Ask the Authors: Final Answers

Books and Coffee

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

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

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

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

Cynthia Vespia: 

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

2. Characterization is key

3. Have fun with world building

4. Think outside the box

5. And of course show don’t tell

Chris Barili

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

Janet Garber: 

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

2. Work on making the language sing.

3. Submit like crazy

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

5. Don’t ever give up!

 

Art Rosch: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Riggs: 

1. There ARE no rules.

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

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

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

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

Margareth Stewart: 

1. Write. Don´t stop.

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

3. Craft your stories.

4. Be humble. Be proud.

5. Keep it up.

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

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

Jordan Elizabeth:

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

DeAnna Knippling:

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

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

Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader Ken Hughs said:

Lots of excellent advice there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have two follow-up questions for this segment: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Book Sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Looking Back on 2017

Looking Back

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

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

Delilah and Horse Web Cover

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

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

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

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

teacher-owl clip-art

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

red-quill

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year

 

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Book Marketing – What Works?: Conclusions

Book Marketing

Whether an independent author or traditionally published, it seems most of the marketing and promotion falls to the author in today’s literary arena. Even if we love marketing and don’t find it to be an absolutely harrowing task, we are writers, and time spent marketing is time not doing what we love: writing. We don’t want to waste our time and money on ineffective marketing methods. We want to make our marketing techniques pay off big in as little time and expense as possible, so we can spend more time putting words to page.

In this series, we’ve talked to seven authors to learn what methods of book promotion works for them. In Part 1, I talked with Cynthia Vespia, who chose to go independent after having minimal results with small publishers. She does her own cover art and all of her own marketing. She prefers face-to-face marketing events to social media marketing. While she does do social media release parties and book events, she finds them most effective to increase fanbase, rather than book sales. She says it is more difficult to gauge the effectiveness of social media marketing than it is to see the imediate results of conventions and book signings.

Something which I’ve tried which has been somewhat effective, at least in building my platform, if not in actual sales, are the book releases and book events on Facebook. Even though obtaining a spot in one of these events is free, they do require a lot of preparation for a short little spurt (1/2 hour to 1 hour) for your spot. And I think you’ll get better results if you hang out for at least a while, commenting and playing the games to support your fellow authors and creating visibility. If you’d like to check one out, I’m participating in a special Cyber-Monday event, hosted by Sonora Dawn Studios and DL Mullen, and they are still looking for author particiapnts.

In Part 2, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd , who are small press and independent authors. Kym does their covers and Mark copyedits their books, and they do all of their own marketing. They promote through blogging and have a YouTube channel, where visitors could watch recordings of their research and ghost investigations. They also have a website and author pages on Amazon and Goodreads. They have found blogging, and social media promotion effective ways to get the word out about their books, but they found in person book readings to be less effective and unpredictable. They advocate free promotions and KDP Select.

On the issue of KDP select, I have my doubts, and author Chris Barili is in agreement with me in Part 6. It doesn’t make sense to limit the venues on which you can sell your book. With KDP select, you must sell only on Amazon, exclusively, which excludes many other venues, such as Smashwords, Lulu, Book Baby, etc… And while I say it makes no sense, both of my books are with KDP select right now. I’ve left Last Call there for now, because I have an idea to do something else with that story, and it doesn’t make sense to pull it off KDP select until then. And with Delilah, it’s really up to my publisher, so for now, I don’t have a choice.

Part 3 featured an interview with Jordan Elizabeth, a small press author. Her publisher handles editing and book covers, but she handles the major portion of her marketing. She’s an advocate of social media promotion. She reports good results advertising with BookBub and Fussy Librarian, and also says book signings are effective.

In 2016, author Nicholas C. Rossis in his post, Call to Arms: Year-long survey reveals which book advertiser offers best value for money, says that at the end of 2016, the best buy for your buck as far as advertising discounted books goes, was Amazon Marketing Services, Book Barbarian, and ENT. But he also notes that these trends fluctuate and advertisers that were rated higher in 2015, may have rated lower or not made his list in 2016. And he notes that Amazon Marketing Service rising from the ranks with unfortold speed.

