A Common Sense Approach to the Writing Business

Two of my kids are old enough to create and manage their own You Tube channels, and they expressed an interest in doing so. I figured it was a good idea because they’d learn social networking skills, how to create videos, edit those videos, etc. These are things they could potentially use for future employment. They, however, had stars in their eyes. They heard that people are making a good living off of videos via the ads on You Tube. When you get popular enough, your videos can start getting monetized. As they were talking about how many subscribers it would take to start earning money, I realized this is similar to what I hear from new authors.

When I hear most new authors talk, their focus is on how much money they’re going to make in X amount of time. This is why courses on how to make a six-figure income in a short amount of time are so popular. These courses feed into this “get rick quick” mindset. This is the same thing my kids were thinking when it came to You Tube. I had to sit down and explain to my kids how this stuff really works. Sure, there are always people who will make it big. For all the actors that run out to Hollywood, there is a small number that hit the big time. But this isn’t going to happen to most of them. And just because they post videos on You Tube, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be making a nice cushy living off their videos when they’re 18.

So today, I thought I’d make a blog post about what is a more realistic approach to the business side of being a creative person.

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There are two main things you need to keep in mind when going into the business side of writing.

If you build it, they may not come.

I know this isn’t what new authors want to hear, but it’s true. Just because you publish books, it doesn’t mean you’ll make money. Just because you write in a certain genre with a certain plot, it doesn’t mean it’ll sell. Sometimes a book doesn’t resonate with readers, so they don’t buy them. It doesn’t mean the book is bad. (I’ve seen plenty of great books not selling well.) It just means the book didn’t “click” for some reason.

Even if you wrote something specifically to market, had tons of feedback on it from your target audience, got a professional cover, had a professional editor, and have the best website on the planet, you aren’t guaranteed sales. Also, you can run ads, do permafrees on the first in a series, or do other promotional stuff all day long, and you still might not reach the level of income you were hoping for. I’ve seen authors do all of the right things and still not make a living at this. The sad reality is that sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

Sales fluctuate.

If you do make money, don’t think your troubles will be over. Even if you’re not exclusive to Amazon, you will find sales going up and down. Things don’t always go up and up and up and… You get the idea.

I’ve been publishing through Amazon and Smashwords since 2009, and I’ve found this whole business to be a rollercoaster. Over the past three years, I’ve been carefully tracking my sales data, and I noticed that my sales went up and down across all retailers. I’ve always been wide. I’ve never been exclusive to Amazon. So I’ve had plenty of time to build an audience on the wide channels. And I have found that regardless of the retailer, sales go up and down. Yes, having a new book out often means sales go up, but it doesn’t mean it goes up to the same level it did with previous book, and it doesn’t mean it’ll succeed the same way at all retailers.

If you do manage to make money at this, I urge you to do three very important things I never did. 

One: Save half of the income for taxes.

Disclaimer: This is specifically for the United States authors. (I don’t know how tax payments work in other countries.)

Maybe you won’t need to pay taxes on how much you make, but if you have to, at least the money is there. I had to sell stuff to pay my taxes because I hadn’t even thought to save a portion of my income back then. Believe me, you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re scrambling around to come up with the tax money you owe the government based off of last year’s income.

Now, you can set up a payment plan with the government. Some people do that. But since you’re considered a small business owner, you will be making quarterly tax payments (if the government thinks you’re making enough). So four times a year, you’ll have to pay taxes based off of last year’s income. If you miss the deadline for a quarter, you will have to pay a penalty. The quarterly tax payments are due mid-April, mid-July, mid-September, and mid-January. Usually, it’s the 15, but if the 15th is on a holiday or weekend, the date can get pushed back to the 16 or 17. Either way, you will be required to send in these tax payments.

You will save yourself a lot of stress and heartache if you save half of your money into the tax fund while you’re making it. Whatever you don’t end up having to pay can be tucked away into savings.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice…

Two: Put as much as you can into savings.

I didn’t do this, and I am currently living to regret it. The day might come when you aren’t making as much as you used to. This is what happened to me. This year, I’m projected to lose income for a third time. When I was making good money, I failed to save anything. After taxes were paid, I spent money like my income was going to stay consistent. I currently have $40 in my savings account. I have no investments. I have nothing tucked away in a retirement account, either. I’m 43. I made bad financial decisions. A lot of bad financial decisions. I’m not proud to admit it, but if you can be better off in the future because you’re going learn from my experience, then it’ll be worth going public with this. Every time I mention losing money, I get criticized. This isn’t a popular thing to talk about in the writing community, but I don’t want anyone to end up in my shoes. So please, learn from my mistakes. You don’t want to end up where I am.

Three: Learn to say no.

Over the past couple of months, I have had to start saying “no” to people I sincerely care about when they asked for money. I hate saying no. The fact that I had trouble saying no in the past is part of what led me to a situation where I only have $40 in savings. It feels good to give. But if you don’t position yourself on a firm foundation, how can you really help out someone else? Sometimes you have to think of yourself before you can think of another person. I know this one is hard. For those of you who are like me and will often sacrifice what we have to the point where we’re at the end of your own financial rope, saying no is a crucial lesson to learn.

At the end of the day, you have to be able to take care of yourself before you’re in a good position to help someone else. I don’t have a rule book on this, but in my opinion, you should have at least six months of living expenses tucked away before you can afford to help another person. A man I was watching in a You Tube video recommended one year’s worth of savings. With sales being so unpredictable, I’m inclined to say that you should aim to save between 6-12 months of living expenses (including tax payments). Of course, you need to keep saving beyond that. You’ll probably want to look into investments for your future, too, but I would get the savings built up first. You want something you can get to right away if you run into an emergency.

I do think there’s value in giving, but it needs to be balanced with savings. Only you can figure out the right ratio that works for your household. But I strongly advise you to say no to others until you have taken care of your own situation. You can’t get someone else out of a sinking boat until you plug up the holes in your own boat first.

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So those are my tips for new authors. Does anyone have any tips they’d like to share?

Tackling Common Issues That Can Overwhelm Writers

Lorna Faith invited me on to her podcast, Create a Story You Love, to discuss topics that we will most likely face at one time or another as writers.  Below I will hit on the highlights of the interview, but you can listen to it all by going to iTunes, her blog post, or by watching the You Tube video below.

I want to give a special thanks for Lorna Faith for having me on her podcast.  I know a lot of work went into it.

I’m going to highlight and embellish some of the interview below, but I’m not doing a word-by-word transcript of it.

Why write?

One of the best reasons to write is because you have a story you’re dying to read that hasn’t been done yet.  But, you might find opposition when you decide to pursue writing this story.  (Even if you have a backlist already, people in your circle might not be supportive of the story you have in mind.  My family still won’t touch my romances.)  I would advise you to write the story anyway.  No one but you can write your story.  You will bring your own unique voice and twists to it that no one else can do.  That’s one of the beauties of working in a creative field.  Your story is as unique as your fingerprint.

Working backwards to create a writing/publishing schedule.

I like to work backwards.  This is a method where you pick your release dates and then work your way back to what you need to do to get there.  One reason I love pre-orders is because it forces me to put down deadlines.  I estimate out three months longer for each book than I think it’ll actually take for me to get it done.

The further out you can set these deadlines, the better you can get organized on what you need to do.

