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.

 

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.

 

 

Advertisements

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?.

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


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!

 

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


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/

 

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted.


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.


Interview with independent author Dan Alatorre

Dan Alatorre

Today, I have have a real treat for you on Writing to be Read. My interview today is with a very funny guy, who is a successful independent author. He’s a family man, with a background in business, so book marketing and promotion is just another part of the  job for him. He’s got two books which have both been recently released, Poggibonsi: An Italian Misadventure? and The Navigators, which we will learn more about right here.

Dan has so much to share with us that I’m going to structure this interview a bit differently than I have on interviews in the past. The first part will allow us to get to know Dan a little as a person. The second part will delve into his marketing knowledge, followed up with the last section which will probe into his writing techniques, what writing means to him and questions on craft. So, without further ado, let me introduce to you, independent author Dan Alatorre.

Kaye: You are a family man, Dan. What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?

Dan: I think if you are a writer you need to prepare yourself for the inevitable “you spend too much time on the computer” conversation/argument.

That’s just how it works.

So, my recommendation is, give work its proper due and give family its proper due and give writing its proper due. How you balance that is, you have to decide whether or not spending time with your young children is important or not. (Answer: IT IS.)

When my daughter goes to her dance class or a Girl Scout Daisies Troop meeting, that’s writing time for me. When she’s going to one of her little girlfriends’ birthday parties, that’s writing time for me. However, I make pizza from scratch every Friday afternoon for my family and that’s family time. I don’t write then. When she was younger, I would write after she went to bed at 8 PM, but often that is time that should be spent with the spouse. Adult time.

Me, I get up at 4:30 in the morning to write for a few hours. That’s how I manage it. I also watch very few TV shows, and the ones I watch are all recorded so I can skip all the commercials. In other words, I utilize a lot of time saving devices but I am also thinking about my stories pretty much all the time, so when I sit down to write I’m ready to let loose. If we are at Busch Gardens and I get a good idea, I will excuse myself for a moment and tell the idea into my phone – and then get right back to the family. So they lose me for a minute or two but I got my idea captured.

And I’m not talking about being there half-hearted – you need to be there 100% for your kids especially when they’re young. But there’s always two minutes here and there if you have a great story idea. Nobody’s going to complain about that. What they complain about is when you take all that family time for your writing and then keep doing things like excusing yourself at Busch Gardens. That’s not gonna fly.

Now, with all that said, every spouse of a writer is going to understand occasionally you are in the zone and you just have to keep going. Whether that is getting up early or working late or whatever for a few days or a week, they get it. They can see it on your face and every time you talk to them you are excited about it. I’m just saying, if you are willing to give them what they need, they will give you what you need. Be generous with them and then be very selfish when you need to be. That also works.

Kaye: A lot of your stories come from your own experience as a parent, things you learned from your daughter, Savvy, and they make us laugh. Do you have a knack for finding the humorous side of things to use in your stories, or is it something you have to work at?

Dan: Both. (I hate when you offer somebody a choice and they choose both things, but in this case it’s really true.) I’m a funny guy. I have a knack for finding the funny things in life, and that’s rampant in certain characters in my stories. Sam in Poggibonsi is a scream – she steals the show. In Savvy stories, my daughter does.

I’ve always had a good sense of humor and I have always been able to make people laugh. When I was a child – I have six brothers and sisters – so around the dinner table it was tough to compete for mom and dad’s attention. Cracking a joke or being able to slip in a funny comment was a way to bring the house down and get a little recognition. I was not a class clown in school, though! Okay, maybe a little. But I was the guy who would do a stand-up routine at the variety show or write stuff for the newspaper.

Before I started writing a blog, I was putting stories on Facebook for my wife’s friends and my friends. I would put a post up at five in the morning and by dinner time there would be 100 comments saying how I made everybody cry before they went to work! Other times they would be a bunch of comments saying how hilarious that story was and that I should write a book. Eventually I listened to them.

But the subject matter of those early stories was my daughter – and anybody who spends five minutes around little kids either decides they’re a pain in the ass or they are amazing and brilliant and hilarious. I fit into that second category. My daughter cracks me up and now that she knows she can, she has her routines that she does that bust me up every single time. So she inherited a funny bone from me and from her mother. My wife is very funny, too.

Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to teach your children?

Dan: It’s a little early to try to teach them this particular lesson, but I have been fortunate enough to come from a large family so my nieces and nephews have gone through college and are making their way in the world. The advice I give to them as young adults is: pursue your passion. Whatever gives you joy in life, do that for a living. Don’t worry about the money, because if you hate your job you will be spending your money on being happy. If you do what you love, you can get by and a lot less money.

Nobody listens, but that’s the advice I give.

At her young age, my daughter enjoys ideas of being a fashion designer and a singer and a writer. Right now she can keep all those thoughts in her head. When it gets closer to the time when she actually has to decide, I hope I am able to be behind her 100% in whatever she chooses. And I hope she chooses with her heart as much as with her head. I work with too many new authors who are 35 and 45 and 55 finally started writing, when they wanted to do it their whole lives. I think we need to follow our passions much earlier in life. I’m not sure Americans foster that in our children.

Kaye: How would you describe yourself in three words?

Dan: Hmmm… only three?

Intense. Hilarious. Smart.

But I think not in that order. I think if you asked three or four people who have read my stories, like three or four of my critique partners that I use all the time, they would say smart and then funny and then prolific or something. I don’t know if they would go with intense.

Kaye: What did your road to publication look like?

Dan: Bumpy.

I found an agent through a friend and the agent kind of started doing things along the traditional path of publication, which is known to move at a glacially slow pace. I came from the business world of Fortune 500 companies, and business moves fast. If you say you’re going to read something in six weeks, I need to be able to call you at six weeks plus one day and get your thoughts on it.

Traditional publishing doesn’t work that way. They they say six weeks, and then you call after six weeks and they say they need another six weeks. That’s why books take two years to come out. I’m not saying my way is better, I’m just saying after being exposed to that type of a slow process, I realized it was not for me. I have no problem working on a project for two years and polishing it, I just have zero patience for giving someone your finished product, a book that is ready to go – and letting them sit on it for two years.

So the agent and I parted ways and I have not really considered going traditional since then, but I am not adverse to it. It is good for certain stories and it is not good for really unique or groundbreaking stories. That may change, but right now that’s the case and that’s been the case for a few years. I don’t really see it changing, but I do see the role of traditional publisher changing. In my mind, they have to get quicker. To Kill A Mockingbird doesn’t come across their desk every day, but then again maybe it does. There sludge piles are so big they’d never know. They’re never getting to a lot of the good stuff, and since the majority of trad books don’t earn back their advance, I’d say their selection process sucks and their competency level is questionable at best.

Kaye: With your background in business, it seems like promotion and marketing are pretty second nature for you. In fact, we found each other because you were looking for authors to swap interviews with, because you know that interviews are good marketing tools. What was the most fun interview you’ve ever done? Why?

Dan: I did an interview with Kathleen Townsend that was just hilarious. That was probably my best written interview prior to this one, but it was done for a different reason. I was just trying to make her laugh and her readers laugh. In this interview, I’m trying to cull a little more in depth because your readership skews different from hers. I hope authors understand interviews are certainly done to sell books, but sometimes they’re done to educate and sometimes they’re done to entertain. The best ones are a combination of all those things.

Anyway, one of the best interviews I ever did was when Jenny and Allison interviewed me for the release of The Navigators. We set up a three-way video call that we recorded. That was really a lot of fun.

The interview that hands-down was the funniest interview I ever did was interviewing the author of the bestseller The Fourth Descendant for a trilogy she was releasing called Project Renovatio. We probably spent two hours doing the interview and we probably laughed hysterically for one hour and 50 minutes of it. The 10 minutes when we weren’t laughing is most of what we used for the interview. The other 90% was just a hilarious good time. We became great friends – we were good friends before that interview but we were great friends after that interview. It was just nonstop laughter. Completely unusable, and it wasn’t outtakes, it was just making jokes and laughing.

One of my great joys in life is I can go to that interview if I’m having a crappy day and I can look at the outtakes and within 10 minutes I’m laughing my butt off. There’s a snippet of it on YouTube. Most of the time she (the interviewee) is laughing and wiping her mascara out of her eyes because she’s laughing her so hard she’s crying. Great interview.

