Freedom’s Song, by A.K. Lawrence has all the elements of a good romance wrapped up in the plot of a top notch thriller. It is obvious that this is book 2 of the continuing saga of Baldwin series, (novels set in the small town setting of Baldwin, Michigan), but Lawrence offers just enough background to keep me from being in the dark on the first one, without actually reading it, yet doesn’t bog you down with backstory. The characters feel realistic enough to make me care about what happens next, and that’s a good thing.
Hunter and Anna found each other last summer, during the life or death events in the first book, when he became the knight in shining armor for both Anna, who was kidnapped and Nancy, who was married to Anna’s kidnapper, an all-around louse of a guy, named Dock. Now Nancy’s divorce is almost final, and Colby has plans to make his move for Nancy once she is a free agent once more. But, all is not as it seems and a blast from his puts the brakes on his anticipated romance, when his college stalker girlfriend reappears on the scene to claim her man.
The only complaint I had with this story was I felt the dwarf subplot and the proposal pool were left unresolved, and we really didn’t get to see them through to the end. If you read the book, you’ll see what I mean. The romantic elements carry the story as we get to know the characters and sets things up, but when the thriller elements join the party things start hopping with good tension and suspense. I give Freedom’s Song five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
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?
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
- Never give up on your dreams.
- Write what you know. Write a book that you would want to read.
- Don’t write a shocking scene just for the shock value.
- Don’t write in a genre just because its selling; write in that genre because you’re passionate about it.
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.
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.
Mr. Hughes and DeAnna bring up another issue here, which we haven’t really touched on.
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 Rosch, Chris 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 Vespia, Margareth Stewart, Tim Baker, and three authors who have done a combination of traditional and self-publishing: Janet Garber, Chris 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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gyre, by Jessica Gunn is the first book in her Atlas Link series. It is the story of Chelsea, a descendent of Atlantis, who is just discovering her amazing powers and Trevor, a Lemurian descendent, who should be her mortal enemy, but instead falls for her in a big way. See? Boy meets girl, but there is no way they can be together, yet they will fight against all the odds, and even against family to prove them all wrong. Now if that isn’t the recipe for a perfect romance, I don’t know what is. As they are traveling aboard a top secret naval submarine complete with cloak, I think Gunn has the science fiction elements and Lemurians and Atlanteans with super powers pretty much covers the fantasy realm. If it sounds confusing, read the book. It’s actually a pretty good genre combination.
Chelsea is discovering her powers. First super strength, which she was able to ignore, or deny, but now she keeps teleporting to a location near Trevor any time she gets stressed. The problem is, Trevor is on a top secret U.S. Naval Sub cruising the ocean depths, but on that vessel also may lie the answers to Chelsea’s unasked questions about who she is really and she might learn to control her newfound powers. Unlike Chelsea, Trevor is aware of his heritage as a Lemurian, but he refuses to get involved in the war his people are wageing with the Atlanteans. He just can’t believe the girl he’s falling for is his innate enemy, and he’s able to keep it all under control until they find an Atlantean outpost filled with valuable artifacts on the ocean floor. It seems everybody wants those artifacts for their own reasons, and we can only guess who will get them, and where Chelsea will end up.
This story is well-written, with minimal telling of the tale. The characters are likeable, except for Trevor’s friend and fellow Lemurian, Valerie, who is a bit difficult to figure out, but I think that’s done on purpose to throw readers off the trail. I give Gyre four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
Marketing and promotion is a tough one for many writers. While some may have artistic or designing abilities in addition to their writing skills, others, like me, must learn from the basics up, and its not an easy task. To get our book noticed amid the multitude of books, ebooks, and audio books that are out there today, we might have to be a little creative and search out multiple marketing avenues. It can be so daunting, that even someone who is knowledgeable about marketing and promotion, and is succesful in many of their efforts, like panel members DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, can be worn down with frustration, as the following comments regarding this marketing segment of the Ask the Authors series, as the following comments illustrate:
Janet Garber: Kaye, I don’t have answers to the questions. Wish I did.
DeAnna Knippling: I am so frustrated with marketing and promotion stuff right now, so I’m bailing on that.
