Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Special Announcement For Paranormal Fans

The Beyond Natural, a weekly series hosted by friend of the blog, Landra/Rise of the Slush, is debuting Wednesday night on the Paranormal TV Network! How exciting is that?!

Check out the details here. You can either attend live (9 PM CST) or watch it later on demand, a happy option for those in the UK who'll be asleep at 3 AM or those in Oz who'll be at work at noon on Thursday.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Far Do You Go As An Author?

I'll be releasing SECTOR C on the 1st. It isn't spoiling anything to say that much of the plot revolves around a company that sponsors canned hunts (hunts where the animals are tied out or put into an enclosure so the hunters are assured of a kill). The question of whether or not canned hunts are ethical is a small part of the story but not the main focus.

I don't have an agenda with the book other than wanting to present some philosophical questions for people to think about: Just because we can do something, does that mean we should? Put into similar circumstances what would you think, how would you react?

To that end, I worked hard to present balanced arguments to some of the ethical questions raised. I especially wanted my villain to be a rational person with grounded reasons that make sense for the choices he makes. He's countered by a protag who's a veterinarian and who's closer to being the spokesperson for my own ethical beliefs.

People die in the book. Animals who aren't human die. Although I've been told the animal deaths are more emotional than the human ones, I again tried for balance.

The ending doesn't wrap up neatly. It doesn't necessarily leave room for a sequel, but it does leave more questions about how the reader would react in the situation the world is left in.

My intent is not to manipulate anyone's thinking one way or the other. But I'm also concerned that because I start with a hunting scene and have some rational arguments for what the fictional company is doing, readers will believe I've written a pro-hunting treatise. Or that I'm anti-science. Or that I'm something else that I'm not that will somehow taint their attitude toward the book.

I think my subconscious was wrestling with that concern and that's what helped spur the creation of the Confessions of an Animal Junkie blog. I now have a public site that pretty much defines where I stand ethically. A pre-emptive block. One that I didn't necessarily realize I was glad to have until I had it.

So my questions for you are:
  • Do you judge an author by their book or by the speeches they put into their characters' mouths?
  • Are you planning or have you planned any "damage control" activities before releasing one of your books?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Query Revision 26: Redux

Spy

Dear Editor,

As a stealth master in the SSS (Spies Serving Society), Sarhya helps protect her friends and the other street kids hiding from a despotic government that considers orphans nothing more than cheap labor. Dealing with infiltrators, smugglers and rival spies has become second nature after two years working with her fellow spies, but Sarhya will need more than talent to handle the crisis headed her way.

For the first time since the SSS formed, an adult has asked to join their ranks, and he is none other than the legendary Black Dragon, a stealth master like herself. Although Dragon's request is granted through a joint decision, Sarhya is none too pleased to have someone encroaching on her position, no matter how famous he is.

However, the SSS as a whole has larger issues to deal with than a little friction among its members. Black Dragon's former employer took offense when he walked out and is determined to get him back by any means possible, including blackmail involving an unsuspecting Sarhya, who is about to find out just how harsh reality can be when it comes to learning the truth about the family she has always imagined.

At 60,000 words, SPY is a futuristic adventure novel for middle grade readers. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for considering my work.

Sincerely,

Comments

Through each iteration, I still find myself asking why such a legendary guy wants to join a youth group. And why a savvy bunch of kids lets him. I understand the prestige value from the kids' POV, but I think mentioning the motivation of the adult in the query will help pre-empt that question in the reader's mind. I think it's more important to know why he's joining than how he gets in. And probably more important than Sarhya feeling displeased that he's there. You could probably sneak that bit in more succinctly at the beginning of the last paragraph:

Sarhya's steamed at being snubbed, but the SSS as a whole has ...

Dealing with infiltrators, smugglers and rival spies has become second nature after two years working with her fellow spies, but Sarhya will need more than talent to handle the crisis headed her way.

This is a nit that may not bother anyone else, but I was trying to figure out who would be infiltrating the SSS? I could kind of imagine them infiltrating government groups but vice versa?

And, of course, if you say she'll need more than talent, I start to wonder what else she'll need -- friends, wits, knowledge?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Talent Vs. Luck - Or What's A Horse Race For?

Sham (left) and Secretariat (right)
Re-watching the movie Secretariat recently got me thinking about the roles luck and talent play in so many aspects of our lives, writing included.

Secretariat, for those of you unfamiliar, was Horse of the Year as a 2-year-old in 1972 and took the title again as a 3-year-old in 1973. He won 16 of the 21 races he ran, including the Triple Crown. I remember sitting in front of the TV watching his 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes and gawking at that incredible ground-devouring stride of his.

The movie takes some leeway with the facts to create a more exciting and streamlined version of Secretariat's racing career. Most notably, it plays somewhat loosely with the rivalry between Secretariat and Sham, a bloodline cousin who Secretariat raced against several times. I don't know if Sham's owner really was as big a jerk as he's made out to be in the movie, but my guess is that the script writers needed a villain and Sham's owner -- and by extension, Sham himself -- was written to fill the bill.

What's only hinted at is just how good a race horse Sham was in his own right. In a different year, competing with a different crop of foals, Sham may well have taken The Horse of the Year titles. He may have won at least the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Maybe even the Belmont too, if he didn't have to match the brutal early pace Secretariat challenged him with.

