In Part 1, of Book Marketing – What Works?, dark fantasy author, Cynthia Vespia, shared her insights in social media vs. face-to-face marketing, and we heard from co-authors Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd in Part 2. We’ve also about how they launched a digital media marketing strategy which they’ve found to be effective. YA author Jordan Elizabeth talked about her street team and social media marketing experiences in Part 3, and in Part 4, author Tim Baker talked about branding.
Today, I have the privilege of talking with my friend and cohort, author Chris Barili. I have reviewed all of his books here, on Writing to be Read: The Hell’s Butcher series and it’s prequel, Guilty, and his paranormal romance, Smothered. As a hybrid author, Chris walks both sides of the publishing line with works published independently, as well as a work published with a traditional publisher. Like many of today’s authors, Chris may be the picture of the prototype for the author of the future. Many authors who have been traditionally published successfully are now looking at the independent publishing route, because authors still left with bearing the bulk of the marketing and promotional burden.
Unlike the enthusiasm of last week’s guest, contemporary and historical romance author Amy Cecil for social media marketing strategies in Part 5, Chris doesn’t find it very productive, but I’ll let him tell you about that.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Chris: I am a hybrid author, so I have two stories. The first is my traditional publishing journey with Smothered as B.T. Clearwater. That book was my MFA thesis, and when I finished it, I didn’t know what to do with it. Got no replies from a couple of major romance publishers, so when Winlock/Permuted press held a contest for their new supernatural romance line, I entered and I won! About four months later, the e-book hit the virtual world, and this past July, Simon and Shuster did a limited print run of 450 copies.
The second story is my self-publishing journey with the Hell’s Butcher series of novellas. I wrote Guilty, the pre-quel, as an assignment for my MFA, and submitted it to a themed anthology. While the editor praised the story, it didn’t quite fit their antho’s theme, so it was rejected. And rejected. And so on, until I finally got the idea to write a novella series based on Frank becoming Hell’s Marshal. Knowing there wasn’t much of market for novellas, and that weird westerns a smaller market anyway, I decided to self-publish. That meant hiring a professional editor, a cover artist, and a formatter, but I did it! There are three books in the series and more to come!
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Chris: Readers of Smothered might not guess that I’m a guy? LOL. I think most wouldn’t guess that I have Parkinson’s Disease, as I try hard not to mention it in my writing. I do slip in the occasional hand tremor or other symptom, but I don’t mention the disease itself.
Kaye: You recently ran a free promotion, where you offered Guilty for free for a limited time. I’ve often wondered about the logic behind that type of thing. How does offering your book for free help increase book sales? Or does it?
Chris: I offered Guilty for free in hopes of pulling readers into the series, so they’d buy books one and two. Did it work? I don’t think so. I gave away something like 55 or 56 free copies of the book, and sold 13 paid copies. And while sales have been steady since then, I don’t think the free giveaway had anything to do with that.
Kaye: You’ve participated in book release events on Facebook. How did that work for you?
Chris: Not a fan. I have yet to see significant sales tied to online functions like that for any of my books. However, I know authors who swear by Facebook promos like blog takeovers, release parties, and so on. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong, but they never work for me.
Kaye: What works best to sell books for you, as far as marketing goes?
Chris: Hard f**king work. My highest paid sales month was October of 2016, when my good friend Amity Green and I decided to have a contest and see who could sell more books by Halloween. We used Amazon marketing campaigns, Facebook boosted posts, and our own social medial blitzes. We were pimping and fluffing and promoting our books like crazy. She ended up beating me by six copies, but that remains the most lucrative sales month for me, and I believe it is for her, as well. Problem is, you can’t maintain that pace of advertising for long, if you have a job/life.
Kaye: You have a traditional publisher for Smothered. How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your book in comparison with what you do for your Hell’s Butcher series, which you self-published?
Chris: A little marketing. Winlock/Permuted had me do a blog, which I need to resume, and they tasked me with finding podcasts and reviewers. I’m still working on both of those items. For Hell’s Butcher books, I do it all. I pay for the cover, the editing, the formatting. All of it.