For example, let’s say I put July 20 as a release date for a 60,000-word novel.

  1.  I figure it’ll take my editing team (two editors and 2-3 beta readers) a month to do their job.  So I have to have my book ready for my editing team on June 1.
  2. I contact my editors and cover artist to let them know my time frame for the book so they have enough time to pencil me into their schedules.  (The more advance notice you can give them, the smoother things are.)
  3. From there, I’ll count down how many words I need to write a day in that story in order to have it ready on June 1.  Today (as I’m writing this), it is Feb. 7.
  4. I write 5 days a week.  The 2 days off are either catch up days (say a kid gets sick and I can’t write) or it’s a day to take a break to avoid burnout.  Either way, I give myself 2 days a week to take a breather of some sort.  This way I don’t stress myself out.
  5. Counting back from May 31, I find I have 81 days of actual writing to get this book done as long as I start on Monday, Feb. 8.  (I like to work Monday through Friday when my kids are in school.)
  6. I divide the 81 days I have to write by the 60,000 word count goal.  This is 740.74.  Or 741 words a day I need to hit for each writing day.
  7. If I remove all the distractors (internet, TV, phone calls), I can write 741 words in 45 minutes, but I’ll allow myself an hour.
  8. If I’m overwhelmed by the thought of writing the 741 words on a certain day, I’ll start with a small goal of 250 words.  From there, I’ll add another 250 words.  Then I’ll add in the rest to finish up 741.  250 words is a lot less intimidating than a higher word count.
  9. When I get to chapter 10 in the story, I’ll start the initial round of edits.  I will edit 2 chapters a night. Doing this will ensure I have a second draft ready to go by the day I finish my book.  It takes me about an hour to edit 2 chapters.  I need it quiet and distraction-free when I do this.  I usually start while I brush my teeth and finish up in the bedroom while everyone else is in the living room.
  10. I hand in my second draft to my editing team at the same time.  (If I was a beginning writer, I would separate these out, but I have over 50 full-length books by now and am familiar with my process to make this work.  If you’re starting out, give yourself 3-4 months of edits so you can go and change things your editing team finds.)
  11. While the editing team is working on my book, I give it another read through, again doing this in the evenings.
  12. I give myself about 3 weeks for the finished version of the book to be uploaded via Smashords and Amazon to hit my pre-order date.  You can upload 10 days in advance and be fine, but I like to have it in for a longer period of time to play it safe.

Writing a character that is emotionally engaging.

The key to writing the emotionally engaging character is to write with our hearts instead of our head.  I have since done a couple of blog posts on this topic, so I’ll let you read those if interested.   Introduction to the Emotionally Engaging Character, Point of View, and A Deeper Look Into Point of View.

Marketing for Introverts

  1.  Pick 2-3 social things you are interested in doing.  If you’re interested in it, chances are you’ll stick with it.
  2. Build relationships and get to know people.  Sometimes you can bounce ideas around for a future book and get an idea of what your audience wants.
  3. Use your profile to let people know you have books and where to find them.
  4. Build an email list.  (I use MailChimp.)
  5. Bookbub will let you create an author profile where you can list your books.  People can follow you and be notified when you have a new book out.
  6. Book Launch pages will let you link to all retailers where you have a book up for pre-order.  When your book is out, simply update the page.
  7. Use back matter in your book to advertise your next book and email list.

When things get tough, what can you do?

Focus on the positive feedback you’ve gotten in emails, in blog comments, on Facebook, and through other avenues.  Reminding yourself that people out there do like your work can really help you get through the rough patches of bad reviews and lack of sales.  If you have some writer friends you can talk to about the ups and downs of the business, you’ll remind yourself you’re not alone.  Sometimes it helps to know you’re not the only person going through the downside of this business.

Ultimately, though, it all boils down to whether you (as the writer) like the book?  Would you write the book again if given the chance?  If you enjoy the book, that book was worth writing, and it has value.

My Thoughts on the Smashwords 2015 Survey

In case anyone doesn’t know, once a year, Mark Coker does a survey to track sales across their distribution channels to see what common things the bestselling self-published books have in common.

Here’s the link if you want to view the slideshow

I wanted to import the slideshow into this post, but my tech know-how isn’t all that wonderful.  So I opted to link to it for reference.

I thought some of the findings were worth discussing on this blog.  If anyone wants to add their thoughts in the comments below, please do.  There might be something I missed.

Observation #1: Authors who sell more books tend to be active online.

social media pic for writing post
ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

This isn’t 100% true for all commercially successful authors, but overall, being involved online helps to sell your books.  When I say being active, I don’t mean these authors are going around posting tweets and Facebook updates with “Here’s my book and where you can buy it” all the time.  Those authors usually don’t sell well.

Having an online presence means you’re making it easy for people to find you and your books.  A website and/or blog is a great way to showcase your work.  I like to think of them as “home”.  It’s where you can put your books up and talk about them.  Now, what you choose to blog about can vary, but I do suggest having your books featured on pages within your blog, if you have one.

As for places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google +, the big thing is to be social.  Hang out.  Engage with others.  Be conversational.  You can have a link to your website/blog on your profile.  If someone takes an interest in something you say, they’re probably going to check your profile.  So make sure you build up those profile pages.  My advice is to let the profile pages do your marketing for you.  But when you’re engaging with people on these sites, don’t be there to sell your books.  (Now, I do recommend letting people know when the book is first put up on pre-order, if you have a cover reveal, or when it’s released, but keep the marketing to a minimum.  At least 80% should be social engagement that has nothing to do with your books.)

Observation #2: For fiction, price points $2.99, and $3.99 seem to be the best, with $3.99 having a slight more advantage.

pricing strategy
ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

The $0.99 price point moves books, and I think it can be used for promotions and even as a loss leader to introduce people to your work.  But I do think if you are looking for profit, your best price points are in the $2.99-$3.99 range.

I suspect the sweet spot for pricing also varies with the genre you’re writing in fiction.  I mainly write romance.  I’ve heard romance readers watch their spending because they can go through a book or two a day.  I’ve also heard other genres (such as thrillers and science fiction) have readers who are more likely to pay a higher price for books than romance readers are.  These were not discussed in this Smashwords survey.  These are things I gathered from talking with other authors over the years.  So for me, I keep my books priced low ($0.99 or $2.99), though some romance authors do better at higher prices.

What seems to be clear from this survey and the one from 2014 is $1.99 is a horrible price for a book.  I would stay clear from that price point based on the findings.

Nonfiction can sell higher than fiction.  What the ideal price point for that is, I don’t know.

Observation #3: Pre-orders can help you sell more books.

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ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

In the survey, it seems a book that starts out as a pre-order will do 3.5 times better than a book that wasn’t.  Do authors who have a larger platform with a larger readership have a bigger advantage over those that don’t?  Of course.  But that is going to be normal even if there was no pre-order.

I love pre-orders, but I don’t see massive pre-orders on my books flooding in.  I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that.  You can increase your chances of hitting a bestselling list in your category at iBooks or Kobo the longer you have your book available as a pre-order.  iBooks and Kobo will accumulate the pre-orders, so when your book is released, you get credited for all those pre-orders as if you sold that many copies on that day.  I love that feature.  Amazon doesn’t do that, and I don’t think Barnes & Noble does either.

