Sunday, December 15, 2013

From My POV

Last week, I turned one of my 2014 releases, “Live to Tell,” over to my First Reader for drubbing.  As always, I’m nervous about what she’ll say.  My nerves are compounded by the fact that in a lot of ways, this WIP is a pretty big departure from my previous works, the biggest of which being that the entire story is told from a first person male POV.

When I first dreamed up this story, it was clear that it had to be told in first person.  Deep down though, I worried it might be too restrictive.  However, as I went along, I really fell in love with it.  In some strange way, and I’m not sure why, it was extremely liberating.  Obviously, on the surface, it would seem to be more confining than the traditional third person POV.  You can only move the action forward according to what that one person is doing and the reader can only guess at the motives and actions of the other characters.  I think in the end, first person POV allowed me to take some risks with the character and the story that frankly, might not have happened had I gone with a third person POV.


"Waiting to Exhale" and "Gone Girl" are great examples of going outside the box with POV
 
The more interesting challenge was writing from the male perspective since, obviously, I’m a girl.  A few years ago I attended an author event and one of the topics was the challenge of writing the gender opposite of what you are.  For example, men won’t notice things like what kinds of curtains are in a room, i.e., color, type of fabric—to them, they’re just curtains.  

It’s definitely been a good challenge for me to stretch myself in this particular way and frankly, it’s made me eager to experiment with different POVs in future works.  For example, I love what Gillian Flynn did with the alternating POVs in “Gone Girl,” (Nick’s story is told in third person, while wife Amy’s story is told in first person via her diary entries).  Terry McMillan did something unusual and I thought, kind of cool, with “Waiting to Exhale.”  There were four main characters and two of them were in first person (Robin and Savannah) and two were in third person (Bernadine and Gloria—actually, Bernadine’s story sometimes slips into second person).

Telling a story from a male POV was also a good challenge, as it made me think about the story in a different way and approach the character in a different way.  Still, for backup, I’ve asked a guy to read the MS to alert me to “false notes.”  After all, I don’t want my male protagonist to gush about the curtains.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Year as an Indie Author: Ten Observations

One year ago today, I uploaded my first novel, "Live and Let Die," to Amazon (though my published date shows up as November 7, due to a formatting snafu on my end, my book wasn't actually available for sale until December 9).

It's been an interesting year filled with highs and lows and lots of surprises.  So, in the spirit of end-of-year reflection, I thought I would share ten of the things I've observed over this past year:

1. It's Hard
Duh.  I know, real revelatory.  Going into this, I knew it would be a lot of work – between writing, production, distribution and marketing, I didn't expect it to be a cake walk by any stretch.  Still, you always underestimate just how many details you've got to keep track of, how everything will take twice as long as you think it will and how much sheer time and energy it will take, especially when you have another career and a social life to feed and water.  In spite of how hard it can be, I'm having a blast.

2. Free Is Not a Dirty Word
Maybe because I've spent practically all of my professional life in public relations and marketing where free product is a way of life, I don't get my back up over giving my books away gratis, be it through promotional days or giveaways.  Some indie authors are vehemently opposed to Amazon's KDP's five free promotional days, claiming it is a sin to give away your art.  Well, I'm not hanging in a museum, so I don't exactly buy into that argument.  Of course I want sales.  However, I have to find the readers first and free is a great way to accomplish that.  Free=exposure=readers=sales.   

3. I Don't Mind Marketing
If "Free" makes most Indies see red, "Marketing" makes most of them lose their lunch.  Authors, like most creative types, tend to be introverts and liken having to market themselves to shoving a pen through their eye (though some might say the pen would hurt less). 

The most successful salespeople know that selling isn't about selling.  It's about forming real connections with people and building relationships.  It's not about screaming "buy my book" on Twitter 24 hours a day or endlessly hawking your wares on Facebook.  It's about delivering a quality product and being authentic and accessible.  I approach my marketing activities with that mindset, which honestly, makes it fun for me.  I’ve had a blast participating in interviews, developing promotional ideas and interacting with people on Twitter.  Once you let go of the notion of "selling," you start to feel very free and realize putting yourself out there isn’t this scary, icky thing (at least that's how I look at it.)  

4. Book Bloggers Are Awesome
In the PR world, which I spent a lot of time in, media relations is at the crux of pretty much everything you do.  Media exposure goes a long way, which is why PR folks spend a lot of time cultivating relationships with editors and reporters. 

