Friday, April 29, 2016

Self-Publishing A to Z: World Building vs. Brand Building

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


If you're an Author, you've no doubt heard the term "world building" before. It's often used to describe the meticulous planning of fictional worlds for works fiction works. I think there's a much greater usage of the term. One that involves building up your fictional work in a manner similar to "branding". 

What is branding? It's some crazy concept that you need to sell readers on YOU, not your work. Be cool, clever and funny. Be likable and people will become interested in what you write. This may just be the stupidest advice I've seen yet in the self-publishing world...

No matter how much you like an Author doesn't determine if you'll like what they wrote. I like Adam Carolla, but I'd rather hear his standup routine than read it in the form of his non-fiction books where he waxes angrily like a modern-day Norman Rockwell with 'roid rage. Yes, Carolla is funny, introspective, and makes several good points per minute. But I don't like reading that kind of stuff. I like reading ACTION. Fictional Action. Like James Bond, Doc Savage, or The Destroyer. 

And what about the reverse of author branding? If I really like someone's work, does that mean I'll like them? No. I've read countless books that when I researched the author I was like "Oh. I see." I'm not a fan of the person, I'm a fan of the product. The same can be said about actors and musicians--they produce something I like, but I'm not particularly fond of them or their need to spew political diatribe all the time. 

Author branding is wasted effort--something those publishing for the ego stroke, not as a business, might chase after. It's also targeting the wrong demographic: sheeple. I don't want someone to buy my book because they like me (if I did, I'd probably only sell to my friends). I want someone to buy my book because they enjoyed something else I've written. That way they'll actually read it, and be excited about the next project. 

And that brings me back to world building, also called "Product Line." If fans like what you wrote, don't move on to something else and bury the world you just made. Expand upon it. Movies and TV series prove customers want more of the same. Can you imagine if there had only been one Harry Potter book? There'd by no movies or merchandise. Harry would be an obscure character long forgotten in one of a plethora of fictional universes. He wouldn't even qualify to be a question on Jeopardy.

World building means just that: build your world. Not by writing thousands of pages of background information you will only ever see. Build your world by writing more and more sequels. Expand into movies, trading cards, t-shirts. Give the reader a world of stuff related to the fictional universe you've created. The more stuff you churn out, you might just increase your sales. Readers do tend to favor series over standalones. 

So relax, fellow introverts. No need to throw yourself into the spotlight and beg for virtual friends. Write good, often and a lot, and sell your product, not yourself. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Victory is Mine!

Today we take a break from the A to Z Blog Challenge to talk about trolls...

Victory is Mine!

If you're an indie author, you will encounter trolls. Some like to leave scathing reviews. Some pirate your work. Some leave obnoxious posts on your threads, or try to use your blog for spamming. Some even file false reports against you to get your blog suspended. 

There's no sense trying to figure these turds out. A variety of reasons could exist for why they puff up into cyber bullies or how you got in their crosshairs. No, the best course of action is to press on.

So today, I got my latest troll attack. I woke up to find my Gmail account locked and my (other) blog suspended for "Phishing". Phishing is a kind of internet trickery where you try and solicit private information from victims so you can defraud them later. 

Did I do a little phishing? No. But somewhere on my blog, I'm guessing there's a comment with a link to a phishing site. Or maybe some troll just didn't like my All-American writing and decided to lodge a false complaint, thereby getting me pulled. 

Yes, it's a hassle. Yes, it screws up my plans. But I'm not some pathetic halfwit, so I'm still better off than the troll(s) that did this. Yeah, I could get all enraged and worked into a froth. But why tilt at windmills? Besides, if you think about it, I've already trolled the troll...

Think about it. Something on my blog had to enrage or irritate the little peckerhead. Without even trying, I trolled them. Their feeble attempt at revenge didn't produce the same reaction in me that my inadvertent faux pas caused them. 

I win. 

And you can too when you get trolled. Just take a deep breath and press on. Haters gonna hate, and trolls are pathetic losers.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

Self-Publishing A to Z: All About U

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...

All About U

As the month's series of Self-Publishing articles draw to a close, it's time to talk about the most important part of self-publishing: YOU. After all, there can't be a self without U. U are literally the most important part of self-publishing, and here's why:

U wrote the book. No one else, just you. U might have had beta readers or a critique group offering suggestions, but this is all your work. U did it. So why stop there?

U can make the cover. Maybe you don't know how to use Photoshop or Gimp, but U can go online at places like Fiverr or Rocking Book Covers and hire someone to make a cover. A cover U describe or least give input on. U make the final decision.

U decide on editing--doing it yourself, or hiring someone else. 