The movie excuses Secretariat for losing the Wood Memorial to Sham when it's discovered Secretariat ran the race dogged with the pain of a mouth abscess irritated even more by bit and bridle. What the movie fails to acknowledge is that Sham broke two teeth on the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby and, mouth bleeding, still ran the second fastest Derby race of all time, a record beaten only by the Derby winner, Secretariat.

Sham had speed, talent and heart. Literally. One of the genetic traits he shared with Secretariat and others in his bloodline was an abnormally large heart, which gave him improved oxygenation and increased stamina. Sham had everything on his side. His only misfortune: being born in the same year as an athlete as phenomenal as Secretariat.

In that big red horse's shadow, great just wasn't good enough.

As writers struggling to be noticed in the slushpile or on the shelves, we sometimes have to accept that the biz is as much about luck as it is about talent. We can't control who our competition is or the fickleness of readers. We can't control world economics or the advent of new technology. What we can control is developing the talent given us. And despite everything you do to improve your lot as a writer, sometimes you have to accept that the genre you write in has dried up, the agent you'd give up your firstborn for signed a similar work the week before she got around to reading yours, or readers are snatching up a similarly themed series that hit the shelves a month before yours and calling yours -- which had publication delays out of your control -- derivative.

Talent will out, true. But sometimes being great still isn't enough.

How many of you remembered the name Sham?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Targeted Marketing and Oversaturation

As you know, I write about animals here and over at Confessions of an Animal Junkie. I've written about rescues and I have a rescue organization signed up to write regular guest posts at the Animal Junkie blog. Google, Facebook, game sites, writer forums, animal forums -- all see fit to advertise charitable humane organizations to me.

I have rescues now. I've had them in the past, I'll have them in the future. I donate what I can afford to what reputable charities I can. In short, I am a convert. MORE advertising is oversaturation. In fact, from the time I sit down at my computer with my morning cuppa to the time I turn the laptop off at night, I am faced with an unending barrage of images of sick, injured, neglected and abused animals.

Yes, I care -- deeply. Yes, every image tugs at the appropriate heartstring. But sometimes I just need a break from the constant suffering on display, you know. Sometimes I just want to enjoy lunch at my desk without contemplating the fate of millions of dogs and cats. The occasional ad served out is fine. A similar ad on nearly every webpage I open? That just inures me to any of them. Nor does my brain discriminate between them. Is it an ad from the HSUS, the SPCA, the ASPCA, Best Friends, a local shelter? I don't know. I don't look.

It's been suggested this is "compassion fatigue." I don't dispute that. But I do wonder if it extends into other areas as well.

Are there certain targeted advertising themes that are wearing you down rather than inciting you to act?

Does this also translate to the increasing number of book ads we're seeing pitched in tweets, FB posts, banners on author sites and comments? Have you bought books because you're seeing them "all over the place?" Or does seeing them "all over the place" encourage you to run far, far away?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In Retrospect

The general idea for this post was suggested by dear friend-of-the-blog Wilkins MacQueen. After critting 100 queries and 20 synopses, along with their revisions, here and commenting on and rewriting dozens more on other crit sites, could I sum up what it takes to write a great query or synopsis?

At first blush, it seemed like such a post would entail little more than a quick, down-and-dirty bulleted list of the do's and don't's of query and synopsis writing. But when I started to really think about "lessons learned," I realized that the true take-aways can't be distilled that easily. Besides, you can find any number of agent sites and writerly type blogs that present lists of do's and don't's that mirror most of what I would say in that type of format anyway. And here on this blog I've tried to steer clear of simply regurgitating advice you can so readily find elsewhere.

We've worked here to refine and clarify a lot of queries to varying degrees of success. As critters, we become quite invested in the work we critique and develop a bit of a skewed belief that there are a whole lot of good stories out there waiting to be read. Invariably, at some point it becomes a numbers game.

So here's my decidedly unhelpful retrospective on the business of the query letter (and synopsis).

What Gets Requests

A strong, confident query with a unique spin, a unique hero or a unique voice will get requests.

It will garner even more requests if it contains popular elements in a genre that's currently on an upward trend.

A few sleeper queries will get requests.

Minimalist queries that say little and leave everything to the imagination inexplicably also get requests.

Queries that break every query "rule" out there get requests.

Queries that seemingly have little in common with specific agents' preferred genres get requests.

Queries for beautifully written, beautifully imagined stories don't get requests.

In short, it's a crap shoot. The only query that for sure doesn't lead to a request is the one that never gets submitted.

How Many Requests Should You Be Getting

It's tough out there -- and getting tougher. There are a lot of good stories demanding to be noticed. If you're getting a 15-20% request rate, I'd say you're doing decently.

I have noticed most people taking the "query a handful of agents at a time" approach seem to do things a bit backward. They query the big agencies first. At big agencies, there's more competition to get in the door. And if your query isn't *quite* there yet, you've blown your chance. You can always send to "practice" agents first -- those you may not think are your first choice and/or those with a reputation for turning a response around fast. See if you get requests from them. If not, it gives you a chance to tweak your query. And if they wind up offering, you can still approach your favorite big agent with the practice agent's offer and do a little line-jumping in the process.

Some Don't's

Don't overworkshop your query and lose spontaneity and voice in the process.

Don't be quick to blame the query if you're not getting a high request rate -- maybe it's your pages or your unconventional story or an oversaturated market. Trust your gut.

Don't completely discount that it could be the query. If the style or voice of the query doesn't match the genre of the mss, that disconnect could be enough to trigger form rejections.