In this day and age, more and more, the responsibility of marketing and promotion falls to authors. Digital publishing has changed the industry, and small press and self-published authors carry the brunt of it, and traditionally published authors may ask authors to carry more of the responsility than in the past, as well. Like it or not, marketing and promotion now fall under an author’s job description, as Cynthia Vespia reminds us with her publishing story: “Originally I was self published back before self publishing was cool I’ve been small press published, and I reverted back to self publishing. ALL of the marketing and promotion is on my shoulders.” Let’s see how our panel members handle the task.
What works best to sell books for you, as far as marketing goes?
Jordan Elizabeth: Book signings have sold the most. I get in people’s faces and just have fun. I’m normally a quiet person, but at events I can become someone totally new and outgoing.
Carol Riggs: I’ve sold the most e-books with BookBub ads, for 3 of my traditionally published books. I also sell books at SCBWI conferences because people know me and support me there. :o)
Chris DiBella: This is probably an off-the-topic answer, but my mom is actually my best marketing tool. She helps me to sell more books than anything. Everywhere she goes, she tells people about my books and somehow gets them to buy one. They all seem to like them, so I guess I can’t complain….then again, my mom seems to think I should already be outselling James Patterson, so there’s that expectation to live up to.
Cynthia Vespia: Public appearances have been my best resources. There’s something to be said for selling something face-to-face as opposed to using the Internet. I don’t have a massive community rallying around me, so it’s up to me to make my own sales. I do that best by being personable with people, interacting, and talking about common interests.
Chris Barili: Face to face things like signings, conventions, and so on. You can actively push your books at these events.
For marketing and promotion, do you prefer online advertising and book events, or face-to-face events? Why?
Jordan Elizabeth: Face-to-face feels more personal. I can talk to people about what they like and I can explain my books in detail.
Carol Riggs: Both have their strong points. Being introverted, I probably enjoy the online events more, but there’s a certain zest to actually meeting people and talking to them. I can get myself in a social mood for that, and find I enjoy it.
Chris Barili: Face to face has brought me more measureable success, but online reaches WAY more people. You can’t choose one or the other. You have to do them all.
According to WordStream, Facebook ads provide the biggest advertising opportunity since search, with twenty-two billion ad clicks per year. Of course, not all of those are book ads, but the fact is authors are faced with many choices when it comes to where to promote their books. While Facebook may get the most clicks per year, all social media are becoming a huge avenue for marketing and promotion, but how to know which venue is best? While some authors may do the research and promote on the sites that seem most profitable, many authors don’t have that much time and thus promote on the sites which we like best. That being said, let’s Ask the Authors and see where our panel members like to promote their work.
What’s your favorite social media site for promotion? Why?
Jordan Elizabeth: I like Fussy Librarian best. They only promote a few books a day, so you know your book won’t be lost in the shuffle.
Carol Riggs: I like Twitter, because promo is about making connections, not just shouting, “But my book!” all the time. And I can connect to people on Twitter whom I’ve never met, just by happy chance. It’s great! On Facebook, it’s mostly for connecting with people I already know, but with Twitter, I can expand my horizons and meet new people (while still connecting with the ones I already know).
Chris DiBella: Facebook works best for me because it reaches the most potential readers. I don’t use my blog any more, and I rarely use any other social media outlet, although I know I should. I use Amazon for free book promos, and I think I’m going to run one this weekend if anyone is interested in checking out one or more of my books.
Cynthia Vespia: I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I lean more towards Instagram now because you can do alot more with a single image than with 40 characters or an entire Facebook post. I’ve also found Facebook has become stained with controversy, overrun with politics, and just isn’t fun anymore. The only issue with Instagram is not being able to put a hyperlink in your post. But if you’re imaginative you can get some good attention.
Chris Barili: I think Twitter does a good job of announcing things. It’s short, so people read it, but I’m not sure many people click. I’ve had some success using Facebook boosted posts, too, and I think those are my favorites because they’re cheap, easy, and for me pretty effective.
What sites have you used for marketing and/or giveaways? Which do you recommend? Why?
Jordan Elizabeth: GoodReads is best for giveaways. Amazon is the second best. I’m still figuring out which sites are good for which books. So far, I can only recommend Fussy Librarian. I haven’t had good luck with the others.
Carol Riggs: If you can snag one and can afford it, I’ve had good luck with BookBub. I used to like Goodreads for giving away paperback books, but now they are charging for this service and I can’t afford to do that.
