Tag: writing to sell

Great Expectations: Cats and Readers

Great Expectations: Cats and Readers

Kayaking the west coast. (1996) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

This past week I was supposed to be on the coast of Oregon with a group of writers learning about marketing books to bookstores. I was really looking forward to the trip and being with a group of great friends. I had everything packed and ready to be loaded into my car. My cats were primed and ready to for the trip. (They always travel with me, and the hotel where I stay at has known these boys since they were babies—it’s like a second home).

Then Ben, the larger of the two boys got sick and not just throwing up, but a total shut down. He quit eating (a VERY big thing for this guy) and drinking and became very quiet and cooperative. Now you have to know Ben. This is a cat that pulls paintings off walls and statues off shelves just to get your attention. When he took a downturn I ended up taking him to the emergency veterinarian. The next day more vets and more bills and at that point the I was still holding up hope that he might recover and I might still head to my course a day late.

Not to be.


More tests, more bills and by this point I was administering subcutaneous fluids twice a day, force feeding three times and day and wrestling pills down his throat twice a day. It’s a wonder he’s still speaking to me. How do you spell stress?

The point I’m making here is that all my expectations were dashed and so I had to totally regroup and refocus myself from a week that I had booked off from work to a week working and caring for sick cats (yes, Ben’s brother got the same bug). It was jarring. It was unpleasant not least because I had a sick cat, but also because I wasn’t doing what my mind had expected. I raise this because it brought home something important writers need to think about, which is reader expectation.

Reader expectation is what the reader is expecting to experience in a book. For instance, if J.R.R. Tolkien had written a shoot-‘em-up Science Fiction book as a follow-up to the Lord of the Rings, think about how disappointed the Lord of the Rings fan would have been when they bought the book. Same goes for the reader who picks up a book that has a cover and blurb that looks like a suspense story, but when they get reading they find it’s women’s fiction. Or the reader whose book spends an immense amount of time early on lovingly describing the gun the hero owns, but by the end of the book the gun has never been used or even appeared in the story again. Each of these authors has violated reader expectations.

Shiva trying to catch a fly in Oregon.

A few days ago I was talking with a writer friend of mine. He was bummed out because his editor at a New York publisher had turned down book two of his two book contract and my friend couldn’t understand what that had happened. In discussion with the writer he advised that book one was a lavish fantasy involving the Jewish kabala. Book two was a comedic superhero novel. Anyone see a problem here? Apparently his editor did, because the publishing house had ‘bought’ my friend as an author of lavish Jewish fantasies, but his second novel failed to deliver this in every respect. The publishing house likely turned the book down out of concern for reader expectations. Basically my writer friend was asking to his readers to give up the expectations he had created through his first book and start all over again. I suggest that readers don’t like to do this anymore than I wanted to give up my week in Oregon.

In all of these cases the author failed to meet reader expectations and as a result the reader would have as dissatisfying an experience as I have had this week. Yes, the book(s) may still have been well written. My writer friends second book was undoubtedly wonderful (he’s a great writer), but it wasn’t what the publisher was banking on the reader wanting. He should have written another Jewish fantasy. He should have written under a different name for the superhero novel. Not that all our books have to be the same, but if we want to establish a career as a writer, we need to establish a brand. We might have several brands for different kinds of books written under different  names. For instance my romance novels are under Karen L. McKee, while my fantasy/SF is written under Karen L. Abrahamson. It helps reader know what they are getting and this helps meet reader expectation.

So as writers we need to make sure that we don’t put our readers through the experience I’ve had this week. With two sick cats, I definitely didn’t get what I’d thought I bought when I booked the week off.

(and in case you were interested, the boys are both on the mend.

The boys.
Living like a Writer: Guilt, and How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Living like a Writer: Guilt, and How I Spent My Summer Vacation

This past summer I had the ‘interesting’ experience of living like a writer. My day-job contracted work dried up and I basically had no work for July and August – except my writing. Nothing to do except sit in the sun, walk my cats (yes, on a leash), and the business of writing. Sounds like a lovely dream, doesn’t it? Yes, it was, but it also involved a heck of a lot more discipline and work than most people would have thought. And that’s why I’m writing this post because living like a writer isn’t just sitting staring out a window and typing when inspiration strikes, the business of being an independent writer requires deadlines and non-writing work and most of all, an awful lot of self talk. So what did my writing summer entail?

1. Setting Goals – I knew in June that my contract work was going on hiatus, so I spent some time planning. I also (thankfully) spent a wonderful few days at the Think Like a Publisher workshop put on by Dean Wesley Smith and William Scott Carter where I developed an even more detailed set of goals for my summer. The thing that was interesting for me, is that the plan wasn’t rocket science and yet I’d had a heck of a time setting as detailed a plan for myself. Critical to the goals was making sure there was time for both writing and the business of writing. Setting this plan was as simple as creating two columns on a piece of paper, one with the writing goals and one column for the business of writing goals. The writing goals came first, but just having all the goals written down gave me a sense of clarity and I could plan my months ahead easily.

2. Setting up a schedule- I’m used to this, because being self employed, if I don’t set up a schedule things like my writing will never get done. My summer writing schedule involved getting up every morning and writing for at least two hours and possibly more depending on what I was working on, or where I was in the project. The schedule also built in reading time, exercise, social time and the BUSINESS.

3. Learning the Technology – As I’ve ventured down the self-publishing road, I realized I needed to understand a lot more than how to structure a novel. I needed to know better how to format and publish books both in e- formats and also for print on demand. That meant learning how to use not only electronic publishing formats, but also how to use programs like InDesign and Photoshop with more ease.

4. Learning the Business – This involved delving into a number of different areas, from how to blog more effectively (still working on that), to how to connect with others on social media (yes, I finally started to use Twitter though I still don’t fully understand it), and marketing.

So now that September is here, it’s time to review how I did and what I learned:

I accomplished my writing goals for the summer which were to complete a novel started I started in June, as well as two novellas. (Unfortunately one of the novellas wants to grow up to become a novel, so back to the drawing board on that one.) What did I learn? That my proclivity to write long still haunts me, but I can still maintain a schedule of writing even when I’m also involved with the business. This was a revelation for me, as I have spent the last few years struggling to maintain my creativity while also keeping up with the soul-sucking process of traditional marketing.

