Tag: self-publishing

 

Show Yourself: All About Amazon Reviews

Waiting around for that first review to come your way after releasing a novel is tough.

It may take days, weeks, months… it might never come. Your sales rank dips, along with sales in general. Then, your book is lost. You have to give it away for free in hopes one of the many hundreds of thousands of readers out there snatches it from the bargain bin and reviews it when they’re done with it. “Come on,” you say to yourself. “Just one. Just give me ONE.” As you pray for that review to come, you cross your fingers that it’s not negative. No, your book isn’t perfect. You couldn’t afford a professional editor, and you have to edit the books yourself. Your only beta readers are your buddies and family whose praise may or may not be disingenuous. There! Your first review! They said they liked it! They actually liked it!

But your sales don’t increase. “I thought more people bought things based on reviews,” you might think. And you’re absolutely correct. But it’s not that reviews themselves matter. It’s how many you have. Someone is more willing to take a chance on a book that has twenty ratings and reviews compared to one with only five. But how does one generate more reviews? From my experience, people rarely review things they read, even if they like it. I’ve been guilty of it many times. What can you do to make them review something?

Honestly… nothing. You have to wait. And wait. And wait. As you’re waiting, you’re probably sitting on a book that took you a year to write, as well as on an empty wallet. Attention from people draws attention from other people. Reviews are what bumps you up to being noticed, because people already think you’re being noticed. But how does one even begin to get noticed if they can’t get noticed in the first place?

Is the answer to simply buy a review?

I’ve noticed something about book reviews: negative reviews are usually the ones rated “most helpful.” Why? Because those reviews are the ones people think are actually being honest about the product, even if it’s emotional, inflammatory, or just plain wrong. I can’t blame readers/consumers for thinking that. The surge of buying five-star reviews is growing. Who knows whether or not that five-star review you just read was from an actual reader? Who knows if those weren’t written by the author’s family or friends? When you only have five glowing reviews (and even fewer books), people are less likely to take a chance on it, because they think you and they are liars. People are less likely to give a positive review than a negative one, so we apply our thought process to other buyers. This is why many authors say that a negative review can help you rather than hurt you.

But bump that number of stellar reviews up to fifty? Not that many people can be liars. That book must be pretty damn good if everyone is talking about it. Hey, Amazon is even recommending it to me. It must be popular for a reason, right?

Studies have shown and proven that people will take the word of a crowd as law. If ten people chant “buy this book, buy this book!” chances are, you’re going to sneer and walk away, assuming their peddling garbage. But if that crowd of ten grows to twenty, then to fifty, you’ll listen to every word they say. Being ranked in Amazon’s top 100 increases your chances of obtaining even more chanting followers. But how does one even get there in the first place? If you answered “write a good book and get lucky,” you’re only a fraction correct.

A marketplace selling reviews, Fiverr, offers five stars for five dollars. But at what risk? Could Amazon close your account for dealing with these unscrupulous individuals? Or do they let it lie, knowing they too could make money off of it? I have yet to see anyone lose their account for this, but I have seen that Amazon will pull a review if they think it’s biased. Even if it’s not. The real question is: does it work?

Buying reviews sure worked for John Locke, who sold over one million copies of his suspense series thanks to investing in five star ratings. It was a marketing tactic, and not an honest one, but since people are so hard to reach, and people are so hard to convince to buy something, it was one of the few tactics that made sense. My friend, who is also one of my biggest fans, spread the word of my book to everyone he knew, not because he was trying to make me money, but because he honestly loved the novel. Not one of the people he suggested it to purchased it, and another few of them said “Meh. I don’t read much these days.” Either he’s in a non-reading crowd, his word-of-mouth technique isn’t practiced, or the book just doesn’t seem interesting. Whatever the case, sometimes word-of-mouth isn’t your best bet. It’s who people hear the news from that matters. People want to hear it from readers. More importantly, readers who review things.

