Showing posts with label advice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advice. Show all posts

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Self-doubt and Inspiration


I can't do this.
I can't do this.
I can't do this.

We've all heard that voice in our head. I know I have. When you don't have confidence in yourself, the voice is sometimes all you hear. You wake up and you hear it. You even hear it just before you go to bed. The problem: you believe the voice's message, even though it's not true.

I'm here to tell CAN do this. Whatever this is, you ARE capable. You ARE talented. You DO have something to offer.

Trust me, I know. Over the last five years, I've gone from a safe, well-paying job as a financial auditor to a fulltime career as an Indie author where most of the time I don't have the slightest idea how much my next paycheck will be and whether it will cover the rent. And, yes, there's plenty of self-doubt. Not just at the beginning, when I'd sold zero books and wondered whether I'd ever sell any; now, too, after selling more than 60,000 books, publishing 23 novels, obtaining a literary agent, inking an audiobook publishing deal, and having one of my series listed on Buzzfeed as one of "15 Series to Read if You Enjoyed The Hunger Games."

Despite all of the success I've had, my agent and I haven't been able to land the elusive traditional publishing deal that's been my goal since the moment I wrote my very first word.

I can't do this.
I can't do this.
I can't do this.

The voice is relentless sometimes, but I refuse to listen to it, refuse to succumb to the temptation to give in, to say "You're right," to stop writing and get a more sensible job doing something I hate. Because you know what? The voice IS WRONG, just like the voice in your head, the one telling you to doubt yourself.

You CAN do this. And here's how:


Inspiration is out there, in the experiences we have, in the people we meet, in the sunrise and sunset and the rain. It's in the words we hear, the thoughts we think, in the way our children play. And guess what? Inspiration is the key to defeating self-doubt. Although the source of our individual inspiration changes over time (as often as daily sometimes), it is like building a soundproof room around your brain, where the nagging voice of self-doubt can't be heard. When you're feeling inspired, nothing else will matter except taking that inspiration, listening to its message, and letting it drive you to greatness.

Find your source of inspiration. Write it down. Keep a list of the things that inspire you, whatever they may be. And when that voice comes a-knocking, go back to your list and build your soundproof wall. You'll be amazed at the results.


Saturday, 5 September 2015

My Books Suck, My Writing Sucks, I Suck

This post is not some silly vampire-related play on words. The title of this post encompasses REAL thoughts that I've had at one point or another in my career, and I'm not afraid to say it. I think many writers go through periods of self-doubt, especially when things aren't going as well as they'd hoped. If I were to ONLY read my negative reviews (1 and 2 star reviews), I would likely be having these awful thoughts all the time. Likewise, if I were only to read my many glowing 5-star reviews, I would think I was the best writer in the world--which I'm not by a longshot. The true quality of my books and writing, however, is somewhere in the middle. That is reality. That is truth. That is what I need to focus on.

I've written A LOT of books. 25, to be exact, 23 published and 2 seeking to be published. Some are clearly better than others, but I should be proud of ALL of them, because I worked hard, focused on improving with each one, and gave a lot of readers a great reading experience.

Does that mean I've reached the pinnacle of my writing ability? NO! I've got a long way to go before I can even hope to emulate my writing idols, like Patrick Ness, Neal Shusterman, Libba Bray, and Dean Koontz. But I'm going to keep going, keep working, keep improving. That's a promise.

So if you're a writer having self-doubts...stop...breathe...remember:

YOU are the master of your own destiny. YOU have the capability inside of you. YOU have something to say.

No, my books DON'T suck, my writing DOESN'T suck, and I DON'T suck. I'm simply a work in progress, as a writer, as a husband, and as a person. And that's okay.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Rejecting Rejection- an anecdote from a young reader

A rejection can come in many forms. A non-response; a form letter thanking you for your submission but regretfully declining; or even a response full of praise and compliments, which ultimately still says...

But rejection is NOT the end of the road. Not the first time, not the hundredth time. I've been there. I still am there. As a writer, you learn to cope with rejection. You make an active choice to let it destroy your career, or propel you to higher heights.
I made that choice very early on in my career, back when I was working a fulltime corporate job while sneaking in writing time any chance I had. I rejected rejection, even after receiving more than one hundred of those annoying little e-mails that make you hold your breath and cross your fingers, only to make it feel like you've been broken up with afterwards. It stings--I get it. But I can tell you with one-hundred-percent certainty that the sting of rejection doesn't compare to the thrill of success when a single READER accepts your work, rating it five stars, writing a glowing review of the massive difference your book made in their life. It makes all the rejection worth it. I promise.
For example, despite my love for writing Children's books, I've had little success selling them. While my YA novels have sold more than 50,000 copies worldwide, my six-book Children's series, The Adventures of Nikki Powergloves, has sold less than 1,000 copies. I've attempted to entice several publishers to embrace the series, and I had one close call with a major publisher that carried the book through multiple rounds of approval over the course of a year, before finally saying "no thanks" like everyone else. So were the countless hours I spent writing, editing, publishing, and promoting this series worth it if the royalties will likely never be enough to even pay for the cost of the cover design?
I can sum up the answer with a single anecdote I received yesterday from a parent of a child who read the first Nikki Powergloves book a year ago. Here's what she said:
"One year ago, Katee hated reading and was a grade behind and then she spent Christmas break with Grandma and fell in love with Nikki Powergloves. Now we can't get her to stop reading! So when we sat here and read your kind words I cried like a baby!!! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!! WE LOVE NIKKI POWERGLOVES!!! Keep using your amazing talents and we will keep reading!"
That kind of message is a game-changer. It makes you realize that the words you choose to write mean something, that they might be read by someone who needs them more than you, someone who will use them in a really really positive way. Someone like a 5th-grader named Katee.
So it doesn't matter that a major editor doesn't think Nikki Powergloves is a good fit for their catalogue. Maybe the next one will. Or maybe they won't. Either way, the book still had a positive impact on this world, if only for one child who learned to love reading.
If you're an aspiring writer, please please please don't give up. Your words ARE important, even if it takes a while for someone to say it. Write for you, write for your future readers, write to change the world.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

An Experiment- How to take advantage of the new Amazon KDP Unlimited Program

With the recent changes to Amazon's payout scheme for Kindle Unlimited authors, many are left scratching their heads as to whether the changes help them or hurt them. The answer is, of course: It depends.

