Overflowing with Opportunites

Indie publishing is all about freedom–it’s a great theme today of all days. I write this while sitting at the Toyota dealership on Veterans Day, getting my car serviced and drinking hot chocolate brewed in a Tassano machine. Do you ever get freaked out, though, by freedom?

The reason I’m thinking about this is that my latest book, The Source of Lightning, will be available for sale in e-book form any minute now (well, as soon as the vetting gods have their way with it) and in print sometime this month. That’s so exciting to me, but that means I’m back on the marketing trail once more.

My first venture into marketing in this brave new indie world was with my first book, Second Death, published back in March of this year. The opportunities were amazing and varied. I worked out a schedule and did a little marketing, but not as much as I probably should have. My second book, The Color of Darkness and Other Stories, wasn’t marketed at all. I mainly put it out there to have a body of work, as all the experts say you should have.

But since March, the opportunities for marketing have grown exponentially. I’ve been a member of the Indie Authors Group on Facebook for awhile, but I’ve also joined Indie Authors Unite. My head spins at the veritable plethora of places I can submit reviews, post my book information, blogs I can guest write, blog tours… Yikes! How do I sort through it all?

No, really, how do I?

I’m not sure this is a blog post about how to sort through it. I’m still trying to get my head around that. The main message I have to bring you today is, you’re not alone. The biggest strength of the web is people. Sure, there are trolls and generally ooky people out there, and an amazing number of demanding people who take advantage of the free help offered, but want MORE and MORE, driving the kind-hearted who offer that help to distraction.

The key to indie marketing, I think, is to know where to go for help. Don’t try to do it alone. Here’s the strategy I plan to use:

1. Figure out what product you’re selling. Your book is a product like any other. Do you think salespeople go out unprepared and don’t know what they’re selling? Write the best blurb you can, describing your book in a way that will entice people to buy it. (I’m assuming you already have a well-edited book with a professional-looking cover. If you don’t, make that your number one priority.) Figure out the tags and categories that place your book among the others out there.
2. Decide what you want to get out of marketing. Do you want huge sales? Do you want name recognition for your brand? Come up with the goals you have for this book. And set your goals high. A person’s reach should exceed her or his grasp, as the poet said, in my bad paraphrase.
3. Shop for marketing opportunities. Keeping your goals in mind, look for sites to be interviewed, blog tours to join–whatever opportunity fits in. Don’t take every opportunity that comes along; be selective for what fits your goals.
4. Keep up with what you’re doing. You don’t want to duplicate your efforts. If you’re like me, you have a limited amount of time to write and market, so make the best of those opportunities. Whether you use software to keep up with it or just a notebook, jot down somewhere what you’ve done and where and what’s worked and what hasn’t.

That’s all the advice I can summon at this moment, and my hot chocolate is gone. My head’s clearer on the subject and I feel less panicked about marketing. How about you? What are you doing to market your latest work? Share in the comments.

What do you know about ignorance?

“Don’t know much about history.
“Don’t know much biology.
“Don’t know much about a science book.
“Don’t know much about the French I took.”

Okay, I get this litany of how ignorant the singer is contrasts with the fact that s/he “loves you,” and how reciprocation of such would engender a wonderful world. But singable though it is, the conceit behind it has always annoyed me. What we don’t know is perfectly acceptable as long as we have a warm, fuzzy emotion to go along with that lack of knowledge.

I’m not really sure where or when the inherent anti-intellectualism in our society originated (sure, I could google it, but if you know, post a comment). I nearly entitled this post, “Ignorance is piss.” Why is ignorance a positive trait?

In this age of instant access (which I alluded to in the previous sentence, in fact), ignorance is inexcusable. Writers in particular need to combat ignorance. It’s what we do, right? Create knowledge and/or information where none existed before? Knit up diverse strands of data into a coherent whole? (Hello? Is this thing on?)

(I feel quite curmudgeonly as I type this. I must’ve pushed one of my own buttons.) I’m frequently annoyed by writers who protest, “Oh, I just don’t know how to use Twitter.” Why not? Find out! I can think of at least three e-books off the top of my head that explain in detail what Twitter is and how an author can use it in marketing her books. Can’t afford the e-books? Ask! Independent author sites abound, with lots of free help available. Saying “I don’t know” without proceeding to remedy the situation is just plain lazy.

The world is such an amazing place, full of intriguing and insane and annoying and wretched and intense and blissful and spiritual and stupid people. To my mind, writers fight ignorance with every paragraph, every sentence, every word, filling in the vast emptiness of ignorance with glittering webs of information, with new discoveries, with new ways of looking at existence. The creative writer enlivens dry facts, giving birth to brand new life. One of my greatest joys in reading is not necessarily the words on the page or the pixels on the Kindle, but the ideas for my own writing that spin off in little creative whorls. Usually these ideas have nothing to do with the words on the page. Something just clicks. Because the writer took the time to write.

Writers, don’t be lazy. Before you type the words “I don’t know” on Facebook or complain to someone about your ignorance, stop. Remedy that lack, fill in that lacuna, google it, and instead, share the knowledge with the rest of us.

You’re lifting up the entire human race when you do.

Drop a comment below and let me know what you think of the subject.

An Aural Experiment

Listen NowIn the course of my indie publishing journey, I’ve met authors from all over the world. That got me thinking about how I’d love to hear their voices. Thus, Indie Book Bytes was born.