Chris DiBella: Goodreads helps to reach a bunch of potential readers, but I don’t like to do giveaways on there. As I’ve mentioned in a previous week here, everyone is willing to sign up for a freebie, and who knows if you’re even giving the book away to someone who will actually read it. I guess the same can be said for Amazon as well, but I’ve found that my giveaways for Amazon Kindle usually generate some sales afterwards, so for me, this is the route I typically take.
Which of these marketing platforms have you tried? How effective did you find each to be? (Facebook ads, AMS, other paid ad campaigns) Which do you feel were money well spent?
Chris DiBella: I decided to pay for a promo on Facebook once. From that experience, I would never do it again. You get what you pay for, but I’m just against having to pay to reach potential readers on a social media site. I didn’t think it did anything to gain new followers or to help with sales. My advice is to spend your time on target advertising and get the people to your site who actually want to be there. I gained a few hundred followers from a paid promo, but it all seemed a little sketchy when those new followers were from some small little African nation I had never heard of. And as I expected would happen, I began receiving some very weird messages on my author page shortly thereafter. I won’t pay for Facebook ads anymore because of that.
Which book marketing sites have you found to be good (free or paid)? What do you like about them? What is the downside?
Chris Barili: Ebooksoda did pretty well for me during a Halloween sales press of the Hell’s Butcher series. So far, they’re the only ones I’ve tried.
If you’re an author, you need to have a website. An author must have a blog to gain followers. You really have to do a newsletter to keep your followers up to speed on all your new releases. You absolutely have to build a mailing list. Who among us hasn’t heard all of these at one time or another? But, you would have to be a super author or a super marketer, or a little bit of both to maintain all of these, and let’s face it, no one wants to invest a bunch of time and/or money into something that isn’t effective in either gaining readers, selling books, or both. So, do we really need all of these things? Which ones work, and which don’t?
Website, blog, author’s page or a combination? What are the benefits of each?
Chris DiBella: I’ve recently decided to start using my personal Facebook page as my author page. I find that my posts reach more people and I don’t have to pay extra to “boost” my visibility. I’ve pretty much abandoned my blog and just use it as my website for now until I build my actual one.
Cynthia Vespia: I have all of them. My blog is on my website.The author page is through Amazon and Goodreads. I think you definitely need a website. It doesn’t have to be lavish, just a place where people can learn more about you and your writing. For the blog I try to use it to help people getting into the business.
I only recently began to build a mailing list for my new monthly newsletter back in March, and so far the going has been slow. I think perhaps my method of sign-up, which is a sidebar pop-up right here, on Writing to be Read, may not be noticable enough and since very few of the sign-ups have claimed the free e-copy of Hidden Secrets, my paranormal mystery novelette, I’m thinking the thank you message with the Instafreebie link is getting missed as well. (I just told you how to sign-up for my monthly Newsletter and get a free e-book! What are you waiting for?) It’s just a trial and error thing for me. Every marketing adventure is a learning experience , so I’m eager to see what our author panel members’ experiences have been. Shall we Ask the Authors?
Do you have one or more mailing lists? Do you have a newsletter? Which do you find to be useful or effective?
Carol Riggs: I’m building up my newsletter subscription for fans and friends who are interested in hearing about my latest releases and giveaways. I give them special treatment, and many of them are kind enough to leave reviews in return for reading my freebies, which I appreciate a lot.
Chris Barili: I have one mailing list, but it’s small. This is something I’m trying hard to improve on.
Cynthia Vespia: I have a newsletter. It hasn’t done much for me in exposure or sales so I’ve basically discontinued it.
Interviews help get exposure for the author and their books. I’ve been on both ends of the interview. In fact, I have interviewed many of our panel members. In addition to sitting on the author panel for this series, I interviewed Tim Baker for my 2016 Publishing series and my 2017 Book Marketing series, and Jordan Elizabeth for both Publishing and Book Marketing, as well an interview to start off 2018 on New Year’s Day. I’ve also interviewed Art Rosch for the Publishing series and Cynthia Vespia and Chris Barili for the Book Marketing. And my interview with Margareth Stewart for the release of Open is how she and I met. But in book marketing and promotion, we want to look at the other side of the interview, from the author’s perspective.