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

Dan: Specifically for promotion? Probably Facebook, and in that, Facebook ads. It depends on what you’re trying to do. New authors need to build an author platform, and Facebook is really good for helping do that, but there are a million ways to waste your money when you are trying to pay for advertising.

Probably for every good add source I paid for, I have paid for 10 bad ones. My advice to people is this: track everything. Look at your reports every day and when you run an ad try to the best of your ability to only run one ad with one promoter at a time. If you run five ads on Mother’s Day and do well, how do you know which one sold all the books? You don’t. If you run your ads one at a time and track your results, you will. Then you can replicate your success, if it’s replicate-able.

That’s not always possible, but to the extent that it’s possible please try to track your results. Quit giving to the people who don’t give you results.

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

Dan: I had the great pleasure of working with Perry Elizabeth for many of my early book covers. Perry designed a number one bestseller for me, as well as designing a number one bestseller for a friend’s debut novel. She designed maybe six of my first seven book covers. She’s brilliant. She has a gift.

Like many things (I came from a business background having gone to the president circle with two different Fortune 500 companies) and in that world the saying “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” doesn’t apply. They would say, “If it’s not broke, fix it so it’s even better.” Something like that. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention in all those meetings.

Anyway, when you have good success you have to look if you can make bigger success. Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes the answer is no. In the case with Perry, she is very devout in her religion, and I knew some of the risqué subject matters in my stories would not be something she would appreciate her name being associated with. So I had to take it upon myself to find other people to work with for those. I can’t put one of my partners in that position, you know? So I had to put other titles with other artists – and I am very fortunate they’ve done a terrific job, too! Look at how eye catching The Navigators cover is. That’s all part of it, making your book stand out. I’ve been very fortunate to work with so many skilled people.

Now, I have on occasion tried to design my own book cover or to buy an image and work with that, and I have had some decent success with it. But here’s a tip for new authors: even if I know exactly what I want the cover to look like, I still roll it out on my fans.

How did I find cover designers? I joined author groups and asked everybody for referrals. I looked at books I liked and saw who did the covers. I shopped. You can spend hundreds of dollars (and occasionally under a hundred) on covers that look as good as ones that cost thousands, and usually for new authors money is in short supply.

For example, The Navigators I bid it out. I didn’t really know what the cover should look like, so I gave a brief synopsis to three or four cover artists, and then I posted their mock-up results on my Facebook page so my friends could vote. One cover jumped to the front, hands down – and that’s the one I went with. And it was very successful.

With Poggibonsi, I pretty much knew what I wanted from the get go. I wanted to portray sex and humor in a single image that could potentially be iconic. If you ever saw the poster for the movie M*A*S*H, or Jaws, or The Godfather, we know that when something is a hit it tends to own that image. And with Poggibonsi, I knew that the cover would convey very simply and easily a large portion of what the story was about. Additionally, like the name Arnold Schwarzenegger, Poggibonsi is not easy to say or read or pronounce. My thinking was what Arnold said: it’s hard to say but once people hear it they can’t forget it. And I think that’s the case with this title, too.

Poggi cover FINAL

Kaye: Poggibonsi: An Italian Misadventure just came out last month. What can you tell us about it?

Dan: Poggi jumped into the cold cruel world on April 20, and it’s burning up the charts! I’m so happy. Poggibonsi is without a doubt my funniest book I have ever written. It’s going to do amazing because it’s just knock-down drag-out funny as hell.

In the story, I take on so many things that are just absolutely not funny! Infidelity, death, getting fired, you name it. And in the process I make you laugh at every single step. Some of the characters are the funniest people you’re ever going to meet, and one in particular absolutely steals the show. On the other side, it is in insanely romantic romance story! And it’s hard to make a romance that’s really romantic while also being funny, but I think I threaded the needle pretty well on this one.

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

Dan: Hmm. Strangest.

Hmmm…

I was talking to an author friend of mine the other day and I was explaining to her that she was very creative in setting up a new world or a situation that is different from our current existence. I, on the other hand, have taken things that we are all very familiar with and looked at them from a very, very different view point. I’ve never tried to create a fantasy world like she has. So my complement to her was how creative she is at that, and she’s great storyteller in addition. My complement to myself was that I can take things that everybody knows and all of a sudden they are questioning everything about it and laughing their butts off or crying their eyes out or being scared to death of these things that they already knew.

