The Author Helper & ReaderLinks

One of the first things you’ll notice as an indie author is that there are hundreds of people and businesses all vying with each other for your money. Ostensibly they will tell you how to tap into the gold mine that is indie publishing.

Some are legit and others are simply in it for the money, that is to take your money and put it in their pockets. Some are authors who have made it big and want to share the secrets of their success. A portion of those will only sell the info to you. Others will give you free info, as well as sell more in-depth information.

It’s a jungle out there and it’s only getting worse.

Today, I want to introduce you to two guys who are successful authors (that means they make money) AND are interested in sharing their knowledge.

The Author Helper

John Logsdon and Ben Zackheim are two guys who write fiction and also want to share what they know with the indie community.

I ran across their website, The Author Helper, when I took Mark Dawson’s Facebook Ads for Authors course last year. The website has good information. You should check it out at the above link.

I also joined The Author Helper Facebook group, which I encourage you to join because it is a great community with a number of successful indie authors as members. There’s nothing like being with successful people to show you that, yes, you too can be successful.

ReaderLinks

For the past several months I’ve been part of a beta group testing the replacement for the Author Helper plugin. The plugin was great, but had limitations due to the vagaries of WordPress. John and Ben decided the way to go was to build a website subscription service that offered all the advantages of the plugin plus so much more.

I count myself very fortunate to be part of the beta testing team and can tell you that this is one fabulous tool for authors to manage the business side of our little empires.

You need a Sales Tracker? ReaderLinks has it.

Do you want universal book links? ReaderLinks has it.

Need Tweet management and automation? ReaderLinks has it.

Want one place to display all of your books? ReaderLinks has it.

Street team management? ReaderLinks has it.

And that’s not all! There is much, much more. Head on over to the ReaderLinks website. Watch the video, and then subscribe. It’s launching soon. Get in on the ground floor. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

ReaderLinks and The Author Helper are valuable aids to help us promote our books and put money in our pockets.

Comments are always welcome, and until next time — happy reading!

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Book Review: A Quiet Life in the Country

Superb indie writers abound. Many readers complain about the indie revolution and all the crappy books out there. Granted, there are a lot of crappy books being published. But they aren’t all indie. A very sizable portion of them come from the corporate giants on their never-ending quest for the next blockbuster.

Some of the best books I’ve read this year and last year were written by indie authors. And some of the worst books I’ve read last year and this year were published by the big corporations. In this day and age, who publishes a book is no guarantee of the book’s quality.

Last week, I reviewed indie author Agatha Frost, who writes contemporary cozy mysteries. This week, I want to take a look at cozy author T. E. Kinsey, who started out going indie and then accepted a publishing deal from Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon imprint.

When I picked up a copy of A Quiet Life in the Country it was #1 on Amazon’s list of Bestselling Cozy Mysteries. That was on 2 July 17. As of yesterday (7 August), the book was #15. A long ride being in the top 20.

So what makes Kinsey’s 1908 aristocratic sleuth, Lady Hardcastle, so popular? To me the answer is simple: appealing characters, humor, and good storytelling.

The same combo that works for Agatha Frost, works for Mr Kinsey. In fact, it’s the same combo that pretty much works for every author or book I like.

The only downside to A Quiet Life In The Country is that the pacing tips towards the glacial. What saved the book for me was the humor. The jokes and puns and banter made the slow spots bearable.

The storyline is the same as in all mysteries. Lady Hardcastle and her servant, who is also her friend, have moved to the country after a life of adventure. And then they stumble across the body and then another.

Through a ruse they are allowed to work with the police detective. Eventually Lady Hardcastle and the detective solve the murders.

All pretty standard. Which is why character and humor are so important, as well as good storytelling — which turns the already familiar plot into something interesting.

Highly recommended! Get yourself a copy of A Quiet Life In The Country. You won’t be sorry.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The Actual Cost of Publishing A Book

So my writer and reader friends, how much do you think it costs to self-publish a book?

Some will tell you a couple thousand dollars. A well-known indie thriller writer, in his course for writers, said one could publish a book for $500 on a tight budget.

Chris Fox, on a podcast I recently listened to, said he spent $800 for a cover re-make as part of a series re-launch. Then, because he didn’t like it, paid another $1000 to get it “right”. And that was just the cover. No mention of any other fees.

The thing I’ve noticed with so much of the advice out there being offered to independent authors by other independent authors and so-called writing and publishing authorities is the amount of money I “must” spend when on even a tight budget just to publish my book.

Swinging Alexander’s sword at the Gordian Knot, I’m going to tell you the truth. The true and actual cost to self-publish a book is nothing. Nothing but time. In other words, if you are truly on a limited budget, you don’t have to spend one red cent to publish your book.

If you don’t have disposable income, you don’t have it. Writers such as Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, and Chris Fox all had, apparently, large amounts of disposable income to pour into their nascent self-publishing endeavors. Lucky them.

Let me repeat that. There are some writers who had upscale jobs or careers and large amounts of disposable income available to them when they started their writing careers. Money to spend on editing, covers, formatting, and the like. They are the fortunate ones. The ones with the silver spoons in their mouths.

There are many of us, perhaps most of us, who didn’t and still don’t have disposable income available to fund our publishing dreams to any large extent.

The writers mentioned above who are “killing it” also write to market — which is very important to keep in mind.  Because they have a greater chance of getting their money back.

Not all of us wish to do that. In other words, they write for money. Quite honestly, a memoir — no matter how well written and exciting — isn’t going to match up in the sales department with something like Michael Anderle’s Kurtherian Gambit urban fantasy/sci-fi novels.

On the flip side, there are writers who make a decent living from their writing who have never had a bestseller and who don’t hangout in the Amazon top 100 club.

But what one writes is another subject. The fact of the matter is this: you don’t have to spend anything to publish a book these days. No matter what you write.

Think of book publishing as though it were gambling. Because, quite honestly, any business is really a form of gambling and book publishing whether on the mega-corporate level or on the self-published level is not a whole lot different than a game of Texas Holdem.

