2018 Writing the Rockies Conference promises something for everyone

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As I mentioned in last week’s post, An Adventure in Book Marketing, I will be sitting as a panelist at Western’s Alumni Roundtable at the Writing the Rockies Conference in July. There I said that was my next experiment in marketing, but to be honest, although copies of Delilah will be available at the book fair, run by Crested Butte’s Townie Books, I’m not expecting my sales to suddenly shoot up off the charts. Writing conferences, as a general rule, are not places where you sell a lot of books, but I’m exciting to be going and representing Westerns M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, (I’m actually representing both of my concentrations, screenwriting and genre fiction), for other reasons. What writing conferences are generally good for is making connections within the writing community, and Writing the Rockies is no exception. It seems Western, or maybe even the Gunnison Valley is especially prolific in this area, because you begin to feel yourself being pulled in to fantastic world of writing and publishing as soon as you step onto the Western campus. And the connections I’ve made at Western and at the conference have been very useful to me in some unexpected and surprising ways. Never have I attended this conference without coming away with some valuable new connections, some of which have turned into long lasting friendships, as well.

This year, it looks like they’ve got a great line-up, including fantastic opera workshop performance of Lottie Silks, with music by Jay Parrotta and libretto by Western Poetry and Genre Fiction student Enid Holden, directed by Ben Makino and Andrew Sellon, to go along with their infamous and very intense poetry symposium. They also have some not to miss Keynote speakers lined –up: Mark Todd, author and founder of Western State’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, for the conference Keynote; award winning poets Ned Balbo and Jane Satterfield for the poetry Keynote; Kevin J. Anderson, author of over 140 novels, publisher at WordFire Press and a member of Western’s M.F.A. program staff for the publishing Keynote; Patrick Pexton, former ombudsman for the Washington Post for the creative nonfiction Keynote; and Emmy Award winning screenwriter, John Bowman for the screenwriting Keynote; and Michaella Roessner, published author and M.F.A. program faculty for the genre fiction Keynote. Other presenters in the publishing track include Darrin Pratt, Editor of the University of Colorado Press and immediate past president of the Association of American University Presses, D.H. Tracy, Editor of Antilever Press, and others.

In addition to their always informative workshops, sessions and panels, pitch sessions and manuscript critiques are available, their annual hike above Crested Butte will take place, three day intensive workshops, and full day seminars. Special presentations of Comedy is Hard, by Mike Reiss, directed by William Spicer; and Multitudes: An Evening with Walt Whitman by Kim Nuzzo and Valerie Haugen Nuzzo. Film screenings including How Murray Saved Christmas, by Mike Reiss and the highlights from the Crested Butte Film Festival with festival co-director, Michael Brody will also be available.

As you can see, Writing the Rockies is a conference promises something for everyone. I’m excited to be a part of it and I hope you will join us. This is the 19th year running for this wonderful conference and it grows with each passing year. This year the conference will run from Wednesday, July 18th through Sunday, July 22nd. The cost is $300 for the entire five day event if you register before July 1, and $350 after that date. The good news is, although the conference is fully open to the public, every student of Western’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing goes as a part of the curriculum, and there are scholarships available for alumni, K12 educators, and Gunnison Valley residents, as well as anyone else who wishes to apply.  You can sign up for the 2018 Writing the Rockies Conference or apply for scholarship here:

https://www.western.edu/writing-rockies-annual-conference

For more information contact:

David J. Rothman, Conference Director / 970-943-2058 / drothman@western.edu

Mark Todd, Conference Coordinator / 970-943-2016 / mtodd@western.edu

Michelle Wilk, Office Support Coordinator / 970-943-2163 / mwilk@western.edu

 

On a similar note, Western State Colorado University still has a few spots open for their low-residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program, which begins in July. If you have an undergraduate degree and you’re interested in persuing a career in writing genre fiction, poetry or screenplays or a career in publishing, their program may be just what you’re looking for. Low-residency means you must attend physical class on campus for two weeks each summer and the rest of the courses are online. (Remember, if you’re in the program, you get to attend the Writing the Rockies Conference as a part of the curriculum.) Their faculty consists of successful published authors, successful screenwriters, and distinguished poets. Looking at the successes of myself and my fellow alumni, I have to say they offer useful skills and knowledge that can be applied in the writing industry.

For more information: https://www.western.edu/academics/graduate/graduate-programs-western/graduate-program-creative-writing-low-residency-16 

 

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The Perils Of A Writer’s Career: Guest Post by Art Rosch

I’ve known Art Rosch since 2009, when he became a member of a writing site I was administiring called Writers’ World. Although I’ve never met him in person, we’ve been online friends, supporting one another like only authors can ever since.  Art is a great guya da, and a fine photographer, and a damn good writer. You can feel the honesty in his words as you read them, and that’s not something all authors can do. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Art’s books, Confessions of an Honest Man, and The Road Has EyesI’ve also had the privilage of featuring an interview with Art in my 2016 series on publishing, as well as having him as a member on my more recent Ask the Authors series in March and April. 

During my Ask the Authors series, I did a segment on Building an Author Platform. As a member of the author panel, Art expressed his frustration with the whole author platform/marketing and promotion thing and wasn’t sure how he could respond to my questions in a useful manner. Art had tried many paths to marketing and promotion, at times investing much money with little returns. He didn’t understand the problem and explained, “I can’t even give away books.”

This is one of the pitfals for today’s authors. We’re writers, not marketers. I think we all have gone through it at one time or another, (or will for new and upcoming authors). It’s easy for writers to become disheartened with the whole promotion process, especially if they’re not seeing results from their efforts. I told him to give me whatever he had. If he couldn’t tell me what had worked, he should tell me what hadn’t worked for him and why. I would take whatever he could offer. His response was a wonderfully told author’s journey that was too lengthy to be included in that segment of Ask the Author, but was worthy to appear on Writing to be Read, none-the-less. So, with that in mind, I give you this Guest Post by Art Rosch:

Art Rosch

I’m the last person to ask about marketing and publishing.  Perhaps my experiences might be cautionary, might enable other writers to consider how they proceed.  I can only offer my history as a writer.  You can call me disillusioned, but that’s actually a positive state.  It’s good to dream but it’s important to temper the dream with reality.  You can get swept down some terrible false paths by unskilled dreaming.  I believe that this mantra, “dreams can come true if you persist” is a shibboleth.  A lot of bullshit.  It takes skill to dream the right dream. It takes skill and practice to execute a dream and bring it to fruition.  Everything else is about karma.  Destiny.

In 1978 I took a chance and sent the manuscript of a short story to agent Scott Meredith.  At the time, Meredith had a branch of his prestigious agency that read unsolicited works for a fee.  We’ve been warned countless times about this flaky practice, but it was, after all, Scott Meredith.  He represented Norman Mailer and Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke and James Michener.  I scratched together my fifty bucks and mailed the 3600 words of my comic science fiction tale about a planet where there are six distinct genders.  It was called Sex And The Triple Znar-Fichi.

Eight weeks after mailing my story I received two envelopes.  One was small and one was large.  The small envelope contained a check for $1800.  The large one contained a two year contract to be represented by Scott Meredith.  The agency had sold my story to Playboy Magazine.

I was thrilled and motivated to write.  I was young, ambitious, and not a little fucked up.  There were problems in my life but everyone has problems.  A writer without problems is hamstrung.  Embrace your problems!  They’re your fuel!

A few months passed.  I was sending my works in progress to my editor at Meredith Agency.  He was doing his job.  He made it clear that my first science fiction novel was a bust and that I should focus on the book that has become The Gods Of The Gift.  Then I received a package from New York.  It contained a clear lucite brick featuring an etched Playboy logo.  It carried the news that my story had won Playboy’s Best Short Story Award.  There was another check for $500 and permission to use Playboy’s expense account to bring myself to New York City to attend the Playboy 25th Anniversary banquet and awards ceremony.

The Playboy Banquet was an amazing experience.  I met Playboy’s fiction editor, I got business cards from the editors at The New Yorker, Penthouse, Esquire.  I was a celebrity for the requisite fifteen minutes.  I was hanging with the big hitters.  My table mates at the dinner were Alex Haley, Saul Bellow and their wives.  I was in!  I had made it!

The Gods of the GiftI brought The Gods Of The Gift to a sort of completion and it went on the market.  And didn’t sell.  The agency kept batting for me but I wasn’t turning out viable material.  I wasn’t writing long form books that would sell.  But I was learning.  Two years went by without a sale, and the agency did not renew my contract.  I went into my personal Dark Night Of The Soul, a period that lasted a long time.  In spite of all the obstacles, I continued to play music and write.

In 1976 I had started work on my autobiographical novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man.  I was dealing with a paradox: how does one write an autobiographical novel at the age of thirty?  The answer isn’t complicated.  One starts.  And one lives.  Here I am, now, at the age of seventy, sitting on a huge body of work.  When I was contracted to an agent, I couldn’t write to sell. Now that I can write to sell, I can’t find an agent.  The ground has shifted.  We live in a new era.  Even with a publisher and an agent, we’re still on our own with regards to marketing.  Unfortunately, I’m not much of a marketer.  It takes money to market, and I’m not rich enough to front a sustained advertising effort.  I’ve been online for fifteen years.  I have eight hundred ninety Twitter followers.  My Facebook stats aren’t much better.  I have an excellent blog that features all my media work.  It’s gotten so that I’m shocked when I receive a comment.  I’m all over the web.  I’m on Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, you name the social medium, I’m there.

