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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Interview with James Price, Founder of The Author Market

The Author Market

This won’t be the first time I’ve expounded on the many hats an author must wear. With traditional publishing, an author received an advance for turning in a manuscript. Then, the publisher took over, providing editing and cover art to create a finished product. Then, they developed promotional advertising and marketed your book, and with luck and some talent, the author could sit back, write another book, and collect royalty checks down the road. Okay, let’s be honest, the author might have been required to participate in the marketing through tours featuring readings and signings, but it was all set up by the publishers.

Not so today. With the rise of digital publishing, it’s easier than ever to publish your own book, changing the look of the publishing industry. Even traditionally published authors may be responsible for more and more of the promotion and marketing for their books, while advances may be less and less. This only serves to make self-publishing look like a more appealing alternative. Think about it. Why go through the whole submission process time and time again, suffering countless rejections, if your going to have to do all the work of promotion yourself anyway?

Self-publishing is on the rise, and anyone who wants to has the ability to publish a book. As I’ve pointed out before, this leads to a lot of want to be writers, who just throw stuff out there, without the gate keepers of traditional publishing to ensure a quality finished product.

As I’ve also pointed out, this often makes it difficult for authors to get good honest reviews when a book is riddled with typos and grammatical errors, which it goes to follow, also effects sales. That’s why I’ve teamed up to offer my editing services on The Author Market, where authors can go to ensure a quality product, and find assistance with all of those non-writing chores an author has to do these days. The Author Market teams up with service providers to offer authors editing, proofreading, and cover design, or they can publish the book for you, as well. It’s even possible to get assistance with marketing and promotion, through the personal assistants available on the site.

As a freelance editor and proofreader, I offer my services through The Author Market, as well as here on this site. You’ll also find services available from our Monthly Memo writer, Robin Conley and an author I interviewed recently, DeAnna Knippling , who are both talented authors and skilled editors. The Author Market has a cool referral program, too, which we’ll hear more about in just a bit.

Here today to tell us a little bit more about how The Author Market works is the owner and founder, James Price. Please join me in welcoming him to Writing to be Read.

Kaye: Tell me about James Price. What writing and publishing experience do you have under your belt?

James: Well I am a father of 6 with one on the way, yes I do know where they come from ha-ha.

I am an author, however I don’t tell anyone my pen name. I currently work 3 jobs, during the day I work as an aircraft mechanic, and at night I promote author service providers, and I am also a service provider. I have been working in publishing and author services for around three years, I own The Author Market, Aep Book Covers, as well as Nazzaro and Price Publishing. I personally have published and helped publish around 300 different titles, and have made an ungodly amount of covers over the past three years.

Initially it wasn’t me who got me into author services or even writing. It was my wife. She has been my inspiration for everything, and honestly I would have never even tried if it wasn’t for her. We got into this business, mainly because we couldn’t afford author services, mainly cover artist. Since my wife is a technical editor she pretty much handled everything herself, except for art. One day she looked at me designing a program in visual basic, and told me to get Photoshop and try making covers myself for her. Of course past experience of Photoshop made me angry so I fought her on the subject until I got tired of paying for artist. It wasn’t until then that I found what I truly enjoy that was work related.

Kaye: What inspired you to create The Author Market?

James: I created The Author Market because of the hardships that come with being an author, and even more so as an author service provider. It is frowned upon for service providers to post in author groups, or even to try to sell their services anywhere. We are usually ignored, and it is extremely hard for up and coming service providers to get a start. We constantly fight to get in the spotlight, and most of the time we end up giving up long before we are discovered. Personally it took me what felt like a lifetime of trying to get where I personally am, and if my wife didn’t constantly write, or my customers didn’t come back I would have quit a long time ago. So, I created The Author Market. A place where anyone can sell their wares/services, and a place that makes it far to easy to comment go to The Author Market! I wanted a place where an author can find any service they can to be successful! I’ve also created a refer and earn program for anyone to be apart of. That way if a cover artist who isn’t making any sales sees a FB post looking for editors, they can make income off of saying go to The Author Market. I figured why not. We all have our favorites, get them signed up and then every time you refer them (which you’re going to anyways) you make money!

