Tag Archives: marketing

Annoying Things Only #Writers Will Understand

It is said that writers are a different breed. Hopefully the word different isn’t used in place of a less ambiguous word…like warped.

I don’t know if writers can claim exclusive rights to such a label, but they definitely don’t fit neatly within most accepted classifications.

With that being said, I’d like to talk about some annoyances and problems only writers will understand, facepalm

because in many respects we are different—but not in a bad way. There are just some things that we deal with on an almost-daily basis that normal people would react to with a shrug and a “So?”

Here is a partial list of such things – but it’s NOT a Top Ten List

Temptations, Obligations and Favors:

If you’re like me, you have a full time job, and the majority of your writing is done on the weekends.

While your friends are firing up the grill, hitting the beach or taking the Harley out for a spin, you’re shuffling to your home office in your pajamas with a bagel and a cup of coffee thinking about your target word-count and hoping the muse hasn’t gone fishing.

We don’t complain about it – it’s the life we’ve chosen.

We voluntarily sacrifice our weekends to write because our day job prevents us from writing (much) during the week.

We intentionally avoid the extra cocktail on Friday night so we’ll have a (reasonably) clear head Saturday morning when we attack the keyboard.

Those two days of writing are precious to us and we’ll gladly become hermits in exchange for a few thousand words.

But…

Sometimes life happens.

It’s a struggle to resist the invitation from your (non-writer) best friend to go do that thing you love to do. I know, personally I’ve cursed myself many times for sitting on my Harley on a gorgeous Florida Sunday rather than sitting at my desk.

It doesn’t happen to me as often as it used to, but many of us, whether we like it or not, have families who don’t care how close you are to finishing the first draft of your Magnum Opus…you told them you’d do something and now it’s time to deliver on your promise.

Perhaps the most unfair trade of all…your best friend needs your help. moving

Maybe they’re moving, need a ride to the airport or they need a second set of hands while they shave the family ferret. Regardless of the magnitude of the request, you must weigh the potential production of your writing day against the chances you will need help painting the garage someday.

Phone calls, doorbells and other nuisance interruptions:

Here’s the way it usually happens…

You sit down at the computer to write. The dog has been walked, the cat is napping, the kids are in school (or maybe they’re napping with the cat), you have your beverage-of-choice, and your mind is primed for cranking out some serious words…

Soon the only sound in the house is the quietly hypnotizing click-click-click of your keyboard as the prose pours from the depths of your soul.

As you type, you subconsciously rehearse your acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize…it’s going that well.

That’s the moment it happens…

Without fail, as if the writing Gods are telling you “Not today, Shakespeare.”

The doorbell rings, your cell phone vibrates or a tornado hits.

phone call

The exact nature of the interruption doesn’t matter…it’s the fact that it happened during your groove, because by the time you go to the door to tell the intruder you aren’t interested in accepting Christ into your heart (although with the murderous thoughts stampeding through your head it might not be a bad idea to hedge your bets a little), then go to the bathroom (which you have been putting off for hours) and top off your beverage, then sit back down to continue with the magic…the magic has disappeared like a rabbit in a hat.

Try to tell a normal person about how something seemingly minor can be so disruptive and they look at you like you’re…different.

The Non-Sympathetic Spouse/Significant Other:

There is a fascinating metamorphosis which occurs in some (not all…some!) significant others.

When they meet you, the fact that you are a writer (seemingly) impresses the hell out of them. When they introduce you to their friends and family they always qualify it…“This is so-and-so…he/she is a writer.”

They are fascinated with the process. They ask all sorts of questions, offer assistance with critiquing, etc. and gush at the prospect of having a character named for them in your book.

The first time you have to cancel a date, or turn down an invitation to a couples’ night out because you’re writing they are understanding and sympathetic. The second and third time they are disappointed, but still respectful of your situation. Anything after the fifth time and you get the look.

If it becomes a regular occurrence your status in their social circle changes…

Where it used to be “my S.O. is a writer” (spoken with respect and adoration) it is now “they blew me off again because they’re still working on a stupid book which they’ll never finish but they think it’s this work of art, but they won’t let anybody read it until it’s finished…which will be the day after never!”

spouse

It’s amazing how quickly your writing can go from being a source of pride to a bone of contention.

No Seriously…How Much Do You Make?:

Probably the question that annoys independent authors more than any other is the dreaded…“So are you making any money selling your books?”

Using myself as an example…Many of my friends and family were aware of my first novel’s (Living the Dream) pending release, and within a week of the big day began badgering me about any new income I might be enjoying. It was more than a little demoralizing telling people that my first royalty check was for a whopping $2.01. It was more demoralizing when a few of them snickered at my attempt to hit the big time.

Many times I had to restrain myself from asking them “How many books have you sold?”

Now that I have ten books under my belt, and I have a semi-regular (if not huge) income, it’s a little easier to hear the question…but just as my success has changed over the years, so too has the question.

money

It starts off the same, but upon hearing that I am actually making, what I call, gas money – the questioner then proceeds to the dreaded follow up“Really? After all those books, that’s it?”

These people have no idea how narrowly they escape hospitalization.

My concern is the day somebody hits me with follow up #2 –“Don’t you think it’s time to quit?”

If and when that happens I may need bail money…just sayin’.

Fish or Cut Bait:

There is a tenet in the writing world that says “…in order to be a good writer you first have to read – a lot.”

