Category Archives: E-publishing

6 Nifty Resources No Indi Author Can Do Without

To paraphrase a famous frog, “It’s not easy being indie.”

Actually, it’s not easy being any kind of writer/author, self-published or traditionally published, but wearing the many hats in every Indie wardrobe–author, marketer, social media manager, designer, newsletter editor … did I miss any?–presents special challenges. We’re talking about the kind of challenges that either drive you to drink, force you to beat your head against the wall, or have you tossing up your hands in defeat.

We can all use a little ….

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Am I right? Of course I am. Which is why, I’m here to offer some in the form of 6 nifty resources no Indie should do without. (Purple headers = links, of course.)

Bublish

How would you feel about a tool that lets you write formatted e-books, market those books in a unique way, build your brand, connect with fans, and track reader engagement? This is no fantasy people, this is the reality of Bublish, which lets you do all of the above and a whole lot more. You can try out some of the features via the free plan or all of them via free trial, but I’m sure you’ll want the full-fledged Authropreneur package for either $9.99/month or $99/year.

Bublish is based on the book bubble, a unique and oh-so-posh marketing strategy that lets you send out an excerpt of your book via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail. Here’s what your basic book bubble looks like:

Screenshot 2016-05-18 13.19.59

Slick, no? Seriously, what’s not to love? Save yourself a lot of time and effort designing go-nowhere ads, and give Bublish a try.

World Literary Cafe

Whoever said you get what you pay for obviously didn’t know about World Literary Cafe, which you can sign up for, as we say in the trade, absolutely free. Billed as the place “Where authors and readers unite,” WLC offers more bennies than you can shake your proverbial indie stick at. Check out these amazing resources:

  • training classes (some free, some for a fee)
  • a free book-marketing video
  • a Facebook like exchange
  • a Twitter follow exchange
  • a blog follow exchange
  • tweet teams
  • a free author toolbox
  • tips on how to maximize your free days on KDP
  • more, more, more!

Listen, you’d have to be brain dead to miss out on all these goodies!

Canva

Did you know social media content with colored visuals gets 80% more views? Hoo-hah! Is that a valuable tip, or what? And here’s another: You can create eye-catching social media posts for free using Canva. Well, for free unless you decide to use one of their paid graphics, but even those are one $1 each. The templates–Facebook post, Twitter post, Pinterest graphic, and so on–have already been created. All you have to do is point and click!

Oh, and if you’re looking to create a header of some kind, Canva has got you covered there, as well. You can even create your own templates, say, a specifically sized header to use on your website!

Hootsuite

Although some of your social media posts should be organic–marketing speak for posted in real time–you can make life a lot easier on yourself by scheduling other posts ahead of time on Hootsuite, which works for Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, WordPress, Instagram, and YouTube! And get this, you can schedule them weeks in advance!

Conventional wisdom has it that you should post:

  • no more than twice a day on Facebook
  • three times per day (at most) on Google+
  • at least three times a day on Twitter (although followers tend to lose interest after the third tweet)
  • once a day on LinkedIn

Obviously, being able to schedule at least a few of those posts ahead of time will leave you more time to do what you do best: write.

Font Squirrel

Looking for a safe place to download free and/or almost-free fonts? Font Squirrel has got your back! Plus, all their fonts are licensed for commercial use.

MailChimp

The e-mail lists is one of the best promotional tools out there, because it allows you to form personal relationships with your readers. We’re not talking about using your list purely to make sales pitches, but sharing personal news, your own book reviews, special subscriber-only offers, and such, in order to exponentially build your fan base. MailChimp is a terrific tool you can use to create a newsletter, the occasional targeted e-mail campaign–say, to announce a book launch–or a coupon. Membership is free (although you can upgrade), and they offer plenty of themes and templates you can edit to make your own. Built-in analytics track the size of your list and give you an idea how well your campaigns are doing.

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Publish & Move On

My launch date (December 23) has no particular rhyme or reason. My marketing “campaign” will no doubt be sporadic, conducted according whim and wild hair. I won’t be tracking sales, will evince only mild interest in reviews.

So. I’ve either gone completely loony tunes, or I’ve found an approach–okay, a non-approach–that works for me. Or both.

Probably both.

I won’t sing “The Marketing Blues” again in this space. But I hope you’ll allow me to sing a few verses of “The Hallelujah, I’m Writing Again Chorus.”

