The Elevator Pitch: Telling People About Your Book in One Sentence

You may be talking to someone at a party, at work, or while waiting to lead an army of werewolves and asuras into battle to stop the demonic entity Delassi from entering our dimension and consuming it entirely (or is that just me?), and the subject you’ve written or published one or more books may come up. If that happens, there’s a good chance they may ask what your book is about. And that leaves you with the decision on how best to tell them what your story is about without giving away too much or too little.

In instances like these, I prefer to use what’s called the elevator pitch, something I picked up from my job-seeking days (which thankfully are well behind me!). The idea of the elevator pitch is to present the shortest and most succinct description possible for any possible subject. For a job-seeker like myself back in the day, that would be a short description of myself that would give the hiring official an idea of what sort of employee I would be. But for a novel, the elevator would be the briefest description of the story’s plot.

Now, I can already hear some of you saying, “But Rami, my story’s too complex or long to just summarize it in one sentence.” And I can understand that. There are plenty of stories that are difficult to summarize. I’d be hard-pressed to give an elevator pitch for the Song of Ice and Fire series (the closest I’ve ever come is someone making a joke about the series and saying it’s about, “Knights, dragons and boobs,” which is true but probably not the best elevator pitch). However, I find stories that defy the elevator pitch are the exception rather than the rule. Most can be boiled down to their essential nature and used in an elevator pitch.

For example, the Harry Potter books:

A young boy goes to wizard school and discovers his destiny.

Or To Kill a Mockingbird:

A trial with racial overtones sets a small town on edge as one lawyer attempts to give his client a fair shot at justice.

Or Carrie:

A bullied teenage girl discovers she’s telekinetic and decides to use her powers to free herself from her torment, with disastrous results.

When I tell people about my own upcoming novel Rose, this is the elevator pitch I usually give them:

A young woman starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).

Yes, that’s the plot, and it’s actually getting published. And a lot of people have heard that summary and have asked me to let them know the moment the book is available for purchase.

The upside to using the elevator pitch method is that it takes a big story and condenses all a prospective reader needs to know into a single sentence without bogging them down into unnecessary details like the complex relationship between the Seven Kingdoms, or the blood-purity debate among wizards, or any other details that a reader would be better off learning through actually reading a story. It’s especially helpful if you’re in a place where things happen fast and people come and go quickly, such as in line at a coffee shop, saying hello to the usher you’re on first-name basis with at the movie theater, or, I don’t know, on an elevator.

Another upside to this method is that you can use the pitch with your blog, or short stories you’re submitting to magazines or anthologies, and a whole lot more.

The one downside I can think of, besides that a few stories can’t be summarized in a sentence that easily, a single sentence can’t capture the beauty or the power of a story. The sentence I gave above for Mockingbird can’t impart to the potential reader what a beautiful and emotional coming-of-age story it is, and the one for Harry Potter certainly doesn’t tell you just how awesome those books or the worlds inside them are.

But compared to boring people’s ears off with an entire synopsis or just reading the blurb to them right off the book jacket, this might be the better method, and one I’d highly recommend.

So how does one condense their story to a single sentence? That’s up to the author to decide. No one knows the story better than the author, so they ultimately figure that out. The only advice I can give is to not try to rush it. This can take a while, sometimes several days, to figure out. That, and maybe ask yourself what’s the first thing you think of when it comes to your story. Often, that image that appears in your head is the story at its simplest.

While it may seem a little paradoxical, summarizing a story into a single story and using that as your elevator pitch can make for a great marketing tool in everyday interactions. Who knows? That single sentence could get you a number of eager new readers, if you’re lucky.

Do you use elevator pitches when marketing and submitting your stories? What are some tips you use when coming up with them?

Writers Shouldn’t Have to Fear the Future

Edited May 9, 2018: Author Kevin Kneupper has a legal background, and he explains the details of this situation which sums things up much better than I ever could.

This post is inspired by a very unfortunate situation that has developed recently in the indie author community. An author took a commonly used word and trademarked it. I won’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say now this author wants other indie authors (as far as I know she’s only gone after indies) to remove this specific word from the titles of their books.

I’m not affected by this because I’ve never used this word in a title of one of my books. However, it does make me concerned about the future of indie publishing. Are we to expect more of this stuff to happen in the future from other authors? Will we wake up one morning to an email sitting in our inbox from the author or Amazon telling us we’re in violation of a trademarked word because we used it in a title?

That scares me. I’ve been doing this since 2009, and I have never come across anything that’s scares me like this, which is why I feel like I need to write a blog post addressing this topic.

A title change Is NOT simple.

This would be a nightmare if someone asked me to change one of my titles, and I only have ebook and paperbacks. So we’ll forget how much authors spend on making audiobook versions for a moment.  Let’s just think about how much other work and money would go into changing a title.

You have to redo the ebook and paperback covers. Then you have to fix the interior files (the actual book itself). You’d have to update the title page, the copyright page, and any headers with the title in it. Then (this is where it really gets time consuming and scary), you’d have to change the back matter in all of your other books, including the one you just changed the title on.

I currently have sixty-nine romances published. Some will have the book with the title I need to change in the back matter. I’d have to search through them to find out where they are, change them all, and republish them. While D2D updates back matter for you, Amazon and Smashwords don’t. I don’t know if Kobo, iBooks, or Barnes & Noble do since I rely on Smashwords to go wide.

Then you have to update your blog and/or your website to reflect this change. You’d also have to update all of your swag material such as bookmarks and pens. Then, as if that isn’t enough, you’ll have explain to anyone who asks you, what happened and why the title is now different.

This is time consuming and can get expensive.

Also, since I have registered my copyright to all of my books with the US Copyright Office, what happens to the copyright?  Will that copyright still hold up? I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know.

