Writing is Easy; Being an Author is Hard

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Can I break your heart early and save you some future trauma (and money?) There is no easy button. All across the internet and social media you will see ads, stories, and articles about how to get 10,000 followers in ten days or how you can launch a bestseller over a weekend as an unknown talent.

Those are crap articles.

You have a greater likelihood of winning the lottery than finding success with those scam “internet courses”. Here’s why: you have to buy a ticket to play the lottery. There is some kind of minimum-level threshold for involvement in the lotto system. A special course that gets you crazy results circumvents that normal system. What the regular publishing system requires is hard work, diligence, and time. Those crap articles promise you’ll win the lottery if you buy a bushel of oranges… it’s convenient for them that they happen to be orange vendors, isn’t it?

A lot of those jackwagons selling courses these days are simply passing off info they gleaned from someone else (or maybe paid for) in order to try and push that forward at their profit. It kinda reminds me of the Rainbow and Kirby vacuum cleaner sales folks of the past few decades. Eventually, we will have such a glut of “course instructors” online that they burst the bubble and then only the good ones will remain (I have 2 or 3 I would trust, but that’s about it). We’re at an unstable number now, I think, which means supply will outpace demand, prices will drop (and probably quality) to stay competitive, and then the bottom will fall out.

The thing about writing is that it takes time. It takes effort, energy, and attention. It’s not much different on the platform building side, too. We live in a social media age that champions attention and connection above all else… shot-gunning spam into the internet or building a simple website and leaving it doesn’t work anymore. People expect more—they want a connection and to be pursued by someone offering value.

I think mature readers (those in the best position to buy your book and engage with you as an author) are kind of like middle-aged divorcees: they’ve had something decent in the past so they know what they want, they’re tired of isolation and are looking for something with substance and staying power, and they’ve probably put all their one-night stands behind them and are looking for something real that can take them forward with stability. If your book is subpar in any way it will look like a fixer-upper mate… if it looks really good but the groundwork isn’t there (poor platform, no reviews, questionable future/might not keep writing or complete a series) you will come off as a pickup artist or a Fu@#-Boy.

It sucks to see others who seem to do less work and have greater success. It makes a writer tempted to try one of those courses promising the world—maybe you’ll be the break-out exception! Can I level with you? Those other authors experiencing sudden success have probably been doing work beneath the surface for a while you can’t see, or have been plowing the ground for longer and certain leads are starting to finally come in—or more likely—they aren’t having as much success as you think they are having. Our perception is largely comparative and often emotions-based. We rarely see reality for what it is; we see reality for how we feel.

I often say it, but our greatest frustrations are born from reality not meeting our expectations. Do the hard work; put in the time. Above all, keep your expectations grounded in reality and understand that the back-end of being an author (promotion, selling, platform building, etc.) is all plowing uphill. If you really want your field to produce something you will have to do the work.

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Review: Songweaver

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DW Johnson’s story of Xenkur continues to expand with Songweaver. It is book 1 in the Iron League Books.

I’m no stranger to her universe. Her writing has gotten tighter, for sure. For those uninitiated to Xenkur it is a world very similar to Pathfinder’s world of Golarian (a D&D world).

Johnson has learned a few things and the cover and layout are much improved from the first installment. I also appreciated her story… not everybody pulls off a strong bard character in universes full of rogues, warriors, barbarians, and wizards. Continue reading Review: Songweaver

State of Writing

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I’m officially in novel lengths for my nerdy, short novel. I think I’ve nailed down a title as 50 Shades of Star Trek TNG.  It really is pretty comical and I’m having fun writing it, although it’s been a struggle since I feel like I’ve not had as much time as I’d like to commit to the project. I do think, however, that it’s a really sellable piece of merchandise as I hit the comicon circuits this year.

Hopefully reception is good and I plan to even do some crazy things with it (put cut out pieces on the interior like paper dolls for the main characters plus celebrities I’m using in a parody manner in my stories,) and even send some early copies to said celebrities.

I’m literally just beginning to wrap up writing and starting the climax and denouement. I have maybe 8,000 words left to write in the rough draft and should be able to wrap it up this week. I feel strongly enough about it that I’ve already contacted my art team overseas about my ideas for a cover.

Now, onto the work week! Time to hit it hard and carve out some segments of time so I can complete this absurd pastime of mine.

