for my upcoming apocalypse trilogy there was a lot of research regarding weapons and safe-houses.

Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or short story/screenplay? What’s the least fun part?

Cynthia: The most fun part of writing for me is in the initial creation of the characters and their backstory. It’s like a sculptor molding clay. You breathe life into your subjects.

The least fun part is in the aftermath which is marketing and promotion. It’s so difficult to posture yourself out in front of a very large crowd of other writers all clamoring for attention.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?

Cynthia: Probably Sins and Virtues. I was at Alcatraz in SF and I went inside one of the prison cells for a photo. Afterwards, I felt a heavy cloak of energy from what I could only feel was a former prisoner’s spirit.

While writing Sins and Virtues I started to see visions of prison escapes that I had no business knowing about. If you read the first chapter you’ll get a taste of what I mean. That feeling stayed with me throughout the entire novel. It only left when I was done writing.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Cynthia: I’ve heard quite a bit of good advice over the years. I seek it out, and write it down in my journal. Lately, I’ve been falling back on one from Arnold Schwarzenegger where he said “earn it so nobody can say they gave you shit.”

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent/traditional publishing?

Cynthia: Sadly, the pros and cons are one in the same in that everyone can publish a book. There’s a lot of good work being published that would probably never see the light of day due to the politics of traditional publishing, but at the same time I’ve seen a lot of awful books out there too.

The other things I’ve been noticing is that it’s no longer about the writing. It’s become a numbers game. How many FB followers or Twitter followers do you have? How many likes did you get? How many reviews did the novel receive? How large is your fan base?

I struggle with that because I don’t have the time to spend all day on social media when I have other things that take up my time like earning a living. There’s people now who are even cheating the system with paid “likes” etc. to bump themselves up into the top spot. To me, that’s not what writing should be about. It’s about the story, not how much attention you can get for yourself. Sorry if I’m coming off very negative but I’ve been doing this for a very long time and the business model has changed so much now that I hardly recognize why I started writing in the first place.

Kaye: What do you do for cover art? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab?

Cynthia: I always do my own cover art. That is one of the beauties of going indie, you can have complete control over your cover. Although, I do have to point out that the comic book look of the Karma character in my Silke Butters series was done by an artist named Ka Rolding, whom you can find on Deviantart.

I also create covers for other authors too, so if you’re in need of a custom cover please look me up at http://www.cyncreativeservices.com/authorstudio

Kaye: What’s your favorite social media site for promotion? Why?

Cynthia: None…lol. I’d rather do a face-to-face event than spend time on social media promoting. But if I have to choose I like Twitter because it makes you think and be clever with your 140 characters. BTW, you’re all using hashtags wrong!

Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?

Cynthia: All of it! I’m a one woman show. It’s honestly extremely exhausting. Like I said, I just don’t have the time needed to put in to make a dent. I even bit the bullet and hired a couple people this year and it still didn’t make a difference. But I’m trying every day. That’s all you can do is try, right?

Kaye: You participate in book events on social media often. How effective do you see Facebook release parties and cover reveals, etc… being?

Cynthia: It depends on the crowd and your time slot. I’ve had some that were very active (including my launch party for Karma) and then others where nobody interacted at all, or not until later on. I find them effective for exposure. I’ve actually gained quite a few new FB friends from events so I’ll continue to do them. But I will suggest going in with a game plan and do some interactive posts, don’t just ramble on about how your book is for sale.

Kaye: What works best to sell books for you, as far as marketing goes?

Cynthia: For me, I like face-to-face conventions. Because of the genre I write in I can easily blend into comic cons. I liken it to an actor doing a stage play over doing a movie. In that regard, they get immediate audience reaction when they are doing a play, rather than waiting for box office receipts from a movie. The same can be said about conventions. I get an immediate reaction from readers (some have even come back the next day to compliment my work) where as stuff online I don’t really see what is working and what isn’t. Also, during conventions I keep a tally on how many books are selling and my 2009 Best Series nominee Demon Hunter is still the biggest seller.

Kaye: Why do you think some authors sell well and others don’t?

Cynthia: Again, it’s all who you know. And a lot of that comes from great networking. There’s something to be said for word-of-mouth. I also believe some genres sell better than others, that’s just the way it goes.

Kaye: Which author, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?

Cynthia: J.K. Rowling or George RR Martin. I’m fascinated by the amount of detail they’ve both put into their respective worlds of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones.

Kaye: What kind of Chinese food do you order all the time?