Mostly, it depends on the length of your books, as now the amount you get paid from the fund is directly tied to the number of pages read each month through the KDP Unlimited program. Personally, I think this is an extremely POSITIVE change. Why? Because now a longer book that took significantly more effort to write, edit, and publish gets paid more for each reader. A short 40-page novella might grab around $0.23 per read (example calculations shown below), while a 500-page full-length novel could grab $2.90 per read, assuming each reader finishes the entire book. The bottom line is that this is a much more fair system. Previously, most books downloaded through KDP Unlimited were receiving an equal royalty per download (generally between $1.30 and $1.40), as long as the reader made it through at least ten percent of the book. Now everything has CHANGED.

To figure out how to best take advantage of the new KDP Unlimited program, I did an experiment for one of my books:

-I enrolled my longest book, Brew, in KDP Unlimited, as well as the two sequels, Boil and Burn
-Page lengths for each book (note: this is Amazon's Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count or KENPC): Brew- 611; Boil- 518; Burn- 469
-I set the regular price of Brew at $2.99 and the sequels at $4.99
-I did a FREE promotion of Brew on BookBub, which cost a little over $100



-Brew had 36,000 free downloads over the five day promotion (not surprising, BookBub is THE BEST place to go to promote your book)
-In the five days of the promotion, pages read of each book in the series through Kindle Unlimited were as follows:
    -Brew- 31,000 (also, every day since it's had MORE than 6,000 pages read)
    -Boil- 28,000
    -Burn- 14,000
-Additionally, I sold HUNDREDS of copies of the sequels at full price ($4.99) during and after the promotion.

The price you get paid per page read depends on the total fund provided by Amazon for the month, divided by the total number of pages read through the KDP Unlimited program. As an example, we'll use June 2015's per-page royalty, which was about $0.0057.

So in five days I earned the following royalties just from Kindle Unlimited for this particular series:
Brew- 31,000 x .0057 = $177
Boil- 28,000 x .0057 = $160
Burn- 14,000 x .0057 = $80
TOTAL = $417

This was a hugely successful promotion for me, especially considering the after-promo KDP Unlimited numbers have also been fantastic. I definitely plan to do additional similar promotions with my other lengthy series in order to take advantage of the KDP Unlimited program.

-Long books are GREAT candidates for enrollment in KDP Unlimited
-Series are especially effective, as you give readers the chance to read your entire series for "free", while accumulating a significant number of pages read, for which you get paid royalties
-As always, well-edited quality books will have the most success, as they will keep your readers turning the pages!
-BookBub promotions (and other price promotions) are a great way to draw attention to your KDP Unlimited series. Something really cool that I didn't expect was that many of those that downloaded Brew on the first day of my promotion (when it was FREE), actually downloaded it through KDP Unlimited, which meant I was getting paid rather than just giving away books like I'd usually be doing. How awesome is that?!

I'd love to hear your opinions/experiences, so please comment below. Let's start a discussion! And as always, feel free to send me an e-mail if you have specific questions or just want to bounce some ideas off of me :)

CONSIDERATIONS: this promotional technique seems to work well as of the time of this experiment (August 2015), but of course would need to be reevaluated as the KDP Unlimited program changes, as well as the size of the fund and payout per page.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Beating the Odds

Originally posted on Rock the Book.

Due to the explosion of ebooks and the destruction of publishing barriers, there are now literally thousands of Indie authors all screaming at the top of their lungs that their books are worth reading. That’s pretty daunting if you’re trying to make your book(s) stand out amongst the crowd. When I started seriously writing four years ago, I was CLUELESS as to what I was really getting into. And yet, somehow, some way, I’ve managed to “make it” after a zillion mistakes, a lot of hard work, and plenty of good old-fashioned luck. Although I don’t pretend to have all the answers or the magic bullet for success, here’s my story along with a few tips that have helped me get from bored fulltime accountant who liked to write stories to fulltime Indie author.
Roll back the tape of my life. I hated being an accountant. Desperately hated it. Long hours, high stress, corporate politics. So I quit my job and switched to another desk job that I’d heard would be less hours and less stress. I had two weeks off in between, and my Aussie wife asked what I was going to do with my break. “Uh, sit on the beach?” I said. She gave me that raised-eyebrow look and said, “Why don’t you start writing that book you always talk about?”

Although the thought of even looking at my laptop during my vacation gave me a stomachache, I listened to her pointed advice. I did it. I started writing. She hasn’t been able to get me to stop since. In four years I’ve written twenty books and published sixteen of them. Two years in I was able to quit my boring day job to pursue my dreams: I became a fulltime fiction writer.