U format the book--or hire someone to do it. Again, U are the boss. This is your baby.

When it comes time to publish, U don't query a bunch of literary snobs too busy polishing their degrees to dig through that growing slushpile. U go right to Kindle, Upload your work and hit Publish. U did it.

But U don't stop there. U need to get the word out. U contact websites for reviews, or pay for advertising. U run specials, U start mailing lists or schedule giveaways. 

All this works doesn't slow U down. How many wannabe authors do U know that can't even make it to Act 2 of their work? U did, and I pushed on and did this all alone. That's what self-publishing is all about. Doing it yourself. And since U took all the risks, U reap all the profit.

But don't sit on your laurels. U get back to that typewriter or word processor and get working on the next thing to publish. Because thanks to self-publishing, there's no stopping U.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Self Publishing A to Z: Titles

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the title of your book may be just as important, if not more. 

At first glance, this may seem a rather odd subject to bring up. It's related more to the craft of writing, rather than the business of self-publishing, right? Wrong. Effective titling is marketing, as much as the Cover of your book is. It conveys to a potential reader what the book is about, even more than the cover image itself. 

What makes a good title? That's a pretty bold question. There are a variety of opinions and discussions on this subject.

First off, what should a title do? It should tell the reader what the book is about.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a pretty clear book title. It's got Zombies. And, if you know what Pride and Prejudice is, you know it's a period piece. Throw in the quirky factor of this odd mashup, and you have a damned effective Title, sure to grab a reader's attention. 

In the old, pre-paperback days of publishing, books didn't have cover images. The title was it. A Tale of Two Cities is intriguing. Two Cities? Treasure Island--that sounds mysterious. Trapping Wild Animals in Malaysian Jungles--okay, one of my favorites, but that's a pretty boring title. A little too specific. 

This brings us to the next factor in a book title: Intrigue. Readers need to be intrigued. The first time I saw Jurassic Park in a bookstore, it had a white cover with  a single red logo on the cover. 

It caught my eye and compelled me to pick the book up and read the back cover. Jurassic meant dinosaurs--reinforced by the image--but a park? Since when do dinosaurs go to parks? Was this a new time travel book? A remake of one of my favorites, Deathbeast, by David Gerrold?

A good title should interest a reader. Yes, a half-naked woman or man on the cover is an industry standard, but really, those one to six words making up your cover are your main hook. Like a menu. You skim over a menu, reading all sorts of dish names. Do you read the description of each dish on that first pass? Or do you only stop on the interesting-sounding ones?

Words--let's talk about that. As in how many words. While I love the autobiography of Charles Mayer in Trapping Wild Animals in Malaysian Jungles, it's more than a mouthful and is overly boring. A Tale of Two Cities has a lot of words, but manages to com across much shorter. Jaws used jut one word, but it conveys a lot and is now ingrained in our language and popculture mentality. So how many words are appropriate?

A lot of folks swear by two word titles. And if you look at the bulk of fiction titles, you're probably going to see a majority of one or two word titles. They're especially great for contrasts, like Dark Light, Walking Dead, or even Cold Heat. Two words can also modify each other and imply a unique twist on something. Like Jurassic Park, a park with a Jurassic, or dinosaur theme. Two words are also easy for a reader to remember. 

What about one word titles? Well, they can be great too, like the aforementioned Jaws. But they can be a little two mysterious. Take the James Bond classic Thunderball. What the hell is a thunderball? Is this a storm book? Nothing about this title conveys the story's plot (theft of nuclear weapons by an evil organization bent on world domination).

What about phrases? Going back to James Bond again, there's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. That's easy to remember, and it tells you what the book is about even if you've never heard of Bond, James Bond. A Spell for a Chameleon is a great title. It's mysterious--why does a lizard need a magic spell? But it also hints at the real plot--the changing character, camouflaged from detection, and their desire to end their regular metamorphosis.

With all these titling factors to consider, when do you pick your title? It's a lot of pressure to have just the right one, you don't want to mess this up, do you? Relax, good titles reveal themselves. When you hear a good title, you know it's a good title. For me, I like to go title first, either before or after basic concept. But that doesn't mean you should put off writing your work because you don't have a title. That's what Working Titles are for. 

Write that book and maybe in the course of writing it, a great title will reveal itself. Maybe something someone said. Or the way you describe a scene. Or maybe how you just describe the book when writing that all-important description. 

What if you have a book that you just aren't happy with the title? The beauty of self-publishing electronically is you can change things. Easily. Go ahead and publish. Then change the title later if you want. It's your book. Movies do it all the time. 


Self-Publishing A to Z: Social Media

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


Ah, Social Media, the true main rival for books. Much more so than TV or Radio, because Social Media actually entails reading. 