Cynthia: I don’t always eat Chinese food but when I do I prefer orange chicken and lo mein.

I want to thank Cynthia Vespia for joining us and for sharing her marketing strategies with us. If you’d like to learn more about Cynthia, check out her author profile, here on Writing to be Read, or check out her website.

Be sure to catch Writing to be Read next Monday, for Part 2 of Book Marketing – What Works?, where I will interview the co-authors of the Silverville Saga books and Wild West Ghosts, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, who will share their experiences in marketing and clue us in to which ones have been most effective.

 

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“Kistishi Island”: An Unbelievable YA Journey

Kistishi Island

I recently had the pleasure of reading Kistishi Island, by Jordan Elizabeth. This YA novel was a well-written story, with a plot that comes full circle. Although the names are a bit difficult to pronounce, the characters are interesting and likable, especially Corvo (goddess of crows, and Krieg, goddess of war). The main character, Serena, is portrayed to be a teenager with depth, but still a teen, and you won’t be able to help but like her.

When Serena talks to her imaginary friends, they just don’t feel imaginary. The kids at school taunt her and she winds up in trouble all the time. Her aunt thinks she’s crazy and wants to send her to an asylum, her mom is off on archaeological digs all the time and is never around, and her imaginary friends are the only friends she has.

What will happen if she learns her imaginary friends are really goddesses watching over her? We’re about to find out, when she runs away to the Island of Kistishi to find her mom, where the walls of the ruins suck you into underground dwellings and other people see her friends, too. Besides learning that her friends aren’t imaginary, Serena also learns that she is capable of depending on herself, and that she’s capable of having real friends.

This story is well-crafted and perfect for YA readers, (or older readers who secretly love YA stories but don’t want to admit it). It is a fun and exciting read. I give Kistishi Island four quills.

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“The Psychokinetic”: Good Story, Believe It or Not

The Psychokinetic

The Psychokinetic by Grace M. DeLeesie is Book 1 in her The Day Twelve Witches Burned series. If this first book is any indication of what’s to come, I might hesitate in reading the sequel books. There are many, many typos, missed words, and misspellings; the whole story is told, rather than shown; there is a lot of head hopping. But the biggest problem was an inability to suspend disbelief. I just couldn’t buy into the odd responses and behaviors of her characters.

Overall, the story line is a good one. Six teenage girls find themselves with extra-sensory powers which normal teens just don’t have. They feel they have been led to find each other, and they’ve bonded to form a tight knit group, who look out for one another, while they search for evidence of who or what they are. And before the first book is finished, we learn that there also exists an evil nemesis, who has followed them through many lifetimes, intent on destroying them. Which, is all pretty cool.

I spoke with the author, Grace M. DeLeesie about my concerns with this story, and she admitted she had some problems with a previous editor. She assured me many of the problems are already being addressed and a revised text will replace the current version. I have to say, I really like the story line, although it could have been written better. I still can’t buy into the story or its characters, but with the author’s assurance that at the least, the grammatical errors and typos will be corrected, I feel comfortable giving The Psychokinetic three quills.

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Interview with author DeAnna Knippling

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This week, I’m interviewing Colorado freelance writer, editor, author and book designer, DeAnna Knippling. I first met DeAnna through the Pike’s Peak Writers when I was still serving as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner. What struck me about her was her enthusiasm and willingness to help where ever she can. She treats her writing as a business and goes at it with a high degree of professionalism, yet she is personable and willing to share what she’s learned from her own writing experiences.

DeAnna Knippling writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names. Her latest book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland:  The Queen of Stilled Hearts, combines two of her favorite topics–zombies and Lewis Carroll.  It’s the story of a tame zombie who told a little girl named Alice a story that got them both in more trouble than they could handle. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Static, Penumbra, Crossed Genres, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and more.

Kaye: You created Wonderland Press to get your books out there. What all is involved in creating a press for your work and what are the advantages of doing so? I mean, why would an author do this rather than just throwing their book out on Amazon or Smashwords?

DeAnna: This isn’t one of the fun answers.  It’s stupid easy to make a “press.”  It involves no special equipment.  You look online, make sure nobody else has one of that name in your state, register a business name with your state or county (look up, “How to register a business name in [name of state]”), and Bob’s your uncle.  You might want to get more complex with an LLC or something–but I recommend leaving that for later, unless you already have experience doing that.  I am, of course not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice.  When you want to start looking at an LLC or corporation, I believe, is when you start having to worry about taxes and tax brackets.

