I hit a spot in my current manuscript, This Plague of Days, where I’d left myself a note to come up with a Quebec town for a minor character to hail from. I did a quick search and an ad for one of my own books, Corrective Measures, popped up for Kobo. This was unexpected and fun:
What else can you do to find readers for your books and give them the best chance in the Marketplace of Awesomeness? And what sucks? Here’s my take:
1. Are blog tours really doing it for you? Are blog readers converting to book readers? They should…but I don’t think they do nearly as much as we hope. If they did, I’d have certainly sold more books by now. Blog tours can work, but it takes a lot of work to provide unique content to each blog. Do that if you’re going to tour and hit the largest blogs first. (Also, once it’s posted to one blog, don’t repost it on your blog. Bad SEO.)
2. We complain readers focus too much on Free and reap the benefits without commitment. Oddly, we’re hoping to win over the world without paying a dime. We don’t have advertising budgets. It’s time to get real and set a budget and pay for help selling your books. Yes, we all want it to happen organically without extra work or money. We all just want to write. That’s not the way to bet. Grow up, stop wishing and spend money to make money.
3. Don’t do another author interview on yet another small blog unless you’re going to make it different and/or funny. Go for funny because those interviews all sound the same and yes, I know, we all drink coffee. I win for most caffeinated. What else you got? I’d rather hear about your choice of lingerie than endure another answer to the question: “How did you start writing and where do you get your ideas?”
4. Don’t do another blog post about how “content is king.” It’s either self-evident or it doesn’t really mean anything. I need more meat than that to click the buy button on your next marketing book.
5. Don’t ask me to read another interview with one of your characters. I might be interested in that, but only after I’ve already read your book, not before. I’d love to know what happens to the main character in Fight Club after the book hits “The End”. However, before I knew what that book was, he’s just be another guy struggling with macho bullshit issues and a sleep disorder.
6. Will you please just take my advice and get Kit Foster to help you with your book cover? Get a graphic designer to help you. Do not do this yourself. Don’t even do it yourself if you’re a graphic designer. Please! Sweet baby Jesus, I’m begging you! Help me help Kit help you! Great book covers do not suck. Bad book covers hurt you. We all judge books by their covers.
7. Revamp your website. Get a custom banner. (Kit does those, too. Look at the top of this page.) Also: White field, black type, no exceptions. Your pretty pastels and all those flowery serifs are repelling me from your site and making me squint so, perhaps unfairly, your book doesn’t get a shot.
8. Be bolder with your next book. Come up with a new angle. There are no truly original stories, but you have to find something fresh to sell us. Have you read a single description of a romance book that doesn’t sound like hundreds of other romance books? Do something different and experimental. Whatever you do: Stand up and stand out! Start thinking audiobooks, for instance. (But it’s still way too early to bother with setting up an app for your book. People aren’t using the medium that way in any numbers.)
9. Work harder with your editorial team. Expand your beta reader bunch. Make it cleaner. Don’t wait for perfection, but excellence will do nicely.
10. We write to be read. Shyness is not helping you. Do something to promote your books every day. Do not whine that this is necessary. If you aren’t going to promote, you may as well write for your desk drawer. That’s okay, if that’s what you want. (I sincerely doubt that’s what you want.) And stop tweeting book links without imagination.
I’ve been stymied. I hate that. I’ve been working on the new novel in the Hit Man Series, Hollywood Jesus. Several chapters went well, but there was something missing and I just figured out why it wasn’t firing on all cylinders. I was holding back. I wasn’t being reckless enough.
What makes Bigger Than Jesus such a great read is that it has the pace of a long chase scene with lots of twists and cliffhangers and no chance for anyone to catch their breath. I wrote Bigger Than in a certain way that was braver and less calculated than what I have been doing. As I wrote Bigger Than, each night I finished a chapter I often had no real idea how I’d get Jesus Diaz out of the corner I’d written him into. The next morning the answer came. (Sometimes it didn’t and I had to think longer, but when you ask the right question, the answer always appears.)
CUTTING & REWRITING…
The first stab at Hollywood Jesus wasn’t all bad. The chase scene with the cops and the scary way Jesus gets out of it? I’m keeping that. The meeting in the office? I’ll lose that. It’s too static and talky. I’m also keeping the big ending I’d planned, but the plots and plans and surprises go deeper and I’ll introduce new motivations.
The first two books started out with a murder. This time? It’s different, but no less scary and creepy. The key to making the character work for the reader is that he was terribly abused as a child and my funny hit man identifies with innocent victims. Jesus has a code and he always tries to make sure no civilians are hurt on his missions. Now that I see how this plot is going to unfold, it’s a much bigger, more sweeping story that has roots all the way back to the heart of book one of the series.