Now, as far as the strangest places I’ve drawn inspiration, if you start with the premise that I have pretty much dealt with the world as we know it, then the inspiration has been unique insights on things that are common place.

So, my inspiration has come from everywhere, which doesn’t help anybody who’s reading this to figure out what inspires me, but I am inspired by the same things that I find humor in. The common situation or as Alfred Hitchcock used to do to Cary Grant, taking an ordinary man and putting him in extraordinary circumstances. Having an ordinary situation with ordinary people become somehow extraordinary. Taking your life as you know it and turning it on its head and giving you a roller coaster ride but doing it in such a way that you like the characters and  you’re rooting for people to succeed – and at the same time, with my stories nothing is what it seems. All of a sudden you have skated out over the thin ice and there are there you are being blindsided by things you didn’t know were coming.

In Poggibonsi, you think a certain situation can’t get any worse, and it gets so, so, so much worse, and people are sending me emails saying, “I did not see that coming!” They love the roller coaster ride. I try to give them a good one every time.

Kaye: Did you always want to be a writer?

Dan: I think so, yes. My direction in life was to create a career and then do the writing in your spare time. That’s probably how most people do it and that’s what I would recommend, too. As long as you make time for everything, you’ll be okay. If you don’t make time for everything, you’ll be very frustrated that you’re not doing your writing – so make time for everything!

But like I said, I went to work in business before I started writing in earnest, and once I started writing in earnest I didn’t want to do anything else.

Kaye: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Dan: I am absolutely a plotter, but let me explain.

Before I really start writing a story, I will percolate on it for a while to get some ideas going. Before I start writing in earnest, I am throwing ideas into a folder. Once I sit down I have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The that’s my outline –  sometimes nothing more than that.

But just because I have AN ending does not mean that is the way the story ends. It simply means that that’s the direction I’m heading in; that’s the way I intend to go. If I get a better ending, I am absolutely taking the story there, but if I don’t come up with something better, this is the destination I’m going to end up at.

That gives you the best of both worlds. You can be as free and crazy as you want and you still have a path to get you back on track. Or, if you really find some new destination, you go there.

But it’s been my experience that probably 75% of the books that never gets finished by the writers don’t get finished because they got excited, they started writing, they had a couple of good ideas – and then they ran out of steam. Jim Patterson – yes I call James Patterson “Jim” – said it’s better to spend an extra month on the outline then it is to start the story not know where you’re going with it.

Having a goal and having a destination, that will help you finish your story. I think 90% of writers block and unfinished stories happens because of the lack of an outline.

But again, it is not locking you in a cage, it is simply directing your creativity. Having an outline does not stifle your creativity, it directs it.

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

Dan: I wrote a blog post once where I put like 20 memes in it and then I explained what each of them had meant to me at different periods. One of them was Hemingway saying write every day. Every day, get up and bite the nail. That’s so important because the more you work at something the better you get at it, so don’t stop.

The other was something along lines of, “Every great story is this: nothing is as it seems.”

I thought the simplicity of that second one was overstated. Like almost like it’s too simple so it’s stupid. And then all the sudden I read it like a second or third time and I was like oh my God it’s brilliant.

So those two are good. The best one is: the reader is your willing accomplice. On that one, if you set a realistic world and you work hard to make a good story, the reader will go along with you. As long as you do a good job, you can do whatever you want. And once you do it well, you can play the reader like a piano. You have the power and they want to go on the ride. Willing accomplice.

TheNavigatorsFinal

Kaye: The Navigators also came out recently. Would you like to tell us a little about that one?

Dan: Gosh, I’m so proud of Navs. The Navigators is a great story involving time travel. Five graduate students in paleontology accidentally discover a strange machine, and right off the bat they have to figure out what it is they discovered. As they conclude it’s a time machine, each of them has a different idea of how they should use it – so there’s immediate conflict. There is a lot going on with the characters in the story. Pretty much nothing is what it seems, so there is intrigue at multiple levels, plus it’s a real page turner. People who start reading this book have reported back that they are just unable to put it down. I’m very proud of that. It’s a real home run.