I’m just a writer who publishes my own books. I don’t have a lot of money. In fact, I’m losing money overall. I could seek out an IP lawyer and get a consultation, but how would things shake out? Is this a slam dunk win for me since I never set out to copy another author by taking a commonly used word and putting it into my title? Or would this result in tons of money being spent in court–money I don’t have in order to prove my innocence?

Do you see why this kind of thing could be a nightmare for authors if this becomes a trend? Every single author could be vulnerable. That’s why I’m addressing it.

The nature of indie publishing

I’ve been publishing on Amazon and Smashwords since 2009. And I’ve noticed some things along the way.

Similar (or even the same) titles get used a lot. Stock photo images from places like Dreamstime.com and Shutterstock.com get used a lot. Same/similar character names get used a lot. Certain fonts get used a lot. Plot ideas (such as a hero and heroine who are forced into marriage or “the beauty and the beast” scenario) get used a lot. Aliens attacking earth, a hero going on some kind of quest in a fantasy, or vampires falling in love with mortal women get used a lot. These types of things are broad. There’s lots of room to move within these basic plot ideas. The authors then take the basic premise and spins a unique story from it. As long as the story is spun in their own way, everything is fine.

Now, here’s when red flags should be going up. If someone plagiarizes your book or if someone outright steals it, then yes, you have a problem. If someone takes your exact cover and uses EVERYTHING in it the EXACT same way you did, yes, that would be problematic. If someone uses your actual series name word for word, you have a problem. If someone uses all of your characters’ names (the first and last) in their books, you might have a problem. (I would be super worried if the other author took multiple characters that were in one of my books. Just one or two with the same first name would not bother me.) If someone takes your author name and uses it as their own author name, you could have a problem. (You have to really look into this one.) You’d have to see if this person’s name is legally theirs, too. There are people who have the same first and last name out there. My suggestion is to either have a unique name (one that isn’t common) or use your middle name to help make you distinct. Ruth Nordin is very common. So I put in Ruth Ann Nordin. The chances of you and this other person have the exact first, middle, AND last name would be suspect.

My personal experience

In the past, I have gotten emails from a few readers who thought someone stole my book because there was a similar cover. The cover was a bride holding flowers. It wasn’t my exact cover, but it was something I could have picked. Keep in mind, there were A LOT of romance books with brides holding flowers back in 2010-2012 when I was getting my feet wet in indie publishing. Now, it’s mostly the hero and heroine in some kind of embrace. And often, the same models are used in these covers today. This is very common. And it is acceptable because the license for that stock photo allows other authors to use those photos. If you want to make sure no one uses that exact picture, then you’d need to get exclusive rights to it. But even then, you might end up with other authors using the same models in other poses.

Anyway, I think it’s only been about five people (a low number) over the course of my indie publishing career that thought another author was stealing my work and putting it under a similar cover. I went to check the books out to see if the readers caught another person stealing my books. Most of the time, the author name’s was different, the actual cover was different from mine (though it was “similar” or had the same model(s), and the title wasn’t one I had used. Fortunately, most these weren’t my books. It had the same “look” but a lot of covers in romance have the same “look”, esp. when you narrow down the sub-genres. It’s just the nature of the romance market in general. Upon looking inside these books, I saw the stories were totally different from mine. So no, these were not a violation of my copyright.

However, I actually have had a couple of cases where my books have actually been plagiarized or stolen. It does happen on occasion (unfortunately). So it’s smart to investigate these cases. Sometimes readers catch something we need to know about.

Also, I’ve have other authors who used my name in a keyword so their books come up when someone searches for my books. This happened early on in my writing career. (Like back in 2011 and 2012 when I hit the radar of the indie community. Since then I’ve pretty much faded into oblivion, so this doesn’t happen anymore.) I’ve heard marketing gurus tell new writers to mention popular authors in their genre order to attract their target audience. So I’m not surprised a new author would put a popular author into their keywords in the meta data for the book or in an ad they’re running. This is common practice. Some authors will even put, “If you like POPULAR AUTHOR A or POPULAR AUTHOR B, then you’ll love my book” in their book description. Usually, they put in traditionally published authors like JK Rowling. Sometimes, they’ll put the popular author’s book title or series instead of the author’s name. So it would read, “If you like Twilight or The Hunger Games, you’ll like my book, too.”  As long as the authors aren’t copying your actual book, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Bottom line:

I don’t know what the future of indie publishing is going to look like. Will trademarking a popular book series, which will then be used as an excuse to tell other authors to change their titles, become a trend in the future? I hope not. But I don’t have control over what another author does. I can only control what I do. I’d like to say this isn’t going to happen again, but I can’t.

The main thing comes down to support. If indie authors supported and cared about each other, it would be a nicer place. I think understanding that readers have a lot of authors they love to read is important to keep in mind. There’s no reason why a reader can’t enjoy Author X’s AND Author Y’s books. There are more readers than there is a single author who can write books for them all. This is especially true in romance. As soon as I publish a book, a reader finishes it within a day or two. What is that reader supposed to do while they wait for my next book? They read other authors’ books. This is why I don’t think we are in competition with each other. There’s enough room for everyone. Sure, some authors will pick up more fans than others. I write more for a niche within romance anyway, so I don’t appeal to the largest fanbase.

My advice (for what it’s worth) is to focus on your own books. Concentrate on writing the best stories you can. Don’t worry about what another author is doing with their titles. Your fans will find you. They will stay with you. The world is big enough for all indie authors.

Update on the “Handbook for Mortals” Controversy

Recently I wrote a post on “Handbook for Mortals,” which covered the controversy about a first-time author and former band manager whose YA novel made it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, and how the Twitter YA community uncovered that the author got there by making bulk orders from bookstores. All in order to apparently get a movie deal with the author as the main character. Yeah, that happened.