Jesus Diaz was in deep trouble with my first attempt at this book. I understand now how I can shove him down so deep, Hollywood Jesus will have a deeper emotional impact as well as more action with a pace that matches Bigger Than Jesus. Maybe even faster.
THE BIG PICTURE…
Bigger Than Jesus
New York; Opens with fast, perilous action; it’s a quest for money, love and escape with the alluring Lily Vasquez.
Theme: A man stands up to the Machine. He is not a cog.
Higher Than Jesus
Chicago; Opens with increasing tension, battling drug addiction while fighting two opposing forces over an arms deal and trying to save the body and soul of the sexy glamazon, Willow Clemont.
Theme: To become who you are meant to be, you have to conquer your failings.
L.A.; Opens with a rescue; opens old wounds in a war with multiple, powerful enemies, a slavery ring that hits Jesus very close to his heart and two beautiful women. Expect betrayal. Even so, you’ll be surprised from whence it strikes.
Theme: Sacrifice for the greater good…sucks.
I got my groove back, Stella! (That’s a dated book and movie reference, but it made somebody reading this smile briefly.)
I caught a bit of the inauguration today. Five things:
1. I breathed a sigh of relief when it went off well (especially given some scary and relevant plot points from my crime novel, Higher Than Jesus.) This doesn’t mean all is peaceful. It suggests the Secret Service is awesome at their job. I guess when they do a preventive visit, it’s like the 60 Minutes camera crew showing up with the angry ghost of Mike Wallace for a surprise gotcha interview, times 1000. Wouldn’t it be fun to hear Ted Nugent’s interview with the Secret Service after his not-very-veiled threats last year? Given Mr. Nugent’s history with the draft, I’m betting he was privately apologetic in the extreme.
2. The president’s speech was at times pointed though it was also a call for unification. I especially liked “name-calling is not reasoned debate.” I don’t agree with US government policy on lots of things, but the alternative was not an alternative. Four more years! And Senator McConnell? Suck it up. The job is to serve the American people, not to try to delegitimize a democratically elected president to serve GOP avarice.
3. When Mr. Obama’s speech has more poetry and soaring rhetoric than the poet can deliver, dump that poet. The poets at the last two inaugurations gave Poetry a bad name: Overly long, uninspired and flat. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking it was egregious. He got a smattering of golf green applause and wow, were we relieved when Beyonce stepped up to wipe out any memory of the poetry.
4. It’s not supposed to be cool to like Joe Biden. We’re told he’s crass, crazy and a sleepy uncle. Forget it, Faux News. He’s likeable and the more vitriol heaped on him, the more we like him.
5. Michelle, if it doesn’t work out with Barry, I’m here for you. Sigh.
I’ve spoken to several friends lately who have hit roadblocks in their businesses and in their lives. Like you, I’m one of those people working on achieving dreams. I’m not where I need to be yet. However, the solutions to breaking through those roadblocks to success are waiting for us to see them and act, whether it’s turning a hobby into a career or taking charge of aspects of our lives we’ve let slide.
We can climb out of this ditch we’re in and get back on the right road. Here’s my real life example of how I’m doing it, because I’m a loser, baby!
1. Despite excellent reviews, my book sales are in the septic tank. The problem of book sales permeates the industry at the moment, but I can’t control the industry. I can only control how I respond to the market. I only work on what I can control. Everything else is pointless worry. (Plots and plans for world domination await below.)
2. Financially, things are not peachy. (Even less peachy than I thought, in fact.) My tin cup has no coin rattle when I shake it. Business-wise, I need to expand my sphere of influence. Every few minutes, someone retweets a post from ChazzWrites.com, so you’d think I’d be better off than I am. However, I have to make more people aware that Ex Parte Press is a party they want to join. That means more podcast listeners, more hits on my author site. Hey, I’m a player!
3. Physically, I have wrist pain and I have a lot of weight to lose. (More tonnage than I thought.) I can rehab the wrist pain and take preventive measures. I have a lot of experience fixing injuries. I’ve also done extensive research on weight loss and I have a plan I am executing.
4. Mentally? I’m detoxing (as addicts of all stripes must). I feel lighter. I have clarity and I now know exactly how bad things are. You have to have that assessment before things can get better. Soon, they will.
5. Spiritually, I’m okay because God helps them what helps themselves and I have a plan. I am, despite everything, optimistic. I’ve been a skeptic and I’ve been a cynic. The old me would argue for failure and win. That’s what a loser does.
