Stories, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

Anthology April

Curtis Bausse Book a Break Short Story Competition

A big thank you to all who submitted stories for the first Rabbit Hole anthology – 56 submissions in all, a very healthy number for our first outing. Now the hard part begins – the selection process. We aim to get this done over the next 2 to 3 weeks, and all authors will be notified one way or the other before the end of the month. After that, it’s editing, revision, proofreading, formatting… a process on which I’d rather not put a concluding date right now.

But it’s already begun, and for me not once but twice: for The Rabbit Hole and for The Second Taste. That’s the title of this year’s Book a Break anthology (which will also be its last year). The title comes from Anaïs Nin: We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospection. And in the anthology, as befits the theme of nourishment, there will be many flavours. With more still to come – there’s room for another half dozen stories, so if you have anything you’d like to submit, send it along before the end of this month to curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com. Maximum length: (more or less) 2000 words.

So April for me will be anthology month. All this has got me thinking about what makes a good short story. It’s far easier to say what doesn’t work than what does, which I’m not even going to attempt here. Instead I’ll let Atthys Gage give an idea – this is from the announcement of the first Book a Break competition, which he judged:

Let’s admit one thing. You may need to ignore everyone’s favorite writing tip: “show, don’t tell”— or at least, take it with a grain of salt. Telling is okay, just tell it well. Sometimes it’s necessary. You need a quick set up to get the reader involved quickly, because in a very few pages, you’re going to pull a fast one, yank our expectations out from under our feet, drop us abruptly on our backsides. Consider The Open Window by Saki, or The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, or The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke.

Or maybe your story doesn’t feature a last minute reversal. Maybe it’s all one slow-burn, building to a frantic boil. Think Young Goodman Brown by Hawthorne, or A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. These stories play with our expectations, but you can see the ending coming. By the time it comes, you know it was inevitable all along.

Then there’s this from Heidi Pitlor: A successful short story does not expose its mechanics. Hell, it most likely does not have mechanics, rather a set of characters, a voice, an arc, momentum and a raison d’être so indivisible that to examine one of these aspects might seem pointless without the context of the others.

There’s only one thing I can say for sure – a good short story makes you want to come back for a second taste.

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book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

The power of a newsletter. I hope.

person-writing-letter-with-metal-quill

How can we gain readers? Blogging is approximate, Facebook is fickle and tweets are lost like bubbles that burst as soon as they’re formed. Only one answer, then: a newsletter. Well, that’s what I’ve heard, time and again, from self-publishing marketing gurus, foremost among them Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson. Build your mailing list!  As Dawson puts it, my mailing list is a crucial – THE crucial – part of my business. It’s my most valuable asset. Because then you have email addresses so you’re sending out regular content to a (more or less) captive audience. So that’s what I’m doing. Last week, GD did me the honour of posting one of my letters, so the least I can do now is explain the mechanics behind it.

First you’ll need an email marketing service. I’m currently using Mailchimp, which has good functionality and is free up to 2000 subscribers. After that, it’s $30 a month, rising to $50 when you hit 3000. Not exactly cheap. As I’m getting close to 2000, I’ve started looking at alternatives. Among the best known is Mailerlite, which is free up to 1000, only rising to $35 a month when you reach 10,000 (by which time, if all goes to plan, you should be generating more than enough revenue to cover the cost). Here’s a more detailed comparison of the two. But they’re not the only ones: here’s a list of several more.

But readers don’t sign up to lists for no reason. In return for giving you their email address, they want something of value to them, such as a free book or a video course. Make your first book free, and if subscribers like it enough, they’ll buy the second, especially if it’s part of a series. Or so the reasoning goes. But with so many free books out there, for that to happen, you’re going to need a lot of subscribers.

Next you want somewhere readers will find you. A landing page on a blog is all very well, but unless you have a huge amount of traffic, the sign-up rate is so low it could take years to build your list to any decent size. Then there’s the call to action placed at the front and back of your permafree book on Amazon, including a reader magnet (e.g. Sign up to my newsletter to join my readers’ group to get another free book / short story / novella and be informed of new releases). Here again, the sign-up rate is tiny. The solution? Shared promotions and giveaways. Since I signed up to Mailchimp almost a year ago, I’ve participated in half a dozen. Results have varied, ranging from barely 20 subscribers to the current one (40 mystery novels), with over 700. Readers sign up to giveaways on one of the two main sites, Instafreebie or Bookfunnel. This video (20 min) explains how both of them work.