Well on Monday the author of that very book, Lani Sarem, wrote an article for the Huffington Post defending herself. She pointed out that the publishing industry has changed dramatically over the past couple of years, and that she ordered the books for conventions and book signings, going through the bookstores rather than her distributor so that sales counted towards the NYT Bestseller List. She also said that plenty of people had bought books at these signings/conventions, and that she’d already locked down the rights for the movie so she could have more control over the five movies (seriously? Five?) based off the series she was writing, and to star in the film.

I’ve seen a lot of back and forth in the wake of this article. Some is sympathetic, and others not so much. And Sarem does make some points. The publishing industry has changed dramatically over the years, authors do order in bulk for events like conventions and book signings. And authors do show up in adaptations of their works from time to time. Could all the media coverage of this book and its author, including the coverage from two weeks ago, have actually been detrimental to something positive?* Did one Twitter community accomplish something that another failed to do with the Ghostbusters reboot?

Well, I did some research, and slept on it, and I thought about it. And while there are some interesting points, there’s still some stuff with this situation that doesn’t ring right. Not least that movie thing (five? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! Let’s get to even one and see how that goes! And you as the lead? Really? I don’t know if that’s a sign of a control freak or a narcissist or both).

First off, the buying in bulk thing. Yeah, authors do buy in bulk for events. However, most of the time they buy through their distributors, as it comes with a discount, and it still counts as sales. It’s also considered more honest than what Sarem did. She literally says in her defense she bought through bookstores simply to get on the NYT Bestseller List, which would get her the movie deal. And while she’s technically right that there are no “rules” against doing something like this, there’s a subversiveness about it that doesn’t feel right. Not to mention that, as I mentioned in the previous article, behavior like this got her fired from a band she managed. Heck, tactics like this was used in an episode of Lucifer, and it felt just as subversive there as it does here. It actually reminds me of the time I played an online game and used a cheat code to get to maximize my stats just so I didn’t have to do the hard work of building them in the first place.

And that’s the major problem here: Sarem was looking for ways to immediately reach the top and get her movie deal, rather than get their through hard work and talent. Even if she wasn’t doing technically anything “wrong,” it was still dishonest and meant to be a shortcut to fame and success. That’s why people are upset, and made such a big deal about this. Sarem used a cheat code, all for a film deal, and it got exposed. That’s why she was taken off the NYT Bestseller List.

Because in the end, there is no defense for trying to skip hard work and make things easy. Especially when it comes to literature.

So while Sarem may have a good defense, there’s plenty here that just doesn’t sit right. And if you think about it long enough, you’ll realize there are ways to get a great novel on top of NYT Bestseller Lists, and this isn’t one of them.

Also, Sarem’s cover art may have been stolen from another artist. I’m not kidding you, the cover of the book apparently bears a striking resemblance to an art print called The Knife Thrower by Australian artist Gill Del Mace. And if you look at them, they’re very similar (can’t post it here because of possible copyright issues, but here’s a link to the creator’s website if you want to check it out). Where does it end?

But what do you guys think? This seems like it  might become an ongoing issue or story, one I may revisit on this site in the future, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Was Sarem being dishonest or innovative? Did Twitter go insane again, or was it a cross between Spotlight-style reporting and grassroots activism? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

*As for the quality of the book, I’ve looked at reviews from both before and after the initial wave of articles about Sarem’s unique methods. Some like it, but a lot more find it a mess that seems to have been written by a junior high schooler. Of those who’ve written reviews after the controversy broke, they admit they know of the controversy, but they try to focus on the book itself, which I’ve done myself with different movies and films. If they’re definitely trying to stay unbiased, then the reviews don’t bode well for Sarem regardless of the efficacy of her tactics.

Handbook for Mortals: How One Author Scammed the NYT Bestseller List, and How a Twitter Community Exposed It

This isn’t directly about self-publishing, but it is related to what we work hard to do, so I’m posting about it.

Over this past weekend, a friend of mine posted an article from The Daily Dot on Facebook about how an author had scammed the New York Times bestseller list. Obviously, I got curious, so I checked it out.  According to the article, the YA community on Twitter had noticed something weird about the NYT YA bestseller list. A new novel that nobody had heard of, Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem, had appeared out of nowhere and knocked The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The novel follows a girl with magical abilities who goes to Vegas, works in a magic show, and has a love triangle (that old chestnut. That old I’m-going-to-waste-my-natural-talents-while-doing-one-of-the-biggest-romance-cliches-ever chestnut). Lani Sarem, the author, is described as an actress and former band manager.

Like I said, nobody in the community had heard of the novel, and they got very suspicious when they heard that the book was published by GeekNation, a movie and pop-culture website that just got into publishing last month! And in that time, they put out a book that hit the top of the YA bestseller list? Obviously, some were confused by this, and the community, led by writers and YA enthusiasts Phil Stamper (@stampepk) and Jeremy West (@JeremyWest), started investigating. What they uncovered is mind-boggling.

Turns out, there’s practically no physical copies of Handbook for Mortals.  None.  It was listed as “Out of Stock” on Amazon, and no Barnes & Noble seemed to carry any physical copies. No one from the YA Twitter community came forward with a copy. And yet the book was already a bestseller, with the author herself planning on starring as the lead character in a movie version of the novel! How exactly does that happen?

Turns out, the author and her publisher were placing bulk orders for “events” like conventions or author signings at various booksellers across the country. When ranking its bestseller lists, the NYT relies not on the actual number of books sold, but number of reported orders and sales from booksellers. So they see that this one book in the YA category is getting a ton of orders in bulk, and without any indicators to present something fishy, there’s a new entry on the bestseller list.

That’s actually kind of clever. Horrible, as all cons are, but still kind of clever. Now if there were actual copies of the novel, it might have worked.

It only got crazier from there. Remember when I said Sarem was a band manager? Well, one of her former bands was Blues Traveler, and they admitted through Twitter that Sarem had done similar stuff when she was their manager, and they fired her for it (they later took down that tweet, but it’s already out there, so…). So we’ve got an author and her publisher, one of whom has done bulk orders to boost visibility of a product/group, using bulk orders to send a book up the NYT Bestseller list.