It’s my photography that gets the attention.  I suppose that’s natural.  Images are so much more accessible than literature.  We live in a tough time for writers of quality.  There are so many writers, yet it seems as if there are fewer readers.  The sales figures for my books are shocking.  I can’t even give them away.  In three years I’ve sold twenty five copies of my e-books.  I’ve given away about eleven hundred.  Those figures are spread over three books.  In spite of this epic failure I persist.  I figure I’m somewhere near my peak with regards to my writing skills.  I’m a late bloomer.  I’m also a writer who works a long time on each project.  Like decades.  Confessions Of An Honest Man only reached its completion when I switched from past to present tense.  It changed everything.  I finished that work last year.  Begun in 1976, finished in 2017.  Same with The Gods Of The Gift.  It didn’t totally gel until I had revised it countless times and solved a thorny structural problem.  Begun in 1978, finished in 2016.  I can at least regard my non-fiction memoir, The Road Has Eyes with some affection.  It took a year to write.

The Road Has Eyes

I again made contact with the Meredith Agency in 2001.  They didn’t give me a contract but one of their editors was interested in me.  Barry N. Malzberg is/was a science fiction author, critic and NYC literary personality.  His editorial approach (with me, anyway) was brutal, confrontational, maybe even abusive.  The cumulative effect on me was positive, but the experience gave me a two year bout of writer’s block.  He helped me with Confessions Of An Honest Man.  I’m considering making contact again.  With some trepidation.  He was a rough editor.

Confessions of an Honest ManMy plan?  I’m going to invest in Confessions Of  An Honest Man and produce paperbacks.  There’s something about a physical manifestation that enlivens a book.  My intuition tells me that this is the right step.  I’ll follow with my other books. I have an as-yet-unpublished fantasy book, The Shadow Storm (about fifteen years in the writing).  I’ll bring it out.  I expect nothing.  It’s not that I don’t care.  I’m just too f’ing old to have an attachment to results. It’s about the process of writing and publishing.  It’s obedience to my inner voice.

I’m a very flawed person. I’ve lived at the extremes of life.  I’ve experienced the horrors of addiction and homelessness.  I’ve been a yogi/junkie.  How’s that for a paradox?  But I survive and have found a niche in the world.  A place to write.  I live in an RV with my partner and two obnoxious teacup poodles.  That’s good enough.

Thank you for sharing with us, Art. Watch for my review of The Gods of Gift in the near future. You can learn more about Art and his work at:

Novelist and Memoirist, literary fiction, science fiction, poetry and essays
Arthur Rosch Books

Blogger 
Write Out Of My Head

Confessions Of An Honest Man
The Gods Of The Gift, science fantasy
The Road Has Eyes: A Memoir of travel in an RV

If you’d like to have a guest post you’d you’d like to have featured on Writing to be Read, contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com. I wish I could, but at this time, I am unable to compensate you for your words. This blog is a labor of love, and so must be all guest posts.

 


Ask the Authors: Final Answers

Books and Coffee

We’ve reached the final segment of Ask the Authors, which will bring our series to a close. This has been a fun series and we’ve covered a lot in regards to writing. In this segment, our panel members will answer follow-up questions for each segment and wrap things up, so let’s get started. We’ll skip over the introductory segment, as there are really no follow-up questions as to the panel members identity, but if you missed that one, you really should pop in and check it out.  Our panel had a great line up, with DeAnna Knippling, Chris Dibella, Carol Riggs, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Janet Garber, Art Rosch, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili and Jordan Elizabeth.

I want to thank each and every one of our panel members for their participation. This blog is a labor of love for me, which means I can’t pay for guest posts, etc… The time and energy each author took to respond to all of my, sometimes lengthy and open ended questions is greatly appreciated. When asked if they would be up for another round in the fall, many said yes, so it looks like we have another round of Ask the Authors still to look forward to.

Our first segment takes A Look at the Writing Process, where each of our panel members found different things most challenging, from sharing and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to self confidence, to marketing and finding readers, to the actual act of writing. The process is never the same for any two authors. Some prefer to write without distractions, while others like to write with music or other things going on in the background. Many authors like to write in public places, such as coffee shops, while others like Tim Baker find this too cliche or just need their privacy for writing, like Carol Riggs. We approach our writing in different ways, as well. While Janet Garber writes in vigenettes, Cynthia Vespia writes her first drafts by hand, and authors like DeAnna Knippling just let the characters go and see what happens, and most of our panel members are morning writers, like Chris Barili. Most of our panel members claim to lean toward character driven stories, but I’m with Cynthia Vespia in thinking that all stories must be a little of both. Most, like Art Rosch and Chris DiBella say the titles of their books just come to them, usually before actual writing begins, while the book is still in the design stage. Be sure to check it out and see what each of our panel members’ best pieces of advise for upcoming authors.

The follow up question for this segment is: What are your top five writing rules for success?

Cynthia Vespia: 

1. Write what you want, don’t follow the trends

2. Characterization is key

3. Have fun with world building

4. Think outside the box

5. And of course show don’t tell

Chris Barili

1. Learn your craft. Whether through college studies, mentorship, reading a lot, whatever. Learn what makes good stories.
2. Learn the business of your craft. All the writing in the world does you no good if you don’t know how to get it sold.
3. Find your writing tribe. A support crew of fellow writers is crucial for keeping you going.
4. Submit. Everywhere. You don’t get published if you’re not submitting.
5. Get your ass in the seat and do the work. Don’t wait for the stupid inspiration fairy or muse to sit on your shoulder and whisper bullshit in your ears. Write. Then write some more.

Janet Garber: 

1. Jot down phrases and ideas when inspiration hits no matter where you are.

2. Work on making the language sing.

3. Submit like crazy

4. Don’t take rejections personally. Just move on.

5. Don’t ever give up!

 

Art Rosch: 

One, be yourself.  Write to please yourself.  There is no other way to achieve authenticity other than to make your writing a means of exploring yourself, your humanity and the nature of your life experience.

If you’re writing fiction you need a great villain.  Nothing propels a story like a character that you hate, someone whom you want to see brought to justice.  I pay special attention to writing my villains.

Write with feeling or your readers will not feel anything.  Emotion is the fuel of story.  Be a storyteller, engage readers with plots that invoke high stakes.  The ultimate investment in a story can be the life or death of the characters, or the survival of a society, or the triumph of a civilization.  All the elements of story break down into conflicts of virtue versus destruction.  What makes a story interesting, however, is when it’s difficult to tell who is good and who is evil.  Things aren’t always simple.

A good book has three attributes.  It should be entertaining, informative and inspiring.  I can loosely define inspiration as the evocation of insight.  Insight feels good and you know when a writer provokes an understanding of the human condition.

That’s not exactly five rules, but it’s an overview of things I put in my writing.

Tim Baker: I really only have one rule…keep writing. If you want to be succesful as a writer you have to keep writing. Not only is it the best way to hone your skills, but the more you write, the more chance you have of being succesful.

Chris DiBella: I don’t have any rules for writing “success” because the term success will vary from person to person. What works for me may not work for other writers, and vice versa. There are a million blogs posting the same 5 to 10 rules for how to be a writer, but none of them seem to be putting out any books themselves, so why take advice from someone who isn’t successful doing what they are trying to tell you to do? There’s no secret magic formula, but you can’t be successful if you don’t write…..so just go write.

Carol Riggs: 

1. There ARE no rules.

2. Everyone writes lousy first drafts; get the words down on the page and learn to revise.

3. Always have other people check your work for inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation, etc.

4. If you truly love to write, never give up!

5. Not everyone will love your book; it’s subjective and there’s no way your writing will speak to every single person.

Margareth Stewart: 

1. Write. Don´t stop.

2. Don´t copy anyone else. Find your own voice.

3. Craft your stories.

4. Be humble. Be proud.

5. Keep it up.

P.S. Just write if you have something to tell, and then forget about it all. I don´t believe so much that we can predict success though we need to do our best for it. I see authors who might be famous, and they might not be the best ones, or even the most influential ones, or the ones that are still going to be recalled a century from now. I would rather quote Jorge Amado and say that writing is like living: 

“The world is like that – incomprehensible and full of surprises.” Jorge Amado – Brazilian Author. 

Jordan Elizabeth:

  1. Never give up on your dreams.
  2. Write what you know.  Write a book that you would want to read.
  3. Don’t write a shocking scene just for the shock value.
  4. Don’t write in a genre just because its selling; write in that genre because you’re passionate about it.

DeAnna Knippling:

1. Read.
2. Study what you read.
3. Practice what you study.
4. Get what you practice published.
5. Honor the people who read what you published.

The second segment was on Character Development. Many of our author panel develop characters from real people and composites of people they know, or at least give them realistic qualities and flaws to make them feel more human, easier to identify with, and most admit to having a little of themselves in their characters. Chris DiBella, Jordan Elizabeth, Janet Garber and Art Rosch even offer up real life examples. None of them openly admited to creating characters from archetypes, but I maintain that all characters fit into archetypes, whether the author does it consciously or not. Chris Barili offers his method of character development using a character triangle to determine what the character’s motivation is, what the character’s fear or flaw is, and what it is the character truly needs. It is clear that for all of our panel members and myself, our characters often come alive and take over what happens on the page, surprising even their creators at times. While Art Rosch and DeAnna Knippling like to take a more psychological approach to character development, authors like Tim Baker use life observation to ‘keep it real’. And I don’t think any of the panel members would disagree with Carol Riggs when she stated, “The more rich development you can give to a character, the more the reader can identify with them.” After all, that is what we’re striving for – characters that readers can relate and identify with.