I accomplished my business goals as well: I had three novels that I wanted to have e-published as well as three short stories. All of these have been published. As well I wanted to have one novel published in print on demand. I actually achieved more than this and managed to have three novels approved and available for POD.

I updated my websites and found better ways to display my books. I established direct sales bookstores for my print publications and went through the hassle of obtaining ISBNs from the Canadian Government for my print books. I arranged for the development of a specialty website to fit with a series of fantasy books I write.

All of this filled my days so that aside from an hour or so exercise every day, I really wasn’t laying around in the sun. Better for my skin anyway, I suppose.

But perhaps the biggest accomplishment this summer was learning what it takes to be a writer, both financially and mentally. Financially, it meant that my spending had to cut right back, because I didn’t want to dig too deep into my savings. Mentally it meant that I had to recognize the legitimacy of what I was doing. I was writing. I was in business. But you know what? Even knowing that I was working at something all day at least five days a week (and usually seven) I still experienced a strange phenomenon: Guilt.

Guilt that I could be doing something I loved so much, while everyone else still had to go to work. And I wasn’t on vacation! Now that it’s September and my contract work is back in full swing, I really would love to go back to dealing with that guilt again. Now to set goals for the winter (and hope my contract work dries up again next summer).

Building Allies: Working with Libraries

Building Allies: Working with Libraries

In my last post I mentioned that libraries are an asset that can assist with promoting authors’ work if the books are in print. As libraries are also gathering electronic collections, this assistance may also help with building followers amongst e-book readers. I wondered how a writer or indie-publisher might build a relationship with their local library and contacted librarian (and indie author) Ryan Williams for his take on how writers might work with libraries. First of all, let me thank Ryan for giving us his time.

1. How should (or can) a writer approach a local library about carrying their book? Does this work for Indie Authors as well?

Talk to them, show that you can be a partner in helping the library. Many libraries will take books as donations, but reserve the right to add it to the collection or not depending on their selection policy. Some libraries do maintain local collections and will add local materials, but that might not include your novel if that doesn’t fit the selection policy for that library. If you haven’t made a connection with your local library then all they have to go on are reviews (or lack of reviews). Honestly, Indie authors may encounter resistance from some librarians, while others will think it’s just great. You really won’t know until you talk to them.

2. How can a local library help promote an author?

Standard disclaimer, libraries are going to vary quite a bit. The best idea is simply to go in and talk to the librarian. That might not be the person checking out the books, but it could be! On our library website for each location we list the library manager for each location, so sometimes with minimal research you’ll know who you want to talk to. Calling ahead, identifying yourself as an author and ask to set up a time to talk can’t hurt.

That said I don’t think I’d approach it as the library helping to promote the author. Instead I’d approach it as something you can do to help the library. Many performers, storytellers, jugglers, etc. work the library circuit and charge for their programs. Tell the librarian that you’d be happy to do a program and be prepared to pitch a couple ideas. It might be about your background or books, or that might be only a piece of what you’re talking about. It could also be about your trip to Burma and how that has influenced your writing, or a program for teen writers, or whatever you think about doing. You could charge or not, your decision, but by giving the library an exciting program they’re going to be more enthusiastic. Given library budgets, you could even say that you’ll waive the fee. Libraries may produce publicity for the program which includes your author bio/pic/covers, etc (that you’ve provided).

It also can’t hurt to partner with a local bookstore to sell copies of your book at the event.

And after all of that, it’s possible no one will come. But if you’ve got an interesting program that isn’t exclusively focused on self-promotion it’s far more likely that library staff and patrons will be interested in coming.

3. Aside from asking a library to carry their book, what can a writer do to work with local libraries to promote their books?

A book sitting on a library shelf isn’t necessarily any more noticeable than any other book online. But if your local librarian loves your book? Then she’s going to hand-sell that to anyone that she thinks might be interested. Librarians do book talks and reader’s advisory all the time. If you’ve presented an engaging program for your library, if you’ve been a helpful partner, and if the librarian actually likes your book? Well, then you’ve got one of the best possible advocates for your books.

4. What success have you had with working with local libraries?

Since I work in the local library I haven’t wanted to do anything that suggests I’m using my position to promote my business, so I haven’t asked for the library to add my indie books. There are a couple traditionally published books that have my shorter work in them, like the Star Trek anthology, but otherwise none of my work is listed in my library. If patrons independently suggested the library add copies that’d be one thing, but I’m not going to use my position to get my books into the library.

I have, however, used my knowledge to benefit our patrons and present programs. Sometimes that’s working with other authors. I’ve got a program coming up where I’m going to teach local folks how easy it is to publish their work on the Kindle and other platforms. I think it’ll be a lot of fun but it’s not going to be about my work beyond mentioning that I do have experience working with these sites.

5. For an Indie Publisher, how should they approach libraries? Is this different than for authors?

A publisher is a publisher. It’s a business. I could easily see Glittering Throng Press (my publishing business at www.glitteringthrongpress.com) sending out book catalogs to libraries just like I’ll send to book stores. I’m also interested in co-op displays in libraries. I don’t think many publishers are doing this right now with libraries, but as book store spaces shrinks I could see a publisher doing an co-op placement where they provide the books to the library at no cost in exchange for placement. Free books for the libraries, better exposure for authors, and a benefit for readers. I’d also like to approach Friends of the Library groups about selling e-book gift cards as a promotion tool for them, give them a deep discount on the cards, and have a little desk display or something with the cards for them to sell. There’s over 9,000 public libraries in the USA, that’s a lot of potential avenues to promote material. I think going forward into the future libraries are going to be more critical at generating buzz and interest in an author’s work.

So yes, I think there’s a difference in approach between publishers and authors. An individual author is making a one-on-one connection with librarians and library patrons, while a publisher is developing more of a business relationship with the library.

6. And beyond the libraries, how successful have you found the loss leader approach to selling your fiction? Are there other methods of promotion you’ve tried and how have they worked for you?