Don't point to all the great works that were rejected at one time or another and declare all agents and editors are clueless.

Don't forget that most great works have been rejected at one time or another, and many good works never see print because they can't secure a champion.

Don't pin all your hopes on any one agent/editor.

Anecdotally Speaking

Requests are made on "imperfect" queries all the time. Sometimes what resonates is a concept or a spark in the writing. Sometimes it's just gut reaction.

Sometimes agents request knowing they won't offer but they want to satisfy their own curiosity about how the story ends or how the author pulls off a certain macguffin.

Agents get swamped. Some agents prevaricate. One virtual buddy of mine got a rejection nearly 1 year after she submitted her query. The agent apologized, saying she'd just found some old queries in her spam filter. That was the same excuse she'd used on her website 6 months earlier saying she'd found some queries in spam dating back to the time my buddy had sent hers in. If you think your queries aren't being read, you may be right (although I'm betting most are).

The Secret

You could have a truly great story but an agent may be shopping something similar right then. Conversely, an agent may be considering repping a new genre when your query shows up in her inbox.

Accept that there are things beyond your control and mitigate those possible risks that you can control.

And the big secret: Approach the right agent/editor at the right time with the right work.

It's that simple. And that hard. It's creating that perfect storm through writing and editing talent, timing, research, perseverance and a little luck.

Here's to creating your perfect storm soon!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Agent-Publishers: The Reader Perspective

Agents-as-publishers has been a heated topic for the past few weeks. There have been any number of discussions on personal blogs and public forums that, in general, focus on the pros and cons from the business perspective of the writer.

What I've seen fewer of are discussions around how the average reader will be affected. By average, I simply mean the reader who isn't interested in the behind-the-scenes machinations of how a book gets into her hands.

Where do readers find their books online? Have Amazon and BN made their storefronts so enticing and easy-to-purchase-and-navigate that they are the first choice for readers to head when they need a new book? Or do the storefronts for niche small and micro publishers draw more readers in? Will readers rejoice in the proliferation of publishing sites that will soon litter the internet or will they turn to a small number of favorites they already know and love?

For those readers browsing Amazon who say they will not read an indie-published book, what criterion(a) are they using? Is it size of the publishing company? Number of titles? Authors represented? And will agent-published books meet that criterion in the average reader's mind?

The thing is, while there's anecdotal evidence on the internet about readers who discern between traditionally published books and indie books, the larger reader audience is pretty much unaware of how to distinguish the two when they're buying online from a store like Amazon. Will that help or hurt agent-publishers' positions?

Invariably, publishing-savvy discussions turn to quality. Twenty years ago, a fixed number of publishers could only buy a fixed number of books. Good books got turned away if there wasn't room on the list. Ten years ago, more of those good books were able to find homes in niche e-stores. Today, supply still outstrips demand. There are no firm statistics, but agents have anecdotally disclosed that somewhere between 30% and 60% of the books they try to sell don't, and that the traditional market is tightening so much they are turning away submissions they would have snatched up 10 years ago. By agents' own confessions, lots of good books they feel deserve an audience are going unpublished.

Will the average reader care if a book was a front-runner or a second-place finisher? Will an agent-publisher list bear the stigma of being a stable full of also-rans or carry the same mark of quality a traditional publishing house does?

Many of you are querying agents right now. If an agent told you they love the book but don't think they can sell it to a traditional house and offered to take you on as one of their agent-published authors, would you consider their offer?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Just When All Hope Is Lost...

It isn't.

Go read the guest post at today's Animal Junkie blog about a rescue given a second chance. It's a good way to start your day.

(I promise not to continually promote the new blog in the future, but being new it does need to find an audience...)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's War I Tell You. War!

The beauty of language, in my mind, lies in its fluid state. Through its ability to change, it can help shape and reinforce culture. It can help transition thinking from one paradigm to another. And it can be a source of eternal frustration for purists unwilling to let go of the old and embrace the new.

You might have noticed the groundswell recently around certain charged terms that've been infiltrating their way into conversations across the social media.

Indie.

Indie author.

Indie book.

How do you react when you see the terms? Do they make you shudder? Make you proud?

What do you think when you think "indie?" A ghetto-ized subsection of published writers who aren't worth the electrons they publish on? A niche clique of avant-garde authors blazing new trails into uncharted territory?

Last week, Amazon proved once again that it/they is/are on the cutting edge of applauding/irritating writers with its/their latest marketing ploy/shot across the bow: Featured Kindle Indie Books.

Corporate America has spoken.

Where do YOU stand in the great definition war?

Monday, August 15, 2011

There's A Snake In The Grass Over At 'Animal Junkie'

Monday Confessions of an Animal Junkie will be a roundup of interesting happenings on the farm from the previous week. I plan to empty out the camera, so there'll be plenty of photos too.

If you've enjoyed living the virtual farm life through my posts here, join me on the Animal Junkie blog where it's all beasties all the time!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hello World - Excuse The Mess; Didn't Know You Were Coming

I bet it's every author's dream to be the talk of the town, right? The Twitterati and other bloggers all mentioning your book ... What, you haven't heard?

You will soon, so you might as well go here and read now. You'll be gone awhile. I'll wait.

If the rest of you have come by hoping for a flame war or at the very least a rant, sorry to disappoint. The Dear Author reviewer has every right to express how she felt as she read Spoil of War. Whether I agree or not doesn't invalidate her reaction to it. By request, I've posted a response. It's #96 in the comments there.