I set up my press, “Wonderland Press,” because some publishing sites back in the day didn’t want you to publish books under multiple pen names under the same account without having a publisher name.  Then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with multiple blogs for my pen names, and moved the names to the same website (for now).  However, things are changing, and I may need to move back to multiple websites, mailing lists, etc.  The thing about business is that everything changes based on the scale of what you’re doing and how much time has passed since you set things up.  It seems like it’s more important to stick to a couple of core principles (bring customers back to a location you can control rather than social media–that kind of thing) and stay flexible in the details than it is to get wrapped up in questions like, “Should I set up a small press?”
Kaye: A lot of your books don’t fit neatly into a genre category or subcategory. How do you describe your books?
DeAnna: I’ve struggled with genre categories since I started publishing.  Part of the reason for that is that my subconscious loves to smash incongruous things together.  For example, I love puns and double entendres–two ways of seeing meaning at the same time–and I love stories that are really two things that don’t really go together being put together (like cowboys in space–Firefly).  The kinds of stories that I tend to write are kind of the opposite of sitting firmly within a genre and therefore being easy to describe.
I’m both looking into ways to get around this (by sneaking more solidly into genres) and finding out what parts of my genres I’m missing out on.  I recently finished up what I call “my cheesy ’80s genre novel.”  When I did the research to try to find out where to put it, I found that…it actually fits pretty solidly into the current Occult subgenre of Horror.  I keep trying to tell myself there’s nothing wrong with writing what feels cheesy (I certainly read it), but sometimes it takes a while for me to learn the obvious.
To actually answer your question?  Since I can’t copy my competitors, I describe my books by putting on the silliest movie announcer voice I can come up with and reading the blurbs out loud.  The more mock-serious the better.  Somehow it works.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or a story? What’s the least fun part?
DeAnna: Most fun:  The fun parts. Least fun:  The parts that stick the fun parts together.
I get really bored at the least fun parts.  I think that’s where the books I write start getting weird.  If I plan a book, then I plan something at least a little bit more genre-specific than what actually comes out.  But then I get bored and jump the tracks.  I feel like writing a book is a process of going “Ooooh, shiny” over and over until I step into the circle of rope hidden under the leaves in the jungle, and the ending jerks me upside down into the air.
I wish it were that quick to write the end–it’s the slowest part of the book for me as I wrap up all the shinies that I’ve picked up throughout the plot–but that’s what it feels like.
Kaye: If your writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
DeAnna: More of the same.  My major goal in life is to allow my wonderful spouse to become a pool boy at our eccentric castle in the mountains.  Travel more.  At least, I say those things.  Probably I’d still just begrudge the time I wasn’t reading or writing.  I’d go to exotic locations and just read a book.
Kaye: Why do you think some writers sell well, and others don’t?
DeAnna: Probably that stuff I mentioned about genre.  A lot of writers will look at a successful writer’s book and go, “What a terrible writer!  Why do they sell?!?”
But here’s my experience (based on ghostwriting so much):
The stuff that I’m forced to write to genre by my clients sells a lot better than the stuff I write for myself.
Granted, you still need to know what you’re doing.  But writing a book isn’t just about pretty sentences–it’s about making the constant readers happy, feeding their addictions.  The answer to why some books are massive successes when others aren’t is often, “Because they can see the forest for the trees–and you can’t.”  Cold but true.
Kaye: Any advice for upcoming authors who are trying to get a foot in the door?

DeAnna: Just keep working.  Everybody’s in a hurry to succeed.  Success!  Millions!  Riches!  Fame! But, in the end, it comes back to the basics.  Did you read?  Did you write?  Did you learn something?  Did you talk to other people in the writing community?

“A foot in the door” is just the feeling that the universe owes you something, or that you can sneak something past somebody.  “How do I cut in line past the people who have been working their asses off for years?” And the only answers are:  Write a good story, network, value your readers, don’t be stupid about genre, work your ass off, don’t fail on purpose.  That last one is pretty significant.  I’ve seen a lot of people give up or just put things off until they’re “ready.”  The hell with waiting for “ready.”  If you’re going to do that, you’ve already failed, because this is a bootstrap industry–nobody gets the magic green light.  Even people who are going traditional start out by hustling for publishers and agents.  Make someone else tell you no.  Make them tell you no a lot.
I want to thank DeAnna for joining us here on Writing to be Read, and for sharing her knowledge with us. If you’d like to learn more about Deanna or her books, her website and blog are at www.WonderlandPress.com.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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“The Clockwork Alice”: A Literary Work in the Tradition of Lewis Carroll

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The Clockwork Alice, by DeAnna Knippling,  introduces Alice, all grown up, and takes readers on a return trip to Wonderland, where all is not as it should be, or maybe it never was. Knippling does a smashing job of picking up the tone of the original Wonderland stories, making this a fantasy tale which will delight readers of all ages.

