About Writers, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, Publisher's Advice, publishing, Uncategorized

Advice for Authors and Writers

Hi everyone. I’m Andrea Dawn, owner of Tell-Tale Press. We publish short stories on our website that are free to read in the genres of fantasy, horror, mystery/crime and science fiction. We also publish anthologies and novels. Right now we have our anthologies available on Kindle, but we’ll be producing print books soon. And we always, always pay our authors! If you want to learn more about Tell-Tale Press, our website is www.telltalepress.net. Submissions are currently open for short stories, so be sure to check out the submissions page! You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram: www.facebook.com/telltalepress and #TellTalePress.

I posted this list on my personal Facebook page and was asked to send it on so more folks can read it. So here you go! I’m still learning about the publishing world, but in the past few months I have learned some extremely valuable information that I think can help everyone. So, these are some tips for getting your work out into the public and how to get published. I’m not scolding you or trying to name and blame. These are simply tips I think really can help.

  1. OTHER AUTHORS ARE NOT YOUR AUDIENCE. If you want to make friends with authors and collaborate, maybe beta read for each other, or just whine about the writing world in general, that’s great. No problem there. But they are writing too and are also trying to get their work out there, and most likely they won’t have time to read your book as they’re too busy writing. Your audience is instead readers. Find online book clubs, groups that talk about books. Look for reviewers who do honest reviews for free or a small fee (but be sure they are legitimate sources). Start a blog and post it in those reader groups. And in the real world, you can do things like donate your book to a library and include lots of information on how to follow you. You can also contact local bookstores and ask to do a reading and book signings. Be proactive to find readers, not other authors.
  2. DON’T USE MESSENGER OR EMAILS AS AN ADVERTISING TOOL. I am not joking: I literally will unfriend and/or block someone when they send me a link to their book immediately after I’ve approved their friendship. Using Messenger to solicit is like the Jehovah’s Witnesses of social media: no one wants you knocking on their door to tell you things you haven’t asked about. And don’t do it with emails, either, unless someone has signed up for a newsletter from you. I don’t mind if people send me an Invite to like their page, though.
  3. LEAVE EDITORS AND PUBLISHERS ALONE. Don’t message a publisher or editor saying someday you’re going to write a great novel, and they’re going to publish or edit it! First, you’re assuming that the publisher or editor would even want to work with you or like your work. Second, it’s nothing but buzzing in our ears. “I’m gonna” means nothing to us. We need product, not promises. If you want to set goals for yourself, do so by creating a calendar or Vision Board. Don’t use our inboxes to do it.
  4. ONLY SEND IN SUBS WHEN PUBLISHERS ARE OPEN TO SUBS. And most importantly…
  5. FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES EXACTLY. I don’t know if I can get any clearer on those two facts.
  6. YOU GOTTA SPEND MONEY TO MAKE MONEY. Ads on Facebook have really worked for me. I haven’t tried ads on other social media platforms yet, but I will. I find that free advertising–such as those giant book websites that will post your ad for free–garner no sales. And figure out where your money is going to be most effective for your genre. Do most horror lovers find their book recs online? If so, where? And a great place to advertise: local cons. Readers truly do love meeting authors. You will find that you can gain more followers and support when you are face to face with a potential reader. And to that end…
  7. KNOW WHAT VENUES WORK FOR YOUR GENRE. If you are selling extreme horror, then the sidewalk fair that happens each month in the church parking lot is probably not the place for you. Or if your genre is fantasy romance, the Halloween con won’t be a good idea either.
  8. GIVING YOUR BOOK AWAY DOES NOT SELL MORE BOOKS. I know one publishing company that constantly gives away books. So why should I ever buy a book from them when I can just watch their page and sign up for a giveaway? Especially since their page isn’t closely followed by their fans and it’s very easy to be the only person who answers their trivia questions or shares their post. And this company is also screwing over their authors; they’re not getting any money for the books they give away, and therefore the author doesn’t get his/her cut. So side tip: watch out for those kinds of publishers as well. They won’t be doing you any favors as an author.
  9. GIVEAWAYS FOR A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF BUYS DOES WORK. Let’s say you have a trilogy, and the final book is coming out. Tell folks if they pre-order your book, you will give them the previous two books for a single discounted price. Or perhaps you’ll give away book 1 for free on Kindle. Now THAT is incentive to buy!
  10. LEARN TO ORGANIZE. Learn how to budget your time and money. There are lots of online tips for how to do both of these things. Even DIY shows can help with this–of course, we all know Marie Kondo is wrong about only having thirty books, but she still has great tips that really can help organize our lives. We don’t have to be the stereotypical “starving artist”. It just means that we must train ourselves to be better at where our money and time goes.
  11. ENGAGE. I have learned from watching authors over the past few years that trying to be secretive and private does not work. It doesn’t get your work out there, and no one is going to advertise for you for free. Or if they do, they won’t do it for long. Then I see those people try to randomly engage here and there, and they get no response. No one wants to know who you are if you’re not engaging with your audience–there is no longer that mystery of “who is that author?” going around like there used to be in the 90s. Or I see people try to create a new persona online that is separate from their real self. But then you get tangled up in what you told who and where and on what page… it can get very frustrating for you. I’ve learned that in social media, you must make connections. And the best way to do that is to be truthful. Be friendly. Be yourself. Talk about movies you like, other books you like, ask questions of people, like what’s your favorite dinosaur! You don’t have to tell your deepest, darkest secrets, but you can share cat pics and tell funny stories about your dog or spouse. If you touch on politics, remember that not everyone’s going to like you, and it’s okay for them to not like you and not want to buy your books. The key is that you will find your own audience by being yourself, and it WILL be worth it.
  12. STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA. Okay, after talking about how to engage and interact, I tell you to stay off social media? What I mean is don’t waste time just scrolling along and randomly liking and commenting. Maybe set a timer for yourself on how long you’re on social media. Do advertising as you need, and engage as you need, and then move on. You can also set yourself a schedule: Every day from X to Y I will engage on social media, and that’s it. We all fall into the rabbit hole that is clicking away at everything, so learn how to step away so you can get to work on writing and advertising.
  13. HAVE FUN. Writing should be enjoyable. If you’re not having a good time, then reevaluate why you’re doing this. Be sure to make time for yourself as well–keep your health up and go outside here and there. You will find that it will only make your time on the computer even better!