Back in the day, before I started writing I read everything I could get my hands on (with some shameful exceptions). I would read during my lunch break, I would read after work, before bed, and it wasn’t unusual to see me reading in line at the DMV or the Post Office.

My favorite bookstore (The New England Mobile Book Fair – Newton Mass) probably closed early on the days I visited. Okay – that’s a slight exaggeration, but I don’t remember ever leaving there without spending several hours and at least a couple of hundred dollars. Going there was like a pilgrimage for me – for which I would save up the way most people save for vacations or new cars.

Once I started writing, my reading time gradually diminished as the amount of time I devoted to writing, and other writing related tasks (which we’ll discuss in a minute), took control of my spare time.

Trying to split time between writing and reading is like a fisherman who must decide between fishing and cutting bait.

cut bait

In order to catch fish you have to throw your hook in the water, but a hook without bait is just a hook, no self-respecting fish would be fooled! So that means you need to bait the hook. Many fishermen where I’m from use frozen bait—shrimp, squid, or some other bait-fish—which needs to be cut before being put on the hook, so cutting bait is a necessary chore, like reading.

I don’t know if this problem plagues other writers as badly as it does me, but one thing I do know…I miss cutting bait!

The (necessary) Evil that Writers Do:

Writing has become my drug of choice in the past six years.

It started as a way to pass time, but quickly evolved into the thing I don’t have enough time for (see above).

Ironically, the reason I don’t have enough time for writing is all of the peripheral duties which are part and parcel to the job, but do not contribute to the precious word count.

There are many such tasks, but they can all be placed into one category…Marketing.

That’s right…the M-word.

I’ve always said (well, not always – but for several years now) that writing the book is the easy part. Selling it is where the real work starts.

If you are independently wealthy marketing is simply something you pay others to do, but, as I stated somewhere above, my income from writing is donated to Big Oil every month. This means I am not only the head of the marketing department for Blindogg Books, I am also the graphic artist, the copy writer, the secretary and the gopher (I go for this and I go for that).

My job description includes, but is not limited to, the following;

  • Maintaining a presence on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and Pinterest
  • Promoting myself locally by attending social gatherings, networking events, open mic events and book signings
  • Designing marketing materials – e.g. bookmarks, posters for events, banners, tee shirts, etc
  • Attending book signings of other authors, whenever possible (quid pro quo)
  • Monitoring sales and adjusting marketing efforts accordingly
  • Researching new marketing techniques and how to make the best use of my time (yeah, right!)
  • Promoting other authors as much as possible (again – quid pro quo)
  • Maintaining a blog as well as monitoring the blogs of other authors for useful information on writing and (yeah, you guessed it) marketing

hats

These tasks are hardly things I would complain to my union rep about, but they are time consuming. I conservatively estimate that for every hour I spend writing I devote at least three to the above responsibilities. I would rather be writing, but if I didn’t do the leg work writing would be nothing more than a hobby—and I am not ashamed to admit (as I describe here) that, while I definitely enjoy writing, it surpassed hobby status during the third re-write of Living the Dream.

 

Why Didn’t I Write that Down?:

I’ve heard it said that the faintest ink is stronger than the best memory.

I don’t remember where I heard it, because I didn’t write it down, which brings me to my next annoyance…

As writers we never know where or when inspiration will strike.

I’ve had ideas come to me at the weirdest times – the idea for Eyewitness Blues came to me while I was playing softball.

Luckily there was a pen and some paper in the dugout so I was able to write down the thought, lest it be lost forever…like some of the other ideas I failed to document.

If you spend any time on Facebook you’ve seen the meme which says “The biggest lie I tell myself…I don’t need to write it down, I’ll remember it.”

Believe it.

I suspect it has happened to every writer at one time or another.

You’re driving along digging a song on the radio and an idea for a novel pops into your head. You tell yourself you’ll remember to write it down when you get to your destination, but by the time you get there the only thing you remember is the moron who cut you off in traffic, or some other such nonsense.

Sadly, there have probably been thousands of great novels lost this way, because no matter how good your memory is, you still forget stuff. I have a better than average memory and I know I’ve lost a few best sellers.

You would think that, as writers, we would write things down reflexively…but you’d be wrong.

remember

Each of us carries a device in our pocket that has the capability to record random thoughts with the push of a button (provided you have the app), but do we use it?…nah. Too much of a hassle, and if we do remember to record our inspiration, we forget to play the recording back…our cellular service contract expires, we get a new phone and *poof* – your idea for the next Great American Novel is Gone with the Wind…so to speak.

 

I’m sure there are many more annoyances that plague writers, but unfortunately, I don’t have time to research and document them…I need to get busy writing.

I’m on the first re-write of Full Circle and I’ve surpassed my allotted blogging time for the week.

time to write2

 

As always – thank you for reading

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How Many Tools are in Your Writing Toolbox?

In the world of professional baseball, teams send scouts to colleges (sometimes even high schools) to evaluate young talent.

There are five aspects of the game that these scouts look for, and naturally, the more areas a player excels at, the higher he is rated—they are hitting for power, hitting for average, fielding, throwing and speed.

scouts

A player who demonstrates proficiency in all five of these areas is rare, and is referred to as a five-tool-player.

Bo Jackson, Mike Schmidt and Kirby Puckett are a few examples of such elite players.

Naturally, it isn’t necessary to be a five-tool player to be successful in Major League Baseball, but obviously it is to a player’s advantage to possess strength in as many of the five as possible.

