Monday, September 8, 2014

On Why I Wrote This Way

Several friends of mine commented on the writing style of my book, Cover of Darkness. Their comments were it read like you were in a hurry to finish the novel, while others pointed out that the characters seemed thin and without back-story. Valid comments I suppose, but I have to admit some things about writing this book.

Firstly, this book of mine had to be different from the ones that I've written previously. It was a detective thriller, and I wanted it to rock and roll! I wanted a roller coaster ride for my reader. And I wanted to do away with the one thing that I am learning not to use. Exposition.

There's an old adage that goes something like this: Don't I want to live by that now. I want to write characters that live their feelings. That own themselves, and are not afraid to show it. I hate needless exposition, deep character introspection, and vapid flashbacks of childhood events. I think these so called 'art forms' are creating a public that doesn't want to think. And then, when they go out in the real world and they find that they can't read minds, and that people don't spill their life histories on your plate before you, unless they're roaring drunk, and that they can't go back in time to re-live events unless under hypnosis, they feel confused. Real life isn't like that, and that's what I wanted this book to feel like...real life.

So without the flashbacks and the back-stories and the expositions, the book had an energy that moved it. It became muscular, skeletal, fast and furious. Yes, it felt rushed because there were no brakes on the story, just cold, hard facts and characters that lived life, not explained it. It became just the way I wanted it. Not slow and clunky, fat like a cow and moving like a sloth but instead, it had energy and a vibrancy that challenged the reader.

Come on! We are writers. We should do the hard stuff, and you'll find that when you do your characters will have a real life of their own, not one conjured up in a lab. You'll find that you will not be insulting your reader's intelligence when you do this. If your character is an alcoholic, have him frequent bars and liquor stores every other scene. If he's a recovering alcoholic, have him going in and out of AA meetings. Don't just say: "Keith was an alcoholic." Or, "Keith was in recovery." It's short. It's messy, as simple as that. You lose the chance to introduce interesting side characters, and real feel. Feel, meaning the smell of an AA meeting, stale coffee and cigarettes and hard assed doughnuts. Tired looking attendees, some spry and wide eyed from too much Coca-Cola while others are wilted like dead ferns. And I don't mean to explain it like this, but to have these characters walk about, talk to your protagonist, talk amongst each other to give the AA meeting a feel.

Have your characters DO, not think or explain. You'll get more out of your manuscript, more color, more tempo, more verve. This is what I wanted in my book. I wanted characters that came and went, like in real life. You meet them for a minute and you have only a minute to come up with an opinion of them, just like in real life. Some one walks in the room and begins insulting individuals by jesting, cutting everyone he passes off at the knees. You can see that he's an asshole. Then, why do so many writers have this character walk into the room, and the protagonist explains: "Jeff was an asshole." And then, deep exposition as to what made him so.

And I don't even mean a brief statement. Too many writers go into Jeff and his antics on the job and when he was a youth, and how his father was overbearing and his mother cloyingly loving. What are you trying to do? Put the reader to sleep? I call these 'Resume Characterizations.' The writer writes this ridiculous resume about a character, including the protagonist and antagonist, and goes on an on with so much...well what else can I call it but...shit. They pile it up, slowing down the book, reveal too much about the motivations of the character and the worst of it all, exposes the writer's hubris.

Yes, hubris, because we know you've worked hard on this character's back-story. You've spent hours on his/her motivations, where they came from, who their parents were, where they were born. You slaved over this information, so now, you have to spoon feed it to your readers. Like pap to a babe, you have to stuff their toothless mouths with your hours of hard work through needless exposition. That's not what a back-story is for. It's for you. It's to help you nail down your character's motivations and outlook. If a glimmer of their history peeks during a conversation, that's good. But to give the reader paragraphs of your "Resume Characterizations" you are only killing your book, in my opinion.

Yes, Cover of Darkness was written to be a bare, lean, animal. A feral child fighting to feed itself in the harsh hinterland. It is a nasty book with ragged characters, and needless violence. Yeah, I said it myself. But it mirrors life, with it's ragged individuals, nasty outcomes and needlessly vicious people. I wanted my book to be a decent into hell, and what better way to get there than in an empty, burning, quickly plummeting hand-basket. I wanted to grab the reader and run, making them chase their interest rather than carefully walk through my story with a magnifying glass aimed just inches ahead of their shoes. I wanted a book that you can sit down and read in one sitting or over the weekend.

