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?

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.

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!

Writing a Blurb for Your Book Cover

“Blurb” is such a funny word to say, but it’s a word that writers everywhere should know, because the blurb can have so much influence on who and how many people buy or download your books. According to Wikipedia (not the best source I know, but it’s quick and convenient, so what are you going to do?), a blurb is “a short summary or promotional piece meant to accompany a creative work.” In the context of a book, a blurb is usually the summary text on the back of the book describing the story, but it can also refer to reader reviews, promotional taglines, and author biographies. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the summary text on the back of a book, since that is what often plays a role in any reader’s decision to buy a book.

Generally blurbs are at most a paragraph or two, and give a brief idea to the reader what they can expect before they open up the book to read it. This brief idea is given in three parts: the explanation, the mystery, and the promise. Here’s what I mean:

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, taking his first lessons in the arts of magic. But when a devious hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace ruthlessly humiliates Nathaniel in front of his elders, Nathaniel decides to kick up his education a few notches and show Lovelace who’s boss. With revenge on his mind, he summons the powerful djinni, Bartimaeus. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

The Amulet of Samarkand, US edition

This was the blurb on the back of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Johnathan Stroud. I was maybe ten or eleven when I first read this book. I was just coming out of my Harry Potter junkie phase and wanted something new to read. I wasn’t at first really interested in the book, but then I saw the blurb on the back and I was immediately hooked. I ended up reading the entire trilogy and the prequel, really enjoyed them, and I’ve been influenced by it ever since. And just based on that one blurb it got me to read the first book.

Let’s look at this blurb using the parts I named above. First, we have the explanation, which tells us what the novel is about. Judging from that, the reader learns that the main character is Nathaniel, he’s a magician’s apprentice, and he decides to send a djinni named Bartimaeus to get revenge for him by having him steal an amulet from Nathaniel’s enemy. The explanation stops at telling us what happens next and how it leads into “a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.”

That’s what the mystery is for. The mystery’s purpose is to say that although a little bit of the story has been revealed to you in the explanation, the rest of it you’ll have to read the book to find out. All we can tell you is that there’s a lot of cool stuff there, in this case magical espionage, murder and rebellion. Usually the mystery is held off until the last sentence, meant to leave the reader intrigued enough that they’ll open the book to find out more.

Last but not least, the promise is found throughout the blurb, and it is as it’s called: a promise. In this case, the promise is telling us that this is an awesome story geared for readers just like the person reading the back cover, and that they will miss out if they do not open the book. This should be the main goal of the author when writing their blurb.

Of course, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do when writing your blurb. For instance, it may be tempting to make it seem like your book is the greatest thing that’s ever been written. For all I know, it has. But if the message from your blurb is “It’s new! It’s great! You should read it and make sure everyone else around you reads it!” and that message is too obvious or strong, it might turn away readers rather than make them want to read more. We want people to read our works of course, but coming on too strong never got anyone anywhere.

The best way to do is let the blurb and the story it’s summarizing do the talking for you. Instead of coming on strong, let the blurb subtly entice the reader into wanting to check out the story and find out more. Another way of looking at this could be like thinking of the blurb as a free sample in a grocery store or shopping mall. You get a small taste to begin with, but if you want more, you’re going to have to buy the whole product.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to put too much information in the explanation part of your blurb. Give them just enough information to form an impression, maybe give them a few images in their heads, but not too much that they’ll have a basic idea of where the story is going to go and what will happen, so why bother picking the story up? Make sure to leave some room for the mystery in the story to hint at what’s to happen so the reader will be intrigued enough to open up the book to page one.

And finally, try to do all this in as few words as possible. The blurb above is less than a hundred words and still manages to grab your attention. You should aim to write an effective blurb around a similar length that does the same thing. This isn’t just because keeping it brief is good for giving hints and mystery, though that’s part of it. It’s also because practically speaking you only have so much room on the back of your book, so you should try to keep the word count around one hundred so that the printed summary doesn’t feature tiny, tiny letters that make it difficult to read. And if the reader has difficulty reading the back cover, what are the chances they’ll want to read what’s on the inside?