My first trilogy was a huge success, right? Um, no. Not even close. When I published The Evolution Trilogy (a unique non-religious spin on angels and demons) a year after I started working on it, I was ready. Ready for success. Ready for a big payoff from all my hard work. I’d been reading about Amanda Hocking’s success as an Indie author and I said, “Hey, why not me?” Well, because my writing wasn’t good enough. My book idea was awesome and unique and had huge potential, but my writing was amateurish, sloppy, and in desperate need of a good editor. While I wouldn’t say The Evolution Trilogy bombed (it has sold 3,000 books in 4 years), it didn’t come anywhere near my expectations, and it most definitely wasn’t paying any real bills. The reviews were mediocre at best, which was a major reality check. Writing wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. At first I was heartbroken. Thousands of hours of hard work down the drain. All that hope dashed on the rocky coastline of failure. I didn’t have what it takes—never would.


I’m the type of person that hates failure. I don’t like losing, especially at something that I love. And I LOVE writing. That’s a major key to success as an Indie author. If your goals (like mine were) are to make millions and be rich and famous, then you’re in the wrong business. Most of us will make a few bucks here and there, and a lucky few will be able to scrape out a living. Even fewer still (the Amanda Hocking’s, Elle Casey’s and Hugh Howey’s of the world) will hit it big. Right now I’m in the middle category—scraping out a living. I’m not complaining, I’d rather scrape out a living as a writer than be earning six digits a year in some job I hate. I’m happy.

My second series was the one that allowed me to quit my day job. Originally I planned another trilogy, but eventually the project turned into a 7-book epic series that combined two separate trilogies, The Dwellers Saga and The Country Saga, in a 7th book that brought characters and plotlines together. So far it’s sold in excess of 30,000 copies in just over two years.

That brings me to another key for success: Building your backlist. Unless you’re extremely lucky and far more talented than me, writing one book a year like most traditionally published authors simply won’t cut it as an Indie. I wrote and published the 7 books in the Dwellers/Country Saga in 20 months. By that point I’d written 1 million words in three years. There are a few good reasons for writing and publishing like a fiend. One, practice is the only way to get better. By having a crazy-aggressive writing schedule you’ll force yourself to improve. Two, every new reader multiplies your potential sales. Suddenly a new reader doesn’t mean just one sale. It means a potential sale for every single one of your books, particularly if your books are in a series. It also means you can magnify the impact of giving away free copies of your books. I’ll pretty much give away an ebook of The Moon Dwellers to anyone who wants one. Why? Because if they like it, they might buy the other SIX books in the series! Quick side note: the BEST way to give away free ebooks is buy making your book free on Kindle through Amazon’s KDP Select program. The BEST way to advertise that is via BookBub, which seems extremely expensive but which is WELL worth the money. As an example, I advertised The Moon Dwellers for FREE on BookBub and had 30,000+ downloads in three days. Then I did Fire Country a month later and had 27,000+ downloads. Obviously, I made zero royalties from these downloads, but sales of the sequels took off, and I had four straight months of 2,000+ full price sales. These months changed my life. You might have tried BookBub. You might have been rejected multiple times. I was too. They are extremely selective, which is also what makes them so valuable. Keep trying. Continue to build your reviews on Amazon. If you can get over 100 with a decent average rating, that’ll give you a chance at being accepted by BookBub. Don’t give up!

So you’re probably thinking the Dwellers Saga was an instant success, right? Try again. My third year as an Indie was decent, far better than I ever could have expected. Although I wasn’t making enough to live on, my wife and I had savings and we decided to quit our jobs to make a go of my dream, with her as my editor. A big risk, but that’s what life is anyway: one massive risk. My writing was improving, and I wasn’t going it alone anymore. I’d learned the hard lesson that good writing takes work. It also takes serious criticism from serious critics. I started using a beta reading team, and I stopped brushing negative feedback aside as “Just one person’s opinion.” I realized my writing sort of sucked and that I needed to learn how to improve it. I focused on every single sentence, every single chapter. Making them tighter. Making them better. I read books on writing, like Stephen King’s On Writing and Donald Maas’s Writing the Breakout Novel. I improved with each book, and my readers noticed. They appreciated my efforts. They were fully along for the ride.

Partway through the third year I started a Goodreads fan group. Right off the bat I had 300 members. Woohoo!! I was ecstatic. Over the moon. Six months later I was churning out the sequels to The Moon Dwellers and I still had around 300 members. What? I couldn’t understand why my membership wasn’t growing. The Dwellers Saga was getting great reviews, but my fan group was dead. No activity. No interest. I decided to change things up. My biggest problem was that I made the group all about me. And who was I? Nobody. Just another person who writes books, another tree in the forest. So I changed things up. I made the group all about books. My books, someone else’s books, reading in general. Anything was fair game. It became a place where anyone could hang out and talk about their interests, passions, and experiences. The group started growing and now has more than 2,600 members, many of whom have never, and may never, read my books, which is perfectly fine by me, so long as they read other books. You see, it’s NOT all about you as a writer. It’s about READERS. The more readers we have, the more readers enjoy reading, the better it is for everyone. Become part of a book community, not for the purpose of selling your books, but because you love books like all the other people. I recommend Goodreads, but there are many others out there. Take it seriously. Participate in discussions. Make friends. Don’t spam about your book. Readers will realize you’re a valuable member of the community and they’ll click on your profile and discover you’re an author and get EXCITED about that fact and potentially try your books. I’ve had numerous people message me on Goodreads to say they’ve been my friend for over a year and never knew I was an author, but loved all the book recommendations I gave them (books that weren’t mine!). In most cases they said they’d give my books a shot.