That's what I was trying to accomplish, and I guess I did. People who've read Cover of Darkness are quick to say that it moved like lightning to it's finish, it was a straight shot to a crazy conclusion. Many of my readers enjoyed the book, and that's, to me, an exposition right there. A long one, meaning, in short, that their comments are music to my ears.

I love my fans.


Friday, August 8, 2014

On the Death of a Good Idea

A while ago, while searching for avenues to market Cover of Darkness, I came across a website called Compulsion Reads. Compulsion Reads had the idea that good books should be featured prominently by a reputable site. But to have their endorsement one had to pass a rigorous evaluation. They evaluated everything: plot, characters, writing technique, accuracy, grammar, etc. You get the picture. If you passed all of these criteria, you had to then undergo a book rating and review. 

All of this appeared to be a good idea to me. Book endorsements help sales, although I have not seen much in the sales department after receiving a glowing endorsement from Compulsion Reads. Albeit they reviewed the book on Amazon, Goodreads and other websites, including their own, there wasn’t much movement in the sales department. But the idea that they had was solid. Give the readers a website where they can find quality books without sloughing through a morass of self-published work being produced today. 

I was very proud of my endorsement, even putting their medallion on my book covers and graphics and touting it on my Facebook page. I did all I could with the endorsement, like I was instructed by the owners of the site while they promoted my book on theirs. 

And then there was none.

It seemed, as soon as I found the site, in less than three months, they had called it quits. They cited that they wanted to keep up the quality of their endorsements but after two years were being overwhelmed by the influx of books. The workload was so tremendous that their own authoring efforts were being neglected. They were self-published authors themselves and saw the need for Compulsion Reads, and filled that need, but they they were also writers.

So, with little fanfare, a wonderful site closed its doors, and was shuttered. How do I personally feel about this? Sad of course. These two women who started Compulsion Reads had an excellent idea. Their business was flourishing, and in time, I’m certain that they would have been a marketing force to be reckoned with. But, as with some great ideas, sometimes they simply implode. This appears to be what happened in this case.

I miss Compulsion Reads because it was a great idea. I’m looking for other sites with the same aim, and I’m certain that I will find them. A great idea is always copied. Most might feel that there are sites that do somewhat the same, such as Goodreads, but not quite. Goodreads is a good idea, but they aren’t really professional reviewers. Not saying that un-professional reviewers can’t have a good grasp on discerning a good book from a bad one, but we are all aware of the pitfalls of personal bias or the sheer desire of some to be negative towards an author or book. 

Not to compare Goodreads to Compulsion Reads, Compulsion Reads was outstanding, and I hope that there are others that feel the same, and will launch a review/endorsement site similar to it.

I can only hope.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On When You've Done it All

There is a line that should be drawn in the sand. A limit to where you will go with whatever you are endeavoring to do. That is the school of thought. A wise man knows when to give up. Others say do not give up until defeat is academic. Others say to fight until there is no more strength in you to fight. When it comes to self publishing, which one is the right choice?

What is it that you want to succeed at when you are self published? I can say for one, or rather in my case, and I believe is the case of others, that I would like to sell copies of my book. I would like to sell enough to at least afford to publish my second and then my third book. I would like to build a fan base, from out of thin air, and cultivate it like a beloved field of vegetation. To fawn over it, feed it, water it, provide it with as much light as possible. As this field produces, I would like to reap its benefits, to live off the land to become one with my fans.

Yes, I think that many of us have my dream, my desire and that is the yardstick that we measure our success. So what if our yardstick falls short of the mark? What if your first, most enthusiastic effort reaps no benefits? What if your dream of a vibrant farm, yielding rich produce does not come to fruition?