So what does this mean for you, the independent author? Quite simply it means you have to decide how much you are willing to lose on any given book. Because, especially when starting out, you have no guarantee you will make any money.

Michael Anderle, in an interview, mentioned why he didn’t pay money for an editor to go over his first books. It was this: following the principal of MVP (the Minimally Viable Product) he didn’t want to spend more than he had to on a book when he had no idea if it would even sell. He let his readers tell him what was wrong and right with the books he was producing. And his reader’s did: good stories, lousy editing. So he fixed the editing.

Once you’ve decided how much you are willing to lose on a book, then you know how much you can spend on editing, proofreading, the cover, and formatting. Just like in a poker game. If you’ve decided you can afford to lose a thousand dollars on the luck of the cards, then that’s your limit. Because you have no idea if you will win anything at all.

Self-publishing is no different. It’s a business and you have to decide how much you can afford to lose should your product not sell. Any business that continues to pour money into a losing product is going to go broke. And in the book business the competition is fierce. I read a couple years ago that 3,000 books a day were being published. There are millions of books on Amazon. Who is going to see yours? But that’s a marketing question and not germane to the cost of producing your book. But just keep in mind, the competition.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t have to cost you anything to publish your book.

In the 3 years since I started this adventure, I have published 22 books. I came into self-publishing right when it was changing from the gold rush days to today’s highly competitive and fierce competition. Those days when all one had to do was write a series, make the first book permafree or 99¢, sit back, and enjoy the sales, to today’s super competitive environment where free books are more plentiful than gold ever was. Back then competition was slim. Today it is a whole different ball game.

I came into self-publishing with some knowledge, but was woefully ignorant in a lot of areas and I made lots of mistakes. Mistakes which I must now work with or work around. That said, I’ve spent nothing on editing or proofreading. I used free help and my own time. No one has ever taken me to task over bad editing. I spent nothing on my covers. Nor have I spent anything on formatting. Since I don’t have money, I have to spend my time.

So in 3 years how much money have I made? Not much. I don’t advertise except on social media (which I find to be mostly worthless), yet I sell an average of 9 to 10 books a month. Michael Anderle, who had a good paying job and a wife with a good paying job, spent money on Facebook ads almost right away and saw hundreds of dollars in sales per day. I don’t have $50/day to spend on Facebook advertising. Even $5/day would be stretching it.

For most of us, I think my experience is more the norm. Writers, most writers, don’t make money or a lot of money off of their writing. Unless they write to market and are prolific. And have money to start with.

The genres I write in are not barnburners either. Post-apocalyptic with no zombies. Traditional murder mysteries, not thrillers. Alt history/dieselpunk. Slow burn or whimsical horror. If I wanted to make piles of money, I’d write what is currently popular. Romance, paranormal anything, thrillers. Or erotica (sex sells, after all).

So I spent nothing on the actual production of my books because I didn’t have the money to spend. If I had spent the above mentioned $500 per book for a person on a tight budget, I’d be in the hole $11,000. In three years of self-publishing, I’ve made $600. Looking at those numbers, I’d say I’d have to declare bankruptcy.

However, any money I do make on my books is all profit. Because I have no debt in the product.

I saw on a Facebook forum that one writer of a general fiction novel scraped together $440 for an editor. On her first book. I feel sorry for her. She gave in to the current hype that one just has to have one’s book professionally edited. I hate to say it, but she will probably not see that $440. It’s gone. Because a general fiction book, according to all the experts, will not sell well in the indie world. The indie fiction world is genre driven. It’s like the old pulp fiction world of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. The keys to indie success are:

  • write in a popular genre, that is write to market
  • write in a series, because indie readers like series
  • write fast
  • publish often

The only exception to writing in series that I see is if one writes romance, erotica, or horror. And even romance and erotica often involve series characters or a common universe.

That writer with the general fiction book? IMO, the $440 spent on an editor was a waste. She did it because she felt it would be a learning experience for her. Perhaps. But you can either tell a story or you can’t. And if you can’t, no editor is going to help you with that unless they essentially become a co-author.

The only successful writer (defined by making a living from writing), I’ve run across who understands the money end of self-publishing is Patty Jansen, an Australian writer of sci-fi and fantasy.

She honestly states you don’t have to spend a dime on publishing your book. You can do quality yourself. The questions you have to ask yourself, though, are these: how much is my time worth, and will doing it myself take too much time away from my writing?

Those are very important questions to ask. For me, DIY does not take away from my writing. But it might for you. If that’s the case, then you need to look at how much you can afford to lose in order to protect your writing time. At least at the beginning of your career.

To repeat: how much does an independent author-publisher have to spend to self-publish a book? Nothing. You don’t have to spend one red cent.

However, you might want to pay for some services to protect your writing time. Always keeping in mind how much you’re willing to lose on the book and not succumb to temptation to go over that.

If you are an indie author and one who isn’t writing in the most popular of genres, then I think you need to be careful as to how much money you put into your books. Tom Huff wrote spy novels under his own name and sold few. Under a slew of female pen names he wrote romance. As Jennifer Wilde, he tore  up the sheets with his bodice rippers.

My point here is this: if you write what you love, you might not make any money from it. That is a fact of life. So invest your precious dollars carefully. If you write to market, that is you write in the most popular genres and cater to all the whims of marketing to the readers of that genre, you might make a lot of money. In which case, the risk to put more money into your book might be worth it. But do remember, Michael Anderle and TS Paul just wrote their books and threw them out there. And they are laughing all the way to the bank. Only now are they going back and fixing their lack of editing. (Which in my opinion they could have largely fixed by being just a touch slower to market in order to read through their typescript at least once out loud.)

Self-publishing is gambling. If you keep that in mind, you’ll protect your money and spend it wisely.

If you are an indie author, I hope this and my previous two posts have been of benefit. If you’re a reader, I hope these posts have given you a better understanding of the ins and outs of self-publishing. Next week, I’ll be off on some other tangent.