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

Dan: Man, titles are hard! They shouldn’t be, but they are.

Originally, Poggi was going to be called something like “My Italian Assistant”, but that all had too much of a schlocky 80s sex romp feel. This is not that. This is a story that goes deep in everything it pursues. The humor is outrageously funny. The romance is deeply passionate. You will laugh and you will cry and your heart will break. As a result, it deserves its own unique word.

Now, I’m not a fool. I gave it a pretty simple subtitle to explain what was going on. But most of my critique partners said I couldn’t call it that. Well, after they got used to reading a few chapters and calling it by its name, they were cool with it – and they wanted me to keep the tile as Poggibonsi.

So you have a unique title and a unique cover for a unique story. That’s either going to be a home run or a complete strike out. Right now if I can convince people to start reading it at all, they end up loving it. There are so many toys twists in surprises and absolutely hysterical moments, really some unforgettable stuff and some unforgettable characters, it’s a rare treat that readers around the world are loving.

With Savvy stories, I kicked around a lot of ideas and I was told many times not to use that title. To me, it was a double entendre. Savvy stories are stories about Savvy, which is the nickname of my daughter Savannah. I also gush about how smart and amazing children are, so savvy stories also means stories about people who are street smart. Which is probably the wrong way to describe infants and toddlers, but you get the idea.

The Navigators really required a different formula. I was writing the story and I was calling it The Fantastic Five as its working title – which is just awful – and everybody who saw it kept saying, “You can’t call it that! Find something else.”

The reason it was the “fantastic five” was because they were five characters and each did something kinda fantastic. I knew that would never be the final title but I just couldn’t think of anything good. I was just stumped. It happens.

Anyway, I was in the middle of a scene and the characters were debating about flying the time machine somewhere, and one of the characters said they were thinking about it all wrong. He said, “We’re not really driving it, we just are setting the destinations and the times.”

So the first character said, “Oh, so we are the navigators?”

Again, there is a double meaning to that.

The time machine is something they really haven’t figured out when they start testing it so they are putting in longitude and latitude and a time, and letting the device take them on an adventure. It also refers to the young lady in the story who is kind of drifting along doing the things that people probably wanted her to be doing as opposed to choosing her own life. So she too is also not a pilot yet. She’s not making the decisions yet. In the story, she ends up becoming the main character and really growing into a leadership role.

That was important because I have a young daughter, and it’s kind of a projection of her where she might be 15 years in the future.

Many of my stories are written on multiple levels. I had one beta reader asked me if a certain scene was a metaphor for the guy’s marriage. It was. Other scenes were reflections of other things, too. There’s only a little bit of that (and a little goes a long way) but when somebody discovers it, it’s like a brilliant flash of joyful light to me.

The Water Castle and An Angel On Her Shoulder came about in similar fashion. The water castle is the way a young child refers to a landmark that the story kind of takes place around. And “an angel on her shoulder” is a remark that a doctor says about the child who got diagnosed with a rare but potentially fatal heart condition in my paranormal thriller.

So, I guess when I need to come up with a title, I have my characters express it in dialogue! There you go. That’s my secret. Have a character open your mouth and hope a title pops out.

Kaye: What is the single most important quality in a novel for you?

Dan: I have to care about the characters. There are a lot of different ways to achieve that, but readers are kind of generous. They will give you a little while to make them care about a character, but you have to make them care. If you don’t, nothing else matters.

In The Navigators, I thought about starting the book at the landslide where one of the characters almost gets killed. Aside from it being some obvious action, I knew in my heart that we just wouldn’t care if somebody got killed because the readers hadn’t gotten to know anybody yet.

By contrast, in An Angel On Her Shoulder, it starts with an action scene where the wife is beginning to wonder if her husband and child have been accidentally killed, and the chapter ends with her being frantic – asking that question – but we don’t know.

Because I have the wife being concerned about her young daughter, and because I have her emotions jumping from she doesn’t know what’s going on to “Oh my god what’s going on?” – and all the people around her are saying “Oh my god look at all the blood, there’s no way somebody could survive that,” she is getting more and more frantic…

The reader cares because the character cares. She is really getting frantic and she is really nervous and we can’t help but be empathetic and then therefore we care also.