I strongly agree with folks like Dean Wesley Smith when they say that the best promotion is writing more. As a writer that should be our first priority. You’ve got to keep the material flowing so folks can find more material. Kristine Kathryn Rusch was just talking about this in her recent post on Comparisons (http://kriswrites.com/2011/08/10/the-business-rusch-comparisons/), any promotion you do creates a short-lived blip in sales. It can become very time consuming if you’re spending all your time trying to keep that ball up in the air.

For a year I released a new e-book each week. Most have been freely available online for a week at a time on my publisher site, while selling as e-books. One of the best things about that was simply getting out new material each week. I’d originally planned on continuing that all this year but I’ve recently decided to refocus my priorities. So now with short fiction I’m putting more of an emphasis on sending stories out to traditional professional markets, places like Analog Science Fiction or The New Yorker. If a story doesn’t sell after making the rounds to the major markets I’ll still release it as an e-book, because I believe in the stories I write. Just because a story doesn’t sell to a major market doesn’t say anything much about the quality of that story. I’d just rather get paid pro rates first, and gain the exposure of having the story out, and then put it up as an e-book afterward. The next story coming out is in On Spec Magazine, I believe in their Summer 2011 issue, so I’m looking forward to that, it’s a great magazine for speculative fiction.

In the meantime I’ll continue to feature various stories on my publisher site, and in the process I’m revisiting blurbs and sometimes covers, updating the e-books before the story gets featured. The first I’ve done is “Alley Cat” by Michael Burges, which is a fun story set in the same universe as my first Goblin Alley novel, Goblin Alley: the Bloodied Fang. I don’t know if I’ll get one up each week, but I plan to update fairly often.

I have tried other methods. One of my Filming Dead Things novelettes, Farm of the Dead Things by Tennessee Hicks, is available pretty much everywhere for free and includes sample chapters of the first novel in the Dead Things series. That’s been downloaded thousands of times and the sales of the series have increased since it went free. The second novel in the series, Dreaming Dead Things, is due to be released in the next few weeks and I think that’ll have an even bigger impact just because there’s going to be more available for the folks that enjoy the series. Next year I’ll follow up with the third novel, Killing Dead Things.

Beyond loss leader sorts of experiments I’ve maintained an active presence on Twitter (ryanmwilliams) and Facebook where I have public pages for each pen name. I don’t know if those lead to more sales, I think the writing has more to do with sales, but Twitter and Facebook do provide an opportunity to engage with readers. I enjoy that and enjoy following the feed from other folks. Lately I’ve been exploring Good Reads more and want to do more with that than I’ve been doing. Plus I have websites for each pen name and my publishing site. I look to the sites as avenues for readers to find out what’s available, and what they might want to read next. Particularly the series, I want it to be clear what’s next.

I don’t have any hard data to show whether or not social media, websites, or message board participation increases sales. And I don’t worry about it. I do those things because I enjoy it, not because it increases (or not) sales. I do know that they don’t help me get more written (having the opposite impact), so I have to watch that and make sure I get my words in.

Bottom-line on promotion: write more!

Thanks for asking the questions, I’ll stop now before I hit 2,000 words!

And thank you, Ryan, for this wealth of information.

Ryan Williams has worked for over twenty years in libraries, currently managing a small town library in Tenino, Washington. Like Dalton Hicks from his Goblin Alley series (written as Michael Burges), he runs long distances, working up to ultra-endurance events. He also hopes to ride the Tour Divide mountain bike race from Canada to Mexio. He writes a wide variety of fiction, including urban and contemporary fantasy, science fiction, horror, and mystery under several different pen names. He has sold stories to On Spec Magazine, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Alien Skin Magazine. He holds a master degree from Seton Hill University in writing popular fiction, and as a member of the Oregon Writers Network, Michael also graduated from the master class taught by bestselling authors Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Find him online at www.ryanmwilliams.com or on Twitter as ryanmwilliams.

The Miscellaneous File: What else you can do to get your books to market?

The Miscellaneous File: What else you can do to get your books to market?

To recap this series to date, I’ve talked about blogs and a little about reviews. We’ve heard about using social media with the caution that none of these should take time away from your writing, and we’ve also discussed books and branding and getting ready for the market. Sounds like we we’ve covered a lot, but there are still a few other things that an indie publisher can do to help get their books to market. That’s what this blog is about.

First of all, I’m going to say that although e-books seem the major way authors/indie publishers are going to get their books to readers, they should not forget the opportunity to create print publications. I refer you to my blog HERE, for options about Print on Demand (POD), and just to recap, it is not that difficult to create a print book if you are prepared to learn the software to do it.

So first let’s talk about some of the other no-cost/low-cost things you can do to encourage people to buy your e-books:

1. Write good books. I know this seems self-evident, but writing good books and writing lots of them is a critical way to become known. Think about it as in terms of the laws of chance. If you have one book up online there is far less chance that people will discover you, than if you have ten or fifteen. So focusing on writing good books for your market (under one name—for each pseudonym you need to do the same) is a critical piece of your marketing.

This cover of a soon-to-be-released urban fantasy features the fantastic photography of an up-and-coming young photographer.

2. Create good covers. This means studying the covers of best sellers in your genre and picking out the things that you think will sell your book. It means finding strong images for your covers because these are the first things that prospective readers see.

3. Write good blurbs/back cover copy. This is the second thing that readers see about your book. Is it interesting? Is it active? Does it raise a question a potential reader might want answered?

4. Within your e-book whether short story or novel, include links to other writing you have for sale. This can be as simple as listing other stories/novels available for sale. It would be better if you included links in the story that will take the reader directly to the other story/novel, so that the reader has the fewest number of clicks necessary to purchase your other material.

5. Include excerpts. This is something I am just starting to do. This means including the first chapter or two of another, similar novel/story, so that the reader can sample it. Hopefully you have good openings and the reader will come to the end of the sample and want to read on. There’s where you insert the link(s) to where the reader can purchase the other book.