So what does this mean for indie authors?

Other than it says that our job is one of the most frustrating ones on the planet, it also says that those who cheat get ahead, and those who can’t or won’t end up falling behind. If everyone in the market is a cheater, it means you too must cheat to catch up to them. The fact that Amazon does little to prevent this exacerbates the cause and effect. As far as I can tell, Amazon cares more for their business than their authors, but it’s the best avenue for us to take.

Worst yet, this means that people will no longer trust five star reviews. Even if your book is a good book, and even if people enjoy it, they still will never take a chance on you if everyone says they love it. As you can imagine, this is complete and total BS. You might be thinking, “If everyone loves my book, I did my job RIGHT. If I did my job RIGHT, how can I ever prove that if no one trusts me?” The answer is that you can’t. The market has become so saturated with “fake reviews” that people look past five star reviews nowadays. Not only do they do that, but they consider the positive reviews “ignorant” and “nonsensical.” People are more willing to listen to the rants of an angry lunatic than they are of appraisal. You could write a fantastic book that everyone who reads it, loves, but if no one says “this book is garbage,” they are actually less likely to purchase it. However, I’ve also heard people admit to being swayed by negative reviews when they were about to purchase a book they thought sounded interesting. It’s a double-edged blade, and it hurts the author either way. We can’t win. Ever.

So what do we do? Five-star reviews hurt us. Negative reviews hurt us.

Maybe we all just need to write three-star material, and everyone would be satisfied.

 

Author Corner: Why Happy Endings Aren’t Always Happy

What makes you happiest?
Is it a lavender sunset just on the horizon? Is it a stop at Taco Bell late at night after having watched several seasons of your favorite television show? Is it your significant other, whose quirks are part of their lovely charm?

We all have a place in our minds we retreat to for happiness. In times of stress, we indulge in these small treasures to get by. Often times, we escape the pressures of reality with an old pastime: reading, or watching films. But there’s a trend in storytelling I find at times disturbing, and that is the ever-so-popular last-minute change to the ending– to make it more “happy” for the target audience. As you can imagine, this late switch almost never works out, because nine times out of ten, it doesn’t fit the story at all. Often times, the ending is very generic. “They lived happily ever after” is a common theme, and we laugh at it, makes jokes about it, but we have to have it. Why?

My spouse and I rented four movies over the weekend. We’re huge film-lovers (as well as book-lovers), and we love to try new things. Three out of the four films had endings that seemed abrupt, as though the director added it in after receiving complaints. The only reason I felt that way was because the endings didn’t make sense, and didn’t fit the flow of the movie. I’ll give you a guess as to the effect these endings were meant to have on their viewers. Here’s a hint: It involves “saving the day” in some manner.

We all want to feel like we can overcome disaster and tragedy. After all, what’s the point of living if we can’t? But we need to question why we seek that pleasure in all things, not just life. Why must someone who isn’t likely to attack his wife suddenly become like a serial killer the moment she finds out some not-so-surprising secret? So that she can stab him in the neck and save the day, despite it making no sense whatsoever. We will change things deliberately to pleasure our inner selves, and we don’t question for a moment the cause.

Come to find out after some research we did, each of the films we watched had “alternate endings” that upon reading about, sounded much more interesting than the one they left in. We find endings about a man coming to terms with his mistakes “controversial” for some reason. We find a woman who accepts changes in her husband and living a lie “too much to handle”. In the “happy” versions of the story, it didn’t take long for us to grasp how awful it really was– not just in our opinion, but for the characters involved. We would come up with our own endings that made more sense following the conclusions given to us in the films, ones that would definitely make the main character’s life more complicated and screwed up simply because of the “happy ending” that happened. It made us realize that we blissfully forget how life could continue after a “happy ending” happens– how just because the movie backs out of a stronger ending to make it happier doesn’t mean that it would work out realistically, that the character might end up in prison for example for butchering a rapist. We love the perfection of this imaginary universe where everything works out for everyone. It gives us a sense of comfort that if we are ever in danger, we don’t have to give up… which is why if such things in films were attempted in reality, they would end in the worst way possible.