I could bother to explain the points the reviewer found issue with or I could trust other readers to connect with the words in the way I hoped every reader would and get on with my promoting. I'm electing to do the latter.

Other reviewers feel differently about the book. They've come at the story from different places and experienced it through different filters as they read. They've been able to lose themselves in the Weltanschauung of the story.

I don't at all mean to be catty when I say this is something you need to decide for yourself. Simply repeating other peoples' perceptions about the quality or accuracy of the book without experiencing it for yourself is certainly as wrong as the review shilling I've been accused of. (Seriously, 5 reviews in 5 months on Amazon and 2 reviews on Goodreads and some people who don't even know me think I'm bartering reviews?)

The book has been researched. It's gone through beta readers and extensive editing. I've placed a cautionary note in the product description that the book contains violence toward women and children. When I explicitly mentioned rape and child abuse in the description, Amazon kept recategorizing the book as erotica, which it certainly isn't.

I am quite open to hearing how you would describe the story and what warning, if any, you as a reader would hope to see on a book in which some readers see a strong heroine overcoming circumstance and others see a heroine sleepwalking through a rapefest. What are the right words to balance that violence with a young woman's coming of age and learning to love? What words would you want to see on your own book?

Right now, the product description ends with this:
 
Please note: This novel takes place in a harsh era when spoils were often treated as commodities. While the violence toward women and children is period-appropriate and for mature adults only, it is never gratuitous. The story focuses on adaptation, survival and, ultimately, love in the Dark Ages before Arthur was made king.

Feel free to leave comments -- and especially suggestions. Speak your mind but please be respecful, especially where it concerns other indie/self-pubbed authors and reviewers anywhere who work hard to deliver the insight into books that helps you decide whether or not to read them yourself.

Thank you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Where I Am Today

My first vet tech-related story is up over at the Animal Junkie blog. The series is starting with the early years and influences on why I became a vet tech, so today's vignette is a personal peek into childhood angst.

I'm also guesting over at Kindle Scribbler, talking some more about real-world sales numbers for ebooks. The site is amassing a database of sales figures and strategies for boosting sales and is definitely worth a look around for anyone interested in that aspect of e-publishing.

I also stopped by Rise of the Slush's Writing Profession Series to check out good blog buddy and Extinct anthology author Shona Snowden's piece on copywriting.

And I took a peek at some exciting news one of our own (we've seen the query and synopsis here) has to share. Keep your fingers crossed for Beckahrah!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Critique Matchmaker Site

Mine was pretty much a bust (thank you everyone who gave it a go -- I think we made one match at least!). But someone else has created, from a cursory look, a real, website-based service that's attracting people in several genres. It's in beta right now, though open to new members. All free. I've seen a reference to it from folk I know and like, but I don't personally know anything more about it than the few minutes I spent over there.

If you're still single (or looking to cheat), go check it out: http://www.ladieswhocritique.com/

Updated to add it does indeed appear to be "ladies only" at this time.

Does Your Writing Pass The Submissions Test?

What does a first reader look for in a submission package of query/synopsis/partial --> full?

One first reader, Donna Maree Hanson, has written an excellent series of posts on just that topic. She's come at it from a very honest perspective. You can tell she was working it all out as she was writing the posts, which means they don't feel at all like someone "up there" lecturing down to you. I may have a bit more on the personal side to say about queries and synopses, which I'll talk about in a few days, but for the rest of it, Donna's taken far more time and explored the topic far more thoroughly than I would have done -- and done it from the perspective of someone in the trenches.

I don't know Donna. I found her because she and another blogger were identified as the primary first readers for Angry Robot's open submissions month, which drew close to 1000 submissions. Donna's not the reader who requested my full, nor is she in contact with the reader who did, so I'm not pandering here by pointing you guys her way. I truly believe you'll benefit from reading her posts. Heck, I did.

And for those of you who are UK-based thinking you're safe from the perils of queryland, note that Angry Robot (a serious player in SFF publishing) is/are in the UK. An "American" query letter works just as well there, plus you have the advantage of having one ready to pull from your pocket if you want to query beyond the UK.

You'll need to set aside some quiet time to read through all the content, but do it; you'll get more out of Donna's observations than you would out of that hour you were going to spend watching reruns on TV. The bonus is that much of this advice applies to those of you who self-publish too. If you can please a more discerning reader, your writing will be a shoe-in for a less-discerning (but not less-intelligent or less-validating or less-anything-else -- I'm not disparaging anyone here, merely distinguishing between reading experiences) general audience.

Part 1: Sets up who she and the publisher are and parameters around the process of reading subs

Part 2: When she provided comments back and why

Part 3A: Common issues in partial manuscripts (this is a long post - there are lots of issues!)

Part 3B: More issues that didn't make it into the first go-round

Part 4: On queries/introductory letters and synopses

Part 5: Assessing the full manuscript

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Be An Animal Junkie Too!

Come join me Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Confessions of an Animal Junkie for stories about the farm and anecdotes about pets, owners and a vet or two you really don't want to know too well.

I'll continue posting about writing and publishing here on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (which may occasionally turn into the odd Sundays, so maybe we'll just make that "weekends" instead).

As ever, THANK YOU for following either blog!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Who Knew?

I devote a large chunk of each day to my writing career. Lately, it seems more and more of that time is swallowed up by things other than the actual act of writing. Or even of plotting and outlining -- all the things you normally associate with the writing process.