How I’m Breaking the Amazon Associates Rules (accidentally).

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Oh Dang. Most book bloggers I know are probably breaking the rules for Amazon Associates… and completely on accident. I came across a good blog recently that mirrored some of my own discoveries. Like Amy Lynn Andrews who did some extra legwork and contacted Amazon to get additional information, I too stumbled across the potential of accidental violation by watching a video by crime author Mark Dawson.

Dawson had accidentally sent an email with an affiliate link and Amazon let him know that he was about to have his whole account blocked for an accidental gaffe which could have financially hurt him in a major way.

As a blogger, I’m quite certain I’ve been breaking the rules as well. Here’s how we can easily violate their TOS without even knowing:
Let’s say you publish a book review or talk about your book or any other product in a blog post and link to that item with an affiliate link. That is exactly how the system is supposed to work, so no violation because you didn’t email the link…it’s on a blogpost—exactly where Amazon likes to see it, right? Right?
It sounds like we did everything perfect, but still might have broken the rules (which I admit are draconian.) Anybody who subscribes to your blog might have the contents automatically sent to him or her resulting in an emailed affiliate link that breaks the rules and could possibly result in your account termination and a blacklisting by Amazon!

To avoid this we’ve got to make sure that we “truncate” our posts. It sounds like it’s difficult, but it’s not too awful. It does mean that book bloggers need to add one extra step before posting a blog: Use the “insert Read More tag” button before you add the affiliate link to make sure that readers only see this by visiting your actual blog rather than by clicking though an email message.

Here’s what that “insert Read More tag” looks like on the WordPress platform, circled in red:
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It’s pretty easy to overlook something like this, so always be on the lookout for ways to protect yourself from accidentally breaking the rules. I caught it early and so I’m fixing it asap… if you use affiliate tags in your posts you might want to do the same!

For more reading on the topic, check out Amy Lynn Andrews blog post on the subject.

Review: Westward Tally Ho!

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I recently read Milo James Fowler’s Westward, Tally Ho! (well, listened on audiobook, actually.) It has its bright moments. The story is about an English kid who follows his father who was a world adventurer. As his first big act as a young adult he travels to America alongside his butler (who was just sacked) and helps him locate his missing daughter while navigating the Wild West.

It’s an interesting premise and has more than a little humor (some of which I think probably translates better in the written version.) All in all, it rather feels like a western adventure between Alfred and a young, naïve Bruce Wayne, and that has a certain kind of charm.

There is a distinct lack of new westerns in writing (mainly because the audiences are rather tired of the genre, and so the mix of unique elements such as spec fic or alternate POVs like a British perspective.) If you’re looking for a new taste of the old west, or if you’re used to reading YA and want to get a taste of sixguns and satire, this would be good book to pick up.

I got this book to review for Inside the Inkwell reviews for free in exchange for my opinion.

State of Writing

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Feel like I under-performed this week. My word-count is barely over 30,000. I did, however write a few blog posts for the future and had a very busy work week. It’s somewhat less this week. Ideally I would like to finish my current story this week; I think I will just miss it (if I were a betting man, but it’s in the realm of possibility.)

Lot’s going on, but I figure I will process my grief from this MN Vikings loss by writing. I also have been working with my state’s regional chapter for their Fine Arts programs and will be one of a few hosts on a writing panel on April 28. If you’re in my area, it should be a pretty neat event talking about the “how to” aspects of Indie writing.

Swimming with Sharks—avoid publishing house scams

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I see it all of the time on the internet… publisher scams. Well, actually, I don’t really see it. Because of targeted marketing and the fact that I am these sorts of companies’ ideal consumer (or at least, an ignorant version of me is,) I get a million of predatory publishing scams popping up in my social media feeds regularly—they’ve become white noise.

Once you’re familiar with the slimy feeling they induce beneath a thin veneer of accolades and ego stroking they dump on an unsuspecting author they become easy to spot.

Before the turn of the century many vanity publishers (self-publishers, which is a nuanced difference between Indies and vanity press authors) began targeting indie writers with author scams where they represented themselves as legitimate publishers. Some of these included iUniverse, Trafford, Author House and Xlibris. Some more modern examples came along including Tate, Xulon, and to a degree, BookBaby. These companies operated on the premise that they sell a false hope to an author rather than sell a book to a consumer.

