Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Promotion

Most new authors who are self-publishing think they can put it on Amazon and that is all they need to do to start making money. Yes, it can happen that way, but more than likely it won't. Promoting your book is as important as finding a niche you can stick with the guidelines to write.

I recently received a message from a guy (through Guru) who wanted me to write a letter he could send to "all" the publishers that would get one of them to promote his already published books. No, I did not break down laughing - although I was rolling my eyes because I do not deal with marketing. I would rather pay someone to do it for me. Let me rephrase that: I would rather pay someone thousands of dollars to do that for me instead of only hundreds of dollars to develop a plan for me and do it myself.

If you have found yourself with a large stack of books that you have paid money to self-publish and now instead of earning the money back you find them sitting around the house as useful doorstops, bookends, step stools, and Christmas gifts, this was my response:
If you have already had the book printed, a publisher is not going to promote it for you. There are many ways to promote books online and there are some book promoters in the marketing section of Guru that could help you. There are trade shows, book reviews, book signings. Locally, you can sometimes donate your book to libraries to generate interest.

If you had an unpublished manuscript, you could send it to agents and publishers; however, it would be a waste of time and money to send it to "ALL" publishers. You would need to purchase (or borrow from the library) a 2014 copy of the Writer's Market and choose publishers who publish in your genre. Sending a non-fiction book to Tor (a noted science fiction publisher who only accepts agented submissions) will only serve in adding more paper to the recycling bin. You need the most up to date copy of the Writer's Market, but it also contains a wealth of ideas for self-promoting your book. Publishers only accept published books that are already doing well and those that were heavily promoted. In fact, it is difficult to find a traditional publisher these days who will accept new authors who don't already have their own promotional platform in place.
I left out the part that explains what I do on Guru and what I do not. Since I am absolutely the worst person to write a pitch (yes, I have already read thousands of successful ones - see above note about paying someone to market my book), why someone would seek me out and ask me to write them an impossible sales letter is beyond me. Maybe its my sunny personality? :-)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Writing for a genre

Each genre has certain guidelines of what works and what doesn't, just as each publishing company prints a very specific books. The problem is that as an author you might want to write a book that doesn't fit into neat guidelines.

Does that mean that you can't write that horror romance or conspiracy theory fantasy - uh, no, not exactly. It does mean you might not want to make it your first book. Although guidelines are very inhibiting, they are there for a reason. Publishing companies know what sells and what sells easily. As a first time author, it is difficult to break into the market (i.e. sell to people who you have not met personally). Promoting yourself will be more difficult if you choose to write something that is not standard even if you are publishing it yourself.

I am currently using some beta readers. Since I posted about them and I have a large book I do not want to invest editing money in right now, I wanted to give them a try - more on that in a future post. However, one of the beta readers commented that she generally didn't read Christian Historical Romances because the female characters tend to be... well those ladies you hear who are very happy on the Christian talk radio sessions. Happy, positive, glowing. Yes, they glow through the radio.

I have read a lot of Christian Romances. I agree. I am a rather devout Christian, and I do not identify with most of these women. I would love to glow, but I (as you might have guessed) do not. I think the movies Arachnophobia and Scream are both comedies- members of my family tease me about this. I was rolling on the floor for The War of the Roses (the 1990's version). I loved how she tossed his hand aside in the final scene. I hate slapstick.

But I need to fit into a genre. Could I write a regular romance with all the heaving bosoms? Yeah. However, I do not want to (see devout Christian note above). In fact, I generally skip the sex scenes when I am reading those kind of romances - they bore me. Without those, my options are limited to Avalon (chaste romances, but I have not found any that even mention God) or Christian Romances - inspiring, uplifting. So, the latter is where I best fit in because I don't think God should be taboo in a romance. Is my main character fluffy? A little. But I did give her a little backbone. Call me a rebel.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Just another NSA day

So, once again I find myself thinking that I hope the NSA is looking the other way as I access my search engine today.

"Palmdale Airport" - Which is an airport rented from the US AirForce base right next to it.
"What are the best songs to have sex to? - Hey, most people don't like my taste in music, but I can't believe the stuff people recommend as an answer to this question. (I needed to know because I am editing a book with a prostitute in it and her music selection is described.)
"How do I make/buy chloroform?" The fact that I can even find the answer to this question on the Internet is in itself scary.
"What kind of chemicals can I use to knock someone out?" (See above)
"Ecstasy" - The Wikipedia entry on this seems as if it was written by a definite supporter of its use...

How I miss the days of being able to go to the library anonymously and look these sorts of things up...