As an Indie Author, you need to embrace social media, rather than view it as the competition though. Social Media isn't going anywhere, and despite it being a huge timesuck drawing even us authors away from our writing, it is a way of connecting with possible customers that simply cannot be overlooked. 

So how do you use Social Media?

Until recently, Social Media was an awesome free advertising source. Twitter in particular was epic, thanks to hashtags. Watching The Walking Dead and want to post a question for Chris Hardwick's after show, The Talking Dead? Easy, tweet "#TheWalkingDead"  then your question. Now anyone following the #TheWalkingDead hashtags, will see your tweet on their timeline. This means if you have a good zombie book you'd like to share, you can also tweet, during the show, "Zombies vs Supersoldiers in the new Thriller Armageddon Z, available now ion Amazon, #TheWalkingDead". Yes, it's spammy, but it worked. 

Even better, new releases are a cinch to announce on Twitter: "#New on #Kindle, A Cold Dark War,, #Thriller, #Magic, #Monsters". Heck, you could even throw in a #Free tag, if you're doing a promo day. Anyone looking for #Kindle entries on Twitter might then see your little advert and click the link. 

At least, that's the way it used to work. Twitter, and Facebook (who also has hashtags) recently decided that they wanted a slice of that advertising revenue, so they've monetized tweets and posts, requiring you to pay to play. On Facebook it's quite troublesome, as you could be talking about something non-book, but only a handful of people will see it unless you "boost your post". 

How well does Social Medias advertising work? I've found it's pretty good, even with paid posting, for free books. Especially because you can target specific groups. Facebooks ads are particularly great at this targeting, allowing you to post to people with specific interests. Got as magical realism book? Target Dresden Files/JIm Butcher followers. 

Ads aside, there's one other pretty important way to use Social Media. Connecting with readers. Social media is all about socializing. Yes, it's easy to crawl into the dark basement and hammer away at your latest epic, shielded from strangers. But by being part of an online community enables you to met people who otherwise might not have ever heard of you or your books. Without Spamming them, you might get them to look into who you are, and maybe that will lead to them checking out your books. Maybe--a pretty big maybe, I think. 

Moreover, Facebook in particular has all sorts of groups that welcome authors and readers to discuss books. What better way to see what people like/dislike in your genre of choice than to join a group dedicated to that genre?

Check out social media today--just don't forget to do some authoring in between posting...

Self-Publishing A to Z: Release Dates

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


Before the marketing begins, one of the last steps in actually self publishing your work is determining the release date.When can readers buy your book? Kindle Direct Publishing may arbitrarily pick this for you: once you hit "publish" on the dashboard, it could be two hours, twelve hours or even three days before your book is ready. But there's also the ability to set up a "Pre-Release Date" through KDP. 

Many an indie professes that by having a pre-release day, and a mailing list, you can increase your books ranking the first few days it's out. Basically, you send out an alert to your volunteer spamees that the book will be released on X date. They mark the day on their calendars or pre-order, and you get a rankings boost that day (because rankings are based on how many purchases/downloads you have over a period of time). By being higher-ranked, more people are likely to see your book--remember, the lower ranked you are the longer it would take a browser to find you in Amazon's vast, virtual book store. 

What if you don't have a mailing list or readers? Well, what day of the week you release on can affect your ranking. For the first thirty days after release, you'll feature in "New Release, Last 30 days". Then you drop to "Last 90 days". Most browsers are only going to browse for so long, so that "Last 30 days" sounds pretty good. Many an Indie swears by a regular release schedule--myself included (even if they don't buy this book, they may click on your name and browse your whole catalog).

As you can imagine, the higher your rank within the Last 30 days category, the better. So how can you optimize that? By picking your release day. 

Monday through Thursday has always seemed to be peak purchasing days for me (Supernatural Military Thriller subcategory). I see a huge drop off over the weekend. Many attribute this to folks wanting to go out and enjoy their weekend, rather than staying in with an ebook reader. 

Two schools of thought seem to be out there fro Fridays--first, that folks might buy a book for a weekend trip on a Friday, versus the idea that folks won't buy any books because they're going out Friday night. I suppose the demographic you're writing to really determines that. Younger folks in their twenties are more likely to be going out than 30 somethings with a houseful of kids. 

Like video and game releases, a lot of Indies seem to swear by a Tuesday release. The idea is that on Mondays, people start working and don't browse much (this flies in the face of the whole Cyber Monday sales every Fall). On Tuesday, these folks are back into the work groove and are ready to start browsing and reading. 

If you don't want to compete with bigger names on Tuesdays, you can always release on a Wednesday or Thursday. Personally, I don't see much difference in Monday through Friday sales, but your mileage may vary...