As always, I appreciate your comments and insights. Until next time, happy [indie] reading!

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The Parasitic Middleman

During a Gold Rush, Sell Shovels.

In 1848, Samuel Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco with a glass bottle filled with gold dust, yelling gold had been discovered out at Sutter’s Mill.

He is generally credited with starting the California Gold Rush. And became California’s first millionaire. Yet he never panned or mined for gold.

A few days prior to his hype with the bottle of gold, having learned gold had indeed been discovered by the American River, he’d bought every pickax, pan, and shovel he could find. In nine weeks, by selling his goods at exorbitant prices, he made $36,000. That’s equivalent to the economic status 18.5 million dollars would bring someone today.

Many icons of American business got rich in the Gold Rush and never touched any gold, except to take it from the miners.

Levi Strauss had a dry goods business by which he did quite well for himself. He also sold miners the forerunners of what became Levi jeans. He eventually left California, went home, and became exceedingly wealthy selling jeans.

Phillip Armour opened a meat market in Placerville, then took his profits back to Chicago and founded Armour Meats. And increased his wealth many times over.

John Studebaker sold wagons, made money, and returned home to make wagons for pioneers and later on Studebaker automobiles. I remember those cars and I still love them.

Henry Wells and William Fargo started a bank for miners, at least the ones who made some money. Today, Wells Fargo is a leading American bank.

During the California Gold Rush, the middleman, the merchant, the one who offered services, that’s the person who really made the money. Not the prospectors.

Fast forward to today and a different kind of Gold Rush. The indie author/publisher revolution. There are thousands of writers and hopefuls and wannabes all clamoring for the dream of writing and publishing the Great American Novel. That one book that will let them quit the day job and retire to the Bahamas.

Sounds a little bit like the Gold Rush, doesn’t it?

Today’s indie authors are the prospectors and an army of service providers are making money hand over fist off of these poor and sometimes naïve dreamers.

So who are these service providers who’ve convinced so many, many writers they can’t live without their services? Let’s name a few of them.

Sellers of Writing Software Programs. Seriously? I need software to write my book? Whatever happened to pencil and paper? Or the keyboard and the word processing program on my computer?

Now I’m not going to say Dragon, Story Mill, Easy Writer, or Story Weaver can’t help you write. But before you spend money, maybe money you don’t really have, ask yourself if you really need a software programmer and his toy to help you write your book. Just think of the thousands of writers before you who didn’t use such programs and got along just fine. Some using an ink pot and a steel dip pen or a quill even. Maybe you can too.

Grammar, Spelling, and Editing Software. I see some value to this. But honestly, can’t people do a better job? Give me one serious beta reader with an ear for cadence and a knowledge of grammar and who can spell. I’ll pit that person against an army of programmers and software running simply on rules.

Formatting Services. When I started in the indie writing business. I’ll admit I was loathe to spend money. First off, I’m not rich. Secondly, I already had the California Gold Rush scenario in the back of my mind. So I spent $25 for Legend Maker to make my ebooks. It’s a simple program and requires only simple formatting of my typescript. In less than an hour I can format my text and in less then 10 seconds get an epub and mobi file. Now if I had to pay a formatter for my 20 books… Hm, probably a lot more than $25.

Cover Artists. Yes, we all need covers. But seriously, have you taken a look at indie book covers lately? They are so genre similar, they all look just the same. Like the ticky-tacky houses and people in Malvina Reynolds’s song “Little Boxes”. It is no wonder Mark Dawson’s readers said the incentive to buy his books didn’t come from the covers — but from the blurb! By a 5 to 1 margin! The lesson here is simple: don’t spend big bucks on a cover. Spend time crafting your blurb.

Professional Editors. Recently I’ve heard all manner of arguments as to why I need a professional editor to edit my book. It’s as though the editor is going to teach me how to be a better writer. But editors aren’t writers. They’re essentially critics. They served a need for traditional publishing to make sure a manuscript, if accepted, was salable. In other words, that it met the publishing house’s criteria for salability.

Which means, an editor is not primarily a teacher of writing — but a fixer for the publisher.

Now I’m not saying an editor can’t be helpful. But if you need a content editor to massage your manuscript into something that is genre and reader acceptable, maybe what you really need is time spent learning the craft of writing.

Stephen King shows us the path to becoming a writer: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t see the word editor anywhere in there.

The indie movement is direct from writer to reader. The reader will tell you what he or she likes. So recruit them to be your “editors”. Not some academic or someone the Big 5 laid off. Trust your readers. If they don’t like your book, no amount of work from an editor is going to help it.

And I can’t see spending money on a line editor. Find a beta who will do that for you. Preferably someone older who knows how to spell.

We indies broke free from the tyranny of the corporate publisher. Why do we want to saddle ourselves with all the crap the corporations imposed on us? Makes no sense to me.

Review Services. Kirkus is making money off indies to the tune of $500 per review. Wow. That’s incredible. So are outfits like Reader’s Favorites. Pay them money and get a review. They won’t guarantee a 5 star review. But honestly, you think they want to give less than 5 stars and have disgruntled writers bad mouthing them?

I’m not saying these services can’t help sell books. But are they truly any different than the now discredited practice of buying 5 star reviews? Organic and honest reviews by readers are what really sink or float a book. And to get them takes time.

Discount Book Marketers. These outfits are more prolific than mushrooms after a rain. For a fee, they will tweet your book and post about it on Facebook and send it out to their mailing list (along with scores of other books). The problem I see with these outfits is that they encourage indies to constantly offer their books for free or 99¢. And in the long run that trains readers to expect from indies nothing but free or 99¢ books. Very bad for business that mindset.

I’ve come back to the position that if I don’t value my work, who will? If I offer everything I write on the cheap, what does that tell readers? If I barrage my mailing list with free offer after free offer, how can I expect them to buy my books? I’m competing with myself by offering them free books! Not a good business practice at all. Save your money and stay away from these folks. This writing business is really about building a reader base. Not selling books.

