I am so excited to have these two authors, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, as my guests today. They are both really great people and our conversations are always interesting, to say the least. Although I’ve never met Kym in person, Mark was my professor and mentor, and later my co-worker at Western State Colorado University. They also were a part of one of my 2018 “Ask the Authors” blog series and will be featured authors in the anthology of the same name, which is taken from that series and is planned for release in 2020.
You’ve heard of those couples who have been married so long and know each other so well that they can finish each other’s sentences? Well, these two really do that, both in speech and in writing, and they have co-authored several books together. We’re going to talk today about their nonfiction collaboration, Wild West Ghosts, which documents their paranormal research, (which was of course, carried out as a team). Let’s welcome them now and see what they have to share with us today.
Kaye: You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. What are some of the major differences that you see between the two types of writing?
Kym-n-Mark: We both began as journalists, so we cut our eyeteeth writing nonfiction. Lots and lots of straight news stories.
Kym: For years my job as a newspaper features editor gave me plenty of practice at bringing out the lives of interviewees to readers by applying creative writing techniques such as scene dramatization, dialogue, setting, and “character” description.
Mark: This may sound flippant, but my favorite description of the difference is this: nonfiction is writing that pretends it’s true while fiction is writing that pretends it isn’t! Okay, that even sounds flippant to me. But I think there’s a kernel of truth in there.
Kaye: In Wild West Ghosts, although the material is nonfiction, describing ghost hunts that you have been on, the historical characters which inhabited the locations in the past were very real and they had lives. How did you help those characters come to life for your readers?
Kym-n-Mark: We did a lot of research for each hotel and often found first-hand historical accounts either by the people we wrote about or about those folks by others from the time. During and after our paranormal investigations, we tried to be mindful the entitles we seemed to contact were once real people and respectful when we told the stories they had to share – or at least our encounters with them.
Kaye: What is the most unusual ghost hunt you’ve ever been on? Why?
Kym-n-Mark: We’d have to say the Norwood Hotel really stands out for all the things that happened. A cup flew off a table in front of us, we encountered a cold spot, and multiple pieces of equipment reported the same readings. In one room, there seemed to be a pathetic presence who identified herself as “Leah” who asked us to help her, and when we reviewed out digital recorder later asked us to remember her. In another room at the hotel, all our equipment red-lined and then shut down at the same time. We decided it was time to go.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Kym-n-Mark: Ha! As journalists we learned to write to deadline, so any time is good. But we also pick whatever time we’re both free to write together.
Kaye: You’ve been a college professor and Kym is a graphic designer, in addition to being authors. If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
Kym-n-Mark: Probably what we’re doing right now. We write because we enjoy it. Besides, we’ve turned a number of hobbies into businesses through the years, and it somehow kills the joy. We’d never want that to happen to our writing if that’s all we had to do.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge when writing with a co-author?
Kym-n-Mark: For us it’s never been a challenge. But we’ve talked to other authors who found it hard. Most use “over the transom” writing, where each writes drafts and passes it to the other to revise back and forth. But all a matter of compatibility – in writing style, in work ethic, and in commitment.
Kym: Writing style and values are important. If either one of us had large egos, we’d either stop writing together or else we’d be divorced.
Mark: Yes, dear.
Kaye: What is the best part of writing with a co-author?
Kym-n-Mark: We’re sure there are others out there who do it like we do, but we can’t name anyone.
Kym: I start a sentence…
Mark: …and I finish it.
Kym: Or vice versa. Then before we finish a session, we reread and rewrite until –
Mark: — until we can’t tell who wrote what.
Kym: You’d think were married or something. Oh wait, we are!
Kaye: What is your favorite channel for book promotion?
Kym-n-Mark: That’s a toughie. We’ve tried most of them, and we ended up taking the sage advice to focus on just a handful that seemed to fit us best. Like you, Kaye, we like blogging, and have had a fair amount of success with that channel when cross-promoting with FB and Twitter.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
Mark: I’ve always liked Natalie Goldberg’s advice from her book, “Writing Down the Bones: “Always give yourself permission to fail.”
Kym: I’ve always liked this: “Just start writing. If you don’t like it, that’s what the delete button is for.”
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Kym: Don’t quit your day job. Until you make it, the electricity still needs to be paid.
Mark: I agree. I usually takes time to break in to publishing. Don’t put the pressure on yourself or your family. You’ll either find yourself blocked or you’ll crank out something that’s a waste of your time and your readers.
Kaye: Are there more books in the future for Mark and Kym Todd? What are you currently working on?
Mark: We’ve both really gotten into genealogy – we even have a blog dedicated to the more interesting skeletons we’ve each discovered in our closets. I’ve also always wanted to finish a memoir (one of those drafts-in-a drawer kinds of thing) about growing up in in a family mortuary business. A comedy, of course.
Kym: Our last book about ghosts happened because we were celebrating with our publisher the publication of our the third book in the Silverville trilogy. I never drink but had two Cape Cods that night. When our publisher asked us what was next, I blurted out a book about haunted hotels. Two days later, he called us and said he’d publish the ghost book. Maybe we’ll plan the next one when I get drunk again.
I want to thank Kym & Mark for joining us here and sharing today. As always when talking with them, the conversation was unique and entertaining, as well as being informative. I, for one, can’t wait to learn what that next book will be about, so I think Mark should take Kym out more often. You can learn more about Mark & Kym and their books on Mark’s Amazon Author page or on his Goodreads author page. To learn more about their paranormal investigations, visit their blog, Write in the Thick of Things.
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I’m not sure how to classify Strange Attractors by Mark Todd. It is science fiction, but it doesn’t feel like science fiction. It feels like a story with well-developed characters you want to care about and an intricate plot, filled with irony, which keeps you guessing until the very last pages. Most of all, I think Strange Attractors is simply an interesting and entertaining read, a good, old fashioned, well crafted story that keeps the pages turning.
Conti is Morgan’s boss, but when she learns that the project she’s been working on has the potential to wipe out world populations, and has potential military applications, she wonders if her boss is losing his mind. And perhaps he is. Conti has seen little gray men near Roswell, but they aren’t what he thinks. Morgan is seeing one too, in the form of a little boy who looks strangely like her little brother. Although he shows her many things, including a strange craft, Morgan doesn’t believe in aliens, so she gives these things a different interpretation. When Morgan confronts her boss about her suspicions on the project, he seems to give her the brush off, and before all is through, Morgan doesn’t know who to trust. She’s sure the little boy who appears both in and out of her dreams is trying to tell her something, and it could be something that could change the fate of the world, but can she figure out his message while there is still time to avert disaster?
I enjoyed every page of this story. I was drawn to it as if to a strange attractor, something attractive and compelling. I give Strange Attractors five quills.
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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