One last note: Holidays. If you are releasing a Halloween themed book, release it in the early build up to Halloween, in late September or October. Waiting until the end of the month cuts into your sales days. Doesn't matter if you are New in Last 30 days in November, as by then people may have moved on to the impending Christmas Season. With any holiday, factor in the seasonal dates when deciding when to release. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Self Publishing A to Z: QUITTING (GIVING UP)

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


Throwing in the towel. Giving up. Surrendering. QUITTING. You've considered it. Watching that sales graph at KDP just sitting there, taunting you with it's lack of movement. Or maybe it was that scathing one star review from Libby Treehugger. Or the fact writing is cuting into your X-Box time. 

Whatever the reason, if you're a self-publisher, and have been for any amount of time, you have undoubtedly considered giving up. Don't.

In the old days when Harper Collinstone chiseled out scary masterpieces like "To Kill a Mosasaur", authors had to beg and plead with Agents in the form of a quey soaked in goat's blood, penned in a mystic circle under a full moon. Getting published not only took the Luck of the Irish, it also meant you had to appeal to the right person at the right time with the right material. Getting struck by lightning underground would be easier. 

We live in a glorious age of screw-the-dinosaurs, where we don't need no stinkin' agents or those Reptilian Publishers. We can appeal directly to the masses, sharing and wit and wonder with any who would care to read it. These are glorious times...

You may think no one likes your book. No sales and one-star reviews from literary trolls might seem to indicate that. But don't forget there are millions of readers out there with shiny Kindles, Tablets and smartphones. Someone will like what you write, typos and gauche style all the same. 

DO NOT GIVE UP. Quitters give up. Winners keep on going. As long as you aren't forgetting to feed your children, spending more money on book doctors than a crack addict on a dealer, keep on going.

It's like a lottery ticket. If you don't play, you cannot win. 

All this being said, I'd like to point out something very important... just because someone else has achieved total victory with their first book, doesn't mean you will. (See my earlier article Heroes of Self-Publishing). Success is never guaranteed. So DON'T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!

Quitting should never be an option. Don't quit writing, don't quit learning, don't quit that steady day job while you wait for success. Write because you like to, and because you'd like to get paid for your craft. If you work hard enough, often enough and just hold on, maybe some luck will com your way.

Self-Publishing A to Z: Podcasting

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


Video killed the Radio Star, and Podcasting cremated him. Podcasting, if you didn't know, isn't the future, it's now. And it's something you should be very aware of if you're an Indie Author. 

What is podcasting? Really? Okay... imagine that instead of tuning into a radio station, or a TV station you could download audio programs on demand, whenever you wanted, store them on your iPod/Mp3 player or phone to listen to at your leisure. Voila! Podcasts. 

Podcasting has been around for several years now, and there are thousands of programs to listen to. Some put out new episodes monthly, weekly, or even daily. There are podcasts on damn near every topic you can think of and several you never would have guessed. 

Why so many? Well, I think it's because podcasting is easy. Hold on, don't get your knickers in a kerfluffle. I said podcasting was easy. Good podcasting is significantly harder. 

What do I mean? Well, the reigning King of Podcasting is Adam Carolla (if you don't know who that is, shame on you). Mr. Carolla started out on radio long before his MTV, Comedy Central, etc. etc. successes. Back in ealy 2009, Mr. Carolla built a studio and began producing a daily podcast similar to his syndicated radio talk show. 

What makes the show so good (aside from the fact it's Adam Carolla) is the fact that it's professionally done. They have engineers, sound guys, actual soundproofing, and of course, real radio hosts. They know what they're doing. You can listen to The Adam Carolla Show (PG-13) daily on iTunes, Podcast One, or through Carolla's own website. (Note, there are a multitude of Carolla shows there, not just the one). 

At the other end of the spectrum are folks who produce shows at home, using what I believe are microphones stolen from their children's Barbie sets. Echoes, hiss and the hum of the mothership nearly drown out the host(s). As I am not a cruel person, I won't give you links to any examples. Basically, though, if you listen to a podcast and it sounds like shit, you're at the other end of the spectrum from professional shows like The Adam Carolla Show, Joe Rogan, or even my favorite paranormal band Sunspot (TheOtherSide). Hell, even the Weasel, Pauly Shore, has a podcast. 

Somewhere in between these opposing ends of the audio spectrum lie the vast majority of podcasts. My friends run a nifty Geek fest called "PodCulture". It's been around for something like ten years now and has pretty decent sound quality thanks to a home studio--a room in one of the guy's apartment converted over to the purpose. 