Writing Courses. Writing courses have been offered since ever. Everyone who thinks he or she can write has at one time offered one. There are good courses and bad courses. Just like everything else.

However, I do think you are better off taking a good writing course than resorting to an editor for every book you write. Learn the craft of writing. If you don’t know the basics of storytelling, a writing course can help you with that. And that’s about all it can do. The rest of it is back to Stephen King. Read lots. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like about what you read. And write lots. Putting into practice what you’ve learned from reading.

Writing is hard work. Fun work, but hard work. Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It takes time to develop the craft. A potter doesn’t throw a perfect pot the first time on the wheel. Take the time to learn the craft.

Marketing Courses. These are legion now. Many, many successful indies are putting together courses to teach their fellows the path to success. And charging big bucks to do so. And, as with anything else, some are good and some are bad.

One so called expert got her claim to fame by being a New York Times bestseller. The problem is, the book that did it for her was in a multi-author box set and her name wasn’t even in the advertising! Cheating if you ask me. Yet, she is a respected expert on marketing. Go figure.

Another novelist wrote a few books that apparently sold well or made number one on some list. Now he no longer writes fiction, just sells his course on fiction writing success. Ugh.

So be careful. Vet the person you are going to take a course from or buy books from or get advice from.

The best advice for the money I’ve gotten to date was free. A blogpost by Australian indie novelist Patty Jansen. Wish I’d had that information 3 years ago. You can read it here.

Not everything that shines is gold. Not everything of value costs big bucks, although sometimes you do get what you pay for. We indies are the prospectors. So remember this: the worst time to buy a shovel is on your way to the gold field. Get it before you leave home and take it with you.

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Professional Editing — Is It Necessary?

From the New Yorker on Charles Dickens’s 200th Birthday

Is professional editing necessary? The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe.

But before we get into this subject, we need to define what is meant by “professional editing” and what is meant by “necessary”.

What is Professional Editing?

A professional is one who does something for a living. An editor, in our context, is a person who “corrects” a typescript for a novel or story.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of editors: content editors and line editors, or proofreaders.

Content editors edit a book’s content. They look for continuity issues, plot holes, structure issues, character defects, and the like. This is high level editing.

Line editors, or proofreaders, look for typos, misspellings, grammar issues, punctuation problems, and the like.

The purpose of an editor is to alert the author to problems with the book so the author can fix them and supposedly improve the book. However, a professional editor isn’t the only person who can do this. As we’ll see.

Necessary

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, defines necessary, in our context, as something “that must be done; mandatory; not voluntary; required.”

Is an indie author required to use the services of a professional editor? Obviously not, since they are voluntarily hired in the first place. Therefore a professional editor is not necessary. Is one recommended? Maybe.

The Problem with Editors

The problem with editors is the same problem with any professional: they’re human. They’re people like you and me and that’s the problem with them.

Professionals charge money for their services — but in the end can really guarantee nothing. When I hire an editor, I’m simply hiring one person’s opinion. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This goes for any professional. Whether your doctor or your mechanic. We all know there are doctors who make bad decisions (I was the victim of one) and mechanics who are unscrupulous. We who are the non-professional need to be as informed as possible, so we aren’t taken for a ride.

Every editor I know, puts his or her pants on the same way I do. Sure he or she may have gone to school to learn the craft of writing. But I know of few editors who make a successful living from writing fiction. If they can’t make a living from writing fiction, then how valuable is their advice?

“But so-and-so — an award winning author — has John Doe for an editor. So John Doe must be good.” That’s assuming the writer’s success can be directly attributed to the editor. And if it can, then I question the writer’s ability to write. If a writer can’t succeed without an editor, then in effect the editor has become a co-author.

At the end of the day a professional editor has biases, prejudices, agendas (just like everyone else) that have nothing to do with my writing or me as an author. Yet those biases, prejudices, and agendas can adversely affect me as author.

The Problem with Writers

We writers, as many in the creative arts, are plagued with a host of self-defeating problems. They seem to go with the territory. I know I’ve had my share. Here are a few:

  • Insecurity issues
  • Inferiority complex
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • The need of approval by others and from those in authority

These problems open writers up to be easy marks for the unscrupulous.

Writers fall victim to people who provide them with approval. Writers who seek approval from authority figures lose their sense of self.

I think that’s one reason why we still have traditional publishing today. Because the insecure writers need to get “approval” from the “authorities” in order to shore up their self-esteem. Getting a publishing contract makes them feel worthy. And let’s them look down their noses at the indie author “who just couldn’t make it”.

Traditional publishing is an ego trip. My agent. My editor. My publisher. And many writers want that ego drug.

And many indie authors seek the same high. “I couldn’t have done it without my editor.” Or my cover artist. Or my formatter. Or what have you. These people sound just like their traditionally published counterparts.

The point of being an indie is independence. Freedom from all that crap. The indie movement is about the producer marketing directly to consumer. Cutting out the middleman. Kind of like the farmer’s market versus the grocery store.

Solution

Are indie authors therefore free from the task of editing? Heavens no! Not if they’re concerned about putting out a quality product. The question is, do they need to hire a professional editor? And the answer is, no they don’t.

If a writer knows how to tell a good story, there is little need for a high-level edit. The content editor has little to offer. If a writer is concerned about the craft of storytelling and is in the lifelong process of honing his or her craft, then a content editor will have little to offer.

Now that same writer might benefit from a proofreader. But one doesn’t need to hire a line editor to get those services.

If a writer is not very good at telling a story, then a high-level edit may be of great help. But what may be of even greater help is simply more writing. If you’re going to an auto mechanic, do you want the one who is fresh out of school with little to no experience? Or do you want the guy who’s been doing it for 20 years?

It’s the same with writing. Practice makes perfect. It’s why Edgar Rice Burroughs advised writers to write lots. One story has little chance of getting published (in a magazine). But write a hundred and one or more will probably be accepted.

Robert Heinlein’s Five Rules of Writing operate on the same principle: lots of writing and the constant submission to market of that writing.