I’ll never forget how excited I was to do my first interview with Dan Alatore shortly after Delilah came out, back in May of 2017. I don’t know that it helped sell any books, (it was before D.L. Mullen made my awesome covers, and the cookie cutter cover my publisher provided was baaaad), but it sure helped to make me feel as if I had made it to the big time. Dan made me sound good, so it was pretty cool. So, let’s Ask the Authors how effective our panel members think interviews are. Do they sell books, or are there other benefits? Is landing an interview something we should strive for?
How effective have interviews been for you in your overall marketing scheme?
Carol Riggs: Friends and fans tweet for me on Twitter, invite me to guest post on their blogs (like this interview series, thanks so much!), and share things on Facebook. All those things are invaluable and help me out a lot.
Chris DiBella: I’ve done several interviews, but I don’t think they’ve really been effective in terms of generating more book sales. My advice for any new authors wanting to do interviews is to research who is conducting the interview. If they only have 5 followers, is it really going to help you in the long run? The argument can be made that reaching even one new reader is a success, but I guess you have to pick and choose when and where you decide to do spots.
Cynthia Vespia: It really depends on the person doing the interview. I’ve done alot of podcasts and for the most part I’ve had fun, but there have been a few times where the person running the interview has been monotone, dull, distracted, and just brought the entire show down. There’s only so much I can do when the person on the other end isn’t holding their end up.
What interview has been the most effective for you in terms of marketing? Why?
What was the most fun interview you’ve ever done? Why?
Jordan Elizabeth: Yours. You ask the most interesting, thought-provoking questions.
(Kaye: (Blushing) Thank you.)
Carol Riggs: The most fun interview I did was with Moriah Chavis on A Leisure Moment for my book, THE LYING PLANET. It was a unique and creative interview, in which she asked me questions as if I were the Machine—the sinister contraption that judges each teen in the community on their 18th birthday.
A picture speaks a thousand words, and a video can speak an entire book. Well, maybe. It’s certain that images attract attention more than posts with only words, if you want to sell books, you at least need to post an image of your cover. But some authors go beyond that and posts videos or book trailers to attract people to check out, and hopefully buy, their books. I recently made a book trailer for Delilah, and it certainly got more Facebook views than other posts I’ve made. (Unfortunately, I can’t feature it here for you, because the free plan on WordPress doesn’t support video.)Whether it increased my sales is yet to be seen, but let’s Ask the Authors to see what out panel members think about book trailers.
Do you use book trailers? If so, do you create them yourself or hire them out? How effective do you think they are?
Chris DiBella: I created a book trailer for my first novel, Lost Voyage, and then for my first zombie book. I created them myself. It was pretty easy to do it on my own and make it look more professional than it actually was. For Lost Voyage, the music I used was from my band at the time, and for the zombie book, I used the music from a friend’s band (appropriately enough, it was a hard rock remake of the song “Zombie” by the Cranberries.). People liked then and thought they were fun. I’ve thought about making another trailer for my most recently published book. If it gets people to click on the post, it can’t be a bad thing.
Margareth Stewart: I do like having my books transformed into book trailers. This helps readers to experience them through motion pictures – Images may speak better than words. I have also hired this kind of service from “Fiverr” which has a fix price of US$ 5 dollars for each short film. It is an amount really worth spending. There are video editors available online where it is possible to produce and edit our films. I always make sure the images are copyright-free and I hope they call producers´ attention – more to the story than my film-making techniques – “who knows?”
Cynthia Vespia: I make a book trailer for every new release. They are effective enough to get attention.
Press releases, in my mind, were something a publisher did for an author to create buzz for a new release. But today’s authors are doing their own marketing, and a lot of the time, there is no publisher besides the author. I wasn’t even sure if folks still did press releases in a digital age, but I came across a template for a press release in the self-administered crash course in marketing and promotion I’ve been doing, so I made one up, geared to the local author angle and sent it out to several of my local papers. I also played on the fact that Delilah is set in Colorado, so I sent one to the Leadville paper, where most of her story takes place. I had one two positive responses, and one that for sure published it, which I just happened to catch with Google Alerts, which notifies me when my selected key words appear online. I don’t know if any of the others published, but I considered it a success just to get it in the papers I know about. I’m not sure how to measure its effect on book sales yet. It was an experiment for me, and I’m curious to learn about our panel members experiences with them. Let’s Ask the Authors.
