10 Ways to Help an Author

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Friends and family take note! This is how you help indie authors succeed.

  1. Write a review! (any place online is good, but Amazon, Goodreads, BN, Smashwords–in that order of importance–are best because of the way they run online algorithms.)
  2. Offer words of support. (It’s hard. Writers need to know someone out there is even reading them.)
  3. Suggest their book to a book club.
  4. Follow their blog. (hint hint. there’s a little “follow” button hiding somewhere on this page.)
  5. Add their book(s) on Goodreads.
  6. Follow them on social media. (even better, interact with them!)
  7. Talk about their book with friends. (word of mouth is the most powerful promotional tool there is.)
  8. Give their books away as gifts. (If you have a personal connection to the author you could probably have them personalized.)
  9. Suggest your local library carry the book.(If the writer is an indie and is open to it, ask your librarian to host a book event with the author.)
  10. Buy their book! (if you bought it online and leave a review it will have a “Verified review” tag which carries a little more credibility.)

It should probably be noted that many lists just like this float around the internet. If the www was a convenience store, I’d be a shoplifter.

Review: Who Knew-Lessons from my First 40 Years

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Who Knew is one of those books that intrigued me at concept and kept all its promises. Christine Andola has strong and tight writing and I found it engaging as she mixes anecdotal (and mostly personal) stories in an engaging way to transmit life wisdom. As I read I had a vision of Barney and Ted from How I Met Your Mother… at one point they reach a level of drunkenness where they get super wise but are still very funny—that was my perception. Deep wisdom with humor.

I don’ know how old the author is (at least in her forties), but I can corroborate many of her experiences and takeaways as she communicates these great truths, (like “Not everybody wants to be your friend” and “bonding and bondage sound similar for good reasons.”)

Late in the book she mentions a bit of disdain for self-help style books. This book isn’t one of those. It’s more like a “how not to suck at life” advice manual from someone who ‘s already been there and done that.” It was also an easy read and kind of perfect to leave in a bag and read segments on a commute, etc. I’d recommend this one, even though I’m not a big reader of nonfiction for entertainment purposes.  (I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review).

Click here to check out the book on Amazon.

State of Writing

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Last week I set a goal of simply writing the next chapter which I had just barely started. I took my laptop with to a few appointments and half of them stood me up giving me some free time to write. I hit my goal and then wrote another chapter over the weekend while my wife was out with friends. Then I just kept going and started a third chapter… a big one. I’m hoping to finish this chapter this week (my new goal) but if I can write two, even better. I think I need to write about a chapter and a half each week to finish it on the timeline I’m hoping for.

I’ve also got pretty good headway on Wolves of the Tesseract: Taking of the Prime, a prequel comic book I’m developing with some talented artists overseas. I still want to have it available in early May for a comicon. We might make it. I’ll have to see. Expect seeing a possible kickstarter to help me defray the costs of having a couple thousand comicbooks printed. I’ve just got one thing to say. It’s. Really. Good.

So You Have a Book Signing at B&N?

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For all that I do to pitch books to a live studio audience, I have not done much by the way of book signings… primarily because of a lack of success in my early history with it. Most of those were smaller independent stores in non-metropolitan communities (I haven’t always been the font of self-confidence I am today.)  I wanted to change that and while I was booking an event late fall in MN’s capital, St. Paul I contacted the local Barnes & Nobles in the hopes that I could possibly get in to double up on my promo travel dollars. No dice… but mainly because of other bookings, a snafu with my publisher’s listings within Ingram that didn’t have my title listed as returnable at that time (even to this day, the monkeys with typewriters have its size listed incorrectly and we can’t seem to get it corrected.)

After some pleasant conversation and asking for a referral from one manager at a store I used to frequent in my college days I was talking with the right person (that’s always key) – you want to talk to their Community Business Development Manager, or CRM. I set up a date and time to call her in a month to revisit the conversation and verified with my publisher that the changes were setup within Ingram’s catalogue before calling her back. We set a date for a few months down the road and I did some cross-promotion for the event at local cons and outlets (not many showed up from those efforts, but as a principle I try to interact with genre specific crowds to stay current and relevant—just don’t spam people with advertisements: two people actually recognized me as an upcoming guest from a huge Comicon two months from now, so that was cool.)