6. Loss leaders. If you have short stories that either include the characters in your novel , or are in a similar vein to your novel (e.g. same world, or genre), you can try putting the short story up for free with the free excerpt to the novel attached. A number of friends are finding good success with this. Similarly, if you are writing a series and have the second or third (or fourth etc.) novel coming out, you can sell the first novel in the series at a cheaper price for a limited time.

7. Free Fiction on your website. You can also put short stories like loss leaders up on your website to encourage people to come and read, and then purchase other writing through links on your website.

8. Book cards. (okay, this involves some upfront money, but I still thought I’d include it.) This is a relatively new idea that hasn’t been put in place too much yet, but it involves having gift cards printed for your book and packaged in such a way that they can be sold in book stores. A Canadian company is experimenting with this as are a couple of professional writers I know. These cards can also serve as loss leaders that could be sent to book bloggers or reviewers, or they could be given for free at conferences, or they could be marketed in books stores.

So those are some of the things you can do to market e-books. For POD there are another few options, but these options generally require you to have more than a few books available.

1. Create advertisements for books. If any of you have been at Science Fiction conventions, you’ll recall how there are tables with fliers about upcoming or available books. You can do this too, by emulating book advertisements in magazines or publisher’s catalogues. If you have mastered the process of creating a book for POD, you can certainly create a book flier. These can be distributed at conferences or other book fair events you attend.

An example of a brochure for the novel Afterburn

2. Use your local libraries. Often libraries like to support local writers. Approach them about ordering your books. Alternatively offer to donate some.

3. Take advantage of opportunities at conferences etc. to sell your books and promote yourself. If there are opportunities to sell your books then make copies available for sale. Have fliers of your soon-to-be-available books to pique people’s interest. Get on speaker’s lists to talk about your books or related topics and be gracious and interesting when you talk.

4. Approach local bookstores to determine their interest in local authors. I know of at least one local chain that has a policy of supporting local writers and carrying their books. Make sure they know about your work. Take them samples. Which brings to me the biggy:

5. Create a publisher’s catalogue of work available. This includes all the books available from your indie publishing company. Usually this should be at least ten different novels and anthologies. (Remember, you can create anthologies from your short stories, including the freebies.) This means that you create a full color booklet that can be distributed to bookstores locally or even farther afield either through hand delivery or mail out. The big thing here, like with covers, is to ensure your catalogue is professional looking and clearly spells out how and where to find your in-print books.

So those are some options for indie publishers to market their books, whether e-books or print. I haven’t tried them all, but I’m working on it. So what other strategies have you tried and how have they worked for you?

Book Blog Tours and Review Sites with Adrian Phoenix

Book Blog Tours and Review Sites with Adrian Phoenix

The few last weeks I’ve written about building a social network and its use in marketing. It was interesting that Joshua Graham couldn’t directly relate his Facebook and twitter followers to his writing, but that John Locke, could. Hard on the heels of writing those posts I attended a Publisher’s Workshop on the Oregon Coast where we discussed marketing strategies for e-books. One of the items clearly not at the top of the facilitators list of marketing tools was social marketing a la Facebook and twitter.

Following on that workshop I was referred to a an article on the Science Fiction Writers of America website regarding the author’s 100 day Social Media Blackout and the results of that experiment regarding social media and marketing. The author basically removed herself from social media for 100 days and talks about what she learned from this experience. Basically, her view of the value of social media shifted from a belief that social media connected her with readers and industry professionals as well as connecting her with family and friends, to one of social media’s value being its ability to connect her with community.

Not marketing. Community building. She goes so far as to point out that having a person as a follower (something that takes only the click of a mouse), does not necessarily mean they are going to take the time to buy and read your books.

So how do you build a fan base? Urban Fantasy Author and friend, Adrian Phoenix, has done extremely well at building a fan base over three years of publishing her Maker’s Song and Hoodoo novels. She kindly agreed to an interview about how book blog tours have contributed to her following.

1. For those of us just starting down this road, can you please explain what a guest blog is?

Adrian: You bet! A guest blog is a post you write for another person’s blog, usually by invitation, on any number of topics. I’ve written on topics ranging from vampire dating tips, my first crush, writing from the male POV, on the nature of ghosts, my love of paranormal, the top ten shows on my DVR, etc. Anything that readers might find interesting. I try to gear it toward the blog that I’ll be guesting on—paranormal, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, etc. But I’ve found that most blogs are happy with any interesting, reader-hooking subject. And humor seems to be really appreciated.

Here’s the links to a few examples.

On Paranormal Haven, I did a guest post on the nature of ghosts.

On the Strange Candy blogsite, I did I guest post on vampire dating tips.

On All Things Urban Fantasy, my post was about the top ten shows on my DVR. (Including pictures for each show, plus who I thought was the hottest character.)

On the Vampire Book Club, my post was on writing from the male POV.

2. How do you get invited to provide a guest blog?

Adrian: I usually get invited by bloggers who’ve either read my books or have received copies from my publisher. So it never hurts to check the blogs reviewing books in your genre and offering to do a giveaway or offer to send them a copy to review. Sometimes they are overloaded with books to review, so my advice at this point would be to contact them about doing a guest blog or interview along with a giveaway.

Once you’ve been a guest on a blog site, keep in touch about your next release. You should get an invitation to come back. If you don’t (and they do have a ton of authors to deal with), politely let them know—in advance— that you have a new release coming out and schedule a giveaway and guest blog or interview. Always be polite and friendly. Most bloggers will be happy to work with you and promote your books if you treat them with warm professionalism and courtesy.

3. You have conducted guest blogs as both yourself and your characters. Why have you done this and how is blogging as a character different from regular blogging? Why do it?

Adrian: I really enjoy letting the characters do guest blogs and/or giving interviews. I can play and have fun and don’t need to worry about how I’m perceived. Readers in general and fans of a series absolutely love interacting with the characters they read about, the characters that feel so real to them. Some even get to flirt. Sometimes I’ll offer to do a character gig just for a change of pace, but more often, the bloggers will ask for one—especially if they are fans of the books themselves.

Every time I’ve done a character interview or post, I always see a comment along the lines of “I haven’t read these books yet, but I loved this interview and the way the characters chatted that I’m going to get the first book right now.”