Finally, but of course not least, you need content. This is the hardest part – an insipid or uninformative newsletter will lose subscribers fast. But if it’s helpful, fun to read, or offers something of value (more giveaways, a free story), they’ll stay. All of them? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But with each letter you send out, you can expect a hefty batch of unsubscribes. How many depends on the number of subscribers you have, so it’s best to talk percentages: in my experience, anything from 2% to 8%. Which is fine – lots of people sign up just for the freebies, so they’re unlikely to become your fans in any case.

Those are the ingredients then. What about the stats? How good a strategy is it? And what’s the best measure in any case? The most rewarding (financially) is the number of sales of a second book after readers have downloaded the first. If I include the sales of book two (Perfume Island) at the time of its launch, my conversion rate is 2.3%. Excluding the launch, it’s less than 1%. There are other measures, like the open rate of the newsletter (35% – 40% for mine) or the number of reviews on Amazon (Mark Dawson puts forward a figure of 1 per every 1000 downloads), but the bottom line, of course, is sales.

Am I downhearted? No. Nor even surprised, now that I know what the nature of the game is. For me, it’s way too early to draw conclusions. I’ve only got two books out, and there’s a lot I’ve still got to learn. My expectation is that until I reach at least 5000 subscribers, release a couple more books (and probably start spending on advertising), there won’t be any significant result. But so far this is the only strategy I’ve come across. It’s no doubt getting harder as time goes by, and it requires endless patience and perseverance, but there are plenty of authors who’ve used it satisfactorily. So sometime you can expect another post from me, triumphantly announcing I’m one of them. Maybe. In the meantime, you can always sign up to my newsletter.

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publishing, Stories, Writers Co-op

Call for Submissions

The Writers’ Co-op invites submissions of short stories (and poems) for an anthology to be released later this year. No theme is set, but stories should broadly fall into the category of ‘weird’ (see below).

There is a maximum word count of 5000. But this is more a guideline than a strict limit – quality is the main criterion, not length. So a great story will be accepted, whether it’s 6000 words or 200 (flash fiction is welcome). But we’re looking for short stories, not novellas or extracts from novels – the story should be complete in itself. Though the anthology will be comprised mostly of stories, there will also be room for some poems or pieces of an experimental nature.

The deadline is 31st March 2018. Submissions should be sent in an attached file to curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com with the subject ‘Co-op submission’. They may have been previously published on personal websites (or elsewhere) but authors must have full rights to them when submitting. Authors will retain said rights after the story or poem is published in the Writers’ Co-op anthology.

All proceeds will go to the Against Malaria Foundation. Why? Because the (hopefully not meagre but probably far from spectacular) royalties can make a big difference: $3 buys a long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito net which protects two people for up to three years.

That’s for the practicalities (if you have further questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact page). But what is meant by ‘weird’?

The question is addressed in the previous post, but since I’m here I get the chance to add my two cents’ worth (or grain of salt as they say in French). Like many categories, it’s fuzzy, because it stands in distinction to ‘normal’, and there’s no common acceptance of what is normal. Not all writers will approach it the same way, and so much the better – we hope for plenty of variety. At the core of weirdness, though, is the upsetting of expectations: normality, in the sense of what we’re accustomed to, doesn’t follow the course that led to us form those expectations. Where it goes – somewhere disturbing or hilarious – is entirely the writer’s choice. Or why not hilariously disturbing? Indeed, one advantage of ‘weird’ is that it allows for humour as much as for horror, so go for it!

How weird does it have to be? Anything from full on, over-the-top freaky to subtly odd and unsettling. So no worries if weird isn’t your usual style – a few deft touches can suffice. Those little moments of strangeness that don’t fit into what we know of the world or the people around us, those hints of a deeper mystery that defies explanation. Give us writing that shifts our perceptions, leads us to experience, bubbling up through the regularity and routine, the fundamental weirdness of life. To quote the Count of Lautréamont, author of the Chant de Maldoror, if your piece is ‘beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella,’ there’s every chance that we’ll love it.