According to Writer’s News’ list of useful book promotion websites , Write Globe, which claims to be the perfect platform for creative individuals, ranked number one. Also mentioned are Writers.Support, BooksOnline.Best, Noble Authors, 79ads.in, Creative Designers and Writers, ShareNews.live, Earn.Promo, in that order. The last one on their list stuck out for me, because it’s free. As a starving writer, free always has a certain appeal. Another site for free advertising that I found was Authors Talk About It. They run your ad for your book in their newsletter for free and also free book cover contests, and featured author interviews. They ran my interview and made me sound good.

Independent author Tim Baker  joined us in Part 4. He started out with small press publishers, but switched over to independent, creating his own brand. He does free promotions and giveaways and finds them to be effective in creating buzz, resulting in future sales. He contracts out editing, formating and cover art, but handles all his own marketing, believing there is no magic formula for selling books but hard work and persistance.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to hire out your non-writing tasks, so you can spend your time tending to the business of writing, there are plenty of sites out there where you can find free-lance service providers. My editing services are offered through The Author Market, and they also offer cover design and book trailers, proofreading, ghostwriting and PA services.

In Part 5, independent author Amy Cecil shared her thoughts on marketing and social media promotion. She hires out her marketing tasks so she has more time to spend on the business of writing. She hires for editing and cover design, has a marketing firm and two PAs. She’s a new found believer in book blog tours, has done a book signing at B&N, and has a street team for creating social media buzz aboout her books. She’s not in favor of free promotions, but loves the exposure that social media has given her.

While Jordan didn’t find review tours to be worth the money it costs of the promotional agencies as her results were minimal. I  know a little about them, and I know authors who swear by them, like Amy Cecil. Many of my author interviews are part of the Full Moon Bites Promotions book blog tours. And I know there are plenty of other promotional services which set up book blog tours out there, but it appears the verdict is still up in the air on this book marketing method.

Part 6 features author Chris Barili, who has published both traditionally and independently. While his traditionally published book requires only minimal marketing from him, the independently published books require him to do it all. He has found social media marketing, free promotions and KDP select to be ineffective. What works for him is hard work and persistance.

In Part 7, I interviewed DeAnna Knippling, an independent author who has also developed her own brand and publishing label. She uses an Advance Reader Copy list and newsletters, free promotions,  and tries to attract super-readers on Goodreads, testifying to the power of reviews. (Of free promos Knippling says that if it doesn’t generate new sales, it at least generates new readers and that’s worth the cost.)

There is no doubt that in today’s book market, in the world of digital marketing, book reviews are where it’s at. But, honest reviews aren’t always easy to come by.  YA author Jordan Elizabeth used her street team for the task of finding reviewers, with mixed results, and DeAnna Knippling has done free promotions on sites like Instafreebie. Free ARCs don’t always garauntee the review. That’s one of the reasons I do honest book reviews here on Writing to be Read, to help promote other authors and their work.

Everybody talks about branding and how you have to have a brand, but it looks to me like branding is something that just sort of happens in many cases, such as my red quill and ink, which began as a social media avatar and has become my logo. In others cases, like DeAnna Knippling and Tim Baker, it’s a purposeful, but still comes almost naturally.

Overall, it seems that different methods are effective for different authors, and in different ways. While social media and free promotions may or may not produce new book sales, it does create buzz, which results in future sales, at least in theory. Although Mark and Kym don’t place a lot of value on social media promotion, Cynthia Vespia, Jordan Elizabeth, Amy Cecil and DeAnna Knippling find it an effective way to build a fan base and get reviews. It seems like face-to-face promotional encounters such as book signings and conferences are a pretty effective way to get your book out there, and free promos pay off if you look at other measures of effectiveness besides book sales. Tim Baker and Chris Barili both put their faith in hard work and persistance, regardless of the marketing methods you chose.

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

Barili and Books

In Part 1, of Book Marketing – What Works?, dark fantasy author, Cynthia Vespia, shared her insights in social media vs. face-to-face marketing, and we heard from co-authors Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd in Part 2. We’ve also about how they launched a digital media marketing strategy which they’ve found to be effective. YA author Jordan Elizabeth talked about her street team and social media marketing experiences in Part 3, and in Part 4, author Tim Baker talked about branding.