So let’s get to the plan:
A. I’m taking better care of myself physically. How can anyone hope to grow their business if they can’t grow as people? I’m stepping outside my comfort zone. That’s where the movement up is waiting.
B. I’m writing more books and have committed to 10,000 words a week. I’ll let you know when I make that word count and when I don’t. With the camera on and our grand intentions declared publicly, we work harder on follow-through.
C. Aside from continuing to podcast, I’m doing more with my author site and blogging about weight loss and my journey back to sexy. Readership over at AllThatChazz.com is already growing since there might be a few people who share my concerns about health and happiness. Maybe. (You caught the sarcasm, right?)
D. Strangers worldwide find The Magic That is Me through the All That Chazz podcast. It’s beginning to morph into something else, with more attitude and, I think, a wider appeal.
E. Measurement. As I’ve often pushed here, that which is not measured cannot be improved, whether it’s tonnage or book sales or hits or new listeners. But measurement is only powerful if paired with:
F. Accountability. I’m really putting myself out there by declaring my intentions for 2013. I’m accountable to readers and listeners as I lose the weight, make the weekly word counts and put out the books. I’ve done several weight loss programs and they all work for a while. No matter the approach, the single common component is that you report to someone, once a week or more, to gauge progress or lack thereof. It’s a strong corrective mechanism to learn from your mistakes. It’s a powerful preventative strategy when you see something sugary in the grocery store but think, I have to account for that.
I’m accountable to you.
And, as of Jan 6, I’m reporting to you that I weigh 265 pounds and I’m 5’8.5″.
I won’t get taller, so I have 100 pounds to lose.
It’s okay. This is the part of the movie where the guy is a broke loser. I’m writing my story and this story arc is going to be very impressive.
Today, in the early morning of my 48th birthday, I dreamt of Christopher Hitchens again. Instead of writing “again”, Hitch would have written “as I sometimes do.” Read and listen to him enough and you start to write and speak in his patterns, as one violin resonates with another. He spoke in complete sentences with a professorial British accent. You could hear every comma, semicolon and period.
I disagreed with him intensely over the idiocy of the Iraq invasion. (Christopher — never Chris — would have said “wisdom”, not idiocy.) For someone so against religion, his unwavering faith in that war still baffles me. His books were researched deeply and well-written. He shone brightest in debate and was always erudite and witty. I miss him. We met again today in a good, safe place.
In the dream, I’m some sort of documentarian but I’m helping him mow a massive lawn. He rides a huge mower and cuts a massive swath with wide blades. I have the same small red lawnmower from Canadian Tire I had when I was a kid. The metaphor for that didn’t strike me until after I awoke. (“I must caution you,” as Hitch would say, that’s a writing metaphor, not a penis metaphor. Hitch was a titan. I write amusing little stories for a tiny audience.)
The setting was a summer cottage, though here, it is always summer. Hitch confessed he enjoyed mowing the expanse on the big tractor so much he often mowed neighbours’ lawns, as well. That’s a joy difficult to imagine for him in real life. That was my first clue I might be dreaming.
He was friendly enough, but he was still Christopher Hitchens — before the cancer took him — so I was cautious with my words and mostly listened for fear of wearing out my welcome. (Hitch would have said, “…for fear of growing stale in his company.”)
He showed me his sanctuary where things were most quiet. I expected a large office with walls of books. Instead, we tiptoed past his sleeping wife so he could show me an incredibly white and clean bathroom off his master bedroom. In one of those Felliniesque details that makes you wonder about the gnashing teeth in the spinning gears of the subconscious, the toilet appeared to be filled with milk. I didn’t say so, but I thought he must have thrown up in that toilet a lot because of the chemotherapy. Reading my mind, he said that chemo and all pain was behind him now.
We sat outside in Adirondack chairs on the freshly cut, green grass and sipped lemonade under a warm sun. Wanting to appear game, I mentioned it was my birthday and told him how strange it was and how little I’d changed. “What’s the evolutionary advantage in not adapting? I haven’t changed much at all. In university, I studied the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history. Seeing so many civilizations rise and fall, it’s impossible for me not to be fatalistic about the fate of our own. Writing books is the closest immortality.”
“How have you changed, really?” he asked. “You must have, some.”
At 24, I was immersed and obsessed with violence and at 48, I’m a crime novelist. In sublimating my rage with humour, I’m creating art instead of bloody noses. I’m happier now. I laugh more and make others laugh. I was afraid all the time then, though I still can’t afford new glasses.