For instance, I've set up a couple of new blogs.

  • Dare To Dream Press, which launched last week. Setting it up meant learning what types of widgets and gadgets and pages Amazon Associates offers and how to embed them in Blogger. And, of course, setting up the widgets for the site.
  • Confessions of an Animal Junkie (yes, it has a name -- many thanks to Landra, my virtual bounceboard during a midnight tweet session), my new animal-related blog, which launches tomorrow. I didn't want it coming naked into the world, without content, so I copied over all the "meet each of my beasties" posts from this blog, resized everything to fit over there, and then read through it all to edit for continuity and reference issues (and no, I did NOT get caught up looking at my kids' "baby" pictures. Nuh-uh.). Plus I wanted some fun gadgets, so have been looking for ones that go with the theme. And figuring out how to incorporate them without slowing the page load too much.
I reformatted 17 stories from the Extinct anthology as stand-alones and uploaded them to 3 different storefronts.

Every time these storefronts offers a promo op, usually on Facebook, I've jumped, uploading tweaked covers and tweaked text.

On Kindleboards and nookboards, I tweak descriptions and subject taglines for each book weekly.

I've brainstormed ideas such as the vet tech story collections and toyed with outlines and marketing plans to ensure they're workable. I've dumped a couple of ideas that weren't.

I've created ads for freebie exposure in an online magazine. Two of the ads that I was promised would be used, didn't make it in. Since one was for Extinct's campaign for the Tassie Devils, it can't be reused, so that ended up being wasted time. The ad that did make it in hasn't led to any attributable sales, so more time that could have been better spent elsewhere, as well.

And I've partnered in a venture that I can't discuss right now, but that is about to take up all the time I freed up by getting the new blogs launched and the 17 stories formatted and uploaded.

Here's my to-do list for this week:
  • Buy the hi-res art for Spoil of War's cover, recreate the cover image in high resolution, and create a new spine and back cover for a print version.
  • Reformat Spoil's text file for uploading to Amazon's CreateSpace to create a print version.
  • Upload all the files and set up the print version.
  • Complete final tweaks to the new Animal Junkie blog design.
  • Write the intro post for Wednesday's launch.
  • Read through the few chapters I wrote years ago about my days as a vet tech and rework some of it into a post for Friday's debut of the weekly series.
  • Put together some final thoughts and lessons learned about query writing for a post here. This will likely post this weekend or early next week. 
  • Create stupid artwork for some of the posts for this blog. Yes, I generally do my own lineart - bet you couldn't tell ;o)
  • Get a memo out to some of the Extinct authors about a regional award they can enter.
  • Identify more review sites for Spoil and Extinct and send queries.
  • Read an anthology that has a crit partner's story in it and do a review.
  • Continue to read writing/publishing blogs and forums and post to them.
  • Update recurring posts for Spoil and Extinct on the Kindleboard and nookboard forums.
  • Identify animal-related blogs and forums so I can begin posting to them ASAP.
  • Start on final edits to Sector C, which I want to release in early September, which will mean identifying new review sites and forums -- just not this week.
You'll note repairing unexpected water leaks, such as the one I spent a couple of hours repairing yesterday, is not on the list. I think I'll have to put my foot down and say, going forward, if it ain't on the list, it ain't getting done!

Mind you, I'm not whining. I don't HAVE to set myself up like this. I'm free to walk away from any and/or all of it at any time. I'm not playing a sympathy card, just pointing out that, with the exception of writing the first vet tech post and editing Sector C, none of what's on the list has to do with the traditional thinking of what writing is -- yet it's all writing-career related. A second note to point out is nowhere does "work on my current WIP" show up for this week :o(.

So tell me, what writing-related activities do you have on your plate for this week or month?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Diversification and Monetization


Acckk! Business terminology! In this case, the title simply means I've made a couple of decisions about where my writing is going -- at least until the next brainstorm comes along.

Discounting a few closet novels, the completed manuscripts I have that I feel are publishable are all over the genre board: women's historical/romance, near-future medical mystery/thriller and MG fantasy. As WIPs: traditional historical romance and m/m historical fantasy. In-stage ideas: contemporary ghost and contemporary ecothriller.

My blog is a mish-mash between writing-/publishing-related topics -- and farm life.

One lesson Amazon sales has taught us all is that, overall, series sell better than standalones. While my MG is planned as a trilogy and I have some vague idea how my traditional historical romance might be extended into a series, I don't seem to have inherited the series gene. I've been knackering myself over how to stop going in so many directions and settle into one so I'll be more marketable. Where that's mainly led is me not moving at all.

I've taken a hard look at what my goals are and how they've changed over the past few years. Five years ago I had no idea I'd be retired now. My goal then was to supplement my salary so I could retire by age 56. Now that I'm retired (at age 52), money is no longer the driving force for getting published. Don't get me wrong! I'm living on a very strict budget and cutting corners and making every penny go as far as possible. After all, except for the interest on my savings and whatever I can make off my books, I have no income at all right now and will have none for the next 12 years. There are plenty of upgrades around the farm I could indulge in with a few extra dollars in my pocket -- but those extra comforts are not a priority in my life. At least not today.

So I've made the decision to accept the diversification in my writing portfolio. I'll try to cultivate splinter audiences and if any of my books should happen to strike a chord -- and there's no guarantee any will -- maybe that will motivate me to focus in on one genre for awhile. Could there be a worse marketing plan? Of course not. But I'm moving forward with that full and complete understanding, as well as the luxury of not having to rely on that plan to keep a roof over my head and the beasties rolling in hay.