What tips do you have for writing blurbs?

Using The Audiobook Service ACX

I think I speak for many of us when I say we’d like to have our books in audiobook form. Besides being a possible way to connect to new readers who don’t necessarily like to sit down with a paperback or e-book and another possible source of revenue, audiobooks have a prestige to them. It’s sort of magical hearing your characters come to life in your car or in your earbuds through sound and description. It’s pretty powerful.

However creating an audiobook can be difficult. In addition to a book to narrate, you need an actor to read your book aloud if you aren’t comfortable or able to do it, plus recording equipment, maybe an engineer, something to edit the book with, and then some! And that can run up in terms of costs.

As one might expect, there’s a service that tries to make the process cost-effective and easy to do. Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX, is a service through Audible.com, which in turn is owned by Amazon, aims to match authors and their books to producers so they can create the audiobook together. I heard about it from an acquaintance of mine who had her book turned into an audiobook and got interested in it. So after some research, I’m sharing with you how it works and if it can potentially help you gain a wider audience.

First, what exactly is ACX? Founded in 2011, ACX is kind of like a matchmaking/dating service with the goal of creating an audiobook. Anyone who owns the right to the audiobook of a novel (such as authors, editors, publishers, agents, etc) can go on and find audiobook producers (narrators, recording studios, engineers, etc) who would be interested in producing your audiobook. The video they have on their website (the link is below) claims that only 5% of authors get their books turned into audiobooks, so they’re trying to change that.

What do you do? If you decide to use ACX, you sign up for the service using your Amazon account. Then you search for your book through Amazon’s database. Create a Title Profile, which include a description of your book and what it’s about, as well as what you are looking for in a producer (gender, special talents or accents they can do, etc). You also must upload a short one or two page excerpt for producers to use.

What happens next is that producers will look for books that they may be interested in narrating (and hopefully they may decide to do yours if they come across it). Producers will audition by taking your excerpt and recording themselves narrating it, and then sending it to you. Once you have a few auditions, you can go over the auditions, as well as find out a little bit more about the producers auditioning for you. You can most likely find out acting and audiobook experience, hourly rate, and so on and so forth. If you find an audition you really like, you contact the producer and make them an offer.

What sort of offers are there? There are two sorts of offers you can make to a producer once you’ve made a decision, and knowing which one to use is very important, so consider them carefully before sending a producer an offer. These are the sorts of deals available:

  • Pay a flat out fee. This is where you pay for the production costs of the audiobook. Each producer has his or her own rates, and you pay that amount for every finished hour of audiobook there is (for example, if I have an audiobook produced of either of my novels and the finished product is eight hours long and my narrator charges one-hundred dollars per hour, I would pay $800). You pay this fee at the end of the production period when you have reviewed the final product and given it your full approval. The fees vary wildly between producers, usually somewhere between $50-$200 with the average being around $100. You can also negotiate rates with your producer on their rates. The upside of this is that you get all the royalties at the end of production of this and you can decide whether to do exclusive distribution rights (which means the audiobook can only be sold through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes and you gain 40% of the royalties) or non-exclusive rights (which means you can sell the audiobook through other distributors and receive 25% of the royalties through the companies listed above).
  • Royalty Share Deal. In this deal, you forego fees and instead agree to split the royalties of any sales with your producer. This deal is handy because you don’t need to pay any fees upfront. However you can only distribute your audiobook through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes with this option and you only get 20% of the royalties, with the producer getting the other 20%.

Most narrators do a combination of these methods, so you’re probably going to find someone who is willing to either of these methods. Once you’ve hashed out the details with your producer, you’ll send them the official contract, which says you’ll work together to produce the audiobook, and that Amazon can distribute it for seven years, which is how long the contract lasts.

What’s the process like? The production process takes about 3-8 weeks, depending on the length of the book and the producer’s schedule. The producer will upload the first 15 minutes of the audiobook to the ACX secure website for you to get a sample. If you don’t like it, you can stop the process there or start a dialogue with the producer to see what could be fixed. After that, the producer will upload the book chapter by chapter until the whole book is completed and the author approves the final product. Once that is done, the producer will upload the book onto Audible/Amazon/iTunes, and you as the rights holder will get a notification email.