Well, Twitter’s YA community wasn’t happy about it. Stamper and West started encouraging bookstore employees through DMs to come forward about this. As it became more apparent that there was something fishy going on, the NYT finally took notice and saw what the YA Twitter community had uncovered. They later released an updated list, with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas back on top, and Handbook for Mortals nowhere in sight.

It later came out that Sarem’s whole goal was to star in the movie version, but she needed buzz, so she got the book onto the bestseller list. If she could get it on the list, she’d be able to get funding for a movie. God, that’s horrible.

So what can we take from this story? Obviously, if you notice something suspicious, you’re perfectly capable of doing Spotlight-style sleuthing and discover  conspiracy. But it just goes to show what happens when you try to skimp on hard work and still make it to the top.

There’s no substitute for hard work. And the majority of authors, no matter if it’s their first or sixtieth book, work as hard as possible. We write, edit, edit several more times, try to get good covers, and do our best at marketing our stories. This applies whether you’re a traditionally or independently published author. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we don’t. Still, we try our hardest. But when someone tries to game the system and build hype by being fake, there’s always going to be people who notice.

And sometimes, when they notice, they can bring down an entire scam and keep someone unworthy from getting a literary and acting career.

The Importance of Focus

Today’s post is geared for writing as a business.  (For those who are writing as a hobby, you may want to skip this one.)

Over the years, I’ve been reading magazines and blog posts dedicated to entrepreneurs, especially small business owners, and I have come away with one main theme that seems to emerge.  That theme is “focus”.  More importantly, it is focusing on the one thing you are most passionate about.

I came across this great post the other day, and it reminded me of those articles.  Then, I thought about how this applies to writing.  Specifically, how does it apply to writing if you have a business mindset.

Some people may see writing with the goal of earning money as “selling out”.  I don’t.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to make money doing something you love.  Most writers I come across love writing.  They have always loved it.  It has been a big part of their lives ever since they can remember.  I might not have caught on to this until I was in high school, but I honestly can’t think of anything I’m more passionate about than writing.  It is the one thing I can do all day long and not get bored.  The best kind of job you can have is the one that feels like play.  Why?  Because then you’re never “working”.  You get paid to play.

But sometimes the dream of doing something we love can get sabotaged when we lose our focus.  I once read a post years ago from a writer who asked, “How Badly Do You Want It?” I can’t find the article now, but it has stuck with me through the years.  So, how badly do you want to make a living as a writer?  What are you willing to give up to make it happen?

Too many times we let distractions get in our way.  Anything that doesn’t matter to the business side of writing is a distraction.  (Yes, set aside time for family and friends, but make this business your priority.)  Today, I have some tips on how to do just that.

importance of focus post first things first
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1. Write the next book. 

This is the most important thing you can be doing today.  Without a book, you will have no product to sell.  In order to make a living as a writer, you need to think beyond one book.  You need to think beyond one series.  You need to be prolific.  It’s just the way it is. Each time you publish a book, you should see a rise in income.  But that rise is temporary.  Sales are up and down in this business.  You can’t predict how things will go from one month to another.  All you can do is get another book out and hope it gets you through until your next book comes out.

As a quick note: not all books will sell the same.   Some will probably sell better than others.  The trick is to find out why you sold one book really well and do what you can to tap into the elements that worked for that book into your future books.   For example, I noticed my marriage of convenience romances sold better than the books where the heroine pursues the hero.  You have to get creative on spinning a plot trope so you’re not writing the same story over and over again, but it is possible to do many spin-offs from one idea.

focus blog post customers
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2. Write for your audience.  (This is writing with focus.)

If you aren’t writing the kinds of things your target audience wants to read, you will probably not sell as well as you would have if had tailored the book to them.  This is why finding your target audience is important.  The key to this is finding an area you’re already interested in writing in and then combining it with something your audience wants.  Find out what character tropes and plot tropes are popular in your genre, and then write your unique spin on it from there.  It will still be a fresh brand new story.  It’s just one that is geared for your audience.

focus and time management
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3. A wise use of time.

There are a lot of distractions that will pop up in the day.  Every single day you will be given a reason not to write.  (I’m all for taking a day or two off each week to rest.  There’s nothing wrong with that.)  But when we haven’t written our next book in weeks or months, there is a problem.

Sometimes family and friends will get in the way of your success.  If you had a job outside the home, would you drop everything to do something with them?  No.  You would wait until you’re done working for the day and then take care of them.

Sometimes our pleasures get in the way of our success.  If you had a job outside the home, would you take time off just to sit and watch a movie?  No.  You would wait until you’re done working for the day to watch it.

Sometimes laziness gets in the way of our success.  If you had a job outside the home, would you call in and tell the boss, “You know, I just don’t feel ‘inspired’ today.  I’m taking today off.”  No.  You would go to work and press through the day, even if you end up watching every minute on the clock as it slowly ticks by.

My point is that writing needs to be a job.  (Yes, it’s a job you love, but it is work.)  You need to treat it with the same dedication that you would treat a job outside the home.  There are no shortcuts.  You can’t dillydally with it.  You have to be serious about it.  You need to focus on what needs to be done and do it.

focus blog post balance
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4. Watch your writing to promotion ratio.

Yes, you do need to get your name out there. You need to build up an author brand so  people know what to expect when they pick up your books.  I know this is daunting for a lot of people.  (I’m an introvert, so it takes a lot for me to even answer emails.)  But how is anyone supposed to know you have books if you aren’t out there?

I don’t know what a good rule of thumb is for how often you should be engaged on promotion.  I consider emailing, blogging, setting up pre-orders, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, You Tube, updating your blog/website, running ads, participating in groups, etc to be promotion.  I don’t have a rule for how much time should be spent on this stuff, but writing the next book needs to take up the bulk of your time.