So it is, too, with writing.

Bo

You don’t have to be a five-tool-writer to be successful, but you should work to excel at as many of them as possible. In the ever-changing world of independent publishing they will all serve you well.

What are these tools, you ask…

Well, there is no official scouting report naming them that I am aware of, but I have compiled a list that I think are key skills all writers should strive to possess.

They are:

 

  • Coming up with a good concept

I call this the What if idea…every good book starts with a great what if. For example – What if a giant shark staked a claim off the shores of a small New England town and terrorized the residents?

In my opinion…the what if is the foundation of the story – and like any building, a story is only as good as the foundation upon which it is built.

  • Knowing how to turn a good concept into a good story

Once you’ve got your concept, the next trick is turning it into a good story. You’ll need to develop good characters, give them obstacles to overcome and a journey to complete – all without losing sight of your awesome what if.

snoopy writing

  • Writing a first draft that contains all the proper elements of a good book

I don’t believe in formulas when it comes to anything creative, least of all writing…However – there are certain guidelines you should follow when writing your book. There are dozens of websites and blogs offering in-depth analysis to help you. They’ll tell you all about tent poles, conflict, dialogue, plot points, pinch points, and everything else you should know about. Again – I don’t consider these things to be rules, but they are, at the very least, worthwhile suggestions.

  • The ability to work well with your editor

Probably the biggest problem area for authors – of all levels. Let’s be honest…we spend months, maybe years, writing a masterpiece, and some glorified English teacher who has never written anything more detailed than a resume is going to tell us to butcher it?

The short answer…YES!

edit

It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle. You sit there for an hour looking for a certain piece and somebody walks up and, after two minutes, picks up the piece and drops it in. Fresh eyes…they make a huge difference and the as the writer, sometimes we are just too close to the work to see the flaws – and believe me, there are flaws.

  • Marketing skills

This is probably the most difficult concept for writers to warm to. Not in the same sense as writers disliking editors – but in the sense that too many writers have the attitude that their masterpiece will sell itself. The reality is the exact opposite. Your book might be the next Gone With the Wind or Harry Potter, but unless you hand it to Steven Spielberg personally, and he reads it, and loves it. Nobody will ever hear about it. The number of books published every day is mind boggling, so if you don’t get out there and push it, your sales numbers will be less than spectacular.

I’m not trying to discourage you.

On the contrary I’m trying to help you. I want every independent author out there, myself included, to be wildly successful.

I’m also not saying that the five tools I’ve outlined above are all you need to be successful, but they’ll help.

It should be noted that I am, by no means, an expert.

What you have just read is merely my opinion – and I welcome any additions, alterations or suggestions to make this blog more useful.

Let’s help each other.

help each other

 

As always – thank you for reading

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Writing and Marketing – Which is More Important?

Living the Dream Back in the days when I only had two novels to my credit, and I wasn’t even sure if I would ever write a third, things were easy. If I felt like writing, I wrote. It wasn’t a problem because there was little else competing for my time. Water Hazard

How quickly things change.

Here we are only five years later and oh, what I wouldn’t give for those good old times.

Somewhere along the way I became a juggler.

juggling time

It was easy at first…like juggling two tennis balls. Keeping both of them in the air was a piece of cake, and if one of them happened to slip away it would usually bounce right back to me.

Somewhere along the way the two tennis balls turned into three or four or five…and they aren’t tennis balls anymore, they’ve become eggs, so now it’s a little more important to keep them off the floor.

I’m speaking metaphorically of course, to illustrate what it feels like to be me sometimes.

When I only had two books, I also had an abundance of spare time because I wasn’t really concerned with marketing.

After my third novel was released I began to realize that these wonderfully, magnificent works of literary magic were not going to sell themselves. So I began hitting the social media marketing scene – heavily. I began promoting myself on facebook, twitter, this blog, pinterest, LinkedIn, Google + and Goodreads (links provided for your convenience). There are probably others, but I can’t remember at the moment.

My social media presence grew slowly…at first it was just posting a few cool pictures, sharing a blog post and tweeting a couple of promos over the course of a week.

Easy-peasy, right?

Yeah…it was.

Nowadays keeping up with my social media marketing has become a monster that must be fed constantly. Things get really interesting when you start adding book signings and networking events – forget about the full-time job, the part-time gig at the radio station, and the social life.

What can a poor boy do? (I certainly can’t sing in a rock-and-roll band)

I’ve learned that being a writer is more than just mastering the craft…it’s also about mastering time-management.

Like the old fishing conundrum – fish or cut bait.

bait

You’re out there on your boat, trying to catch dinner and you drift into a big school of potentially delicious filets…but you’re running out of bait.

Your head swivels back and forth between the chunk of frozen bait on the deck and the boiling ocean as dinner swims by.

You need to get your hook in the water if you want to catch a fish, but a bare hook is useless.

Writing and marketing…either one, without the other, is a waste of time (unless you’re one of the delusional few who claim that you write for the love of it). You need to write a book in order to have something to market, but if you waste too much time marketing you don’t get the book written.

Isn’t that a Catch-22? (One of the classic novels I’ve never read)

I don’t know how I ended up with such a lopsided ratio, but in recent weeks I’ve been forced to readjust my priorities to something a bit more manageable if I expect to release a new book this year.