What happens after the book is uploaded? Hopefully people will buy the audiobook. In any case, Amazon has a contract with you that allows them to distribute through them (exclusively or non-exclusively, depending on the deal you made) for 7 years. After that, you can take down the audiobook, decide to have a new version produced, or extend the contract for another year. As the rights holder, it’s all up to you.

What if I want to narrate the book myself? There’s a process for that where you can do that. Basically you produce the audiobook yourself and upload it onto ACX’s website. Makes giving an offer easier, from what I hear.

What if I decide at the last minute the whole thing’s a mess or I don’t want my book in audio form? Well, then you can cancel the contract. As the rights holder, it’s well within your rights to do so. However, if you do that you’ll have to pay a fee one way or another so that the producer can come out of this with something. Depending on what deal you took, you could pay up to 75% of the producer’s fees or $500 plus whatever costs the producer incurred for producing the book.

How do I design a cover? ACX has their own cover guidelines that are too much bother to go over here, so I’m linking the page that has the guidelines to this article. Once you have some idea of what they’re looking for, it’s up to you to create or find someone to create the cover according to these guidelines.

What’s a Bounty Payment? As I understand it, if a new buyer to Audible buys your audiobook, you get a $50 bonus from Audible. It’s a great bonus system, from what I’m told. It encourages authors to advertise about their audiobooks, so new listeners will be encouraged to get the audiobook through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

What countries is ACX available in? At the moment ACX is only available in the US and Great Britain, though ACX is hoping to expand to other countries soon, most likely Canada and other North American countries before becoming established elsewhere. So keep your eyes peeled if you want to do an audiobook through ACX.

How much will my audiobook cost to buy? Depends on the length of the book in terms of hours. The more hours the book is, the more they charge. To guess at the price of your book, an hour of audiobook is about 9,300 words, so do some math and then visit ACX’s website and go to the price chart on the Distribution page to figure out how much your book will probably cost.

Should I do an audiobook? Well, that depends. Personally I’d recommend only going through the process if you feel there’s a demand for your audiobook. It’d suck to go through the whole production process and, whatever sort of deal you have with your producer, only receive a couple dollars here and there, or maybe nothing at all. So before deciding to try and produce an audiobook, see if there are a lot of people who’d want to buy an audio version of your book, and how much they’d be willing to pay for it.

 

There’s a lot of potential in audiobooks, no matter how you look at it. Perhaps your book will be read by a great many in audio form, if you decide to go this route e to produce it.   Jut make sure you feel that it’s right for you, for your book, and that there is a demand for your audiobook before you do so.

Has anyone here used ACX before? What was your experience like? What tips do you have for authors considering using it?

And here’s the link to the website if you want to do more research on your own.

Business Cards and Bookmarks

Not too long after my most recent book Snake came out, I designed and ordered my first set of business cards, which arrived in the mail not too long afterwards. The pictures below show both the front and the back of the business cards. (I’m sorry if the photos are blurry; my camera’s old, so sometimes getting a close-up on something blurs the shot).

business card 1

business card 2

I received 250 cards, which I’ve been giving out to anyone I think might be interested. I like to think that they’ve helped boost sales a tiny bit, because I’ve had a few sales since I got them (though I doubt the download from the UK has much to do with the business cards). I thought that since my business cards were doing so well, I’d write an article about designing and ordering your own cards to promote your writing. I also plan to include bookmarks in this article, as the places that print business cards also usually print bookmarks if you ask them to.

This brings me to my first point:

1. Find out what your local options are. Some of you may have local print shops who can create your cards and bookmarks for you. It’s sometimes easier to do local anyway, because you can go and pick them up yourself and work with the people at the shop. However, if it’s an independent print shop, the prices might be a little more expensive, so make sure to compare prices before choosing a place to print your cards or bookmarks. Staples and Kinko’s also make some very good cards, and their prices are usually a little more competitive. And if there’s nothing in your area, you can always go online. I got my cards off of VistaPrint, and they did a very good job for a good price, if you ask me, and they make a whole bunch of other products besides business cards and bookmarks.