Emotions

The follow-up question for this segment: How do you evoke emotion in your readers?

Cynthia Vespia: This is one of the most important parts of storytelling, and one of my favorite parts as well. Developing characters that readers resonate with is what stirs emotion. If they can see part of themselves in the character they will gravitate towards them more and that makes them care what happens to them in the end.

Chris Barili: You do that by creating a character they empathize with, then killing him or her, usually. No, wait. That’s the George Martin approach. Seriously–build a character about whom readers care, then put them in situations where they are threatened.

Janet Garber: This is admittedly not always easy. I concentrate on creating relatable and sympathetic characters.

Art Rosch: If you write with feeling your audience will respond with feeling.   Fiction is mostly about overcoming obstacles.  You cause your heroes to act bravely and unselfishly and your villains to act with malice and manipulation.  If you create a lovable hero, (that is, someone with flaws who intends to do a positive thing) your readers will respond. I don’t know if emotion can be taught.  Writing is a very psychological pursuit, and our emotions are unpredictable and all but uncontrollable.  So…be a psychologist.

Tim Baker: By giving my characters real emotion and letting the reader see it. Whatever emotion the characters are feeling in a particuklar scene I try to have them think and react the way any of us would (as much as allowable for the story anyway).

Chris DiBella: I just try to make my characters as real as possible and hopefully my readers like them enough to care about what happens to them.

Carol Riggs: I write in first person for (what I think is) the most close, personal experience. I also try to include a lot of sensory images—smell, taste, sounds, and sights to make things more real. With crying and sobbing and sad emotions, often less is more; otherwise it starts feeling melodramatic. And if the character is going through general experiences the reader can relate to (betrayal, loss, anger at a friend or parent) that helps make an emotional connection.

Jordan Elizabeth:  I rely on my own experiences when writing.  Many of the emotions I write about are ones that I have experienced, so I’m able to write from the heart.  If its a funny scene, then I’m laughing out loud.  If its a sad scene, I have tears drenching my cheeks.

DeAnna Knippling: One of my pet peeves is when an author is obviously playing for my emotions rather than letting the combination of plot, character, etc., do the work in a more logically consistent fashion.  You’ve seen it every time a beloved character gets wiped out and it really doesn’t affect the narrative, other than to “inspire” the rest of the characters to carry on or set the grounds for “anything could happen!!!!!!!”

If I want a reader to cry, I better have already wept bitter tears over the manuscript as I was writing it.

Our third segment was on Action and Dialog. While all authors want dialog that flows smooth and sounds realistic, different authors take different approaches to the task. While most of our panel members agree that listening to people and being able to hear the dialog spoken in your head are great ways to approach this, Carol Riggs offers the really great advice to read your work aloud, and Art Rosch offers the advice that dialog should always serve a purpose, rather than being just a space filler. In true life, we tend to talk just to hear ourselves sometimes. In writing, that sort of thing just takes up space on the page and the only purpose it may serve is to bore the reader, and of course, we don’t want that. Achieving a balance between action and dialog seems to come natural for many of our panel members claim the only trick or secret is to keep the story moving and not let it get too bogged down with details. Tell readers what they need to know, but keep things moving. If you missed this segment, be sure to drop in and check it out, because it features excerpts of dialog scenes from authors Chris Barili, Janet Garber, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Art Rosch and Margareth Stewart.

The following is a reader comment left regarding Dialog. While a couple of our panel members replied directly in the comments, DeAnna Knippling’s reply seemed spot on to me and I wanted to include it here.

Reader Ken Hughs said:

Lots of excellent advice there.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to analyze dialogue a bit deeper than that. For instance:

Who talks more? Does she say a lot on her favorite subject (an expert, or just concerned about it) and less on other things, or is she nervous or social enough to chime in a little after everything– or so full of herself she does both?

How organized are his sentences? A longer sentence can mean he has a more complex complete thought, unless it’s a run-on; several short sentences could each mean new thoughts still coming in behind the last ones. Or the most eloquent person might be the one with the simple line that says it all.

Adjectives and adverbs? Someone passionate, or more in tune with their senses, is more likely to pile on the modifiers, while others are plainer-spoken. Similes and metaphors take this even further– if you can keep someone from becoming cliche about using their job or background to compare things too.

DeAnna Knipling: It sounds like the commenter, Ken Hughes, is doing some good things with pacing.  Huzzah!  Once you get past the point of being able to make dialogue that sounds natural and gets the point across in a scene, the next step is to start working on the pacing of the dialogue–and all the issues Mr. Hughes mentioned are relevant there.

To back up a bit for writers who aren’t quite down in the weeds of studying pacing yet:

  • Pacing is the art of connecting content (what you’re writing about) to form (the layout of the little black marks on the page, for writers).  When the word lengths and patterns, sentence lengths and patterns, scene lengths and patterns all line up with the meaning of the story somehow, the story is “paced well.”  Pacing is about building your story like a woodworker, choosing your material and construction techniques to fit the final purpose of the project.  Any element of a story can have pacing.
  • Each character’s dialogue will also have its own pacing, just as Mr. Hughes says, and it should depend on the nature of the character.
  • The examples that Mr. Hughes gives are excellent examples of what to consider with pacing dialogue.
  • I’d like to add that anything that you add between pieces of dialogue also reflects the pacing of the dialogue, so if you have chunks of description between bits of dialogue, the reader will take them as pauses in the conversation, or as the POV character’s mind wandering during the conversation.
If you can handle the things Mr. Hughes brings up, you’ll be doing well indeed 🙂

Mr. Hughes and DeAnna bring up another issue here, which we haven’t really touched on.

Action

Naturally my follow-up question is:What methods do you find effective in controlling your pacing?

Cynthia Vespia: I don’t. I just write what comes to me.

Chris Barili: I don’t know. I just go with what the characters are feeling, I guess. Their tension tells me how to pace a scene.

Janet Garber: Ah. You must make every scene count. Have it lead readers somewhere, to the destination you intend.

Art Rosch: I’ve watched a thousand Samurai movies.  They’re great for offering templates for action sequences.  Samurai didn’t waste effort in useless display and they were completely focused on surviving the next duel or battle. Unless you’re writing about super-heroes your characters need to operate within reasonable physical parameters.  I act out movements and gestures at my chair in front of my computer.  Does this look reasonable?  Can my characters do this-and-that?

In my novel Confessions Of An Honest Man, I have a 70 page battle sequence that takes place in Afghanistan.  It’s a much admired passage with editors and readers. It has an arc, or several arcs.  There’s the build-up to an initial confrontation.  A mini-climax occurs early in the scene.  But it doesn’t end there.  A greater threat appears unexpectedly and my hero must cope with expanded dangers.  Each time a resolution seems to occur another and greater threat appears.  The point of this sequence is that my hero learns things about himself, learns that he has more courage than he thought. There’s outer action but there’s also my hero’s thoughts and emotions as the scene(s) unfold.  This pendulum between action and a character’s inner dialogue offers a means of pacing.

Tim Baker: When writing action I try to write only the action. By this I mean if I’m writing an action packed scene I don’t stray away from the action with anything that will slow the reader down. I want the reader to be able to be in the action.

Chris DiBella: I’ve never thought about trying to control my pacing. When I get to action scenes, I just try to write them in a way where I’m describing enough that it paints a picture for my readers. I don’t have a formula for how many pages an action scene should be. I just write them until I feel it’s time to move on with the story.

Carol Riggs: I try to keep some sort of tension, question, or compelling forward movement on every page, whether internal for the characters or external to them. I use cliffhanger-type chapter endings to keep the reader turning pages. It’s also important not to rush the “big moments”—sometimes the pace needs to be drawn out on powerful scenes to heighten the impact or emotions. In an action scene, short punchy sentences help move the pacing along.

Margareth Stewart: Word count and daily targets; otherwise, it does not flow. Sometimes, I feel like I am a General to myself: “for instance, no chocolate if I don´t finish 2.500 word count today”, and there it goes. Other times, I need to be a little more flexible because things do happen in between word counting, not with the plot or story itself, but in terms of living – ordinary living – bills to pay, a tire to fix, and so on. Another good and productive management is during November Writing. Besides that, I use the same method for editing – this week I have to review 50 pages and by the way I am late, so I will have to do extra work at the weekend. Therefore, I have told my kids, we can only go to the cinema if I can complete the goal before Sunday. By the way, that´s another point about being a writer, we feel quite weird and funny.

Jordan Elizabeth: I tend to just write, write, write.  I don’t plan my stories ahead; I just go off a basic plot idea in my mind.  Pacing falls naturally into place.

In our third segment, our author panel members discussed Setting,  where author Carol Riggs suggests basing fictional worlds on real life places as a good method of world building, and travel for authors is recommended in order to expand on their true life experiences that shine through in their writing, although most of our panel members have written about places they have never been or don’t really exist, like Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA fantasy. DeAnna Knippling loves to write about Victorian England, and all agree that sensory details should be added to make the setting feel more real. This segment also features setting excerpts from Cynthia Vespia, Art Rosch, Chris Barili, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber. (Strangely enough, I just realized I gave no follow-up question for this segment, although we could do a whole series on world building and setting. Wow!)