It became clear to me that we don’t entertain ourselves with books and movies to be told a wonderful story. We do it to pump dopamine into our heads, and we don’t want anyone spoiling that. We consider it almost a personal attack that a main character dies in a tragic manner. These characters are not real. They are fictional. No one is really dying. But if they care enough, people will hate you for killing someone they liked, even if they existed only in our imaginations. We are hopped up on a drug called “the revenge fantasy” and if a movie doesn’t give us that, we feel frustrated. I for one, get frustrated when a movie ends on a sappy note. It doesn’t make me feel good, or happy, that someone saved the day if there was no day to save. Whether or not your ending is “happy” it needs to make sense.

You could avoid this ranting nonsense by saying “I’m not changing my ending because it’s good for my story, and it’s the ending that was meant to happen for my character.” And that’s the kind of author/director I appreciate. But many others will change it because they don’t want to be criticized. To them, I must say this: Let them cry, let them mourn, let them throw the book across the room and tell everyone how bitter and sad it was. Because in the end, they care enough about that book you wrote to get mad at you. They care enough about those characters to get upset that they’re harmed. You made them care. And that’s what matters. That makes you a good writer/director.

I didn’t realize this for a long time. I thought it was all about giving people what they wanted so they would “be happy.” But maybe, just maybe, we can also find happiness in the other wonderful emotions we feel. I can feel happy crying at the end of an amazing tale where suffering took place, because it was good enough to make me cry, and that’s pretty damn rare. When a film or book affects me deeply, it’s better that way. If there were two characters named Sarah, and one lost her husband to a gunshot wound at the end of a movie after he had spent the whole film trying to find ways to prove his love to her, I’d find that a better film than one about Sarah who giggles with her boyfriend and lays around in flowers and drinks tea and reads poetry from her binder. I don’t want to read about someone who never goes through any conflict. I want a story about someone who struggles with something difficult, something that may change their entire lives forever if they do or don’t deal with it.

Being happy in life is incredible. Being happy in fiction…
is boring.

Author Corner: When to “Get Professional” With Marketing

The hottest of guys are the ones who wear ties. That’s my motto. Okay, no it isn’t. But shouldn’t it be?

I’ve heard a lot about the benefits of paying to have your book/eBook promoted and featured on various advertising websites. I myself haven’t tried it yet. I’ve also been spending these past few weeks researching and looking into the best types of marketing by following a couple of blogs with some helpful advice.

While researching, I haven’t done much writing, or working on my book cover. I still have the copy of a finished novel ready to launch that I haven’t launched because my cover is still only half-finished. The reason why it’s still waiting in the locked-down pens of self-publishing is because I feel like I need to boost my following and promote the work somehow before releasing it. I need people that are “into my stuff” (namely gay romance) before releasing new stuff.

I’m already beginning to notice how this will only damage me, rather than help me.

How soon should I be worrying about marketing?
What I’ve neglected to say so far here, is that the book I’m waiting to release is my second novel ever. Yes, I have only published one book so far. Some have said that getting into marketing early is advantageous, but I’m starting to see how it’s holding me back. With all of this research and paperwork I’m diving into, how the hell am I supposed to write my books?

Since I haven’t published more than one yet, I can’t state from my own experience what works for me. What I can say is that while I’ve been losing myself in knowledge on how to get my work out there, I’m not getting my work out there. I personally believe there is a good time… and bad time to put all of your focus on marketing.

How many books should be released before marketing becomes your primary concern?
Well, if “more than one” isn’t a good enough answer, I’d be willing to bet that marketing won’t do you much good if you don’t have more than a couple of them out. There’s something that publishers refer to as “phoenix sales,” which means that if people buy your newer book, and enjoy it, they tend to buy your older material, thus boosting the sales of older books at the same time. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After reading one book by an author and liking it, chances are you might enjoy their other stuff.