2. Choose a design that fits you. A business card or bookmark should have the same sort of feel as the work you write, rather than just being a plan white piece of paper or having a picture of a bunch of books on a shelf. Think of it as selecting a cover for your book: you want it to reflect the tone, atmosphere, and characters of the story. So let your bookmarks and business cards reflect what you write. If you are a sci-fi writer, maybe you should do something with aliens or machines. If you do romance, maybe something with hearts and different hues of red and pink. Whatever it is, make sure it works.

3. Make sure all relevant information is on your cards. Name, blog address, Facebook page, Twitter handle, YouTube channel, Reddit username. If you got it, make sure it’s on the card somewhere. If you have an email where fans can reach you, or even a phone number if you’re comfortable with it, include that too (if you have or have had or think you might have obsessed fans, I’d avoid the phone number though). And if there’s room, include the names of some or all of your books. If you have too many to fit on a single card, include maybe the most recent ones, or the most popular ones. And that brings me to my next point:

4. Update as soon as there’s something to update. Got a new book out? Or maybe you’ve started a new page on a new social media platform? Time to start a new card. Yes, it’s a little bit of a hassle, but in the end, it’s a little less annoying than having to say “Oh by the way, I also recently started a page on so-and-so website/published a new book called this-and-that.” And having it on the card helps to keep it in mind for the person you give said card to. Updating them regularly also gives you the chance to try different designs and configurations for your cards (when I update them, I want to customize mine to have one of my photos from the Paris Catacombs on them. I think that’ll be very fun to do, as well as give people an idea of what sort of stories I tend to write).

5. Include a quote or something about yourself as well. On my business cards, I have a short, two-sentence paragraph describing the sort of stories I write. Doing quotes on bookmarks are especially effective, especially if the bookmark is being used to promote a new book. However, should you pick a quote, make sure it is a particularly powerful one that will entice the reader to actually check out the rest of the book. Just putting any old quote on that bookmark just doesn’t do the trick like a quote that is full of mystery and only offers a small peek into the whole story.

6. Finally, be frugal and generous with your cards and bookmarks. What this means is that you should try to give them out to as many people as you can, but try to make sure to give them to people you think would really want to read your books. It’s not an easy thing to do at first–you want to let anyone and everyone know about your work, and you never know who might be a reader–but you get good at it after a while. I learned how to do it while trying to get people interested in my meditation group at the Asian Festival last year (though that’s a story for another time).

Do you have business cards for your writing? Have they been effective?

What advice do you have on making and designing business cards?

Doing An Excerpt

Have you ever been excited for a new book and gone on an Internet search when you hear there’s an excerpt of it online? Or have you ever just finished reading a book, really enjoyed it, and found the first chapter of the sequel near the end?

Excerpts are great ways to get people interested in your upcoming work as well as work that’s already out there. For each of my books, I make sure to put up an excerpt on my blog prior to publication so that people can see what they’ll be getting should they decide to buy the book. And depending on what portion of your book you use for your manuscript, you can possibly increase your sales tremendously.

But which portions do you pick for your excerpts? Here’s some tips that might help:

1. Should you use the first chapter? Some writers out there reading this will say “Of course you use the first chapter! What else would you use?” That might not always be the best option, though. Take a Stephen King novel: sometimes it takes several pages (occasionally several hundred pages) before things get interesting. And an excerpt is supposed to be interesting. So if your novel is about a haunted house and your first chapter just involves your main character sipping coffee in an outdoor café in Paris and meting one of his fans, it might not be the best choice for an excerpt. (It would be how King might open a novel of his, knowing him).

But if your first chapter is interesting enough that it will entice the reader into reading the story, go for it and use it for an excerpt. If not, then you’ll have to choose a different section of the novel. Now how do you choose that section?