We look forward to reading you.

Agne-s-Varda-beau-comme-la-rencontre-fortuite-1

Agnès Varda: La rencontre fortuite
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publishing, Stories, Writers Co-op

Anthology Q&A

The Writers’ Co-op has decided to put together an anthology of short stories. To start off, here’s a short list of practical aspects to consider. All comments and suggestions welcome.

How many submissions do we need?

It depends (a) if there’s a maximum word count and (b) how long the anthology itself should be. I’d suggest a maximum word count of 5000, with a small tolerance if it goes above. For a book of 60,000 words, that’s 12 stories. But the book could be longer and the stories shorter, so 12 is a minimum and it could stretch to around 30.

How do we find them?

Invite submissions. It’s not a competition, so won’t be listed on a competition page like the one on Almond Press, which attracts a lot of views. The Book a Break got 75 the first year, 123 the second. Slightly less than a third made it into the anthology. How many submissions will we get by publicising on social media? No idea, but it would be nice to get 40-50. We can also send direct invitations to writers we know and appreciate.

Is there a theme?

The question is still open but there appears to be a majority saying no. And a theme adds virtually nothing to the marketing possibilities. A genre, on the other hand, makes it easier – readers type it as a search word on Amazon. Carl has suggested ‘weird’, which I like. It’s broad enough to allow for a lot of variety, from humour to horror by way of talking cats. Could even be stylistic.

Who will take care of selecting submissions, editing and formatting?

I’m quite happy to do that as it’s what I’ve been doing for the Book a Break, but ideally with someone I can call on for help when needed. Any volunteers?

What’s the calendar?

The Book a Break anthology will be released in September or October. I’d rather it didn’t clash with that, so either before or after, June/July, say, or November/December. But for the moment I’d rather not commit – let’s post submission invitations wherever we can with a deadline, I suggest, of 31st March. Some people might already have pieces ready but for anyone starting from scratch, that seems reasonable. We’ll see what happens.

How do we market it?

We will be creative, tenacious and cooperative! A committee of three or four people would be useful to come up with and implement ideas.

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book promotion, book reviews, book sales, publishing, reading, Uncategorized

Now, here’s something new – a reader!

Writer's Block

Well, the launch is done – phew! I’m a bit surprised at how tense I got – I thought I’d be more laid back. Too early, of course, to give a report, but the first impression is… mixed. Yes, it’s better than the last, but given that all I did then was post on my blog, that’s hardly difficult. This time I had a strategy – build up my mailing list and ask my subscribers to post reviews. I’d sent a free copy of Perfume Island to over a hundred, but so far none has appeared. Early days yet, perhaps – we shall see. But the only reviews so far have been from people I was in touch with before (you guys included – many thanks!).

On the other hand, it has been good to get a couple of messages from complete strangers telling me, ‘I enjoy your books so much.’ And it made me realise that I’ve never before experienced that sort of connection with readers. It gives me a glow inside that’s different from other satisfactions I’ve got from writing. For a couple of reasons, I think. Firstly, as I said, these aren’t people I’ve built an online relationship with – they’re people who’ve come across my books by chance or because they happen to like the mystery genre. And that’s the second thing – they aren’t writers but readers. Crucial as it is to engage with and learn from other writers, we’re not normal readers because we always have one eye on the craft of writing (‘Ah, what a beautiful / overblown / clunky sentence that is!’). So it’s rather strange to think that someone might be reading my book simply because they want to enjoy a good story. You might say it’s a bit late to be discovering only now what it’s like to have a few readers. Well, yes, I fumbled and faltered a lot along the way. But better late than never, you’re never too old to fulfil your dreams, yada, yada…

Will Perfume Island actually sell many copies? Probably not. But a few more than One Green Bottle (again, not difficult). And the prospect of having readers raises another issue: they’re following a series. What do I do with Magali now? Is she a brand? Do I owe it to my readers to keep her going? Well, here’s what Hugh Howie has to say: ‘A big mistake I see from too many aspiring writers is to follow up their first work with a sequel, and turn that into a trilogy, and write a fourth and fifth book while they plan their sixth and seventh. […] Plan on writing many great books about many awesome characters. Plan on writing three different trilogies in three different genres. Sequels aren’t bad; in fact, they can be critical to your success. What’s bad is only giving readers a handful of avenues into your imagination. Give them as many onramps as possible. Write short stories as well as novels. Write in different genres. Experiment and adapt to your sales and any critical feedback.’ (The full article, which covers many other points, is here.)