Links:
http://www.telltalepress.net
Submissions are now open: http://www.telltalepress.net/submissions
http://www.facebook.com/telltalepress
Instagram: #TellTalePress

Andrea Dawn
Tell-Tale Press Owner & Editor
http://www.telltalepress.net

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book promotion, book reviews

Ten Thousand Page-Reads. (Or K.U. For Dummies)

The title of is this post is possibly enigmatic to most, but to anyone who has a book or books signed up on Kindle Unlimited, the reference is clear.

What’s a page-read? What’s Kindle Unlimited?

Okay. For those who don’t know already: when you publish an eBook on Amazon, you have the option of signing it up with Kindle Unlimited. That means Kindle Unlimited subscribers—for a ten dollar monthly fee—can download and read your book for free, (as well as all the other eBooks signed up with Kindle Unlimited) and you, the author, receive a payment for each page read.

Yes, they can keep track. No, you probably don’t want to think too hard about that.

How much per page? Amazon sets a new rate every month, but then it also adds a certain amount from the Kindle Direct Publishing Select Global Fund (which—if I understand it correctly— is based on the total number of pages read of all KU books by all KU subscribers.) Bottom line? It varies slightly from month to month, but as a ballpark figure, I assume about 45% of a penny per page. And, KU is actually fairly generous in the way it counts page reads. My book Spark runs 345 pages in paperback. KU counts it as 408 pages. (For the record, a complete read of Spark on KU earns me about $1.80. Selling the ebook earns me about $2 in royalties.)

One important rule: if your ebook is signed up for Kindle Unlimited, it must be exclusive to Amazon. You cannot sell it on Kobo or Barnes and Noble or Smashwords or anywhere else. For many authors, this is a deal breaker. It’s also the reason why most actual publishers do not use it. They don’t want to cut off any potential sales avenues.

