Uncategorized, writing technique

Raise Your Voice… uh, Voices!

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I am not a sarcastic person. Sarcasm strikes me as mean — snarky condemnations passive-aggressively issued by arrogant people desperate to feel superior to those they ridicule. Those who are not the target may think it’s witty, but maybe they’re just relieved and smugly enjoying the fact it wasn’t aimed at them. After all, does anyone really deserve such ridicule? I’m inclined to give all* people the benefit of the doubt, and accept their occasionally foolish, irritating, mind-raspingly stupid behavior as an entitlement every human may claim. Even I could claim it if I were ever foolish, irritating, or stupid. None of which, of course, I ever am.

That’s the reason Romero Russo was such a revelation. More than two years ago, Romero started writing a book called Sarcasm Font. My first public view of him was on Inkshares during a marketing contest. After completing the first five chapters of his ambiguously fictional story, he started blogging. People found his writing funny and thoughtful:

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Here’s the thing. I am him.

 

That’s right. Following an unexpected series of events leading to my brain slurring two words into a word you won’t find in the OED, a fit of whimsy took over. I began writing Sarcasm Font in a voice so unfamiliar to me that I couldn’t even claim author credit. Romero Russo was born. He had a life of his own. He didn’t speak to me; he spoke through me. No doubt other authors have had the same out-of-voice experience. I suspect they would agree: it’s freeing.

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The elusive Romero Russo (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

 

Like many authors, I’ve written characters who say sarcastic things. Readers have commented that each of my characters has an individual, identifiable voice. But writing and living from inside a character whose voice differs drastically from your own is more like acting. If you allow that person to tell the whole story, the writing experience is more like watching the story than creating it.

When Romero went public on Inkshares, the circle who knew about the two of us was small: two of my sisters and my son. They were kind enough not to share Romero’s secret, but they weren’t shy about letting me know they thought it was kind of creepy that I talked about him as if he were real. He and I shared a Venn diagram overlap of followers, and we followed each other. Why wouldn’t we? We were marketing separate works by separate authors.

But when we started blogging, we were sharing our “selves” with strangers. That’s when it became a hoax. No one questioned it. Why would they? He said things I would never say. It was just so darn much fun to be Romero Russo.

After the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge, Romero went silent on WordPress. I was still working on Sarcasm Font, and planned to promote it under his name. I began to question the practicality of that when I wrote the short story behind one of his… um, life events, and entered it in a contest. Entry required a bio and a photo. I had those, no problem. But on the chance — however remote — that it won a cash prize, or was short-listed to be published in the anthology, wouldn’t I want the cash and/or credit to be mine? Yes. Yes I would. I submitted it under my name, and while it didn’t win any cash, it was published in the contest anthology. I got all the credit.

I also gave myself up. Someone — I leave the choice to acknowledge this to him — who follows both Romero and me procured a copy of the anthology and read my story, which I, appropriately though perhaps indiscreetly, called “Sarcasm Font”. He allowed that I might merely have appropriated Romero’s premise, but he also suspected that we might be one and the same, despite the difference in voices. When he asked me directly, I couldn’t bring myself to resort to “alternative facts”. I confessed.

My hope is that others may take some inspiration from this tale. If you haven’t yet written an out-of-voice story, I highly recommend it. It will open your mind to discover voices you didn’t know you had. Ideas that have never occurred to you before will flow. You might find your very own Romero Russo.

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*(Except for one person to whom I gave a chance, but whose consistently reprehensible behavior has depleted my ability to tolerate. I might need Romero to speak for me for the next four years.)

fullsizeoutput_174 S.T. Ranscht lives in San Diego, California. She and Robert P. Beus co-authored ENHANCED, the first book in the young adult Second Earth Trilogy. She is currently submitting their baby to literary agents, determined to find the one who is their perfect match. Her short story, “Cat Artist Catharsis”, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and is available in its anthology, Cat Tales. “Sarcasm Font” appears in the 2016 To Hull and Back Short Story Anthology. Find her online: on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, Twitter @STRanscht and Instagram @stranscht. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook, Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy, and Instagram @secondearthtrilogy.

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book sales, Uncategorized

Selling Your Baby

Copyright Ben Cavanna

All dressed up and looking for a buyer                                                                                               (Photo credit Ben Cavanna)

 

“So you’ve written a book.” Foreboding voice in your head

In the olden days, seven years ago, you would have found an agent, endured participated in the editing process to make your manuscript the best written most marketable product it could be, and then sat back while your agent shopped your baby to the highest-bidding publisher. Your book would hit the shelves, and you’d laugh all the way to the bank in your brand new Ferrari.

“Wait. What?” You

Well, maybe it wasn’t ever that easy or profitable, but we all know the landscape has changed. Today, whether you’ve self-pubbed or kept your ego in tact through dozens of rejections and finally hooked up with the agent/publisher of your dreams, you know the weight of marketing your precious baby will fall on you. The author. Because that makes perfect sense.