Then I’m really mean. I jump into a flashback that took place several decades before, and you have to float through that for a few chapters – so that you kind of forget about the frantic scene –  and then we end up right back in that opening scene a few minutes before it happens. I know flashbacks are persona non grata, but I got to tell you, this is an amazing roller coaster ride that readers love! The way I played it, it was a stroke of genius if I do say so myself. I love that story.

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

Dan: Mark Twain, because he was very, very funny and very, very smart and apparently liked to drink. I just think sitting down and having lunch with him would involve lots of drinks and lots of laughs, and I’m not sure there’s a better lunch than that.

Hopefully one day some kid will say they want to have lunch with me, and I will fly to where they live and we will go get hammered and have the most awesome lunch ever.

Kaye: Have you ever had places that you travel to end up in your books?

Dan: Kind of. When I was going to Italy for a vacation I kept telling myself I knew I’d find a story there. And I loved Venice and I loved Rome – I loved everywhere we went in Italy. Gelato is amazing, the pizza is amazing, the women are amazing, the art and the architecture is amazing. Italy is amazing.

And I was really trying to force it. I was really saying okay, is this story? Is that a story?

It doesn’t work that way. On the plane ride home I got the idea of a man going on a business trip to Italy so I could explain a lot of the things I saw through his eyes, and then I wanted it to be a romance but I wanted it to be a comedy, too. There’s lots of things to find funny about traveling, but the romance was going to be an unconventional one, and from that little spark, I said there’s the story.

Many of the people who read it have told me I made the country of Italy into a great character in the story, and that is very high praise. I have an Italian translator who I have worked with translating my other books and she read it and she love the way I depicted her country, so I am absolutely satisfied with how that story came out. It’s an absolute home run on every level.

Kaye: What is the hardest part of being a writer?

Dan: Many people, most in fact, struggle with being able to finish their first story. They want to fine-tune it forever and they are afraid of publishing it. Whatever it is, they struggle to get the first one done. Once they get the first one born, they realize what a huge weight has been lifted off of them and they become much more at ease with writing and everything else. Unfortunately, just as many people suffer from the opposite affliction, which is thinking something is a masterpiece. What it really needs a lot of work, and they publish it too soon.

That’s not a very helpful answer, is it? But it explains this: the hardest part is knowing when the story is ready. The people who release it too soon don’t know when it’s ready, and the people who polish it forever don’t know when it’s ready.

How do you figure it out? You write what needs to be said, you give it to trusted critique partners who will tell you the things you said that did not need to be said, and then you trim out the stuff that doesn’t need to be there – and release it.

Then start writing your next one. After you do this a few times you will not be afraid to release a story and you won’t be afraid to take input from people who have your best interest at heart. You’ll have a thicker skin and a bunch of other things. That’s when you – most of you – will become really good writers. A few people do it on the first shot; most don’t.

If I could give you one thing, it would be not just confidence but enough confidence. Tell your story and don’t be afraid to be passionate and to be emotional and to really put your soul on the page. Expose yourself. Writing is the equivalent of standing naked on a stage, prepared to be laughed at and humiliated – and doing it anyway.

Write from your heart and don’t hold anything back. Not the pain, not the love, not the fear, not anything. When you put it on the page from your heart, the reader get it. They connect. The more personal you make it to yourself, the more universally understood it is. That’s where too many authors make their mistake. They don’t open up and let it pour. They write the words but they don’t write the heart. They tell a good story when they have a great one within them. They hold back because they’re afraid of what people might say or might think, or that their mom right read it or that their friend might hate it or whatever. When you can let go of that and stand naked on the stage, that is where the great stuff comes from. You may fail miserably, but you will have given it your all. That’s confidence. I wish I could give you enough of that to make you put your soul on the page. When you do, you will be greatly rewarded for it.

I want to thank Dan for joining us today and sharing his knowledge and experience with us. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I went over your answers. It’s been a lot of fun. To learn more about Dan and his books, drop by his blog.

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted.


Interview with author DeAnna Knippling

deannak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted.