Just Write! – NaNoWriMo and Beyond

200_dYou know the saying. Every year around November it bubbles up to the general consciousness of nascent writers everywhere. “Just write something every day.” If only aspiring storytellers would heed that advice for more than a month.

Look, writing is hard. If it weren’t, everyone would be a successful author. But it’s more than just the practice-makes-perfect element at play. Sometimes, it’s also the fear of producing something less than an absolute masterpiece.

I hate to break it to you, but the vast majority of us will never create such a work. The key is to not let that stop you from writing. Or, to use another oft-cited cliché, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Storytime. A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless––though not like that guy in Manzoni’s novel––has been a writer for years. Decades even. He has ideas squirreled away, half-finished drafts and novel outlines. But the thing is, he never finishes a work. Oh, he’ll revisit them every few years and get excited, making new tweaks and edits, but nary a one has ever been published.a4-office-records-papers-documents-pile-of-documents-stack-of-documents-CPH5C0

Here’s the rub. Self-publishing is easy. Even for utter crap, it’s laughably simple these days. People upload literary garbage and release it into the wild on a daily basis, sloppy, unedited, and with covers a 6-year-old could design. But this friend? His writing is actually quite good. Better than much of the pap floating around Amazon these days, for sure. Yet his output fluctuates wildly and is often nonexistent. And when he does write, the end product invariably winds up in storage, not living up to his overly-ambitious standards.

He will never publish at this rate.

In ten years he has written bits of several books, screenplays, and treatments, stashing them away while lamenting the difficulties of an author’s life all the while. Meanwhile, in just two years I’ve published thirteen (including shorts collections), with my new five book sci-fi series coming out as a binge reader release (yes, shameless plug). TheClockworkChimera_3Dmockup_books1-5Now, my work is fun, but will by no means ever be considered classics of great literature. But guess what? That’s okay. And there are thousands of readers who enjoy it and look forward to the next release. Good is fine and keeps your momentum. Perfect may take a lifetime and result in just one book.

So take this as a cautionary tale of sorts. Use the momentum from NaNoWriMo to KEEP WRITING. Even 500 words over the course of a day will add up to 182,500 words by the end of a year. Most books are around 90k. That’s roughly 2 novels a year at that rate.

So write, finish, rewrite, polish, and have a professional copy editor fine-tooth comb your work. Then stop messing with it, release it, and move on to the next one. Though not perfect for everyone, that’s how the vast majority will grow as an author and build a body of work.

 

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Advance Review Readers – My Experience as an Author.

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November is National Novel Writing Month, and I thought I’d post some experiences I’ve had as an author forging his way through the wilderness of self publishing.

One thing that I’ve seen a lot of, and I’m sure you have too, are the scores and scores of books available online that have just one or two reviews despite being available for months or even years. It’s something writers need to take into consideration well before they ever publish their book, but far too often they are focused solely on the writing process and not on the release. Let me tell you, if you spent so much time and effort creating your work, you should be more than willing to delay releasing it until you can give it a fighting chance in the competitive landscape of Amazon and other sales channels.

Consider this. To gain visibility on Amazon (which is the main source of sales for most indie authors), you need consistent sales. They reward a steady purchase history more than a one-day spike, but what helps people discover and eventually decide to read your book? Ratings and reviews. They give credibility, and help draw eyes to your work. How many times have you personally been influenced by a star rating on Amazon? I know I am far more likely to take a gamble on an unknown if it has many positive reviews, and most readers are the same.

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Okay, so we’re on the same page now, but the question people ask is, “How do I get reviews?” Amazon often filters out your family and friends by comparing your social media accounts. They don’t catch them all, but be aware that Mom and Cousin Joe’s glowing reviews might not stick on your page. There are some sites that sell reviews, but not only can you typically spot those reviews a mile away, Amazon is also actively removing them and punishing authors trying to game the system that way. So what’s an author without a massive mailing list to do?

Advanced Copy Reviews.

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ARCs are a fantastic tool if you’re willing to put the time and effort in to getting them to the right readers. The book doesn’t even need to be in its finished form or have the final cover. ARC readers realize they are seeing a work before the final proof. It’s a special thing to be one of the first to lay eyes on someone’s work, and the ARC readers I’ve met have almost all been a joy to interact with. So how do you find people willing to read your book? It’s not a simple/easy process, but neither is it incredibly difficult.