By this point, you may be getting board by all my links and suggestions. I'll cut to the chase. Podcasts are great because they have listeners. Listeners you can tell about your book. Podcasters often need guests, the same way blogs need content. If you send out some emails, you might get invited to Skype your way to fame, or at least a few sales. The same rules as I've harped about for book marketing apply though: don't try and get your geeky space opera on something like Adam Carolla's Ace on the House home improvement/construction podcast. Don't try and get Joe Rogan to talk about your period piece romantic drama (Unless it features weed). 

Once you have a few podcasting appearance under your belt, you might start to think "I can do this myself!" Which is entirely true. Making a staticy, hollow podcast is suprsingly easy and cheap. Finding people to listen to it... that's a little tougher...

Last year, I tried podcasting. My daughter was interested in how it worked, and it dawned on me that if I hosted a podcast, I could give myself free advertising. Of course, I'd need to create a podcast people would listen to...

Enter my eldest daughter. At 15, Sam is a typical fangirl, interested in all things internetty. After some brainstorming, we arrived at a fun Father-daughter podcast: WEIRDOLOGY 101. Basically, I rambled on about the paranormal and supernatural, explaining things that most similar shows discuss taking for granted the audience knows what the Hell they are talking about. It was an intro to the weird and unusual. 

Every episode we spun our Wheel of Weird randomly selecting things like the mokele mbembe, tghe Thunderbird and even Champ, the North American Nessie. Sam asked questions, and I gave long-winded fatherly explantions. We covered weird news of the week, then I launched into my even longer-winded main topic. Somewhere duirng the programs, we read a "this episode brought to you by" and cited one of my novels. 

Initially, our audience was miniscule, So I began contacting what few well-known persons I had badgered and cyber stalked over the years, getting phone interviews with authors, comic writers and even a movie producer. 

Our readers rose to the minute level. 

My youngest daughter guest-hosted for a few episodes, as the eldest child began to have less and less time for our podnonsense thanks to school. Eventually, Weirdology shuttered its cyber doors, with no appreciable change in my book sales. And the whole six month experiment cost me less than $100 (domain name and hosting primarily)

If you're interested in podcasting yourself, there are tons of sites out there to tell you how. But I have to throw up the caution flag: producing a podcast, even a Father-daughter, once-a-week show, isn't easy. You don't just sit down and start babbling,. You have to research topics, lay out a basic script/timeline for each episode. Worse, you will have to edit each recording session, removing barking dogs, yelling wives and ringing phones. That is time much better spent writing. 

In a nutshell, podcasting is NOT the way to sell more books. It's a diversion from the difficult job of self-publishing. You are far better off using the podcasting time to write and market and appear on other people's podcasts. But don't take my word for it--give it a shot. Heck, you might be more successful podcasting than writing. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Self-Publishing A to Zs: Other Authors

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


If you're a self-publisher, odds are you've met, either in person or online, other self-publishers. If you haven't, you're going to come out of your introverted shell and do so. Soon.

I could easily have called this rant NETWORKING, but I used N for something else. And I wanted to emphasize that as an Author, you need other authors. Yes, cover artists, editors, proofers, and most especially, readers are important, but self-publishing is still growing. We're all still learning this new thing, and so we need to network, and share information.

Shared knowledge is the best reason to network. Other authors can tell you about places to get your book reviewed, where to advertise, where to find readers, upcoming shows and conventions.. the list is very long. More important than this, other authors can tell you what worked, or what didn't work (for them). That is simply priceless information. 

Don't buy books about how to self-publish. Don't go to classes. Talk to those who have been self-publishing. Those that have been there and done that have a unique perspective none of the scammers preying on the aspiring author can ever match. Ask questions, answer questions. Be part of the community--not to make friends (that's optional) but because it's good for your business. 

A lot of industries today have trade shows, where competitors get together and show off what they're doing. Indie Authors need to do the same--but without renting out huge exhibition halls and flying across country. We deal in words, not the visual, so we can network online. 

Where do you find other authors? Well, if your skin's thick enough, and you don't mind a truly diverse crowd, the Number 1 place to meet other self-publishers is the Writer's Cafe--a subforum of www.Kboards,com. Authors come and go (for various reasons) but this forum is chock full of knowledge (and opinions). It's a great place to go to learn and share. 

Kindle itself offers a forum as well. As does Wattpad, Librarything and of course, Goodreads. There are also Facebook groups, Pinterests... the list is really too long to go into in one posting here. Suffice it to say, Google Writer's Group and start clicking around. 

But what about meeting up in person? Well, there are conventions... Despite what I said about them yesterday, you can learn a lot at conventions. For one thing, if you see an author moving books while yours begin to fossilize under the weight of all that dust covering them, take notes on how your competitor does it. What tricks do they have up their sleeves?