The thing is, if you want to be a good author, yes, you need to do this research and look it up. As an editor, when I come across things that the author might not have researched as thoroughly as he should have, I have to check it. Still, authors should be careful with the knowledge they learn. It's like on MacGyver - the authors of the series always left out important parts of the equation to prevent someone from using the information on the show to build a nuclear reactor in their back yard.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reviews for hire

Prior to working on Guru, I just assumed that online reviews were true. Then I saw the jobs - "Wanted 500 positive reviews."

Recently, in a sting operation, the police set up a fake restaurant on a review website. Sure enough, they got several negative reviews. I am not surprised. I was checking out cabinet builders as one of my jobs and some of the bad reviews were over the top - I highly doubt the guy came back to your house after the project was done and kicked your dog... sorry.

I only give honest reviews. People cannot hire me to write a review for them. One time I did bid on a job wanting someone to honest review a book for her. She gave me two of her books for free. Then I realized she wanted the reviews published because someone had put a nasty review about her on Amazon. I checked and for whatever reason this guy was allowed to publish a comment that insulted the author without having read the book. Nowhere in the review was the book addressed, he just complained that the author was giving away free books in return for a review.

My sense of justice was offended. I took no other payment from this author except the books, and I wrote an honest review on Amazon for her - "My daughter liked the book" (it was a picture book). I gave her a generous review if for no other reason than to counter the injustice of the other persons nasty comments about the author. However, I also complained to Amazon about this guy - to the best of my knowledge they never removed his comments.

I have several reviews of books on Goodreads as well, but I did not review either of the books I received from the author mentioned above on there. I want people to know they are getting my honest opinion - not my paid opinion. However, I see nothing wrong with an author giving free books in exchange for an honest review. How else is a new author supposed to break into the market and how else are readers to know if the book is worth their time?

That said, I do review books for a professional book review site. When I post these reviews on Goodreads, I preclude my review with a notice that I reviewed the book professionally. I get paid all of $1-$10 per book, but I do it because I can be completely honest in my review. If I think the book was awful or needs work, I can send a message to the author instead of writing the review and explain the reason for my dislike.

When an author begins to pay people for a good review or even for a bad review of a competitor's book (as opposed to an honest review)- that is when I have an issue. And, when a someone pays for 500 generic product reviews that the reviewer has neither tested nor even knows what they are reviewing - then I have a serious problem. Granted, most authors would not want to pay me for an honest review - it takes a lot to get a 5 out of 5 star rating from me - my average on any review is 3 of 5.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How many words long should my book be?

Frequently new writers either write an overly short book or an overly long one. Since I have been asked this question, I decided to post the answer here.
First of all you really need to decide if you are going to submit it to a publisher. If this is your first book, you have to stay within guidelines. Publishers receive thousands of queries each day. If you do not meet their guidelines and they do not recognize your name as a published author, yours will be passed.
Second, if you are not submitting to a publisher, you need to research what the average word count is for your genre. Most novels run 50K - 90K words depending on genre. Here is the thing: if you are self-publishing and the book is huge, most people are not going to want to try it. If it is too small (less than 15,000 words) no one is going to want to pay for it.
In addition to editing, I also review newly self-published books for a book reviewing agency. We get to select from all the books that have been submitted to them, so I deliberately tend to avoid anything over 250 pages because the chances of me telling the author he/she is going to need a major rewrite instead of giving them the review they want are high. Which leads me to...
Third, most new authors repeat themselves and actually give a lot of detail about things that are unnecessary. For example, in the current crime novel I am currently editing, the author explains what project the primary company is working on. Understanding the project is important, but then the author proceeds to tell the reader about the project each time a new character gets involved with the company by explaining it to the new character in dialogue. These explanations need to take place "off screen" because the reader already knows. This book has a good plot and is interesting, but the repetition would make a reader want to skip those parts and may turn the reader off to the book in general.
New authors also tend to tell people what is going on instead of showing them. This means that it is going to be hard for your reader to slog through an overly long book.
Once you have finished writing, it is always a good idea to find an editor who will read through it, correct grammatical errors, and honestly tell you what you don't need and what you do. Yes, some books are long and capture the reader - Lord of the Rings, The Count of Monte Cristo for example - but unless you have a massive marketing plan in place, keep in mind the size of the book will be something potential readers will use to judge whether or not they want to purchase it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Beta Readers

Beta Readers can be a good choice especially if you are a new author. In exchange for an acknowledgement in your book, they will read through it and give you feedback for free.

I have never used a beta reader, but I am editing something for someone right now who is meticulous about them. He is a relatively successful self-published author.

However, a beta reader should not be used in place of a professional editor. (Unless it is a beta reader or nothing because this is your first book and you do not have funds to pay someone.)