Kaye: What services does The Author Market offer?

James: Personally, I sell my own services there, and I am a cover artist, formatter, web designer and gosh so many other things. The Author Market, however sells anyone’s services, we have Editors, Proofreaders, Trailer Designers, Cover Artist, Personal Assistants, and we are always looking for more new and exciting services to offer.

Kaye: Say an author chooses to have The Author Market publish their book. What platforms do you publish on? What is your accountability to the author?

James: If an author publishes with The Author Market, we will publish on Kobo, Barnes and Nobles, Create space, Amazon, Smash words, IBook’s, and any that the author wants us to.

Our accountability to the author, is as such.: By the tenth of each month we will send out royalties from previous months (whichever comes in for that author) and sales reports from the previous month. We WILL NOT gouge our clients, LIE to our clients, or STEAL from our clients. I wanted a one stop publishing platform for authors, that they can trust. Today there are a lot of publishing companies that force authors into ungodly contracts, with extremely high rates, and with no way out. I wanted a place that an author can go to that will make them happy, without taking advantage of their creativity.

Authors are being taken advantage of by these fly by night companies, and I wanted a place that was different. To publish with us all you do is get it ready for eBook and print. That includes, cover art, formatting, editing if you choose to do so. Send it to us and we will publish it. If you are not satisfied it cost $20.00 and we will remove your books from the platforms. Our price for publishing with us is 10% of royalties on print and eBook. We also will offer the author their book in print at cost plus $1.00 per book plus shipping and handling. We are not like the other companies who sell the author their own book for list price. That is just crazy!

Kaye: Would you like to talk about the Refer and Earn program offered by The Author Market?

James: Well our refer and earn program is simple. We sell other service providers services, at the point of a sale, we retain 15% of that sale. We then take that 15% and determine who it goes to. If someone refers a service provider to The Author Market, they will receive 25% (of The Author Market‘s Commission) of everything that provider sells through us. If they refer a customer to The Author Market they will receive 50% of (of The Author Market’s Commission). If you refer a customer to a service provider that you got to sign up at The Author Market then you will receive 75% (of The Author Market‘s Commission) of that sale. That way you have a reason to continue to promote your service providers, and get them meaningful work!

Kaye: The Author Market also has a cover art contest to show appreciation for your great cover artists. Would like to talk about that a little?

James: Our Cover Artist appreciation month is in September. We are giving away two prizes. One prize goes to the artist of the winning cover, and one to the author of that cover. This time we are giving away $150.00 to the winning artist, and $50.00 to the author of that cover. We want to give back to those who work hard in the background, but still want to give the author incentive to want to get them in the contest. Our service providers need appreciation and The Author Market will continue to do prizes, for all of our service providers! We love them all and want them to continue even when times are tough!

I want to thank James for joining us today. The Author Market makes it easy and convenient for authors to be sure they’re producing the best possible book they can through editing, proofreading and cover design. Their personal assistants offer help in getting the word out, and they will partner in publishing your book, if you like. And for freelance service providers, it offers a place to hang your shingle. They have a great referral program, so after reading this, if you decide to sign up as an author or a service provider, be sure to mention this post on Writing to be Read. Happy writing!

 

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Jeff’s God Complex

Image result for writing truth

Nonfiction as Catharsis

So I’ve been trying to decide what my next major writing project will be, and my mind keeps circling back to the last couple years of my life. I’ve had a crazy run of things recently, and like any writer worth his salt, I’d like to capture these events.

Primarily I’m a fiction writer. I could probably disguise all this stuff and get a halfway decent novel out of it, but something’s telling me the true circumstances need the kind of veracity one can only achieve through nonfiction.

It seems to me many short story writers and novelists shy away from nonfiction. Perhaps the truth hits them too close to home, or more likely, it’s out of  their purview. Which is fine of course. Nonfiction sells to a completely different segment of readers, different publishers, different literary agents. It may not make sense for an author to skew into a different genre altogether. In fact, some might see it as a waste of time.