Many of our favorite characters make appearances, including the Red Queen, the White Rabbit, the March Hare, and the Cheshire Cat, to name a few. Alice discovers that all of Wonderland is actually made of clockwork mechanisms, including a Clockwork Alice, who looks just like the girl who she once was. But all is not as it should be in Wonderland, or maybe it never was, but it’s up to Alice, or one of the Alice’s, to stop the great unwinding, and set things back in order. Alice may uncover and foil the evil plot to destroy Wonderland, or perhaps she will destroy it all instead, because this trip to Wonderland is just as confusing, or maybe even more so, than the first.

The Clockwork Alice is a well-written, skillfully crafted story that is just plain fun to read. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“White Dragon’s Chosen”: a Fun Read

White Dragon's Chosen

White Dragon’s Chosen, by Gary J. Davies is a children’s fantasy that takes readers to a world where dragons and elves and trolls and fairies exist, and magic abounds. They travel between our world and their own world of Narma through portals, and two kids, George and Mary, are the champions who lead the battle to save both worlds, together with their dragon counterparts.

When you are dragon’s chosen, you share thoughts and have the same abilities that they do. How cool is that? When Harry’s uncle dies, Harry discovers that he is special. He’s the White Dragon’s Chosen, and his next door neighbor, Mary is the Chosen of the Dragon Jewel. But he also learns that there is a bad evil about that threatens to destroy both Earth and Narma, and it’s up to he and Mary, with their dragons, to save both worlds. It’s a tale every kid will enjoy.

For me though, I found a few problems, the least of which, was the numerous typos and missed words. As far as the crafting of the story goes, there was a lot of telling, rather than showing, which may have related to my inability to suspend disbelief on this one. Davies failed to put me in the scene and convince me that this could be possible, at least in his world.

Although White Dragon’s Chosen had a few glitches as far as craft goes, I’ve no doubt kids will love it. It’s a cute little fantasy, that I give three quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Update on “Playground for the Gods” Series

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While Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle is spending time with my alpha reader, I’ve been busy working on Book 2: In the Beginning. Now I know it seems strange name for a second book, but for this series, it’s actually quite fitting.

You see, Book 1 covers the time just before and after the Atlans arrival on Earth in prehistoric times, which result in a great battle between the Atlans and the monstrous creatures created by the angry Tiamat, Oldest of Old Ones. It is the story of how the Atlans came to be on Earth.

Book 2, on the other hand, takes place during Earth’s earliest civilizations. It explores Biblical times and even before, as well as visiting ancient Egypt and Minoan cultures. It looks at the beginning of time, hence the title, In the Beginning.

That said, I’ve finished the first draft for Book 2,  and started on revisions. I guess maybe my writing process is a little weird. At Western, while earning my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, we talked a lot  about our writing processes, and while everyone’s processes were different, I never found anyone whose process was like mine.

My first drafts are pretty rough, consisting mostly of the basic plotline. The basics of what happens in each chapter, so the way the story moves forward can be seen. Once, I have that down, I can go back and revise, adding description and action that helps the story move in each chapter, sharpening the image, hopefully, for readers. That’s where I am in the revision process now.

Before I send it off to my alpha readers, I’ll do another run through to check for repetition, spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, and eliminate unnecessary words. This is the pass that tightens up my writing to make it the best it can be before going to the alpha readers have a go at it.

Once I have it back with their comments, I may do up to three or four more passes, before I feel it’s ready to submit to publishers or agents. If all goes well, I will get Book 1 back from my alpha reader, which in this case may be a beta reader since I made revisions to the completed work after sending it out without raising any interest, about the time I have the final draft of Book 2 ready to send out for her scrutiny.

I think the main problem, possibly with both books right now, is a lack of emotion from my characters, which could result in a lack of emotional investment from readers. Identifying it as such is good, because if readers don’t care about the characters, they won’t continue reading. The challenge will be finding a way to fix it, so my readers will keep turning the pages. Fortunately, I found some great ideas for showing my characters’ emotions in a post titled Emotion vs. Feeling by David Cobett on Writer Unboxed.

The story is there. Now I just need to breathe life into it. That’s what writers do.

 

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