I don’t think it’s any different with book bloggers.  Building relationships with book bloggers is a great way to garner reviews and spread the word about your book.  I’ve worked with some wonderful book bloggers and have nothing but the utmost respect for the work they do.  While they are supportive of Indies, they will always be fair and honest in their assessment of books they read.  I cringe whenever I hear stories of Indies badgering (bashing even) book bloggers to change or remove less-than-positive reviews.  Life is too short.  I’d rather be writing.

5. I Need Paperback Versions of My Books      
I was pretty adamant that if I was going to take the plunge into Indiedom, I would solely stick to eBooks.  Well, now that I’ve taken off my idiot cap, I’m in and in big with producing paperback versions of my books.  I’ll probably only ever break even on them, but having paperbacks has allowed me to reach more book bloggers and participate in GoodReads Giveaways, which equals EXPOSURE.  And to be honest, it’s kind of cool to see MY books sitting on my bookshelf.   

6. Packaging Counts
Writing the books is the easy part.  Trying to figure out the “package,” i.e. cover art and blurbs, is what gives me anxiety. 

For my own edification, I study what others do.  I constantly troll the suspense books on my own bookshelf, examining the elements of cover design, front to back, top to bottom, how the blurbs are constructed, right down to how many paragraphs and even word count.  I roam the pages of Amazon to see what other Indies are doing and really concentrate on what intrigues me and why.  I’m really impressed with a lot of what I see.

Presentation matters.  It’s kind of like food.  We eat with our eyes.  If a plate of food looks unappetizing, we won’t eat it.  Readers make snap decisions about what to read.  If the cover of a book looks interesting and the blurb sounds enticing, they’ll want to read it.        

Conversely, a cake can look pretty on the outside and taste like crap.  So the moral here is, I still have to make a cake tastes as good as it looks.

7. I Have to Have a Proofreader
From the start, I knew I was going to have my books professionally proofread. It was one of my “non-negotiables.”  I’m always a little (okay, more than a little) confused when I read about Indies eschewing professional proofreading for any number of reasons (cost, arrogance, naiveté, etc.).  I’ve heard a lot of Indies say they skipped professional proofreading, figuring sales of one book would pay for editing on the next book.  Except by skipping the crucial step of editing, they found they paid for it in reviews and consequently, sales.  They had to go back and hire professionals to “clean up" the books.  Just like professional cover art and formatting, professional proofreading is a key investment that ALL us Indies should make in our product (books)

8. Critique Partners are Key
Family is great.  Friends are great.  They can definitely give you sound insight when it comes to critiquing your manuscript.  However, getting an outside from perspective from another writer is invaluable.  I’m very fortunate to have found fellow Indie suspense author, Emily McDaid as my sounding board (I’m really looking forward to having her read “Every Breath You Take” and “Live To Tell” after the New Year.)

9. I Have to Take Everything in Stride
Like all Indie authors, I have had some great days; nice reviews, awesome sales, boffo writing progress.  I’ve also had some not-so-great days: so-so reviews, worse than so-so sales, shitty writing progress.  As much as I’d like to drown myself in Häagen-Dazs Butter Pecan on those days, wallowing does nothing.  Getting angry and wanting to put curses on everyone does nothing.   Not everyone will like my books and that’s okay.  To put the shoe on the other foot, I don’t like every book, movie or television show on the market.  And that’s okay, too. On those not-so-great days, the only thing I can do is keep going and keep writing.   

10. I Have to Keep Writing
This is my mantra.  This is my drum beat.  This is what I always come back to.  Unless I put my butt in the chair everyday to write, all the marketing and pretty book covers in the world don’t mean anything.

So, onward to 2014 and more books, more marketing and more hard work.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. J

 

 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Myth of the Writing Muse

"You're going to be unemployed if you really think you just have to sit around and wait for the muse to land on your shoulder."  Nora Roberts

I was asked recently to help settle a debate among three aspiring authors in the throes of trying to produce a jointly written book about their lives—a memoir as I understand it.  One of the authors finished the first draft of his portion a year or so ago, while the two co-authors are in various states of production (one is about 75% done, while the other has maybe completed 20-25%). 
The debate sprang up over the development of two prologues (two of the authors had each written one) and I was asked to choose which I thought was the better prologue. I declined to do so for a variety of reasons, one of which being that it was clear from the content and tone that they were each describing two entirely different books.  My advice was to put the (recently written) prologues aside until they came to true consensus about what the book was actually about.  The author of one of the prologues (who hasn't written their portion of the book) felt that putting the prologue aside would hinder his ability to write his portion of the book, because it was the only way to know what to write. 