Have you tried Press Releases? How effective were they?
Margareth Stewart: Yes I have, and I reckon it is a great mean to call people´s attention to my publications, especially new releases. I usually prepare a text with images, and send them by email. I have been figured out in radio programs and local newspapers. It is worth taking the time and the effort to straighten up relations with local audience. Sometimes, it does not immediately reflect on sales, but it works as the branding an author´s name. Besides, it is also a mean to being found through search engines!
Cynthia Vespia: Yes. They haven’t done much for me.
Many authors today utilize street teams to find reviewers for their books or just get the word out. Street teams are usually made up of enthusiastic fans who don’t mind helping out their favorite author, and unlike P.A.s, they usually volunteer for the job and are not paid. I haven’t employed a street team, but anything related to marketing and promotion that doesn’t put a dent in my pocketbook is always of interest. Let’s ask our Ask the Authors panel members how effective they have found street teams to be and how they have utilized their street teams.
Do you have a street team? If so, how do you utilize them? What do they do for you?
Jordan Elizabeth: I used to, but the girls started to be harassed by other authors and bloggers. One by one they dropped out. We’re still good friends and they read my books, but they no longer help with marketing.
Chris DiBella: My wife, my mom, and my brother are my current “street team”. They wear shirts I had made advertising my website. It’s not a massive marketing effort, but at least people are seeing my name intermittently….even if it is on the back of a shirt.
It seems no matter what publishing route one takes, a major portion, if not all of the book marketing and promotion falls to the author. Different authors approach the task in many different ways, from social media marketing, to live book events, to creating booktrailers, tee-shirts, and tire covers, to paid advertising spots, to newsletters, to press releases and interviews, to utilizing street teams to acquire reviews and or do promotion, to hiring ad agencies. Most of our panel members claim live events are more effective in marketing, but it seems both live and Internet promotion is needed, and perhaps even desired ina digital world. Of course, all of this barely scratches the surface of the world of book marketing. There is enough on this topic to fuel several series, but perhaps some of the information presented here will spark an idea for promotion or inspire a new marketing campaign for your own books.
If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. This is the last chance to pose a question for these panel members as next week will be the final post for this Ask the Authors series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members there. See you next Monday!
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Anyone who knows me, knows that there’s nothing I love to read more than a really good, low-down scary horror story. For me, a good horror story is one that you can’t set down, even though it scares the bejesus out of you. I remember one night when when I was fifteen and I was baby sitting a couple of kids for a mother who worked nights, and I happened across a book called The Shining. After the kids were in bed, the dishes done, and the apartment picked up, I sat down to read the book I had found on the coffee table, and read it, I did. I called and woke my mother up at two a.m. and asked her to talk to me for a little while, because I was scared and hearing noises. My mom was the best, and she talked to me for almost twenty minutes, until I felt like I could once more keep it together. When we hung up, I went back to the couch, picked up The Shining again, and read the rest of the night away. I finished the book in one night, almost in one sitting. It scared the holy crap out of me, but I had to find out what happened. That, to me, is what a good horror story is all about.
Kind Nepenthe, by Matthew V. Brockmeyer turns the hills of Northern California into a place to be feared. This skillfully crafted story takes readers inside California’s drug culture, and behind the scenes of a marajuana grow to find more lurking there than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. A kind of darkeness falls deep in the forests of Humboldt County, a darkness that grabs ahold and doesn’t let go, a darkness that ends in murder, over and over again.
Looking for peace and sustainability for herself and her daughter, Rebecca goes along with her boyfriend, Calendula, in playing plant caretaker for the grow of her friend Coyote in order to get the needed money to buy them a place and live off the land. But, she gets so much more than she bargained for and in time, she doesn’t even recognize herself or Calendula as the evil of Homicide Hill grips them in clenched fists and won’t let go.