Year four. The best year. Part luck. Part hard work. Part good timing. The Dwellers Saga was listed as one of 15 Series to Read if you Enjoyed The Hunger Games on Buzzfeed. Sales shot up. A couple movie inquiries came in, as well as a TV inquiry (nothing has panned out so far, but it’s still cool!). An agent contacted me and eventually signed me. I wrote another trilogy, Brew, and although it had interest from publishers including a purchase offer, my agent and I decided to sign on with Amazon White Glove. Brew, and its sequel, Boil, hit the top ten on genre bestseller lists almost immediately. I stopped eating away at our savings and started paying bills with my royalties—ALL our bills. It could happen to you, but don’t expect it to. Expect to have to fight for every reader. Treat every reader like your ONLY reader. Be generous with your free books, especially the first book in a series. Never stop writing. Never. Do it because you love it and good things will follow.

Never give up.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Author Economics- Book Sales

For those of us who want to pursue dreams of writing as a viable long-term financial career path, being an author is about more than just building a backlist of high-quality, well-edited books--it's about SELLING books. As many of you know, the vast majority of authors are forced to have a second job in order to pay their bills. Most people who write a book will make little more than some extra spending money in royalties. It's sad, but it's the truth. Even those who pursue their passion for writing, publishing, and selling with enthusiasm will likely struggle each and every month on the unpredictable rollercoaster of book sales. I know when I was starting out, I was wondering what it would take to allow me to quit my day job and write fulltime. Selling 500 books a month? 1,000? 2,000? "Give me a number and I'll get there!" I told myself. That's what this post is about, the sheer numbers of being a fulltime Indie author and trying to provide for yourself/your family.
(NOTE: I can obviously only explore my own sales numbers and royalties, so that's what I'll focus on here, as one author's example.)

Although I quit my six-figure job as an Operational Risk Manager for a large investment company in May 2012 (a month before The Moon Dwellers was released), it wasn't until July of 2013 that I considered myself a fulltime author. And even then, I was (and still am) making less than a quarter of what I used to make in my boring office job. So what did that mean in the period between May 2012 and July 2013? My wife and I decided to take a major risk, which was to pursue my writing career on a fulltime basis while living off of our savings. Essentially we assumed we'd make ZERO dollars from my book sales, and we budgeted accordingly. I'll reiterate, it was a MAJOR RISK, but in the end it's worked out so far :) So what changed in July 2013? I had my first month of more than 1,000 total book sales! HOORAY! That was a major breakthrough, both financially and emotionally, and it was the start of a very strong period of sales that have carried through to 2015 and allowed me to hide from the whole "getting a real job" discussion.

But despite the happy ending (again, so far), that doesn't mean the road was easy. It's been the exact opposite. I'll use a timeline of monthly book sales to illustrate:

Month Monthly Sales Sales to Date
Oct-11 14 14
Nov-11 86 100
Dec-11 67 167
Jan-12 63 230
Feb-12 67 297
Mar-12 60 357
Apr-12 88 445
May-12 96 541
Jun-12 133 674
Jul-12 200 874
Aug-12 140 1014
Sep-12 194 1208
Oct-12 161 1369
Nov-12 297 1666
Dec-12 473 2139
Jan-13 378 2517
Feb-13 442 2959
Mar-13 452 3411
Apr-13 794 4205
May-13 600 4805
Jun-13 785 5590
Jul-13 1201 6791
Aug-13 1137 7928
Sep-13 1161 9089
Oct-13 2313 11402
Nov-13 2363 13765
Dec-13 2307 16072
Jan-14 1797 17869
Feb-14 1144 19013
Mar-14 1331 20344
Apr-14 2201 22545
May-14 1544 24089
Jun-14 2786 26875
Jul-14 1308 28183
Aug-14 1362 29545
Sep-14 959 30504
Oct-14 1439 31943
Nov-14 2253 34196
Dec-14 2083 36279

Despite the fact that I’ve managed (thanks to my awesome readers!) to consistently exceed 1,000 books sold per month over the last 18 months, sales vary widely. This is what really makes having a career as an Indie author HARD. Not knowing how much you’ll make each month is scary. Most of the time I just have to have faith that my readers will continue to get the word out about my books and support me, which they always seem to do!

Some other things worth noting from the above table:

1) This does NOT include books I’ve given away for FREE, which exceed 100,000! I’ve given away almost 3 times as many books as I’ve sold!

2) This DOES include $0.99 sales, from which I receive very little income ($0.30-$0.40).

3) Months in which there is a significant increase in sales usually correlate with a major promotion that I’ve run. These types of promotions can cost anywhere from $100 to $500, which offsets some of the royalties I receive.

4) It’s also worth mentioning that over the course of my short career, I’ve gone from a single published trilogy, to 18 published works. Part of the growth trajectory is simply due to the fact that I’ve continued to write and publish more books every few months.

Obviously, the raw data I’ve provided above only provides a relative indication of the actual dollar value of royalties that I received. In terms of actual royalties, a typical month usually yields anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 (before expenses), a huge range when it comes to trying to make a living!
Also, as you can see, the fight isn’t over yet! I sold fewer books in December 2014 than in December 2013, despite having released four new books. Nothing is guaranteed in this business, and in order to keep my career, I have to continue to work hard each and every day to write new books, connect with my readers, and navigate the changing publishing landscape.

I offer insights into my own personal book sales not to scare aspiring Indie authors, but to give you all the facts about what it takes to “make it” in this business. The journey is long and full of ups and downs, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the sacrifices we make. In fact, I think it’s the opposite—the most rewarding experience of my life. My wife and I are willing to live on a lower budget so we can live the way we want. We don’t care about getting rich, only that we have enough money to provide for the simple life we enjoy. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for us!