My thinking is, if you can give yourself an advantage, even if it’s a small one, why not take it?  Pre-orders are easy to do, and they help save time on release date since the book is already uploaded.  I wrote a post on ideas on promoting a pre-order.  (As always, if you can think of anything else to add, please do.  One person in the comments suggested a special promotional price during the pre-order period, which I thought was a good idea.  I might have to use that one in the future.)

Observation #4: Series where the first book is free sell 66% better than series where the first book has a price tag on it.

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ID 45771480 © Ayse Ezgi Icmeli | Dreamstime.com

This one surprised me the most.  The 66% trend was higher than I expected.  I have heard authors say putting the first book at free has helped sell the rest of the books in their series.  But I also know authors who have had their first book at free and didn’t see an increase in sales for the other books in the series.  I have priced the first book of every series I have at free.  Some series do better than others.  Overall, I have noticed the series does do better if the first book is free, even if it’s not a huge jump in sales.

I just listened to a podcast at The Creative Penn, and Dan Wood from Draft2Digital recommends using this strategy, too.  He found authors who do this sell 3 times as much as authors who don’t.  (As a side note, he recommends assetless pre-orders, too, which I just talked about above.)

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Those are the takeaways I got from the Smashwords 2015 survey.  Does anyone have any other ones or have anything to add?  There might have been something I missed.

Places for Author Interviews

A great way to get exposure is to appear on other people’s blogs – but where do you find blogs to appear on? There are a lot of bloggers looking for authors to interview (or guest post), but as an author they’re sometimes oddly hard to find unless you know someone who knows someone…so I wanted to share a few that I know about and I ask that you do the same in the comments.

  • Simon Goodson’s The Seventh Question: Six Questions, with the seventh being a question you get to ask yourself. Open to all but he prefers sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction.
  • Dan Alatorre: Choose ten questions from a list of forty. Open to everyone.
  • BookGoodies: Fill out the online form including links and several questions. Open to everyone.
  • I Smell Sheep: Contact them about a guest post or interview. For paranormal/comics/sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction. (If there’s a hot dude in the story, even better!)
  • Awesome Gang: Fill out the online questions. Open to everyone.
  • Morgen with an E: There are a LOT of options here! The content that you submit must be PG (this does not mean your books, just what you write for her blog). Any genre authors welcome.
  • Wicca Witch: She’s on hiatus until January but when she’s back she does interviews and book reviews. Paranormal, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, speculative fiction, mysteries and thrillers preferred.
  • Zig Zag Timeline: Interviews, cover reveals, etc. All genres except erotica.
  • Sallie’s Book Reviews: She will send you the questions with your post date in an email. Cont. romance, paranormal, fantasy. mystery, poetry, historical romance and suspense.
  • Amaranthine Night: my own blog. I do author interviews or character interviews. All genres welcome.
  • The BIG List by Lisa Williams: Here is a list of 100 bloggers who do interviews. It opens as a google doc, but you can download it as a pdf etc.

Since the last link is a massive list, I’m going to stop here, but you shouldn’t! What interview opportunities do you know about? Please share them in the comments below!

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What I Learned About Facebook Parties

Like many of us, I hang out on Facebook too much. While perusing the streams (and my own invites) I’ve come across many events, including  Facebook Parties. Though I accept many invites (by clicking the Join button), I’ve personally participated in roughly two author parties (by commenting on one post each) and several jewelry parties. Being a Facebook Party Host virgin, I was a bit unprepared for my party, so I wanted to share some things I learned.

1 – What is a Facebook party? A Facebook party is an event that takes place for anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days (I set mine to last for six days. Oh my.) There are games, puzzles, giveaways and (hopefully) lots of author/fan interactions. Sometimes authors share parties. Many authors have a third party organize and run their party. I’m thrifty, so I did it myself. (If you’d like to see an example party, this is the link to mine.)

2 – To set up a Facebook party first choose a date at least one month in advance (I’ll explain later) and then choose your theme – I’m going to guess it’s for a book release, so that should be pretty easy. Go to your Events menu option (click “events” on the left side on a PC) and then use the blue Create button. In order to make Facebook recognize that your party lasts multiple days, you need to put in a starting time. 

3 – You need at *least* one month to get everything organized! Because this is the *only* giveaway/event I’m planning for several months I went a bit crazy on the prizes, so not only was there time to plan what all the games would be and make all the graphics, but I needed to wait for everything to arrive so that I had all the prizes ready to be mailed after the party was over. I actually started ordering prizes in August for my October Party.

4 – Speaking of Prizes…  You will want to give things away. Most author parties I’ve seen do some ebooks or autographed books, or an amazon gift card as a grand prize. As I said I have participated all of twice in these parties (no offense guys!) but if I’m a fan then it’s a pretty good chance I already have those books, and if I’m not a fan I probably have a kindle crammed full of books I paid for, so those free books have the potential to land at the bottom of my TBR list. Unless the book really catches my eye, I’m not going to bother entering that game (I will enter for signed paperbacks from authors I love, however, because those I rarely own). But, play a game with the prize of a piece of jewelry (A lot of which you can buy for $.99 on eBay) or nail polish, or stickers, and I’m more likely to play. I’m not a unique person, so I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer autographed bookmarks, or even those free ebooks as prizes, but pepper it in with some little fun stuff that appeals to your ideal audience. (Though we do want to have fun with our readers, the goal of a party is to endear ourselves to them and get new ones – and new people will be turned off if the event and prizes feels exclusive to current fans). My theme was my vampire series -that is primarily written in a female POV -so jewelry and nail polish were popular items, but so were the more unisex “vampire” items such as bloody hand print decals and a cool vampire baseball hat.

5. Prizes don’t need to be expensive. I mentioned the $.99 jewelry on ebay. My grand prize was a set of awesome dolls I traded some art work for, and with the exception of the paperback version of the Amaranthine Handbook, none of the items cost more than 5$ and most were $.99 to $1.50. But, that cheap stuff comes with loooooong shipping times (read, it comes from China), so again, leave plenty of time between concept and party time. Also, people don’t care so much WHAT they’re winning, just that they are winning. I posted several “random” games where the tagline said “I have no idea what you’ve won. It may be from a gumball machine” and people still entered because they just wanted to win something. (Plus, some of us love the grab bag random idea. I do.)

6. Not every thread needs a prize. My guests had so much fun talking to each other that they were happy to share and chat on question posts, even with no prize attached. (Things like “What are you doing for Halloween” or “What’s a memory you have from school”?) In fact, we had so much fun we’re having a chat get together on November 13th – no prizes, just a group of vampire lovers hanging out for a few hours.

7. Have all your links/sites/info/social sites ready to go. One question I kept getting asked (that I did not anticipate!) was where to get my books in paperback. Each book page on my website has a link, but giving people a list of links is annoying for both of us, so half way through the party I had to take half an hour and code a quick page (which looks bad, but got the job done) listing all those links. Don’t make my mistake. Have your info ready to go.

8.Have your games ready ahead of time. I made graphics for all of my games, but you don’t need to. Either way, name your graphics in numerical order or write them out IN ORDER in a word document so that on party day you can copy and paste them in. This prevents hurried typos and makes you feel less stressed. Also, match up which prizes go with which games, and if you want to post photos of the prizes, take those ahead of time, too, and save everything in a folder together.