Well, here's the thing; you can't write unless you write.
Granted, writing non-fiction is a different animal than writing fiction, but I think the overarching principles are the same; in order to write the book, you have to write the book.  As Nora Roberts says, if you sit around waiting for the muse to strike, the book will never get written.    

Of Bart and Lisa, who do you think is more likely to finish writing a book? (image from awn.com)
 
I can hear the fierce outliners out there calling for my head, so let me clarify a bit.  Clearly, everyone has their own writing process; some folks are dedicated outliners and can't start a book until they know exactly where they're going and how they're going to get there (plotters).  Others are more "situational," building their plots around certain circumstances the characters find themselves in, tending to write by instinct or by the "seat of their pants" (pantsers).  If you're writing non-fiction, my guess is you need a fairly solid outline, along with deep research (depending on the topic) to get the wheels cranking.
Still, unless you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, as it were) all the outlines and research in the world won't write your book. 

I tend to be a "plotser."  I write narrative outlines, but don't live and die by them.  If a character or situation that I hadn't planned on shows up while I'm writing, I run with it.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Either way, it's fun to give it a whirl.  
No matter what your personal writing process is, until you write, you won't have a book.  If it means writing from 5 a.m. – 7 a.m. every day, 500 words a day, five pages a day, two chapters a day, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day, then so be it.  You have to just WRITE.   

One of my favorite episodes of "The Simpsons" is "The Book Job."  Bart the Slacker and Lisa the Overachiever each decide to write a book.  Bart and his team crank out their pages while Lisa waits for the muse and all conditions to be right.  Guess who finishes their book?
On that note, back to writing.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Yes, You Need Paperback Versions of your eBooks

I was asked recently if I prefer to read a paperback, hardcover or Ebook.  My answer is "all of the above."  I use my Kindle to read during El (subway) rides or when I travel (which is frequently).  It's a lot easier to throw my Kindle in my purse than lug around a paperback or hardcover.  I always have a hardcover or paperback on my nightstand, so in other words, I'm typically reading two books at a time (and somehow, my To-Be-Read pile never gets smaller.)

In spite of my affection for the printed page, when I decided to go Indie, I had zero plans to publish paperback versions of my books.  Print was dying, everyone was jumping on the eBook wagon (the new wisdom).  And, I have to admit, I was still laboring under the notion that publishing your own paperback books meant you had to order 500+ books at a time (the old wisdom), which wasn't feasible for me from an economic or storage standpoint.  Not to mention that typically, the quality was notoriously poor.   In my mind, it was eBooks or bust.

However, I discovered that some reviewers/book bloggers will only accept paperback copies for review.  There were promotional opportunities I wasn't able to participate in because I only had an eBook.  Concurrently, I started to get requests from readers for a paperback version of Live and Let Die.  Even if you are an eBook devotee, there really is something about having a signed copy of a book you like.

So, I began to soften my stance.

As I started to investigate my options, I realized the "new" way to get paperback versions of your books into the hands of readers was to "Print on Demand" or POD.  This was a revelation.  I didn't have to pay for 1,000+ books all at once, all so they could be used as paper weights and door stops or take up space that I didn't have.  I could order in batches.  In other words, much like with eBooks, I had control over the process.

Welcome to publishing in the 21st century.

After a lot of research, I decided to go with CreateSpace (www.createspace.com) for the development of my paperbacks.  I heard positive things about the ease of production and quality of the finished product.  I was fortunate in that I already had a fabulous artist on my team to design the cover and a fantastic formatter to get my manuscript POD-ready, which were the only true out-of-pocket costs, aside from the shipping for my bulk orders.  As per my usual, I looked to my own bookshelf for guidance on how the package should "look." I carefully examined the design and format of those books, everything from how the cover was laid out, to the title page and placement of editorial reviews. 