Best of luck to all those Indie authors out there trying to scrape out a living, please feel free to comment with any specific questions you have about Author Economics.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Writing is like sitting (with your feet up) on a big leather couch

Originally posted on Donnie Darko Girl.

I am a writer. Although it started out as a casual thing, I became so obsessed with creating stories that I turned my fun hobby into a career, quitting my day job as an operational risk manager to pursue my lifelong dream of being a real author. With the creation of ebooks, anyone who writes can also easily be published, something that allowed me to find success in an industry that would’ve otherwise been almost impossible to break into. Many others are doing the same thing, writing and publishing in the hopes of one day doing it fulltime—and many others have already realized that dream, as I have.
But is it fun? Is it therapeutic? Or is it no different than the tedious nine to five job that I used to have? Does the reality fall short of the dream? These are all very important questions that writers need to ask themselves. More and more I’m getting messages from published authors saying that they’re not enjoying writing anymore. Their sales of previously published works are lackluster, they’ve received a few bad reviews, they have writer’s block, there’s too much pressure to write a good sequel...etc, etc. I get it, I really do. I’ve been there. Occasionally, I still am there. Sometimes I dread the following day’s five-hour writing session. Sometimes I feel like crap after said writing session because I feel as if my writing wasn’t as good as it should’ve been. Sometimes I don’t feel inspired. So should I stop?

NO! This is the right answer for me, but it might not be the right answer for everyone. Whether to write or not to write is a very personal decision, but for me, I actually love it at least 90% of the time, and feel as if it’s free therapy. Yes, you heard right, writing is like sitting (with your feet up) on a big leather couch. Why? Because my words are naked, floating through my mind unprotected, without judgment, without fear—they’re hope and they’re beautiful, despite being rough, imperfect things. I get to express myself in whatever way I choose just as I’d be able to if I went to a therapist. My innermost thoughts and fears and dreams and hopes and desires can be stroked from the paint brush of my soul onto the canvas of my laptop. And then I get to choose which ones to keep and which ones to delete, which ones are worthy of other’s eyes, and which ones are just for me. That’s a beautiful thing, a daily sojourn that’s as therapeutic as it is satisfying. In other words, I get more out of my writing than my readers do. That’s the big secret that authors don’t always tell you. That although they love entertaining their readers and a lot of what they do is for their fans, part of why they write is selfish.
So although I need to pay attention to book sales, and reviews, and deal with the pressures and frustrations that come with writing as a career, I don’t let those things affect my LOVE OF WRITING. In the end, that’s what matters both for myself AND for my readers, because it makes me a better writer. When someone loves what they write, it bleeds through to the pages of their books, and sends their readers’ hearts racing.

To those who are struggling with whether to continue writing, I urge you to go back to what got you started in the first place. Write something just for you, and see if you enjoy it more. If so, then you MUST keep writing, even if only for yourself. Me, I’ll keep writing till the end of my days, partly because I can’t imagine a world where I don’t write, and partly because I want nothing more than to make my readers feel myriad emotions every time they turn the pages of my books, just as I do when I read awesome books by my favorite authors.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Publishing rocks more than it sucks

Originally posted on Book Lover's Life.

As an Indie author who’s sold more than 30,000 books (due to a whole lot of hard work, and even more luck), I know all too well the highs and the lows of publishing. I’m not talking about writing here, which has its own unique set of highs and lows, but the actual act of publishing something and making it available to the masses. In short, it rocks at times; while other times it completely sucks. But in my experience, publishing rocks a whole lot more than it sucks.

Why publishing sucks sometimes
1. Selling books is hard!

So you’re an author and you’ve written what you believe to be a damn good book. Because of the incredibly awesome time we live in, you go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or iBooks (or all three) and upload your damn good book along with a beautiful cover that you either designed yourself or hired someone to design for you. And then you hit publish. Whew! What a feeling! Your heart soars and you get this intense feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment and you pretty much want to do a happy dance and jumping jacks while eating ice cream. Yeah, it’s a good feeling—with 16 published books to my name I’ve been there many times.
Then comes the depression. Why? Because your book doesn’t sell. Which doesn’t make sense because it’s a damn good book and damn good books always sell, right? Not necessarily, and not necessarily right away. Even though you might be shouting about your book from the rooftops and have an army of supporters shouting about it from the rooftops, maybe everyone’s got their earbuds in, or maybe they’re just too busy, or maybe they’ve already got too many other books they want to read. Whatever the reason, this happens to almost all Indie authors at one point or another, usually at the beginning.

It certainly happened this way for me. My first series hardly sold at all. Because I fought so long and hard to find an agent for my debut series (which can suck all on its own), I’d actually written the entire trilogy before I decided to self-publish it. And when I did, it just didn’t sell. I ended up giving away far more copies than I sold. All that hard work for a few bucks I could barely spend at McDonald’s. *shakes fist in the air* I hate you publishing!
2. Reviewers are unpredictable!

Another thing that’s really hard for newly published authors is getting reviews. Sure, you’ll smile from ear to ear when you get a glowing 5-star review, but the highs of good reviews is nothing compared to the lows of a scathing 1-star review that compares your book to toilet paper or advises that readers spend their $0.99 on a candy bar rather than your book. Ouch. Double ouch. I’ve been there, and it sucks. I could get ten 5-star reviews in a day and be flying over the moon, and then get a single 1-star review and come crashing down to Earth. Taking criticism, regardless of whether in your heart you believe it’s fair and constructive or unfair and mean-spirited, is extremely hard.
One of the hardest things is when you think you’ve made a connection with someone who’s the exact target reader for your book, only to find out later that they hated it. Hate is a strong word, but it definitely applies to reading. There will be readers who hate your book—that’s a fact. And that’s hard to take, which is another reason publishing sucks!