9. Choose a variety of Games. Some examples of Facebook “games” we played

  •  A scavenger hunt – the first person to find images of a list of items/or to find keywords or the answers to questions in a book excerpt wins – this one went *really* fast and did not generate much chatter, so I only recommend it for lightning rounds.
  • Question answering – such as “Would you say yes to immortality” or “What is your favorite vampire movie?” People are there to connect with you BUT everyone’s favorite topic is always themselves. I got more responses on the Question style games than any other, and the less specific the question, the better, for example the “Name an interesting fact” had the most entrants. These generate a LOT of chatter and keep the party active.
  • What is your __ name? – These are those charts where you use your birthday and the last letter of your last name to find out what your sparkle fairy or Christmas elf name is. For my party I let people discover their vampire names, their vampire author pen names, and their Amaranthine book titles. These may involve making graphics, unless you can find some pre-made ones that fit your theme. These were the second most popular games, but they generated moderate chatter – after guests had found their name ans the names of spouses or friends, there wasn’t much left to say.
  • Picture Games – these can be anything from “Who should play X character in a movie?” to “Show us a picture of your pet.”  I used “Find a funny vampire picture”, “Share the fifth picture in your gallery”, and “Find your ideal vampire mate” among others. I found that these were the best when you let people post multiple times – for instance the “Share your photo from your gallery” devolved into a thread of pet photos – and that’s okay! The point was to have fun, not be a forum enforcer. This generated a lot of chat, too, but some people had trouble posting pictures.
  • Number picking games – these games usually involve an image that ties in to your theme, with each item being numbered, for instance:
Jorick is throwing pumpkins at a character he doesn't like.
Jorick is throwing pumpkins at a character he doesn’t like. 6 was the winner.

A number has been pre-selected by you, and when someone chooses that numbered “item” they are the winner. This game went slow by luck because the winning number was the last one picked, but it has the potential to go super fast and it doesn’t generate chat.

  • Last but not least are puzzle games. Puzzle games ask the guests to solve a riddle of some sort – find the differences in the pictures or find the hidden funnies in a paragraph, etc. For my genre and guests I found that these kind of games were the least popular (we played one and had three participants which contrasts to the normal 17-30), but if you’re a mystery author, for instance, your audience might love them.
  • Of note: I did NOT do the ever popular “invite your friends and win” game because A) I don’t like it because it’s a popularity contest that bloats your numbers with people who are probably not really going to attend and B) I have never had a good response to it on any of my previous giveaways. Nor did I do the “Share this to win” because, again, I have never had worthwhile results. If you have in the past then this kind of game might work for you.

If you don’t know what kind of games to use, then experiment on your facebook ahead of time (I started my experiments in June). You can use either your personal page, or your author page, but post some different style games over a few weeks and see which ones your potential party attendees respond to the most.

10. Invite (most of) your Facebook friends. There’s nothing wrong with skipping those you know don’t like invites, but at the same time you might be surprised. I had two friends who were literally upset because I didn’t invite them, and two of my biggest commenters/participants were people I invited on a whim and didn’t expect to stop in. BUT, at the same time, don’t annoy people. This is a delicate line and one you just have to feel out for yourself.

11. No matter how much you advertise people will still miss it. I mentioned those two friends – one did not even know I was having a party until it started, despite the invite, multiple blog posts, newsletters, facebook posts, and contests that started two months before the party, because somehow they just “didn’t see it” – and with Facebook cutting down on post visibility and people’s busy lives, I believe it. I know I miss things a lot of the time. In other words I’m saying don’t be offended if someone doesn’t show up.

12. Joins, maybes, and actual appearances. I don’t know what other authors stats are (I assume many have better turnouts than I did) but I can tell you mine. I had 10 maybes, 89 going and 303 who ignored the invitations (Not all invited by me). Of those 99 (maybes and goings) I had 65 who actually participated, and of those 7 only posted once (or on one game). 2 of those were maybe attendees, and the other 63 came from the “going” pool.  What I’m saying is don’t feel bad if your “going” count is much higher than the actual participation. There are a lot of people out there who click “going” to everything (like I do because I figure it helps people pad their numbers) or who meant to go or who went but were too intimidated/shy to post, or, especially if you used that “invite to win” game, who clicked going to satisfy/help a friend.

13. Explain the rules first thing. At the beginning of the party make sure to post how the party is going to work, and if the party runs for multiple days, remind them each day (it may be the fist time a guest is joining you). Also, on each game do a quick rundown of that game’s rules, including how long it will run for (one hour, two hours, until someone finds the right answer), how the winner will be chosen, and how to play (even if it seems obvious to you).

14. Make closed games and winners clear. When a game closes, make sure to comment on the game (and even better edit the original post) to say that the game is closed so latecomers don’t feel like they’ve wasted their time when they later stumble on the winner post. Also make sure your winners KNOW they won. Tag them if you can (On the phone app you can tag people who are not on your friends list or in the join list, so long as they have commented on the thread previously – but you can’t tag them in new posts. On the computer they have to be your friend or else a guest to be taggable at all.) Send them a message congratulating them, asking for their address, telling them when you plan to send prizes, and thanking them for coming.

15. Keep a list of the winners. I had a word document with each prize listed. Under it, I put their name and, when I got it, their address, so when the time came to send prizes I could just start at the top. If the same person won multiple prizes I moved that item’s name up to their previous entry. You may have a different or better way. The important thing is to keep this organized.

16. Keep the conversation flowing. Just like any good party, conversation is where it’s at. These people are your fans for a reason – your writing resonates with them, meaning that you probably have things in common. Yes, this is your party, but making it all about YOU is the fastest way to bore guests. Instead, make it about THEM. Get to know what they like, what they don’t like, places they’ve been, other franchises they enjoy. Not only could this be used as a goldmine of data for tracking exactly what kind of people like what you’re putting out, but it also makes you seem cool and interested AND frankly it’s fun. If you’re a lucky author with several hundred participants, this may be harder to do, but I still suggest you give it a try.

17. Let guests ask questions. Not just to you but to your characters (if you write a series or book that this works with). This is especially great if you write a series because it lets you see your fan’s opinions of your characters; what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Does everyone hate the villain? Is the hero resonating with them? What are they asking about (aka what do they want to see more of?)?

18. But, remember, it’s not just about YOU. I mentioned this in point sixteen, but I’ll say it again. Sure, it’s your party, but don’t make it a boring party. Invite guest authors you think your fans might like. If you have guests that run businesses that might appeal to your fans, showcase them. (For instance I have one who runs jewelry parties, and with jewelry being popular with my guests, and also given as prizes, it was a natural to include her contact info).

19. Be ready for spontaneity. Yes, have your games and prizes planned, but be flexible. If you have extra bookmarks, for instance, and you get a lot of participants in a game giving a set away, maybe do a second, or even third round to offer others a chance. Let your guests guide the party. For instance I had a guest who spontaneously started sharing images of what she thought the characters looked like, so I showcased that post and asked for other people’s opinions and we had a lot of fun with it. You can even do random games with random prizes (my random winners got string people keychains from the grocery store gumball machine – literally).