Once I started the process with CreateSpace, it was incredibly easy.  I went with a 6 x 9 size with a cream interior (again, similar to how traditionally published books look).  I had some nice editorial reviews which I was able to use on my front and back cover as well as on a "Praise For" page on the inside.
When my hard copy proof arrived (I highly recommend not skipping this step, tempting though it may be to "get on with already"), I have to admit I got a little emotional.  It was an incredibly surreal moment to be holding a book in my hand that had my name and photo on it.  And yes, I got a little teary.  No shame in my game.
The really crazy moment came when my first bulk order of ten books arrived.  I squealed when the UPS man handed me the box. Opening that box and seeing copies of MY book inside was like Christmas.

 
My first batch has already been put to good use.  I've sent some to reviewers and a few other folks – and just last week, I launched my first GoodReads giveaway (GoodReads only allows paperback giveaways – see the link below).  I'm finishing up the POD version of Sweet Little Lies as we speak and my brain is already churning away with ideas for future promotions specifically geared towards the paperback versions of my books.
I'll probably only ever break even on the paperback versions of my books, but that's okay, (then again, who knows what will happen).  As my rallying cry continues to be, everything you can do to increase your visibility and by extension, get your books into the hands of readers in order to build your readership, is a good thing.  Paperback versions of your eBooks are a great investment in your overall brand, so if you've been on the fence or even adamantly against it as I was, don't be so quick to shut that door.  Investigate your options and ask fellow authors for advice.  Like I said, you never know what can happen.

As always, back to writing.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Live and Let Die by Bianca Sloane

Live and Let Die

by Bianca Sloane

Giveaway ends November 30, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

 

 

          

 

Monday, October 28, 2013

How many eBooks is too many?


Libby Fischer Hellman recently wrote a thought-provoking blog decrying the surge in "binge publishing," the practice of publishing multiple eBooks over a short period of time (up to five or six titles a year).  This is particularly common in the Indie world and now even traditionally published authors, who used to publish one book a year, are feeling the heat, being urged to produce more material in order to feed the beast.  Read a 2012 New York Times article about that here.)
Hellman argues the current flood of eBooks has led to market oversaturation and by releasing a flurry of books in a short amount of time, writers leave themselves little room to actually practice the craft of writing.  The focus has shifted to producing books at a dizzying pace, rather than letting readers anticipate the next release.

I'm a pretty fast writer.  I can't turn a book around in four to five weeks like other authors I've read about (my hat is off to you, because I just don't have that kind of juice), but I can complete a pretty solid 80,000-word first draft in about two months time.  However, I'm also a thinker and I like to let my words and my story marinate.  So even though I can churn out a draft in about eight weeks, I need time away from what I've written so I can come back and look at it with super-fresh eyes and a crystal-clear perspective. 

 
This is what happened with one of my forthcoming books, "Live to Tell," which I will release sometime in 2014.  I started writing it on September 1, 2012 and completed it on October 30, 2012.  Then I didn't look at it again for six months.  When I opened it back up, there was a lot there I liked and a lot that needed sharpening.  A previous trip to Boston inspired the addition of several new elements.  I had to determine what research was needed, conduct the research, incorporate the research, decide what scenes needed to be fleshed out or deleted altogether and what characters needed work.  After I worked through (most) of those issues, I put it away again until this past summer when I really drilled down on it.  At the moment, it's about 97% ready for beta reading/critiquing, which will commence by the end of the year.  Then comes the process of absorbing those comments, making the necessary revisions, letting everything sink in some more and then making some tweaks. And sitting on it some more before making final, FINAL tweaks. Only when I feel I have written the best book I can will I start production on it (cover development, proofreading, formatting). 
It's a long process, but it's the process that works best for me.

When I first decided to dive into Indiedom last Spring, my grand plan was to publish the three manuscripts collecting dust on my computer by November 2012. That grand plan went up in smoke pretty quickly as I realized the sheer amount of work outnumbered the hours in a day.  Although I had worked in publishing (on the retail side) and in PR for a number of years, there was a lot to learn and I spent a massive amount of time studying production, marketing, distribution, etc. (and still do).  Oh, and I still had to revise those manuscripts.  And there was a LOT to revise (alright, some more than others).  So despite my best intentions, I came to the conclusion that releasing three books in a few months time just wasn't feasible for me.
If anything, I do know my limitations.