 

 

  1. Book Bloggers.  Bookblog_piccolo  Spend a few hours and search for bloggers who read books in your genre. Really dig in and look through their sites. Do you like their writing style? Is their content good? Do they post timely reviews and interesting pictures? How is their interaction with their readers? You want to reach out to these voracious readers months before your release and offer them your book for free. Most will have a submissions policy listed on their website. Follow it and do not spam them with repeated requests. I sent out dozens of requests after reviewing literally hundreds of blogs. Of those select ones I found exceptional, only a handful wound up reviewing my book, but those reviews were fantastic (even the critical ones) and meeting a blogger whose work is that quality is well-worth the effort. If you reach out to just five blogs a day for a month, that’s one-hundred-fifty contacted by the end of the month. Not so daunting when you break it up like that.
  2. Blog tours and aggregators.  xpresso-book-toursSome services, such as Xpresso book tours, have a huge number of bloggers in their network. These people are looking for good content for their sites, and by providing them with quality reads, you are helping fill that need. An announcement will be sent to them or posted on the main site informing them of the available book. An advantage of this is you have a bit of one-stop-shopping this way and can reach a lot of people. It costs money, but it is quite reasonable, especially if you want your book to launch well. It only launches once, after all, so do it right.
  3. Free giveaways.  giveaway6Goodreads, Library Thing, Instafreebie, Bookfetti, all are sites that you can promote your book via giveaways. While Goodreads requires print copies for their giveaways, you can go into the groups on the site dedicated to ARC readers. I’ve personally reached many excited bookworms there, and best of all, they are actively replying to your post, which indicates a high likelihood they’ll read the book. Library Thing is a bit hit or miss, but it’s an eBook, so it’s free to send anyway. Do a giveaway and ask for a review. Even if you get just a few out of fifty or a hundred sent out, that still builds your book’s credibility. Just make sure to keep track of your pre-release reviews (Amazon won’t let them post on the site until the book releases) so you can email reviewers a thank you and ask that they post on Amazon when it finally releases.

If this seems like a lot of work, just remember that so was writing your book. If you want your brain-baby to be seen, you have to put in the post-writing effort. Furthermore, if you want to use a promotion site for a giveaway or discount offer, most of them have a minimum review threshold–put in place to ensure they are sending their readers quality deals.

A final note before I return to my own NaNoWriMo work for the day: Hire a professional editor if you can. While your cousin the teacher or buddy the avid reader might catch most mistakes, an experienced editor will make your book read like a professional book, not an indie. Make it look professional. Also along those lines, if you can’t afford a cover designer, there are some great tools and advice at your disposal. I recommend looking at Derek Murphy’s CreativIndie site. He’s a successful author and cover designer who provides huge amounts of information on his site.

Good luck building your list of ARC readers. Put the time and effort in, and you should see the positive results.

 

Self-Publishing Can Work for You

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Alright, if you’ve been following my blog, you know it’s been a bit now since I started this self-publishing experiment, and I want to tell you a few things I’ve discovered.

First: If you don’t put in the work to publicize your books, no one will just stumble upon them. I’ve experimented with various methodologies, and while some work better than others for driving readers to deals, (Freebooksy/Bargainbooksy are favorites), the cold, harsh reality is if you don’t actively promote your work often, it will go unnoticed. Have a plan, and follow it regularly to increase awareness and drive traffic.

Second: Reviews and ratings are crucial to increasing your download and purchase numbers. The more reviews I get, the higher the percentage of conversions I see when people follow a link to my Amazon page. This makes perfect sense, of course. Don’t just focus on Amazon, however. goodreads-logo-1024x576-7abf5bd8d98b9d10Goodreads is also a great source to introduce your work to new readers, and the community is a bit more self-policing than Amazon.