20. Leave yourself time to run your party. I stupidly thought (considering my usual turn out for things) that I would have the same ten gusts I had for my past blog event (which was three years ago) and so I’d be able to log in once an hour and then spend the rest of the time working on my book. During peak time (9 am – 11am and 7pm to 9pm central) I was pretty much glued to the event page to keep up. The rest of the time I did get some other things done, but the whole thing took a lot more time than I thought it would and a the slowest I had to check in every half hour. (Luckily I’d set up to enjoy that time writing, so I had the it free). Be prepared to be on a lot and if you’re only available for a certain time a day, then schedule the events for that time. Nothing is worse than a party without a host. On a side note, I don’t recommend trying to do a six day party by yourself. If I do another it will probably only be two days.

21. Budget enough money to mail those prizes! As I mentioned, I went nuts with prizes because I didn’t do a blog tour with my last release, and I’m not planning one for my next book. (That’s another post in itself). I had twenty-five planned prizes, seven random surprises, and four sets of bookmarks (I offered bookmarks to anyone who had played a game but not won anything). Add in a pair of thank you cards and I spent $58.00 in postage. Wowsers. Because of that I had to split the mailing up and some prizes went out a week later than I had planned. While I don’t think anyone is upset about it, you want to make sure that you’re not ending up with a cost you can’t cover that makes you look like an irresponsible author who doesn’t follow through.

22. Most of all have fun! Because if you’re not having fun, your guests aren’t having fun.  Don’t stress over details (I posted the wrong game at one point and blamed it on one of my characters), don’t feel bad if you have dull, quiet times (I found that 11 – 12:30pm things died, then picked up until 2pm where they petered down slowly until 5pm when it died again until 7), don’t be crazy about rules (games are supposed to be fun!) and most of all don’t bite off more than you can chew or you may find yourself having a facebook breakdown.

BONUS: For those who want graphics for their party but can’t make them (marketing statistics say that a post with an image catches the eye much quicker than a text post and I believe it) then here are some places to get images:

  • random vector style pics: http://www.vectorportal.com/ – I used owls, a TV, and other images for random games. Right click on the images and SAVE AS – do NOT download as they will be zip files of image types that facebook won’t let you post.
  • Text-based images: http://cooltext.com/ & http://glowtxt.com/ – I used these for headlines for random threads, but you could use them to punch up winner posts, or even to draw attention to game posts.
  • photos: http://search.creativecommons.org/ search the Flickr option for photos you can use via Creative Commons license. Be sure to leave a comment of credit under the image with a link to the photographers photo stream – it’s just good karma.

 

Have you hosted a Facebook party? Do you have any tips to share with us? 

 

Six Facebook Cover Creators

If you have a facebook profile, then you’ve seen the facebook “covers” -aka the banners at the top of you profiles, pages, clubs, groups, and events:

cover

If you have some graphic skills you can make your own in any art program (paintbrush, GIMP, paint shop pro, etc.) The best size to make them is 856 x 317 pixels. To upload you just go to your page, event, etc. and click on the cover image (or lack of cover image) and choose to upload your creation.

But what if you have no graphic skills? What if you don’t know how to use an art program? Never fear, there are some cool online generators you can use for free! I’m going to showcase six of them.

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Fun Photo Box

This generator has some really cool templates you can use – though to do this you need a photo of your own to insert. It can be your book cover, yourself, or one of your characters, whatever fits your page the best. To get started hit the “Get started” button:

funbox1

They have several templates to choose from – scroll down to move through the pages, then click on the one you like best: (I have zoomed waaaaay out so you can see the whole page at once). Being a vampire author, you know which one I’m going for.

funbox2

On the next page you can see the design larger, rate it, share it, or choose to make your cover:

funbox3Now you’ll want to upload your photo. Click the “from disk” button if it’s on your computer, or the “from facebook” if you want to use a facebook image (to do this you will have to give this app permission to access your facebook – if you don’t want to do that go to your facebook ahead of time and download the photo from it if you don’t have it elsewhere). Choose your image and click “open”. I’m going to use my main character Jorick for fun.

funbox4

The new page will show the photo you chose and allow you to crop it by moving the dotty line box around. When you like it press the “go” button.

funbox5

And Voila! Save your cover, then upload it to your facebook and you’re done:

funbox6

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Image Chef

To use Image Chef you don’t *need* your own images, they have several on tap you can use, or you can upload your own. You can upload the finished image directly to facebook by connecting it to your facebook or you can use an email address and save it to “My Stuff” where you can save it to your computer and upload it manually (the option I chose). make the account FIRST or you will loose your design when you later try to create one!

To start out, pick your background image:

chef1

I chose sparkled because I like sparkles.
The next page takes you to the editor. It will automatically drop you down to the bottom portion, so to see your cover scroll up. I am going to zoom out a bunch so you can see the whole thing at once.:

chef2

You’ll want to get rid of the heart first (unless you like it) by clicking first on it, and then the trash can icon. You can do this any time you need to to get rid of things you decide you don’t want.

chef3

Now let’s add some text. Type your message into the box (it can be the name of your page, party, or event). Be sure to choose the color of your words (at the top hit the drop down arrow to get a little color palette) and your font – only the first four are available for free. If you click any after that it will just say “this feature is only available to silver members”.

When you like what you have, click add.

chef4

You can move it, and then resize it by grabbing the corners and dragging:

chef5

Now let’s add stickers. Choose the sticker tab, then your category and scroll through the options. When you fond one you like, click it to add it.

chef6

You can move these and resize them just like we did the words. You can also move elements on top of or behind one another by selecting them and choosing the bring to front or send to back option:

chef7

And of course you can delete, add more stickers or symbols, or add your own images:

chef8

When you’re finished, either upload it to your facebook or save it to “My Stuff”

chef9

If you save it, a new page will load. right click on your image and choose “Save Image As” to save it to your computer, and then you can manually upload it to your facebook.

chef10

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Cover Bash

First you’ll get a splash screen. read it and close it out

bash0

Like the last one, they have image you can choose from, or you can add your own. They don’t have much in the way of backgrounds except to let you choose a color, so we’re going to try adding our own . Choose the “add image” icon and then we’re going to pick the Choose Files. A pop up opens. Navigate to the desired image and choose “open”.

bash1

Just like the last editor, you can drag the image bigger or smaller – since we want it in the back we want it BIG.

bash2

Now we want to add some images to it. Choose the “cover maker image gallery” button on top:

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This creates a pop up with categories. Since i have vampires, I’m choosing Halloween. To add the images you like, just click on them and then pick “insert image”. Add as many as you want, ad when you’re done click “close” in the right hand corner:

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Drag the images into the position and size you want, just like we did with the background.

Now let’s add some text

Choose the text icon, then type your message, pick your font and your size and finally insert it.

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Just as you added the background image, we can add other images. I’m going to add Jorick in for fun.

When you’re all done you can either upload it to your facebook or save it to your computer and upload manually (what I chose).

Click the S button. A pop up appears with your image. right click on it and choose “Save as”.

bash7

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Canva

This is a nicely designed site that feels very professional.