Writers can only improve their writing by writing. No amount of academic learning or professional editing can improve a writer’s work. Bad writing can’t be edited into good writing. It’s just well edited bad writing.

The first novel I wrote, Festival of Death, way back in 1989, was not ready for publication when I finished writing it. I was honest with myself. I read the manuscript and it just did not compare with the novels I was reading. I put it away, also realizing I didn’t have the stuff to rewrite it and make it better. Twenty-five years later, I had that stuff, rewrote it, and was pleased with the finished product. I didn’t need an editor to tell me all that. In the interim I did lots of writing. I gained confidence. I became a better writer.

We writers don’t need to spend any money to edit our own work. There are many tools available to help us and even without all those tools, there are people who won’t charge anything to proof our work and offer constructive suggestions for improvement. And I heartily recommend the people approach.

Here are a few suggestions based on my own practice:

  • Read your story with a critical eye. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes.
  • If your characters don’t make you laugh or cry, they won’t make the reader laugh or cry.
  • Read your story aloud for flow. It’s a great way to catch clunky sentences and sections that are confusing.
  • Have the computer read to you while you follow along. The computer reads exactly what’s there. A great way to catch typos and misspellings.
  • Have someone read the text to you. This combines reading the story aloud and having the computer read to you — with the added advantage of the reader being a human other than you.
  • Use the spell checker and grammar checker in your word processing program or something like Hemingway or Grammarly.
  • Use good beta readers to catch issues you didn’t catch. A good beta reader is worth his or her weight in gold. What is a good beta? One who likes your genre and ideally your writing, who has a good understanding of what makes a story work, is someone you can trust will be honest with you, understands grammar, and knows how to spell. These people exist. Go find them.

That’s all you need, and none of it costs money. Unless you choose to buy some editing software — which isn’t at all necessary. But a nice little luxury.

One other caveat: don’t be in a rush to publish. We’re indie authors. We set our own schedules. There’s no one to tell us what to do except ourselves.

We indie authors are independent authors. Don’t become a victim of the Should Mentality or the You Have To Mentality.

We write for readers, not editors.

Enjoy your freedom from the man. I do.

Comments are always welcome. Tell me what you think. And until next time, happy reading!

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The Free Book Glut

Announcing all the free books in the latest author newsletter.

Free books are everywhere on the internet. The independent author-publishers are glutting the market with freebies. Why? Because writers are glutting the market with themselves and in the heat of competition to be seen, they’re giving away the store.

Now don’t get me wrong. I welcome the new technology that enables anyone who has a book inside him or her to publish that book once it’s been written. After all, this is the age of social media and books are a form of social media. They convey thoughts, feelings, imaginings, dreams, and hopes. And today’s technology makes it all that much easier for a writer and his or her audience to interact with each other. And I think that is a good thing.

What I am beginning to have a problem with, however, is the current mania of giving away books to try to secure an audience. I can’t help but think the practice is going to have long term detrimental effects on the indie movement. Here are some concerns:

  • The devaluing of books and thereby the writer’s craft. After all, if a book is free it can’t have much value — can it? And if a writer gives away his or her work, he or she can’t think much of it — can they?
  • The creation of the expectation that indie books should be free. Because, after all, the big corporate publishers don’t give anything away for free.
  • Glutting the market with more books than readers can possibly read. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much!
  • The self-delusion of writers, who are not very good, into thinking if they give enough away somebody will read their work. When in truth, they should find a different hobby or occupation. One they are much better suited at.
  • Writers deluding themselves into thinking if they give enough books away, people will love their work and buy their other books so the writer can live his or her dream and quit the 9 to 5.

The latter two points above not much can be done with. Those fall under the umbrella of self-realization. Unfortunately, even bad writers can become popular — which only fuels the problem.

Nevertheless, the first three points we writers, as a collective, can do something about.

I ran across an interesting article with comments on the subject of book giveaways the other day. Here’s the link so you can read for yourselves: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/opinion-why-indie-authors-shouldnt-give-away-free-books/

When I first started self-publishing, the debate among indies was permafree or 99¢ for the series starter. Back before 2014 I think permafree made sense as there were not so many indie authors and free actually got traction. Even so, I said there was no way I was going to give my book away for free. The Big 5 don’t do it — why should I?

Then the tsunami hit. Starting in 2014, indie authors began coming out of the walls, the woodwork, the light socket, you name it. Indie authors were everywhere. To get traction, book services began springing up overnight offering to promote their books — if it was free or 99¢ — on Twitter, Facebook, and to their mailing lists. Of course, the services weren’t free. An author had to pay for those. Pay to give away books. Hm.

Yet, I could see a certain logic in the giveaway mania that was developing. The free first book in a series was a sample of good things to come. Give away the first book and build your mailing list and reap the harvest of good things. And that has worked for some.

However, seeing the glut of indie authors and the many, many hundreds, if not thousands, of books being given away for free — I’ve started re-thinking the free strategy.

For myself, I have to admit I’ve read few of the free books I’ve downloaded. That doesn’t mean I won’t read them at some point in time because I might. But I’m not reading them now. And of course that’s what all of those authors want me to do. Read their books now and buy all of their other books. Sorry folks. It ain’t happening.

Why? Several reasons:

  • Some simply can’t write.
  • For others, the style puts me off.
  • Some are okay, good even, but the price of the other books is too high. The writing isn’t good enough for me to spend that much money.
  • Some don’t have any books to follow up with from their freebie. So why offer the first book free?
  • I have over a thousand books on my iPad. And more on my computer. Most are free. Most are classics. That’s a lot of very good stuff to read. The freebie offerers are competing with thousands of good books no longer in copyright and available for free.
  • My time is limited. I write and I read. I read what my contemporaries write to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on. But my contemporaries have a lot of competition.

So if I, as an author and a reader, am not reading in any great number the free books I download — why should I expect people to read mine? That is a very good question. And my conclusion is that of the 1000+ copies of my books that I’ve given away, probably few have been read. I’ve garnered a few reviews, so I know at least 5 of those freebies were read. For which I’m very grateful and thankful.