But there is one thing nonfiction has on your average novel or short story, an element of the art form that has nothing to do with craft or overall viability. Not everyone deals with incredible, tragic, surprising, or uplifting events in their lives. Some people are born to breeze through this existence, though perhaps these people are fewer and farther between than we might otherwise surmise.

For the rest of us—for those with the linguistic and artistic capability to do something about it anyway—telling our personal stories can be extraordinarily cathartic. After all, psychologists have long advocated journaling as a means of self-healing. Writing about the key events which have shaped us can be both uplifting and enlightening, and it can help us make sense of an otherwise threatening or chaotic world.

Some might argue that the leap from journaling to penning an entire memoir leaves quite a bit to be desired. Only authors think this way, I suppose: “Well something terrible happened to me today. Guess I better write it down and try to sell it.”

The truth of course is that one needn’t publish such material in order for it to be of benefit. Good stories exist everywhere, and the will to look at yourself and your life unflinchingly is a skill more people should cultivate. I can only speak for myself and my recent history, but if I never told my own story, if it just receded into the background of my mind, only to resurrect itself in moments of repose and contemplation years later, I know I’d be doing myself a disservice.

The world of creative nonfiction is wide. Write about societal injustice, pop culture, the plights of your friends and neighbors. Tell stories that reduce the global perspective to something more personal, and in so doing, help us understand ourselves better.

Or, conversely, write about things only you know. Consider it an act of good will if nothing else. You’re doing this for yourself, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. Recognize, however, that you may uncover things you’d have otherwise preferred hidden. Know Thyself; is there anything scarier? Is it perhaps more dangerous to remain ignorant? If you’re so inclined, only time will tell.

Contained in every human life is the seed of expansion. We are not static beings, but nor are we entirely free to pursue our futures unhindered. Rather, many of us (if not most of us) find ourselves chained to our pasts. If I were to actually sit and pay attention to my thought processes throughout a single day, I’d likely discover I think about my past way too much. I’d likely also discover I tend to dwell on all the negatives, all my mistakes. Truly, we can never go home again, so why is it my mind is hell bent on constantly reminding me off all the crap I’ve done?

The truth is most of us don’t want to forget. We feel this unconscious pull to relive and recycle, even when it means the here and now is distant and vague by comparison. Perhaps we do so because we worship our identities, the classic psychological concept of the “ego.” These otherwise random events, if they were fully revealed to us, they’d make a mess of our flawed and often one-sided self-conceptualization. Recollecting rather than looking forward is commonly a hindrance, especially when all you’re really doing is reopening old wounds. I think this is me more often than not, though I have no way of knowing if it is also you. Imagine getting your story out, putting it down on paper, reading it, understanding that past is past and that there are certain things you don’t need to hold onto anymore.

Now extend your imagination a bit further. What would happen if you recognized your story could help others, too? Maybe you’ve learned from your experiences. Perhaps you could help prevent others from falling into the same pitfalls as you.

All of this is not to suggest everyone needs to write a memoir and sell it. You might say, “But, Jeff, my story just isn’t interesting enough. And anyway, it’s nobody’s business but mine.”

Which is fair enough. Some might also suggest attempting to profit from personal struggle is the opposite of altruism, and in fact, borders on exhibitionism. This attitude, it seems to me, comports with a general unease and discomfort with getting too close to the truth, which is another way of saying digging down deep on a personal level makes some people squeamish.

My writing mantra has always been if it’s worth writing, it’s worth reading. Write your story under a pseudonym, or in a pinch, write the damn thing and then bury it in your sock drawer. But as you’re doing so, do me a favor and look inward. Notice how you feel different, perhaps a bit freer. Recognize that in telling your story, you’ve performed a neat bit of alchemy. Maybe we can’t turn lead into gold, but through nonfiction, we can transmute pain and tragedy and allow them to release us.

If all else fails, write because your story is both unique and universal. I mean this. If in a hundred years all that could be said of us is that we strove to understand ourselves, that in itself would be a minor miracle. Don’t be afraid to quest. Maybe the answers you’re looking for can help your readers, too. Anything and everything is possible, right?


Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruceshttps://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jeffryanbowles

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Bowles/e/B01L7GXCU0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=14794534940


The Pep Talk – I Think We Need a Break

face

Every month in this space, author Jeff Bowles offers advice for young and struggling writers. No one ever said becoming a first-rate storyteller is easy. This is the Pep Talk.

So let’s assume you’re a dedicated writer. Or at least you want to be, which is why you’ve decided to come back to your craft after months or even years of not writing a single word. Perhaps life got in the way. Maybe you got married, had kids, made the choice to focus on your family and career first. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? We all have the ability to pursue our dreams whole-heartedly or to lay them aside when more important things come along.

The truth is you’re not alone. Almost by definition, writing is a solitary and thankless job. Becoming motivated and staying that way can be tough, and if you’ve got other responsibilities and obligations in your life—and all of us have—setting aside time for yourself and your work can be a huge chore.

Several years ago, I was feeling the crunch in just this way. I’d gotten married, had bought a new home, and I was working a job that was financially stable but not personally gratifying in any way, shape or form. Many days I’d pick at one of my short stories over my cafeteria lunch, praying for the day I could dedicate myself to my writing and leave the confines of corporate America for good.

It’s often been noted that many great authors throughout history have had to suffer dead-end jobs on their way to literary nirvana. Writing is a for-passion proposition for the vast majority of us. We do it because we are compelled.

But what happens when you aren’t feeling compelled? What happens when all your desire dries up and the thought of putting words on the page fills you with dread? Further, what happens after you’ve already taken a long break? Is it possible to pick up where you left off?

Of course it is. Momentum is momentum, and when people pursue their dreams with everything they’ve got, the universe conspires to bring their stars into alignment. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re tired. Most writers I know have come to that place at least once or twice in their careers. When I was just starting to learn the craft, it seemed to happen to me at least once a week.

“I’m never writing another word! These people don’t appreciate my talent, and anyway, I’d much rather pursue things that aren’t so damn frustrating!”

So maybe you grumble and walk away from your computer and promise yourself you’ll never tell another story as long as you live. Your intentions here don’t actually matter that much, because like smoking or eating premium New York-style pizza, writing has a way of getting under your skin.

In truth, when we come to the point of extreme frustration, of no forward momentum, often the best thing we can do for ourselves is offer a little humility and compassion and allow the work to falter. This might not be a popular perspective, but from a holistic standpoint, it’s the correct one. Frustration in a creative field signals burnout, which is most often caused by internal factors like unrealistic expectations and uncontrolled anxiety. When you add publishing contracts and money into the mix—as all of us one day desire to do—it can make matters worse.

The good news is that the human animal is ever changing. No really, that’s the good news. We are not static beings. You never know who you’re going to be from one day to the next, let alone one month, year, or decade to the next. Imagine your surprise when after a long hiatus you discover you still like writing. What’s more, you’re not the same person now, and your work seems to reflect this new maturity. Hell, sometimes we just run out of ideas and need some distance in order recharge the batteries, right?

Some will tell you stopping is the worst thing you can do. A rolling stone gathers no moss. I might have done so myself a few years ago when I was stuck at that crappy job. I’d have been wrong, though. The intellect and creative mind are not eternal well-springs. They do not flow on command at all times, and they can run dry when pushed too hard.

Here’s a little test for you. Tell me the last piece of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry you wrote to completion. Was it difficult to finish? I mean, more so than usual (let’s be honest, writing is seldom easy—if it were, everyone would do it). Did you find thoughts and ideas hard to come by? Did the notion of hauling yourself to the computer one more damn time make a compelling case for alcoholism?

See, we come to these brick walls precisely because the act of creating meaning and order from abstract symbols (or writing, in the common tongue) is not a natural fit for our freeform, emotional minds. Given the choice, we’d spend our lives daydreaming—many of us do anyway. We come to this craft with the highest of hopes, our expectations completely untempered, like a piece of nascent steel. Time separates the tourists from the devout. Disappointment is the rule rather than the exception. Is it any wonder we need to hit the brakes sometimes?