Our fourth segment covered the topic of Publishing, which many authors opt to do themselves these days. Our panel members were a nice blend of traditional, small press and self-published authors, with three strictly self-published authors: Art RoschChris DiBella, and DeAnna Knippling; one author who is strictly small press: Jordan Elizabeth; and five who have done a hybrid combination of small press and self-publishing in one form or another: Cynthia VespiaMargareth Stewart, Tim Baker, and three authors who have done a combination of traditional and self-publishing: Janet GarberChris Barili, and Carol Riggs. Together, they bring their own experiences to the table to talk about the pros and cons of each publishing venue.

I have two follow-up questions for this segment: 

Are your books available in print or digital format, or both? Why?

Cynthia Vespia: Both. Because I like to have my work available in as many formats as possible to appeal to different readers. Next I’ll do audio books.

Chris Barili: Both. And why wouldn’t you do it that way? You’re robbing yourself of readers if you ignore one medium.

Janet Garber: My books are in print and in digital form and the first traditionally purchased book is on audiotape as well.

Art Rosch: I need to emphasize a huge fact with regard to the whole publishing venture.  It takes money to market books.  I don’t have money, I’m living on a fixed income.  I started my enterprise by going to Smashwords.com and e-publishing three of my books.  I did the same at Amazon.  An author can publish digitally for free.  I designed my own book covers, using my stock of personal photography and my skills in Photoshop. Such as they are.

I am now about to turn my novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man into a paperback on Amazon.  I have no illusions about getting sales.  I just want to have a physical object, MY BOOK, in my hands and have it be available to people in my environment.

Tim Baker: My books are available in print, digital and audio (not all of them are currently available in audio, but the ones that aren’t are in production.) The reason why is simple…give more options to people and increase your chances of being read.

Chris DiBella: Both. There are still people out there (somewhere) who like to read physical copies of books.

Carol Riggs: All my books are available in both print and digital formats. This is important, because some readers prefer print and some prefer digital.

Jordan Elizabeth:  Both (except for Kistishi Island.  I have to sell 500 ebooks before it will be in print).  I like having a combination of formats.  Some people prefer print and some prefer ebook.  I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they have to use ebooks because of eyesight problems.  Print books are great for book signings.

DeAnna Knippling: Yes and yes.  See writing rule #5.  I really ought to be working on audio as well.  Readers should be able to read conveniently.

Which publishing platforms do you use? Which do you recommend? Why?

Cynthia Vespia: I’m focused on Amazon at the moment because that’s where the majority of buyers/readers go. I’ve also used Smashwords and Barnes and Noble for digital.

Chris Barili: Amazon and Smashwords for my self-published stuff. I prefer Smashwords because they distribute to a bunch of other retailers, saving me time.

Janet Garber: I used Lulu.com and was satisfied with their speed and the look of the final product.

Art Rosch: I think Smashwords is great.  There’s all the support and information you need.  Amazon is, of course, the giant, but as with everything in digital publishing, it’s all automated.

Tim Baker: I use CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and ACX (for audio). Since those are the ones I use – those would be the ones I recommend.

Chris DiBella: I use Amazon and CreateSpace. It’s easy to set up and get my books out to potential readers from those sites.

Carol Riggs: Three of my books are traditionally published, and the publishers distribute in various ways (Entangled Teen uses Macmillan, for instance). For self-publishing, I use CreateSpace and Amazon KDP; it’s relatively easy to release a book on these platforms.

Jordan Eizabeth: My publishers use Ingram and CreateSpace.  I can’t speak to the ease of use.

DeAnna Knippling: It’s not so much which ones, as how you decide which ones to use.  I’m starting to look at these things as, “How does this company treat its readers?  Are the readers happy with the experience?”  Another good set of questions is, “How does this company treat its writers?  Does it pay them promptly? Does it have good reporting?  Do they have good avenues for books that aren’t bestsellers to reach readers? Is the damn site hard to use?”

I’ve dropped a number of publishing platforms that don’t adhere to these things, or at least stopped using them directly, but approach them through other distributors.  [Cough] Barnes & Noble [Cough]

Our fifth segment of Ask the Authors covered the topic of Genre Differences. Again, we had a nice mix for this topic. Among our author panel members we had: Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA Fantasy and Steampunk; Carol Riggs, who writes both Fantasy and Science Fiction; Tim Baker, who writes crime action adventure novels; Cynthia Vespia, who writes speculative fiction for adults and teens; and those who dabble a little in all of them: Janet Garber, Chris Barili and DeAnna Knippling. They discuss the use of tropes when writing in the different genres, and also the differences in the creative process, the different types of research required, and the differences in audience and marketing. No follow-up questinos for this segment.

In the sixth segment, our author panel discusses The Business of Writing. According to Jordan Elizabeth and Carol Riggs, marketing can make or break you in the world of writing, and in today’s digital world, much or all of those duties fall upon the author, requiring us to treat writing not only as a job or a passion, but as a business. Today’s author may be responsible for everything about their book, from writing the book, to editing and cover art, to publishing, to marketing and promotion, and everything in between. While many of these tasks can be hired out, not all authors can afford to do so. I didn’t have any follow-up for this segment, mainly because the next two segments were follow-up to this.

For the seventh segment of Ask the Authors, our author panel discusses the many ways there are to Building an Reader Platform.  Most of our panel members prefer face-to-face events, over online activities, but it seems they continue to use the Internet and social media to promote their books, feeling that both are needed. Some panel members come up with some very creative ideas, like Tim Baker, who had a tire cover made for the spare on his Jeep with his logo on it, or Chris DiBella, who had customized tee-shirts made telling the world that he is their next favorite author. Who knows? It might work.

Book Reviews

The follow-up question for this segment is: What methods have you found successful for obtaining reviews?

Cynthia Vespia: Asking. I ask other writers, or I seek out bloggers who do reviews.

Janet Garber: Approaching authors who write in a similar humorous fashion; writing reviews myself as a pay-it-forward tactic; bugging people who enjoyed the book.

Art Rosch: I completely suck at this and it’s my own fault.  I must have social media halitosis.  There are billions of people who don’t know about me.  I’ve been hammering at this for many years and haven’t cracked the code yet.  I do recommend one author-marketing guru (among the many who haunt my email inbox).  That’s Mark Dawson.  He refunded my money long after the expiration date for one of his courses and he didn’t have to.  He teaches at a good pace and he has much to offer to authors who want to market independently.

Tim Baker: I haven’t found a successful way to get reviews. People generally don’t like to write them. I’ve done everything from blog posts, social media requests and even offered to include people in a book if they wrote enough reviews. It’s the thing I find most discouraging about writing.

Chris DiBella: I don’t like to hound people for reviews. There are some authors who post constantly about it, and I find it annoying. We all want reviews, but it seems some authors will only ask for reviews from people they know will give them a favorable review. I simply do not like that approach. The way I look at it is the reviews will come in time – or maybe not. They’re nice to get, but I don’t stress about it. I also have my own little rule of thumb of not to trust any book with less than 15 reviews of all 5-stars (unless there’s some bad reviews in there too). Anyone can get 15 friends or family members to write a good review. It’s that first bad review I usually trust the most. Same goes for my books. My first bad review was actually pretty spot-on with the critique. She liked the story, but drilled me on editing. No friends or family members would have left a review like that. I pulled the book and re-edited it. Of course it sucks to get bad reviews, but they can be turned into a positive. And for the love of everything you consider holy, please stop arguing with readers who give you a bad review. Let your fans battle it out for you.

Carol Riggs: My publishers used NetGalley for obtaining reviewers from bloggers. A newsletter also works decently for requesting reviews. I try not to ask for reviews too much, however, because it’s off-putting. Either a reader will leave you a review or he/she won’t. No one should be obligated; an author doesn’t get honest reviews that way anyway.

Jordan Elizabeth: Author friends have told me they have good luck when posting free books on Facebook in exchange for reviews.  I haven’t had luck that way.  I usually reach out to bloggers.  Most of the time, they are willing to review.

Just a note: I also see the other side of this issue, as I do honest reviews in exchange for ARCs right here on Writing to be Read. The problem I’ve run into is that since I’m supplied with a free copy, at times Amazon will not aknowledge my reviews because they can’t verify the sale. I imagine those exchanging reviews on Facebook might run into the same type of issues. So, even if you can give away some e-copies in exchange for a review, there is no gaurantee that Amazon will acknowledge it.

DeAnna Knippling: Asking nicely.  I was using Instafreebie for a while, but I think that exhausted its readers fairly quickly, because it was mostly a platform for trading newsletter subscribers, not a sustainable model.  What new readers was Instafreebie bringing to the table?  Not as many as the authors themselves had brought.  I did well by it, but I think that was a matter of getting in at the right moment and not “what a great site for reviews!”

I think your best bet is to treat reviews like a pyramid.  At the base, write good books and make it easy for readers to read more.  Next level, make it easy for your newsletter subscribers to get review copies.  I have an ARC list.  Up from that, whatever social media sites you’re on, keep an eye out for ways to attract reviews OR newsletter subscribers.  At the top of the pile is a review that will be seen widely, a review on a radio show or in a newspaper, things like that.  Go for it when you see it.  But be more loyal to your base of writing good books and making them easy for readers to read them.