I found the joy again. All I had to do was forget about earning any kind of a living, exorcise the numbers demon, and remember why I started writing in the first place: Because I love it. Because it’s what I do.

So, on December 23, I’ll publish Hunter’s Shadow, book 2 in my Golden State Hearts Trilogy. And then I’ll move on. Move on to the sequel to Amanda’s Eyes. Move on to book 3 in the trilogy, Not Far Enough. Hunter’s poor shadow will have to navigate that cold, cruel self-publishing world without much help or attention from me. (Unless I get hit on the head and forget how much I hate marketing and how joyless it leaves me as an author.)

Any living to be earned will spring from Social Security, such as it is, and my pension, such as it is. (Not to mention the occasional freelance gig on motorcycle tool kits, National Prime Rib Day, or drug testing in Idaho.)

“Why publish at all if you don’t want to make money?”

Well, I wouldn’t mind making money, of course. And in the (so far) unlikely event money happens, just let me say, the party’s on me.

I publish, because that’s what you do with a book. I publish, because not publishing strikes me as a cop out. I publish, because if even one person reads my books, my characters have come alive for someone besides me. I publish, because you just never know.

So, bon voyage, Hunter’s Shadow.

I’m moving on.

P.S. That link thing, up there? Where I linked to my books? That’s what you call on-a-whim, why-not, wild-hair marketing. In case you were wondering.

Quitting Time?

I’m 64 years old, so let me just say 1:15 a.m. is way past my bedtime. Yet here I sit. Sweating, because I’m too cheap to turn on the AC. Thinking. Blogging. Sweating. Pondering. Basically driving myself nuts, trying to answer one yes/no question: Is it time to stop writing novels?

Notice the absence of the adjective <em>simple</em>, as in, one <em>simple </em>question. I don’t do simple. I complicate. Everything. It’s a gift.

See, here’s the rub. I used to love to write. Maybe I still do. But, you know, I got caught up in the whole indie marketing frenzy–not to be confused with a shark feeding frenzy, although, hey … maybe they’re not that different. I tried, but I can’t keep up. I’m shell shocked. Seriously. I sometimes think I’ll run screaming down the street—wild-eyed and possibly buck naked—if  I see one more Facebook post about how I could be “10 Tweets Away from Bestseller” or make a killing with “5 Benign Book Signing Strategies” or “Instantly Instagram an Irresistible Author Platform.”

So I ask myself. Should I, an unrepentant marketing failure, a crotchety promo dropout, continue to write? I have neither yen nor breath to toot my own horn. I get cranky just thinking about it. Ergo, wouldn’t it make sense to just stop, for God’s sake?

Absolutely. And I’ve made up my mind to do exactly that, at least a hundred times. Except ….

I can’t stop thinking about writing. No problem at all resisting the urge to actually <em>do</em> it, but I can’t stop thinking about the books I have out there or the ones in progress or the unborn stories running laps in my brain. I’m afflicted with snippets of dialogue, plot points, conflicts, characters. I get ideas, dammit.

I recently confided in my blog-tour coordinator—employed back when I could afford such—my urge to switch off the Mac, throw out the pencils, burn my thesaurus. She said no, don’t do that, all our reviewers loved your books.

I spent all night updating my website. The one I won’t need, on account of I’m not going to write books any more.

Maybe.

Crap.

I need another glass of wine.

Tools of the Trade, Part 1: Words

ster•e•o•type  /ˈsterēəˌtīp/ noun 1. a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

I get this. If you’re an indie author, you get this, because, let’s face it, indies have a bad rep in some circles. Now we can’t do jack about folks who believe writing is easy, and/or we’re in this for the money. No changing minds that color all indies as half-witted hobbyists, geeky basement dwellers, ditzy housewives, or bored retirees.

But before I tumble off my soapbox laughing–or foaming at the mouth–let me add this:  Even Psychology Today admits some stereotypes grow like twisted pearls around a kernel of truth. Our kernel is this:  We’ve got too much half-assed writing out there. Not the sole province of indies, I’ll grant you, but we can only clean our own house.

And speaking of houses, you wouldn’t try to build one without tools–well, not unless you’re Popeye the Sailor, who used to drive nails with his fists, and even he couldn’t build a book without the right tools. For the next few weeks, I’m gonna make like Lowe’s, offering tips and tools for your building pleasure. Today’s special, laying a strong foundation.