Now you’re wandering helpless through unfamiliar and intimidating territory, wondering how to:

1. Find your potential readers

2. Reach your potential readers

3. Convince them to BUY YOUR BOOK!

Let’s look at conventional wisdom.

Reviews  You’ve heard you need reviews, lots of reviews, to sell your book. Maybe you have (or can recruit) a Street Team of willing friends who will read your brilliant manuscript and post 5✮ reviews on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, their personal blogs, Starbucks’ bulletin boards, and FB posts including a photo of them holding reading your book. But are reviews really effective for selling books?

Who reads reviews? People who have already heard about a particular book, and are looking at it online. And how many readers are we talking about? According to a 2005 Gallup Poll, only 7% of readers choose a book based on reviews, so… maybe they’re not as influential as we’ve been led to think.

Blogs  There are bloggers who do book reviews and interviews. You could ask a few of them to interview you or write a review in exchange for an all expenses paid spa weekend a copy of your book. If they agree, and if they read your book, and if they write a review, their posts will slide through their followers’ Reader streams. If a title or picture catches a follower’s eye, or a follower just likes that blogger enough to read whatever they write, then they will be exposed to your book and they might consider buying it.

Online Marketing Experts  Many, many online “experts” prey on authors have developed programs they claim will dramatically increase your book sales. I listened to one of these guys on a webinar last week. (He has a “sure-fire” method he will be happy to share with you for only $597.) He used to sell Facebook ads. He says one of the options you can choose when you purchase a Facebook ad is to target the people who follow top selling authors you’ve identified in your genre who have FB pages. The author won’t be aware you’re doing it, but your ads will appear next to those followers’ FB Newsfeeds. Of course, this guy claims FB ads are the “most effective” way to market your book. (One word: AdBlock)

How many of the book ads that show up next to your FB Newsfeed do you read, much less click on to make a purchase? (GD Deckard and Atthys Gage share their experience with Google and Amazon ads on this very site, in Jousting Windmills and its comments.)

SO WHAT WORKS? Here’s what I think:

Finding and Reaching Your Readers  Common sense works here. If you write YA SciFi/Fantasy, and your followers are middle aged women and men, posting about your book on your blog, FB and Amazon book pages, Goodreads, Twitter, G+, Tumbler, IG, or Pinterest probably won’t sell books. Start closer to home; go where your potential audience is. Local schools (middle grade to junior college) have English teachers who might see the value of inviting a local author to talk about writing and publishing. Your local library might be interested in having a local author host a brief workshop on creative writing. They might be willing to pay a speaker’s fee. Even if you speak for free, you’re finding your audience. Sure, have books available to sign and sell, but set your goal at connecting with the people who can spread the word. If you incorporate things like decorations, costumes, snacks, and give-aways themed on the most exciting aspect of your book, you create something attendees will tell other people about.

Word of Mouth  When I get excited about something — a movie, a play, a restaurant, a book — like most people, I talk about it. I recommend it to my family, friends, and anyone else who’ll listen. If it’s a book, I buy copies as gifts. What author doesn’t appreciate that? What makes me excited enough to spread the word? Three things:

  1. Excellent quality: For a book, this means a well-written page-turner.
  2. A certain something…je ne sais quoi…the X Factor…”It”: Something out of the ordinary — not just weirdness — that catches a reader’s fancy. Consider Rowling’s Harry Potter or Weir’s The Martian. Subject matter? Voice? Novelty? Controversy?
  3. A Buzz: Everybody’s talking. Word is spreading like a viral video.

How do you create a buzz?  Well, a viral video would work. (When you figure out how to guarantee that, let me know, okay?)

A friend who began her marketing career 20 years ago at a publishing company, has her finger on the digital pulse. She says one highly effective marketing strategy is to engage the opinion of a “digital influencer” in your genre. These are celebrities whose tens of thousands of followers seek out their posts, read them, and take what they have to say seriously. A digital influencer’s recommendation starts a buzz. But my friend doesn’t suggest stealth bombing their followers with ads for your book; she says to build a relationship with the influencers by interacting with them, commenting on their posts, creating a conversation.

Look at marketing that works, and adapt it for your book. Since LOST first created an online world that treated Oceanic Airlines, the Dharma Initiative, and Widmore Labs as if they were real, movies like Interstellar and Independence Day 2 have used this technique to get people talking. Don’t make a normal, boring book trailer. Do something innovative.

Ultimately, marketing your book is far more than posting ads and links and waiting for the royalties to roll in. It’s about connecting with your potential readers and engaging them in your story’s world. We have a pretty good idea what doesn’t work, so take a look at all the successful marketing around you and make it work for you.

S.T. Ranscht is the co-author (with Robert P. Beus) of ENHANCED, the first book in a YA SciFi trilogy. She is currently working on the “final” edit prior to re-submitting their baby to a requesting agent. Her short story, Cat Artist Catharsis, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and will be published in its upcoming anthology, The Cattery. Her online presence can be felt on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, and Twitter @SueStarlight. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook and Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy.

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