In practice, KU is made for independent publishers. And while exclusivity may be distasteful for some authors, most ebooks sold in the global marketplace are sold through Amazon. (I heard 70% somewhere, but don’t ask me to back that up.) Personally, I didn’t find it a difficult decision. I am happy to have my independent titles on KU.

Being signed up with KU also allows you to run promotions, including making the book free for up to five days out of every ninety. If you promote your giveaway, you can end up with thousands of downloads. Both times I’ve given Spark away, I’ve topped 3,000 downloads. This may not seem like anything to crow about, (and I’ll address that question further on). But let me just focus first on the immediate results of that kind of giveaway. Both times, it has resulted in a small sales spike after the giveaway. (Very small in real numbers. The first time I think I sold 12 copies, the second time only eight. But compared to my normal sales, which can include months of goose eggs, it’s a spike.)

In addition, giveaways get me page-reads on KU. Faced with a temporarily free ebook, some subscribers choose to download it through KU rather than downloading it for free. It makes no difference to them, I suppose. It’s free either way. But it makes a big difference for the author. During the month following my last giveaway, I topped 10,000 page-reads. This is roughly equivalent to 25 people reading my book all the way through. It also means I made about $45 in royalties.

Now just for a bracing dose of reality, I know most of the 3000 people who download my book onto their Kindle or their cell phone are NOT going to read it. A lot of those folks have hundreds of free books stored up on their devices, and they keep adding new ones, which probably only serves to bump the older books lower on the priority list (newer books are shinier books). The only reads that we can be sure of are the ones that come through KU and the ones that leave a review, or at least a rating, on Amazon or Goodreads.

My giveaways have generated a few reviews on Amazon and some ratings on Goodreads, but very few. Reviews are rare enough anyway, but I think they are even rarer for readers who download the books for free. I had a review of Flight of the Wren after my last giveaway of that book—a terrific review—that actually said:

“This is a great book! Usually I don’t write reviews for the free/cheap books I get from the various email groups because they are not usually worth reviewing.”

It’s just human nature, I guess. We tend to value things in direct relation to the price we pay for them, and we sometimes assume that free stuff is free because nobody would pay for it. So the whole giveaway thing is not an unqualified positive. Sure, I would prefer it if people were buying the books and lavishing me with reviews, but that ain’t happening. At least this way, there are people reading the books. Some of those people are going to like them and will maybe read the next one.

Some of them might even pay real money for the privilege. Crazy, I know, but it could happen.

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This Way Madness Lies, But So What?

There is probably no more ill-advised pastime for a writer than to engage with his or her negative critics. Reviews are what they are, and any response on your part will only make you seem thin-skinned and defensive. Not everyone is going to love your books, so get over it and let it go.0

Nevertheless, I’m presented here with a rare opportunity. Friend, fellow writer, and notorious gadfly Mimi Speike found fault with my new book, Whisper Blue. Now this, I promise you, is not an attack on Mimi, who I love and admire. In fact, I appreciate and cherish her honesty. Nor will it, I hope, degenerate into a series of mere ripostes and touchy rejoinders. Mimi and I have already exchanged opinions via email and remain the best of pals. Her criticisms are insightful and thought provoking. Do I agree with them? Well, no, because I have my natural arrogance to fall back on, not to mention a fair number of favorable reviews to take comfort in. So why am I focusing on a bad review? Just naturally a contrarian, I guess.  But dissent will nearly always spark a more interesting discussion than agreement. So, what the heck. Let’s rumble!

Mimi: “Your prose style, as usual, is flawless. (I had to include that bit. -AG) I do have some problems with the plot. The uncomplicated style says to me YA, and I do believe Miles’ rather mumbo-jumbo rationale for the odd business would fit nicely into the mouth of a fascinated-with-psychic/not-overly-critical teen.”