Kaye: Do you participate in KDP Select on Amazon? One of the requirements for the KDP Select platform is that you must agree not to use any other platforms, giving Amazon the exclusive. Do you feel this program is conducive to selling books?
Chris: I do for now, but I am dropping it as soon as Guilty is through it at the end of October. I don’t see a benefit. I’m getting it out there on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and so on.
Kaye: What do you do for cover art on our self-published books? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab?
Chris: I contract Michelle Johnson of Blue Sky Design. Look her up on Facebook. She offers a deal where she does the e-book cover, paperback wrap for Createspace, Facebook cover and profile, and Twitter cover and profile at a reasonable price.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent vs. traditional publishing?
Chris: Independent gives you more control, but requires a lot more work and usually won’t sell as well. Traditional is less work, but you also have less control and make much lower royalties.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Chris: Self-publish and go tradition. Hybrid is the future of authorship.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Chris: I am an avid mountain biker, and I do martial arts, both of which are fun and help me fight my disease. I also like to read, of course.
I want to thank Chris for being here with us on Writing to be Read and sharing his thoughts on marketing from both sides, independent and traditionally published. If you’d like to know more about Chris Barili, B.T.Clearwater or his books, visit his Amazon Author Page.
Be sure and catch Book Marketing – What Works? next week, when independent author DeAnna Knippling will share which marketing strategies have worked for her.
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Nonfiction as Catharsis
So I’ve been trying to decide what my next major writing project will be, and my mind keeps circling back to the last couple years of my life. I’ve had a crazy run of things recently, and like any writer worth his salt, I’d like to capture these events.
Primarily I’m a fiction writer. I could probably disguise all this stuff and get a halfway decent novel out of it, but something’s telling me the true circumstances need the kind of veracity one can only achieve through nonfiction.
It seems to me many short story writers and novelists shy away from nonfiction. Perhaps the truth hits them too close to home, or more likely, it’s out of their purview. Which is fine of course. Nonfiction sells to a completely different segment of readers, different publishers, different literary agents. It may not make sense for an author to skew into a different genre altogether. In fact, some might see it as a waste of time.
But there is one thing nonfiction has on your average novel or short story, an element of the art form that has nothing to do with craft or overall viability. Not everyone deals with incredible, tragic, surprising, or uplifting events in their lives. Some people are born to breeze through this existence, though perhaps these people are fewer and farther between than we might otherwise surmise.
For the rest of us—for those with the linguistic and artistic capability to do something about it anyway—telling our personal stories can be extraordinarily cathartic. After all, psychologists have long advocated journaling as a means of self-healing. Writing about the key events which have shaped us can be both uplifting and enlightening, and it can help us make sense of an otherwise threatening or chaotic world.
Some might argue that the leap from journaling to penning an entire memoir leaves quite a bit to be desired. Only authors think this way, I suppose: “Well something terrible happened to me today. Guess I better write it down and try to sell it.”
The truth of course is that one needn’t publish such material in order for it to be of benefit. Good stories exist everywhere, and the will to look at yourself and your life unflinchingly is a skill more people should cultivate. I can only speak for myself and my recent history, but if I never told my own story, if it just receded into the background of my mind, only to resurrect itself in moments of repose and contemplation years later, I know I’d be doing myself a disservice.
The world of creative nonfiction is wide. Write about societal injustice, pop culture, the plights of your friends and neighbors. Tell stories that reduce the global perspective to something more personal, and in so doing, help us understand ourselves better.
Or, conversely, write about things only you know. Consider it an act of good will if nothing else. You’re doing this for yourself, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. Recognize, however, that you may uncover things you’d have otherwise preferred hidden. Know Thyself; is there anything scarier? Is it perhaps more dangerous to remain ignorant? If you’re so inclined, only time will tell.