We start by repeating our mantra for this Saturday:

Words-Have-Power

You bet they do, so don’t get sloppy with them. Would you get sloppy with a band saw–whatever that is? No way. Well, to paraphrase Edward Bulwer-Lytton, words are mightier than band saws. Think about it.

Words are wonderful. Hobgoblin, finagle, lambaste, titular, weensy, claptrap, crackerjack, fluff, knucklehead, quisling, snout, porcine … I mean, you gotta love ’em, right? So choose the right one. If you won’t listen to me on this, listen to Mark Twain.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Choosing the right word is key for, oh, let me count the ways. Nail your nouns, you won’t need to swaddle them in adjectives that bloat your writing. A strong verb will free you from adverbs, which as Stephen King assures us, pave the road to Hell. So forget the bad storm and heavy rain. You’ve got your deluge, your downpour, or, if you’re in Texas, your frog-strangler. Jettison smiled wryly or widely or sweetly in favor of smirked, beamed, leered, grinned, or simpered.

Sad to say, sometimes the perfect noun or verb is nowhere to be found. In that case, you’ve got nowhere to go but adjectives or adverbs, so go for the heavy lifters. And use as few as possible. Sticking with the storm theme: sheeting rain, shrieking wind, soupy fog. Smile fleetingly or darkly or crookedly. And for God’s sake, don’t be afraid of the unusual. Check out this evocative image from J.D. Robb’s Conspiracy In Death:  “the thin and sticky hand of charity.”

See what I mean? And I may I just say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”

Make use of all your word tools. Onomatopoeia, for example. You probably know, but in case you don’t, onomatopoeia is “the formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.” (Thanks for the cut-and-paste, thefreedictionary.com!) You’ll find a nice list here. In case you’re curious, a few personal faves include plunk, jitter, plop, babble (referring to speech, not brooks), eew, grit, and gurgle. I could go on and on, so please … stop me now!

Alliteration is another handy tool, but you want to use this one with caution, unless you’re writing standup comedy, and even then, you don’t want to go all Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Check out these powerhouse examples:

  • “I’ll kill him,” he said, “in all his greatness and glory.” ~Old Man and the Sea
  • “his appearance was something displeasing, something downright detestable” ~Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
  • “the sibilant sermons of the snake” ~The Gargoyle (nice combo of alliteration and onomatopoeia, yes?)
  • ballbuster ~almost any mainstream mystery novel

Finally, as I’ve often said–much to the dismay of friends and family everywhere–if you’re serious about words, if you want to learn to unleash their power, you need to read poetry. (I heard that groan. Suck it up.) Poets rule when it comes to the efficient, effective use of words. Read and learn:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Frozen-ground-swell, spilling boulders? Oh yeah, words have power ….

Growing Up Indie Part IX: Crickets

Honesty comes hard today, but when I started this series, I committed to telling my indie publishing experience like it is—even if I wind up feeling like a dork in the process. Which I often do. Take this post, for example. Dork factor of at least 10.  Is that going to stop me?  Heck, no. Because I have a mantra:  There are no mistakes; this is a learning experience. There are no mistakes; this is a learning experience. (Breathe deeply and repeat until you get past the urge to devour massive quantities of Dove chocolate.)

book signing sceneYes, today’s topic is book signings.  As an indie author with no agent, I arrange my own. Two under my belt so far. And, as much as it pains me to fess up, I’m going to tell you about them and the lessons they taught me.

My first rodeo (this is Texas, after all) kicked off at the local library. “It’s NaNoWriMo night,” they said. “The group says they really want to talk to you,” they said. “You should get a good response,” they said. And, librarians being some of the nicest people I know, I believed them.

I arrived 15 minutes early to set up my table. Covered it with a fashionable tablecloth, made sure my book was stylishly (and prominently) displayed on an elegant stand. Heck, I even offered a door prize! Also the above-mentioned Dove chocolate. (All of which I did wind up eating, by the way, albeit not in one sitting.) Then I sat me down, smiled me sweetest author smile—a smile darned near as delectable as the Dove—and waited. In my defense, let me say I never expected droves of admiring fans. I did expect (or at least, hope for) a few.  In the end, I got one. The rest of the evening?

crickets3Yes, that’s a cricket. ‘Nuff said? God, I hope so.