Don’t put all your eggs in a basket that’s essentially just moving piles of email addresses around, or reviews that you have to pay for (and that Amazon will delete as soon as they get a chance), begging for reviews from your writer-friends (which screws up your also boughts something fierce), or whatever short-term solution everyone is chasing at the moment.  Play the long game, take advantage of what you can when you can, then drop back into your long game.
Believe me, I know how freaking slow this all goes.

 

In the last segment, our author panel members discussed many of the issues involved in Book Marketing and Promotion. This is a big topic for many authors, including me, because unlike writing, it does not come natural to us. It is such a big issue that a couple of our panel members, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, bowed out of this segment, rather than express the frustration of not having the answers. But those panel members who did participate had some insightful things to share. They talk about their favorite social media sites for promotion, marketing and giveaway sites, marketing platforms, the effectiveness of author websites and blogs, newletters, press releases and interviews. Be sure and catch this segment, or you’ll never know why Chris DiBella’s mother is his greatest marketing tool.

Book Sale

The follow-up question for this segment is: Many of you said in last week’s segment that you preferred face to face events over Internet and social media marketing and that you found face to face marketing to be more effective. What type of face to face events have you found to be effective?

Cynthia Vespia: The reason conferences don’t work is because there are waaaayyyy too many writers all vying for attention at these things. Also, the majority of the writer conferences only alot 1-2 days for signings and sales that are usually only a few hours long. That is not enough time to make a dent in sales or really do any type of networking with your readers, especially when there are so many other authors there doing the same thing. Some of the more popular ones get all the attention. So imagine you’re a little fish in a sea of whales…how do you get noticed? I’ve run into some very bad etiquette at some of these things before, as well. The guy next to me would skate every sale I tried to make by talking over me and offering a free book. How do you compete with free? You don’t.

So the face-to-face events I prefer are my own individual signings, smaller book fairs, or (and I hate to mention this because it was a well guarded secret before) but I do the comic conventions and they work the best. Plus, they’re alot more fun.

Chris Barili: I’ve found genre cons to be MUCH more effective at selling books and gaining followers than writing conferences, and if you think about it, it makes sense. A genre con is full of fans of whatever genre you like. They’re LOOKING for genre stories. At a writers conference, writers are there looking to SELL stories.

Janet Garber: I find book fairs and readings most enjoyable as I get a chance to speak with the potential readers. Being a guest at a book club meeting is great too because you hear your characters discussed as if they were real people and you learn what readers liked and didn’t like.

Carol Riggs: I personally like/prefer book fairs or festivals over bookstore signings, because they’re more informal. I feel less “on the spot,” and I don’t have to make a microphone presentation. Instead, I can conversationally chat with people who come up to my book table. It feels more like a relationship that way, instead of a “buy my book” spiel. For instance, last summer (as well as this coming summer) I will be participating in the Lane County Fair in Eugene, Oregon, with a book table. Last fall I was also part of the Literacy for Libraries author event in Eugene, and I enjoyed schmoozing with fellow authors and with the crowd who wandered through the building. Sometimes authors can band together and create their own events at libraries and bookstores; it’s less intimidating than going it solo. The purpose of these events aren’t to sell as many books as you can, but rather get to know your readers and get your name out there—that’s an important marketing tip that a seasoned author shared with me.

Jordan Elizabeth: I prefer craft shows and library events.  The crowds are manageable, and as I write young adult, many teenagers and children come with their parents.  Parents and grandparents are also eager to buy gifts.  Because these events are smaller than most conferences, you’re able to have a one-on-one conversation.  You get to really understand what types of books these people read and you can gear them toward the book like might like the best.

DeAnna Knippling: Some people are great salespeople.  I am not.  That’s not some kind of subtle insult or anything.  I’m learning.  But I’ve always found networking more valuable to me than selling per se.  If a sale comes out of it, great.  And I’m not like, “Here’s my business card, call me!”  To me, a face to face event means that people are far more likely to put their hair down and tell me things.  Interesting things.  Gossip.  Rumors.  Scandalous lies!  And I love connecting other people and providing a safe place to talk.  I have a SF/F/H writer group, the Colorado Tesla Writers, that is basically just a Facebook page and a monthly meal for people to hang out and feel like Real Writers(tm) and let our hair down.  That’s it.  I’m not sure what it’s effective at, but people tell me that it is, so I keep doing it.

To wrap up this last segment, I want to thank our panel members for the great writing rules. If you create characters who are not only realistic, but who the readers can identify and empathize with, and if you write with emotion which comes from your soul, you can evoke in your readers and make them care about your characters and your story. And while pacing is important and can be controlled with tension, conflict, action and dialog, most of our author panel don’t consciously write with pacing in mind, but rather it seems to come naturally. Also, we may need to pace ourselves to get the story out, as well as controlling the pacing of the story itself.

It does make sense to offer your books in as many formats as possible, because readers aren’t all the same. Amazon and Smashwords appear to be the favorite for digital publishing and CreateSpace was preferred for print publishing, although I believe they have made some changes and now Amazon is also providing print books as an option, so that may change.

Reviews are an author’s calling card these days, and it seems the best way to get them is to ask, whether in a newsletter, in person, or in the book itself, but it’s best not to be pushy. Genre conventions, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and library events are the preferred face to face events to make connections with readers. 

Well, it’s time to bring our time with our Ask the Authors panel members to a close. I do hope we’ve provided some helpful information and advice for all you authors out there, and maybe even made you smile once or twice. Thank you all for joining us. Be sure to watch for round two, this fall, where we will have several of these panel members back, as well as inviting other authors to join our panel. The best way to be sure not to miss out on this and all the other great content here on Writing to be Read is to sign up for email notification of follow me on WordPress. I hope you all will drop in frequently.

Next Monday, on Writing to be Read, I’ll be interviewing author Mark Shaw, who has optioned his book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, for film. Something all authors dream of and some actually get the opportunity to do. How exciting. We’ll also be talking about his new book, Courage in the Face of Evil, which is to be release in June. Don’t miss it!

I want to extend a big thank you to our panel members, Carol Riggs, Tim Baker, Jordan Elizabeth, DeAnna Knippling, Chris DiBella, Art Rosch, Janet Garber, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili, and Cynthia Vespia. You guys and gals were a great panel and together we created a great Ask the Authors series. I feel it was very successful and I had a lot of fun with it. I hope all of you did, too. Until next time.

 

 


Ask the Authors: Publishing

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We’ve already taken a look at the different publishing arenas in my series Pros and Cons of Traditional vs Independent vs Self-Publishing, so this installment will be a brief discussion on the topic that may repeat some of that information. Some of our panelists here also participated in that series, so if you’d like to take a more in depth look you can visit my interview with Tim Baker, or see what Art Rosch has to say, or discover Jordan Elizabeth‘s take on it, or check it out from the beginning and move on from there.

Regarding the whole publishing thing, DeAnna Knippling: I can’t answer the questions directly (nnnnnn), but if you want, here’s a blanket statement to cover the week’s stuff:

Okay, I’m deadly bored of these kinds of questions.  I know you need to ask them, but I’ve answered them so often that I really don’t have much to say other than, “Do what you want!  Mix it up!  Stir the pot!  Try something new!  Don’t try something new!”  I feel like authors get so wrapped up in “what is the secret trick to making a bajillion dollars?!?” that they stop moving forward on their journeys as writers.  The second you stop learning and growing, you’re dead.  Some of your growth comes in the publishing and marketing areas, that’s true, but writers get obsessed with success over quality, and they burn out or become repetitive cheesemongers.  And then they push forward without learning about copyright and contracts and rights and get screwed over by the people who are supposed to be “helping” them.  It’s nuts.  Read The Copyright Handbook, stop whining about having to write synopses and bios and blurbs, spend some time studying, and read the fine @#$%^&* print.

Some, like DeAnna Knippling, feel this topic is one of many which has been done to death. Of course, it has, because the rise of digital pubishing changed the game for authors and would be authors, restructuring the playing field, so today’s struggling authors may not even be sure of the rules. In today’s publishing world, this is a delimma every author has to face and we’re all looking for answers. Upcoming authors are trying to figure out this whole thing and decide which publishing route is best for them. Published authors whose books aren’t selling as well as they had hoped wonder if they made the right choice and entertain thoughts of going ‘the other way’ next time. Let’s start out this discussion by seeing what kind of mix we have on our panel.

Are you a traditionally published, small press published or self-published author?  

Jordan Elizabeth: I have books out with three small presses: Curiosity Quills, Clean Reads, and CHBB.

Cynthia Vespia: I’m what’s called a hybrid. I’ve been both small press published and now I’m mostly self-published. But the holy grail is always to land a contract with one of the big names in publishing.

Carol Riggs: All three. I have two traditionally published book with Entangled Teen, which is a smaller publisher but a notch above “small press” in my opinion. For example, they distribute with Macmillan, and my debut novel, THE BODY INSTITUTE, was featured in Barnes & Noble stores. THE LYING PLANET is also published by Entangled, while BOTTLED is published via a small press, Clean Reads. Then I’ve self-published two of my five-book series of JUNCTION 2020. I hope to release the third in the series this summer.

Chris Barili: Yes. I am a true hybrid author, with a traditional book sale (small publisher, but traditional) and a self-published series.

Janet Garber: Self Published via Lulu.

Follow-up: Would you talk a little bit about Lulu. How do they measure up as a publishing platform? What services do they offer their authors?