Here’s what I’d like you to do the rest of the day. Don’t write, even if you were expecting to. Rather, choose an activity that’s bound to depress you. Count up all your rejection letters, read something you wrote five years ago, look up your publishing stats, and yes my friends, read them and weep. Stop telling yourself you’ve almost made it, just one more story, just one lucky break. This is a trust experiment, gut-check time. Have you chosen this craft because it will make you famous? Are you more interested in seeing your name in print than in revising a single piece of fiction until your fingers bleed?

You are more interested in that? Well you’re the strange one, aren’t you? Everybody knows writing is never thankless, is always a laugh riot, and makes you feel good every single day of your otherwise bleak life.

Writing sucks sometimes, people! It just does. We all know it, and if we’re ever going to get anywhere, we need to make peace with it sooner or later. You need to realize this is a long game. I mean a looooooong game. You will get burned out, probably more than once. You will feel the need to quit, and you might even hate yourself because you gave up better opportunities along the way.

Be kind to yourself, please. You aren’t alone. You’re a writer because you can’t quit. It isn’t in your DNA. You should be more trusting; have some damn faith. And I think it’s a beautiful thing, admitting you’re helpless in the face of your need to tell stories. Taking a break is not giving up, it’s just taking a break. You may notice when at last you return that your skills have atrophied somewhat, that you’re a bit rustier than you’d like. That’s okay. You had to start somewhere way back when, and really, nobody forgets how to write.

Jump start that mind, warm up with some finger exercises, write a piece of flash fiction to get the ball rolling, but know that your choice to rest up was made in service to yourself. Let’s just call it an act of love. After all, you know yourself best. You’re not a machine, as much as you’d like to be.

It’s a mind game sometimes. It’s a battle of will. But one does not cease to be a writer just because one ceases writing. We are who we are, enjoy what we enjoy, are passionate about that which nourishes our souls and allows us to feel free.

Far from feeling free, do you feel like your writing has become a prison? Then take some time off, dudes and dudettes! That’s an order! Sheesh!

Until next time, folks.


Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruceshttps://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F

Twitter: @JeffBowlesLives

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jeffryanbowles

YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Bowles/e/B01L7GXCU0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=14794534940


Interview with Author Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil

I’m happy today to be interviewing Amy Cecil, author of the Knights of Silence MC romance series, as a part of her blog tour surrounding the release of Book 2 in the series, Ice on Fire. (See my four quill review of Ice on Fire.) Amy is married, and she and her husband have three dogs and a horse. She is also the self-published author of four novels. She writes both historical and contemporary romance.

Kaye: Your new release, Ice on Fire, is the second book in your Knights of Silence MC Would you like to tell us about the contemporary romance series, and how Ice on Fire fits into it?

Amy: The Knights of Silence MC series is my pride and joy.  It is my first attempt to write my own characters, develop them and subsequently fall in love with them.  And, it’s in a genre that is totally different than what I started in. It has been a challenge for me and the result is a product that is all my own. That makes me a very proud writer. The series right now is going to consist of four books, but who knows, that may change.  Ice, the first in the series was published in September.  I am currently working on book 3 in the series, Celtic Dragon, and I am hoping on a spring 2018 release.

Kaye: You wrote your first novel in thirty days and went on to be a two time NaNoWriMo winner, in 2015 and 2016, where contestants are challenged to write a novel in a month’s time. What is the secret to writing a novel length work in thirty days?

Amy: NaNoWriMo requires 50,000 words in 30 days to win.  That’s seems pretty tough to do, but if you break it down, it’s not so bad. I divide the 50,000 by 30 and come up with my daily goal.  It’s 1,666 words a day.  Doesn’t sound so overwhelming when you break it down.  And then the hard part is to adhere to that goal.  Some days I will write more, other days I will write less, but by the 15th of the month, you can bet I will make sure there is 25,000 words written and that I am on track.  And then periodically throughout the month, I make sure I am still on track.  NaNoWriMo does this for you and it is really helpful.