Diversification, however, does not mean I can't target market to multiple audiences at once. And that's where the idea of monetization comes in. A few years ago, I toyed with the idea of -- don't laugh -- writing a memoir about my time as a vet tech. I even wrote up a few chapters, but trying to tie my own boring story into the narrative just wasn't working. The new plan is to start up an animal-focused blog where I'll post 2-3 times a week. Each week I'll post a story or pictorial about what's happening on the farm, have maybe a guest poster or some other filler, and feature a story about my vet tech days.

I have a list of 60 vignettes for my vet tech posts, so a year's worth of ideas. The plan is to collect the first 20 posts into an ebook to sell (for 99c) and then put out Part 2 then Part 3 on a 4-month cycle. Writing bite-sized, essay-type stories feels like a better strategy for me than trying to do something along the lines of All Creatures Great and Small. And, depending on how inspired I am throughout the next year, I might collect some of my farm-related ramblings -- those that are inspirational or emotional or at least have a point -- and put them up too. I'll only turn the more personal farm-related ones into an ebook, though, if the vet tech stories sell and I have some sort of following.

First order of business now is setting up the new blog and attracting, you know, readers for it. You'll notice two things:
  • This blog will become more publishing-industry focused
  • My avatar will change
I've already begun to use the picture of me with the Bengal tiger cub in other venues around the Internet. By adding an animal-related blog, the reason for having a tiger in the picture will make more sense. (The tiger is there as part of the art of misdirection -- I'm self-conscious, so having something in the picture more interesting than me makes it easier for me to look at the photo.)

Of course, I hope you'll follow the new blog, too, but if not, you'll hear all about the ebook side of it right here.

First post establishing the blog and what it's about and who I am will be Wed, August 10. First post that will appear in the ebook, Part 1, will be Fri, August 12. That means the 20th post that will be collected in the first book will be on December 23. Which means the first book will be ready just in time for the after-Christmas spike in ebook sales when people are filling up those brand-new e-readers. Coincidence? I think not.

Now I just have to come up with the perfect name for the blog and books. Any suggestions???

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Launch Day! Dare To Dream Press Storefront

When I put together the Extinct anthology, I made it clear that I wanted this ebook to serve as a tool for helping us all learn what works and doesn't work when it comes to marketing and publishing in the e-world.

The past week I've been working on breaking the anthology down into its component stories and publishing the individual stories as standalones in Amazon, BN and Smashwords. I, of course, did this with the authors' consent -- and they'll be pocketing all the royalties from those individual sales. Of course, the hope is that someone will sample a single story and then purchase the anthology. Links to where the anthology can be found are included at the beginning and end of each standalone story.

Interestingly, neither Amazon nor B&N have yet objected to having links to multiple e-stores inside the book. At Smashwords, apparently the books were reviewed by two different reviewers. About half the books passed the manual review that helps ensure the books are placed in the "Premium Catalog" for distribution to affiliate stores such as Kobo, Apple and Sony. The other half were busted for having the EXACT same links in them. Smashwords policy is not to annoy distributors by having competitors' links in the books. The problem is, that policy means an author can't put direct BUY links into any of their books slated for mass distribution. There are emails out about all that now ;o)

Otherwise, the conversion and upload went fine -- just slooooooow, given a total of 17 "books" that had to be separately formatted and uploaded to 3 different sites.

You may have caught that I said 17 rather than 19, which is the number of stories in the anthology. That's because 2 authors opted out of the single story distribution. One author wants to handle separate sales of their story themself and the other didn't feel the generic cover art given each of the stories worked to his story's advantage. I happen to agree, and will happily work with the author to add the book to the rest if he wants to provide his own cover.

There has already been a sale or two for many of the stories, so YAY! One sale of the anthology plus a couple of downloads of the sample and a link to one reader's library can also be attributed to the authors beginning to "talk up" their single stories.

While the campaign to raise money for the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal resulted in only 8 sales (and I'm including 1 a little before the campaign started and 1 right after it ended), the campaign did have other successes. Three of the Aussie authors got feature stories (with pictures!) in their local papers and, State-side, Landra did a lovely write-up for the Little Rock, Arkansas, online Examiner.com. I just wish the check I'm sending to the Appeal were larger ;o(

With so many books now to keep track of, I decided it was time to establish a small online bookstore under the Dare To Dream Press label. Admittedly, I didn't give much thought to the name when I uploaded Spoil of War and the Extinct anthology four months ago. But I'm using the name now and have set up a storefront for all the titles under that name. I'm still learning what's available through the Affiliate programs that Amazon and B&N offer, so the site will, I hope, evolve over the next few months. I elected to use Blogger since it's free, though I know a real website would mean a better-looking and more functional storefront all the way around. Still, I figure if I can find a way to do it with Blogger, I can find a way to do it on a real site :o)

So yes, while I'm doing a lot of work and the anthology is, overall, still in the red, I'm benefitting from the willingness of the authors to try new approaches along with me. There's perhaps another venture on the table and, if it happens, the experience I'm gaining now will be invaluable.

The other positive with a separate storefront is that it gives us all a consolidated link to point to whether we're directing potential buyers to individual stories or the anthology.

So, the adventure continues!

You can check out the new storefront for Dare To Dream Press right here.