I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could to help me secure more bookings for my own success, but also to share with my readers and spread success. I picked the brains of two store managers and asked for honest feedback on what I did during my two hour timeslot in the store. My articles about pitching to buyers and browsers during conventions, festivals, and fairs turned out to all be accurate and relevant. “Basically, everything you did was perfect and the prime example of what we want to see,” the manager told me as I wrapped up my roller bag with promo tools inside. “Too many authors come in and sit at the table expecting people to stop, but they don’t. You engaged our customers and that is the number one thing.”

As I mulled over my thoughts, I was glad that I didn’t appear too ostentatious. My voice travels, especially when I’m adding enthusiasm or excitement to my voice—which I always do when I’m pitching my books. Deep down I was scared that they might prefer authors to remain hands off, but realized after his feedback that they bought a bulk order of my books and now own them. They want my help selling them so that they can make a profit (literally, they get more money per book then I do as the author—that’s how it sometimes works.) It makes sense that they want a free salesman to help move units. I thought the whole experience over on the long drive home and compiled a list of Ten Things to keep in mind when doing a Barnes and Nobles book signing:

  1. DO NOT use your chair. I didn’t sit down one during the signing. I’ve said this a bunch of times before. “Nobody buys books from you if you’re sitting unless it’s in a wheelchair.” The manager agreed my insight.
  2. Everybody eavesdrops. Be excited and boisterous when you explain your book to someone. It may pull in other potential buyers (even if your first customer wanders away.) About a third of my sales were to people who came over because they overheard me describing a book to someone else and it intrigued them.
  3. Be Visual/Be Seen. The manager appreciated the fact that I had professional, quality banners and signage that helped point out the event to customers (remember, THEY WANT YOU TO SELL A TON OF BOOKS!) Marketing materials are worth their weight in coin—and the best part is that they are usually reusable. Invest wisely in this area.
  4. Ask for feedback. Not only does it keep you humble and teachable but it strokes the ego of a manager. Helping make this or her day better is never a bad idea. Remember that you are there to help them sell books, not bolster your own self-worth. It’s a valid trade: you help them with a little slave labor and you receive some platform building/marketing clout in exchange. During your signing, mentally tell yourself that you work for them—so ask them how you can best meet their needs.
  5. Don’t make assumptions about the store or the staff. It should go without saying, but remember, the lesson above. It’s okay to ask for specific boundaries so you don’t accidentally break a local policy, etc.
  6. Don’t MAKE DEMANDS. Manager told me how many authors ask for a different location because they think it will put them in contact with more people/better visibility. Understand that they probably put you somewhere specific for a reason and are likely more familiar with what makes a successful event in their store than you are. Be grateful. They didn’t have to let you come and don’t have to let you return.
  7. Start random conversations! I often look for ways to engage someone. I saw an eleven year old in a Marvel Heroes shirt walking nearby and asked him who his favorite hero was. We bonded, he looked at my books, and became my biggest fan. His dad bought two of my four books. Sometimes I even catcall to people who try not to look at me because they don’t want to engage in conversation, are in a rush, etc. I’ll say “Hey!” and then something weird (but not inappropriate) and say in an awkward voice “Oh no! I was trying not to get suckered into a conversation with that guy by avoiding eye contact and now I’m stuck—somebody help me!” If you make someone laugh, sometimes they come back. Sometimes they even buy books—just don’t be dumb about it. Engage someone like a friend, not a crusty circus carnie. The key word is engage, not alienate.
  8. DO MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT CUSTOMERS (but don’t ever, ever, ever tell them that.) When someone is carrying a similar genre title in the store it gives you a hint about their preferences (It’s not always right—it could be a gift—but hedge your bet it’s for them). The same goes for dress and appearance. People usually have a type. We’re all walking billboards for personal preferences—we just need to learn how to read them. Are they wearing a Final Fantasy T-shirt or have a Pikachu tattoo on their neck or sport an Ash Ketchum hat? Your historical fiction book may not be the best fit and if he is about to walk by at the same time as an older woman with bifocals who is carrying Killing Lincoln, I know who I’m going to try to engage. If you turn out to be wrong in your guesses, it’s usually enough to backtrack and take a new angle.
  9. Connect with people. People are only half-buying your book because they think it will be good. The other 50% is because they are sold on you. They are literally paying for this hunk of ink and paper because they met you and felt that an interaction with the author was worth an added value. Don’t discount the relationship opportunities! It’s why you’re in the store so make every effort to connect with people. Give them reasons to become fans instead of customers.
  10. Believe in yourself. Don’t be timid. The store CRM probably vetted you and your book at least to some degree… they went as far as to purchase some books, so they’ve invested in this thing because they believe in you. All those people coming through the doors? most of them came with money and the intent to buy a good read. Is your book good? Then sell it! It’s got to be good or you wouldn’t be at the store trying to pimp your story for nickels and 5-star reviews. If you’re afraid it’s sub-par then it was never ready for release and you need to pull it from the shelves, go back to editing, and not let it back into the wild until it’s got teeth. You need believe this book is the story that these people need to read. It’s your story. It’s the best story. They came to buy—so make sure you don’t deprive them of the greatest thing they’re going to read this year. You got this.