That alone makes it worthwhile. It gives new readers a taste of the books through getting to know the characters, and it gives fans a chance to play with them. And my turnouts for character posts and interviews are often better attended than my own interviews. I’m okay with that. After so many interviews, there isn’t much new to say that your readers don’t already know from previous interviews. Another reason for guest blogs—myriad subject possibilities beyond yourself and your writing techniques. LOL.

Here’s a couple of examples of character post and interviews.

On Paranormal Haven, the Maker’s Song gang posted likes and dislikes dossiers, including their thoughts on Twilight.

On Paranormal Romance Addict, Dante and Heather did an interview together.

And on WereVampsRomance, Dante discusses sex, lies, and the mofos who tell them.

4. Personally, the thought of being interviewed in a blog makes me nervous. How do you make sure you haven’t made a fool of yourself in the blog or that your characters don’t make a comment that could impact readership in the future?

Adrian: Interview questions aren’t all that difficult, really. The readers want to know more about you—do you have pets, children? What do you like to read? Who do you like to read? What is your writing routine? If you avoid religion and politics, you’ll be fine. Readers want to know the person behind the book. That’s all.

As for the characters, I let them say whatever they would normally say and don’t censor them. Fans want them to be themselves and, trust me, Dante doesn’t hold back. They love him all the more for it. And he’s gained me new readers as well. I don’t think you need to worry and your characters chasing away readers. If anything, they will win them over.

5. What kind of time commitment is involved in guest blogging?

Adrian: Unfortunately, it can be a lot. It depends on how long your guest blog is (and shorter is generally better) and how much you interact with the readers after it is posted. It’s a good idea to read the comments, leave comments of your own thanking them for joining you, for their support, and answering any follow-up questions.

On my previous release, I did a huge blog tour. I had so many requests and I wanted to do them all and I did. I’ll be more careful with this next release, spread them out more. Not only do you use up too much writing time, but you run the risk of people seeing too much of you. Spread it out. Instead of a guest blog or interview every time, offer to do a straight giveaway instead. I’ve never had a blogger say no to that.

7. On a topic other than blogging, do you have a promotions/marketing plan beyond whatever your publisher identifies? I also note that you have a posse of fans who do a lot of promotion of your books. How did that come about and what do they do for you? How did you go about promoting your book as an author once you had your book deal?

Adrian: I don’t have a specific promotions/marketing plan other than getting the word out via blogsites, giveaways, sample chapters, etc. Having an active website is part of that. That’s a necessity so readers, new and continuing, can find you, learn more about your books (where to find them, for one thing) and contact you.

Through my website, people can also join the street team, request free book plates, or go to the forum (or my official Yahoo fan club) to chat with other fans about my books. I also have chats with characters on the forum.

I have a street team of 160 people worldwide right now (that number keeps going up) and two street team managers (both who are fans that I got to know and who volunteered for the job) who handle the details. The street team receive bookmarks to hand out to book stores, libraries, and to other readers. They post about my releases and events on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, MySpace and spread the word about my books in a ton of different ways (including my titles and website link in their email signatures). Quite a few make sure their local bookstore keeps my books on the shelves and chat the books up in book clubs and reading groups.

I give signed copies of each release to the top 25-30 people on the team and every few months, award prizes to members with the highest points. (Points are earned in a number of different ways.) I also make sure they know I want it to be fun and that they are not obligated to do anything.

As for promoting my books after landing each of my contracts, I don’t do much—aside from putting info and news up on my website. Not until it gets closer to the book’s release date. A couple of months prior, I start contacting blogs about doing appearances and giveaways. And I always have something happening on my website.

Thanks so much to Adrian for her time and her insight. (Her most recent book, Black Heart Loa is receiving stellar reviews.) Blog tours sound like work, but they also sound like a lot of fun —but then so does most of social marketing when you focus on the social aspect. The one caution I would add to Adrian’s information after a follow-up discussion with her, is remember that social marketing and guest blogging should not take over your writing time. If it does, then you have a problem.

Building a Social Network and Following

Building a Social Network and Following

Ashes and Light - coverLast blog Joshua Graham discussed how he built his novel’s readership from first self-published manuscript to best selling Thriller. Joshua talked about building his social network and that this was the key to having his book sell.

So how does someone build their network from their few friends to the broader network needed to sell your book widely?

Best selling novelist, John Locke, talked about conducting searches on Twitter and Facebook for people who might be interested in your types of books. These types of searches might be as simple as searching #mystery, or #romance, or #thriller, or they might be as complex as conducting a search of a topic area, such as #postapocalypticfiction, or #Bahamas (the location of your novel).

It may also involve areas you are passionate about. For me travel and culture were two areas I searched and followed people who seemed to have similar interests to me, or to post information that was interesting to me, e.g. National Geographic Traveler.

A next step is to look at these individual’s twitter pages and identify those people who follow that site who might also be interested in following you. This might be based on their profile, but it might also be based on what they post. Are the people avid readers, or reviewers, or are they passionate about the topic you are writing about such as #afghanistan or #animalrights? When you find people who are interesting to you, then follow them. Chances are they will also follow you, if you also look interesting to them. So how do you do this?

First of all, have an interesting profile on your twitter account. This doesn’t mean make things up, it means telling people what you are passionate about that show who you are. This might include your book, or your hobby, or your family, your pet, or your humor, but show them. This makes you human and they can see things that you might have in common.

Second of all, have a website linked to your facebook and twitter page. Make sure your website is interesting. Have a blog that is also interesting. Make sure your website and your blog are constantly changing (new material) to bring people back again and again.

Offer something to people who come to your website. This might mean value-added material about the characters or the world in which your book is set, or it might include offering contests or something free, like a story, to readers.

Be consistent in your postings to your website and on twitter and/or Facebook become a presence with something interesting to say and people will follow you.

Don’t think you have something interesting to say today? Then find the people with the tweets that are interesting to you and retweet them, because if you found them interesting, chances are others will too. If we’re talking about Facebook, make coments about posts that interest you. Facebook also allows pages for your book, so here is another place to show what you are writing about. With regards to blogs, if you have posted your blogs regularly, people will come to expect that you will keep that regularity up. That consistency allows people to follow you.