Kaye: Today many independent or small press authors are using what are called street teams to spread the word about their books. Could you explain what your street team does and how you go about building a street team?

Amy: When I first started writing, I never knew what a street team was, until my PA’s Alicia Freeman and Michelle Cates told me I needed one.  These girls are amazing and built my team to over 400 members in just a few months.  This is where I can talk with my fans and actually let them share in the writing process.  They have not only shared my books and teasers, they have contributed in many ways to my books.  They are a great group to bounce ideas off of and they are always there to support me when I am doing an author takeover event.  I’d be lost without them.

Kaye: What are some of the differences between writing historical romance and contemporary romance?

Amy: From a writer’s perspective, the biggest difference is how they talk.  Historical romance is more formal, more polite.  Things are very proper and liberties are not common.  Contemporary is more relaxed and casual.  They are less formal in the way they speak and you can use contractions.  That’s a big no no in historical writing.  Also, you can take liberties with your characters that you would normally have to be careful within a historical romance.  Because I write Jane Austen Fan Fiction, I have to be conscious of keeping my characters the way Jane Austen created them.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent, or self-publishing?

Amy: When I first started writing, I went the traditional route.  I sent my manuscript to several publishers and of course, was turned down by all of them.  Discouraged, but not ready to give up, I learned that I could self-publish.  Since then, I have self-published four novels.  I’m not sure what I would do now if a publisher wanted to publish one of my books.  I really like the freedom I have to write what I want and when I want.  I have no deadlines.  The hardest part of self-publishing and requires the most amount of work is PR.  Getting your name out there is difficult if you don’t have a publishing house or an agent behind you.  But I have found two great PA’s, Alicia Freeman and Michelle Cates.  They not only help me promote my works on social media, they all put together an amazing street team for me.

Kaye: Where does the title come in the writing process for you? How do you decide the titles for your books?

Amy: My titles usually come first. I don’t have any special formula to specific way I do.  Some just come to me, some have been suggested by friends and the latest one, Ice on Fire came from my husband.

Ice on Fire

Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel? What’s the least fun part?

Amy: I would have to say that my favorite part of writing a novel is coming up with the initial story line.  Creating the characters and just watching it all play out.  My least favorite part is the editing.  I know, it has to be done.  But it is always a struggle for me.  Luckily, I have an amazing editor Carl Augsburger of Creative Digital Studios who makes this process a little less agonizing for me.

Kaye: What’s your favorite way to get exercise?

Amy: I walk my dogs – I have three of them.

Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

Amy: My husband is in the Air Force, so I spend a lot of time at home alone.  I work full-time for a home improvement company.  Also, I have three rescue dogs and a horse that keep me busy.  I enjoy other creative hobbies as well like painting and basket weaving.

Kaye: Where do you get your cover art?

Amy: Ellie Augsburger of Creative Digital Studios designs my covers.  We use stock photos and get most of them from Adobe Stock.  I’m not sure what other resources she uses.

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

Amy: I guess I would have to say Facebook.  I use it the most because I am most familiar with it.  I really want to expand my social media reach, but I guess that will come with time.

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

Amy: “Write your own.” These were the exact words from my best friend who encouraged me to write my own story.  I’m so glad I took her advice.

Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?

Amy: I really don’t have a specific time of day to write. Usually it seems to be when the ideas hit me.  I don’t write everyday, but that doesn’t mean I am not working on my books.  I spend a lot of time doing research.

I want to thank Amy for joining us here, on Writing to be Read, and sharing some interesting facts about herself and her writing. You can find each of Amy Cecil’s books here:

getBook.at/ICEonFIREbyAmyCecil

getBook.at/ICEbyAmyCecil

getBook.at/ARoyalDispositionbyAmyCecil

getBook.at/RelentlessConsiderationsbyAmyCecil

 

Follow Amy:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authoramycecil

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/authoramycecil

Twitter: https://twitter.com/acecil65

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/amycecil

Website: http://acecil65.wix.com/amycecil

 

Learn more about Amy’s Amazing Street Girls:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/201903646918497/

 

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A Writer’s Eye View of Social Media Promotion

Social Media

Social media is great. Or is it? From a writer’s perspective, maybe a little of both. On the one hand, promotion on social media can and often does bring readers to your blog,  or book, or article, or whatever you are promoting. Some sites are more helpful than others in this regard. There is no doubt that social media promotion draws attention, but then you have to figure out the other side of the equation.