For the brave, when you're done watching, go over and talk. Make some contacts, exchange some emails. Most self-publishers I've met are more than happy to share knowledge with you. Who knows, maybe you'll learn about some other opportunity from that chance meeting. 

Just do me one favor when you're dealing with other authors: don't try and sell them your book. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Self-Publishing A to Z: Nerd Cons!

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


Okay, so I shouldn't call them "Nerd Cons".  But I needed something that started with "N" . Hey, I go to them... oh, wait, my wife says I'm a big nerd...

Anyways, Conventions are something you may have heard of, if you're a square. If you're a cool cat like me, you've been to several Gatherings of fans from all walks of life, Conventions are your #1 source for stuff you can't find in stores and haven't seen on the internet (I particularly like all the cool Japanese toys--Japan is like Nerdvana).

If you're an indie author, you may have considered going to a convention to hawk your wares. After all, people that go to conventions are looking to spend money. What I'm about to tell you is just one poor guy's opinion. Your mileage may vary. 

Comic book and scifi conventions might seem like a tempting venue. They are more then plentiful these days. But before you dash off to Createspace and make that print edition, step back and look at things objectively. Don't act in desperation.

First, as with any product, determine who your buyers are. You aren't panhandling. Or at least, you shouldn't be. Waving a cup at passerby hoping they'll buy your book is foolish at best. You need to plan on selling. Kids don't erect Lemonade stands in the dead of winter for a reason. 

Knowing your audience/target demographic is key to not wasting your time. And, if you're like me, time is precious. Sitting in a booth all day, not selling anything is a crime against your craft. Far better to sit at home, actually writing all day, than frittering away your weekend--and spending money you won't recoup.

"But I meet all kinds of cool people at cons!" you might protest. That is true. But you could meet those same people merely by attending. Which is far cheaper, takes less time, and is more interesting than sitting in a booth. (And you get to bring home some really neat stuff)

You see, not all conventions are suited for all authors. Got a kid's book about Giraffes who can't scratch their nose and need a friend with stubby arms? Odds are you won't find many kids at the latest Horror Convention in town. Yes, some zombie cosplaying parents might be there, but they might want to bring up little Johnny in the same gothic lifestyle they embrace. Itchy Giraffe may not sell. 

Or maybe you have some Gothic Romance Diary--one dark woman's pursuit of love in the Victorian era. Star Wars fans may not bite. Or maybe they will. Darth Vader is pretty goth, and more and more ladies go to cons these days...

From personal experience, I will tell you that people at comic book conventions aren't looking for novels to buy. Unless maybe they're KNOWN super hero novels. Comic book conventions are places people go to buy comic book-related items. Like comic books. T-shirts with favorite characters. 

I know, I know. There's a whole cottage industry of crap at every convention. Candles. Soaps. Mugs. But those are RELATED to the focus of the convention. Would I buy a Human Torch candle? Maybe. Would I buy a Punisher coffee mug? Absolutely. But would I buy a novel about two star-crossed lovers embracing passionately on the cover as a field of grain sways behind them. Hell no. I want ass KICKING, not kissing.

What's that? You do sell at comic conventions? Bored wives dragged along by their geek spouses snatch up your literary porn on a regular basis? Little Joannie loves your latest "Rainbow Ponies on Parade" picture book? Well that's just swell. I'm sure all five copies will net you sufficient profit to stop at McDonald's on the way home. And now you have five potential future readers that might buy the next six books in your series, once you finish writing them a decade from now. Well done. 

However, let's recap your costs to get those possible future sales. Your booth probably ran you anywhere from $100.00 to $300.00 depending on the size of the show. You sat in it for one to three days, instead of writing "Diverse Donkeys in Delaware", the spinoff you've been thinking about starting. Not being at home, you couldn't run to the fridge for meals or call for delivery. And you didn't pack a cooler of food. So now your meals--unless you skipped them, sacrificing for your art--go on the ledger too. And don't forget travel time. Gas. Print costs--you know, those little bookmarks you had made, or spent two weeks laboriously cobbling together at home instead of you know, writing. 

All in all, by the end of the day, that Happy Meal you treated yourself to on the victorious drive home ended up costing you several hundred dollars--if you're lucky. You'd have been better off digging in the couch cushions for change or begging on a street corner. 

So, keep the kids' books at home. And the epic Scifi. And the Murder mysteries and self-helps and thrillers... you get it. Comic book shows aren't the place to sell novels. Nor are Scifi Conventions--even if you have a scifi novel. 