That's where I stand now with my first book, Cover of Darkness. It's foundering after a year after publication. It's not selling, it's not moving. It's a grand sailing ship in the middle of the doldrums, a lifeless sail, a wind-less sea. It went well in the beginning, the first month, the first two, three, there were sales. One here, one there. There was positive motion, but as the months wore on, there was less and less. I pushed the envelope. I found reviewers, reached out to them to review my book and to put it on Amazon. I did a blog tour, where I gave a great many people notice that my book was out there. I applied to an endorsement company, who read books and gives their endorsement. I threw up the full sails, pulled the anchor, centered the rudder. I did everything that I could think of.

I would like to think that I pushed the envelope. I would like to think that I did everything I could. It was as if I did nothing. I had some sales, and then none. And it stayed none. And it is none.

Now the question is: where do I go from here?

Well, the answer is obvious if you are true to yourself. Be yourself. To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man, William Shakespeare. I cannot play false to any man, or rather, my fans, wherever they may be. So I have to be true to myself. And what am I, first and foremost? A writer.

I write. I write just because there are stories in my head that need a voice and need to be put down on paper. I've been writing all my life. Since I was a child, I was a writer, I studied, I learned and so, here I am, at a crossroads in my life, where I am just standing and wondering, what to do now, and the answer is academic. Write.

I'm not a marketing genius, but I am a fast learner. One of the self-publishers that I've read had a similar experience. That of having the first of her books falter. The sales were very weak if at all. So she published a second and a third book, and the more books she published, the more they moved. It appeared to her that people were drawn to a series of stories. They seemed to be attracted by full stories, with rich characters and deep story-lines, broad character arcs. They seem to like an abundant story, and not so much drops in a bucket.

Further, it took her mind off of just one book, just one savior, and as time progressed, the first book, like a snowball rolling downhill, gained slow momentum and built over EIGHT years to over 200,000 in sales. Patience, it appears, is the winning virtue.
To be true to myself then, I must write and continue to publish. I must continue to go on and come out with as many books as I can, because, honestly, there is no expiration date on self-published books. They don't have the short shelf life of traditionally published books. The first day that it comes out is the same as the three hundred and sixty fifth day. The book can take off any day. A year later, two years later. As it sits on the electronic bookshelves the world over it doesn't give up. It waits patiently for someone to press 'Add to Cart'. And with that thought, if it doesn't give up, if it is going to stay in the fray until it has no strength left to fight, then so will I.

I'm going to push the second book out, and ride it on the coattails of the first. Maybe raising a second sail on the ship will cause some motion.

Either case, either way, I'm going to write more and publish more. I don't see myself as stopping, and so, I don't see myself as failing. To me, this is just one, tactical, logical move after another.

If I am a sailor, I'll sail. If I am a farmer, I'll farm. And if I am a writer....


Monday, January 27, 2014

On Finding Your Fans

The question is: where are the fans? The truth of the matter is that in every collection of individuals, there is one or two people who are your devoted fans. In every 400 people you might find one fan, one person that likes your work and would like to read more. 200 people just are not interested in what you write. Your genre is just not what they are looking for. 299 people like your genre but aren't involved with your characters or the cover of your book, or the way it reads off the synopsis on the back. Your genre could be splintered and your book too abstract, not fitting in any of the groups.

What is lost to me is where do you find the pools of people who read to drill down into and find your one or two fans? Do you find them on Facebook? On Twitter? On Goodreads? On Amazon's pages or forums? Where could they be? That's what I am wondering. I am now searching for another means to find these vast wells of readers and to connect with them. I'm looking over analytics and sales reports and things are beginning to change my impression of what is important and what is not.

In a 2013 survey via Survey Monkey ( nearly 80 percent of book buyers purchased their books from Amazon. Far distant from them were 23 percent purchasing their books from Barnes and Noble and at 13 percent came iBookstore/Apple.With my e-book sales stats, I find that Amazon Kindle downloads are also far in the lead. Ibookstore and Barnes and Noble are in second place followed by Kobo close behind. A lot of people are keying into my books through Amazon, but there is still a number who are distributed all over the online retailer sphere. I have much of my attention on Amazon and I do what I can to push those tools available there, but I don't do it much on the other retailer sites. I need to rethink this and work on those. I need to beef up their pull by putting more information on them about the book and me. I need to build up the contact information there and personalize it more so that my fans can feel that I care and make that move to purchase the book. This could problematic and why the other retailers are dragging behind Amazon.