Contained in every human life is the seed of expansion. We are not static beings, but nor are we entirely free to pursue our futures unhindered. Rather, many of us (if not most of us) find ourselves chained to our pasts. If I were to actually sit and pay attention to my thought processes throughout a single day, I’d likely discover I think about my past way too much. I’d likely also discover I tend to dwell on all the negatives, all my mistakes. Truly, we can never go home again, so why is it my mind is hell bent on constantly reminding me off all the crap I’ve done?
The truth is most of us don’t want to forget. We feel this unconscious pull to relive and recycle, even when it means the here and now is distant and vague by comparison. Perhaps we do so because we worship our identities, the classic psychological concept of the “ego.” These otherwise random events, if they were fully revealed to us, they’d make a mess of our flawed and often one-sided self-conceptualization. Recollecting rather than looking forward is commonly a hindrance, especially when all you’re really doing is reopening old wounds. I think this is me more often than not, though I have no way of knowing if it is also you. Imagine getting your story out, putting it down on paper, reading it, understanding that past is past and that there are certain things you don’t need to hold onto anymore.
Now extend your imagination a bit further. What would happen if you recognized your story could help others, too? Maybe you’ve learned from your experiences. Perhaps you could help prevent others from falling into the same pitfalls as you.
All of this is not to suggest everyone needs to write a memoir and sell it. You might say, “But, Jeff, my story just isn’t interesting enough. And anyway, it’s nobody’s business but mine.”
Which is fair enough. Some might also suggest attempting to profit from personal struggle is the opposite of altruism, and in fact, borders on exhibitionism. This attitude, it seems to me, comports with a general unease and discomfort with getting too close to the truth, which is another way of saying digging down deep on a personal level makes some people squeamish.
My writing mantra has always been if it’s worth writing, it’s worth reading. Write your story under a pseudonym, or in a pinch, write the damn thing and then bury it in your sock drawer. But as you’re doing so, do me a favor and look inward. Notice how you feel different, perhaps a bit freer. Recognize that in telling your story, you’ve performed a neat bit of alchemy. Maybe we can’t turn lead into gold, but through nonfiction, we can transmute pain and tragedy and allow them to release us.
If all else fails, write because your story is both unique and universal. I mean this. If in a hundred years all that could be said of us is that we strove to understand ourselves, that in itself would be a minor miracle. Don’t be afraid to quest. Maybe the answers you’re looking for can help your readers, too. Anything and everything is possible, right?
Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F
Every month in this space, author Jeff Bowles offers advice for young and struggling writers. No one ever said becoming a first-rate storyteller is easy. This is the Pep Talk.
So let’s assume you’re a dedicated writer. Or at least you want to be, which is why you’ve decided to come back to your craft after months or even years of not writing a single word. Perhaps life got in the way. Maybe you got married, had kids, made the choice to focus on your family and career first. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? We all have the ability to pursue our dreams whole-heartedly or to lay them aside when more important things come along.
The truth is you’re not alone. Almost by definition, writing is a solitary and thankless job. Becoming motivated and staying that way can be tough, and if you’ve got other responsibilities and obligations in your life—and all of us have—setting aside time for yourself and your work can be a huge chore.
Several years ago, I was feeling the crunch in just this way. I’d gotten married, had bought a new home, and I was working a job that was financially stable but not personally gratifying in any way, shape or form. Many days I’d pick at one of my short stories over my cafeteria lunch, praying for the day I could dedicate myself to my writing and leave the confines of corporate America for good.
It’s often been noted that many great authors throughout history have had to suffer dead-end jobs on their way to literary nirvana. Writing is a for-passion proposition for the vast majority of us. We do it because we are compelled.
But what happens when you aren’t feeling compelled? What happens when all your desire dries up and the thought of putting words on the page fills you with dread? Further, what happens after you’ve already taken a long break? Is it possible to pick up where you left off?
Of course it is. Momentum is momentum, and when people pursue their dreams with everything they’ve got, the universe conspires to bring their stars into alignment. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re tired. Most writers I know have come to that place at least once or twice in their careers. When I was just starting to learn the craft, it seemed to happen to me at least once a week.
“I’m never writing another word! These people don’t appreciate my talent, and anyway, I’d much rather pursue things that aren’t so damn frustrating!”