To start, click the Start designing facebook cover button

canva1

You’ll get the option for a tutorial. To skip it, just click off to the side

canva2

Now choose your layout. You’ll see that some are free and some aren’t. Click the one you want to use. (I’m cheap, so we’re going free all the way!)

canva3

Now choose the background tab and pick your background. Just as with layouts, some are NOT free, so be careful.

canva4Now let’s do something with the mountains. Click the mountains and a box pops up that lets you delete them or move them or change their color. To change color click on each of the color circles and a box with some suggestions and a plus sign appears. Don’t like the suggestions? hit the + and you’ll get a color picker to choose your own color.

canva5

We can add images too. Choose the uploads tab, then choose to upload images and pick the images you want.

canva6

Add them to your layout and move them up or down to get the look you want.

Now time for text.

Since this design has text already, click it to edit it. A box appears where we can change the font, the color, the size and more.

canva7

We can also add illustrations, photos, and more. I’m going for an illustration since it matches the style.

canva8

You’ll notice some are free and some aren’t. After you find one, click it to add it and edit it just like we did the mountains.

canva9

When you’re happy with your design, download it. You’ll have an option to save it as an image or a PDF. Choose image and then upload it to facebook.

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Profile Timeline Covers

They have a nice background selection. Scroll through the pages and choose the one you like best.

profile1

You’ll have a pop up, close it and let’s start designing! First, let’s do our text.

There’s regular text – click the Text icon then type your text in the pop up and choose fonts and color (when you click on the color box a pallet pops up)

profile2

OR we can choose the “styalized text” – which means a bunch of fancy fonts. The colors and input box work the same. To choose your font, first choose a category (I went with “handwriting”) and then choose your font. When you like it, choose “Add Text”

profile3

Let’s upload an image. Hit the Upload Image, then choose whether they’re on your computer or facebook, then choose your image.

profile4

You can resize it by grabbing the box and dragging it around.

This editor also provides it’s own “icons” to add to your cover. Choose the icon button, which will give you a pop up. From there, choose a category. When you find one you like, click it.

profile5

OF NOTE: make sure you don’t have any items selected when you add the icon (such as your text) or the item will disappear and you will need to re-add it.

This editor has some cool filters you can use on your images. Select one and try it out by check marking different filters. When you have what you want, be sure to save your cover image:

profile6

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Picture to People

To use this one you need your own image. They have some very good instructions, but we’ll run through it quickly.

Scroll down, down, down and finally choose a filter for your picture:

picture1

Now choose an effect for your text

picture2Now let’s build it. Choose what part of your image you want to show (default is probably good). Then choose your font and type in your text. Make sure to check mark the Text over Image button if you want text.

picture3

Now let’s upload the image

picture4You can now view what it looks like or download it. I recommend just downloading, especially in chrome.

Here’s what I got:

picturetopeople

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And if those aren’t enough to get you started, I don’t know what is.

Do you know of a better cover generator?

My Experiments with Facebook Ads

For the past couple of months, I’ve been using the Ads feature on Facebook in a variety of ways, seeing if using it can help me grow my audience on my blog or Facebook page, or even to increase my book sales. I’m sure many of you have already utilized and come to your own conclusions about these features, but for those who haven’t, I’m presenting my findings in case you decide to try Facebook ads and want some advice or testimony before starting.

And if you don’t know much or at all about this feature, let me tell you about it. The Ads feature of Facebook is a way for people with businesses or Facebook pages to build followings and even sell their products. Setting up an ad campaign is very easy: you write the ad and then once you’ve finished, you can set a target audience based on criteria such as age range, country, and interests or hobbies. You then set for how long you want the ad campaign to run (five days, a week, two weeks, etc), and how much you want to pay. I generally recommend between ten and twenty dollars a day. As how many people you reach depends on your daily budget, this price range guarantees you’ll reach a bunch of people.

Once you’ve finished setting everything, you click “Done” and send the ad off to be approved. Usually this takes no more than a half-hour or an hour. Once your ad is approved, you let Facebook do the rest. It bases its algorithms on who it shows your ad to based on the parameters you sent, and then people start noticing it. Some, though not many, even click on it.

I ran three different ad campaigns through Facebook. Here were the results:

  1. Blog Campaign: In this campaign I gave a link to my blog. I wasn’t trying to sell anything, just get people reading. Of the nearly seventeen-thousand reached, only about one hundred clicked on the link, which led to a slight increase of readership on my blog. Didn’t get any new comments or likes or followers, but it was still a noticeable increase, small as it was. Spent a little over $41 over five days.
  2. Reborn City Campaign: This time around, I was trying to see how effective an ad campaign was at selling books, so I picked my most popular one, my sci-fi novel Reborn City, and aimed it at fans of science fiction, particularly dystopia fans. Reached a little over twelve-thousand people, but only about 140 followed the link to RC‘s Amazon page. Of these 140, no one seemed willing to pay the full price for a print or e-book copy of RC, sadly. Spent about $70 over the course of a week.
  3. The Big Birthday Sale: With this campaign, I had a bit more success than the previous two campaigns, which I did in honor of my 22nd birthday. For five days, all my paperbacks were marked down, and all e-books free-of-charge, and each day I ran a new ad campaign, each one lasting a day, advertising the sale. I also expanded the criteria to include more people, leading to buyers from seven different countries. All told, I reached a staggering sixty-thousand people and managed to sell or download nearly twelve-hundred books. Although I didn’t make as much money (especially with the e-books) it was enough to know that people were downloading and reading my books. In addition, I received a huge boost in the number of likes on my Facebook page, going from 140 likes to nearly 400, most of them from India! All told, I’m pretty satisfied with how this campaign went, spending $65 total.

From these experiences, I’ve gained some insight into what makes a Facebook ad work. Firstly, it helps to be very specific with what you’re pushing. You can’t just go “Check this out! It’s new! It’s awesome! You should want it!” You have to say more than that. For example, if you want to push your latest novel, you can say “Chester Bennett was just an ordinary teenager with ordinary problems. That is, until he met Kaylie, a girl who was born into the wrong body and is on the run from the mobster parents she stole from. The adventure they go on together leads both teens to learning many uncomfortable secrets about themselves and each other, and teaches Chester what it truly means to love in Running in Cincinnati” (and that’s just something I made up on the spot. If you want to turn it into a novel, be my guest).

It also helps if you’re emphasizing why now’s a good time to buy. This is especially helpful during a sale. If you emphasize that your books are discounted or even free and that it’s better to get the books now because of these reasons, people will take notice. Of course, there’s the downside that you might not get as much back in sales as you did in spending money on the campaign, but if there are more people reading your books because they got them at a discount price and if a good number of them enjoy the books, at least some of them will review the books, tell their friends about them, and maybe buy future copies of your work.

And of course, you need to know whom you’re selling to. The reason why my last campaign was so successful was because I made sure as many people around the world as possible with the interests and hobbies I was targeting did see the ad. The result was a huge amount of people getting my books and even liking my Facebook page. So when selling, take advantage of the parameters you’re setting for the campaign. Even look in places you wouldn’t think of looking in (like I did when I decided to target Germany, India and Japan rather than just English-speaking nations). You never know who might want to check out your new book.

Oh, and use the Ads Manager page, which you can reach by finding it on the left side of your page. If you need to make any adjustments to your campaigns (and you will), the Ads Manager will allow you to do that, so don’t ignore it!