A few bonus ideas for the uninitiated.
– Have the customer purchase the book before you sign it. I learned the hard way that sometimes people will bail at the register or will have forgotten their wallet and then you have a personalized piece of merchandise that will never sell.
-Whatever you do, own it… just don’t be cocky, though. You’re probably doing these events because you’re not making six digits off your writing right now. If you did make a killing last year, feel free to disregard everything here and do your own thing. That’s cool… and email me what you’re doing so I can learn.
-Send a thank you to follow up.

At the end of my slot the manager told me I was welcome back any time. I also asked him for any outlets, stores, or people I ought to contact next. Don’t underestimate name-dropping or honest advice. I hope this article helps you. If you have any other insights, please leave them in the comments!

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My signing table as it was when I arrived at my local B&N. I sold about a third of the books in this photo.

Review: Adam

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Adam takes place in a not-too distant world full of androids, FTL travel, and teenage bullies. Adam is unlike the other boys and the story is one of self-discovery as he travels beyond the orphanage he’s grown up within only to discover that there is a power within that is not common to mankind.

I did feel like Adam was pretty mopey at times. But I suppose I would be too if I grew up in an orphanage and accidentally killed people more often than I wanted (even if they maybe have it coming.) The artificially intelligent androids were perhaps the best part, in my opinion. They were decidedly less asmovian and perhaps a more humanized version of ST:TNG’s Lt. Data (not necessarily in appearance, but in the way they think and “feel”… it was nuanced well.)

Some of the existing reviews indicate it is an adult fiction book but it has a distinctly YA feel to the voicing and it felt one part A.I. and one part Ender’s Game.

You can go check it out by clicking here.

State of Writing

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Success! I hit my goals (but not my secret goal which was to actually write an extra chapter atop of my normal goal.) I got halfway through the next chapter. Finishing that chapter will by goal again this week as a minimum and we’ll see how far I get.

Beyond that I’m working on an audio recording for another novelist at the request of my publisher. It has many German words and lots of pronunciations to keep straight. I ought to try and get two more chapters out of that this week, too. Plus my article for the paper.

I received some great sample pages from my artists, too. A good chunk of the work is done on Wolves of the Tesseract: Taking of the Prime. The comic ought to be done in time for WizardWorld Comicon, but I’m not certain I’ll have copies printed and in hand, yet, but the art is amazing.

Don’t be Prey

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I wrote a blog a few weeks back titled What You Need to Know Before Signing with Westbow Press. They are a fairly respected publisher (and I suggested unrightfully so.) One of their chief predecessors was a company named Tate Publishing who operated on the exact same model.

Tate just closed, (shortly before Family Christian Stores shuttered every location of their brick and mortar super-chain last month). Tate formally closed its doors on January 24, 2017. Good.