What about social media?
As of right now, social media is not helping me at all. Granted, I spend very little time on it, but that’s because when I do spend time on it, it doesn’t seem to benefit me. All it seems to do is give me spam that I don’t look at.

I write almost entirely gay romance, and maybe some other genres with gay romance sub-genres in them. When I discovered that this was my label, this was my brand, this was who I was… I sort of got lost in wondering how I’d snag people who were into it. I’ve heard it can be very popular, especially in eBook form, but I have yet to find out how to take advantage of that. I’ve accepted that it’s what I enjoy writing, but I’m not sure how to go about picking an audience for it. All I know is that you can’t wait for them to come to you. I don’t know how to get them to come to me.

Obviously, publishing more books and establishing a brand should be the first step. People should recognize your name when seeing all of the books you wrote. “Hey, they wrote such-and-such, and as I recall I think I kinda liked it.” Well, that’s one thing you’ve got.

My advice, to myself and to others, is to give yourself a bit more breathing room before focusing all of your attention on hooking an audience. The right time will come to show yourself off. Your first book is an introduction to (hopefully) how awesome you are, and to show that this is your brand. I don’t really count my earlier eBooks in this because they were short and pointless and I was still testing the waters. I’m totally serious about publishing now, and it’s all about my best effort.

Remember: establishing yourself as an author will take a while.
Don’t be in too much of a rush. You might get ahead of yourself… and stumble on the way. Like me. And I fall pretty hard.

Author Corner: The Book Marketing Sandtrap

Since publishing my first novel in February, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching how to market. There’s a plethora of information out there on how to do so, and all of the typical do’s and don’t’s. In doing so, I’ve learned a lot… and I’ve also found that some of the things I’ve learned, if not most, don’t help me in the least.

During my many months of research, I’ve come to understand something. One marketer tells you it’s best to do one thing, and another opposes this idea. It’s no wonder I’m getting so confused about what to do. Who is right and who is wrong in these cases when they so often contradict each other?

For example:

Marketer One: Spread yourself to as many forms of social media as you can! Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, all of it. You need to be able to reach everyone because not everyone uses just plain Twitter, Facebook, or Google.
Marketer Two: Spend most of your time on your own website, and only use one form of social media at a time.

Marketer One: Blog about helpful topics that give people advice. Give them hints on how to improve their technique. If your blog doesn’t have helpful advice posts, no one will give a crap about it.
Marketer Two: Write about you, about your life, and make yourself seem more human so that people are interested in the fact that you are a real person. Showing people that you have a real personal life will make them more invested in your work. Don’t write negative reviews, though. In fact, don’t be negative at all.

Marketer One: Have a budget in which to spend on buying marketing tools and things such as ad space.
Marketer Two: Are you insane? You’re in the business to make some money, not throw it away when you could do it yourself! You can do it yourself… can’t you?

Marketer One: Spam your book title!
Marketer Two: Don’t do that! It makes you look like a robot and people will unfollow you faster than they can say STFU!

What’s most interesting is that many marketers believe mailing lists provide the best form of marketing overall. The problem, however, is that when trying to get an answer from anyone regarding what exactly to put in a mailing list, they just give me a half-assed “well you just have to do it” answer. Yeah, but how do I do it? What do you give people in a newsletter when you’re not important enough to have news? It’s a bit of a catch, isn’t it? If no one cares about you and your website in the first place, what’s going to make them join your mailing list?