Usually by this time of year I’m getting ready to pass off a manuscript to my beta readers…right now my current MS, Full Circle, is hovering around 13,000 words. A far sight short of its anticipated 90,000. So you know what that means…it means it’s time to cut bait…or fish…whichever is the metaphorical equivalent of get busy writing.

 

As always – thank you for reading

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The Great Baseball-Movie Dialogue Debate

In the short (5 1/2 years) time I’ve been calling myself a writer I’ve met many other writers. Some in person, some in cyberspace – and the variety of opinions I’ve seen and heard from them on how to write is fascinating.

Literally as many attitudes as authors.

Naturally I have mine – and I’m not usually shy about sharing them (ipso facto, this blog).

One of my writer friends, Steve Boone, bass player for the 60s rock band The Lovin’ Spoonful, recently shared his thoughts on a speech given by Bob Dylan at the MusiCares Awards . Another writer friend, Becky Pourchot, took a piece of the speech and shared it on facebook, citing how applicable it is (or at least should be) to writers.

dylan

The portion of Dylan’s speech that appealed to her was this;

“Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn’t think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down and you’ve just got to bear it. In a sense everything evened itself out.”

She followed Dylan’s quote with this thought of her own – “This is a key element when we write, I think. I often worry ‘Are people going to get this?’ It’s tempting to think about market, audience. Write for you and everything will follow.”

She then cited a movie quote that I use quite often, from the classic baseball movie “Field of Dreams”…

“If you build it, they will come.”

dreams

It’s true – I say that all the time in reference to writing and marketing.

When I say it my point is usually more to the marketing aspect of writing than the actual writing, as in – put yourself out there, build a brand and relentlessly market that brand. Convince the book buying public that you are something worthy of their time – and money.

Since I’m writing this post on my lunch break at work and NOT from the deck of my yacht, my marketing strategies are not exactly the stuff of legend, however I still believe that in today’s cyber-society it is completely possible to create interest in your brand with aggressive marketing.

It has worked for me in the sense that many more people know my name today than did in 2009 when my first novel was released.

So – yes…by all means build it – and they will come.

The difference between my use of the phrase and Becky’s perception of my use of it is this;

In her comment she implied that the phrase gives writers license to write what they feel, without regard for whether it is “acceptable” in the market. Be true to your writing spirit and, if your heart is pure, the audience will find you.

It sounds good in theory, but I’m afraid she misunderstood my interpretation of the quote, so, in order to clear things up I’m going to resort to a quote from Bull Durham – another great baseball movie.

In the movie, veteran catcher Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner) is charged with taking young, brash and arrogant rookie Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (played by Tim Robbins) and giving him a little maturity before he is promoted to “the show” (the big leagues).

In one scene, Crash points out to Nuke that his (Nuke’s) shower shoes have fungus on them. Nuke is annoyed that Crash is interrupting his massage with such trivialities, and confused about why it matters, to which Crash replies…

“…you’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win twenty (games) in the show, you can let the fungus grow back on your shower shoes, and the press will think you’re colorful. Until you win twenty in the show, however, it means you’re a slob.”

shower shoes

The look on Nuke’s face after the lecture is priceless, and if you’ve never seen the movie your life has a serious void…but I digress.

My point is this…

Yes, writers should write from the heart and they should be true to their spirit, however, this is not license to write crap and tell yourself the only reason it isn’t selling is because it hasn’t found its audience yet.

The truth of the matter is, you are writing to sell your work – whether you admit it or not (here are my thoughts about that). Logic (and the laws of economics) dictates that if you want to sell something you must create something of interest to the buyer(s).

I hate to burst your bubble, Dorothy, but you write for the audience first – and yourself second.

Once you sell a million books you can publish your grocery list and people will think it’s literature. Until you sell a million books, however, it just means you have no talent.

Nuke

Call me a sellout, call me insincere, call me a traitor to the craft, but I am not afraid to admit that if there were no hope of selling another book, I would stop writing…because as much as I love writing, I put too much effort into it – too much of myself – to give it away in the hope that maybe it will eventually be discovered.

So, go ahead, write for yourself…in the meantime, don’t give up your day job.

 

As always – thank you for reading

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Bread, Circuses and the Over-Inflated Image of the NFL

In my office this morning, as in every other office and work place in the country, if not the world, the main focus of conversation was, not surprisingly, the Super Bowl.

XLIX

Conversations could be heard throughout the cubicle farm, in every room and at both water coolers (a little cliché, but true). Every aspect of the game, from the commercials to the final score – and everything in-between – was analyzed and discussed ad nauseam.

Since my team was not involved, and since I really hate The New England Patriots…and since my love of football and the NFL in general has deteriorated greatly in the past 10 years, I tried to avoid engaging in any of the chit-chat.

I was doing fine until a friend of mine came to my desk and pretty much forced me into a conversation about the game. Eventually I made a wise-ass comment (big surprise) about how I couldn’t care less about football these days. This led to a discussion about my preference for baseball over football.

My friend told me that baseball was boring.

sleeping fan

This is where I would usually tell him that if he felt that way, he didn’t truly understand the game, but since he used to be quite a talented baseball player I couldn’t use that argument, so I changed tack. I told him that football was equally as boring, but the NFL disguises it with absurd amounts of meaningless hype, overly-enthusiastic announcers, hot women patrolling the sidelines with microphones and 12 replays of each play.

He argued that football players take a physical pounding.

Big deal!

They take a pounding one day a week, for 16 weeks – baseball players play practically every single day from April to October…162 games, travelling more in one season than the average American travels in a lifetime.