Promotion on social media takes a lot of time. And I mean a lot of time. Think about it. First you have to share a link on your timeline, or page, or wall, or whatever. That doesn’t take long. But then you have to share it in groups, and for me, there are a lot of groups to share in. Okay, so after you’ve spent between thirty to forty-five minutes or even up to two hours, (depending on how fast your internet connection is operating, how fast the site you’re sharing on is operating, and how many groups you are sharing the post with), and the post is shared everywhere you wish to share it, you’re still not done.

No. Because you see, social media is set up for social networking. You don’t want to drop into each group and post your promotion, then go about your business. No. When you join a group, you are expected to participate, rather than just promote. If you want people to like, comment, or share your posts, you’ve got to do the same for them. That’s how social networking works. And let me tell you, it is easy to get caught up thanking folks for liking or sharing your posts, responding to comments on your posts and liking, commenting on and sharing the posts of others, and before you know it, several hours have elapsed.  This part of networking needs to be done each day, even when you don’t have any promotional posts to make.

So, now consider that I spend up to two hours promotion, two or three times a week, which is what I do for Writing to be Read. You need to socialize daily. I try limiting myself to one hour of socializing online on days I’m not promoting, so I can promote my work, but not appear to be a self-absorbed spammer. Just doing that adds up to ten hours a week.

Most recently, I participated in a Book Release Event on Facebook for the promotion of my recently released western, Delilah. I was one of many authors who did either half-hour or hour long takeover slots in a two night event. In a takeover slot, the author makes posts aimed at both promotion of their own book and entertainment in the form of silly, but fun, party games and giveaways. My investment was several hours in planning and preparation, plus one evening and a partial, and another afternoon responding to comments and contest wrap-up, and it’s yet to be seen if there will be a significant rise in sales which might be attributed to the event.

Of course, it isn’t just Delilah I must promote. I also promote my short story that I have on Amazon, Last Call, and writing that I have in online publications such as Across the Margin and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry.  And of course, I spend a good deal of time promoting this blog, Writing to be Read. It’s not that I don’t like social media promotion. It allows me to interact with my readers others in the business, and I truly do enjoy that, but it takes a lot of time. That’s time that is not spent writing.

Promotion is a necessary evil to me, and it must be done on top of writing queries and cover letters and submitting completed novels to publishers or agents, and articles, stories and poetry to the publications they might appear in, checking and responding to emails, searching the web and applying for freelance jobs, in addition to holding’s down a full-time day job. And then, I have to find time to live some resemblance of a life. Oh yeah, and somewhere in there, I have to actually sit down and write, both for my freelance jobs and my own stuff, for blog and for sale. And I must find time to read the books I review. So, you see than ten hours a week can be tough.

This isn’t the first time I’ve brought this subject up. In Today’s Authors Wear Many Hats, which I posted back in October, I wrote about the different roles an author must play and how they’ve expanded because of the digital age and the rising trends in self-publishing. Promotion and marketing are just two of those hats, but they’re important ones. Most of us are among the starving artists, and can’t afford to hire someone to do it for us, or spend a lot of money boosting posts to reach more people, and social media is an avenue of promotion which is free, or at least fairly inexpensive.

Bottom line – Promotion and marketing do require that we spend at least a minimal amount of time on them, but as writers, it’s a necessary part of the job. Like the artist, who must sell her own paintings, or convince a gallery owner to display her wares, we must peddle our creations, whether we publish them ourselves, or are picked up by a small press or traditional publisher. And social media is a big part of that in today’s market. Social media drives traffic, and we need traffic, because traffic leads to sales, at least theoretically.