Some say “give them something for free in return.” Okay, like what? I don’t have advice, because none of the advice provided for me does me any good. How can I tell them “sign up for some tips” if I have no tips? I’ve heard it might work to give people free samples of stories. If people cared about my stories, they’d be coming here already, wouldn’t they? Again, it’s a catch. You need a mailing list to hook people, but you need to hook people before starting a mailing list. What is one supposed to do when they have no idea what to do. Unfortunately, people have tales of their own misfortune, but their advice is for people already exceeding my own fame and fortune. “Go on radio shows,” I’ve heard. Why would anyone take a no-name author on their radio show? I need to be important first, but I can’t become important unless I do the show.

For an author, this is what it’s like to try to understand marketing. Okay, for an author like me. Some have it easy. They find their golden egg and milk it for all its worth. Some of us don’t have that golden egg. Some of us are just really, really bad at marketing ourselves. I can tell you a novel-length story about certain characters and the life they inhabit, but I have no idea how to tell you that book is worth reading. In my view, if it’s not a famous enough work, I don’t believe it’s good enough. People want to read popular things.

And so, I sit in the sandtrap, waiting to find my own egg. One of these days, it’ll pop out from under me in the form of giant flashing banners and desperation.

Just Married – Chainmaille Shop Re-opened!

I finally took the time necessary to get my business information sorted out. There are still more things that need to be done, more supplies to order, but in the meantime, my bracelets are back up for sale!

Check out my shop at: https://www.etsy.com/shop/thornmaille

As it says in the title, I just got married on the seventh. Naturally, I’ve been busy as hell with that, but now that things have settled down, I can get back to work. I’ve been actively writing, mostly working on the series I’d like to release, and plan to craft wedding rings for me and my mate 😀

Also in celebration of my marriage, I plan to soon do a promotion for my book. What kind of promotion? That depends on what I can afford at the time. It will likely be a promo for the Kindle edition, and I hope to do it within the next week. Stay tuned!

I’ve made another Captive Inverted Round Maille bracelet recently which I plan to post for sale. More news on that as it occurs.

I’ve had a growing interest in sculpting. I’d love to learn how to sculpt statues. Depending on my income, that will be the next thing I learn how to do.

Writing a Series

One of my favorite things I used to do with friends in the past was swap stories. I loved to create a scene, characters, and situation, and find out how they took it and put their own spin on it. It was also lots of fun to carry on a story they started, and to see their entertained reaction. It really allowed me to see how different everyone writes, and how they perceive you, your characters, and environment. It became so traditional with friends of mine to swap stories, that we started swapping them “in real time.” Instead of writing one large section and passing it to the other, we’d role play the actual events as they happened. It was an interesting experiment in developing story and characters, and sometimes, things would take quite the dramatic turn where you’d least expect it to, and you’d have to play along, and stay in character. It was like a form of acting, without really acting. It was all writing, and all intense.

But one thing that sometimes disappointed me was missing the opportunities to expand certain characters that never had their chance to shine or grow. Certain ones had the “spotlight” (admittedly not a fault of my own), and other ones were ancillary support of the main characters. It was, at times, a downer to sort of pack them away in a box and set them on a shelf, wondering what would have happened to them if I had let them evolve. Some of these characters I did expand, and others became something else entirely.

When I grew older, I remembered just how much I liked writing a series like that. It was a personal television show, without the show aspect involved, and developed exactly like a show would. Recently, I started to do just that, on my own, and created my own series.

This is, I’m afraid, not an easy task. With another person, they created (or in most cases, “recycled”) their own characters, and yours would interact with them. Having two people on a project was much simpler. However, there’s also less freedom. There are some situations I wouldn’t want my characters involved in because it didn’t suit them, or because it would wipe them off the pages forever, but try explaining that to someone who had an idea brewing for weeks to kill him or her off, or make them a plot device to give their own characters satisfaction. When on my own, that’s not a concern for me. I can develop story and characters at my own pace.