A note here. Many social media pundits say you should post a new blog at least once a week. Others have postulated that a quality post could be written less frequently to allow people to be guided to it again and again.

It’s my belief that this will depend on the nature of the post and its intended readers. So think about whether your blog’s readers are people with time to check posts regularly, or are they people who may need a month just to find the time to check your blog? Finally, a challenge for a lot of writers is that they target their blog to other writers instead of their readers. So think about what you are doing with your blog and your social media posts, and make sure it is targeted to who you are really writing for—your readers.

Beyond your own blog and website, you can also build your social media connections a couple of other ways:

1. Identify writers or books that you believe attract a similar audience to that your book should attract. Find fan pages and groups for these writers and books and engage with them.

2. Find other blog sites, like review sites, forums or well-trafficked sites and participate regularly. Share what you know. Share yourself and DON”T USE THOSE CONNECTIONS TO ONLY PUSH YOUR WARES.

3. Join Goodreads and become involved with reader groups. Participate in book discussions. When you introduce yourself to a new group, feel free to introduce yourself as a writer, but don’t push your book. There are other ways established on Goodreads to do this.

Most of all, relax and enjoy the people you meet. The open conversations that occur, make you human and are more likely to cause a person to think that given they like you, they might like your book.

Next week we’re going to talk about book reviews and blog tours.

Social Media and Marketing your e-Published Book

Social Media and Marketing your e-Published Book

Which social media do you prefer and what success have you experienced with it? Last Post I said that we’d start to explore social media and how to make it work for you. When I consider social media and on-line marketing there are four basic areas to discuss:

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook/Google+
  3. Websites and blogs
  4. Author opportunities on Amazon.com, Pubit and Goodreads amidst others.

In addition there are other opportunities such as interviews/blog tours and UTube, however I recently saw an amazing graphic that shows the immense possibilities available for social marketing (click here). All of these are built on a key concept we discussed last week, namely the importance of social networking.

Marketing on social networks requires you to first of all to focus on also being social. To help with introducing this subject, successful self-publisher, Joshua Graham, provided these insights about his experience building from a newly published book to a best seller. He provides a good introduction to what social marketing requires.

1. You’ve talked about using social media for promoting yourself and your books. Can you tell me what social media you’ve used and what have you used them for? E.g. do you only use social media for your writing, or are you involved with the various forms for other social purposes?

I have Facebook accounts, fan pages for my pen names and books, as well as twitter accounts. I mostly use them for marketing my work.

Do you have those for each of your pseudonyms and each book?

That is correct. For now, with only 2 novels and 2 pen names, it’s manageable.

2. How have you used each type of social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon book groups, etc.) to promote your writing? E.g. announcing new publications, pushing your books (if so, how?)

Twitter is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I’m learning. I’ve used Facebook to find readers and let them know about my books, reviews, interviews, awards, and honors. All of these help build my internet presence and create a platform. As this platform grows, there will be more of an audience for future releases.

To find readers, I basically went to various special interest pages on Facebook such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., engaged in discussions and “friended” anyone who seemed like they might be interested in my books. Also, based on the reactions (comments, “likes”) to my book posts, I “friended” those people as well.

3. Did you have a social media presence before you began promoting your books?

Not really. I had a personal Facebook page, but I really began marketing under my pen name when my ebooks first became available.

4. How often are you on the various social media sites? What time commitment does social media involve a week? (What did you devote to it?)

Probably a bit more than I should be. I spend several hours each week on Facebook, and often when I’m feeling a bit unfocused in my writing, I hang out there more doing marketing and communicating with my fans.

5. Have you tracked which social media sites have had the greatest impact on your sales? If so, which ones have you found most effective?

It’s hard to draw a direct correlation (esp. with Twitter) but I have definitely found Facebook the most effective way for now. Even that is reaching a limit, so I’ll need to explore other venues for marketing too.

6. Are there actions you would recommend for writers venturing into marketing on social media and, conversely, are there actions that you would recommend writers avoid?

There’s no one way that works for everyone. Definitely, write the best book you can. Get some good reviews and use them to talk about your book. I find that if you start giving away a lot of free ebooks (short stories, or even novels) on a regular basis, you’ll develop an appreciative and loyal following.

Then when you release a new book, they as your fans will be very enthusiastic and hopefully talk about it on their social networks as well. I would avoid over-saturating certain fan pages with ads. Be aware of the culture and rules of each fan page or message board. If you fall out of favor, it will harm rather than help your marketing efforts.

7. What would you recommend to the writer who has little to no previous experience with social media?

Get started! Learn your way around and find your own social media voice. Have a personality online that people can identify with. And most of all, be a giver. Give your readers and fan something of value. If they perceive you as a taker–someone who just wants them to buy your book, they will be turned off and you will become noise to them.

A big thanks to Joshua for sharing his insights. And just to reinforce what he has said, as an author he has focused on his marketing, but he has done so through becoming involved with communities within the social media.

A similar story can be found if you look at the process John Locke used to become a best seller, however his preferred social media was Twitter. So it seems that both social media can be successful; you just need to decide which you prefer and determine how to make it work for you. That’s what we’ll talk about next time out.

So I’ll repeat my question here: which social media do you prefer and what success have you experienced with it?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Social Media, Pulling Teeth and Getting Started

Social Media, Pulling Teeth and Getting Started

I remember it well—the day my writing mentor said I had to be on Twitter. First came the panic.

‘No’, I said. ‘No way. E-mail eats enough time as it is.”

Another kindly pair of friends took me aside and explained that really, Twitter wasn’t so bad, and you needed it to market you books (no mention of how). So they helped me get an account and TweetDeck, and set me loose in the Twitter world.

And I never used it.

The few times I logged on, it was like going to the dentist and I HATED the fact that my darn computer dinged and disturbed my train of thought every time a new tweet came through. Now I know I could turn my speakers down, but I needed the volume to tell me when business e-mails came through. The trouble was twitter kept dinging and dinging. So this post is about Twitter and Facebook and social media in general and how to make it manageable for you. Next post will be on how to make it WORK for you.