What about other conventions? Some might say people at conventions aren't looking for new properties. And they aren't going to stand there and read your book for several minutes to see if it's any good. That's the disadvantage we novelists have. People really can't judge our books by the covers. Any other product they can pick up and decide if it looks good in seconds. Particularly comic books that are filled with art. Or mugs. Or jewelry. Heck, they can even sniff the air of defeat and longing in those Bring Back Firefly candles. Novels are just page after page of boring letters. 

If you simply HAVE to sit at a convention and bask in the glory of anyone who will listen to you beg for sales, consider these rules:

Dress Comfortable--Cons are hot and sweaty. All those people packed into a gigantic concrete and steel can get get pretty hot. Even the Slave Princess Leias can be seen perspiring (Princesses don't "sweat"). 

Bring drinks and food. You thought Traditional Publishers had crazy, outrageous ebook prices? Ha! Concessions at a Convention are Consequently Contraceptive to Success. For the same price as a hot dog and a styrofoam cup filled with eighteen ice cubes and two spoonfuls of cola, you could get a box of granola bars and several bottles of water. Stay hydrated and out of the poorhouse.

Bring something comfortable to sit on. Yes, most cons bring chairs. But these aren't chairs designed for parking your sweating arse in all day long. They're meant for one or to hours at best. This is a convention. Unless you have someone to work shifts with, you're stuck in that damned booth ALL DAY LONG. 

Bring something to do. A book. A laptop or table to write on, something. There will be times when no one walks past. It's just you and your weird booth neighbors who are also bored out of their minds. And then there's the poorly run, ineptly advertised conventions no one even knows are happening. Not even the tumbleweeds will attend those. But be warned, don't get too engrossed in your booth entertainment. Pay attention to those potential customers. 

Don't make your booth too kid-friendly. A sad fact is, a lot of small children are dragged to conventions these days, and they could give a rat's ass about what's there. They want to go home and eat Cheerios and suck on juice bags all day, not follow Mommy and Daddy around in a throng of sweaty, stinky weirdos. If you have a bunch of cool props, say little plastic Stone Soldiers, on your table, the Sesame Street gang may decide to camp on your doorstep, gazing in lustful desire at your decorations, waiting for you to turn away for just a moment. Or they may pester you with questions like: "Well, could your characters beat Slenderman? Nuh-uh, Slenderman can beat anybody!"  Eventually these ragamuffins; parents will realize their urchins are missing and come round them up, but meanwhile, those Little Rascals have blocked several folks who might have bought a book for coming over.

Be aware of the regional likes and dislikes. That's my nice way of saying find out if your writing appeals to the locals. I live in an area less than an hour from a major Army base, but military types get the cold libtard shoulder around here. As the picture above shows, my booth is very military-centric, given the fact I write Military Frickin Fiction! Some of the tree-hugging ubervegans at several shows have actually sneered at me, then walked out and away, as if I had the Bubonic Plague or they could catch a hearty dose of Patriotism. Assholes. Don't bring your Devil-worship booth to Amish country, or your M/M "Romance" to the heart of the Bible belt. Pitch accordingly--you're there to sell, not win hearts and minds. 

K.I.S.S.--Keep it Simply, Self-publisher. Don't have a chandelier, stroboscopic lights or a disco ball in your booth, with music blaring from oil cooled ten-inch speakers while a 65" 4K flatscreen plays a perpetual loop of your ten second book trailer. All that crap has to be carted in, and out. Add in the weight of those deadtree editions of your work (which people will ask for) and you're talking a whole lot of work for little return. Think about book signings and their simple, easily-packed displays when designing your booth beforehand. Just because you've got a bunch of space, doesn't mean you have to cram it with doodads and knickknacks a plenty. 

There you have it, some simple rules to follow and one veteran's disgruntled convention experiences. Oh, and if you're in the Louisville, Kentucky area, I'll be returning to the Derby City Comic Con again in 2016. I'm a glutton for punishment...

Self-Publishing A to Z: Mailing Lists!

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


If you're an author--or even a small businessman--you may have heard of mailing lists. If you're a self-published author, you've probably been told, maybe a million times, that you need a mailing list. They are, after all, the secret to success. Everyone knows that.

So, what is a mailing list? In simplest terms, it's where you convince folks to give you permission to SPAM them periodically, sending out notices about your latest book release, thereby letting them know they can purchase said new release. 

These sales, all occurring at once then catapult your book from the lower end of the ranked sub-sub-category it's parked in, to the tippy-top of the overall Kindle rankings. Which means undecided folks who've never heard of you and are impatiently browsing for something to read, greedily One-Click you right into stardom. Once done with your book, these new converts to the heavenly prose you have published also sign up for your mailing list, and the cycle repeats with your next release and emailed fan notification.