Tell me that isn’t grueling.

He tried to rephrase his argument by saying with football’s faster pace it is much more exciting to watch.

Really?

stop watch I felt it was my duty to inform him that if you were to run a stop watch during a football game and let it run only when the ball was in play…your “exciting” 3 hour spectacle would be reduced to about 12 minutes of “action” (it’s true, look it up). Which means, theoretically, that any given player is only involved in actual play for about 6 minutes (half on offense and half on defense – theoretically).

My opinion is that if you pay attention during a football game, you’d realize that once it was stripped down and sanitized to its pure form, it, too, is pretty friggin’ boring.

Also, in my opinion, football is nothing more than (warning: conspiracy theory coming at you) a cleverly orchestrated means of keeping the American people fat, dumb and happy.

In his classic novel 1984, (published in 1949 – long before football was a national distraction) George Orwell said…

“…heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

I’m not saying that the U.S. Government is using football to control us…but I’m also not saying they aren’t.

fat dumb happy

Back in the day – we’re talking waayy back, like 100 B.C. – a Roman guy named Juvenal (Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis to be more specific) coined the phrase Bread and Circuses (or, in the vernacular of the day panem et circenses).

In Juvenal’s day, Bread and Circuses was another way of saying “public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace” which pretty much jives with Orwell’s sentiment.

Nowadays Bread and Circuses has little more significance than the name of a whole-food store in Boston, but when you take a step back and observe the endless hype leading up to the Super Bowl, the hysteria during the game and the endless Monday morning quarterbacking it’s pretty obvious that Juvenal and Orwell were pretty much spot-on.

The NFL has grown into a multi-billion dollar enterprise in the past 10 or 15 years, and they did it, not by making the game itself better, but by convincing the public that they (the public) needed to be watching.

bread and circuses

They took an existing product that was doing fairly well and marketed the living daylights out of it until it was, in the minds of the people who swallowed the bait, the new national pastime.

Ironically, they used a philosophy coined in a baseball movie to do it…if you build it they will come.

Football has been played since 1869…but it wasn’t until recently (the past 15 years or so) that the league began blitzing us with the hype…and we were plowed over by it like a rookie quarterback. They capitalized on the wing-eating, short-attention-span, sound-byte mentality of the average American, and they did it so masterfully that Joe Fan never saw it happening.

As I watched Super Bowl XLIX, anxiously awaiting the end of the game, not because I had any interest in the outcome, but because it meant we were that much closer to the beginning of baseball season, I came to the conclusion that, compared to the superfluous pomp and circumstance of football…baseball is like a warm summer’s day.

Baseball doesn’t have the most recent country-music tomato singing an opening song, nor is there an entire day devoted to it each week…Yes, it’s slow moving and no, there isn’t a risk of serious injury or hospitalization on every play (although I’m sure that every player who faces a 95 mph fastball would disagree), but, if you understand the nuances of the game…it’s a beautiful thing.

It’s the difference between a keg party and a black-tie affair, heavy metal and smooth jazz, a muscle head and a muscle car.

I know I’m probably in the minority, but I really don’t care… spring training starts later this month and soon all will be right with the world.

Play ball!

play ball

As always – thank you for reading

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My Thoughts About Marketing for Independent Authors

My friend Becky and I seem to have this running “discussion” about marketing our books. She recently shared her thoughts on the matter in this blog post, to which I added a brief comment.

Then I decided a more lengthy response was in order…so here we are.

My Thoughts About Marketing for Independent Authors

Step 1; Write the book

Seems pretty self-explanatory and definitely obvious so we won’t go into any detail about it, other than to say if you ever want sell a book, it’s the only place to start (plagiarism notwithstanding).

Step 2; Sell the book

This is where many authors drop the ball.

In fact, when I released my first novel, Living the Dream, way back in the day, I made the very mistake(s) I’m about to tell you to avoid – so pay attention, because I’m speaking from experience.

First, let’s start with some assumptions;

Assumption number 1 – you didn’t write your novel for fun.

This is not to say you didn’t have fun writing it, I’m sure you did (editing – that’s a different story!). No, what I mean is that your ultimate goal was to sell books.

I wrote a blog post about this very topic a while ago (Do We Write for Love or Money?)

There may be some who are insulted by the concept of producing any form of art for money, but as Dr. Samuel Johnson said ““No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Let’s face it, you spent months, maybe years, writing that book…did you do all that work just so it could take up space on your hard drive? If so, you can stop reading and go do something else…there’s nothing for you here.

Assumption number 2 – you don’t have a publicist or a PR firm at your disposal.

I once entertained the thought of hiring a publicist – until he told me how much his services would cost. I don’t remember the exact amount, but it was far too expensive…especially when he wouldn’t promise me any results. I was of the opinion that if you’re going to charge me hundreds of dollars to increase my sales, you should at least promise me tangible results, or, at the very least, work on strict commission.

He didn’t share that attitude.

Assumption number 3 – you get tired of people asking you if you’re making money yet, and you’re even more tired of telling them that you aren’t.

This can be very annoying, and somewhat demoralizing for independent authors. When people learn that you write books the conversation usually goes from “Wow, you’re an author? That’s cool!” to “Are you making any money?” pretty quickly.

Not that they’re trying to be rude or inconsiderate, they’re usually just curious.

And of course we try to find creative ways to answer, like “I’m not getting rich, but it’s getting better.

 

The take-away from this is that you need to sell your book.