A fair point. I wrote back: “If Miles’ explanation for Whisper’s manifestation seems a little addled, well, he’s a little addled, and it seems like exactly the kind of explanation he would come up with. (He needs an explanation, because he’s a rationalist.) It may not make a lick of sense, but it’s at least a self-consistent construction (really, almost more a science fiction explanation than a ghost story one, which fits Miles’ personality.) In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you or I find it believable, just so long as Miles (nearly) does. It’s a bandaid on the gaping wound that has sundered his reality. The fact that it barely works is, well, just as it should be.”

I didn’t add, but will here, that I think Miles’ explanation is actually pretty good, certainly well in line with some of the norms of paranormal fiction. But therein lies one of the bones of incompatibility betwixt Mimi and myself. She really doesn’t care for paranormals, and I obviously do.

Mimi: “I do not find gut-wrenching emotion, that jumps off the page. You tell us that your characters are stunned, upset, all that, but where is the out-and-out frenzy? (On Marieka’s part. We’ve already written Miles off.) Especially with a first-person telling, it would be so easy to show.”

Yes, and I’m afraid there isn’t a lot to say on this point. My natural tendency is to soft-pedal emotion and to minimize introspection, even in first-person. It’s just a personal preference, which Mimi astutely recognized later in her critique, saying: “But that means interior stuff, and I understand that is not your impulse.” And she’s right. It really isn’t. Too often, the examination and explanation of why-my-characters-are-feeling-what-they-feel only clutters up the landscape, making it more difficult for readers to feel what they feel, which is more what I hope will happen. Some people can do the introspection thing very well and to great effect. Me, not so much. I won’t walk away from a poignant moment, but I prefer them to be few and far between.

As far as me telling rather than showing, well, I don’t actually have a problem with telling. It is part of writing. But as far as me telling rather than showing the emotions of my characters, particularly Marieke, I disagree. For the most part, I think I did as little of either as I could reasonably get away with.

Mimi: “Taylor James says, ‘The story is fast paced.’ I would think that fast paced here is not a desirable thing. I say you need to immerse your kooks in a slow-simmer soup, and let them stew in it but good, with plenty of reflection. Instead we get mysteriously matter-of-fact reportage. Everything moves too fast, for my money.”

Again, we are simply at odds here. I love a slow-simmer, and I expect nothing less from Mimi’s own epic cat-o-many-tales, Sly. But…that isn’t Whisper. I wanted something agile enough to slither and scurry up the lattice of plot and emerge with a “what just happened here?” feeling. So fast-paced pleases me. As does “mysteriously matter-of-fact reportage.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Mimi: “I buy that a once alive girl might be called up from the dead, but a totally made-up one? I wish at least that Miles had found a mention of a child who had actually existed, and had created additions to the story that just happened to be very close to the truth. (Wouldn’t that be way stranger? And it would solve the problem of reporters digging into a lie.) A demand, by a side-branch descendant of the clan, to know how he came by a piece of information that had never been disclosed, a connection he is able to verify, may be what sends him over the edge.”

A fascinating angle, and in a conventional ghost story, a wholly valid point. But Whisper isn’t really a ghost story. And…well, I’ll quote from my own email reply: “The book isn’t about voodoo or mental illness or even about the madness of the internet crowd. It isn’t even about Marieke and Miles and Mama Jay. It is about the relationship between fiction and reality. The central metaphor of the book is that a fictional character can become as real as a flesh-and-blood person. This is an emotional truth, of course. Who hasn’t experienced that? In Whisper, the metaphor is made real (that’s what paranormal and fantasy fiction do, they treat the metaphorical as if it were an actual thing.) In Whisper’s case, even the meta-metaphor is made real. It’s a work of fiction about a work of fiction coming to life. That, really, is what I was interested in. Miles’ fiction—particularly Wisteria’s diary—the reports on the web, even Stokes’ stories about James Randi are all stirring this same pot. For that reason, it’s absolutely essential that Whisper be fiction, not a real girl. That would completely undermine the metaphor.”

Of course, that metaphor didn’t work for Mimi, and I have no one but myself to blame for that. Assuming we really need someone to blame, which is arguable.