So maybe you grumble and walk away from your computer and promise yourself you’ll never tell another story as long as you live. Your intentions here don’t actually matter that much, because like smoking or eating premium New York-style pizza, writing has a way of getting under your skin.
In truth, when we come to the point of extreme frustration, of no forward momentum, often the best thing we can do for ourselves is offer a little humility and compassion and allow the work to falter. This might not be a popular perspective, but from a holistic standpoint, it’s the correct one. Frustration in a creative field signals burnout, which is most often caused by internal factors like unrealistic expectations and uncontrolled anxiety. When you add publishing contracts and money into the mix—as all of us one day desire to do—it can make matters worse.
The good news is that the human animal is ever changing. No really, that’s the good news. We are not static beings. You never know who you’re going to be from one day to the next, let alone one month, year, or decade to the next. Imagine your surprise when after a long hiatus you discover you still like writing. What’s more, you’re not the same person now, and your work seems to reflect this new maturity. Hell, sometimes we just run out of ideas and need some distance in order recharge the batteries, right?
Some will tell you stopping is the worst thing you can do. A rolling stone gathers no moss. I might have done so myself a few years ago when I was stuck at that crappy job. I’d have been wrong, though. The intellect and creative mind are not eternal well-springs. They do not flow on command at all times, and they can run dry when pushed too hard.
Here’s a little test for you. Tell me the last piece of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry you wrote to completion. Was it difficult to finish? I mean, more so than usual (let’s be honest, writing is seldom easy—if it were, everyone would do it). Did you find thoughts and ideas hard to come by? Did the notion of hauling yourself to the computer one more damn time make a compelling case for alcoholism?
See, we come to these brick walls precisely because the act of creating meaning and order from abstract symbols (or writing, in the common tongue) is not a natural fit for our freeform, emotional minds. Given the choice, we’d spend our lives daydreaming—many of us do anyway. We come to this craft with the highest of hopes, our expectations completely untempered, like a piece of nascent steel. Time separates the tourists from the devout. Disappointment is the rule rather than the exception. Is it any wonder we need to hit the brakes sometimes?
Here’s what I’d like you to do the rest of the day. Don’t write, even if you were expecting to. Rather, choose an activity that’s bound to depress you. Count up all your rejection letters, read something you wrote five years ago, look up your publishing stats, and yes my friends, read them and weep. Stop telling yourself you’ve almost made it, just one more story, just one lucky break. This is a trust experiment, gut-check time. Have you chosen this craft because it will make you famous? Are you more interested in seeing your name in print than in revising a single piece of fiction until your fingers bleed?
You are more interested in that? Well you’re the strange one, aren’t you? Everybody knows writing is never thankless, is always a laugh riot, and makes you feel good every single day of your otherwise bleak life.
Writing sucks sometimes, people! It just does. We all know it, and if we’re ever going to get anywhere, we need to make peace with it sooner or later. You need to realize this is a long game. I mean a looooooong game. You will get burned out, probably more than once. You will feel the need to quit, and you might even hate yourself because you gave up better opportunities along the way.
Be kind to yourself, please. You aren’t alone. You’re a writer because you can’t quit. It isn’t in your DNA. You should be more trusting; have some damn faith. And I think it’s a beautiful thing, admitting you’re helpless in the face of your need to tell stories. Taking a break is not giving up, it’s just taking a break. You may notice when at last you return that your skills have atrophied somewhat, that you’re a bit rustier than you’d like. That’s okay. You had to start somewhere way back when, and really, nobody forgets how to write.
Jump start that mind, warm up with some finger exercises, write a piece of flash fiction to get the ball rolling, but know that your choice to rest up was made in service to yourself. Let’s just call it an act of love. After all, you know yourself best. You’re not a machine, as much as you’d like to be.
It’s a mind game sometimes. It’s a battle of will. But one does not cease to be a writer just because one ceases writing. We are who we are, enjoy what we enjoy, are passionate about that which nourishes our souls and allows us to feel free.