Janet Garber: Researching the different options was confusing. I probably decided on Lulu because I liked the salesman and also I did not find many complaints online at the time. I would not say that my approach was very scientific, but the results were more than satisfactory. I do think there are probably much cheaper options particularly if one is tech-savvy and confident about a DIY approach. I purchased additional service of press release — they basically just took what I wrote. They were supposed to send it out to appropriate outlets, but I was not at all satisfied with the outlets they approached. This was a waste of about $400!  Buyer beware!

They also offer proofreading and editing – I did not feel I needed either but I did invest in a private developmental editor and that was money well spent. As part of the LULU package, they distribute your book. So my novel is available on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Ingram in paperback and ebook.
Margareth Stewart: This sounds quite intriguing for me as I have been published in many forms. I was traditionally published by Chiado Press – with my first book I have divorced, so now what? (Portuguese Edition). I self-published twice as it was taking too long to receive a positive answer from English Publishers. When I had my first novel ready, I did not want to self-publish – I wanted the experience of having someone from an out source to read Open and say: “Ok, let´s publish it” – Open/Pierre´s journey after war by Margareth Stewart was published by Web-e-books at the end of 2017. So from the experience above, nowadays I would say we all want recognition in a certain form. This may come through publishers, agents, readers, amazon – it does not matter – as long as it comes. Writing is an art waiting to being read.
The publishing journey is different for every author. We’ve all heard the sucess stories of a book that got miraculously got picked up by one of the big five and turned into a movie in a whirlwind of activity, and all the author had to do was type out the words. But for most of us, it isn’t that easy. We struggle and climb up from the bottom of the literary barrel, vying for the attention of either publishers or readers, trying to get our books onto the best seller lists, or at least sell well enough to be profitable.
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Many of you may already be familiar with my story. I sold a poem in 1996, when we still submitted via snail mail, but decided it wasn’t profitable for me until the rise of the computer age and digital publishing. I knew I wanted to write, so I landed gigs where ever I could, including the content factories, such as Demand Studios and Examiner.com. I founded an online writng group, I started this blog, Writing to be Read, and I went back to school and got my M.F.A. in Creative Writing. I self-published Last Call as an experiment. After getting several short stories and poems published, last April I found a small press publisher for Delilah, Dusty Saddle Publishing. Since then, I have become a college level English lecturer, and I’m working on increasing my marketing and promotion knowledge in order to promote the sales of my books, because with a small press, that’s pretty much up to the author. We all had to start somewhere. Let’s ask our panel members about their rise to get where they are now.

Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?  

Jordan Elizabeth: I feel as if I have written forever.  It wasn’t until college that I started taking my writing more seriously.  I queried agents until I finally found a home at the Belcastro Agency.  It was a short while after that my friend and fellow author Eliza Tilton introduced me to Curiosity Quills Press.  Another friend and fellow author, Cathrina Constantine, introduced me to CHBB.

Cynthia Vespia: When I was a senior in high school I picked up a copy of Dean Koontz’ Intensity from the library and I was immediately hooked. When I finished reading it, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to pull emotions from people the way Dean Koontz had done for me. (I’ll jump ahead here so I don’t drag on) Flash forward to the completion of my first novel The Crescent. I sent it around to different agencies, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old agent wound up reading it, but nothing panned out. I remember coming very close to a deal with a local publishing house early on in my career but they opted to go another way. But I had a finished book, and I wanted to see what it would look like in print, so I self-published when self-publishing wasn’t cool yet. But that little book has gone on to create some great attention and is in the middle of pre-production for a movie.

My small press experience hasn’t been ideal which is why I’ve gone back to self-publishing. The one thing I will say about my small press journey is it got my series Demon Hunter in front of a lot of people and I wound up being nominated in 2009 for a Best Series award.
Carol Riggs: It took me 11 years, more than 350 rejection letters, and twelve previously written novels until my debut novel was taken on by an agent and sold to Entangled Teen. During those 11 years, I had tons of writing, rewriting, frustration, and refusing to quit going on. The road was rocky even after my debut, THE BODY INSTITUTE, got sold to Strange Chemistry, an imprint of the UK publisher, Angry Robot. Five months before my book was to come out, they closed down Strange Chemistry, and my agent and I had to scurry around and start the whole submission process over again. Pretty tooth-gnashing!

Chris Barili: My first fiction sale was a western short story called “Yellow” that I wrote for my first summer semester of my MFA studies. That story sold to The Western Online that fall, and I only mention it because 13 short story sales later, it remains the starting point for me selling fiction. My novel Smothered (as B.T. Clearwater) was originally my MFA thesis. It was a standalone romance, and I had no plans for it until Winlock Press (part of Permuted Press) held a contest to find books to premier their supernatural romance lineup. I entered and won, so not only did the book go on sale for e-books, but through Permuted’s deal with Simon and Shuster, a limited print run took place, as well, meaning–book signings at Barnes and Noble!

My Hell’s Butcher series of novellas is self-published, and I did that for the simple reason that there just aren’t markets for novellas out there in the traditional world. And since I wanted to try my hand at self-publishing, I decided the series would be my foray into that battle.

Janet Garber:  I researched the different companies online, called a few, and went with Lulu.  I was under a deadline because I wanted to sell my book at a professional conference and Lulu came through, publishing my book in a short five weeks. I was actively involved in proofing very very carefully and am happy to say end result was a fine looking book with a wonderful cover.

Margareth Stewart: I come from Academics which is a hard field to be published and to write something original. Scientific papers are  full of rules. To write a 15-page-article, it is necessary to read around 15,000 words or more, and to process it all with a very unique view. It is a though and painful process. So, when I got into the fiction world – Oh, I thought: “Heaven, I’m in heaven, And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak…”. Difficulties are part of the process. Keep writing and keep reading.

In today’s publishing world, the question of whether to go the traditional route, search out a small press with interest in your book, or to go ahead and self-publish and get your work out there is something every author has pondered at one time or another. Chances are a publisher, either taditional or small press, is not going to come knocking down your door to publish your book. Although there are authors who have had a previously self-published picked up by a publisher, it is not the norm, and although not like it once was, self-published authors may still carry a bit of stigma with publishing houses. Let’s take a look at how our panel members tackled the delimma.

What made you decide to go with traditional/small press/self-publishing?  

Jordan Elizabeth: I was hoping for a traditional publisher, but I’m thankful to my friends who have found me homes with small presses.  It seems to be true what they say about small presses being more family-oriented and helpful.

Cynthia Vespia: I went back to self-publishing because #1 the small press companies I was working with all closed their doors, and #2 because I had a very specific vision in mind for what I wanted to do with Demon Hunter when I got my rights back. But I have a few new ideas in the works that could be very successful mainstream properties, so I’m looking to go back to the traditional publishing route and finally capture that holy grail.

Carol Riggs: I think the traditional publishing makes me feel more accomplished, like my books are of better quality. I know that’s not necessarily the case, but to have professionals rooting for your writing is really reassuring and gratifying to me. For my self-published books, I’m using my JUNCTION 2020 series to grow my newsletter subscription by giving away book 1 as a freebie incentive. Find it on my website at carolriggs.com!

Janet Garber:  I was very impatient to see my book in print and hold it in my hands. So much work had gone into it, years and years of procrastination too, and I wasn’t getting any younger. For these reasons I did not even consider traditional publishers. I still hesitate on going that route because I do not want to wait 2-3 years to see my Paris novel in print, the time to secure an agent and then a publisher.  My first (nonfiction) book was traditionally published by Silver Lining Press, a branch of Barnes & Noble, and that book was brought out very quickly; I did not need an agent since they approached me with the offer to do a book, etc.

In the self-publishing arena, which platforms have you found good to work with? How do you deal with KDP’s exclusivity clause, which states that your work may not appear on any other platform?

Art Rosch: The KDP Select option IS exclusive but operates for 90 days.  There’s an auto-renew function, and if you don’t want to be enslaved by it, make sure that it is not checked.  I tried it for a few cycles.  I had to remove my book from Smashwords and go into the Dashboard to Channel Manager and remove distribution channels like Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc.  In any case, my books didn’t  sell.

I like Smashwords approach and the universality of their formats.  But no one competes with Amazon.  I haven’t published any physical books yet, but I have a bit of change on hand and I think I”ll give it a go.  Everyone has their favorite provider of such services, so there’s plenty of choice.  Publish-on-demand.  I have no demand.  I have a more serious issue, it’s a literary one, a revision of Chapter One of my autobiographical novel.  I don’t care for it at the moment.  A book begun in 1976 and I’m still revising it.  Heh!

 Cynthia Vespia: I use Amazon for ebook and print. I also have my work on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and I’ve used LuLu for some hardcover print because Amazon didn’t have that option at the time. I’ve heard that Draft 2 Digital is the place to have your ebooks as well, but I haven’t looked at it yet.

For the KDP clause what I have been doing is using it for a new release and then not renewing the enrollment. I’d rather have my work in as many spots as possible.

Although you are self-published, do you still long for the esteem of a traditional publisher? Why or why not?

Janet Garber: Since I have published widely in multiple genres and have one book traditionally published, I’m not craving validation from a traditional publisher. The appeal is mainly the feeling that a traditional publisher would sell more of my books and be better equipped to setting up opportunities for promotion (book tours, speaking engagements, etc.) Let’s not forget hybrid publishers – not sure where they fit in.

