Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Promoting your book as a self-published writer

Promoting your book as a self-published writer might feel like trying to juggle with hands that aren’t cooperating.  Your strong hand does what it does best – writing.  The other hand finds itself responsible for the job of getting the word out. How to share your writing with the world can be a real mystery.
The first thing to do is to make sure that your piece is properly edited.  I am lucky to have an English professor from Northwestern University who is willing to do this for me.  There are services online that will help for a fee, but you can also try local community collages and universities that may have people working in or toward editing professions who might help. 
Additionally, it’s important to distinguish your book as different from others while keeping it attractive to readers.  My mystery novel, The Shattered Swan, is set in Peru during an earthquake, but has a female sleuth who goes through challenges that most readers can empathize with.  I give ten percent of my proceeds to charity - which may seem like a gimmick but it’s my way of giving back after having survived an earthquake. 
Once the book is edited and uploaded to sites like Amazon, Smashwords and Lulu, the real work begins.  All of those sites have amazing support services for the self-published writer.  With a few clicks you can set up your own pricing, discount your book for special promotions, or discount with a code to give to specific people. You can use this last one to contact reviewers so that your book gets objectively reviewed.  Another option open to you is Amazon’s “library” service where someone can “borrow” the e-book for a short time for a nominal fee.  The only disadvantage is that you must have your book exclusively on Amazon for a period of time.
Now the big challenge becomes figuring out ultimately who will be your fan base.  This is where the beauty of the Internet comes into play.  If you are anything like me, when you go shoe shopping you try not to make eye contact with the salespeople.  Your greatest wish is to look for shoes without being pressured to try on that latest sky-high wedge or the snazzy new dress shoe that would go great with any suit – when all you want are a pair of sneakers.  Or conversely, you’re that hapless salesperson, which indeed we all are, trying to make a sale when all the client wants is to do it all themselves.  The Internet has unlimited ways of linking the salespeople with clients who actually want to connect.  And even if along the way there are those clients who insist on circumventing you, or those insistent sales clerks, there’s no need to blush at avoiding them since it’s all done through the computer.  It is easier than ever to focus exclusively on exactly what we are looking for online.
Finding those communities may take a little digging, but is not difficult.  First, there are the obvious ways: start a Facebook page, blog regularly, Tweet, and subscribe to online services like Murder Must Advertise.  Don’t forget to use tagging features where available and put as many relevant tags on your posts as you can to avoid “shoe shopping” situations. 
Other alternatives are also available to you.  In my case, I advertised in paper mystery magazines like Crimespree Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.  I sent flyers to mystery conventions and as soon as I finish my second mystery novel later this year, I plan on actually going to a convention.  It’s not all easy going and some of my efforts have flopped.  For example, gosh darn it, I just cannot figure out how to get my novel onto Google Books so that my local bookstore can have me in for a book talk – but if you happen to be more technically savvy than I am, many small book stores offer that option, you just have to ask.
There are also more unconventional routes.  Make sure that you talk to everybody and anybody about your project.  You may find unexpected connections, like opportunities to perhaps publish in Europe, or have your novel translated into another language for additional promotion opportunities.  Because of my networking, I was able to give a talk on The Shattered Swan at the Library of Congress in D.C. last year, parts of which are available to watch on youtube.
Most of all, be persistent and don’t get discouraged.  It is becoming more acceptable to be self-published, and the number of people that do their reading on portable devices now is increasing daily.
Krystiana Stacy Kelly

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Reinventing Your Hometown

I’ve written four archaeological mysteries starring museum curator Lisa Donahue, all contemporary stories set in Boston and the Middle East. When I began to think about a new series set in the past, I thought of Jeanne Dams’ wonderful Hilda mysteries set a hundred years ago in her hometown of South Bend, Indiana.

My hometown, Champaign-Urbana, IL, was and is a railroad town, with growth occurring first along the tracks that run from Chicago all the way south to New Orleans. Before the railroad station came to town and Champaign got its current name, it was “West Urbana.” Always a university town, Urbana is known as the campus hub and center of most of the faculty housing (professors like to walk and bike to work), whereas Champaign attracts more business people and permanent residents.

I already knew some of this history, but researching The Bootlegger’s Nephew taught me so much more. During Prohibition, speakeasies and bars disguised as “blind pigs” clustered near the railroad tracks. Many buildings built between 1900 and 1920 still exist and have morphed from theaters to museums and department stores to office buildings, restaurants, and apartments. To recreate the town of “Big Grove,” I searched the Sanborn fire insurance maps that displayed not only street grids but also businesses with the owners’ names. I consulted the Sears Catalog for details on 1920s fashion, furniture, kitchen fittings, and appliances.