Okay, one more point. Mimi: “We never get a satisfying resolution, just a hook-up with the professor. Okay, I guess the gris-gris around her neck is the resolution. Marieka has caved. She is a convert to tinfoil-hat beliefs, is now generating her own delusions. It’s either that or a mass-hypnosis situation. A buy-in is the easiest, neatest option.”

And that, I guess, was a swing and a miss on my part. Marieke’s gris-gris never smacked of tin-foil hat conversion to me, partly because I don’t regard voodoo as any more delusional than most of your standard religions, but also because Marieke’s appropriation of one of its trappings doesn’t necessarily make her a believer. In her own private way, she’s trying to deal with what she has seen and experienced. If I were to sort it out (and no, I never did, because it seemed perfectly natural to me) I’d say she wears it out of respect for Whisper, and maybe for Mama Jay as well. But if that didn’t come across to Mimi, then perhaps I could’ve done better. But people who go to my books looking for satisfying resolutions are probably going to be disappointed. Emotionally satisfying? Well, I hope so. But plot-resolution satisfaction? Not always one of my priorities.

And, perhaps, this just wasn’t going to be Mimi’s cup of tea, no matter how well I prepared and presented it. Near the end of her email she apologized for “being anal about making sense” and that, may be the crux of our failure to connect. There are things about Whisper Blue that don’t make perfect sense. That’s not an accident, it’s a choice. Paranormal fiction appeals to those of us who like floating in that shadow realm between the real and the other. We are drawn to those uncanny lands, where the various layers of reality rub up against other, twining about, until they become, maybe, interchangeable.

I can’t say whether I achieved that with Whisper Blue, but if you want to find out for yourself, it is available at Amazon,  Kobo,  Barnes and Noble, other places as well. I think it’s good, but I’m open to discussion.

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About Writers, writing technique

Oh Spark Divine (more or less)

Always, in the process of writing, I am convinced that I am grasping toward greatness. It seems like the most important thing in the world. Even when I’m laboring through an uncooperative first draft and obviously mired in muck that will all have to be cleared away in the second, I feel like what I’m doing is vital and rich and worthwhile.

The final product is never quite what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love my own books, but they are all drastically flawed. They inevitably grow up in ways I didn’t really plan or expect. I’m enough of a control freak that this always bothers me a little, but I also know it’s unavoidable. In fact, it’s a good thing. It means your work has life and energy. So you say goodbye to your little book, wish it well, and start your next book, full of the fresh misguided conviction that this time you’ll see it through all the way and it will be perfect and magnificent.

That’s how it is for me, anyway. And probably it’s for the best. Without a deluded sense of self-importance, how would I find the energy to lift pen to paper?

Probably to the reader, a book like Spark seems like a frolic, a trifle. For good reason. It is a frolic. It is, in its own way, trifling. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My first professional review (all right, it was from Publisher’s Weekly, but it was only a contest, and the book was never published) called my book “sprightly”—it had a “sprightly tone.” At first, I wondered if that wasn’t just a bit belittling. Sprightly isn’t, perhaps, the most dignified adjective to apply to work of literature. But eventually I appreciated it. I even came to embrace it or at least the playful energy it implies. Even in a serious story, prose can frolic a bit. Nabokov could be sprightly. So could Melville, not to mention some of my other personal favorites like Delany and Tiptree. It implies, I think, both facility and agility.

Or maybe I’m just trying to put the best face on it.

Consider Spark. It’s certainly got a light feel to it, but structurally, the novel’s tone is inverted. Even subverted. The apparently serious story with the apocalyptic overtones (the pocket universe, the skulks, the Duchess) is absurd, almost parodic.  And it’s ultimately trivial. It doesn’t amount to anything. Meanwhile, the apparent trivia of day-to-day life—boyfriends and basketball and friendship and loyalty— that is what the story is really about. That, obviously, is what really matters. That is what lasts.

Said another way? (big theme here, watch out):  The great machinery of the universe is inscrutable and inexorable. When we get too close to it, we are often threshed. We, threshed, rise up, dust ourselves off, and start reconnecting the fragmented bits of our reality. ‘Cuz that’s life.