Why publishing rocks more then it sucks!
1. You’ve got eternity (or at least your lifetime)

With the invention of the ebook, there’s no such thing as a finite shelf life for your book, which means it doesn’t have to sell right away, even if you’d like it to. Even with big published books, they don’t always take off right away, and sometimes it takes years for readers’ tastes to catch up with the book you’ve written. You could be humming along, selling 20 copies of your book a month, and then all of a sudden you’re selling 100, and then 1,000. It’s a possibility that gives you hope for the future. There’s always time to try a new type of promotion or advertising, and always time for your book to be “discovered” the old-fashioned way: by dumb luck.
In my case, my debut series wasn’t discovered, although it has eventually sold 3,000 copies in 3 years. Not a hugely impressive total, but not bad either. On the other hand, my SECOND series, The Dwellers/Country Saga, has gone on to sell 27,000 copies in two years. You might be thinking it was an instant success, right? Wrong. It sold 3,000 in its first year—which I was extremely happy with—but then suddenly took off in the second year, selling more than 20,000 copies. Why? I like to think it was the awesomeness of the series, but in reality I know it was the meeting of hard work and dumb luck. The fuse for the explosion was lit by Buzzfeed, when they miraculously included the first book in the series, The Moon Dwellers, in a list of 15 Series to Read if You Enjoyed The Hunger Games. Considering the other 14 series listed were all big-published bestsellers (many of which have been optioned for movies), this was pretty much the biggest high of my publishing career, and sales took off from there. But as I pointed out above, it took a year to happen and for the series to really get rolling. Time marches on.

2. Fans!
I’m certainly not famous by any stretch of the imagination, but before I entered the publishing world, NO ONE knew who I was, other than my friends and family of course. Despite my first series pretty much being a flop, I still managed to connect with a few readers who loved the series and who began to consider themselves my “fans”, a word I don’t necessarily like, but which still feels pretty good. These are people who never would’ve known me and who are now willing to spend their hard-earned dollars each and every time I publish a book. It’s a great feeling.

Now my official Goodreads Fan Group, David Estes Fans and YA Book Lovers Unite, has more than 2,500 members, and I consider them my friends rather than my fans. I chat and get to know them every single day, and I’ve met so many wonderfully awesome people, that my life has been enriched by the experience far more than theirs. *gives high fives all around* Talk about a high!
3. Reviewers are AWESOME!

I know, I know, I put something about reviewers being unpredictable in the part about why publishing sucks, but there are two sides to every coin, and I’m not just talking about the positive reviews. Although I LOVE the positive reviews (hey, it feels good to know that someone gets enjoyment out of what you do for a living) and they totally motivate me to keep going and be a better writer, I’ve learned to appreciate the constructive ones too. In fact, I first connected with three of my most loyal and trusted members of my beta reading team after they wrote me some pretty harsh reviews for my older books. I contacted them (which you’re not supposed to do) and told them I thought their reviews were accurate, well-written, detailed, and extremely helpful to me to improve as a writer. I also invited them to join my beta team, which they all did. All three have become my fans and appreciate the fact that I took their feedback and opinions seriously, and now I get to address their feedback before I publish my books. All in all, reviewers are awesome, both because of their fangirling and fanboying (free word of mouth advertising is the best kind!) and because of their honesty, which is usually heartfelt and sincere. *gives a huge thumbs up to reviewers, especially bloggers*
4. A chance to shine!

At the end of the day, publishing is the ultimate high, and although there will be days when it feels like it sucks, most days you’ll feel like it rocks. Publishing is an opportunity to showcase your talent and have it shine through to an audience that will grow just as you grow as a writer.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Stop the SPAM! (And other random advice for Indie Authors)

Originally posted on Happy Indulgence Books.

I live in Hawaii, where spam is a really big thing. But by spam I mean the mystery meat concoction that never seems to go bad and can be eaten in dozens of creative ways. That’s NOT what I’m here to talk about today. Jeann asked me to post my thoughts on the explosion of spam from Indie authors, as well as my other thoughts on how upcoming Indie authors can start to build their fan base THE RIGHT WAY.
I’m no Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking, whose self-published books exploded primarily by word of mouth. At first I had to fight for every reader, for every review, for every new member of my fan group. It was a ton of hard work, but, four years later, I’m really starting to see it pay off as I approach 30,000 book sales across my backlist. So how have I built my career as an Indie author?
Not with spam!

I’m starting with what NOT to do because doing the wrong thing can give you a really bad reputation and get things off on the wrong foot. What is spam? For Indie authors, it’s any unsolicited attempt to get someone (a blogger, a random person, etc.) to read your book. Although you might direct message 100 random people on Goodreads and 1 of them might thank you profusely and say how much they loved your book and that they’ll be a lifelong fan, the other 99 are likely to get pissed off and never even consider your books in the future. They may even report you as a spammer. Spam. Is. Annoying.
I get a ton of spam myself. I recently had an author who I’d never met, never chatted with in even one Goodreads thread, send me a direct Goodreads message asking me to become their fan on Goodreads and check out their book. Umm, who are you again? That’s just not the way to do things. I thanked them and gently gave them the advice to not spam other readers on Goodreads as it will only hurt them in the long run. This particular author never even replied back with an apology or a thank you for the advice. Not a good start to a writing career.