I’m no expert. I can’t tell you that doing this, that or the other thing will result in a sudden influx of cash. If I could, I’d be writing this from my yacht. What I can offer are a few tips of what NOT to do and a couple of suggestions that might help you a little bit.

First – some do’s:

Do:

  • Be aggressive. How aggressive is up to you. I like to strike a balance that is not too passive, but not obnoxiously aggressive either. I’m still experimenting.
  • Be supportive of other authors. The independent author community is huge, and growing every day. Mutual support helps all of us. If you can’t buy books by other authors, at least help promote them – they will usually reciprocate.
  • Utilize social media. Things like Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, Instagram, blogging, etc are FREE and provide access to millions of people. Take advantage of it (again, I’m still experimenting with different methods, but it works). (Side note: some people seem to get offended by “paid promotions” on facebook – but I use them. Once or twice a month I create a “buy my book” post and pay to promote it. I never pay more than $10 and it reaches a few thousand extra people. In my mind…it’s $10 well spent. Of course you can spend hundreds if you want…I don’t want.)
  • Block out time for marketing. Writing time is precious for all of us, especially if you have a day job, but it’s critical to save time for your due diligence. Believe it or not, I probably spend 2 hours on marketing for every hour I spend writing…maybe more.
  • Steal ideas. That’s right, I said it. If you see another author doing something to sell books that you think might work for you, it’s okay for you to do it too. Hey, there’s more than one commercial during the Super Bowl, right?
  • Monitor your sales on Amazon. If you don’t know how to do this…find out. It’s easy and it’s the only way to figure out what is working and what isn’t.
  • If something isn’t working, stop doing it. Pretty simple. Try a new promo idea…run with it for a week or two, while monitoring your sales numbers. If you don’t see results, move on.
  • Remember – the only stupid idea is one you don’t try. Getting your book cover tattooed on your butt and posting the picture on Pinterest may seem idiotic, but you’ll never know until you try.

 

And now the don’ts:

Don’t:

  • Sit around waiting for your book to sell itself. Believe me, it won’t. Books are notoriously lazy.
  • Assume that what you’re doing is enough. Unless you are interviewing chauffeurs and body guards…keep pushing.
  • Do the same thing over and over. Marketing is a continually evolving endeavor – that’s why you don’t see the same TV commercials for Coke and Pepsi today that you saw when you were a kid (unless you’re 11).
  • Listen to the naysayers. There are people who will tell you that marketing is a waste of time. Ask them how many books they’re selling.
  • Be afraid. Remember the old saying…If you want something you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do something you’ve never done. Maybe you’re shy and don’t want to get out there and sell yourself. Too bad – nobody is going to do it for you.
  • Be aloof. I don’t want to hear any of that “I’m an artist, not a salesman” crap. If you’ve ever gone on a job interview you were selling yourself – this is no different. Well, maybe a little different…but you went on that interview because you needed a job. Think of marketing the same way.
  • Pretend you don’t care if nobody reads your book. You do. If you didn’t you wouldn’t have finished it…or even started it for that matter. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share your work with the world…warm up to that concept.
  • Believe me. Don’t take my word for any of this…find an author who sells a lot of books and ask them if I’m right or wrong (if I’m wrong, please let me know).
  • Give up. There is an audience for every book…keep going until you find yours.

 

I think that’s about all I have.

As I’ve said many, many times…I am no expert, but I have learned a few things in the past 5 years. Hopefully I can save you some time by imparting these nuggets to you.

Conversely – if you have any tips for me – lay them on me—I am definitely not too proud to listen to your advice.

 

Oh – one more thing…my newest book, Eyewitness Blues is now available in paperback and digital formats…buy it! (too pushy?)

 

As always – thank you for reading

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Social Media Marketing for Indie Authors (and Dummies)

One thing I hear quite often from readers is that “writing a book must be hard.”

Well, it’s definitely not easy, but truth be told, writing the book is the easy part. It’s the “getting it out to the world” that’s the hard part.

Ask 10 Independent Authors about their marketing strategy and you’ll get 20 different answers.

The good news is, there is a ton of ways to promote your work. The bad news…you have to figure out which one(s) will give you the most bang for your buck.

I hang out with two other indie authors on a regular basis (Armand Rosamilia and Becky M. Pourchot) and we have devoted a lot of conversation time to the “best” marketing ideas. We’ve discussed ideas from newspaper ads to radio broadcasts, we go to art-related events regularly and we routinely harass local businesses into selling our books and hosting signings. We also discuss the value, or lack thereof, of giving bookmarks to potential readers (see Armand’s blog post about it here) and even the advantages, or disadvantages of giving books away.

After we’ve beaten the above ideas to death, and beyond, we move on to social media – which, although mostly free, is not without issues. There is no doubt about its value as a marketing tool, but be careful how you use it or it can do more harm than good. It’s taken me about 5 years to get a handle on it and I’m still no expert, but here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far…

 

Lesson #1 – The internet is free publicity…unless you count the old adage “time is money.”

time is moneySure – you can sign up for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads and a slew of other social media sites and plug yourself until the cows come home – but how much time are you willing to spend every day keeping up with all of it. If you want to establish an on-line presence you have to be active. Keeping a facebook page dynamic enough to draw interest requires constant attention. Not letting your Twitter feed become stagnant takes time, and your Goodreads page isn’t going to remain up to date by itself. I think you see the way I’m steering the boat…

 

Lesson #2 – Using the internet is so easy a 12-year-old can do it…problem is, I’m not 12.

baby on facebook

I have enough trouble remembering 47 different user-IDs and passwords, never mind figuring out how to link my Facebook feed to my Goodreads page. Every time I try to update my website, it’s a two-hour ordeal, and before it’s over I have usually invented a handful of new cuss-words. And why can’t things look and act the same on my phone and Kindle as they do on my PC? I swear, the first thing I’m going to do after Steven Spielberg makes a movie from one of my books is hire an IT Department.