At least, that's the theory.

There's a few logical problems with this way of thinking... First, how are people going to know your mailing list exists?

Well... those preaching from the "Church of List" claim that the Good Word of your list will draw folks in. Word of mouth. Oh, and free stuff. You see, you need to entice folks--who are probably reluctant to sign up for any more SPAM--by giving them things. Like free books.

Yes, you read right. To get people to buy your book, you need to create a mailing list, that you get people to sign up for by giving them a second, free book, so that when you write a third book, they'll possibly buy it.

A while back, I started my own experiment with mailing lists, to prove once and for all they're complete bullshit. I must admit, I have been remiss in reporting my results...

First off, setting up a mailing list is by no means easy. I define easy as one click--like those Staples ads. Once you have selected a service (Mailchimp is the odds-one favorite), you then have to spend time learning how the system works. It's not just a simple click or filling in a form. You have to draft your content and plea for signups--something comparable to designing a webpage through one of the many "easy" online services. 

Before you can complete this process though, you need something: a physical mailing address. Apparently, to cut back on all the SPAM and Fraud, the law is that you can't b all secretive and what not. If you have a pen-name, or don't want people knowing where you live, that means you need a PO Box (Personally, I don't care--my domains aren't secret-registered). Getting a PO Box is by far easier than creating your mailing list online. The U.S. Postal service has a fairly easy process that entails filing out some stuff online, then printing and signing a form and going in person to the Post office of choice with your ID. 

Having set up your mailing list, designing your first messages, etc. it's not just time to sit back with your hands out, waiting for money to pour in. People have to know your list exists. That means advertising...

Uh, wait... advertising is how you let people know your book exists. If I advertise my mailing list, aren't I competing against myself? Shouldn't I be sending that ad money to pitching my book to the public?

Church of Listers will say that people reading your book will see a post in the aftermatter: a word link, QR code, etc. Then they'll sign up and you'll cash royalty checks happily ever after as your sales skyrocket. 

This is sheer stupidity. And a catch-22. The whole point of having a mailing list is to get readers, remember? But a mailing list isn't effective unless you already have readers. Remember, what a mailing list does is synchronize your readers to purchase on Day 1 of release, boosting your rankings so people randomly browsing Amazon will see you before other, non-Mailing List authors. 

Now, I'll admit that a mailing list is a good way to keep your readers involved. You don't ant folks to drift away before you release that next book. Monthly updates to let them know the next book is coming--

Wait a minute. Monthly updates? Updating readers? If you're on Kindle, readers can already sign up for updates when you release something. And if you release something every month, your readers are going to stay with you. 

Decide for yourself if you want, but three months in, I have not seen any out-of-the-ordinary boost in sales. But I do have a nifty PO Box. Yay, more money being spent. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Self Publishing A to Z: Late! (& Lousy Reviews)

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


L is for Late! Today is a double-whammy posting, as I missed yesterday. On purpose. 

The thing about being a self-publisher is that yes, you are your own boss, but you still need to stay on track and on schedule. Deadlines may be more malleable for the self-publisher, but they're still important. As I talked about in "J is for January", not having new material ready for peak seasons could cost you sales. Similarly, if you miss an interview, or a scheduled blog post, then it might cost you readers. Consistency is important. Readers have a wide selection of fiction sources. Show you're reliable by beign consistent. Don't be late!

That said, let's move on to the actual L listing for today, Lousy Reviews...

Earlier this month, I talked about there being three kinds of authors: those that one to sell, those that want to tell, and those who want a little bit of both. If you're in self-publishing for an ego stroke, beware Reviews. A cutting, truth-hurts blasting of your epic work may cut deeper than any knife and prove the pen is mightier than the sword. Your ego may be crushed, your confidence deflated. That first work might become your last....

If you're self-publishing because you wanted to start your own business--getting paid for something you enjoy doing--there are no such things as lousy reviews. Sure, sure, those little stars might sting a bit when they flow solo on your listing, but if you are viewing this as a business, you're in it for the long-haul and reviews are a great, free way to find out how you're doing...

Read your reviews closely. It's easy to spot a troll. Disregard what they say, but watch for comments. Amazon does give folks the ability to comment on reviews. For legit reviews, pay close attention to what's being said. It's market research of a sort. Note what readers like, or what they don't. If someone points out your book was fun, but had too many typos, up your proofing game and recreate the fun in your next book.

That's right, reviews are all about preparing for what comes next. They help you craft a better product by giving you feedback. Never ignore them...

...but never feed the trolls, either. Argue with a bogus reviewer and you'll lose some readers.