Then I had some decisions to make about my story. To what extent would my characters be “real” historical figures? Which historical events would I include in my story, and how much would fiction and truth overlap? Would I use real place names and family names? If I used real names, would I get into legal trouble?

While plenty of wild tales about Prohibition exist, few local people remember the details with accuracy. What they do remember, they are happy to tell—with embellishments. And so I consulted our former mayor, retired neighbors, downtown historians, and librarians. I decided to use real street names and family names (but not first names) to create familiarity for local readers. The characters themselves are complete fiction—or so I will claim when my neighbors think they recognize someone in my story.

The story itself is a blend of fact and fiction. I focused on downstate Illinois (so many other writers have written about Chicago), and chose southern Illinois gangsters as my villains instead of Al Capone. My protagonist, a forty-year-old physician with a German wife and a flapper daughter, never existed, but people like him did. The real issues of the 1920s—anti-immigrant feeling, resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the production of illegal booze of every variety—fueled the story while providing plenty of scope for fiction. I particularly enjoyed adopting some of the many Prohibition-era words for “drunk” and “booze”: “ossified,” “spifflicated”, “half-seas over,” “giggle-water,” “panther piss,” and “coffin varnish.”

The best part of writing historical fiction is borrowing some truths and ignoring others. Instead of providing a balanced, truthful account that includes all the facts, the writer can pick and choose incidents, people, and places that improve her story without worrying about an exact fit. For example, one of my speakeasies actually existed in Cincinnati, Ohio, not central Illinois: the bar is in a downstairs room, and the ten-year-old son of the owners dispenses liquor down a tube from upstairs. When an alarm tells him agents are on their way to inspect, he whisks a rug over the booze tube and artfully strews his homework around to hide the evidence.

The hardest part of writing this kind of fiction after doing contemporary mysteries was that so many things on each page had to be checked: what a character was wearing, drinking, saying; what his house looked like, what kind car he drove, what movies he watched and books he read. Every chapter produced questions: Did the local farms have electricity yet? Were all the roads paved? How long did it take to travel to Chicago in 1923? And since my protagonist is a doctor, I had to learn about early medical practice before antibiotics.

During the research phase, my writing room looked like a tornado hit it, with maps and books and scraps of paper everywhere and two fat notebooks full of material. Now that the first book is finished, I look forward to returning to the 1920s to visit my characters again and write the sequel. 

Sarah Wisseman, www.sarahwisseman.com
Archaeological mysteries: http://www.sarahwisseman.com/

Monday, May 14, 2012

Is the second time the charm or the ugly stepsister?

Amazon’s free promotion days:

Is the second time the charm or the ugly stepsister?

Amazon Select offers writers an opportunity to place their eBooks up for free on Amazon’s site. Free downloads push the book up on eBook charts, giving it a huge exposure to readers.

               I put my suspense novel, She’s not There, on “free” for two days in February. It had 8,200 downloads and after the free days had expired, I sold about 750 books in the following week, and about 150 the following month. Since then I’ve averaged about 1-4 a day.

               On April 30 and May 1, I tried it again. This time I promoted it on sites that highlight free eBooks. As a result, I doubled the downloads, about 17,000. My sales however, were not nearly as good. In the three days since it was free, I’ve only sold about 60 eBooks.

               Some might say this was due to the waning popularity of the “free” gimmick, but I think I got it wrong. The right way to take advantage of free promos is to push the promo as much as possible. Get your book on as many sites that feature free eBooks as possible the first time around and ditch the ugly stepsister!

Marla Madison

She’s Not There, http://amzn.to/mQebPH



Thursday, May 10, 2012

You Should Be in the Movies, Kid

Well, I’d heard the term “author video” and even heard one PR guru say she didn’t do book trailers for her clients, but she did recommend that they make author videos. Still, I would never have taken the plunge if the lady who is helping me set up a blog tour for my latest release hadn’t strongly urged that I make one. Well, I was paying her and I needed to get every penny-worth of value, so I gulped and decided that, low-tech though I am, I should at least make the effort.

My husband found that I have moviemaker on my computer and we have an inexpensive camera which we routinely use for Skyping with our children. That was the basic equipment, although we found— on about take 6, as I recall— that the sound was crisper if we used an external mic.
I knew from my Skyping experience that lighting is all-important. I turned on all the lights in the room and set up two extra lamps. And that was it for technology.

As to the script I considered doing an interview format, but settled on a combination of talking about my book and reading an excerpt. I wrote an outline of the points I wanted to talk about and selected my cutting.

As always when doing a reading, I edited the passage by selecting from my manuscript, cutting out anything extraneous to the immediate action, bumped up the font size, and inserted the printed pages into my book so it looks like I’m reading directly from the book.