Personally, I aim for 80% of my work time to go to writing.  About 20% goes to promotion.  I do work at home.  My hours are usually from 9:30am – 7:30p.m. at night.  I take a break to make meals for the family, do laundry, dishes, and other thankless chores that probably take 2-3 hours total away from my working time.  Unless I’m sick or on vacation, I average six days a week.  Sometimes I will take day #6 to do promotion all day so that I can give 95% of my work time solely to writing.  (I consider edits to be a part of writing.  It’s just not the fun part.)

I don’t know where you will find your ratio, but I highly advise that at the very least, you spend 60% of your time writing and 40% of your time promoting.  That’s just a ratio.  So you take the available time you have and figure out what those hours will look like.  Obviously, not everyone can write the same hours I do.  Some of you have sick family members who need constant care.  Some of you have day jobs.  Some of you have second jobs.  Some of you have babies and young children.  Some of you have health issues to contend with.

Personally, if I had a limited time to write, I would spent 90% writing and 10% promotion.  The less time you have on hand, the more important it is to write.  But I have found it’s not how much time people have that matters as much as how they choose to spend it.  There are people who have plenty of time and are able to work, but they keep finding other things to do instead of writing the next book.

~~~~~~~

Remember, keep your eyes on the prize.

That is why focus is so important.  Without focus, you’re not going to accomplish as much as you would otherwise.  And it all boils down to the simple question, “How badly do you want it?” I understand that sales like they were 2012-2013 when self-publishing seemed to be at its peak.  But if you don’t take control of your time and focus on writing, you’re not going to have the chance of getting to where you want to be.  That’s what I’m talking about.  Having a chance at your dream.  You need focus to get there.  (And it goes without saying that you need a compelling story that is properly edited, a good cover, and a good description to go with each book.)

 

Building Meaningful Relationships With Your Readers

I’ve had this post sitting in the draft folder for a year, and I’ve been waiting for the right time to use it.  Recently, I came across this great post “5 Mistakes Authors Make on Social Media” by Michael Cristiano, and I knew this was the right time to make the post below public.

My recommendation is to read the post given at the link above and then read what I have below.

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ID 66249648 © Nickjoo | Dreamstime.com

1.   Guess what, everyone?  I just wrote this fantastic thriller about a group a survivors who need to wade their way through the apocalypse while trying to find a cure for the virus that turns everyone into zombies.  Check it out on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks!   (This is either posted for the gazillionth time on the author’s social media page–or worse–posted on someone else’s page without their approval.)

or how about…

2.  Space Invasion has received a 4.5 star average out of 23 reviews on Amazon.  Check out why it’s so hot!  (Amazon link provided)

or how about…

3.  I know you guys are talking about romances, but I want to tell you about this fantasy I wrote which won the This Book is the Best Ever 2016 Award.  I know it’s not what you were asking for, but it is so well written that you will love it anyway.  Here’s the link!

or how about…

4.  That story about your kid is so funny.  It reminds me of the scene I wrote in my book, Alison’s Fake Fiancé,  when her toddler went into the store and ran into a large display and knocked everything over.  Here’s the link!

***

What do all of the approaches above have in common?  They’re a hard sell.  And honestly, I don’t think they work.  We are saturated with ads in one form or another.  (All of the above are ads.  They just weren’t ads someone paid for.)  I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring ads of all kinds.  I don’t really “see” them when they’re there.

A better approach, in my opinion, would be to build relationships with readers instead of selling to them.  It requires a slow build.  It takes a lot of time.  And it probably won’t mean a massive amount of sales in a short period of time.  But I think it can be a very rewarding approach longterm because the readers you meet become real people instead of just numbers, and I enjoy getting to know who is reading and enjoying my work.

Alright, so let’s get to the nitty gritty of this post.

I like to start with this in mind: treat others as you want them to treat you.

I can tell when an author is engaged with me as a person vs when they’re just trying to sell me a book.  I’m inclined to read and buy books by authors who take the time to get to know me and care about me.  Early on (2010), an author was really nice to me, but the moment I read and reviewed her book, she stopped replying to my comments on her posts.  I still remember how that made me feel.  I felt like I’d been used, and I never want anyone else to feel that way.

Be yourself.  Hang out on places that interest you.  Have a good time.  Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Let’s say you’re shy.  Instead of initiating conversations, why not comment in the threads other people have started?  Let others lead and add whatever you can.  After a while, you’ll be more comfortable with some of the people you’re talking to, and you’ll open up.  But let it be a gradual process.

I do think Facebook could be effective for this.  I know Facebook isn’t as effective as it used to be, but it’s still a good way to engage with people who read books.  Just be sure when you are engaging, you’re not out promoting your books.  Be real.  Build friendships.  You can even create a Facebook group to chat with your readers.

You don’t need to be on Facebook.  Pick whatever social media site or sites you enjoy and spend your time and attention over there getting to know people.

I know what some of you are thinking.  “But if I don’t tell people I have a book to sell, how will they find it?”

Make sure your name links to your page on that social media.  Facebook and Twitter highlight your name.  This will take people to your page on that site.  Your page is where you link to your website in your profile.  On your website, you will have your books.  That is how people will find your books.

Another way they can find out is by asking you.  But let them do the asking.  Or, someone else might mention it in passing and arouse the person’s curiosity.  This needs to be someone you didn’t tell to do it.  No gaming the system, guys.  It needs to be honest and real.

Do I have friends who never read my books?  Yep.  There are some awesome people who haven’t read anything I’ve written who have been a huge blessing in my life.  So don’t limit your conversations only to those people that you believe will buy your books.  Be open to everyone.  Just like any friendship, it takes time to develop and involves being sincere.

Does this method take time?

Definitely.  I know it’s hard to wait in our instant gratification culture (at least in the United States where I live).  But anything worth doing often takes time.  When you went through school, you didn’t jump from kindergarten to high school.  You had to go through years to get there.  When you go to college, you don’t get your degree in one semester.  It takes time, effort, and dedication.  But when you take time to do these things, the reward makes all the work worth it.