Far from feeling free, do you feel like your writing has become a prison? Then take some time off, dudes and dudettes! That’s an order! Sheesh!
Until next time, folks.
Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F
YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ
Social media is great. Or is it? From a writer’s perspective, maybe a little of both. On the one hand, promotion on social media can and often does bring readers to your blog, or book, or article, or whatever you are promoting. Some sites are more helpful than others in this regard. There is no doubt that social media promotion draws attention, but then you have to figure out the other side of the equation.
Promotion on social media takes a lot of time. And I mean a lot of time. Think about it. First you have to share a link on your timeline, or page, or wall, or whatever. That doesn’t take long. But then you have to share it in groups, and for me, there are a lot of groups to share in. Okay, so after you’ve spent between thirty to forty-five minutes or even up to two hours, (depending on how fast your internet connection is operating, how fast the site you’re sharing on is operating, and how many groups you are sharing the post with), and the post is shared everywhere you wish to share it, you’re still not done.
No. Because you see, social media is set up for social networking. You don’t want to drop into each group and post your promotion, then go about your business. No. When you join a group, you are expected to participate, rather than just promote. If you want people to like, comment, or share your posts, you’ve got to do the same for them. That’s how social networking works. And let me tell you, it is easy to get caught up thanking folks for liking or sharing your posts, responding to comments on your posts and liking, commenting on and sharing the posts of others, and before you know it, several hours have elapsed. This part of networking needs to be done each day, even when you don’t have any promotional posts to make.
So, now consider that I spend up to two hours promotion, two or three times a week, which is what I do for Writing to be Read. You need to socialize daily. I try limiting myself to one hour of socializing online on days I’m not promoting, so I can promote my work, but not appear to be a self-absorbed spammer. Just doing that adds up to ten hours a week.
Most recently, I participated in a Book Release Event on Facebook for the promotion of my recently released western, Delilah. I was one of many authors who did either half-hour or hour long takeover slots in a two night event. In a takeover slot, the author makes posts aimed at both promotion of their own book and entertainment in the form of silly, but fun, party games and giveaways. My investment was several hours in planning and preparation, plus one evening and a partial, and another afternoon responding to comments and contest wrap-up, and it’s yet to be seen if there will be a significant rise in sales which might be attributed to the event.
Of course, it isn’t just Delilah I must promote. I also promote my short story that I have on Amazon, Last Call, and writing that I have in online publications such as Across the Margin and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. And of course, I spend a good deal of time promoting this blog, Writing to be Read. It’s not that I don’t like social media promotion. It allows me to interact with my readers others in the business, and I truly do enjoy that, but it takes a lot of time. That’s time that is not spent writing.
Promotion is a necessary evil to me, and it must be done on top of writing queries and cover letters and submitting completed novels to publishers or agents, and articles, stories and poetry to the publications they might appear in, checking and responding to emails, searching the web and applying for freelance jobs, in addition to holding’s down a full-time day job. And then, I have to find time to live some resemblance of a life. Oh yeah, and somewhere in there, I have to actually sit down and write, both for my freelance jobs and my own stuff, for blog and for sale. And I must find time to read the books I review. So, you see than ten hours a week can be tough.
This isn’t the first time I’ve brought this subject up. In Today’s Authors Wear Many Hats, which I posted back in October, I wrote about the different roles an author must play and how they’ve expanded because of the digital age and the rising trends in self-publishing. Promotion and marketing are just two of those hats, but they’re important ones. Most of us are among the starving artists, and can’t afford to hire someone to do it for us, or spend a lot of money boosting posts to reach more people, and social media is an avenue of promotion which is free, or at least fairly inexpensive.
Bottom line – Promotion and marketing do require that we spend at least a minimal amount of time on them, but as writers, it’s a necessary part of the job. Like the artist, who must sell her own paintings, or convince a gallery owner to display her wares, we must peddle our creations, whether we publish them ourselves, or are picked up by a small press or traditional publisher. And social media is a big part of that in today’s market. Social media drives traffic, and we need traffic, because traffic leads to sales, at least theoretically.