I became lucid then and I knew I was having a conversation with myself, not Christopher Hitchens. Disappointing. Though neither of us believe in heaven, the melting illusion saddened me more because Hitch after death was more placid than he ever was in life.
“Is fear of mortality what this dream is all about?” he asked.
“I’m still young enough that I fear failure more than death, though the two are inextricably linked.”
“‘Inextricably’, hm? Even though you know I’m not here, you’re still trying to impress me.” He didn’t say it unkindly.
“I’m not awake yet,” I said, though I could feel the real world pulling me away. I fought it, but once begun, that process can’t be stopped.
“I think I just answered my question,” I said. “The adaptive advantage of our minds changing so little and thinking like a young person is that I can still focus on achieving things in the future instead of worrying I’m going to drop dead any minute.”
“Try to stay young until the end. It goes easier that way.”
But that’s me talking to myself and I’m almost back in my bed with weak, gray light filling a cold horizon of snow and ice.
“You should write more,” he said, and toasted me with his glass of pink lemonade.
“I know. Thanks.”
I awoke thinking, time’s running out. I got up right away and wrote this.
For more writing & publishing advice, you could go nuts and buy Crack the Indie Author Code. Just sayin’.
Part One of this article and points 1 -7 appear at ChazzWrites.com. For a sample media kit, please take a moment to sign up for my newsletter in the link to the right or send your email address to expartepress at gmail dot com and I’ll email the pdfs to you anyway. However, if you mention your website in the newsletter sign-up form, I’ll give your page a plug in the All That Chazz Podcast. I’m easy that way.
Now, on to more fun yet crucial points about creating a killer media kit:
8. Some people think email is easier to delete so they send boxes to media outlets. Stick with email. You’ll never hear from a bunch of the journalists you approach. Printing out a fancy press kit and trying something UPS-delivered with a red ribbon on it is not worth the expense. Better to hit them up for editorial coverage several times through the year and do it cheaply instead of betting it all on one killer package that has to hit now to pay off. Save some of your chips for the next roll. Seriously, please save your money. A document that arrives in the mail is just as easy to dump in the garbage can beside the desk. If the package is perfumed in any way, you just went from quirky and interesting to creepy stalker.
9. Unless you’ve cured cancer and have been keeping it a secret from the world’s medical community until now, don’t pay for a huge media release from a press release propagator. I tried it and, besides jumping through their annoying hoops, it had all the amusing charm of throwing money out the window of a moving car. It was expensive, had no measurable impact and their sales team kept calling until I got mean.
10. Keep the press release short and to the point. More than one page is a strain and a mistake. If you’ve got too much to share it will get lost so use it in your catalogue page. Bullet points are awesome if you can fit your content to your pitch. A solid FAQ page with lots of white space is an alluring alternative. Don’t send a video on CD. There’s a good chance the production values will be too low and they’ll also be afraid that if they watch it, they’ll die in seven days. (Give them a Youtube link instead if you feel your video is that strong.)
11. Provide some detail in your author bio that establishes you as an expert: Awards won, relevant job experience, books written or other media in which you’ve appeared. Keep it short (or go longer if it tells a story. Rags to riches is good. Plucky, spunky and coming up will probably have to do.) You have an advantage over all the other press releases your target will receive today: Every reporter wants to publish a book, too, so they want to meet you and find out how you cheated, lied and took enough drugs to get this stupidly quixotic.
12. Think visually and use images: Luckily, this is where your killer book covers come in. To make sure the attachments got opened so they could see and appreciate all my awesome covers, I used this ad designed by Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com at the bottom of my cover letter:
13. Provide your name, contact numbers, email address and websites. It’s a really good idea to remember this point so they can contact you for the interview unless you are wicked clairvoyant.
14. When they interview you, be positive and chipper and helpful. It’s not in the bag until it’s in print or on air, so pretend you’re an extrovert. Later you can go back to being miserable in private. I am.
15. Hit multiple news outlets over time. It’s unlikely one media event will sell a lot of books. You could get a bit of a bump depending on the venue, but awareness takes time. Sales usually require repeated encounters as you permeate the world’s consciousness. Don’t bet everything on one roll of the dice and keep your expectations low to very conservative. Success always pleasantly surprises me.
16. Someone will be unhappy about your apparent success, however deceptive appearances may be. Ignore them. Several someones may contact you to write their book idea (as happened to me after a much-publicized contest win.) Run away screaming at full speed with your hands over your head. Change phone numbers, and country of residence if they persist.
17. Remember that you don’t do this for the fame and riches. It’s all about the writing and the orgies with the Roman toga theme. Get back to the keyboard and TO-GA! TO-GA! TO-GA!