The thing with Twitter and Facebook is that you have to understand that they have tremendous potential, but you also have to understand that there are downsides:

  • Social media can be frustrating as heck until you understand them and how they work.
  • Social media can feel like floundering in deep water until you decide the parameters of how you are going to participate.
  • Twitter and Facebook can become veritable time sinks.
  • Social media can begin to take over your social life.
Winter river near La Saucet, France (2005) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Like anything new, understanding Twitter and Facebook requires purposeful learning. Yes, it is possible to simply open an account and begin tweeting or sending messages, but why, and what do you send messages about? One reason may be to simply keep in touch with existing friends. Once you’ve connected with your friends, it’s easy to fulfill this purpose. You can use Facebook and Twitter to send out urls for blogs, which is also useful, and if that is all you want, then the social media is working for you.

So to make social media work for you, this is a first decision point: what do you want from Twitter or Facebook?

If you want to leverage social media to help with marketing your books, this requires you to become more involved in the social media family. It requires you to become more comfortable with working with social media. A good place to pick up pointers is through Lynda.com, which contains video tutorials on the basics, but also sessions on marketing.

Marketing your book requires building your connections to others in the Twitterverse, or Facebook Universe. This involves building connections to friends, which means that you need to do more than marketing. You need to give people something of yourself and your interests, something that both you and other people find of value. This involves reaching out to others to become their friends, either by identifying common interests, or through their connections to people you friend or follow. This is easy enough to do, by simply clicking on a person’s profile and friending or following them. Hopefully they will reciprocate and follow you, too. But the trouble is this can become an obsession. You can spend hours identifying friends and follows, and you have to ask yourself what is most important—this social media work, or time spent writing (and time having a life).

This is a second decision point: Are you a writer first and a social media savant second, or is it the other way around? If you are a writer, then you may need to set parameters around your time spent on social media. For an example, I try to put in thirty minutes to an hour in the morning and the same in the evening.

Street scene, Montmartre, Paris (2005) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

But at the same time you need to understand that social media is social. This means that even if your original intention in joining the Twitterverse and Facebook was to market your book, you need to do more than that. You need to have something to add to the Twitterverse. This was initially where I stalled. I didn’t know what I could add to all the comments out there. Well we all have things to add, whether it be book recommendations, reporting on your latest accomplishments, or links to blogs that you found important, these are the things that will build your followers and your social connections, and when you get your first message from a follower it starts to feel fun that you are building connections to people—people who might eventually become your friends.

And not your dentist.

Cover Design: What is your favorite book cover?

Cover Design: What is your favorite book cover?

This morning I happened to talk to a reader of one of the Karen L. McKee books called Judas Kiss. The reader told me she had had difficulty reading the book; it might have been the fact that she was in hospital at the time, but when she got home she picked up the book and still had trouble. When I asked her what stopped her there was no hesitation: The cover. She described it as too dark, and though the book is a romantic suspense, to her the black, white and red cover said this book was horror.

Not what I was going for.

So I decided to get in touch with one of my cover-designing, author friends, Pati Nagle, and ask her a few questions about how to design a proper cover.

1. Are there specific design elements, like title fonts and placement authors should think about as we design covers?

Pati suggests that a good rule of thumb is to use only one or two fonts on a cover. Critical to this is make sure the text is legible even in small (thumbnail) size. This means that if you are using an ornate font, you need to check whether it is readable in the size cover that will come up on Amazon or Smashwords or Barnes and Noble.

Pati also says that generally the title and author go at the top and bottom, or both, leaving the centre for the main image.

2. Are there guidelines regarding using too many or too few images on a cover?

Pati suggests that we should keep it simple as too many images will confuse the reader.

From my experience, when a reader looks at a book, the cover is generally designed with one or two strong images that the reader’s eye moves back and forth over. My experience as a photographer says that too many images make the reader’s eye keep bouncing from image to image and never really come to rest so the cover never really gains a focus for the reader. As a result, they don’t know where to look.

3. How do we convey mood? For mystery? For Fantasy? Horror? Etc.

The best way to really understand book covers for each genre is to study recently published books to see what the genre is doing. You can decide then, whether to follow their lead. This holds true especially for bestsellers.

4. How do we judge when a cover is too dark or too light?

If it’s readable, it’s fine. That usually means there must be sufficient contrast between the image and the text.

5. Are there specific graphic design elements to keep in mind?

The 1/3/9 guideline. The placement on the page does not have to be in exactly this position.

In graphic design there is a 1/3/9 rule for division of a picture. They can be in any order (meaning you can change placement around the cover).

When designing your cover, create a graphic image with cover dimensions and three bands of those proportions, and compare it to your cover. See if the title/author name and main image are in the 3 and 9 proportions. The 1 proportion can be a secondary image or a blurb. This isn’t an absolute rule, but it’s a good guideline.

6. What is a good process to use to come out with a reasonable cover?

Select a cover image and choose a font for the title and author. Lay those out on the page. Then tweak the text color for contrast and at the same time harmonize it with the other colors. Add a blurb or subtitle last.

When choosing the cover image, consider using elements from the book as that will please the author and the readers. Iconic images are best: things that will immediately raise an idea in the viewer’s mind. If the cover concept is complicated to describe, it probably won’t read well on a cover.

7. Are there specific programs you recommend for developing a cover?

A good graphics program that will let you build a layered image. Many people use Photoshop.

A couple of other points to consider come from readers I’ve spoken to and my own experience:

  •  A cover with a photograph may not go over as well as something more artistic or illustrative.
  •  For authors who can’t afford Photoshop or something like it, covers have been successfully developed using only PowerPoint. 
  • When positioning a picture on the page, consider the strongest elements and where they should be to draw the reader’s eye. Photographers know the rule of thirds – that each picture can be divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. The best place to put major elements is near where those horizontal and vertical lines intersect, because that is where a viewer’s eye naturally goes.
  • Finally, always consider what image will sell. By this I mean, what image has the best chance of getting people’s attention. Case in point are the two covers here. The one with the feather was my first cover. Then I realized that stories with dragons on the cover (and this story actually has one) probably sell better. Well duh! 