Brockmeyer does a good job of building suspense and allowing readers to feel the fear – one sign of a well-crafted horror story. He did an excellent job of keeping me focused and on track, except in one instance where he tried a method of re-direction that just didn’t work for me, but I found instead, a bit confusing. In spite of that, Kind Nepenthe is a kind of scary that is so believable, it might be the scariest of all. And I have to give him kudos for coming up with an original title that will stand out for search engines and may carry him to the top of the rankings. I give it four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
In today’s segment of Ask the Authors, panel members discuss building a reader platform, and branding ourselves and our writing to make our books stand out above the multitude of books, putting ours into the readers hands. In her article 10 Obvious Truths Writers Always Forget, Stacey Anderson Laatsch says that although a good marketing plan may speed things up a bit, “An audience grown organically over time will follow you and read more of your work than one manipulated with aggressive ads or hollow social media campaigns.” But in my experience, things don’t happen unless you make them happen. You can’t grow your reader following if readers don’t know you are there. You must make your work visible if you want to be found. There are many angles from which to approach these tasks. Let’s see how our panel members handle them.
What methods have you tried for gaining a reader following?
Jordan Elizabeth: I’ve tried building up my newsletter, but that didn’t work. I’ve also tried sending to bloggers, but most of them don’t answer. Reaching out personally to reviewers has helped, and so has joining review groups on Facebook.
Carol Riggs: Just trying to make genuine relationship connections (mostly on Twitter), rather than focusing on numbers. I had a blog at one point, but it started taking away from my writing time because I enjoyed visiting other people’s blogs and there were a ton of them. So I pretty much retired the blog. I also make connections at the Oregon SCBWI conferences by networking with other YA writers. (SCBWI = Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)
Janet Garber: Book fairs, library talks, person-to-person, mailing list, blog/website, radio interviews, newspaper interviews, guest blogging or interviews, writing articles in professional magazines, open mic events, attendance at professional conferences.
Cynthia Vespia: I’m on Twitter and Instagram @originalcynergy. My FB and YouTube pages are /originalcyncontent.
Chris Barili: Write good stories. I gain far more followers through my stories than I do through any other means. People who’ve read something in an antho, or Hell’s Butcher, or Smothered.
Chris DiBella: I’ll bring bookmarks with me everywhere I go (concerts, zoo, beach, bookstores) and just give them to anyone I see with a book in their hand. Maybe they read the bookmark and are intrigued to buy one of the books on there. If I’m friendly with them, maybe that will persuade them to give me a shot. I’m not even ashamed to admit I’ve piggybacked on friends’ social media accounts and added their fans as followers or friends. If it’s in the same genre, it makes sense to have a presorted list of potential book readers to reach out to.
Tim Baker: I’ve tried just about everything. Some examples, aside from the standard internet self-promotion: Leaving bookmarks in novels of my genre at bookstores, leaving books in airports, stamping my website address on money, tee shirts, mugs, and putting my logo and website address on the spare tire cover of my Jeep!
What’s the most effective way you’ve found to build followers?
Jordan Elizabeth: I enjoy reaching out personally to talk to reviewers and readers. I like to think that builds a personal repertoire.
Carol Riggs: Honestly, I don’t try that hard; it’s not like I have that as a goal or anything, although maybe I should. I love using Twitter the most, because I can connect with people who love to read and write. Having said that, I think the most effective way to build followers is to be yourself, and make genuine connections rather than constantly saying, “Buy my book!” Anything else can be pushy and shallow.
Janet Garber: I’ve been hard at work finishing my second novel about a young couple living in Paris in the 1970’s. I have not been as active lately promoting Dream Job as I should be. I’m considering an audiotape and perhaps hiring someone to place ads for me. I’m still on a learning curve re marketing.
Cynthia Vespia: To be honest, that is constantly a work in progress for me. I’m currently on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube. I also have my own website where I do a monthly blog and newsletter. All I can say is that no matter what platform you use to always have fresh content that attracts viewership. My favorite way to gain followers is to do public events like book signings and conventions.
Chris Barili: Giveaways, conventions, leaving bookmarks around town, newsletter, instafreebie, book signings at Barnes and Noble, a website, and Facebook/Twitter accounts.
Chris DiBella: I primarily use Facebook to interact with and build my followers (although I’ve cut down my usage on there significantly lately). I don’t like joining (or being added to) author groups because it’s usually only 99% other authors in the group who aren’t interested in reading anything and they’re just there to post about their own books. I’m guilty of not being more active to build my follower list, but the people that do read my books seem to generally really like them and look forward to the next ones.
Tim Baker: At the risk of sounding pompous…the best way I’ve found to build a following is to write good books, and keep writing them. What you will find is that when people like your work they tell other people about it – which is the best way to gain followers. All of the other marketing and promoting is good, but word of mouth is still the best.