And honestly, I’ve been far more blessed by people who read my books than they’ll ever be by me.  There were times I wanted to quit (such as this morning, believe it or not), but they were there to encourage me to keep going.  I would have given up long ago if it hadn’t been for them.  Money is just one factor to being an author.  The emotional support you get from your readers is a lot more valuable, in my opinion.  But yes, I do understand we need money in order to eat.  Like my mom used to say, “You can’t eat love.” But I think being your real self with others can lead to a solid foundation that can help you as you look for effective marketing techniques in the long run.  Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Your Top 2-3 Writing Goals For The Year

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, this is the perfect time to start off with a clean slate (or as much of one as you can). 🙂

I was thinking this morning that it’s a good time to think about the main things we want to accomplish this year.  I originally going to suggest making five goals, but then I thought 2-3 is a lot more doable than five.   By keeping this short and simple, I’m hoping we’ll see success with them.

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ID 42635288 © Cacaroot | Dreamstime.com

What Should The Goals Deal With?

These should be goals related directly to writing.  Yes, I know there are health goals and other non-writing related goals this time of year, but we’re not going to go into that. This is a blog dedicated to the writing business, and that being the case, we’ll focus on writing related goals.

It can be books you want to get done, an LLC you want to set up, a course you want to take to become a better writer or market your books, a new website design, a strategy to get a blog going, a new marketing idea…  As long as it relates to the world of writing, it fits.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what we most want to get done.   I suggest writing these down or recording them if you use dictation software.  You don’t have to do this in one sitting.  I think taking a day or two to mull this over is a good idea.  Often, something will come to mind when you’re doing a chore or taking a shower.  (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)  So as you come up with these goals, mark them down.  The list can be as long as you want in this stage since all you’re doing right now is brainstorming.

Narrow It Down to 2-3 Main Things

Next, set the list aside for a week.  This should help your subconscious mind work through everything you put on it.   Then take the list out and mark the top 2-3 things you want to do.  These are the high priority items.  If you get nothing else done this year, those 2-3 things should be accomplished by the end of the year.

1. Keep it simple.

I advise keeping these things simple enough so you don’t get overwhelmed later in the year when you’re working on them.  So instead of making a goal  something like, “Write a four-book series,” have the goal be, “Write Book 1.” That gives you one goal that is a lot more doable.

You know the expression that says, “You can’t see the forest through the trees?”  Guess what?  You can’t have a forest unless you have trees to begin with.   The purpose of this exercise is to set up strong trees that will make for a healthy forest in the long run.  If you try to do too much, then your trees will be weak.  Do what you can handle with everything else you have going on in your life.

2. Make your goal something you can control.

Having a goal like, “I’m going to make more money this year,” isn’t something you can control.  As much as I would love it if we could control this part of the business, it’s not possible.  All we can do is take steps toward making more money.  So instead of, “I’m going to increase my income,” try something like, “I’m going to create a group on Facebook where I can engage with my readers” or “I’m going to create an email list” or “I’m going to make a blog post twice a month”.  Something like that is directly under your control, and it’s a way to promote your work.

(Below I went off tangent.  Feel free to skip.)

I have been criticized for speaking out on losing income in the past, but I write posts on this blog because I believe in being straightforward and honest about things.  If I don’t do that, then I’m only wasting my time and yours.  I am not going to promise anyone that if they plug in a certain formula or do something specific, they’ll magically find their income go up.  I can share things that have helped me earn more money, but that’s all I can do.  And just because that one thing (such as pre-orders) helped me earn more money, it doesn’t mean I made more money than I did the year before.  What it did was help take some of the buffer off the losses I was experiencing.

Personally, I’m tired of hearing how we are supposed to expect income to go up all the time.  The truth is, it doesn’t always work that way.  You can do everything right and still not have more money coming in.  I have had private conversations with other authors who make a living with their writing.  Last year, some of them (including me) lost income.  Some were losing income in 2015, too.  This is despite doing all the things marketing experts tell us to do and selling in a popular genre.  So if you find that you’re not able to make the income you want even though you’re following all the advice out there, I hope you’ll take comfort in knowing you are not alone.  (Sometimes the worst feeling in the world is thinking you’re the only person this is happening to.  And it certainly doesn’t help when people criticize you for being honest.)

(Now back to the topic.)

If You Finish The Goals Ahead Of Schedule, Make More

Congratulations if you get things done before you think you will!  That’s wonderful.  It’s better if you end up having to add more goals than to not complete the ones you set out to do.

What Are Your Goals?

I’d love to hear what you guys are planning to do this year, so please share!

Don’t Feed the Trolls

Wow! It’s been ssssooooo long since I wrote a post here (looks like sometime in 2013), even though I’ve continued to lurk around checking things out.

For whatever reason I just got an image of Batman, or would that be Batgirl, slinking around?

Anyhoo, there are so many new people here that I feel the need to introduce myself again.

Hello! *dorky grin and wave* My name is Stephannie Beman, I’m a writer. I write books.

And yes, I’m this awkward in person, possibly even more so.

Actual picture of me so you know who you're talking too. :D
Actual picture of me so you know whose talking.

Okay, now that the introductions are out of way, we can focus on the important stuff. The reason I decided to break my long silence and write this post.

Storytime

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a group of people terrorized by Trolls. These were not the normal kind of trolls with an ugly countenance, giant tusks, long claws, and sharp teeth. These Trolls were the covert kind. The ones that looked like everyone else, hiding in plain sight. It was only through their actions that the truth of what they were was revealed.

These nasty, mean, awful beasties thrive on stalking their prey, destroying lives, causing self-doubt, and ruining the dreams of the people. But then the people started to learn an important secret about the snarling creatures.