I understand the temptation. I’ve been there. You finish your book, a labor of love that you poured countless hours and your heart and soul into…and all you want to do is share it, right? Of course! But there’s a right and wrong way to do it. Here are my basic Dos and Don’ts:

What NOT to do is every bit as important as what to do. Here are my top 3 DON’TS:
1) DON’T contact bloggers and ask them to read and review your book if their review policies specifically state they don’t read Indie books, your genre of book, or anything else specific to your book. Each and every blogger has THE RIGHT to set their own policies and read what they want. It’s not our place as authors to argue with them or judge them for the decisions they make for their blogs. I recently read a shocking blog post that basically called out bloggers as being in the wrong for not reviewing Indie novels. That’s ridiculous. There are thousands of Indie novels out there and a lot of them are poorly edited, so I understand why some bloggers would decide not to review them. Regardless, it’s THEIR choice. So leave them alone and focus on the bloggers who might be interested in your book.

True story: In my early days as a published author, I did this a few times and the result was NEVER positive. Learn from my mistakes!
2) DON’T contact random strangers on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, or any other site and ask them to read your book. It doesn’t matter if you’re willing to offer them a free book, don’t do it. It’s the equivalent of shoving a coupon in someone’s face as they walk past on the sidewalk. It leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth and will generally make them run as far away from your books as possible.

True story: Although I’ve never done this one, I’ve been targeted in this manner many times and it’s not a great feeling. Just don’t do it!
3) DON’T post about your book on message boards or in Goodreads groups until you’ve read and understood the group rules. Some boards or groups will have explicit rules against spamming, or they’ll have folders set up specifically for authors to get the word out about their books.

True story: I *stupidly* did this a few times early in my career, both on Goodreads and kboards. NOT GOOD. I got in trouble all times by a site administrator. Please, please, please learn from my idiocy!

If you’re scratching your head now and wondering how you’re supposed to build a fan base without doing everything I mentioned above, don’t worry! There are PLENTY of awesome ways you can attract new readers to your books. Trust me, I’ve tried them, tested them, and had significant success using them. Here are my top 3 DOS:
1) DO contact bloggers if their review policies state they accept books by Indie authors and books within the genres you write. These are the bloggers you should be focusing on. Maybe they’re small, maybe they’re big, but it doesn’t matter. You have to start somewhere, and even a blog with 10 members is a great place to find new readers. Provide any information the blogger requests and offer a free review copy. If they aren’t currently accepting review submissions, see if they’re interested in anything else, like a guest post, interview, or giveaway of your books/swag. ***Finally, if you are fortunate enough to convince a blogger to read and review your book, accept their review regardless of whether it’s positive or negative or in between. It’s their opinion and you should never argue about a review or ask them to take it down.

True story: With my debut series I contacted more than 100 bloggers who said they accepted Indie submissions in my genre, and guess what? I got more than 50 bloggers to accept a free ebook! More than 90% of them posted positive reviews for the book. This was a HUGE step in the right direction. By building up credibility with bloggers, I now regularly have more than 70 bloggers participate in my book launches. BLOGGERS ARE THE TRUE HEROES OF INDIE AUTHORS!
2) DO giveaway free books. I know it’s hard to give away all your hard work for free, but at the beginning no one knows who you are or whether you can write worth a damn. They’re scared of paying money for something that might be poorly edited and that they’ll put down after only a few chapters. The most important thing, however, is giving away books the right way. Here are a few options:

A) Read for Reviews on Goodreads- Many Goodreads groups manage Read to Review programs in which you can provide free ebooks to their participating members in exchange for honest reviews. I’ve given away hundreds of books this way and have loved interacting with members and thanking them for their reviews. It’s one of THE BEST ways to connect with readers.
True story: With my most successful novel, The Moon Dwellers, I’ve participated in more than 15 Read To Reviews on Goodreads, in which I’ve given away more than 200 books. I now have more than 6,000 ratings on Goodreads, something that gives me credibility.
B) KDP Select free days- If your books are enrolled in KDP Select on Amazon, you can make your book free for a set number of days every so often. However, just making your book free on Amazon isn’t enough. You have to really plan how to promote it. There are a number of sites that will help you promote your free book days, some cost nothing and others can be quite expensive. In most cases, you get what you pay for. BookBub is extremely expensive but is THE BEST by far, well worth the cost. Others are less expensive, like Book Gorilla, the Fussy Librarian, and Kindle Tips and Tricks, but they won’t get nearly the results of BookBub. The only issue with BookBub is that they’re quite choosy on which books they promote. Build up your reviews before submitting to them. Plan your attack!
True story: I’ve done Amazon free days for two of my books (The Moon Dwellers and Fire Country), and achieved 57,000 downloads in six days. The sequels started selling like hotcakes and it had a huge impact on my career. I used BookBub and at least 10 other sites to promote the events.
C) Blog giveaways- Remember all those bloggers you’ve been contacting and building relationships with? Ask them if they’d be interested in a giveaway. You can giveaway your ebooks and even throw in other prizes, like Amazon gift cards or bookmarks to sweeten the deal. Request that they use Rafflecopter to run the giveaway and that participants gain entry points by Liking your Facebook page, Following your blog, or Following you on Twitter.
True story: I NEVER turn down a chance to giveaway ebooks on a blog. I’ve participated in dozens of blogger giveaways and have never had a bad experience.
3) DO become part of the book community. This has been really important for me. Goodreads is the main site I use, but there are other sites too. Try them all and focus on the one you feel most comfortable with. Don’t think of it as a place to promote your books—think of it as a fun place that you as a reader like to spend time. Spend an hour or so (or more) a day on the site, interacting with other readers, talking about books you love (NOT your own books!), and giving/accepting recommendations.