Does this hifalutin bit of analysis mean I think Spark is a Great Book, worthy of term papers and Spark(ahem)Notes? Naw. Of course not. When the great cataclysm approaches, and the Powers That Be prepare the rocket-propelled time capsule, filling it with those Works of the Once Great Human Race that will justify our existence to the unknown civilization that finds the floating space library, Spark will not be onboard.

But this sad truth does nothing to quell or belie the impulse behind the writing. I don’t set out to write immortal books. I mean, who does that? I may hope for greatness, but mostly I think of a story, and if it intrigues me enough, I start writing.

But that process is, all by itself, magical and amazing. It’s amazing that we want to do it. It’s magical that we can. We are homo scribens, the race that writes, the storytelling species. Locking into that impulssvechae means messing around with greatness, with divinity. My goofy novel came from the same place as Lolita, as The Poisonwood Bible, as Moby Dick. In those quiet, passionate moments, when we’re dancing on the third rail of creativity, we catch a lightning glimpse of an immortal face, we hear the nonsensical muttering of the muses.

How can we come away from that experience untouched by greatness?

Those muses, those angels, do have a message you know, a very simple one:  We are here. We are real. And all of our twisting, writhing, passion-filled, agonized creations are nothing but a reflected bit of that seemingly infinite light. A candle flame’s worth. Without even meaning to, without even understanding, we are passing on that message.

They are here. They really are.

 

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How Genre Dysphoria is Ruining my Writing Career

I hate the dropdown list.

If you’ve ever tried to enlist your book at a book-marketing website or even just self-publish it on Amazon, you’ve seen the dropdown list:

Please select a genre for your book:

  • Fantasy
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Mystery
  • Horror
  • Thriller
  • Paranormal
  • Literary
  • Young Adult

Of course, many of the lists are more diverse, giving you everything from Urban Fantasy to Paranormal Romance, but you know what? That doesn’t make any difference, because no matter how specific the genre, it still doesn’t fit my books. In fact, making the choices more specific only makes the problem worse. The smaller the pigeon-hole, the worse the fit.

***

There are two golden rules of selling stuff:

1. know what you are selling

and

2. know who you are selling to.

They are the twin maxims of marketing. Write something people want, and then go out and find them. Know thy audience! Then target them. I’ve given almost no thought to who my books are for. It’s not that I’m not interested. I want people to like my books, of course, but I have no control over that.  I haven’t gone to a single bookstore, online or otherwise, trying to find other books that are similar to mine so I can tap into a ready-made audience.

I’m supposed to do that. I’m supposed to go and find that audience.

It’s one of the many things I’ve done wrong. I don’t target my audience. I don’t write high-concept. My books don’t sit comfortably in any particular genre. I can’t even identify an appropriate age group. I classified Spark as Young Adult, but in all the comments by reviewers at Amazon, what was the single most common observation?

The book isn’t really YA:

“…definitely different from your typical young adult novel.”

“I’m not sure it can be classified as Young Adult.”

“I am trying to think of the best genre to which this book belongs.”

“what separates this book from other YA or science fiction-type of books is the attention to detail and language.”

“…not typical of YA books in general.”

“…may be a little misclassified as a YA novel.”

Here’s the thing, though: while everybody mentioned it, nobody called it a bad thing. In some cases, not fitting in was a bonus. Being different can be a good thing.

So while a marketing consultant might leap on my genre dysphoria as the fatal flaw that is preventing the book from catapulting to a wider audience, I don’t think most readers really care all that much. And sure, there are plenty of people out there who only read cozy mysteries or high fantasy or YA dystopian, but those people probably aren’t going to be in my audience anyway. We’ll never be more than just friends.

And if I’m going to be totally honest about it, I like genre bending. I enjoy books that are hard to classify, that defy convention, that live in the spaces between categories. I like reading them. I like writing them. So maybe it isn’t a problem at all.

Except for those damned dropdown lists.

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book promotion, book reviews, book sales, Google Ads

Where now?

Which-Direction-Main-b

I’m not going to talk about my first published novel, let alone the first one I wrote. Not that it’s a matter of the less said the better, but I don’t want to keep you up all night. So we’ll just go as far back as One Green Bottle, released last September.