Yes, Yes, But How Much Does It Pay???

Find out how much proposal writing pays over at Landra's Rise of the Slush blog as she continues with The Proposal Writer Part II in her Writing Professions Series. I provide the usual salary range and then reveal how much I was bringing home each year. More than you thought? Less than you thought? And what perks would you be willing to trade salary for?

Later today, I'll have another treat for you. Seriously, the build-up is making it sound more exciting than it is, but it is a new and important step in this whole publishing/marketing experiment as we all try to figure what does -- and doesn't -- work in this new world.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Proposing? It's All About The "Yes"

Landra, over at Rise of the Slush, is doing a wonderfully informative Writing Profession Series. How can you put your writing skills to work in the real world? What are the qualifications? If you're just starting out, thinking of making a career change or maybe want to do a little moonlighting, check it out!

She's asked me to talk about Proposal Writing. Today is all about what proposals are and how they're created. Tomorrow -- well, let's just say tomorrow you might learn a few intimate details when it comes to the, shhh, money. If you've been following my "Sales Voyeur" series, you know theory doesn't cut it with me, so I'll be exposing some real paycheck figures: mine! You know you want a peek.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

July Sales Recap

The newest edition of The Sales Voyeur Series!
(I guess I should make that an official title of some sort...)

Wow. It's been 4 months since I published Spoil of War out and I don't think I've ever worked as hard for this kind of return on investment. Not working on promoting the book so much, but in learning more about self-pubbing, reading countless blogs and scouring what little public anecdotal experience about actual sales I can find. As well as watching and comparing the release of indie books vs traddie books (I am soooo trademarking "traddie").

All useful knowledge, I'm sure. The trick is analyzing it all and turning it into actionable data. Despite all my work and all the information I've been storing away, I really haven't made much headway in how to apply my learnings in any meaningful way.

Is there a pattern, a key, some common denominator that ensures any book released into the wild will not only make a go of it and survive but thrive and multiply its success?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: yes, luck.

Longer answer: luck and time.

Best answer: luck, time and money.

Today, I'm recapping the struggle of a single novel sent out series-less, penniless and alone into a harsh and competitive land as we wait to see if it will soar free -- or get sucked up into a jet engine when it tries.

The big change for July was upping the price from 99c where it had been for 3 full months to $2.99. Evidence seems to indicate there are 3 types of readership out there:

  • Those who snatch-and-grab at anything that looks even remotely interesting if it's free and/or 99c - stocking up now for later reading.
  • Those who bargain hunt and are more discerning in what they choose. This type is generally open to reading indie work at low but not necessarily rock-bottom prices as they've learned to be wary.
  • Those who follow more traditional buying patterns and purchase the e-versions of authors they already know and like and/or are recommended via traditional publishing houses and marketing venues. Books priced above $5 are usually attractive to them based on this buying behavior.
Raising Spoil to $2.99 meant it had to start over trying to find a new audience, moving from the first type of reader to the second. By the end of June, it had 100 books in its "also bought" list on Amazon. The majority of those associated books were 99c. And the majority of books on those books' lists were 99c. So how to convert?

Darned if I know.

Spoil wasn't doing badly at 99c and, left there, would probably have continued moving up the ranks a bit. Had I had other books in the hunt (discounting the Extinct anthology because multi-author anthos are whole other beasties), I would probably have left it as a 99c loss leader just to attract readers. But I wanted to experiment with the price, even knowing it would take a beating numbers-wise.

It did. Copy-wise, that is. But how about profit-wise?

Simple math tells us that a 35% royalty on 99c equals about 35c. A 70% royalty on $2.99 minus delivery fees equals about $2.03. (That's assuming buyers in participating territories; some copies sold from Amazon, such as those to Australia, I believe, can only make 35% royalties. Yeah, it gets complicated.)

Keeping things simple, in general, means that to make the same money I did in June when I sold 184 copies at 99c, I would have to sell 32 copies at $2.99.

So I set a reasonable goal of selling 32 copies, or at least 1 per day across all venues. I sold 68 copies total. Coincidentally, I sold 68 copies the first month out at 99c too. And no, I have no idea what to make of it. Yet. Trending takes time.

Marketing-wise, the only things different in July were:
  • I became active on the Kindleboards forum
  • I made a couple of promo announcements on the nook boards. 
  • I put up Spoil in Smashwords' Summer Sale at 1/2 off (made 5 sales from that campaign).
  • Otherwise, no ads and minimal promo on my part. 
Other indie authors who've been selling for a year or more note that July and August are generally poor-selling months. Other other authors claim this July was their best month yet. Again, we need a lot more data across a lot more genres and longer timeframes to come to any solid conclusions.

The ego-loving bit in me is disappointed the book hasn't taken off virally and isn't selling hundreds or thousands of copies in a month.

The addict in me is disappointed that my pleasure center isn't appropriately rewarded every time I click on the report buttons to see current sales numbers.

The realist in me knows that I've been quite fortunate getting the sales I have. Many others are not faring as well as Spoil is. So thank you to everyone who has bought it!

Show Me The Money

Here's a breakdown by venue and month.

Total copies sold in 4 months: 397
Total amount made: $249.44 (£153.14)

 More Real-World Stats

How do these stats compare? I spent an inordinate amount of time compiling some interesting but overall not very helpful anecdotal statistics left in a Kindleboards thread about July sales. At the time I compiled them, I captured 93 responses.