Because I like to take my time, I've realized I will probably be a two-book a year author.  Besides "Every Breath You Take" and "Live to Tell," I have four more books in various stages of development (i.e. a page here, three chapters there) and coming up with new ideas every day.  While I strongly subscribe to the notion that the more work you have increases your chances of readers finding you, I'm not pushing myself to release all four of those books in 2015.  Spa days were invented for a reason.                 

With that said, I've actually done all my writing for the day and am off to read a book.
Until next time...

 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Genre Dilemma

Back in the mid-2000's, the days when I was doing the query go-round (for the uninitiated, that's the process of querying agents for representation.  A disheartening and back-breaking process), what was hammered into me by my incessant research of how to approach agents, was how imperative it was that you define your genre in your query letter.

I admit, this presented a bit of a quandary for me.  Beyond the extremely broad "suspense" tag, I had no clue what genre my books fell into. 
In the name of research, I headed to my local Borders and pored over the mystery section.  I put a hand on every book on those shelves and read every back-of-the-book blurb (yeah, sometimes, I'm crazy like that). Some clear patterns began to emerge; romantic suspense was huge (hero and heroine fall in love against the backdrop of danger).  FBI profilers on the trail of the elusive killer were also huge.  Quirky detectives caught up slick capers.  Burnt-out detectives obsessed with their latest case.  Sadistic serial killers.  Legal thrillers.  Medical thrillers. Forensic science thrillers.  Sexless, alpha-female assassins.  Whodunits, of course.  Cozies.  Cat detectives.   Procedurals. 



It was overwhelming and more than a little discouraging.  I didn't write about ANY of that, nor was I really interested in doing so. 
It was only after I went home and started looking at my own bookshelf that I realized my "genre" was staring me in the face; psychological suspense/ domestic noir.  Patricia MacDonald, Wendy Corsi Staub,  Joy Fielding  and Mary Higgins Clark all wrote about the types of things I was writing about: the murderous husband, the wronged woman, the psycho ex.  The drama and suspense emanated from threats close to home versus crazed serial killers being pursued by single-minded law enforcement officials. 

If classifying the genre of your book was important before, in today's brave new Indie world, it can be downright make-or-break (just look at the emergence of the crazy popular New Adult category for proof).  Picking the right genre can provide incredible visibility for your book; the smaller the category, the better your chances of being discovered by new readers, especially if you sell enough to make the top 100 of your chosen category.  (I had this happen with "Sweet Little Lies," managing to be sandwiched between two James Patterson books.  Say what?"). 
When I was choosing my Amazon categories for "Sweet Little Lies," I went back to being a bit stumped.  It definitely wasn't psychological suspense like "Live and Let Die" is. Much the way I had scrutinized those Borders shelves all those years ago, I painstakingly examined the myriad of genres on Amazon.  After much research and lots of thought, I settled on Spy Stories and Tales of Intrigue.  By definition, "intrigue" means "to carry on a secret or illicit love affair," which is at the heart of "Sweet Little Lies."

You might have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the right genre for your book

However, at the last minute, I got cold feet.  Probably ninety percent of the books in that category are...spy stories.  I worried I would piss readers off who wondered why this little domestic drama about cheating spouses was in a category dominated by assassins and double agents.

In the end, I chose the Crime and Murder categories, which are the right categories for that book.  I'm grateful that Amazon breaks its categories down so specifically, giving authors the opportunity to really drill down on what categories make the most sense for their books.

While it can be intimidating and at times downright confusing to try and choose the right genre for your book, don't let it get you down.  Don't be afraid to experiment until you find the categories that work for you.  Who knows?  You might even wind up creating a new genre in the process (see the aforementioned "New Adult").  Don't be afraid to write in the genre YOU want to.  It can be tempting to try and write what everyone else is writing.  In the end, you really do have to write the kind of book you want to read.

As always, back to writing.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Slacker Writer

I've been slacking off on my blog posts lately, though I'd like to think it's for fairly good reasons (at least that's what I'm choosing to tell myself.) Truth is, as an old boss of mine used to say, I've just been covered up these past couple of weeks.

By day, I'm a freelance copywriter and have been for several years.  By day and night, I'm dutifully pecking away on suspense manuscripts.  Like most Indies, I got into this game because my ultimate goal is to be a full-time novelist, but since Rome wasn't built in a day, I have to fit my writing in around my writing, if that makes sense.  This of course means some things can and do fall by the wayside for a bit before I can go back and pick them up.   
Talk to any writer about their writing routine and it's like pulling the lever on a slot machine; you'll hear a different outcome every time.  Some writers are up at dark-thirty and write for two hours straight before work.  Others hunker down over the computer for two hours a night after work.  Some might even devote their lunch break to tapping out a few words.  Some have the luxury of already having their writing career as their day job and can devote numerous chunks of time to it during the day.  Some of us have daily word count goals (mine is 2,000) while others may have a daily chapter or page goal.  Some can churn out a manuscript while sitting in the local bar (don't I wish.  I'd be too focused on the wine), while others need complete solitude and silence (true story—at night, I write with the TV on—doesn't bother me a bit.  But during the day, it's a distraction, though on occasion I will listen to music).

In a perfect world, I like to get my words in first thing in the morning, but in my frequently imperfect world, it might not be until nine at night.  Sometimes, I can burn through 2,000+ words in no time at all, and be pretty happy about those words to boot .  Other times, I'm only able to get 500 words on the page.  They tend not to be pretty, unless you count pretty ugly, but the important thing I've learned is not beat myself up about it.  The victory is getting the words out of my head and onto the screen. 
Regardless of what is going on in my life at any given time, I've learned to take the victories in small doses and not beat myself up if I don't always get everything on the to-do list done that day.  If that means I don't blog for a few weeks, or the five marketing activities I designated for myself have to wait a couple of days or I only manage to write 1,000 words instead of 2,000, it's okay.  Victories are victories, no matter how small they may be.  Sometimes, we can only do what we can do and as Scarlett O'Hara always said, tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow could be the day 2,500 words are written, six marketing activities get done and two blogs are posted.  Taking it all in stride is a lot easier than just giving up and deeming it all a big fat failure because one or two things didn't get crossed off the list.

So, I'm going back to the wayside and picking up a few things, which is perfectly fine with me.  As long as I do that, it's all good.

Now, back to writing.      

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Guest Blog at the Writer's Shack: Who's Afraid to Market Their Book? Park 2

Happy Wednesday!

Part Two of my guest blog "Who's Afraid to Market Their Book?" over at "The Writer's Shack," is up and running. 

If you're an Indie author in need of some marketing tips, check it out!  By no means are the tactics I discuss meant to be an exhaustive list; hopefully they provide a place to get started and maybe even give you ideas for other strategies!

Check out Part One here. 

Happy Marketing!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Getting to Know...Book Blogger, Ionia Martin

Ionia Martin, book blogger
Anyone who regularly reads my blog posts knows I have nothing but the utmost respect for book bloggers and the support they've shown the Indie author community.  They provide book reviews, host contests, conduct author interviews and much more.  Many of them don't derive any income from their book blogging endeavors—they do it for the love of books.

Without a doubt, one of the most prolific book bloggers on the scene is Ionia Martin, whose popular blog, Readful Things (http://readfulthingsblog.com/) offers reviews (lots of them), helpful posts on marketing, author interviews and whole lot of other fun stuff.
I've been following Ionia's blog for the past year and she was gracious enough to read and review both "Sweet Little Lies" and "Live and Let Die" (I was thrilled that she liked both).  I was also curious to get, among other things, some inside scoop from her about the review process from a reader's perspective, some pitfalls Indie authors should avoid when asking book bloggers for a review and how we can stand out from the increasingly crowded pack.  As I expected, she had thoughtful and insightful advice.

Without further adieu, I give you, Ionia Martin.
1. How did you get into book blogging?

I would like to say something profound here, but I haven’t anything…It was an accident? Yes, I believe that describes it adequately. I have always been a book lover and a writer, so I think writing reviews for the books I read on Amazon and Goodreads led to an interest in having more control over formatting and content. Blogging opened several avenues I hadn’t enjoyed before, such as the ability to converse with other bloggers about what we enjoyed and didn’t about the books we read.

2. I love the title of your blog, "Readful Things."  How did you decide to use that name?
I did what all people in the book industry do. I stole it from Stephen King. Well, not really. Borrowed it without his immediate knowledge and adapted it from Needful Things. I didn’t want another blog out there called “So-and-so’s book blog.”
3. You're an extremely prolific reviewer.  Do you sleep?

I love that you asked me this question. Yes, I sleep. Holding a book. Honestly, I am not as busy as it might seem. Many of the books I read are pre-release titles.  Although it might look like I read ten books that week, chances are good that I read those books many months before and they all just sort of inadvertently grouped together on the blog because they were set for release that week. Also, I rarely watch the telly, so reading is my evening pleasure.