 

Lesson #3 – Be careful with your content…you won’t sell a book to someone who thinks you’re an a$$hole.

political postsWhether you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn or Pinterest it is wise to avoid controversy. I used to enjoy engaging people in “spirited debates” on Facebook, but Armand finally convinced me that it was not the best business decision, since I ran the risk of alienating people who had opposing viewpoints. Yes, I am entitled to my opinion, as is everybody, but by voicing those opinions I was running the risk of pissing people off, so I backed off and now I only engage in non-controversial (for the most part) discussions. I suppose if I were Stephen King, I wouldn’t care about it, but…

 

Lesson #4 – Sure, the idea of being on the internet is to sell books…but don’t actually ask people to buy them.

salesman

Talk about contradictions, right? You want to use the internet to reach the world and sell your book (or song, or painting, or whatever), but if you do nothing but bombard the feeds with “buy my stuff” posts your sales numbers will be less than staggering. You might as well put on a cheap suit and shout “…but wait! There’s more!!” Nobody likes a high-pressure salesman. Social media is meant to be, as the title implies, social…so socialize (bearing in mind Lesson #3). Share content that is interesting, funny, philosophical or thought provoking…then every now and then slip in a casual reminder that you happen to have something for sale.

 

Lesson #5 – Social media is a two-way street…make sure you go both ways.

two way

Imagine you meet somebody at a party, begin a discussion and within minutes you realize that this person talks about nothing but themselves. Pretty soon you’d be wishing for somebody to interrupt so you can casually slip off to the bathroom. Social media is no different. Don’t be “that guy” (or girl). Contribute to conversations you didn’t start, acknowledge pictures of peoples children or pets with a “like”, “favorite” or “+1” (whatever the case may be). Show people that you’re interested in them and they will respond in kind. Pretty simple, actually.

 

Lesson #6 – If you can’t be original…at least add some creativity when you plagiarize.

duplicate original

There’s really nothing new under the sun, and social media drives that point home like a sledge hammer. There are going to be times when you share a picture, retweet an article or repin an item. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just try to do it in such a way that doesn’t leave you looking like a parrot. Mix it up, add some original content and try to make it (at least partially) your own. If you’re creative enough to write a book, you should be creative enough to come up with a caption more original than “LOL” under the picture you stole form your high school buddy. And try to avoid reposting content that has been around the block a thousand times…

I think that’s about enough for now. One other lesson I’ve learned about the internet…don’t overshoot the attention span of your audience!

And speaking of the internet – here are links to connect with me out there on the interweb – stop by and say hello.

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon

Pinterest

LinkedIn

Website

And if you want to find me quickly, do a search for #Ike

 

As always – thank you for reading.

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Are Independent Authors like Heavy Metal Bands?

A very good friend of mine plays guitar in a heavy metal band in Denver.

BTDSince I really don’t care for heavy metal, I won’t get into my personal opinion of their music. What I would like to discuss comes from a recent thread he started on facebook regarding the lack of air time that metal bands receive from radio stations. He claims that metal bands don’t get air time because they “refuse to follow the ‘code’ and ‘rules’ of radio.”

His comment implies that the reason we don’t hear bands like Anvil, Dream Theater, Slayer and Sepultura on our car radio, is that these bands refuse to cave in to “the man”. Furthermore, it could be inferred from his other comments that the only reason Metallica is heard on the radio is that they sold out.

What does this have to do with writing books, you ask?

Bear with me…

There are a few possible answers to the question of what keeps these bands off the air;

It could be that they just plain suck and they are blinded to that fact because they are lost in what they are creating.

It could be that, although they are talented, there is just not a big enough audience out there to warrant a radio station devoting serious (and expensive) air time to them.

Or it could be a grand conspiracy by said radio stations to only play that which they deem “worthy”.

Whatever the answer is (probably a little of each) I think this example can be carried over to the book world also.

The book industry used to be dominated by the major publishing companies. Back in those days, would-be authors would literally have to beg for a chance to get published. I don’t know the actual statistics, but the chances of an author getting published were somewhere between “don’t quit your day job” and  “not friggin’ likely.”

The recent upsurge of small press houses, vanity presses and self-publishing has thrown all of that out the window. Nowadays anybody, literally ANYBODY, can write a book and have it published.

Going back to our metal-band analogy…this is the equivalent of a band recording their own CD – which is also much easier today than it was 20 years ago.

However the same road block that exists for heavy-metal bands also exists for Independent Authors…getting air time – or in our case, shelf time. Book stores, even though they may be going the way of the dodo, still make it nearly impossible for Indie Authors to have their books presented in large quantities to the public.

So we have to rely on other methods. Just as a local band will play in bars and clubs to garner a fan base, authors will usually hold book signings at small venues, where they might sell a dozen books, and consider it a success.

The other tool we have at our disposal is the internet – a (basically) free outlet which has the potential to connect us to millions of people – instantly.