Today, I have the privilege of talking with my friend and cohort, author Chris Barili. I have reviewed all of his books here, on Writing to be Read: The Hell’s Butcher series and it’s prequel, Guilty, and his paranormal romance, Smothered. As a hybrid author, Chris walks both sides of the publishing line with works published independently, as well as a work published with a traditional publisher. Like many of today’s authors, Chris may be the picture of the prototype for the author of the future. Many authors who have been traditionally published successfully are now looking at the independent publishing route, because authors still left with bearing the bulk of the marketing and promotional burden.

Unlike the enthusiasm of last week’s guest, contemporary and historical romance author Amy Cecil for social media marketing strategies in Part 5, Chris doesn’t find it very productive, but I’ll let him tell you about that.

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

Chris: I am a hybrid author, so I have two stories. The first is my traditional publishing journey with Smothered as B.T. Clearwater. That book was my MFA thesis, and when I finished it, I didn’t know what to do with it. Got no replies from a couple of major romance publishers, so when Winlock/Permuted press held a contest for their new supernatural romance line, I entered and I won! About four months later, the e-book hit the virtual world, and this past July, Simon and Shuster did a limited print run of 450 copies.
The second story is my self-publishing journey with the Hell’s Butcher series of novellas. I wrote Guilty, the pre-quel, as an assignment for my MFA, and submitted it to a themed anthology. While the editor praised the story, it didn’t quite fit their antho’s theme, so it was rejected. And rejected. And so on, until I finally got the idea to write a novella series based on Frank becoming Hell’s Marshal. Knowing there wasn’t much of market for novellas, and that weird westerns a smaller market anyway, I decided to self-publish. That meant hiring a professional editor, a cover artist, and a formatter, but I did it! There are three books in the series and more to come!

Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Chris: Readers of Smothered might not guess that I’m a guy? LOL. I think most wouldn’t guess that I have Parkinson’s Disease, as I try hard not to mention it in my writing. I do slip in the occasional hand tremor or other symptom, but I don’t mention the disease itself.

Kaye: You recently ran a free promotion, where you offered Guilty for free for a limited time. I’ve often wondered about the logic behind that type of thing. How does offering your book for free help increase book sales? Or does it?

Chris: I offered Guilty for free in hopes of pulling readers into the series, so they’d buy books one and two. Did it work? I don’t think so. I gave away something like 55 or 56 free copies of the book, and sold 13 paid copies. And while sales have been steady since then, I don’t think the free giveaway had anything to do with that.

Kaye: You’ve participated in book release events on Facebook. How did that work for you?

Chris: Not a fan. I have yet to see significant sales tied to online functions like that for any of my books. However, I know authors who swear by Facebook promos like blog takeovers, release parties, and so on. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong, but they never work for me.

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

Chris: Hard f**king work. My highest paid sales month was October of 2016, when my good friend Amity Green and I decided to have a contest and see who could sell more books by Halloween. We used Amazon marketing campaigns, Facebook boosted posts, and our own social medial blitzes. We were pimping and fluffing and promoting our books like crazy. She ended up beating me by six copies, but that remains the most lucrative sales month for me, and I believe it is for her, as well. Problem is, you can’t maintain that pace of advertising for long, if you have a job/life.

Kaye: You have a traditional publisher for Smothered. How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your book in comparison with what you do for your Hell’s Butcher series, which you self-published?

Chris: A little marketing. Winlock/Permuted had me do a blog, which I need to resume, and they tasked me with finding podcasts and reviewers. I’m still working on both of those items. For Hell’s Butcher books, I do it all. I pay for the cover, the editing, the formatting. All of it.

Kaye: Do you participate in KDP Select on Amazon? One of the requirements for the KDP Select platform is that you must agree not to use any other platforms, giving Amazon the exclusive. Do you feel this program is conducive to selling books?

Chris: I do for now, but I am dropping it as soon as Guilty is through it at the end of October. I don’t see a benefit. I’m getting it out there on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and so on.

Kaye: What do you do for cover art on our self-published books? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab?