Timing was a problem. Although this is a much more free-flowing format than a video, I knew it should be short. I think 3 minutes would be best. I had to keep it under 5 or the file would be too big to upload to YouTube. After several takes and edits of my manuscript (I lost count of the retakes), I still came out at the long end and can only hope that viewers will stay with me.

Someone more tekky than I am could go from here, add a cover, put music behind it, insert your website or book-buying information in printed form rather than the sign I simply held up,. . . Still I was pleased with the results. Exhausted, but pleased.
You can see the results here and judge for yourself: http://ning.it/JLmusC

And you can find A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH here: http://ning.it/JLxUg7

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 39 books, mostly novels dealing with British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.

 Her newest release is A Darkly Hidden Truth, book 2 in her clerical mystery series The Monastery Murders. She also writes the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. To read more about these books and to see book videos for A Darkly Hidden Truth and for A Very Private Grave, Monastery Murders 1,  as well as pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to: www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Promotion Bit

There is no such thing as bad publicity. The maxim that brings a measure of hope to a celebrity caught on a bad moment can also be proved truthful to other media. A ban from the Vatican, for example, almost instantly guarantees an indecent amount of exposure. Think, for instance Madonna’s song Like a Prayer, Dan Brown’s book The DaVinci Code or Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ.

Of course, mere mortals can’t expect an infamous lawsuit or a death sentence to spike sales. The idea of investing copious amounts of time to promote one’s work can raise the hair on the back of every author’s neck. Time that we all think would be better spent writing. I know, I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt. The new generation of authors cannot depend on the publisher’s efforts; we have to do our own. If you’re Indie, then the responsibility is greater.

In this day and age, even if we hate to use online social media, facebook  and twitter accounts are a must. I was really reticent to twitter, and did not open an account until late last year. Who can blame me? Charlie Sheen’s account crossed the million followers within hours of being open. The real people don’t have that luck, but still we must try.

Securing reviews is another part. We will not please everybody, but the quality of the work must show even if the reviewer dislikes the theme or genre.

One thing with guest blogs: If you’ve read my name for the first time on this post; then it means cross blogging works. If you are already a fan, friends, or otherwise familiar with me, then thank you for your continuing support.

Live chats are great to meet new people. Be careful with your interactions, though. Sometimes being yourself gets you in trouble. The first time I participated in one, I said something that offended not one, but many of the authors present. It wasn’t intentional, or aimed to hurt, but the damage was done. Lesson learned.

Promotion is the key to gain a readership, so don’t consider it a torture. Think of it more like an investment of your time and efforts. One last thing: don’t be discouraged if the initial results turn out to be less than stellar. Sometimes it takes several tries to hit the mark.

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator.

Website at: www.jhbogran.net

Twitter: @JHBogran

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Keeping It Straight

First, thanks to Jeff and the MMA readers for inviting me along and letting me share my thoughts! My Peg Herring Blog Tour for May (actually, a dozen stops in May and one in June) consists mostly of interviews with Seamus, the Dead Detective. Sprinkled among those posts are a few on writing itself, like today’s topic, “Keeping Things Straight.”

The next stop on the tour will be at The Stiletto Gang’s Blog on May 3rd. http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/ A complete schedule is posted at my blog at http://itsamysterytomepegherring.blogspot.com. After the tour is over, (June 11th) I plan to post the complete Seamus interview there, so even if you miss a post, you can still read everything the dead guy has to say.

“How do you make it all work out?” People often ask when they learn I write books.

My Dead Detective Mystery series is paranormal, though I don’t particularly like that term. No creeping vampires or rotting flesh here. Seamus is dead, but he’s mostly over it. From necessity he operates inside the heads of the living, which, I find, complicates things for me, the writer.

Problem #1: Seamus has his own thoughts, but he’s also privy to the thoughts of his hosts. As the writer, I have to help the reader keep straight who is thinking what. Fortunately, my editors are really good at (in fact, I think they relish) saying, “Peg, we can’t tell who’s thinking here.” I’ve learned that he thought is every bit as useful and unobtrusive as he said. Thoughts, of course, don’t come in complete sentences, so they might look a little strange. I use italics to make it clear that what is on the page at a given point is someone’s thought. Keeping that straight requires a lot of thinking on my part, too.

Problem #2 is keeping straight who knows what, and when. Often there are two dead detectives operating in a story, and each one picks up things from various hosts as they head-hop. I have to keep track of who learns what and how they share that information with each other. (They can’t share what they know with the living, at least not much.) It’s frustrating sometimes, and I have to remind myself that I made up these rules, so I can’t blame anyone else.