So cover two came into being. That’s the nice thing about this electronic world- we can try things out and find what works.

Just remember, these are design guidelines, not rules. So keeping all these thoughts in mind, what are some of your favorite covers and how do they meet these guidelines—or not.

Color 1

And to keep my reader happy, I’m considering changing the color of Judas Kiss. What do you think? Which one would you choose?

Color 2
Color 3
Branding Your Books: Having a ‘Look’

Branding Your Books: Having a ‘Look’

Angelina Jolie has her Bardot lips, while Jennifer Aniston has her girl-next-door appeal. You pick up a James Patterson novel and you can tell it’s a thriller, while Urban Fantasy has a leather-clad woman on the cover. Each of these are examples of having a look, or a trademark, whether of a person, a novelist or a genre. For indie publishers, you need to consider what is the ‘look’ of your books.

Part of your look will depend on what type of book you are publishing, because each genre seems to have style conventions. I mentioned the urban fantasy trope of the leather clad woman, and the cliché for romance is the bare-chested hero rescuing the damsel in distress (thankfully this isn’t the case anymore), but establishing a look for your books is more than the cover art.

Why is this important? Because readers come to recognize books with a similar look and if they liked the last one they read, they are more likely to pick up the next. While readers often don’t pay attention to who the publisher is, they know when the books have a similar look. They also come to expect certain authors to have a certain look to their books. As a result, when a Publisher goes through a rebranding of an author, there is often confusion for readers about which book of that author they have read. How many times have I picked up a book thinking it was a new title by a favored author, only to find it was one I’d read, but released in a different cover. Readers remember covers and are attracted to them. Thus we need to use covers to convey who we (the book and the author) are.

To talk about Branding I thought it might be best to look at some examples of books recently put out by indie publishing authors:

Spirit Dance is an award winning fantasy from Canadian Author Douglas Smith. He has been published through Lucky Bat Books, an independent e-publisher. Smith’s Books have been packaged with a similar look that any reader would recognize. Each of them have the Author’s name in large print at the bottom of the cover, with the title in relatively small print in a narrow black strip across the waist of the cover. This strip acts either as a division between two related images, or as a division in the one main picture. Alternatively the covers have a very simple, single image that conveys a feeling about the books’ content. Most of the covers also use photographs rather than illustrations and all have an other-worldly feel about them, which is good given that Smith is known for his fantasy writing. This use of the specific graphic elements – the title band, the faded-towards-transparent author name, and the same placement of any award notifications on the covers all provide a combination of easily recognizable cues that this is a ‘Smith book’.

Eternally Grounded is a fantasy story from Camden Park Press. Camden Park publishes across a number of genres including fantasy and science fiction, but all of the books have something in common, namely the italicized logo, Camden Park Press, somewhere on the cover, so you always know you are getting a book from that publisher. In the best of worlds, there would be consistency of placement of the logo as well, but design sometimes requires this type of thing be moved. Structurally, within the Camden Park family of books, those by Elizabeth Ann Pierce also have a commonality of the author’s name being set off in a neutral band at the bottom. If used in all the Pierce books that can become an easily recognizable standard for this author.

Downhill Rush is one title in a line of books from Fiero Press. Terri Darling is one of the authors who specializes in romance. If you look at the cover, the publisher has passed on a logo, but has used layout and color to show a common line of books. In this instance most of the Terri Darling books have a valentine-red border at the top with the author’s name and the tag line “Where the action is hot and the romance is hotter”, in a consistent, easy to read font that puts the author front and center . Does the tag line sound a little sexy and a lot hot? Does it tell a reader what they’ve got? With this memorable little tag line and the familiar look of these books, it won’t be a surprise if these books sell well once the author is established.

The Nara Effect is a Science Fiction book from Matthew Lieber Buchman. Matt has a line of books that cross genres, but there is a similar look to most of them, so you know you have a Buchman book. Across the books, the covers have a consistent upper and lower border with a consistent placement of the Author’s name and title. The central cover art section of the cover often uses a montage of images out of the book and the blurb usually is placed right at the top. Again the reader is going to know they have a Buchman book, and just to be certain of that, on the back of each novel Buchman has placed a knife, a Samurai Sword or some other sharp-bladed object diagonally across the back cover blurb. This is unique and memorable and I can see people describing them as ‘the knife book brand’.

The last of the books I’m examining comes from best-selling e-book Thriller author, Joshua Graham. His cover for Beyond Justice follows the tropes of many thrillers. It has the emphasis on name of a ‘big name’, best-selling author. It has the black band at the top for the author’s name to stand out in and the cover image is clean and simple with this cover focused on the primary character. This similar layout is present in many of his other publications, but the focus here is on NAME. He has made himself a brand, just as Clive Cussler, and James Patterson have made themselves brands, though not at their level yet.

So the look or brand is layout and font and logo and feel. This means that in establishing your brand it’s helpful to:

  1. Chose something that you can present consistently on the cover of your books. This could be a logo, a tag line or even the name of the Author.
  2. Consider whether your approach is to have a collage of images or a single strong image. This can be used consistently across all your books so that your Brand either has complex or minimalist covers, both of which are  used in ‘traditional’ publishing.
  3. Be consistent in format. If you are using bands of text, use the same type of band across all your books. If you use a specific font for your books and a brand is important, use that font consistently. If you are going to include a tag line or logo, position them consistently on the cover.
  4. Think about whether color can be used to show consistent branding.
  5. Think about how you are trying to position yourself or your books and your genre. If you are writing/publishing big thrillers, then use a thriller format for the covers. If you are writing/publishing epic fantasy, it will be something totally different, than if you are writing/publishing sweet romance. So go study the covers in your genre and see what you can come up with as cues for readers regarding your brand.

So creating a brand can include combinations of graphic elements that build a ‘look’. When you are creating your brand, try out various combinations to see what works best.

I’d be interested in seeing or hearing about what others are doing to establish their brand of books. Now I’d better go do some branding of my own.

Recent Fantasy

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Recent Mystery

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