As a strategy, giving away a free book in the traditional private detective mystery genre to drum up sales of my series and build an active and supportive mailing list doesn’t seem to be working all that well. I think I have a few fans developing and I’m very pleased. But nowhere near a thousand.

Granted, there may be things I need to be doing that I’m not to turn those folks on my mailing list into rabid fans. And in fact I know there are because I’m learning more and more on the business end each day. Hopefully in time I will turn my mailing list into that group of rabid fans.

My goal, though, is not to become a bestselling author. My goal is to build a sustainable and dependable income from my writing. I don’t need fame and glory. If it comes, wonderful. But I don’t need it. I’m not sure I even want it.

So I’ve been rethinking the free book strategy. And I’ve decided that I’m going to move away from it. In the long run, I think giving away books cheapens them. Makes them less important. It develops an expectation on the part of readers that indie authors should give away their books for free. And I don’t want to be part of that — because it’s self-destructive. Writers lose and readers lose.

Writers lose because if an author can’t make money to at least cover his or her costs, that writer will stop writing.

Readers lose because the vast choice currently before them will go away. And once again readers will be at the mercy of corporate giants deciding what they should read. And who wants that?

Readers will lose again because the cheap books will go away and the mega-priced big corporate offerings will remain. I mean $15 for an ebook? Seriously?

The glut of free books may satiate readers and may even turn them off from reading. And who wants that?

My new strategy is a modification of the free book approach. It’s the sampler.

On Saturday morning, when I go into the grocery store, there are all manner of nice ladies wanting to give me samples. Cheese, meat, dips, spreads, crackers, you name it. They don’t give me the whole product. Just a sample. If I like the sample, I’ll probably buy whatever it is to give it a further test drive at home.

When I buy a car, I get a test drive. A sample of the driving experience in that car. No car dealer gives away a free car. If I like the drive, I have to buy. So why not apply that to my books, which I worked very hard at producing?

That’s my new approach. Give a sample of my writing and hopefully whet their appetite for more. Give them the invite to buy. Because we almost always value what we buy more than what we get for free.

In the process, I also hope to weed out the freebie grabbers. Those readers who’ve grown fat on freebies and expect indies to give them more and more and more.

If a freebie grabber does snap up my sampler, at least they won’t have the entire book. Just a few chapters, that they probably won’t read anyway. If they do, they’ll have to pay to read the rest of the story.

So that’s the circle I’ve traveled. No free books to free books to no free books. Just a delicious tidbit. That test drive to hopefully get folks to buy.

After all, I’m a business and no business stays in business by giving away the store.

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The New Pulp Era

 

Are indie authors the pulp fiction writers of the 21st century?

That question came to me in response to a comment JazzFeathers made on my May 2nd post about indie author TS Paul. She wrote that it seemed to her the indie movement is “a new incarnation of the pulp magazines”. I think she’s on the money.

Before I start, let me emphasize that as a reader I find that most authors, the vast majority of authors, are average. They tell a decent story and that’s about it. It doesn’t matter if the author is published by the Big 5, small press, or is self-published.

We readers, I think, operate under the delusion that the big corporate publishers publish only good books. However, that’s not so. Why? Because most authors in their catalogs are mid-listers. Which means the publisher is taking a gamble on them that they might, possibly, maybe make a buck for the publisher. Most don’t and the publisher is not shy about giving those authors the boot.

The big corporate publishers are ruthless. The bottom line is king. Money, money, money.

The pulp era was a golden age for readers and writers. The pulp magazines were cheap entertainment and they proliferated like mushrooms after a rain. And every wannabe writer rose to the challenge to provide the magazines with stories.

We remember the giants. The Lovecrafts, the Howards, the Blochs. We’ve forgotten such as Seabury Quinn, Donald Wandrei, Frank Gruber, Carl Jacobi, Manley Wade Wellman, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman. And the list of the forgotten would go on for far too many pages.

But we don’t even have to go back as far as the pulp era to find forgotten authors. Who today reads E.M. Delafield, or Shirley Jackson, Pearl S Buck, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar, Jay Flynn, or Cornell Woolrich? None of them are bad. They’re just mostly forgotten.

Most writers are average; and, dare I say, mediocre? But that doesn’t mean they can’t deliver a decent and entertaining story. I still remember Stanton A. Coblentz’s Hidden World 45 years after reading it. I still remember Men, Martians, and Machines by Eric Frank Russell — a book I read in elementary school 50+ years ago. They still have a hold on my memory.

Today’s indie authors are the reincarnation of the pulp era writer. They write fast, publish often, and don’t care about perfection. Why not perfection? First, it doesn’t exist; second, it gets in the way of producing lots of decent work; and third, it gets in the way of making a buck. Indie authors are writing to make money. Just like Shakespeare. Although few authors anywhere reach the lofty heights of The Bard.

From a reader’s perspective, a writer’s being average isn’t bad. Those average writers produce the bulk of the fiction we read. If the book is decent, then we feel satisfied. I mean, how many movies or TV shows are stellar? Most are ho-hum to average. And a great many, let’s face it, suck.

As a reader, I love the indie revolution. I’ve discovered great writers out there. And I dare say not a single corporate publisher would have gambled on any of them. I’ve also discovered writers who didn’t inspire me and who I won’t buy anymore books from. The market does tend to weed out the chaff.

Conversely, I’ve gotten sick of being taken for a ride by the corporate giants. I won’t read anymore Lee Child. Uninspired and boring. The same for the Quiller novels. The first couple were okay. After that they’re all the same. I’m finished with Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Cara Black, and Sue Grafton. They started out great and quickly went downhill. The books are simply too expensive for the little they deliver.

This is a great time to be a reader. I love it. There are so many good books out there. Many of them quite cheap, making for satisfyingly inexpensive entertainment.