Still, I told myself the evening wasn’t a total loss. For one thing, I learned librarians are optimists. I also figured out your basic, small-town library isn’t the most happening place on a Wednesday evening. I got a copy of my book onto their shelves. Finally, and possibly most important, I found out Killin’ Jim Miller really did assassinate 51 men.

Book signing #2, scheduled at a wildly popular local coffee house, looked a lot more promising. “The place will be packed,” they said. “You should get a great response,” they said. And, because the fellow I talked to sounded so enthusiastic, I believed him.

BUT, for added insurance, I came up with this absolutely brilliant marketing idea:  Purchase a book, get a free gift bag. Brightly colored tissue paper included. Could Christmas shopping get any easier? I ask you.

So last night, I lugged my traps up to the house of Java. And, brother, it was packed! Granted, my table was about the size of a deck of playing cards, but I am nothing, if not resourceful. Got set up, smiled my smile, and mentally rubbed my hands together. Avast, maties! Author’s ship off the port bow!

Unfortunately, my ship stayed off the port bow.  Waaaaay off the port bow.  Besides two pity visits—”Oh, did you write this book?  What’s it about?  Gee, that’s swell.”—nobody shopped … or even made eye contact. Well, except for that one lady, who stopped in to buy two books. Because, you know, she happens to be a friend of mine.

I sat there from 4-6 last night. Longest. Two. Hours. Of. My. Life.  (Not counting childbirth.)  But I stuck it out on principle. I will admit, though, by the time six o’clock crawled around, my smile was somewhat worse for wear.

fake-smile-229x300Again, I learned.  Librarians aren’t the only ones with rosy expectations, coffee hours guys have them, too. And college students studying for finals (in between hookups) don’t stop to buy books. I got to donate a book to the coffee house library. Finally, I now know where to get possibly the best and biggest cup of hot chocolate in the known universe.

Today, as I munch leftover Reece’s Peanut Butter Bells, I ponder the signing scheduled for next week. I remember how they promised me a big crowd and snort, “Yeah, I’ve heard that line before.” I anticipate another two hours wearing that clothespin smile. I wonder if I can come down with a convenient case of beriberi and save my hips from the blowout caused by a third leftover candy stache.

Mostly I wonder if I should be doing signings at all. Are book signings only worth it for authors with established names? Or are they a necessary, painful paying of dues on the way to establishing a name?

I love meeting readers, even if they don’t read my books. I love talking to fellow authors, especially if they, like me, are aspiring. I love introducing them to resources like World Literary Cafe that will help them on their way.

But who wants to sit at a table, feeling (and smiling) like a dork?

All I can say at this point is, the jury is still out on book signings. I’ll let you know the verdict, right after I recover from my acute beriberi.

Meanwhile …. Candy, anyone?

Growing Up Indie, Part VIII: As Time Goes By

The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

I don’t know about you, but as time goes by I forget.  Between writing (or fretting because I’m not) and marketing (what little I do) and keeping an eye on sales (it only takes one eye at this point) and the occasional obsession with reviews, I lose sight of fundamentals every author should remember.  Maybe I need to print them out and post them on the giant bulletin board above my monitor, alongside the next novel’s murder map and my train ticket to Bordeaux and the yellow button that says, “I may be over the hill, but I can still get back on top when I want to.”

Today, I thought I would post them here, because maybe you’ve forgotten, too.  That way, I can remind both of us.  So here, for our collective edification, are 5 fundamentals every writer should keep in mind.