In this digital world we live in, it seems the trick is to navigate through the social media maze to find effective ways to make your book stand out above the mountain of books available. Narrowing things down into a specific niche may increase your odds of success, but most genre writers must compete with multitudes. So what works and what doesn’t. Let’s Ask the Authors.
Do you utilize giveaways or book events on social media? Which ones have been effective for you?
Jordan Elizabeth: In the past, I did Facebook Release Parties. The first ones had great success, but over the years the participation dwindled. I’ve stopped doing them, as only a few close friends would attend.
Carol Riggs: Oh yes, I love doing giveaways and book events on social media. One giveaway I used to love doing was the Goodreads giveaways, but alas, now they are charging money for those giveaways. While it’s nice they’re now including ebooks and that helps distribute ARCs, I’m sad that it’s no longer a free way to bring awareness of my book to a reading platform site. I tried Facebook ads but didn’t have any luck with it. My publishers have had BookBub ads for my books (which authors can use without having to have a publisher), and had great success with them.
Cynthia Vespia: I have done a few book giveaways and joined some book events on FB. I’ve also done giveaways on Goodreads. TBH, there hasn’t been much return from doing the giveaways. The events have supplied me with a few more followers, and they can be fun depending on how active the audience is, but it is hit or miss sometimes.
Chris Barili: I tried a couple of book events. Blog tours and page takeovers. That kind of thing. No luck. What I did find successful was a contest I had with my friend Amity Green. We both did full-court press ad and publicity campaigns and made it known we were competing against one another. That resulted in the largest sales period I’ve ever had, and got me a number of followers.
Chris DiBella: I don’t like book giveaways on sites like Goodreads. You always get a million people signing up for it just to get something free, and who knows if they’re ever going to read it or if they’re your targeted fan anyway…so I stay away from this route. I occasionally do an Amazon free promo over a four-day weekend, but even though a few thousand copies might go out, who knows when or if it will get read. But I guess if it reaches the person, it’s worth it. Amazon has been the most effective by far, and I typically see a small spike in sales of my other books following the giveaway.
Tim Baker: I have done several giveaways. The Goodreads giveaways didn’t do much at all for me, but I have found that when I make a kindle book free and spread the word on social media I give away hundreds of books, which in turn raises my name in the Amazon search algorithms, which in turn drives up sales.
Do you utilize in person book events or giveaways? Do you feel these face to face events are more effective for gaining followers that social media events?
Jordan Elizabeth: Face-to-face is my preference. I love to meet people and explain what my books are about. I do a lot of local book signings and other events in the area.
Carol Riggs: I did in-person book signings mostly for my debut book, and since I didn’t have a lot of friends in the cities I did the signings in, the events weren’t always well attended. However, I did also do a literacy event in Eugene, Oregon, this last December 2017 that supported literacy with a percentage of my sales, as well as provided me an opportunity for meeting people. I think authors need to realize it’s not always about how many books you’ve sold; it’s about engaging readers face to face and making a personal connection.
Janet Garber: For me, face to face encounters are a lot of fun and generate some sales.
Cynthia Vespia: I’m not sure if face-to-face events get me more followers but they are a lot more fun. I’ve done book signings at libraries, bookstores, and conventions. What I like best is meeting people face-to-face. Writing is isolating, so getting interaction with readers like that is the equivalent of an actor doing a play in front of a live audience.
Chris Barili: Again, the best way to find followers is to write a good story. If you meet them face to face, then they read your book and it sucks, guess what. They’re not following you. But AFTER writing a good book, face-to-face is probably the next most effective way to gain followers. It makes a difference when someone has seen your face, shaken your hand, and so on. Maybe gotten a book signed by you. You’ve earned some loyalty from them.
Chris DiBella: I’ve been known to just show up at local bookstores and ask the owner if it’s cool if I just stand out front and give away my book to people coming in. I tell them I’m not taking any money away from the bookstore and that I’m not charging anything, but rather just trying to get my book in the hands of potential readers. I rarely have a bookstore say no. Then, I ask people leaving store what their favorite genres to read are. If they say action/adventure, I give them a signed copy of one of my books. If they like it, they can pay for the next one, and it helps to get my name out there. Face-to-face is always better because if your personable with people, they’re more likely to buy your book if they can put a face to the name. This could have a reverse effect, however, if you’re an asshole…..so it’s a safer bet to just be nice to people.