While it may seem like putting a lot of money into something that might not yield results, Facebook ads can be a lucrative means to reach readers if you allow them. You can start slow, doing one-day campaigns and seeing what the results are, seeing what works for you and what doesn’t. With any luck, it could lead to a few more devoted readers wanting to know what happens next in your latest series or to look and see what else you have available. Nothing wrong with that, right?

What’s your experience with Facebook ads, if you have any? What tips do you have for other readers?

Also, I’m happy to announce that, like I promised in my last article, I’ve set up a page called Conferences, Bookstores, & Other Resources with links to place like the Gulf Coast Bookstore that can be of service to you in promoting your works. Included on this page are stores, conferences, and websites that have the potential to be helpful for every indie author. You can check the page out by either clicking on its name here or you can find it at the top menu under “On Marketing & Promoting”. I will be steadily adding other entries to the lists there as I find them, so if you have any you’d like to recommend, leave a name, a description and links in a comment and I will put it up as soon as possible. Hope you all find it helpful!

Overcoming Fear So You Can Finish and Publish Your Books

Today I was thinking of a friend who is a very talented writer but doubts her ability because of things people in her past told her.  I won’t go into specifics, but from time to time, it seems these doubts creep up on her.  I’m sure there are some triggers to it, but I don’t know what those are because I can’t get into her head.

But I was thinking that the reason some writers don’t finish a book or publish it is because they’re letting fear push them down.  They might not be aware of this.  My friend does have published books, but she’d like to write more books in a year, and I can see she’s making an effort at this.  And it takes courage when you are pushing past a barrier of “I’m not good enough” because you’ve been told you weren’t way back in your childhood through high school.

Today, I want to address some strategies to help writers who are procrastinating because of that they’re not good enough.

Fear

 Fear of rejection is a powerful one, and when it’s from someone you know and respect, it’s even more difficult.  I really think people can become paralyzed by fear if they’re not careful.  But think through the worst case scenario.  No one likes your book or no one buys your book.  That is the worst case scenario as a writer.  I don’t know if not selling any books is more of a fear factor than being told your book sucks.  You can’t have anyone hate your book unless someone reads it, which implies someone bought it, which implies you made some sales.  For the sake of this discussion, I’ll say the fear that people don’t like your book is the bigger of the two fears.

Fear of rejection is a tough one, but it is one that you can overcome.  You don’t have to be a prisoner to it.

Procrastination

I think the reason writers procrastinate is because they let fear talk them out of taking the chance.  If you never publish a book, you don’t risk rejection because you can simply say, “Well, I just never got around to finishing it and getting it out there.  That’s why I never made it as a writer.”

By not finishing the book or publishing it, you are buffering yourself from potential rejection.

“I don’t have time” Feeds Procrastination

I can hear someone say, “But I don’t have time.” This is actually a dangerous mindset because you’re setting yourself up not to finish the story.  Books don’t have to be written in one day, one week, or even in one month.  National Novel Writing Month isn’t for everyone.  Just write a little at a time.

Break the word counts up into doable goals.  This way you won’t get overwhelmed.

Strategy Tip #1: Small Steps Lead to Great Rewards

Let’s say you decide to write 200 words three times a day.  That means you will take 10-15 minutes to sit down without anything distracting you, and all you’ll do is write.  I bet you can get 200 words in that small block of time.  Then walk away and do other things.  Come back to the computer in an hour or two and write for another 10-15 minutes.  Then you repeat this one more time in the day.   By writing for no more than 45 minutes a day, you will have 600 words.  At this rate, it will take you 83.3 days to finish a 50,000 word novel.  You could potentially write 4 novels (at 50,000 words) in a year by simply writing 600 words a day.  If you want to take vacations or breaks, then maybe you’ll want to write 3 novels instead of 4.  But the reality is, it’s very doable, even in a hectic schedule to write a full-length novel in one year.

Let’s Further Break the Baby Steps Down

You could write 137 words every day of the year to make a 50,000-word novel, if you wanted to just write one book in a year.  You can write 137 words in 10 minutes or less.  You won’t make a career at this pace, but you can get the book done, and that is the focus of this post.  Overcoming fear and getting a book out because it’s something you really want to do.  Sometimes you will have to fight your fear by going slow, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Baby steps add up.   The more you write, the more comfortable you’ll be, and the more confident you’ll become.  And, it’ll get easier to ignore people who don’t like your work.

The fact of the matter is, you will not overcome your fear by doing nothing.  You must write.

Strategy Tip #2: Put Things in Perspective.

Now, here’s how you put fear in perspective.  Read the 1 and 2-star reviews of your favorite books by famous authors.  I guarantee you, there are people who hate those books that you love.  You won’t be the first person whose book has not pleased someone, and you won’t be the last.

If it helps, I come from a family who mocked me for writing romance (aka “trash”).  I also receive comments from time to time from people who don’t like my stories for one reason or another, and if you take a look at my reviews (esp. on the books going back to 2009 – 2010), you’ll see I have a good number of anti-fans out there.

The reality is you will never please everyone.  Taste is subjective.

Strategy Tip #3: Seek Out Trustworthy and Encouraging Writers

Networking isn’t simply about selling books.  It’s also about establishing friendships with other writers who can be a huge support system.  You don’t have to go through this alone.  Local writing groups and meeting writers online can help you overcome fear by sharing common experiences with others who are in your shoes.  Non-writers mean well, but really, they don’t understand why a 1-star review stings or why an email telling you that you’re the worst writer ever hurts.  They don’t understand that our books are more than “books”.  Our books are a part of us because we created them.

Surround yourself by encouraging and supportive writers.

Strategy Tip #4: Join a Good Critique Group

The key here is to join a good one.  A good critique group will be full of writers who are honest but also encouraging.  They should tell you what is good about your story but be brave enough to tell you what isn’t working.  Feedback isn’t always pleasant, but you grow because of it.  If you have a supportive atmosphere, you can really fine tune your writing skills.  And this should help build your confidence as a writer.

Critique groups don’t have to be big.  They’re actually better off being small.  They can be online.  They don’t have to be a formal critique group.  Beta readers who are writers are a form of critiquing, too.  Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to establish this.

Remember, you want to be open to the good and the bad.  No matter how much you’ve written, there is always going to be room for improvement.  Each story you write should be better than your last one.

Strategy Tip #5: Join Workshops, Go to Conferences, and Read Books on Writing

Thanks to the Internet, you can go to conferences and workshops online now.  You don’t have to go to a physical place.   Part of workshops and conferences are networking, especially if you go to them in person, and they are educational.  These have a two-fold blessing built into them.  Not only are you learning ways to improve your writing and learning about the publishing industry, but you’re also meeting people who share your interest for writing.

If you connect with a couple of writers who are encouraging and supportive, you will probably start to feel that way within yourself.  I’m amazed at how surrounding myself with positive people makes me feel more positive, and I, in turn, can pass that on to others.  Like-minded people tend to attract each other.  Stay away from the negative as much as you can and seek out the positive.

And of course, reading books can be another avenue for improvement.  I prefer to do workshops and conferences rather than read books, but I know someone who’d rather read books.

However, I do think if you surround yourself with happy and supportive writers, it will go a long way in helping you to be positive about your writing.  When you’re positive about your writing, you’ll have a better chance of improving your work.

Strategy Tip #6: Do You Love Your Story?