Sales have been minimal. I hesitate to say disappointing, because one positive point, at least, is that I had no expectations. So I’m not plunged into a slough of despair. Objectively, though, there’ll be little point in continuing if the second book doesn’t do better.

Is it down to the book itself? There’s always that doubt – did I write a dud? But I’ve had enough feedback now to be fairly confident I didn’t. The book’s OK, it’s readable. People – if they knew about it – might enjoy it. Obviously, though, what I have written is a book that nobody needs. But that’s not just the case of One Green Bottle – you could say it of practically any book that’s published.

So where now? How am I preparing for the release of Perfume Island, scheduled for September? What are the steps to follow?

Reviews. Here on this site, Atthys Gage suggests a first step is to get a minimum of 15 to 20 advance reviews that will appear on or near the date of the book launch. After a year of blogging, I’ve built up enough of a following to make that number realistic. It’s been pointed out to me that reviews are of little value, since they only get seen by people who are already on your Amazon page. Very true – in the process leading from awareness of product to purchase of product, reviews are close to the purchase end. Nonetheless, it’s better to have them than not. If someone goes to your page and finds zero reviews, it’s not a great incentive to buy (even if many people say they don’t read the reviews, there are still plenty who do).

But the question remains: how to build the awareness that will drive people to Amazon in the first place? I read again and again that the main tool here is the mailing list. Get enough people to sign up to your newsletter and you can send them emails to inform them of new releases, giveaways and any other snippets that might be of interest. Even if only half of your subscribers open the newsletter, and out of those that do, one in 10 buys your book, that’s 50 purchases for every 1000 subscribers.

I haven’t been good with newsletters. I started one, dropped it, left a long gap and started a second one recently. Furthermore, I’ve been in a dither about what to put in it. Giveaways? Contests? Updates on the WIP? Pictures of the cat? I’ve subscribed to several myself and you find all of that (including the cat). In the end I settled for giveaway contests and a couple of serialised stories. Which is probably overcomplicating things – advice I’ve read since is to keep it simple. Inform of an upcoming release, a special offer maybe, and that’s it.

Everyone agrees you have to offer an incentive – people only sign up if they get something from it. So far I have 19 subscribers. Hmm… Perhaps my giveaways don’t give enough. I did think of offering a Lamborghini but decided against it in the end. Because the problem with giving away anything other than your books is that you’re not gaining readers but freeloaders. And to give away a book, you need to have written at least two, because the point is to get people reading (and liking) the first so then they’ll buy the second. Which is why the release of Perfume Island will be not just a writing milestone for me but a marketing one as well.

It’s possible also that I focus too much on my blog. It’s good to have one, yes, but it’s time-consuming and the sort of organic growth it offers is slow. Unless you have a massive following, it’s not the best way to build your mailing list. If I rely solely on my blog, awareness of the existence of Perfume Island is going to be way too low for any substantial number of readers to find it. So what’s the alternative? Twitter? I could do more there, but I still have trouble getting my head round it, and in terms of raising awareness, it’s one of the least effective channels there is. Yes, it can be done, but it requires dedication, personal engagement and time – much the same effort, in fact, as I put into my blog.

So now, very cautiously, I’m investigating Facebook. Reluctantly too – I like Facebook about as much as I like stepping in dog poo. But at least now I’ve cleared the first hurdle, which was understanding the Facebook philosophy: why be user-friendly when you can be as maddening as a swarm of midges? Once you get that straight, it’s a matter of breathing deeply and staying calm. And now at last I have a Facebook page, as well as a profile. I only recently learned the difference: the page is where you tell people how great your book is, the profile is where you tell them what you had for breakfast. For the moment my page says I’m username@create.page. When I try to put my own name there, I’m told ‘You’re not eligible.’ Do they deign to explain why? Of course not. Courtesy isn’t part of their vocabulary. After much searching, though, I gather I need my page to be ‘liked’ before I can really call it my own. 25 times, if I’ve understood correctly. So now I’m in the ignominious position of begging people – that’s you, dear reader – to ‘like’ my Facebook page in order for me to truly virtually exist. When I get to 100 likes, I’ll start to levitate.