Chris: I contract Michelle Johnson of Blue Sky Design. Look her up on Facebook. She offers a deal where she does the e-book cover, paperback wrap for Createspace, Facebook cover and profile, and Twitter cover and profile at a reasonable price.

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

Chris: Independent gives you more control, but requires a lot more work and usually won’t sell as well. Traditional is less work, but you also have less control and make much lower royalties.

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

Chris: Self-publish and go tradition. Hybrid is the future of authorship.

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

Chris: I am an avid mountain biker, and I do martial arts, both of which are fun and help me fight my disease. I also like to read, of course.

I want to thank Chris for being here with us on Writing to be Read and sharing his thoughts on marketing from both sides, independent and traditionally published. If you’d like to know more about Chris Barili, B.T.Clearwater or his books, visit his Amazon Author Page.

Be sure and catch Book Marketing – What Works? next week, when independent author DeAnna Knippling will share which marketing strategies have worked for her.

 

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Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 2): Interview with Co-Authors Kym O’Connell Todd and Mark Todd

Tods and Books

Last week we talked with self-published author, Cynthia Vespia, who shared her thoughts on social media marketing vs. face-to-face marketing opportunities. This week, we’ll take a look at other marketing strategies available to authors today and their effectiveness, when co-authors Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd join us on Writing to be Read.

Mark and Kym are not only co-authors, but husband and wife, who are peculiarly in sync with one another. As the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner, I had the pleasure of reviewing their Silverville Saga books, which are filled with quirky characters who inhabit a small fictional mountain town where crazy antics are in abundance. They even wrote themselves into the first story, Little Greed Men, and as you will learn, they really are as eccentric as their own characters. They also dabble in ghost hunting and bring their experiences to us in their book Wild West Ghosts and on their blog site, Write in the Thick of Things. (They have a website by the same name, but there you’ll find their books, not ghosts.)

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

Mark-&-Kym: We got the idea for the first book in the Silverville Saga after a trip to the 49th anniversary “pilot” event for the Roswell UFO crash. The town was testing the idea of an annual celebration. It was crazy – researcher seminars, abductee interviews, parade, and alien costume contest. On the way home afterwards, we decided there was a book in the fanfare. We wrote half of the first book for fun and sat on it for ten years. An author friend one day put us in touch with his publisher, who loved the premise and said he was interested if we finished the book. We scrambled, completed the project, and he did publish it. Since then, we made a deal with another press, and all three books in the series now live at Raspberry Creek Books. The same press recently published our nonfiction book Wild West Ghosts, which is about haunted hotels.

Kaye: Your Silverville Saga books are about the people who live in a small mountain community in Colorado. Their titles are Little Greed Men, All Plucked Up and The Magicke Outhouse. How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the process for you?

Mark-&-Kym: For us, finding the right title is tough. Our publisher titled the first one! When we had a chance to republish it with Raspberry, we’d come up with what we thought was a very clever title, Little Greed Men. After that, the titles had a strategy: be clever or punny.

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

Mark-&-Kym: So far as we can tell, it’s a mystery. Marketing is key, of course. And much of it falls to authors these days, regardless of whether you use a large or small press. It’s time-consuming and can take more time than it takes to write the book. There are so many additional factors that lead to success or failure, such as cover design, distribution, quality and voice of writing, distribution opportunities. The list goes on and on. The biggest factor of all might be luck.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?

Mark-&-Kym: Yep. We’re doing it as we answer these questions. We write every sentence together. We’re so in sync that this isn’t difficult for us. One of us starts a sentence and the other finishes it. We massage the words and by the time we’re done, we have no idea who wrote what.

Kaye: For Wild West Ghosts you videotaped your research and then published the videos on your website/blog. Do you think that helped sales, or helped to grow your fan base?

Mark-&-Kym: As far as book sales, maybe or maybe not. It definitely increased the fan base. Over the six months before publication and the year following, we garnered over three-quarters of a million social media impressions for the book, and we have fans on six continents. We’ve even had invitations from ghost investigators to visit the Great Britain, Wales, Scotland, Germany, and France. We generated tens of thousands of followers through Google Plus and YouTube, but these fans were more interested in our ghost investigations than in buying books. Nowadays, we try to spend our marketing time on venues that cater to readers who buy books. Live and learn.