Do you love the story?   At the end of the day, you are stuck with the book.  This is your story.  It’s what you created.  It is a part of you.  As long as you love it, it was worth writing.

The Facebook Scam Artist

As writers we need to be out there for people to reach and know about us. However, in this process, we also make ourselves vulnerable for scams. Last week, for example, I received a scam and wanted you to be aware of this in case you are targeted as well.

The scam was quite prevalent and wide spread as I saw other posts talking about this particular one. The first inquiry was a message I got from a high-school friend who I never had chatted with before on Facebook. So I was delighted to hear from her and knew her to be a good and honest person, this was why I did not discount the message from the very beginning.

The message began with a hello and I responded with a “hi.” It started quite seductively with a couple lines of conversational banter then went into its scam which ran something like this: Did you know Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is running a $90,000 lottery promotion?

I questioned the lottery promotion angle from the beginning. Lotteries are run by municipalities or states and is a form of gambling so how in the world could he offer a lottery promotion, which would not only include the United States but all over the world? This could not be legal. In Nebraska, there was a ballot issue to allow for casino gambling (in order to compete with Council Bluffs, Iowa, which has several casinos and lies across the river from Omaha). The Nebraska measure was defeated, but my point is it had to be legally approved. So as a political junky and former journalist, the word, “lottery,” was a red flag.

The message told me my supposed friend’s portion was “delivered” to her. Delivered? Money is either sent to your checking account or a check is sent to your home but “delivered?” This too gave me an uneasy feeling.

It proceeded, saying they saw my profile as a winner and I needed to contact this claim agent to receive it. At first, I thought my friend was kidding so I wrote yes and I better claim that 50 cents. After this, the person provided a link to this particular claim agent’s Facebook link. If the Internet has taught me anything, it is to not click links from unknown sources.

The message continued I could see “she” was serious. I finally said you are serious, aren’t you? Yes this person replied. At this point, I stopped communicating with my supposed friend and really got an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my gut.

I called a friend and asked her advice. She too thought this whole thing sounded too good to be true and mentioned a fact I had not thought of and this was what were the odds that both of you could win?

So later, I returned to my regular tasks when about a half hour later a writing friend asked me to befriend her. I confirmed it since I did know her. The message again started with a “hello” then asked if I heard about the $90,000 lottery giveaway. This is when I knew definitely it was a scam.

What did I do? I deleted the messages and reported the scam to Facebook. You can to do this on your page and select different options, such as “delete” or “delete and report scam.” I soon discovered the person who requested my friendship was already my Facebook friend. I unfriended the fake one and, as with anything of this nature, it is suggested you change your password.

Anyway, I thought I would alert you to this since as writers you are on the Internet to interact with friends and give them updates on what you are doing in the writing arena. I hope this helps you, and remember most people are honest brokers but there always are those scammers. God bless.

Tips For Gaining New Followers on Your Blog

If bloggers all share one common conceit, it’s that we’re hungry for followers. We like the idea that people are reading what we post on the Internet, and we’re always looking for ways to make sure that plenty of people discover our work and that they keep coming back. And while there’s no correlation between the number of followers and book sales (I wish there was, though), having followers can lead to some book sales on occasion.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful at one time or another for gaining followers on my own personal blog. Now, there’s no guarantee that any of these tips will be helpful for your blog. At best, a combination of these might be helpful, but that’s for you to find out. Like any technique in this business we try to increase sales and readers, it’s all trial, error, and learning from the past so we can learn from the future.

DO NOT ask for people to follow you! I know some people really want followers, but asking for other bloggers to follow you, especially in a comment on a blog post, sounds a little desperate, which can be a major turn off to some bloggers. There’s a better solution to get a blogger to check out your blog, especially if it’s a blogger you really would like to follow you.

Converse. If you read a post by a blogger or really like their blog and you would like them to follow you as well, then talk to them. Have a lengthy comment conversation where you go over issues or points made in the blog post. Engage them, and let the comments you leave speak for themselves. I’ve been drawn to certain loggers just by a single conversation we’ve had over comments on their or my blogs, and vice versa (I think. Maybe once or twice). If your comments really resonate with a blogger, then they may be drawn to look over your blog (if they’re not already reading your blog at the moment) and maybe then they’ll click the Follow button.

Also…

Blog often. I think a lot of us at first only blog when we feel we have something important to say. But that only increases the pressure to have something relevant to say, and may contribute to us blogging less, which may lead to readers not finding us because we have a small body of work. So instead try blogging more often. It doesn’t have to be big or groundbreaking or important. It can be a small revelation you had about a character, or how a day with your kids inspired you to write a story, or even the frustrations you have with your old computer and how you can’t wait to get a new one. I have a couple of friends who blog once a day every day, and they have a lot of followers, blogging on things going on in their lives, sharing excerpts from their WIPs, and the latest in STEM accomplishments and science fiction, to name but a few. You don’t have to write a post every day if you don’t want to, but writing often, even on the little things, can help people find you.

Blogging often also makes us better bloggers. We get a feel for it, like how we get a feel for fiction writing by reading and writing a lot. We learn how to write a compelling blog post from blogging often and from reading other blogs. And that brings me to my next point.

Always be on the lookout for an interesting blog. I love Freshly Pressed on WordPress, because I’ve read really interesting articles and bloggers through it (I actually discovered this blog through Freshly Pressed, by the way). One should always be on the lookout for an interesting blog or blog post, not just on Freshly Pressed but anywhere else you may run into them. And if a post really catches your attention, don’t just Like it, comment on it. Likes are nice, but comments really engage.

Tags! Tags help readers find your blog articles just as much as keywords do. So make sure you have a tag for most or all of the points covered in your blog post and maybe it’ll help people find your blog, or even get Freshly Pressed (in which case, I might become jealous of you).

Stay consistent to the main theme of your blog. Most of our blogs revolve around our writing careers, so we should keep our posts revolving around writing, our respective genres, the latest updates of our books, etc. Sure, it’s okay to maybe talk about something interesting in your life or maybe a political issue you feel passionate about, but don’t do it so much that you deviate from the main theme of your blog more often than you actually write about it. Otherwise you might lose followers who signed up to hear about you and your writing, rather than twenty posts about your job or church and then maybe one about your book, over and over again.

Use pictures. A WordPress administrator actually wrote a post a few years back and published it on Freshly Pressed. One of the tips he or she (I can’t remember which) gave was that one should try to use pictures, as they can spice up some blog posts, especially ones where it might seem to the reader as just one long list of text without end and they might lose focus.

Maybe I should use a picture in this article…

Remember your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just like readers hate horrible grammatical errors, typos, and things of that nature in the books they read, they get really annoyed with that in blog posts. So try and keep grammatical rules in mind, make sure you’re spelling that word correctly, and don’t use a semi-colon when a period or comma would do just fine.

Have fun with it. The main thing with blogging is that you have to enjoy it somewhat. If you treat it as a chore, it’ll come off that way in your blog posts and people might not want to read your work. But if you like it and get into it, that feeling might reveal itself in your blog posts.

 

Like I said, these techniques don’t always work for everyone. These are just ones I’ve felt have helped me. But in our line of work, where we experiment as we write and publish and market, you never know. These tips, as well as those from other writers, could prove extremely helpful in building your audience.

What sort of tips can you give other authors on building audiences and gaining followers?