Don’t feed the Trolls. It only makes them stronger.

By feeding the trolls ego the people were giving the trolls what they wanted. Control. These people learned a few ways to weaken the noxious influences of the trolls in their lives by….


Knowing That It’s About Them

Those who go around behaving in an abhorrent manner that reminds you of a raging toddler in adult form are trolls and you should tell yourself that it has very little, or more likely, nothing to do with you personally. Yes, I know the attack was probably personal in nature, they usually are. But it’s not about you. It’s all about them. It’s about who they are, their past experiences, their unmet desires, their inability to communicate in positive ways, their fears. Anger is just fear indulged and magnified in an unhealthy and hurtful manner.

That Sometimes It’s About You

Yes, sometimes you did or said something to contribute to the incident. However, that doesn’t mean you are to blame. If you said or did something they didn’t agree with, they could have taken their mom’s advice and walked away without saying a word. Nothing says that anyone has to agree with everyone’s opinions, but the trolls are the ones that feel justified in pointing it out in great and insulting detail why you are wrong. They want you to see it their way because it is the ‘only way’. It doesn’t mean it’s the truth, or even your truth.

Some trolls find insult in the smallest things, like the woman who was angry at me for “destroying the Persephone myth” in one of my stories by not following the myth to a ‘T’. Not only did she point it out in great detail what I did wrong, but she brought a few of her friends along to do the same. At the time I was a newbie author who took what she said to heart and it crushed me.

Why? Because I was afraid that she was right about my ability to tell a good story, a deep-seated fear that was created long before she came along. I was afraid that everyone would hate the mythology that I created and that the books would fail miserably. I really had to take a good look at that fear and ask myself if it’s justified. Years later I can say, I told the story that I wanted, in the way I wanted to, and as a fiction writer it is my right to screw it up royally if I want.

Either Way, You’ll Never Know The Whole Truth

Even if you ask. There rarely is a good reason for trolls to do what they do. They are no better than the schoolyard bully trying to feel better about themselves or impress the other bullies by attacking “the little guy” to make themselves feel important

If some of the troll attacks I’ve had over the years are anything to go, it probably won’t make sense even if they tell you the problem they have with you. I’m still scratching my head over one woman’s scathing remarks over my author bio which I won’t go into detail other than to say that for two days she personally attack me and all those who commented on the blog post that had nothing to do with the bio. I came back from the weekend to 120 comments.

Years later, she apologized for her behavior and being curious as to what started it I asked her in the hopes of understanding why something so simple had set her off. It only triggered another bout of personal insults. Needless to say, I still don’t understand her reasoning and probably never will.

So Remember The 1/3rd Rule

When I was in the 2nd grade I came home crying because some of the girls didn’t want to be my friend because I wasn’t girly enough and I was kinda weird. My mother told me that there is no way to please everyone I met and to try would only twist me out of true. That rather than change to be their friend, I should surround myself with friends who loved me for who I am. I learned early that people will try to change those not like them and demand that they bend over backward to please them.

Later I learned the 1/3rd Rule. 1/3 of people you meet will love you, 1/3 of people you meet will hate you, and 1/3 of people you meet won’t care one way or the other about you. So I guess the question is, do you really want to spend your life trying to impress people only to fail? Or would you rather strive to impress the person you have to live with the most, yourself?

Because Resistance Is Futile

Yes, I love Star Trek. And I do use this phrase on my kids regularly, although the circumstances usually involve cleaning their rooms or doing their chores. Mom is the Borg and resistance is futile. You will be assimilated, kids.

Surprisingly, it also applies to trolls. You can’t change the minds of bullies. They will think what they want no matter what you do. Sometimes you can teach them a hard lesson, but I wouldn’t suggest it. It has the horrible potential of backfiring and causing you more harm.

No matter what you say or do, defending yourself against a bully will only makes things worse because if they don’t “hate” you for one thing, they will find another “fault” to hate about you. Haters hate.

And Hate Is Contagious

Trolls ‘hate’ you for anything and everything you do, and that hate can contaminate you if you let it in. If you aren’t careful their hatred might become yours. Don’t own that.

Hate is like an infection that spreads and consumes the person. A better use of your time would be to learn from what they say, and if changes need to be made (like improving my horrible grammar), then it is better to put energy into improving yourself rather than hating the trolls. It’s not like they care if you hate them, it only gives them more power.

Just Wait 24 Hours

Don’t respond to them. Stop responding to them. Ignore them.

If I learned one thing from the schoolyard, bullies hate to be ignored, and nothing angers them more than your apathy. It’s actually the perfect revenge. If you don’t feed the trolls, they’ll eventually lumber off in search of easier prey who will respond to them and feed their need for control and conflict.

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that most things, even the vilest of rumors, die within 24 to 72 hours. It might be Hell during that time but there will always be juicer gossip for people to consume.

Or Delete Them

If it’s an offensive blog comment, delete the comment or post a note that their comment was “deleted for offensive behavior”. It sends a message to the other Trolls that see it that your blog isn’t their stomping grounds and their attacks will not be tolerated.

Regardless if you can delete them or not, don’t speak to people who are bad for you. You deserve better than their venom. They aren’t worth the breath, or words you’ll write, to answer them. Don’t become the thing you hate in the mistaken belief that you are combating them.

Either way, Don’t Respond to Them

I get the need to defend yourself by creating boundaries and lines that trolls can’t cross without consequences. I’m not saying ‘turn the other cheek’ or ‘let them use you as a doormat’, I’m suggesting fighting them in a way that hurts them most, by not giving them the attention they want.  I found that if I do or say something, even if it’s calm and rational manner, I’ll eventually say something they will later be use against me.

In the grand scheme, ignoring them and removing them from your life is the best advice I can give you.

Eventually, Time Heals all Wounds

Anger and hate ultimately passes if you let it and you will heal from what was said. In time, you might even be able to shrug it off as an unfortunate learning experience or laugh about “that one time when that one person told me…” or you could use that anger toward the troll in your next story. What better way to relieve the pressure then by using that energy to fuel your story? You can even make your troll into the villain and proceeded to kill them horribly and violently.