Third: Quantity is king. A single book won’t do much for you, but if you have several, or better yet, a series, you can drive traffic to your other books when you do a promotion for just one of them. I publicized a giveaway of Worst. Superhero. Ever. for five days (each with a different listing site, which is when Freebooksy became a favorite). The result was over 3,000 downloads (over 2,000 from Freebooksy alone), and in the weeks that followed, my other books began to see an uptick in purchases. A freebie isn’t always a bad thing. If you provide something that people like, a good many will purchase your other works. There’s no guarantee, and it may take months (some people download everything they find for free and eventually get to them), but it’s definitely worth looking into.

Fourth: Set up a mailing list (here’s mine for those interested in quirky short stories). People who enjoy your work and sign up for your list will most likely purchase your other books as they come out. Additionally, they’ll promote your work for you. Build a solid base of fans and interact with them, but don’t spam them. One thing I like is running potential cover designs by them for opinions. Another is to occasionally send a free short story, just because. These are people who genuinely enjoy your work, so treat them as such. They’re not just consumers, they are people who appreciate what you offer. Create a loyal fan base (by not being a dick) and you’ll stand a much better chance of gaining traction with every new release. MailChimp is a great resource for mailing lists, by the way. mailchimp

Fifth: Few will sell millions, but if you’re feeling frustrated or unsure, read this article about Amanda Hocking. She self-published her works (rejected by numerous traditional publishers) to help her fund a trip to a convention. Much to her surprise, they were a hit, and she has now sold over 1.5 million copies of her works.

There are no guarantees, but it’s better to try, and possibly fail, than to never try at all.

 

The Queen of the Nutters

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Fellow writers and lovers of quirk, I’d like to introduce you to my latest brain-baby, birthed in the midst of the holiday season. She’s a funny little thing, full of humor and whimsy, along with a healthy dose of “Where the hell did he get that idea?”

I’ve found the process of self publishing to be an interesting combination of daunting and invigorating. If you’ve tried it, you know what I mean, and if you’re reluctant yet considering it, I highly recommend it. Sure, the act of putting your work forth for public consumption and review is a little terrifying at first (and I highly recommend trying reddit’s DestructiveReaders for brutally honest critiques from your peers), but it gradually becomes less nerve-wracking. Some people will love your work, some will hate it, but very few will ever take the time to write about it to either extent.

When my first (and to date, only, knock on wood) terrible review of my previous book, Worst. Superhero. Ever. worstsuperheroever_cover1came in, I was, by that point, ready for the inevitable. It had to happen eventually, a bad review is a rite of passage of sorts (and getting one from a reader who admittedly didn’t even go past the first short really didn’t sting too much). What I’m saying is don’t let fear of negativity hold you back. I’ve found the support and positive feedback from readers and other writers has overwhelmingly outweighed any negatives.

As for the publishing process itself, well let’s just say the writing is the easy part. With this, my third e-book, I’m finally getting the hang of the self publishing game, but it still takes hours to properly format the book, get the table of contents and back matter in order in a way that ensures Amazon’s acceptance, and do the final re-re-re-reads even after the editor has picked it apart.

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Shortly I’ll be putting up a separate post with links to some online resources I found helpful that should be of use to other indie authors. We are all in this together, and, at least in my case, I’ve found my peers to be wonderful and supportive. In the meantime, please give The Queen of the Nutters a read, and maybe even leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you’re so inclined. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out and would love to hear your feedback.

Happy Holidays!

 

Lost & Found — A collection of odd short stories

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After much procrastination and reworking, I’ve finally released my first small collection of short stories. Four to be exact. A bite-sized e-book to put the first few of my brain babies out into the world. It was hard to stop editing and tweaking them and just let them go out into the wild, but now that they are, the feeling is wonderful. To all my fellow writer friends on the fence about doing the same, I just want to say this: Keep at it and put your work out there. Discovering new stories is a joy, and you can contribute to the body of new work available to eager readers.

As for me, I’m humbly asking those who are interested in quirky and odd short stories to take a chance on my little $0.99 e-book and give it a read, and if you should get some joy from my stories, please take a moment when you’re done to leave a rating or review (the lifeblood of indie authors) on Amazon or Goodreads (or both). It would be immensely appreciated!

Lastly, I know it can be rough out there, so if times are tight and you cannot afford the download, please message me directly and I’ll gladly send you a version for free.

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