What are your thoughts on small presses? What are the pros and cons? Do you curse them or sing their praises?

Cynthia Vespia: I’ve worked with a few small presses and TBH it wasn’t ever anything that wowed me in terms of packaging. As a graphic designer I can do my own covers, and there are more than a few freelance editors whom I can hire to polish the manuscript. I never saw being under the label of a small press to be more beneficial to going indie. They just did not have the means to promote my work in a manner any better than I could do myself. Actually, it really tied my hands sometimes because if I wanted to do a sale or bring some physical copies to an event I had to go through the small press as wait. In the indie publishing world you are in charge of it all. I like that freedom of movement. I will say the one good thing about a small press would be if they have the means to get you into a bookstore or a library because most of those retailers frown upon the POD style of print that most indie authors use.

Traditional publishing has always been a tough road, and with the rise of independent publishing, I think it has gotten even tougher. Although the ‘big five’ are still out there, many traditional publishing houses and small presses are finding it hard to stay in the game with the rise of the ebook and digital publishing. Independent bookstores, as well as some of the larger chains of brick and mortar stores have folded in recent years.

According to Author Earnings’ Print vs. Digital Report, independent authors walk away with a bigger piece of the pie, overall, than traditionally published authors. Pair that with the continuous upward struggle to get noticed by traditional publishers, it is no wonder so many authors are publishing independently, even though by doing so they are taking on multiple roles that traditional publishers would cover, such as covers, marketing and promotion, etc… Let’s see if our panel members agree.

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

(First from those in favor of the traditional route): 

Jordan Elizabeth: The best pro I can see for traditional publishing is that you get help with marketing.  They might not hold your hand, but they will give you guidance.  A con is that you don’t make as much off ads as you would if you self-publish.

Carol Riggs: Obviously, an author has more control over writing content and cover art with indie publishing. We can make more money per book, although often a traditional publisher can help market an author, so sometimes more books are sold overall; maybe that evens out, I’m not sure. I do know authors who have done awesomely with both indie and traditional publishing. Which path you take depends on what your needs and goals are. But a definite downside to indie is you do ALL the marketing yourself, and you’d better have or hire a good editor, or quality will suffer and your book’s reception likewise. Authors being in a rush to get their books out before they’re ready gives indie publishing a bad name. Editing and polishing are essential.

(Now let’s here from the independent publishing fans):

Cynthia Vespia: There’s a lot of pros to indie publishing. As I said, you have complete control over your own work. It allows books that might never see the light of day get out to readers who enjoy the story. On the other hand, that’s the same con. There are so many people out there writing books now, and they aren’t taking the time to polish them before they get published so you get a lot of, dare I say “garage sale junk” out there. Writing is a business like anything else. You have to take the time to learn everything about it from the craft of writing, to presentation, to marketing. And that isn’t strictly for indie authors either. If you get traditional or small press published you still need to be your biggest fan to get your work out there. In a sea of books yours needs to stand out.

(And from those who have dipped into both publishing arenas):

Chris Barili: Indy publishing is great if you want control, want higher royalty cuts, and don’t like the “gatekeeper” system, but it is a LOT of work. And money. I spend between $500 and $600 publishing each Hell’s Butcher novella. That’s money I’ll never get back, as they are very  unlikely to round up a big enough audience on their own. And as an Indy author, all that marketing, publicity, and so forth — that’s on you. And I suck at it.

The traditional route costs you little or nothing out of pocket, but you give up some control, and of course it takes a MUCH longer time. I was fortunate with Winlock , as they got my e-books out in 3 months. Paperbacks a year later. A traditional publisher would take 18 – 24 months. Self-publishing about a month, probably.

Janet Garber: Pros: [With the traditional route] many people are involved in evaluating your book, making developmental suggestions and edits; these people are very savvy about the publishing world and what appeals to readers; the publishers hopefully undertake some degree of marketing for you or at least guide you to getting best bang for your book in terms of marketing dollars spent.

Cons: effort required to send queries to agents and wait-wait-wait for a positive response; possibility that agent or publisher could change their minds about publishing your book after you’ve invested a lot of time on pleasing them; need to do multiple rewrites and revisions that may alter what you wanted to say and how you wanted to say it.

It seems each publishing avenue has its advantages and disadvantages. Traditionl publishing is a tough road to travel, but it carries the advantages of having available editors, cover artists and media coverage, as well as possible prestige in some areas. While it may be at least a little bit easier to get noticed by a small independent press, the advantages are neglible, depending on the press. While some provide editing and cover artists, others don’t even do that. Most will provide some marketing and promotion, but even that isn’t guarunteed, and you may have to give up control over your work. In self publishing, you maintain control of your work, but you also have to hire out for editing and cover artists, and take on the role of marketer or pay to have it done, as well.

Whether you choose to seek out and strive for a traditional publisher, aim your efforts toward small presses, or do it all yourself to get your work out there and maintain control over it, we all have to find ways to make our writing stand out amongst a diluge of other writers and authors. Most of that must come from craft, but choosing the right cover image and giving your book a killer title help, too. But no one will ever pick up yoru book and read it unless they know it’s there, so marketing and promotion are a bigger here. We have a segment coming in about three weeks on that topic, but for now be sure and drop by next Monday, when we’ll be talking about the differences in genres.

If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.

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Looking Back on 2017

Looking Back

Every year at this time I look back and so a review of what was published on Writing to be Read and my writing life. 2017 has been pretty eventful for both me and Writing to be Read, so this year I’m particularly excited about this look back. But, I’m also excited to get out my crystal ball and warm up my psychic abilities as we take a look forward that comes as we start the new year, because I think there may be some exciting things in store.

There were so many things that happened for me in 2017. In April, my western novel, Delilah was published by Dusty Saddle Publishing, which of course, is exciting. Delilah hasn’t done too bad on sales, but it didn’t make the best seller list. It has received some really excellent reviews, and is rated with four stars on Amazon. Although it may not be a huge success, for me it was a hard earned accomplishment, but the reward came the day I received my first royalty check. Yep, I’ve got royalties. Isn’t that the final proof that I’m a writer, at last?

Delilah and Horse Web Cover

I do have folks inquiring about a second novel, and for those who are wondering, Book 2 is in the working. My crystal ball tells me that it will be published sometime in the coming year, only this book, I may publish myself and skip the publisher as middle man. I’m having a time getting the sales data, and what I do have makes it appears as if what sales I do have, have been the results of my own marketing efforts, so I’m not seeing the benefit of sharing my royalties with a publisher, when I can do about everything they have done for me.  In addition, mid-year the rather generic cover the publisher provided for the book was replaced by a cover that fits the story better, done for me by Sonoran Dawn Studios, which I am much happier with.

The Collapsar DirectiveIn addition I had two short stories published in 2017 by Zombie Pirates Publishing. The first, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” came out on August 1, in their science fiction anthology The Collapsar Directive. The story is a futuristic dystopian tale with just a touch of humor, in a world where productivity is high, but you’re only allowed to be happy on the weekend. Relationship Add Vice

The second story, “The Devil Made Her Do It”, just came out the 15th of this month in their Crime Romance anthology, Relationship Add Vice. It’s a tale about the crazy things we do for love and a girl, Betty Lou Dutton, who leaves hereself open to be taken advantage of and ends up taking the rap. My fortune telling abilities see Zombie Pirates in my future for the coming year, as well. I submitted a little flash fiction story for consideration in their Full Metal Horror anthology. Wish me luck.

The really big thing that happened for me in 2017, or at least I think it’s big, is a landed an adjunct position teaching ENG102:Academic Writing at Western State Colorado University, my Alma Mater. Let me tell you, it has been a crazy ride. I got the position due to a last minute opening, when a scheduled lecturer was unable to teach for health reasons, which was unfortunate for the scheduled lecturer, but very fortunate for me. We got it all figured out and I was hired five days before classes started, so that’s how long I had to restructure both classes to be hybrid classes and figure out how to teach a method of writing I knew nothing about. It was a rocky start, and to be honest, I think I confused many of my students at first, because I was unsure myself, but as the semester moved forward, I gained more solid footing in the classroom, and the students began to figure it out, too. I have now successfully made it through a whole semester, teaching two hybrid courses and it feels great. I know I can do it and I have some experience teaching in a University setting, so I know there will be more teaching jobs in the coming year. My crystal ball is a little blurry in this area, but I know last minute stuff happens all the time, so who knows? Maybe I’ll end up back at Western.

teacher-owl clip-art

As for Writing to be Read, I’ve had an exciting year there, too. At the beginning of the year, I my friend Robin Conley helped me do a total overhaul of the site, and in August my friend DL Mullan of Sonoran Dawn Studios helped to redesign it. The results are what you see here now, but they were a long time in coming. I’ve added my website right here on the blog and you can reach the different sections by clicking on the tabs across the top to learn about my published poetry and fiction, my westerns, my Playground for the Gods series, or Write it Right Editing. Writing to be Read also gained some great talent in 2017, Robin Conley with her Weekly and Monthly Writing Memos, and Jeff Bowles with his Pep Talks and his God Complex posts, and I am thankful for benefit of their content for the short time they were with me. Unfortunately, life carries folks in different directions and both of these fine writers are no longer able to share their expertise and wisdom with us and I don’t foresee them rejoining us in 2017.

red-quill

What my crystal ball does show me, is that Writing to be Read has grown in readership over the past year, and I feel it is due to the great and consistant content posted not only by myself, but by Robin and Jeff, as well. Most recently, the content has been almost non-existant, because I’ve had to focus on the classroom and I’ve discovered grading essays takes a lot of time. I don’t think the drop in content from losing my team members or from my not having the time to devote that I should have hurt my numbers yet, but I do foresee such a possibility if the lack of content continues.