Instead of TV or the movies, read a book with your family, spouse, partner, kids, or a friend. Books truly are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

Oh, here is the link to Cinder — it is a #mustread!!

 

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Why Read Indie?

Why read indie, indeed? Aren’t self-published authors losers who couldn’t get a big publisher contract? Won’t I get a better book from a mainstream big corporate publisher?

As a reader, I can say one thing for sure: you’ll pay more money for the book you’re buying from the big corporations. And that is about it.

A few days ago, Jack Tyler posted on the Facebook public group, The Steampunk Dominion, his thoughts on the subject. Before we go any further, let me give you Jack’s post in its entirety:

WHY INDIES?

A simple question. Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list? For a very good reason. Originality.

What was the last original movie you saw? Can’t think of one? That’s because no one is making them anymore. That’s why we’re inundated with remakes of old movies, re-envisionings of old TV shows, old, popular books “brought to life” by the “magic of Hollywood,” episode CCXLVII of the big Space Saga. No one will take a chance anymore that something, God forbid, might not rake in a billion dollars a day.

Books have gone down the same path. Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing. Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn’t follow Lord of the Rings to the letter? How many versions of Twilight can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them? You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I’m going to tell you where to find them.

In the files of independent authors. While traditional publishers cling to the center of Writingtown, searching the carefully tended lawns for the next retelling of a tired old tale, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told. These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you’ll remember long after the last elf/dwarf/human/orc slashfest is in the landfill and long forgotten. These are the heirs to the tradition of storytelling.

Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model. Some have gone indie because we didn’t want to get involved with the “you do the work, and we’ll keep the money” policy of the big publishers. Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common: We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.

We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, “Enough of this! I’m sticking to the Big Five from now on.” That’s your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.

We all try new products every day. Whether it’s a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn’t do what the advertisement said it would. But do we then say, “I’m never wearing makeup again!” Of course we don’t. We learn to be more careful consumers. There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names. Again, that’s your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list. How do you find quality indies? Amazon.com is a huge help. Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools. Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren’t too many of them. A low rating isn’t a deal-breaker either, unless that’s all there are, but ratings can help. Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the “Look Inside” feature. Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can’t write, you won’t need more than a paragraph to determine that. Then, of course, there’s the tried and true method, word of mouth. If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look. You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers. So, come on out to the fringe; we’re waiting to welcome you.

As a reader of my fellow indie authors, I have to largely agree with Jack. Self-published authors, or Author-Publishers as I like to call them, can write and publish works no major or even small press would touch. Not because of quality, but because the publishers aren’t risk takers, or they have no idea how to market the book.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t indies who ride the current waves, for there are and their name is Legion. They are also the ones, who tend not to be very good.

Several of my current favorite authors are indies and I look forward to their new releases, because I know I’ll get a good read. One that will be entertaining, fresh, thought-provoking, and stimulating.

As a reader, I’ve been disappointed by too many big corporate-published authors. A writer who perhaps starts out promising and then fizzles by book three. Or a writer who never really starts out at all and I close the book only partly read and ask, “Why the heck did they publish this?”

By way of example: I love the TV series Midsomer Murders (well, until John Nettles retired). So I bought the first three books of the series on which the TV show was based. Carolyn Graham’s first book was great. The second book was so boring I put it down with only a quarter of it read. I loved the TV episode, though, which was based on the book.

Another example is Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. I stopped reading when Aimee Leduc (the detective) just so happens to have a neo-nazi outfit in her closet to wear when she tries to infiltrate a neo-nazi group in Paris and the group readily accepts her! Obviously Ms Black has no concept of how closed extremist groups are, and we all have neo-nazi outfits in our closet just in case we might need them. Right? Sheesh.

Yet, the Big 5 accepted Death of a Hollow Man (as boring as it is) and Murder in the Marais (as preposterous as it is) and published them. Why? Because they are easy to market. The fit conveniently on the bookstore shelf.

One more example. I love SJ Rozan’s private detective Lydia Chin. I’m less enthralled with her PI Bill Smith. The Chin books are fresh and interesting. The Smith books are typical and I’d even have to say average PI fare. Yet which books garnered the awards? Why the Bill Smith books, of course. Go figure. Not even the award givers want to go out on a limb!

I know readers frequently bash indies for typos. But seriously? Have they read current Big 5 books? Typos abound! And we get to pay big bucks for the privilege to read them!

Good indie books are out there in abundance. And they are very often at least half the price of the books put out by the Big Boys.

Take Jack’s suggestions and go hunting. A few of my favorite authors are J. Evan Stuart, Steve Bargdill, Chad Muller/CM Muller, Janice Croom, Ben Willoughby, Crispian Thurlborn, Erik Ga Bean (he’s not on Amazon), Renee Pawlish, and Sophia Martin (her Raud Grima series). And there are more!

Jack Tyler makes a great case for readers to venture outside of our little boxes and to read books written by indie authors. Independent author-publishers. The writers who are responsible only to themselves and their readers. Instead of the corporate bottom line.

You can find Jack’s series Beyond the Rails on Amazon. Here are links:

Beyond the Rails

Beyond the Rails II

Beyond the Rails III

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, Happy Reading!

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Writer TS Paul – Does He Really Break The Rules?

This past Friday, I listened to Mark Dawson’s podcast which was an interview with indie sci-fi and paranormal writer TS Paul. You can catch the podcast on the SPF website and I’d encourage you to listen to it.

The initial hype was that Paul is a short story writer who’s crushing it with sales. Sorry, folks, that’s false advertising. Paul primarily writes sci-fi novellas and shorter paranormal novels. The visions of waltzing to the bank on my short stories quickly vanished.

The interview then went on to show all the things Paul did that were “wrong” and yet he still managed to reach a point where he’s seeing a half-million a year in sales.

Obviously, TS Paul is doing something right. So what is it?

Last week I wrote about The Writer’s Magic Marketing Machine and presented indie sci-fi and fantasy author Patty Jansen’s road map to success. Very simply, it is:

  • Write well
  • Write lots
  • Write in series
  • Publish often
  • Build a mailing list

As I noted last week, this is standard indie advice. Virtually all the successful indie authors do the 5 points above.