The unfortunate side, however, is that Tate had long-broadcasted itself as a “Christian Company.” It was probably part of their lure to bring in authors whom they could take advantage of. Claiming to operate with a set of higher, lofty morals gets people to unwittingly drop their defenses somewhat (maybe like predator-priests and altar boys?) The Christian publishing sphere is going to take a bunch of flack this year because of these sorts of gaffes (and Tate might be dead in large part because of the major publishing houses looked at Tate and realized they could do the same thing while adding their name to it to garner credibility. It’s what Westbow has done–mark my words, this will eventually come back up in publishing news).

While Tate is finally dead, there are still tons of clones out there ready to rip off indie authors, so use extreme prejudice when looking at “self-publishing services.” Read the back articles in this blog to learn how to get your indie book produced at zero cost if you decide to self publish. Heck, you can even just email me and I’ll point you in the right direction.

I found an extremely good article titled Beware of Sharks in Publisher’s Clothing. You really ought to read it–I’ve used the principles it suggests over and over (in fact, Tate tried VERY hard to sign me when I wrote my first novel a decade ago. I was trying to survive on almost zero income working as a poor broke youth pastor with two kids, a mortgage, a second job, and a church income of $50 per week while I wrote in the evenings… Tate was more than happy to pressure me into signing–but prayerful wisdom prevailed and I turned them down.) I recognizde that places like Tate stroke the ego and dangle dreams and promises in front of writers like me. Luckily, I recognized that it couldn’t be that easy. I also found horror stories on the Preditors and Editors website which helped steer me away from Tate and a few other companies who contacted me about my manuscript (as if publishers are email unknown writers and soliciting submissions on a regular basis).

I’ve spoken quite a bit about this with people in the past and will tentatively be teaching a panel that touches heavily on this at Lion-Con this fall. Nobody has a greater interest in seeing your book succeed than YOU, so get out there and make it happen.

Review: Eye of an Outlaw–Nefairyous #2

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Most of what I observed in the first installment of the Nefairyous Saga remains true of the second. OF course, this time around I went into the book with a mindset to embrace the 2nd person POV and look at it like I was in a mystery or a video game (thinking the old Myst series where the goal was to try and figure out the mystery through experience.) Some of the writing does flirt more with the third person POV in aspects (sometimes it seems like there is no limit to the knowledge we get as the reader. If I’d change anything in the series it’d be that–but it does help keep these stories as relatively short and perfect for the casual reader–kind of like choose your own adventure books.)

Detective Lincoln (from the first book) is absent. I was fine with that. I really did think the author did a better job of worldbuilding and keeping the immediacy of the books events, well, immediate. There is some backstory, for sure, but less so than we saw with the Wishbone killer in book 1 and it helps keep the reader in the element, so the writing style certainly improves between the books. The setting is also improved–partly just in language and names which have a distinct foreignness to them (in the first book I struggled to stay in the setting as some things seemed too familiar at times.)

I am glad to see multiple installments of something labled as a “saga” or series. Those of you who follow my reviews on my blog or via my author/reviewer profiles know that I’m irked whenever I see a novel proudly listed as “Book 1 in the exciting new series you never heard of and which will never see a second installment!” Make sure that you visit the Author’s homepage and send him some love and beg for a new story if this sort of 2nd person POV immersive storytelling is your cup of tea.

State of Writing

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I honestly don’t remember my writing goals and some kind of error on the blog won’t let me access last Monday’s post so I can’t check. Oh well. I had a cray week. It really drained me (mostly stuff from my real-life job). I did, however have a great book signing at one of MN’s largest Barnes and Nobles. I met quite a few new readers and got some good insight from the managers on how to do a signing the way that they prefer. I’ll publish a blog about that in a few weeks.

Can’t quite remember if I wrote this week or last week (It’s all blending together at this point) but I’m somewhere knee-deep in chapter 2 of my current novel. I’d like to finish it this week and record at least two chapters of an audiobook I was commissioned as voice talent to do. Mainly, though, this is a media week. I’ve been setting up some events with libraries, a book club in Minneapolis, and a cable access television show from the metro area (I met the host this weekend when she bought one of my books).

Tally ho.