  1. Write for Yourself First.  Don’t start out thinking about sales or gold stars or even the reader.  Stay true to your story; it’s a world only you can offer. Writing at its best is like giving birth. Your imagination is pregnant with a cast of characters and everything that happens to them.  You don’t want to deliver a clone, simply because the kid might be more marketable and people will like you better.
  2. Improve Your Art.  Call me a cockeyed idealist, but I consider writing an art, and frankly, I don’t care whether we’re talking literary coming-of-age novels, romances, or zombie apocalypses.  You’re a wordsmith, and practice should make perfect—or as nearly perfect as we can get in this crazy world.  Get feedback from fellow authors and editors and proofreaders.  Pay attention to what you like about your favorite authors.  Go back and (oh, God!) look at your earlier work and pinpoint what you could have done differently (read:  better).  Always, always be on the lookout for ways to grow as a writer.  Which brings us to our next point ….
  3. Keep It Simple, Silly.  In the past few months, I’ve come close to banging my head against the wall any number of times.  Why?  Because authors who should know better—talking best-sellers here—have suddenly decided more words trump fewer, and the more highfaluting the adjective, the better.  WRONG doesn’t quite cover this phenomenon.  Imagine your next sentence is your hand.  You want your words to deliver a slap or a punch?  Keep your writing compact.  This advice goes hand in hand with fundamental #4.
  4. Write Like You Talk.  Tattoo this Robertson Davies quote on your forehead (backwards, so you can read it in the mirror): “I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story’ ….” When you write, tell the story the way you would tell it to a group of friends sitting around a campfire (S’mores optional).  This is what we call your “voice.”  This voice is as unique as your DNA,  flowing directly from who you are and setting you apart from every other author who ever has or ever will write a word.  (This is a good thing.)
  5. Leave Some Gaps.  Want to draw your reader in?  Leave room for his/her imagination.  By that I mean, give just enough detail.  No need to describe every wart, whisker, or button on the armchair.  Let your audience fill in the lesser blanks and get on with the action.  Instead of getting bored, your reader will unconsciously invest a bit of him- or herself in your story.  Plus, you let the reader do some of the work!  What’s not to like about that?

Well, there you (we) have them.  I’m sure you could name other fundamentals, and I’d be obliged if you would share.  Seriously.  Post a comment here, or on my Facebook page or just shoot me an e-mail, and I’ll share.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you ….

Waiting

Growing Up Indie, Part VII: Priorities

Writing is not about the money.  Self-publishing is not about royalties.

There.  I said it.

Now, before you file me under “get real”—or call out the guys in the white coats—let me say this:  Getting paid for what you write is not a bad thing.  I like getting paid.  Royalties make me feel more like a “real author.”  (Whatever that may be, and as sad as that may be.)  Someday, said royalties may event amount to enough to help put gluten-free bread on my table and kibble in the dog dishes.

And lest you think I’ve always taken the high road on money, I freely admit to a darned-near (artistically) fatal case of “gonna make me a bundle” early on in the game.  Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, I believed the self-publishing-as-the-road-to-riches hype.  Put my books out there, kicked back on the dock, and waited for the Queen Mary to cruise in.

waiting_for_my_ship_to_come_in_by_heylormammy-d33gd1s

I’m still waiting.

Fortunately, the wait hasn’t been wasted.  While peering hopefully at the horizon, I learned what is probably the most important lesson self-publishing had to teach me:  It’s not about the money.  Actually, I think I knew part of this before I started, but the Gold Bug bit me and I forgot.  So, in case you’ve forgotten, too—or maybe never figured it out to begin with ….

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”
~John Cheever

That’s the part I already knew but forgot.  Writing is about relationships—the intimate meeting of hearts and minds.  When I write, I invite the reader to join his/her imagination with mine.  (Think Vulcan Mind Meld, only a lot less creepy.)  Together, we can open portals to new worlds and fantastic adventures.  Go it alone, and I’m just talking to myself on paper.

The part of the lesson that caught me by surprise is this:  Self-publishing is also about relationships.

Say what?

Well, it’s like this:  I never connected with as many kind, helpful people in my life, as I have since going indie.  Reader/reviewers.  Marketing mentors.  Altruistic promoters.  Emotional support groups.  (I was going to say “emotional supporters,” but sounded too much like men’s underwear.)  General helper-outers and cheerleaders.  You simply would not believe how many terrific folks are out there, waiting to join hands.  I mean, hokey smokes, it’s enough to restore your faith in mankind!

So allow this junior senior citizen, this student in the continuing-education school of knocks for those hard of head, offer you a few modicums of advice:

  • If you measure social media success by the number of followers you have on Twitter, or the number of likes you have on Facebook, you lose.
  • If you live for retweets but stay a stranger to the folks who help you out—forget to banter with them, encourage them, and/or support them—you lose.
  • If you’re all about self-promotion and never about paying it forward or lending a helping hand, you lose.
  • If you’re so busy courting reviews and counting stars, you don’t have time to toss a few stars into someone else’s galaxy, you lose.
  • And if royalties, not relationships, are your yardstick for success, you definitely lose.
“Regardless of whether a relationship brings us joy or sorrow, each relationship gives us the opportunity to grow stronger, nobler, and more compassionate with ourselves and others.” ~Tamela Rich
Just my opinion, mind you, but that’s what writing and self-publishing are all about.  So, let’s keep our priorities straight, shall we?
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