46 respondents provided sales totals for individual titles. 47 respondents did not break sales figures down individually but provided aggregated totals across all the titles they have for sale. Where overall number of titles was not provided, I assumed the number was equal to the count of titles in the author's sig line. This is not scientific, folks, and it's not meant to be anything other than a curiosity to hmmmm over.

You'll see a range for number sold first, then the number of people reporting sales within that range. For example, in the first group, 10 people reported they sold between 1 and 10 copies of a single title in July. Another 10 people reported they sold between 11 and 50 copies. Etc.

Sales Numbers For Individual Titles:

1-10 - 10
11-50 - 10
51-100 - 6
100-200 - 7
200-300 - 4
300-1000 - 1
1000-2000 - 1
2000-3000 - 2
3000-4000 - 4
30,000+ - 1

Sales Numbers Across Multiple Titles

1-100 across 2-6 books - 14
101-200 across 2-8 books - 8
201-1000 across 2-5 books - 6
~900 across 17 books - 1
1000-1500 across 5+ books - 4
2500-4000 across 2-7 books - 6
4000-10,000 across 4+ books - 6
12,000 across 8 books - 1
~20,000 across 5 books - 1

So that's it for the July recap. On Thursday, I'll reveal my super-secret publishing/marketing project. Keep your expectations low.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Query Revision 89: Redux 2

(Note: I'll post July sales stats tomorrow. Special treat: translation of numbers sold into money made.)

Cry of the Witch

When Callie Richards considered the consequences of having sex, she expected a grounding, maybe The Talk. Getting stalked by a killer sorcerer, though, is a bit much for any girl to take sitting down.

Callie's first romantic encounter awakens her ancestral powers. She's a witch, and her family's got serious baggage: her line has been hunted down and slaughtered by an evil sorcerer named Bellary, and he‘s coming for Callie next. Bellary's talent of draining magical energy from witches and humans alike has left him undefeated. To be truly invincible, though, he must wait for Callie's powers to fully mature. It gives her time, but not much.

Callie gathers a coven to fight against Bellary, but their inexperience may put them at a deadly disadvantage against the powerful sorcerer. It’s up to Callie to become the witch she was born to be. Because if she fails her powers, and the world will be his to control.

CRY OF THE WITCH a 106,000 word YA urban fantasy.

Comments

The focus in this version is much, much better. I know it had to be hard to delete the boyfriend and the grandma and the individuals in the coven as well as the various magic types and the whole history of the town and its relationship to magic. Personally, I'm a little torn about losing the boyfriend since having a love interest die is a bit of twist and might make the story stand out a little more.

The writing here is also much improved, though it could still be tightened a bit. For instance, the sorcerer is always adjectified (I'm trademarking that term, btw): killer sorcerer, evil sorcerer, powerful sorcerer. My thought would be to tighten a bit and then add a sentence about the BF getting killed in the last paragraph.

When Callie Richards considered the consequences of having sex, she expected a grounding, maybe The Talk. Getting stalked by a killer sorcerer, though, is a bit much for any girl to take sitting down.

Opening with the consequences of having sex from a teen's naive perspective is a much stronger opening than we saw in the previous versions.

The "is a bit much" clause, however, doesn't really seem to fit -- especially the "sitting down" part.

Callie's first romantic encounter awakens her ancestral powers. She's a witch, and her family's got serious baggage: her line has been hunted down and slaughtered by an evil sorcerer named Bellary, and he‘s coming for Callie next. Bellary's talent of draining magical energy from witches and humans alike has left him undefeated. To be truly invincible, though, he must wait for Callie's powers to fully mature. It gives her time, but not much.

Bellary seems like a pretty stock evil sorcerer, sort of existing just to gain power and give Callie an enemy to battle. Adding a bit of motivation to Bellary's character would help make him not feel so much like a trope.

Do humans have magical energy? What's the real threat here? Is it specifically to Callie and other witches, or is it to regular humans too? And are witches not human?

Callie gathers a coven to fight against Bellary, but their inexperience may put them at a deadly disadvantage against the powerful sorcerer. It’s up to Callie to become the witch she was born to be. Because if she fails her powers, and the world will be his to control.

"May put" dilutes the danger. Try just "puts."

The last sentence has got an extra "and" and/or is missing a few words in its first half.

CRY OF THE WITCH a 106,000 word YA urban fantasy.

Missing an "is" and a hyphen: "106,000-word"

My Version

Whenever Callie Richards considered the consequences of having sex, she figured on a grounding and The Talk. Having a killer sorcerer stalking her -- not so much.

Callie's first sexual encounter with the boy she loves awakens her ancestral powers. She's a witch, and her family's got serious baggage. For centuries the sorcerer Bellary has hunted down and slaughtered the most adept members of her line, and he‘s coming for Callie next. Bellary's talent of draining magical energy from his victims has left him undefeated. To be truly invincible so he can [accomplish X], he must wait for Callie's magic to fully mature. That gives her time, but not much.

Callie gathers a coven to fight Bellary, but their inexperience puts them at a deadly disadvantage against the powerful sorcerer. Their vulnerability is brought home with aching clarity when Bellary murders Callie's human boyfriend and sucks down his life-force, proving Bellary can use even non-magical beings to his profit. It's up to Callie now to become the witch she was born to be. Because if she fails to master her powers before Bellary seizes them for his own, the world will be his to control.

CRY OF THE WITCH is a 106,000-word YA urban fantasy.