I’ve been planning to write the series in episodic form, perhaps have ten episodes per volume, or “season,” if you will. I was thinking of making them free to read, but Kindle won’t allow that. The minimum is ninety-nine cents. I suppose you could say that’s the new “free.” The main issue, however, is keeping it interesting. I treat my characters a certain way. I become more invested in specific ones than I do others. It’s a natural reaction. When I make characters that are major aspects of myself, I want to focus on them, of course. That’s what storytelling is for all of us. It’s finding that sweet spot with all of my characters that’s a challenge. Just like with real people, I might not give them a chance until it’s too late. Then, I’ll discover they aren’t so bad after all, and they become like a close friend. It’s just a matter of reaching out to them, putting their personality down for all to see, that can prove to be difficult at times, and others, almost impossible.

The series will revolve, mainly, around three men who live together, and who are also involved in a love triangle, which is led by a merciless, unforgiving perfectionist, who creates rules for his two confidantes to follow, or else face ludicrous punishments. It’s intended to be both very dramatic, and very comedic, though when hearing about it, it’s tough to find the humor in it. Their conflict has so far been very intriguing to write about, and incredibly fun, more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve gone so far as to write back stories for some of them, and even plan dramatic twists for later on in the series. It’s going to be named The Rules, and I’m going to be uploading sections of it onto DeviantArt and Wattpad, as well as releasing the full “episodes” on Kindle for as cheap as I can make them. It’ll be a fun an good way to gain an audience.

This also gives me something to work on aside from my novels. It allows me to go back and forth between them. It’s challenging for me to focus on one single project for a great length of time, because I get tired of things quickly. I need to have various tasks available to me, so I don’t become bored, and I don’t think I’ll ever become bored with these characters.

Unless, of course, I run out of ideas. Then where would I be?

The Importance of Storyboarding and Summaries

When I would write short stories and first drafts of books in the past, I would do so without first forming a summary, a basic storyboard telling the beginning, middle, and end. So often I ended up throwing away tons of stories and chunks of character development because it didn’t fit what I wanted to do, and wasn’t consistent with the book or story itself.

Then I learned that it turned out better when I wrote down the events in a quick summary from start to finish on how I wanted things to turn out before even attempting a first draft. I’ve found that not only does this help keep things in order, but it allows you to jot down ideas really quick that sound amazing in your head at the moment (that may or may not end up sounding ridiculous later on). If it ends up not working out for the story, you can trash the idea, and you didn’t end up wasting time writing it all out where it wouldn’t have fit anyway.

This is especially true for really long novels. I’ve been having ideas for a fantasy series for months now, and every time I think about it, it changes in structure, story, and characters. It develops into something larger and more accurate, as well as more interesting. I started a summary of it, and I’m glad I did, because even as I write it, I see that the series is constantly changing and transforming into something bigger than I ever expected, and I’ve created links to plot and characters that didn’t before exist. Sometimes, you need to get the most basic idea down on paper before jumping into the project. Yes, that does mean re-writes, and a lot of them, but I’d rather re-write something to make it perfect, then start all over from scratch again because the first idea simply didn’t work.

In other words, don’t rush your project. Give it, and its characters, time to grow on you. You’d be surprised as how many amazing ideas you can come up with if you spend plenty of time thinking it over and jotting everything down. Keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be in any particular order. They could just be random, scattered plot references that you may or may not use, but at least you’ll have remembered them if you decide to keep them. This also allows you to get rid of things that you couldn’t imagine a character doing, eliminating something that is uncharacteristic and doesn’t fit what’s going on. I’ve written entire first drafts where characters change personality at the drop of a hat, whether it’s because I was in a bad mood at the time, or they ended up becoming a plot device, and it didn’t sit well with me.

This also means that re-writes are inevitable, and not only are they inevitable, but they’re imperative. I’ve seen books released that look as though they never made it past the first draft. That shouldn’t happen. The story should mean something to you, and so should your readers and customers.

Practice it, and see how it turns out. You might find it much easier to tell the story when all said and done, whether you’re writing for Kindle, CreateSpace, or even just a little fanfiction.