Indie Book Bytes is a website dedicated to the voices of independent authors. Not just their written voices, but their speaking voices. I researched the easiest way for people unfamiliar with recording technology to record and post themselves reading an excerpt from their book. It’s set up in a podcast format, so readers (listeners!) may subscribe to the RSS feed and be notified when a new podcast is available. The links on the site provide a quick way to download the rest of the story.

I’ll admit there are challenges in this experiment. So many people say they don’t like the sound of their own voice. But in the aural format, busy readers who don’t have time to look for new works can have a listen.

We’ll see how it goes!

Check out Indie Book Bytes and contribute your own excerpt!

5 Tips for a Professional-Looking Author Website

If you’re an independently published author (or any kind of author, for that matter), it only makes sense to extend your marketing efforts with a website. Facebook, Twitter and Google + are useful tools, but don’t substitute for an online reference location for all things you-the-author.

I created my first website in 1996, which is eons ago in electronic terms. My day job is web designer at a university, and I’ve taught web design to journalism and communication undergraduates. Here are some tips I’ve gleaned over these years to make sure your author site looks professional. I’ve written before about the need for establishing your credibility as an author; your website should reflect this credibility as well.

  1. Don’t use your author website to learn web design. If you’re keen to learn, create a practice site only you can see. If your website looks amateurish, you’ll give critics of independent publishing still more ammunition for the idea that self-published works are amateurish. If you don’t know how to create a website, hire it done or buy a pre-made template.
  2. If you’re creating your own site, go for a cohesive look. All pages should use the same template. The site should look as though all the pages are part of the same site. If someone comes to  your site through Google, she might not come to your homepage first. Make every room of your web “house” reflect your author persona, so you won’t cringe if someone turns up first in the back room where all the boxes are stacked. So to speak.
  3. Limit your color palette. A limited palette creates a more pleasing appearance and contributes to that professional look. One of my favorite sites for choosing color schemes is the Color Scheme Designer site.
  4. Limit font selection. Stick to various sizes of one font. Resist the temptation to use multiple colors and fonts–a sure sign of an amateur. And whatever you do, please don’t use Comic Sans! That font is such a cliche. So is Papyrus. Typekit is a great source for web fonts.
  5. Eschew cheesy clip art and animation. Before you add any image to a page, ask yourself if it contributes to the cohesive look you want. Does it have a purpose? If not, don’t use it.

When you’ve finished your site, have someone whose opinion you trust look it over. Just as you wouldn’t take the word of only your friends and relatives about the editing of your book (at least I hope not), don’t rely exclusively on the opinion of someone who doesn’t want to offend you.

If you check out my personal site, you’ll find that I purchased the template. I was concerned that I have a professional appearance, despite my years of experience, and didn’t have the time to fuss with designing it myself.

Let me know if you have questions about this topic. Post them below.

How to Survive the Slough of Despond

I’m not sure how many people these days understand the allusion in the title. It refers to a location in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve never read it, honestly, although I’ve heard the phrase for years. Here’s a quotation from it, via from the Wikipedia entry for “Slough of Despond,” which literally means swamp of despair: “This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended…There ariseth in [the sinner’s] soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place, and this is the reason for the badness of this ground.” I left out the parts about sin; that belongs in a religious commentary, which this isn’t.  Substitute “writer’s” for “sinner’s,” and doesn’t this sound like the state of mind in which we often find ourselves? Fears? Check. Doubts? Check. Discouraging apprehensions? Oh yeah, in spades.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m in a personal Slough of Despond at the moment. John Bunyan wouldn’t understand the actual phrase “burned out,” but he’d probably include the essence of that phrase in his nasty swamp. I’m not burned out on writing, surprisingly, but on marketing. No, the writing of the WIP (which stands for “work in progress,” for those of you who were afraid to ask) is going along swimmingly, thanks. Y’know, when I actually find time to write. At the moment, writing is easy. Marketing is hard.

Marketing is hard anyway to most writers. If you’re fearful of ridicule in reviews that say your heartfelt work is crap, how are you able to tell everybody in the world they should read it because it’s great? If you doubt your ability to write because no one has bought it or even downloaded it for free, how can you summon the catchy and intriguing prose that will compel readers to catapult you to the Amazon top 100? As has been pointed out elsewhere (I’m not finding the actual quote, but trust me on this), writers of fiction are not generally used to writing marketing copy, especially for themselves.

It’s especially discouraging when you aren’t seeing great sales. That’s where I am these days. My sales are pretty pitiful (like a couple of sales a week or less), despite a regimen of marketing and participating and trying to get my name out there. I’ve put out a collection of stories, but I’ve been too burned out to really promote it much. The next book, The Source of Lightning, is in editing, and I’m hoping it will find more readers. But in the indie marketing game, “hoping” just doesn’t cut it.

So what do you do? You’re not going to like the answer. Everybody tells you there’s no magic bullet. Everybody’s right. If you read the authors of “how to” e-books I reviewed in my last post, they’ll tell you it’s hard work. And luck, as J.A. Konrath always reminds us. You keep at it, that’s what you do. Hire it done, if you have the money to spare. Check out people like Duolit. Read blogs like Indie Author Community for inspiration. Join groups like Indie Author Group to learn and rejuvenate. Above all, keep at it.

Really, that slough can’t stretch on forever. You’ll get to the end of it eventually. Or you’ll decide it’s too hard and give up. Take courage in the fact that you’re an indie author, and YOU are in charge of your destiny. Reach out for help. Keep on keepin’ on. If you don’t illuminate the path, luck won’t find you.

Comment and let me know how you survive the Slough of Despond.