The Dangers of Authorship

 

So when you’re a nobody writer like me (or Indie author, for short,) everyone wants a piece of you. It’s not exactly a Charles Lindburg thing where people kidnap your children and ransom them (although I did grow up within fifty miles of his MN home). But when you’re an Indie everyone is trying to jack you for money. It’s a good thing I became a writer because I wanted to make millions and be a celebrity who gets to party with rockstars. (This is why we need a universal sarcasm font.)

The only way Indie authors have a chance to get read/discovered (and all in the hopes of making a buck fifty each time for a book sale) is to have people see our titles… I tried a new ad venture recently. I thought, heck, email is great–even if ten percent of the recipients open a message I’ve gotten some exposure. Mailchimp lets me stay a free user so long as i keep my addressed subscribers at under 2,000. I’d take ten percent on that for targeted leads–especially since you can a list of buyers for book resellers for under $100 nowadays.

Right?

Wrong. Lesson learned.

I always knew personal contact was the best way to approach book sellers and ask about being carried on their shelves. I just wanted it to be easier than it was and be able to fire blindly into a flock and score a few random hits. This is my story.

I found this nifty website called listsyoucanafford.com while searching specifically for targeted lists of Christian bookstores in my state. They had lots of clergy lists, churches, etc. I suppose that blinds us marks to the fact that the operator is a scammer by gaining some positive association. For fifty bucks they claimed they would sell me a list of about a thousand emails of buyers and purchasing agents for Christian bookstores. After an initial email they said they’d give it to me for free if I bought a general bookstore list for an extra twenty bucks which would give me an additional two thousand addresses, so I bit on that. I’d seen the site around for a while when doing some fundraising and ministry promo in the past. Plus the site puts their phone number and address on their main page–that sort of thing breeds confidence, right?

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So I get my list and don’t notice that the reciept lists some company called “a dramatic touch.” Come to think of it later, my wife did ask me about a charge I made when she saw it… in retrospect she probably thinks I visited an asian massage parlor or something. (I find out later that it’s listed as a karate dojo when I’m trying to file a complaint with the BBB and get my money back.)

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It turns out the list can’t be used at all. I stated that their “list triggers an omnivore warning making it useless/unuseable. List was supposed to be 90% deliverable or better, but it’s 0%. I’d like my money back, please. I can verify the unuseability of it with a screenshot if necessary.”

I politely requested a refund. The response came from an Alan Marshall who admitted that he knew the list can’t be used by most people and they would not issue a refund. I’m sure they get a lot of that. His winner of a solution is to offer to sell me another service at a discounted rate. “What we can do is offer you a discount on our outgoing email service. The cost to send a message to 5,000 or fewer contacts normally costs $49. We can make that service available to you for $29.”
If this was a farmer’s crop transaction it would look like this:

Vendor: you need ten thousand bushels of corn. I will sell you what you need for a thousand dollars.
Me: perfect. here’s my money.
Vendor: here is ten thousand bushels of pebble sized rocks.
Me: I can’t use that! please give me my money back.
Vendor: no. it’s the same size as corn and these were taken from corn fields. For an additional five hundred dollars we will feed these rocks to your cattle for you.

I made a hard pass on the offer and told him I’d contact the BBB.I’m sure he laughed that off. Whois/ICANN lists them behind a security shield so you can’t actually find them. They aren’t registered and I can’t find anything about them, despite a supposed track record of positive transactions for 16+years. That address? It belongs to the “Taco Factory.” But hey, they’ve got 4.6 stars and specials on horchata.

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I didn’t bother checking the phone number–it would probably ring to Google Voice if it worked at all. Instead I called my credit card company to dispute the charges. I use Chase Sapphire as a preferred member. I didn’t recognize the cool perks having good credit until now. The customer service line went straight to real human being. I almost crapped myself in surprise–but that also meant I had to explain to a few service reps that I was not actually purchasing cheap asian handjobs but had been scammed by some fake company operating out of a taco pit. Thank God they believed me.

Lesson learned. Be very careful with your marketing dollars. There’s a lot of shady people out there making empty promises and delivering unhappy endings.