You might be wondering why I put myself through this ordeal. The answer is simple: ads. Now, I’m not saying I’m actually going to do them, but I’m setting out to explore them. Facebook ads, apparently, provide an effective way of raising awareness of your book among the sort of readers likely to like it. They also cost money, so you have to be very careful how you do it. GD has told us about, and warned us away from, Google ads. Facebook could well be the same, so I’m approaching this the way I walk through a forest full of zombies in the dead of night. But one thing is clear: if I don’t do something, Perfume Island will be released to barely more effect than One Green Bottle. A pebble dropped in the ocean. Because getting reviews is only a fraction of the task – now I have to get people to notice that the book actually exists.

I’m pretty sure, as Perry Palin says, that in the end it’s all personal, a matter of gaining readers one by one. But I’m ready to give the other approach a try. Maybe I’ll chicken out, or be driven so mad by Facebook I’ll have to be locked away. Whatever happens, I’ll keep you updated on progress. In the meantime, I humbly beg you to nip over to Facebook and adore my page.

 

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book promotion, book reviews

Just Wanna Be Misunderstood

I think most of us small-time writers share at least one trait in common: we obsess over our reviews. I know I do. When a new review pops up, I scrutinize it, interrogate it for clues, for hidden meanings. Like a hermit living in a remote garrett, starving for news from the outside world, I read it over and over.

And it is, in fact, a completely pointless activity. Reviews are what they are. You can’t change them, and they may not even be all that important in terms of selling books (the subject is at least debatable.) There’s really no reason to read them at all unless you are one of those writers who plots his next book according to what worked in the last one—and if by worked, you mean earned positive feedback from reviewers.

I’m not, and I don’t. But I can’t deny my own fascination. Sometimes, even months later I’ll take them out and play with them, arranging them just so. Is this just an ego primp? Maybe. Though it’s often the the less-than-glowing reviews that keep drawing me back for another look. Some little comment, some bit of faint praise. What’s that supposed to mean? Why did he say that? Who says I’ve got pacing issues?

A while back, I received a review of Spark. It wasn’t bad. It was four stars and mostly positive. There were parts she found a little confusing (and very weird) but she praised the writing and the characters. She wasn’t wowed by the ending, which seemed incomplete to her (an occupational hazard. I tend to like a loose ending.) But the money quote, the one that knocked me over, came near the beginning:

“I have the oddest feeling walking away from this book that I’m not sure I can even begin to describe. Spark by Atthys J. Gage was not what I was expecting, and yet it hit the bullet points of everything it promised. Even now, half an hour after finishing the book, I sit here and marvel at what I just read in a strange state of confusion…”

(The boldface is my addition because, hey, read it!)

Near the end she added: “It was both better, and odder than I expected, and I was entertained.”

I can’t entirely explain why this made me so happy. I’m not one to value obscurity for its own sake. Ambiguity can be a powerful tool in writing, but it needs careful handling. It’s no good being abstruse if it’s just so people will assume you’ve got some heavy, brainy subplot going on.

Take it from me, Spark is not a particularly symbolic book. The story is pretty much right there on the page. I didn’t design it to be an allegory with deep hidden meanings. And yet, this reviewer found in it something so confusing that she marveled at it.  AND she still liked it.

All fiction is allegory. Real life, in fact, is rife with allegory, and even though we are usually at a loss to explain the hidden meaning that seems to underlie the mundane events of our lives, in transcendent moments we are at least aware of it, even profoundly so. And how do we typically respond to that glimmer of awareness? With confusion. A confusion so deep and disturbing that we marvel at it. Life is, perhaps, both better and odder than we expect it to be.

If a book can invoke that kind of confusion, even for one person? I’ll take that as a win.

Then again, maybe I just want to be misunderstood.

All right, enough of me indulging myself. How’s about you indulging yourselves for a while. Has a review ever changed your life or made you fundamentally rethink what you’ve been doing? It’s mostly just us scribblers here, so don’t worry. You have my permission to crow, just a little bit.

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