In this realm, my crystal ball shows me something very interesting. I see new members of the Writing to be Read team and really great content in the coming year. In fact, a call for action is going out with this post, right now. If you are a writer who feels you might have something to contribute and you’d like to be on the Writing to be Read team, I want to hear from you. Shoot me an email at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com telling me what type of contribution you would like to make and how often you’d like to make it. I’m pretty flexible, so let’s talk.

In years past, I have given a rundown of all the posts throughout the year and which were viewed the most or which got the highest numbers of comments or likes, however that makes for a very lengthy, boring post, so this year I’m only giving you the most interesting facts. For instance, over the past year Writing to be Read has had viewers from the across the globe. The highest number of views coming from U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, India and Mexico. It’s top referrer is Facebook, which doesn’t really make me happy, since I’m kind of peeved at Facebook at the moment, but I’ll take my viewers wherever I can get them.

The month to receive the most views was July, with my interview with writer, poet and cover designer Dawn Leslie Mullan being the hightest viewed post. Next up was a “Pep Talk” from Jeff Bowles, “I Think We Need a Break”, and third highest was my post, “An Adventure in Social Media Marketing“. The post that received the most viewed over the whole year was my post titled, “How Do You Measure Success?” which I wrote after signing the contract for Delilah. The second highest views overall were received by “Ah! Sweet Rejection“, which I wrote, oddly enough, after recieving a rejection for Delilah. The third highest was Robin Conley’s “Weekly Writing Memo: Word Choice is Everything“.

Looking ahead to 2018, my crystal ball says it’s going to be a good year. I hope it’s right. I guess only time will tell. So until then…

Happy New Year

 

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Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 6): Interview with author Chris Barili

Barili and Books

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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Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 4): Interview with author Tim Baker

Blindogg Books

So far, in this Book Marketing – What Works? series, we’ve heard from speculative fiction author Cynthia Vespia in Part 1, who does all of her own marketing; taken a look at Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd’s online marketing strategies in Part 2; and glimpsed the value of paid advertising with YA author Jordan Elizabeth in Part 3, whose street team was pivotal in getting reviews for her books. This week, we’ll take a look at branding with an author who has developed a brand of his own for his books, Tim Baker.

Tim and I have been acquainted for several years now. He’s a talented writer, whose books are fun and entertaining. I’ve reviewed most of his books at one time or another: Water Hazard, No Good Deed, Backseat to Justice, Full Circle, Pump It Up, Living the Dream, Eyewitness Blues, and Unfinished BusinessTim also weighed in on my Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing series, where he heralded the advantages of self-publishing. Today he’ll talk a little about branding and about the effectiveness of free promotions.

Kaye: How long have you been writing and publishing your own books?

Tim: My first seven books were published by small press publishers. I decided to publish under my own brand (Blindogg Books) with the release of Full Circle in 2015. Since then I have released one other novel (Blood in the Water) and a collection of short stories (Path of a Bullet).

Kaye: You talk about creating your own brand. Of course, I knew about BlindoggBooks, but we hear about brands all the time. Can you elaborate and explain what it takes to create a brand, and what the advantages are with having your own brand?

Tim: I doubt that the way I created my brand is textbook, but here it is…

At some point between my first and second novel I thought it would be a good idea to have a website. My first attempt was rudimentary at best, but it served the purpose.

While creating it I decided I didn’t want to use my name as the headline. Several years earlier I had doodled an image of a dog wearing dark glasses (a blind dog – more on that story can be found here – https://blindoggbooks.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/is-your-dog-really-blind/ ). So from that point forward Blindogg Books became my brand name…the next step was getting it out there.

I put the doodle on everything…my website, my facebook page all of my social media accounts, book marks, and all sorts of paraphernalia which I would give away at signings and anywhere else I could.

Before long my blind dog was very popular and people recognized it – which I think is the desired result – right?!

As far as advantages, I guess I subconsciously followed the lead of many big name companies who have a recognizable logo. People may not always remember my name, but they always remember the blind dog!

As I’ve said before, my marketing tactics are strictly “learn as I go” – and so far it’s working for me, so I’ll just keep plugging along. I tweek things here and there, but I don’t see myself getting rid of my brand name.

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

Tim: There were two main reasons: Cost and Control.

Using a small press publisher is not free…and it’s usually not cheap. The cost of buying a batch of ISBNs and paying somebody to format the book for kindle and paperback saves me hundreds of dollars with each release.

Self publishing (I actually prefer the term independent publishing) also allows me to have much more control over when my book is released, etc.

Kaye: How many books have you published to date?

Tim: Nobody told me there would be math in this interview!!

So far I have published nine novels, one collection of short stories and two novellas. My tenth novel (24 Minutes) is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2017.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer today?

Tim: This is a tricky question, because it will vary from writer to writer…JK Rowlings’ biggest challenge is probably how to spend her money, while mine is trying to find enough time to write, publish and market my books while working a full time job and trying to have a social life.

Kaye: You’ve come up with some great titles. How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the process for you?

Tim: I try to pick a title that does a few things at once…I want it to intrigue the potential reader (very important), I want it to fit the story without giving too much away, and I want it to be catchy. It isn’t always easy, and I usually go through more than one idea. The final title will usually come to me when I’m nearly done with the first draft – although there have been a couple of books where I had the title before I started writing (Full Circle and Backseat to Justice).

Kaye: Do you do any kind of free promotions, where you offer your books for free? If so, how does that work for you?

Tim: Yes. I often offer titles for free download (usually around the release of a new title in order to stimulate a little buzz for the new one) and they always work extremely well. I do giveaways on Goodreads, which also helps to get my name out there. I also give away paperbacks quite frequently. For the amount of money a paperback costs me (usually around $4) I find it’s highly effective to give one to a new reader…it almost always leads them to purchase other titles. We all know the value of word-of-mouth advertising, and giving somebody a free book (which, hopefully, they will enjoy) is a great way to get some. Of course it is much easier for me to give books away now that I have 13 titles under my belt. Back in the day, when I only had two or three, I didn’t feel as though it was as beneficial since I had to give away one book in order to get people to (possibly) buy the other two.

Kaye: Do you participate in KDP Select on Amazon? Do you feel this program is conducive to selling books?

Tim: Yes, I do. As to whether it is conducive to selling books, I really don’t know. KDP allows you to do giveaways, so in that respect the answer would be yes. However, once you sign on to KDP you agree not to sell your books on any other venues (other than live book signings and such) which is somewhat counterproductive as far as selling a larger quantity of books. In all honesty, even though I’ve been selling books for nearly ten years, I still don’t know what works best. If I did I’d have a yacht by now!

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

Tim: I don’t think there is one method or specific act that works best…I believe the best marketing tactic is to be consistent, relentless and tenacious. Marketing (to me) isn’t a part time job – it’s a non-stop effort. I often tell people that for every hour I spend writing, I usually put in three or four marketing. This could involve anything from social media posts to handing out bookmarks. I’ve tried a thousand different things and it isn’t one or two of them that made a difference, it was the continual act of doing it.

Kaye: How much work do you contract out? Book Covers? Editing? Marketing? Etc…?

Tim: I contract editing, formatting and cover art. Marketing I do myself, because I have yet to find a so-called marketing expert who will either charge me based on the level of success of their campaign (e.g. work on commission) or give me some sort of a guarantee before I pay them. If you send me an email stating you are the latest and greatest book marketer – I think you ought to back it up, rather than back-pedal with inane statements like “Well, there are no guarantees in marketing.”

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

Tim: I always contract it out, and for the most part I use one particular artist (I call her my cover girl!) I will gladly give her contact info to anybody interested.

Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Tim: I would;

  1. Quit my day job
  2. Buy a yacht
  3. Write more books
  4. Donate large sums of money to organizations that support human rights and animal rights
  5. Hire the surviving members of Led Zeppelin to play at my next birthday party.

(in that order!)

Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?

Tim: Interesting question…After careful consideration I’d have to say that the most unusual thing I’ve done as a writer happened when I was writing my sixth novel, Unfinished Business. Research is part of an author’s life, to varying degrees, and my research for Unfinished Business was a bit unusual. The book is about a woman named Meg, a mortician who somehow inherits the task of carrying out the last thoughts of the bodies she embalms. In order to make the book as true to life as possible I interviewed a mortician friend of mine (whose name also happens to be Meg – coincidence? You decide!). So for over three hours I asked questions and learned more than I ever thought I would want to know about the preparation of corpses for funerals, and the life of a mortician.

I’d call that unusual and unique!

I want to thank Tim for joining us today to share his experiences and marketing advice. If  you’d like to know more about Tim Baker or his books, check out his blindoggbooks blog, or visit his website, or his Goodreads author page. You can also find him on his Facebook Fan Page or Twitter: @blindoggbooks. Watch for my review of Tim’s latest book, 24 Minutes, which will be out the end of October or early November.

I hope you’ll join us next week, when we talk with romance author Amy Cecil, who launches her marketing strategies on social media and uses a P.A. and a street team in Part 5 of Book Marketing – What Works?.

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