True story 1: On numerous occasions I’ve had Goodreads members contact me and say we’ve been friends on Goodreads for more than a year and they never knew I was an author. They viewed this as a positive thing, as I wasn’t constantly trying to get them to buy/read my books. Because of that, they’d decided to give my books a try, all without me ever asking them! I thank them for their support and usually offer them a free ebook.
True story 2: Because I made so many friends on Goodreads, I managed to set up a Goodreads Fan group that now has more than 2,500 members. It’s my sanctuary where I can really and truly get to know my readers and connect with them on a personal level, something that goes a long way these days.

A special thanks to Jeann for the awesome topic and a huge shout out to all the Indie authors out there! I wish you all the best and hope you have long and enjoyable writing careers!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Indie Author Advice Series #7- Do all people sound the same?

Originally posted on Gliterary Girl.

Do all people sound the same?

That’s a stupid question, right? Of course they don’t. In real life everyone is different, everyone has their little nuances, ways of speaking, and unique mannerisms. That’s what makes life interesting and fun. If everyone sounded the same, we’d all die of boredom. There are funny people, serious people, angry people, kind people, and every combination of those qualities and a million other qualities.

Well, the same goes for books, and if you haven’t already guessed what topic I'm writing about today, it’s voice. If you’re like me and are obsessed with the myriad talent competitions that are out there, the first thing you might think of is The Voice, an entertaining singing competition with talent coaches Adam Levine (Maroon 5), Ceelo Green, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton. Although that’s not the “voice” I’m here to talk about, it’s actually a good example. Each of the four coaches on The Voice has a very different voice. (And I don’t mean that Blake’s voice is deeper than Christina’s!) Blake’s the comedian, constantly cracking jokes. Adam’s more serious, although he’s sort of Blake’s witty counterpunch. Christina is all business, ruthless when it comes to winning over the hearts’ of the contestants she wants on her team. Ceelo is the poetic low-key coach. They’re all VERY different.

That’s exactly the way characters in books should be. Easy, right? NOOOOOOO! Differentiating your characters’ voices is EXCEPTIONALLY HARD. If it was easy, everyone would be a bestseller, as voice is one of a handful of challenges that an author has to master in order to write a good book.

So how have I done as a writer when it comes to voice? Let’s just say, I’m working hard at it and improving with every book. Have I mastered it? Not by a longshot, but I won’t give up until I do. Many critics of my earlier works, the Evolution Trilogy, said some of the characters sounded too similar, that they didn’t have their own personalities. That’s a failure on my part. Even my most popular book, The Moon Dwellers, has received mixed reviews in terms of voice. Some reviewers think my two main characters, Adele and Tristan, are as different as night and day. Others think they’re too similar. I knew I still had work to do. It wasn’t until my 7th YA book that I got it right. Siena from Fire Country is a strong voice, and regardless of whether the reviewer liked the book or not, they all agreed on that. So yes, even an author of 14 books has to work hard to get character voice right!

You might be asking yourself, “How do I know if I’ve done a good job on character voice?” I’ve read a number of books and articles on the subject, and they all agree that dialogue is exceptionally important. A good test is whether you can tell which quotes are from which characters when you remove the dialogue tags. Do the words they’re speaking ring true for that particular character? If not, you have to change them. Is a character with a hot temper being far too easy going? Is a flamboyant character being boring and uninteresting? Is your hero acting anything but brave? If so, you’ve got a problem.

After the dialogue, you have to tackle the inner thoughts of each character for which you have a point of view for. Are each character’s thoughts true to their voice? Do they sound too much like each other, or are they unique? A feisty character’s thoughts should match her dialogue and actions. She should be feisty inside and out. Obviously, there are exceptions, when a character is undergoing inner turmoil and trying to hide it on the outside, but for the most part these things should match.

A little trick I’ve learned is to read my books out loud during the revision stage. Use different voices for the characters, exactly the way you envision them to sound. Do the words match the voice and personality you’re trying to convey? If not, change them.

Another trick if you’re writing from multiple points of view is to write from only one point of view per day, rather than jumping around. If you jump from viewpoint to viewpoint, there’s a greater chance that your mind will still be stuck in another character’s head when you’re meant to be writing from your new character’s head. I might write three chapters from one character’s point of view on Monday, and then do three chapters from another character’s point of view on Tuesday. If the story is alternating chapters, I’ll then go back and slot the chapters accordingly.

A final trick I use is to list out the personality traits I want each of my main characters and key supporting characters to have. When I’m writing each character, I keep these traits in the back of my mind, or refer to my list from time to time. If those personality traits aren’t coming through, then I need to add dialogue or inner thoughts to fix it. If different personality traits are coming through (that aren’t on my lists), I need to remove those lines.

If I haven’t belabored the point enough, think of writing like acting. The best actors and actresses appear as characters in different movies and become completely different people. As a writer, you have to do the same thing, except all within THE SAME MOVIE. That’s why it’s so hard. Get in your characters’ heads and become them while you’re writing about them. Tell their stories the way they want you to tell them. Practice, practice, practice!

I hope this helps! Writers are all in this together, and we’re all learning and growing and trying to become the best writers we can be. I highly advise reading other books (by authors far more talented than me) on writing, which include commentary and advice on mastering character voice. Some books I’d recommend are: On Writing, by Stephen King, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.