Kaye: You mention YouTube. Are you using YouTube as a marketing tool then?

Mark-&-Kym: Yes, YouTube is one part of our marketing campaign for Wild West Ghosts, right alongside the blog, FB, Twitter, and GoodReads platforms. And I think it does help grow our fan base — but primarily because of the nature of this particular book. Each blog relating to the book ends with a pitch to buy, and we have close to a hundred blogs relating to the ghost adventures, and each blog embeds the YouTube clips as part of the blog article package.

I haven’t figured out an effective analytics to measure YouTube alone so far as it relates to book sales, since the video clips point people to our blog, where we point people to our books. And we’re simultaneously using all the platforms in an integrated way to reach audience.

Kaye: What type of marketing strategies have you tried with your books? What worked and what didn’t?

Mark-&-Kym: We have a Website, Write in the Thick of Things and author pages on Amazon. We use blogging and blog hops, tweets, Facebook pages, Goodreads and, as mentioned, Google Plus communities to spread the word.

We’ve found book readings to be less productive. We’ve had anywhere from a smattering to three-hundred attendees. But that doesn’t mean we sold three-hundred books. And at one event, no one came. A lot depends on the publicity that your host provides. After spending the gas and taking the time to go, it’s often a wash in terms of generated revenue.

Kaye: Which social media is your favorite for promotion and why?

Mark-&-Kym: Mark likes blogging the best. The 400- to 600-word length is about right for explaining a targeted subject. And we’ve created RSS feeds to share those blogs on our Amazon author page as well as on Goodreads. We also have our Facebook author pages linked to Twitter, so we make sure the first 160 characters make sense.

Kaye: Have you tried any free promotions with your books? Did it help to boost your sales?

Mark-&-Kym: After Mark’s SF book Strange Attractors was left at the altar when a small press folded just two months short of street release and then orphaned (twice) at a large press, he decided to Indy-publish the novel using CreateSpace. The free promotions with KPD Select helped create buzz and boosted sales. We also use the Goodreads Giveaway program every time we publish a new book, and that’s also worked for us.

Kaye: You talk about free promotions. How does giving away your work help sales? Or does it?

Mark-&-Kym: The “free” promotion doesn’t count toward sales numbers but does generate interest in a featured book and often additional Amazon reviews, which is always a good thing. It costs us nothing as an ebook download, and KDP Select handles all that. For whatever reason, the new buzz tends to raise awareness about the featured title, so word-of-mouth usually generates legit spin-off sales. So it’s “free” marketing. 🙂

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

Mark-&-Kym: None. We have an advantage: Kym designs book covers commercially, and Mark copyedits as part of his job as a college writing teacher. So those are already are a part of our professional skill sets. We do have trusted, honest beta readers and a good editor in our publisher. But don’t misunderstand the importance of having competent and professional book designers and copyeditors. If you want to be taken seriously as an author, you have to treat writing as a business and hire out what you don’t know or can’t do professionally. As for marketing, we’re about to try out BookBarbarians, which we’ve heard produces promising results. Stay tuned on that one.

Kaye: What is the single “What do you do” for cover art?

Mark-&-Kym: DIY usually looks like DIY. When Kym designs a cover for either a publishing house or an individual author, she first reads a good portion of the book to get a feel for the content and mood. She asks if there are specific elements the writer wants on the cover, and then she creates several mock-ups to show the client. People do judge a book by its cover. If that cover doesn’t look interesting, readers will pass it by.

Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Mark-&-Kym: Don’t be disappointed if your first book doesn’t turn out to be the Great American Novel. The market is incredibly competitive, and just because you write it doesn’t mean it will sell. But if writing is your passion, then that should be your goal. That’s why we do it.

I’d like to thank Mark and Kym for sharing a glimpse into their writing and marketing processes. Click on any of the links above to learn more about Mark and Kym and their work. Be sure to drop by next week for Part 3 of Book Marketing – What Works?, with YA author Jordan Elizabeth, who will talk about street teams, and social media marketing.

 

 

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

Vespia Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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