4. When an author pitches you their book, what are some of your deciding factors in whether or not you will read and review?
There are some things that are mandatory. Spell my name right and never begin with “Dear Reviewer.” I will answer to a lot of strange things, that is not one of them. Mainly, I look for people that are willing to put the work into their book to promote it, edit it and really believe in what they have to offer. If it is poorly written and badly edited, I see that as a waste of my time and theirs and certainly that of my followers. I do not put books on my blog that I didn’t like. My followers are friends and I want them to have faith that if I recommend it, then it is worth reading. I take length and relevance into consideration as well. If I know nothing about the subject, I will leave it for someone who does.

5. What are some pet peeves or do's and don't's an author should keep in mind when pitching a book blogger?
See answer four…lol. Seriously, if you approach the blogger/reviewer honestly and with the important information about your book, you have a good shot of getting a review. Bloggers tend to get overwhelmed with requests, so patience is a virtue. If you hear back from them saying they cannot take your book, it is often for that reason.
Nevers: Never get demanding with the reviewer. Never approach a reviewer that you don’t know when their blog is closed to requests trying to give them reasons why you should be an exception. That is seriously annoying. Biggest one: Never approach a blogger that clearly states they do NOT take your genre with a pitch for your book.

Do’s: Learn the difference between confidence and sounding like a pompous arse.

Do: Include your word count, publishing credits, genre, brief pitch and give them options for what format they would like the review copy in.
6.What are your favorite genres to read?  Any genres you don't care for?

I love romance. Always have been a romance fan. Second to that is fantasy. The only genre so far that I have been unimpressed with is the New Adult genre. Still fledgling, perhaps it will improve over time.

7. Favorite author and book of all time?  Or is that like asking who your favorite child is?
You are so funny, Bianca. You think I can pick one? I can. Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. So far, no one can take her place, but Oscar Wilde has kissed her heels.
8. Jeanette Winterson is an amazing wordsmith.  I count Written on the Body as a favorite read. 

Your reviews are always so thoughtful and thorough. How do you approach writing reviews? In other words, what's the secret to writing a good review?

I don’t think there’s a formula. I have built my review blog on two principals. 1. Be honest. If you love it, say why. Don’t worry about making it sound professional or like it came from a big review organisation. If the cat was your favourite thing—say so. 2. When doing a negative review, don’t rip the author. It is the book you had an issue with. State what you did like, if there is anything and give supporting reasons also for why you didn’t like it. Just because you didn’t enjoy it is not an excuse to lose all manners.

9. What are your thoughts on the future of publishing?
Actually, I am excited. There are so many more ways to get books into the hands of people of all ages now than there were before. I don’t think that traditional paper books will ever really be a thing of the past, but just in case, I’m hoarding them. As with everything else, I expect a lot of change and much to remain the same.

10. I thought I was the only one hoarding print books.  Glad to know I'm not alone!
It's ironic that even though it's easier than ever before to become published, the competition has never been stiffer.  From the perspective of a reader, what tips can you give to fledgling indies about how to stand out from the crowd?    

Another awesome question. Do what you have to in order to stand out. Bianca—the covers for your books make me want to read them. This is #1 to me on my list of important advice for new authors. THE COVER IS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION. Pay attention to the first part of that word. IMPRESSion. If a buyer looks at the cover and thinks…amateur, what chance do you have against the big six? ZERO.

Secondly, write a blurb that kills it. Start it out with a one-liner that grabs the attention of the prospective buyer. If you were selling your home, would you clean it first? The light shed upon the contents of your book is all shining from one central location—the blurb. Write a good one, not too long, not too short. Hook that fish and don’t let it get away.  
Thank you, so very much Bianca, for allowing me to do this. It has been different and wonderful being on this side of the questions.

You are quite welcome, Ionia and what a delightful interview—of course!  Thank YOU for taking time out of your schedule to indulge my questions.  I shall let you get back to reading! :-)

 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Newbie Does KDP Select, Part Deux

The single most controversial, hotly-debated, praised and reviled issue among Indie authors is whether or not to participate in Amazon's KDP Select program.  For the uninitiated, Amazon allows authors to offer their books for free for up to five days over a 90 day period, in exchange for being the book's exclusive vendor.  In the early days, this promotional strategy proved to be a goldmine for fledgling Indie authors who were just discovering the joys of Amazon's publishing platform.  Successful free day promotions begat boffo sales and Indies rejoiced at having found a bonafide path to bestsellerdom.