Thankfully, the internet typically reveals the sharks for what they are. Try searching your preferred search engine or a service like Preditors and Editors for reviews and horror stories. Even if you know a contracting publisher is legitimate, it may be worth getting perspective from other authors.

The primary way these companies work is that they either steer you or flat out require an author to use their services. Legitimate authors pursuing an Indie avenue know that they ought to use professional services for editing, cover copy, cover design, etc and so shady publishers try to sneak under the radar by looking like the real deal while actually making their money off of the authors instead of the books.

Of course, scammers won’t turn down free money from your loved ones, too, and so they will still fulfill orders and do the business side of the publishing house—usually while over-inflating the price in order to compensate for the typically low sales that are common of unknown writes that aren’t properly equipped by their publisher.

Identification is relatively easy.

  1. Ask what the publisher is selling (if they are making claims that you will make money as a full-time author or gain fame and accolades, run fast and far.) Publisher sell books, not dreams.
  2. If they are pushy and try to get you to commit (and you’re not selling a gazillion copies as an indie or getting millions of reads on Wattpad) then they are probably a scam.
  3. Publishers get more queries than they can even read—they don’t need any freshman or sophomore authors submitting to them to be happy, and they certainly won’t chase you down, cold call you, or advertise open submissions on social media. They often have deliberately misleading adverts.
  4. If your book will be priced excessively high, it may be a scam. I write about proper book pricing elsewhere.
  5. If a publisher charges fees for anything (even upgrades to the “traditional publishing service”, flee in a serpentine motion, ducking repeatedly for cover.
  6. (This is the one that I see that is so common) is the sale of a “publishing package.”

 

Simple rule of thumb is this: whenever someone wants to sell you a “publishing package” of any variety, it’s an indicator that you are the company’s primary consumer. Publishing should never cost you, the author. That’s not how this works… not even for debut/break-in authors, unless you are an Indie and plan to contract all of the work yourself—while the thought that a “package deal” is nice (you can get all of those professional services done for one easy bill) most of those “services” are so outrageously overpriced that third grader with math skills can tell you it’s a bad idea.

You had an idea. You did the work to bring your story to life. You deserve to make money from your books’ sales. Pay to play only works at casinos—and even then, the house nearly always wins. Don’t be a book casualty—research everything.

I recommend checking out the list at http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/thumbs-down-publishers/ for further research on the topic and remember to hold onto your wallet.

Review: The Eye of the World

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I have found a new December tradition. After collecting most of the books in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I decided to finally begin reading them this winter. I was pretty blown away and hooked from the start. The book evoked the same feels that I had as a young kid reading Tolkien for the first time.

Why did I ever wait? Probably because there are so many books in the series (and I was never very clear on where to begin, exactly, since they weren’t listed with a sequential numbering system until later). Also, they are crazy long. Eye of the World, the first book, is 700 pages long and it’s not anywhere near the longest of them. Continue reading Review: The Eye of the World

State of Writing

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I’m at almost 30,000 words on my story which I began writing on Christmas break. I’m hoping to round it out at about 40-50k making it a small novel. It’s been pretty fun since the story takes a bit of a hard turn into the comic side when my two protagonists end up stuck at a comic-con for a few days.

Right now I’m just counting down to February when I take my daughter to her first writer’s conference. I did have some ups and downs. Just found out my team and I didn’t get picked for a table at CONvergence, which means we’re all not going to attend. That is what it is… we’ll maybe spend our vendor dollars on a different large-scale con (maybe another Wizard World). I did, however, get invited to participate in a sci-fi con in March which I see as a huge opportunity.

I’ve also got a few irons in the fire for my platform… perhaps a nerdy youtube channel coming soon?

Best practice for Giving Away Free Books

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I’m revisiting an old topic this week as I look at some promotional avenues. Below are my all new thoughts on book freebies!

One of the most widely used tools for indie authors is the book giveaway. It can inspire a quick following and even generate real sales if it’s used correctly. It is not, however, as easy as setting your price to free, sitting back, and watching your download count tick higher like a fuel pump.

A book giveaway is not by any means a magic bullet to turn on a massive new readership. However, if you follow a few simple steps you to maximize your results it might spark up interest in your book—particularly if you have a back list (other books that curious will find by clicking through.)