Tim Baker:I don’t give books away at live events, usually. Once in a while I’ll offer a “buy two get one free” but for the most part, at live events I’m strictly selling. And yes – live face-to-face events definitely help gain followers. People enjoy meeting authors and talking about books, writing, reading, etc.
What are some effective methods for branding yourself and your work?
Jordan Elizabeth: I like to keep my writing consistent so readers know when to expect when they dive in. Early last year I came up with an author logo that I hope will draw more attention to my books as a brand.
Follow-up: Is there a story as to how you chose the image for your logo? Why did you chose this for the Jordan Elizabeth signature?
Jordan Elizabeth: The story is kind of boring… I have an illustrator friend, Aaron Siddall. I asked him to come up with something for me and he showed me this as his first try. I loved it, so he didn’t offer other suggestions.
Janet Garber: My book was available to critics on netgalley, but I did not find that helpful. Reviews are important and I have sought those out.
Cynthia Vespia: The story is that it’s a play on my name and the biblical story of Adam and Eve where they are in the Garden of Eden and the snake encourages Eve to bite the forbidden fruit. AKA “The Original Sin”
Tim Baker: Blindogg Books is my own publishing company. I publish my own books of course and have published 2 that weren’t mine. With technology the way it is and the power of the internet it is very easy to become your own publisher.
Do you have a website or blog that you drive traffic to? How effective do you think they are?
Jordan Elizabeth: My website is JordanElizabethBooks.com. I would say it is 10% effective. The only people who view it are those who want to order signed copies. I would say the publishers’ websites are more popular and effective.
Carol Riggs: Yes, I have a website; I used to have a blog but it’s pretty much retired now. I post chapter samples of all my books as well as purchasing links on my website. I’m not sure exactly how effective these things are, but a thorough and professional-looking website is a must for an author. A website must be easy to navigate and not too cluttered. An author photo must be included, as well as contact links, social media links, purchase links, book covers, and book summaries.
My website: http://www.carolriggs.com/
Janet Garber: I have a website, http://www.janetgarber.com and an attached blog.
Cynthia Vespia: I have a website at www.CynthiaVespia.com where I will blog tips, news, and fun stories. I also have some free reads on the blog as well.
I have a Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorMargarethStewart.
There I post all things related to my publishing life, books, novels, things I write, what I read, topics for writers: writing tips, residency open calls, and so on. I am sure this is important not only in building a career, but to being in contact with fellows alike. I am not quite impressed by authors and people who have a large amount of followers – much to the opposite; I like to discover new authors and new voices, either for the future or from the past. I am so much into independent bookstores, self-published and indie authors, forgotten voices and old manuscripts, initiatives that makes us grow and worry less about fame. In a society of celebrities and best-seller authors, I guess I took the unpaved road (lol).
Chris Barili: authorchrisbarili.com is my website, and while it’s not terrible effective at bringing people in, it’s very effective at relaying news to people already following me.
Chris DiBella: Anywhere I have a social media presence, my website address can be found, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. I even put my web address and email address in my books to help encourage interaction.
I think the blog is effective because the content changes regularly. I usually gain a new follower or two every time I post something new. My website is pretty static so it doesn’t do much for me – but it does give people a place to buy my books.
Art Rosch was unable to weigh in this week, but asked that his links be included here.
Arthur Rosch Books
Write Out Of My Head
If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.
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A Cat Came Back, by Simone Martel is a quirky little tale about a woman who finds herself in the body of a cat. Most of us, put in the same position, would panic and try to figure a way to get our own body back, but not Eliza. She accepts what has happened as a a matter of course. All she wants is for someone to see her for who she really is, and at first, it seems that being in this cat body might not be such a bad thing, since her boyfriend, Stu, takes one look at the cat and knows she’s in there. But, being recognized for who you are isn’t always easy, you have to keep working at it, especially when the only sounds that come out of your mouth are purrs, yowls and hisses.
A thoroughly entertaining story of transformation that offers a few surprises and the occasional chuckle. It’s light and quirky and funny. Not your typical body switching out of the bottle tale. I give A Cat Came Back four quills.