Alas, the secret got out and the marketplace was flooded with free books, which meant the novelty wore off.  "Free" began to lose its luster and those who'd once sung KDP Select's praises decried it as a waste of time that did nothing to boost sales of books and urged others to get out of the program while the gettin' was good.

This past December, I executed (if you could call it that) my first KDP Select run with "Live and Let Die."  To be honest, I completely half-assed it.  My book was new and I had no visibility, no reviews or traction of any kind.  I knew I had these five free days to use, so as I was falling asleep on December 24, I decided to make the book free December 26-31.  After scheduling my days, I promptly dove into the wine and Christmas cookies and called it a day.

I didn't have blockbuster numbers – 773 downloads worldwide – but honestly?  I was happy.  This was 773 strangers in possession of my book, which meant 773 potential new readers.  Above all, it was much-needed exposure.   I didn't get the coveted bounce back in sales, but I was okay with that.  Like I said, exposure is exposure.

When I released my second book, "Sweet Little Lies," I determined I needed to be a bit more prudent and actually develop a strategy around my free days.  I know, I know, what a concept.  As a result of my advanced planning,  here are the cumulative results:
- 10,562 total downloads worldwide
- #35 in the free Kindle Store – the entire store

  - Reached #7 in Amazon's Top 100 Paid Crime Bestsellers (it's kind of bananas to see your book sandwiched between James Patterson)
Reached #3 on Amazon's Movers and Shakers list



- The book has continued to appear on Amazon's Top 100 bestselling Crime and Murder lists.

I was thrilled with these results – beyond thrilled.  I'm still carving out a name for myself, so anything I can do to get my books into the hands of readers, I'm in and I'm in big.

The strategy I followed took a lot of planning, but like I said, I'm thrilled with the results.  Here's what I did:

- Once I released "Sweet Little Lies," I provided copies to book bloggers I had relationships with and asked if they'd be willing to provide an honest review whenever they got a chance.  Unlike when I did my free run for "Live and Let Die," this time, I already had a few reviews.  Fortunately, they were positive reviews.

- I scheduled my first two free days about a month after my book was released.  I scheduled two more free days about a month after that and scheduled the final free day on my birthday in early September, which was a Saturday.  Weekends are notoriously slow days for downloads, so I wasn't holding out hope for a bonanza that day.  I should also note there was a glitch on Amazon on my final day, so my book was only free about 15 hours.  Amazon granted me one extra free day as a "make-good," so I had six free days total (ok five and a half, if I'm being technical).

-  As opposed to waiting until the day before, like I did the last time, I submitted my free days to book sites well in advance of my first free run (about a month ahead of time), which meant I gave myself a greater chance of actually being listed.  I utilized Author Marketing Club's free book submission tool and used this list compiled by bestselling author, Cheryl Bradshaw.  Thanks, Cheryl!

- I didn't pay for inclusion on any sites or do any paid advertising at all around my free runs.

- When I did my second two days, I submitted only to the Facebook sites.

- When I did my final free day, I submitted to a handful of the big sites.  By that point, I had a number of positive reviews (a requirement for most of the bigger book sites), so I was able to actually get listed.

- I purposely staggered my free day submissions among the book sites/ Facebook pages/Twitter feeds.  I wanted to rotate my exposure to different audiences.  Plus, some sites will only allow you to submit your free book every 30-60 days, as they want to provide fresh options to their readers.

While a lot of Indie authors are jumping off the KDP Select bandwagon, I'm hanging on for the time being.  I'll be playing it by ear, though, because for all I know, my next free run could tank.

I don't think KDP Select should be used as a long-term sales strategy.  I think it's a great way to launch a new title and gain much needed exposure, which in turn, will translate to readers.  I'm of the belief that you do your five free days then move on.  Once you complete your exclusivity period with Amazon, upload your book to Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, etc. in order to increase your sales and your exposure (Speaking of which, "Sweet Little Lies" will be available on those outlets starting September 18.). 
Of course, the best way to market your current book is to write the next book.   Because after all, THAT's what it's all about.

And on that note, back to writing.