First, understand that a giveaway is a means to promote and advertise. There are companies that specialize in doing this for profit. What I mean by this is: it’s something that many people will heavily invest time and money into… you won’t succeed if you only give it a paltry effort. Planning is important.

Getting people to buy a book typically moves people through a process called “The Funnel.”         The funnel is a road that moves people from discovery to fandom; it’s also been called AIDA. The four basic steps are

  1. Attention
  2. Interest
  3. Desire
  4. Action

A reader learns about you though some means of awareness (a promo, advert, recommendation, or seeing the book on a shelf.) Something must kindle their interest and draw him or her to the title. Provided their expectations are met after reviewing the contents or blurb, they move to Action which is hopefully a purchase. It might also present itself as signing up for a mailing list, shelving a book on Goodreads, or bagging in a wishlist.

Understanding that structure begs the question of strategy. How will you get attention? Will your copy, cover, and content generate interest and desire? What is the Action you want? (If you don’t know that, you ought to figure it out first. Don’t just give away a book because some blog said it was a good idea—that’s how you lose money and gain frustration.) Typical Action items Indies want are Likes/Follows on social media, signing up for mailing lists, increased shares/attention and continued promo/visibility (added to lists in Goodreads, etc.), book purchases from backlists or associated titles, and reviews. Your intended Action step/outcome helps to determine the other components.

Also, remember that you can giveaway other items than your book—that’s important to keep in mind when crafting the Action step. Many people giveaway gift cards, items such as a free Kindle or ereader, etc. Just keep in mind that Amazon’s search and destroy algorithms sometimes take issue with reviews by people who got a gift card from the author they later reviewed (resulting in the review being taken down).

Ask yourself how you will bring attention to the giveaway. Many readers go in search of them through Amazon’s kindle freebie lists and many do the same for Goodreads’ paperback giveaways. Larger networks such as these (and others like LibraryThing) have a built-in network that someone else has worked hard to craft, like Bookbub. Those places may or may not charge a fee for you to access their platform. You will need to decide if that will be a worthwhile endeavor for your publicity. There are many free and paid options available. In my experience the expensive ones are often worth it and see a return (the same for most free places since there’s no cost except for time), while the cheapest paid services have consistently been a waste of money. Don’t buy generic advertising unless you’ve got a solid referral.

When setting up a giveaway don’t forget the timeliness of it. Use a calendar with alerts. You will want to increase your social media presence and use every promotional tool in your arsenal. Run the contest for long enough that readers can find you and sign up, however, don’t run the promo for too long or readers’ interest will peter out. Give away more than a single copy to increase readership. You should be prompt with your fulfillment, too, but exercise wisdom and check out the winners. One Goodreads giveaway resulted in a winner on an overtly religious book I had written. Her profile revealed that her favorite fiction genre was F/F Slash (lesbian fanfiction erotica.) I felt pretty certain that she would not like my book and explained it to her while offering a new book I had published that she might find better suited. She took me up on the offer. While I did not get a review out of it, I avoided an almost certain negative review.

There are many services that will help you run your giveaway and collect/generate data on your behalf. Check out Rafflecopter, KingSumo, and ShortStack.

I’ll leave you with a practical example for a promo on my book Wolf of the Tesseract. My goal is multifaceted, I want to generate interest/further awareness and also generate reviews if possible. I will use ShortStack to collect data on a giveaway of collected books within my genre—including my book, but also several more famous titles to generate brand association. All entrants will have the option of receiving the promotional, prequel comic book I produced as an advertising medium delivered electronically. They will also get a promo code giving them 20% off Wolf of the Tesseract if they order from the publisher.

This marketing push will coincide with a Goodreads giveaway (Goodreads does not allow authors to collect data on their entries but has a large following). An ebook promo will run on LibraryThing at the same time as the Goodreads paperback event.

Because the ShortStack service collects more data and will be advertised across more platforms I will concentrate effort there and use my “free” promo solutions to point to that event (by free, I mean the avenues that require an investment of time rather than money…Facebook groups, twitter blasts, etc.) I will also invest in an ad campaign on Facebook.

I hope this helps you as a guide to crafting your own publicity event. My example might be admittedly broad and experts recommend focusing attention on one or two things at a time to maximize success… then again, I’d hate to start being called “successful” by people.