And yes, I am that vengeful. However, the idea came from other writers who have used strong emotions to create emotional charged scenes in their books and from time to time even immortalized their enemies by making them the villains in a story. 😀


In Summary, Trolls are bad

Nothing makes their attacks right or excuse their behavior. Feeding the trolls makes it worse. Letting them into your lives is like bathing in toxic waste. You will not get superpowers. You will get burned. Keeping them around like allowing a feral Mountain Lion to sleep at the end of your bed. You’re likely to wake up one morning with a Mountain Lion gnawing on a body part. Really not smart.

Be smart. Don’t feed the Trolls.

P.J. Boox: A Bookstore for Indie Authors

Remember in May of last year, when I reported on Gulf Coast Bookstore, a bookstore in Fort Myers, Florida that showcased the works of independent authors in the Florida area? Well, recently I was contacted through my Facebook page by one of the co-owners of the store with some very interesting news about Gulf Coast. Apparently since the store opened, it’s done rather well. In fact, it’s done so well that it’s expanded. And it’s expanded into P.J. Boox.

Opening in October of last year, PJ Boox currently houses 260 authors from about 11 countries, and plans to grow that number to 500 by the time they hit full capacity, each author getting to display ten of their books in the store. The way the store displays the books allows for readers to get a full look at the books’ covers, which allows readers to make a more powerful connection with the books. And the most interesting and exciting part, at least in my humble opinion, is that authors can actually interact with readers, from anywhere in the world, via Skype or other video-chat options, all in the store’s reading room (so if your book is featured by a book club, you can actually hear what the readers say. Hopefully that’s a good thing).

According to store co-founder and co-owner Patti Brassard Jefferson, the idea of PJ Boox came to her soon after she opened Gulf Coast Bookstore. Within a couple of months, she was apparently “inundated” with messages from authors. This inspired the idea for a larger bookstore that could host more indie and small-press authors. Thus we have PJ Boox today. And while other bookstores for indie authors have since appeared in other cities around the US, PJ Boox and its owners still manage to be trendsetters among the group.

So now to answer the most important question: how does an author get their books in the store? According to PJ Boox’s website, it’s actually quite simple. What you do is rent out space in the store for four months and send them up to ten of your books. In exchange, the store will stock and sell the books. And you get a majority of the royalties back (98% for in-store sales, 80% for online sales). Top that, Amazon! And you can pay for certain upgrades on your rental that include special online options and even more shelf space in the store. It’s not a bad deal, especially since you get some great exposure in the store.

In fact, I might have to try this once my new book comes out later this year. It might expose people to my sci-fi series.

And if you want to learn more about PJ Boox, check out their website for rental rates, books by great indie authors, and information on upcoming events.

How I Could’ve Done A Better Sale

Back in September I wrote an article about when was the best time to publish a book. That article also mentioned some opportune times to host some sales. Going off the advice of that article and my previous sale experience, I decided to host a sale around New Year’s, which is apparently a very good time to hold such a sale.

To my surprise and slight consternation, I did not sell as many books–digital or paperback–as I thought I would. I did get some good sales, including from friends and colleagues, but it was far lower than I expected, to the point that I put more money into the sale than I got back.

I’ve been spending the time since trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I could do to improve my next sale and ad campaign (probably when I publish a novel later this year). Below are the conclusions that I’ve come to, which I hope will give you some help if you hold a sale in the future.

I used only Facebook ads. In another previous post, I showed that Facebook ads could be extremely helpful in spreading the word about sales. This time though, they didn’t prove as helpful. While the likes on my Facebook page did increase from 383 to over twelve-hundred, not many of those people did buy a book. That’s because Facebook is already a free service, we get so much content from it for free. Sure, you may see ads for products on it, and you may like the pages of those products, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to buy it. You’re more likely to ignore an ad from a free service anyway, even when you’re confronted with it over and over (which is probably why I’ve never bought something advertised before my YouTube video).

So next time, I should try formats other than or in addition to Facebook. Yes, it’s a useful site to advertise and attract a fan base, but to rely solely on it wasn’t one of my better moves. Next time, I’ll look into using other platforms, including Twitter and KDP Amazon (yeah, KDP Amazon allows you to advertise through it. I heard the costs were huge, but maybe if they are, it might be worth it to advertise through a site where people are already there presumably to buy products).

I cast too wide a net. When you set up an ad campaign, you can decide who the ad is targeted towards based on criteria like age, interests and hobbies, sex, and several others. One of the main criteria though is country or countries. I wanted to get as many people to see the ad as possible, so I tried targeting as many countries as I could where Amazon operated in (most of my sales come through Amazon). Problem is, while Amazon does operate in those countries, it may not be as big as other retailers there. So when I cast a wide net, I cast a net where people would see the ad but may not buy. Meanwhile, there may have been people in more Amazon-strong countries that would’ve bought my books if they saw the ads, but didn’t because of the wide focus.

Plus some of the countries I targeted don’t have English as a first language. Yes, English is spoken there by a wide swath of the population, but it’s not a dominant language by any means. And most of my sales are from English speaking countries anyway, probably since my books are in English.

So in the future, I will try to focus on countries where most people do buy from Amazon, but English is a spoken by a majority of the population.

Include links. This should’ve been pretty obvious to me. I didn’t include links on two out of three of my ads though, expecting the readers to head over there out of curiosity and look themselves. I don’t think that’s what actually happened in real life. So if you’re going to do an ad, make sure a link or two is already present.

 

If this helped you at all, my job here is done. Sales and ad campaigns are never easy and don’t always yield the results you want, but if you learn from others and go through trial and error, they can on occasion bring in a very nice pay day.

What tips do you have for a successful sale/ad campaign?