Dawson and his cohort, James Blatch, were dumbfounded by Paul’s success. They couldn’t explain it. On reflection, I think Paul’s success is very easy to understand — and, in fact, I’d say he’s doing most everything right.

First of all, TS Paul writes lots. A short story a week and 31 books in a couple years. Writing lots is crucial for every indie author who even hopes of being successful. It’s the key to not being forgotten.

Secondly, he writes in series. This is also critical for indie authors. Because indie readers are series readers.

Third, he publishes frequently. Publishing often keeps your name in front of readers and helps to pump up the Amazon algorithms.

Fourthly, he knows his audience. He targets the YA crowd. There is no sex or bad language in his books and the covers appeal to the eye of a young audience. I’d also hazard a guess that the shorter lengths of his books appeals to the YA folk, who primarily read on their phones.

So what does he do that is actually controversial? In the big picture, not much. He doesn’t believe in freebies. So he doesn’t give away his books. But he’s not the only writer in that camp.

He doesn’t do a lot of advertising, although he does more now than when he first began. About a $1000/month on Facebook.

He doesn’t have a mailing list. However, he’s not alone here either. What he does have is an active blog and Facebook page. Effectively, they are taking the place of a mailing list. Through his blog and Facebook page he keeps in touch with his readers and lets them know of new books.

The most controversial thing, in my opinion, about Mr Paul is his cavalier attitude towards the quality of his writing and the physical product.

He doesn’t give a fig about typos or bad grammar or lousy formatting. He says so in the interview. And the critical reviews testify to his devil may care attitude. It also appears his writing style is not all that stellar, according to the reviews.

I noticed in looking at his offerings, quite a few book blurbs note the book is newly re-edited and formatted. So maybe Mr Paul cares more about what readers think than he’s willing to admit.

The mystery for me is how a brand new nobody writer can go from $150/month in sales to over a $1000/month in the span of a few months — with no advertising. Paul didn’t say. Blatch didn’t ask. Too bad.

Based on what Mr Paul did say, my thought is that his friend, the popular author Michael Anderle, who encouraged Mr Paul to start writing in the first place, gave him a boost. Just a guess, but if correct it shows that who you know is still a very powerful means to success.

The bottom line is, TS Paul is doing everything he should be doing — except writing well and producing a quality product. But in spite of all the criticism he’s received, and there is a lot on Amazon, he’s laughing his way to the bank.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Spice In The Writer’s Life

Today, the Big 5 Publishers want writers to write one thing. If I write private detective murder mysteries, that’s all the Big 5 want me to write. Why? Because they want a known commodity in their stable. Especially if my mysteries sell.

For a very long time now, writers have gotten around that particular publisher restriction by using pen names. Or by going to a different publisher. Although as publishing houses merge, that option is vanishing.

Of course, the independent author/publisher has no such constraints and can publish whatever he or she wants. Although “conventional” wisdom argues that it’s easier to create a “brand” if one publishes only in one genre. I think branding is hogwash, but that’s a subject for another post.

The question is are there multi-genre authors? And the answer is a resounding — YES! In fact, there have pretty much always been multi-genre authors.

Who are some of these writers? Let’s name a few:

H.G. Wells, Georgette Heyer, Iain [M] Banks, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ken Follett, Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Arthur Ransome, Isaac Asimov, Dan Simmons, Anthony Trollope, Doris Lessing, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, John Updike, Walter Tevis, Jerome Charyn, Ardath Mayhar, Lucius Annaeus Seneca

And the list goes on.

So why do writers write in more than one genre? I can only answer for myself. The reason I write in more than one genre is so that I don’t get bored.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. It shakes things up, it broadens our horizons, gives us a larger perspective on life.

I have a wide range of interests. My reading reflects that range and I talked about that last week. And so does my writing. Because I basically write what I like to read.

Currently, I write private detective mysteries, post-apocalyptic fiction, dieselpunk alternative history action/adventure, and horror (both psychological and supernatural). In the future, I have plans for writing space opera, historical science fiction novels, cozy mysteries, fantasy, and non-fiction, as well as more of the above.

Of course the rub comes when we talk about marketing, because not all readers are the same. Some just devour romances, or mysteries, or mainstream novels. Others do read more than one genre. So with readers having their expectations and writers wanting to do their thing, what’s the answer?

For myself, I have to write what I’m interested in and what I like to read. I also have to take into consideration that I rapidly lose interest if I have to do the same thing over and over again. I love Tina and Harry in the Justinia Wright mystery series, but if I only wrote about them I’d soon get bored.

And then there is the idea machine. It never stops and is constantly stimulated by everything going on around me. Just the other day, while preparing lunch, I got an idea for a post-apocalyptic novel and a forbidden love novel. That happens all the time. Do I throw those ideas away? No. I save them and often sketch out the idea so I don’t forget it. Because even though at present I have four projects I’m working on, I won’t always have those four projects and I’ll want to start a new one.

Hopefully my readers will like all that I write because they like my style and relate to my worldview. Hopefully. However, I realize a good many will not. And that’s okay.

Another reason writers might write in more than one genre is to capture a larger share of readers. If I write mysteries and horror and science fiction, I have three large reader audiences, as well as those who might cross over. More readers, potentially means more money. And most writers write because they want to tell stories for a living.

Please take a look at my novels page and see the range of what I write. Hopefully, if you haven’t already, you’ll find something to pique your interest. And hopefully in the next year or two some of the other ideas that are in the cooker will be ready to serve up for readers’s enjoyment.

Lawrence Block writes mysteries and thrillers. But over the years he’s begun and ended many series. He says all he can through a character and moves on to a new one. Frustrating as it is for me the reader, it’s what Block has to do to stay fresh in his chosen genre. Which really isn’t any different than a writer who writes in two or more genres or simply switches genres.

Let me know if you read more than one genre and know of authors who write in more than one. Your comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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