Finally, there are two plotlines in each book: the mystery that’s being solved on earth and the victim’s process of adjusting to the idea of being dead. I’ve found that it’s easier to write these separately, as if they were completely different stories, and then weave them together. Before I did this, my editors found a lot of repetition. I’d leave Story A to write a segment of Story B and lose track of where I’d been in A when I returned to it. Writing them separately lets me keep each one straight, and I think it helps when I blend them, too. I can look at the two subplots and put parallel events near each other, which might increase tension at some points or the reader’s curiosity at others.

All the work it takes to keep things straight makes me admire the great writers even more than I used to. Think about authors you studied in school who managed to keep the various story threads straight and weave them together to perfection. Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is a great example. Every single thing the reader learns in that story meets nicely at the end to create a satisfying conclusion. If we simply trust Dickens and keep the events in mind, we’ll come to exactly the right point at the end of the story. That’s because great authors are masters at keeping their stories straight.

Mystery writers have to really work to keep things straight, because our stories focus on one result: the solution to a crime. We must provide a believable motive, well-drawn characters, an exciting plot, and good writing, and all of that must work toward a single end. I work hard on all my mysteries, but in the Dead Detective series, I also work to help readers effortlessly follow the unusual scenario. If I keep things straight, my readers will have a great time traveling with Seamus as he visits from the Other Side to provide answers—if not justice--for the victims of murder.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Promotional Bloopers

Like it or not, promotion is something all writers need to do today. 

We try to become our own “brand,” familiarizing readers with our names and book titles. 

To do this, we use social media, broadcast media, print media and personal contact.  We do signings at bookstores.  We sit on panels at conferences.  We do readings at libraries and shopping malls and bars.  We join writing groups and organizations. We blog, tweet, link, friend and post.  We do giveaways and send out newsletters.  We spend as much time promoting as we do writing the books that we’re trying to promote.

Sometimes these efforts pay off.  Other times, well, they can be less than effective.  Even downright embarrassing. 

 In the twenty years I’ve been writing books, I’ve done lots promotion efforts, had some success, but also had my share of promotional bloopers.  Here are a few lessons based on my experiences.

There was the signing in the mall bookstore where nobody, not a single sweet soul turned up. 


There was the signing I had following one by Lee Childs. I approached him amid a circle of his fans and introduced myself, adding:

“I loved the movies based on your books.  Brian Dennehy was an amazing choice for Jack Reacher.”

 Lee Childs paused, then replied, “There are no movies based on my books.” 
He turned back to his fans.  To my horror, I realized I’d confused Jack Reed, played by Dennehy, with Childs’ Jack Reacher, played by nobody. Oops. 


 Another time, I was booked by my publicist (there were such people at publishing houses back then) for a popular radio show in Chicago.  Turned out, the host was a guy called “Mad Cow.”  Unknown to me, his guests were traditionally and raucously mocked and abused.  Fortunately—Maybe because I was so naïve—I was not the target of his jokes.  Another guest on with me took all the punches.  He was the “I’m-not-just-the-president, I’m-also-a-client” hair weave guy. 

 For pretty much the whole hour, Mad Cow kept asking me to pull the guy’s hair to see if it would stick to his scalp.  It was radio.  Nobody could see.  I kept talking as if I were tugging at it, but Mad Cow wouldn’t play along.  He persisted until I actually yanked the guy’s hair.  I can’t even tell you if my book title was ever mentioned.

 I do remember that, when I arrived, Mad Cow asked, “Who is she?”  His cohost said, “She’s an author.”

“A what--An author?” asked Mad Cow.  And he played sound effects of riotous laughter…


 More recently, doing an internet radio interview, I called in and heard the host and her associate talking about me.  They didn’t know I was on the line. 

 “Her name is Merry Jones.  I think she’s pretty stupid,” the host said.  “She asked if she should call us or if I would call her.  I mean, I sent her our phone number.  Why did she think I’d do that if I was going to call her?  How stupid is she?”

“Pretty stupid,” the associate replied.

 At that point, I said, “You know, I can hear you.” 

 I did the interview anyway, but it didn’t get any better.  


 I can go on with anecdotes and lessons, but the main point I want to make is that promotional efforts don’t always go as expected.  And no matter how much promoting we do, it’s never enough.  It’s never finished.  We do one blog, signing, interview or appearance and go to the next, hoping that sometime, somewhere, something we do will inspire someone to buy and read and love our books. 

 And that in the process, we won’t embarrass ourselves beyond repair… 

 Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings thrillers, BEHIND THE WALLS and SUMMER SESSION, as well as the Zoe Hayes mysteries, THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, and THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS.  She has also written humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS: WOMEN WHO RELINQUISHED BABIES FOR ADOPTION TELL THEIR STORIES).  Visit her at MerryJones.com