I am very susceptible to surveys, they help me make certain decisions as to what to do. I was looking into purchasing a large number of my books to take to my local bookstores and sell them on consignment. I thought that I may be missing out on a number of fans this way. Every author wants to see their book on a bookshelf in a bookstore, but in the same survey nearly 58 percent of readers have not visited a brick and mortar bookstore in the last year or have done so twice in the last year. So it seems clear to me that I'm not missing out on reaching fans in this direction. I think I've saved myself the heartache of having boxes of my books in my small apartment, gathering dust because the local bookstores could not move them.

The good news for indie-publishers is that those surveyed stated that sixty-four percent pay “no attention”, or 'it doesn't matter” to them as to who the book publisher is. I have to admit, this is somewhat uplifting to me because I have many author friends who have gone out of their way to court small publishers to publish their work, and they walk around like peacocks when they do. The amazing thing is that they give so much of their royalties over to these publishers. They seem to have no clue about percentages of profits and how much they could make on their own, and they have to do the same marketing as I do. The small publishers don't do any for them. There is no real benefit if some sixty-four percent of the readers don't care that they went through the hassle and the price gouging of a small publisher.

I thought that publishing an author newsletter would be a good idea, but I have only a handful of people in my address database, and when I say a handful, I mean four or five, to send newsletters to. The survey brought out that only thirty-six percent of readers use author newsletters to get information on their favorite author, and this does not include discoverability. But it was something that I tried. I also looked into buying mailing lists, and lord did I get an eye-full of information on why one should NOT buy mailing lists. I am somewhat confused as to the reluctance that most have against this, but I understand their arguments and have cooled to the idea. There is much that is negative about buying mailing lists, the main reason is that it is not tailored to your book. These are largely just addresses that are culled from anywhere and given to you. They may not be readers, and may not be readers of your genre. The last thing that they want to receive is a stupid email from a writer pushing his lame book in their direction. They'd rather watch a television show. Also many of these email addresses are not kept current and many of them have expired, such as changed, closed, moved, whatever. And you pay by the number of email addresses that they give you. So you can pay for a hundred addresses and not get anything relevant that will turn into finding fans.

But by my current calculations, if I only get 1 out of 400 attempts, if I buy 400 email addresses, I can at least expect one person to turn into a fan. But the question is: do I want to pay hundreds of dollars for 1 fan with at best a $2.99 turn around in sales. There has to be a more economical way of reaching the masses, a low cost way of sending a simple message to hundreds of people at a reasonable cost. I thought that Facebook would be that path, but that can become very expensive through an incremental bloodletting.

I did a Facebook campaign, I started an author website and the good news is that sixty-two percent of those surveyed stated that they use Facebook to find information about their favorite authors, and sixty-three percent used the author's website. But this doesn't say anything about discoverability, which is just how a reader 'finds' an author. Once a reader is interested in you, they'll go to Facebook or your website to learn more about you, but the truth is, this doesn't seem to be the way to find your fans.

To drill the numbers down further, you have only twenty-seven percent of people finding information about their authors through Goodreads, and nineteen percent through Twitter. The numbers are even more discouraging when the number drops to eighteen percent for Retail Sites.

For discoverability numbers, they're scattershot. Readers looking for their primary sources of information, Facebook is at eighteen percent, Retail Sites at seventeen percent, Goodreads at thirteen percent, author websites at ten. So Facebook still seems to be the best way to introduce people to your book, followed by Goodreads and then your website. Since a Facebook campaign can be expensive if not done properly, a Goodreads campaign followed by constantly beefing up your website might be the way to go. This is the course that I'm taking in the 2014 year.

I'm searching for this new way to reach the masses. Another way. Maybe another blog tour, or a campaign somewhere, something. I'm like a shark in the water, moving about, never stopping, never sleeping, eyes open, senses aware, searching for the splashing in the water, the expanding blood slick on its surface meaning wounded prey. I'm searching for the next avenue to fans.

I'll find it.