So here’s where you come in…

You may not realize it but you have great power to help your favorite Indie Author (like me)!

It is soooo helpful to us when you do simple things like sharing facebook posts, retweeting us, talking about us on Goodreads and LinkedIn and posting reviews on Amazon after you’ve read one of our books.

I’ll use myself as an example…

Currently I have almost 1,000 fans on my facebook page (thank you, by the way!).  If I post something about the upcoming release of a book, it will be seen by most of those people – let’s say 500. If half of those people (250) share it with their friends, and we assume that they each have 250 friends, that post has now been seen by 62,500 people.

That’s just facebook…

Numbers like that can really, really help.

I know you’ve probably heard all this before, but since Independent Authors are their own marketing assistants, we have to periodically remind the world that we are here. So consider yourself reminded!

Unfinished Business will be released in June, 2013

Unfinished Business will be released in June, 2013

 

And by the way, my next book, Unfinished Business, will be released in about 2 weeks (on or about June 30) – so spread the word!!!

You can read the first two chapters by clicking this link.

As always, thank you for reading.

Thanks to Chris Tucker and Beyond the Descent for being my example!

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Support Your Local Independent Author

I wanted to open this post with a video.

It would have been about 90 seconds long, but so agonizingly painful to watch it would have seemed like an hour.

A mournful voice moans over a lonely acoustic guitar…fade in…your favorite Independent Author sits at his/her desk. Their clothes look like they’ve been slept in. The desk is littered with papers, fast food wrappers, an overflowing ashtray and a two-day-old cup of coffee.

If it’s a man – he hasn’t shaved in three days – if female, her hair would need to be primped for an hour to look as good as bed-head. Their eyes plead with you for rescue.

The image dissolves into pictures of other authors in similar states of down-trodden-ness…the voice of a familiar actor speaks;

“Every year thousands of Independent Authors spend countless hours in front of their computers, forsaking their families, their health and their hygiene in an attempt to bring you that next book—to give you a piece of themselves. You are the one they live to please, you are the one they will lose sleep for and you are the one they think about when trying to decide which word will fit the best.”

The voice goes on and on until you just can’t stand to watch or listen anymore and you switch to another website where you can see the latest viral images of sidewalk art or lol-cats.

I wanted to make that video, but I lacked a couple of key ingredients…including, but not limited to the equipment, the talent and the money.

That means I’ll have to deliver the message of this post in words. Hopefully I’ll be able to tug at your heartstrings sufficiently before you decide to surf the web for the latest meme.

I’d like to talk to you on behalf of your favorite Independent Author.

The reason for this post came after a recent conversation with one of my readers. It’s a conversation I have quite often, as I’m sure the writer in your life does.

My friend asked me how my book sales were going. I gave my usual answer…”I haven’t been able to quit my job, yet.”

We laughed (because it’s true) and then my friend said she was surprised my books hadn’t caught on yet since she enjoyed them so much, as did all of her friends. She then encouraged me to hang in there because it was most certainly only a matter of time. Then she said something that I’m sure was said with great sincerity.

“I wish I could help you.”

I told her not to worry; things were getting better all the time. It wasn’t until later that I realized what I should have said—and I’m sure your favorite Indie Writer would like to say the same thing to you…

You CAN help!

In fact – you are our best shot.

The vast majority of Indie Authors usually face a monthly choice between spending money on marketing or some other nicety…like food or gas. We don’t have big PR firms securing shelf space for us at BAM, we sell books out of the trunks of our cars (when we have enough gas).

But what can you do to help? I’m glad you asked.

You’d be surprised at how easily you can help – for example…

Buy the books (sort of a no-brainer)

Obviously, the best way to help is to buy our books. If you don’t want to read it, give it away as a gift. Every sale helps more than you can imagine.

Give Us Feedback

Be honest with us, it’s what we want. Don’t be afraid to hurt our feelings – we’d rather have a friend tell us that our protagonist is a wimp than learn it through abysmal sales.

Ask Us About Other Writers

Chances are we know lots of other writers, from a wide range of genres. If you’re looking for a good horror writer or a new romance novel ask us, it’s like a free dating service – we’ll match you to the writer of your dreams.

Ask the Library/Bookstore

The next time you go to the library or bookstore, ask them if they carry our books. Suggest they contact us to secure copies and tell them you’re sure we’d be more than happy to do a signing (trust me – we would).

And perhaps the most important – and easiest thing you can do…

Tell People

Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your co-workers. Spread the word in person and on-line. If your fave writer posts about a release on facebook, share it. If it’s a tweet about an appearance, re-tweet it. Then encourage your friends and followers to do the same.

There used to be a shampoo commercial about telling your friends. It was the perfect illustration of viral networking  – 30 years before the internet.

It started with the image of a single woman, then it doubled to two images because she told a friend, then those two each told two friends and it went to six images. When those six each told two it went to eighteen and so on, and so on, and so on…

That’s how easy it is.

Every time you tell somebody, encourage them to tell people.

After a share or re-tweet – remind people to do the same.

Word of mouth is the absolute best marketing medium available to Independent Authors – and you never know where the message will end up. Your co-worker may have a hair dresser who cuts the hair of a man whose son went to high school with a girl who is now married to a limo driver in Hollywood who talks to movie stars and directors on a regular basis.

Well…that may be a little far-fetched – but you get the point.

Support Independent Authors – You’re our best chance!

(Obviously your first assignment is to share this blog post)

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