I found that reassuring. Because much as I like Magali, I don’t want to be wedded to her for the rest of my writing life. In fact, other ideas are barging to the front of the queue, demanding to be written. For the moment, though, I’m thrusting them back. A trilogy, at least – I can’t not write a trilogy. So this morning, with great relief, I stopped looking on Amazon every other minute and got back in touch with Magali and Charlotte in Mystery Manor (much darker, more thriller than mystery this time). Because if I don’t do that, I might lose my readers just when I’m starting (let’s be optimistic here) to gain them.

As for the marketing, I see no alternative to persisting with the mailing list. The first time people unsubscribed, I was dismayed. Now I’m pleased – it means I won’t be annoying them. And little by little, there’s a chance that of those that remain, a few will swell the number of that very select group I think of now as ‘my readers’.

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book promotion, publishing

What took you so long?

So, Curtis, Perfume Island is finally ready for release.

Ha! L’Arlésienne arrives at last.

I’m sorry?

A young woman from Arles in Alphonse Daudet’s play of the same name. She’s talked about all the time but never actually appears on stage. The term now applies to something we’re led to expect but which never arrives.

I see. Well, I hope it’s worth the wait. What took you so long?

You may recall it was about to come out last year, but-

You think I recall that? With all the other books I have to read?

Well, if you stop interrupting, I’ll remind you. My publisher at the time was… let’s just say I decided it would be better to do it myself. At which point I embraced self-publishing fully, stigma and all – well, there isn’t one, is there? Once you decide to go down that road, you can’t let doubts like that get in the way.

And what did it involve in concrete terms?

I realized my marketing strategy was non-existent. I kept reading that the best way to reach out to readers, and above all to keep them, was through a mailing list, so I set about building one. I’ve done a giveaway and two cross promotions, and now have a list of about 420.

Who are all going to read Perfume Island?

If only! No, but eight of them – people I don’t know at all – have already agreed join my launch team. Which basically means they get free stuff in exchange for writing a review and spreading the word when the book comes out. Of course, 420 is a tiny number – self-publishing guru Mark Dawson has 60000. But it’s a start. The next 12 months will be a test of how well this works. Right now, I’m just pleased that I did part ways with my publisher – having control over the whole process makes a huge difference. Even if I make mistakes, they’re my mistakes and I can decide how to fix them. And I’m finding that marketing can be enjoyable too, once you start to look at it as a creative, learning experience.

Any final message you’d like to give?

Just my heartfelt thanks to the Writers’ Co-op. It seems a long time ago when GD put forward the idea on Book Country. We’re hardly big, but the level of support is tremendous. And though we write in different genres, we share the same commitment to the process. Every word of encouragement has been precious. You guys rock!

15th November – release of Perfume Island. The Arlésienne appears!

 

 

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book promotion

Where should you advertise your book?

There isn’t yet a reblog button on this site, so I’ve just copied the first two paragraphs along with a link to the full article. A good report by Andrew Updegrove on the options open to you if you want to advertise your book.

Over the last ten years, literally hundreds of services have sprung up that send daily newsletters featuring discount and free ebooks to subscribers. The king of them all is BookBub, with millions of subscribers. Unfortunately, unless you’ve written a real best seller, it’s almost impossible to get them to accept your book (and if they do, it will set you back as much as $1000 for that one-shot ad). The good news is that out of all the rest, there is a very small handful of services that can help you sell lots of books. The key is to figure out which they are, and what type of promo to run. Read on, and I’ll share what I’ve learned through running hundreds of ads over the past two years with scores of these services.

In order to find out which sites can produce, whenever I tried a new service, I ran it alone at a time I wasn’t doing any other significant promotion. And two cautions before I go into the results: first, each of my books is a thriller. Your results may vary if you are in another genre. And second, it’s a dynamic marketplace, with many services rising and falling in effectiveness all the time.

The results and discussion can be found at:

http://andrew-updegrove.com/how-to-actually-sell-books-through-advertising/

 

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