Why? Because anyone can be a beta reader and chances are good you will not find a person who gets paid to edit doing it. "Professional" means that not only has the person been paid to do it but that the person is good enough at the job to make living off of it.

Prior to becoming a freelancer, I was a proofreader for the Gutenburg project. I loved doing this, but I think I have done one project this entire past year. I get paid to do proofread, so just as a professional chef may cook a charity meal here and there, s/he is probably not making a gourmet dinner at home every night. (One family I knew where both the mother and father were five star chefs found themselves eating at McDs - a lot. Kind of like editors who write blogs for fun and neglect to edit them... but I am sure you get the picture.)

In addition, you, the author, are going to get paid. You are not a charity. Therefore, what you are getting when you find a beta reader is someone who wants a little bit of fame in exchange for reading your book and giving you their opinion of it. Most professional editors really do not care about fame - they get business more through word of mouth.

Like any skill, editing is something you must train. The more you edit, the fewer mistakes get past you. In addition, if I am getting paid to work on your book, I will force myself to read the entire thing - no matter how awful it is. Then, I will either (1) fix grammar, spelling, and punctuation while leaving comments about things that don't work or (2) fix everything to the best of my ability and leave comments.

If you send it to three or four beta readers before finding a professional, you will save yourself time and money. You will also have a good idea of what more than one person has found wrong with the story. This will be helpful so that when your editor tells you to remove a sex scene you do not balk and say that you wanted it for the shock factor. You will, in fact, already know that everyone who has read it was not shocked but repulsed.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Conspiracy Theory?

I don't consider myself a conspiracy theorist. However, I accept that any time I look on the internet or make a phone call, someone could be watching me. As a result, I like to be cautious with what I am looking at or posting.

So, this week I have been a little nervous. I am editing several books right now which require me to check a few facts. Unfortunately, the facts contain search terms like: MI5, NSA, Chinese Special Forces, F-35... you get the picture.

Hopefully, if anyone has decided to watch my surfing, they will understand that I am not interested in these things because I am looking to join with some foreign government's secret service agency, but because I am just checking the facts for these books. Apparently covert books are all the rage to write right now... go figure.

Who said being a writer wasn't dangerous?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

English 9 (Honors)

As a writer, high school English is very frustrating. The person teaching my son self-admittedly talks fast. I can understand that an honors class requires you to get through things quickly, but it is important to be able to think about new concepts when you are trying to grasp them. It has been my experience that people who speak fast (and I am one of them unless I am teaching someone something or acting) tend to do so because they frequently wander off topic. Since they are wandering off topic, they need to speak faster in order to get through everything a slow, focused speaker gets through in the same amount of time.

Today, I looked at the lesson outline the English teacher sent home. Of course, there was a typo on it. I admit a certain justified vengeance in finding typos on things teachers send home - especially English teachers. In addition, she wrote that one of today's goals was to "Synthesize multiple sources of media an [sic] make conclusions. Connect to literature." Wow! Aside from the typo, that is quite a lofty goal. However, I have to question if she truly knew what she was writing. It would be extremely difficult to create more than one "source" (which means origin or work that something else is to be based upon) in a single, 2-hour class. However, I assume upon reading this that after watching several examples, the students pieced together one or more media clips to make a coherent short film or journalistic piece that was somehow connected to the book they are reading. Still a very lofty goal. I was actually asked to do a similar project in one of my college level creative writing courses. Synthesis is considered a higher order learning objective because it is difficult to create something new out of something old.

However, as I continue down the page, I see that there was no actual synthesis. Instead, it seems that the students watched AT&T commercials and then compared them to the book they were reading (both were made up of short emotional blurbs). Comparing and contrasting fits under "Comprehension" which is a very basic, lower order learning objective. Don't get me wrong, it is important that children master the basics. But, I expect English teachers to know the vocabulary they are using and to use it appropriately.

The worst thing any writer can do is use words with which he or she is unfamiliar. If you write, write to an audience that understands your vocabulary. Do not attempt to write academically if you haven't been to college and suffered the long boring courses that teach you how to write long boring tomes that only people who are truly interested in the topic would want to read. On the other hand, if you went to college specifically to learn how to write academic tomes, please do not attempt a children's picture book. You can write outside of your knowledge level - just make sure you hire someone to help you :-).

In the freelance world, you have very versatile writers (and some not so much) - these people have usually been to college and at least minored in writing. They may have trouble in some areas (one of my well educated writing teachers could not write or understand the fantasy genre, for example). But, they are usually aware of their limitations and avoid them or overcome them rather quickly. I recommend that anyone who wants to be a writer take writing classes. Learn to critique your own work.

Now, I will leave you to find all the editing errors I have made in this post... I am sure there are many to give you your own vindictive pleasure.