2. Find a section that’s the right level of interesting. What do I mean by this? If you ever watch a late-night talk show (The Daily Show comes first to my mind) and an actor is one of the guests, they will usually play a clip from their latest film. If it’s an action film, then they’ll play a clip with the actor’s character in a bit of a jam. It won’t be a clip from the climax or something that reveals too much about the plot, but it’ll be enough to make viewers wonder what the heck led to this situation, how the character will get out of it, and what will happen after that. If it’s a romance, then it’ll be right as something juicy is about to happen but the clip will end before that juicy thing can happen. If it’s a horror story, the clip will depict a tense moment right before something happens and will end right before the biggest scare yet occurs.

I guess one could call this method “feeding the fans a little bit and making them want more.” It’s quite effective and marketers use it all the time for movies and TV (you should have seen me when I saw a clip from an upcoming episode of this show I like. I freaked out and couldn’t wait to see it on Sunday). And if you can translate the above concept into literature, you can have a wonderful recipe for choosing excerpts.

Now just two more items to recommend:

3. Brevity is sometimes better. I find the best length is somewhere between two-thousand and five-thousand words. Remember, you want to give the readers just enough to get them very interested and make them want to read even more. The best reaction you can get from a reader is “Wait, that’s the end? I want more!” So having a short excerpt can work very well for getting that sort of reaction, especially if the scene in the excerpt is very well-written and has a good hook to it.

And finally…

4. Wait for the final draft to give out an excerpt. The final draft is the stage of the novel when you’ve done all the edits you can and can’t do any more. What you have is the final product and changing anything might be doing the work a disservice. It’s the perfect draft to draw an excerpt from as well. And it’s better than doing an excerpt from a draft with plenty of grammatical or spelling errors or something. Am I right?

Do you have any tips for creating an excerpt? What are they?

Taglines

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

“In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

“Who you gonna call?”

Hopefully not the grammar police. Especially not for that last one. That’s a class-A spelling felony.

The statements above are recognizable to plenty of fans of science fiction and comedy-horror. They are the taglines for famous franchises: Star Wars, Alien, and Ghostbusters. And just saying them brings to mind billions of images, along with associations with and overwhelming emotions of heroism, friendship, screwball comedy, terror beyond imagination, and the possibility that anything is possible.

Based on all that, one could say that taglines are a great promotional tool. and if you aren’t lucky enough to have a publicist, coming up with the tagline for your novel or other creative work usually falls to the author. And it’s important to come up with a great, memorable tagline for your story. Doing so accomplishes two things.

  1. Before the book is even read, it intrigues the reader enough to find out more. Hopefully their investigation to find out more means they’ll ultimately read your book.
  2. After the book is read, the tagline (hopefully) evokes memories of flipping through the pages, wanting to know what happens next; of heroics and romance and terror and joy and characters so vivid, you’d swear they were real.

So with that goal in mind, here are some tips to creating a great tagline that will (hopefully) pull in more readers and create great associations with the book for the fans. And if nobody objects, I’ll use the tagline for my upcoming novel Snake: “How far will you go for love and revenge?”

Short, simple statements are the best. The tagline for Snake, as well as the ones I used at the beginning of the article, are all one sentence. This works to the advantage of the book, because it is easy to remember and easy to repeat. And if it’s easy to remember and easy to repeat, it’ll be more likely to be remembered and repeated. Look no further than “Who you gonna call?” for proof.

The statement evokes something in the mind of a reader. When I was writing the back cover blurb and the tagline for Snake, I wanted it to at least get potential readers interested. However, a novel where the serial killer is the main character can be…a little frightening. Somewhat off-putting. I wanted to emphasize that the main character had good intentions, even if his methods were reprehensible. So I asked myself what would I want to emphasize about the Snake in just a single statement? Well, he’s doing what he not out of any awful desires for murder. He’s doing it to save the love of his life, as well as get revenge on the ones who kidnapped her. How can I use that? Well…maybe I can phrase it as a question.

It worked. “How far will you go for love and revenge?” struck me as thought-provoking. It makes you think, “Well, I might go so far. Is the novel about someone who will go farther?” It’s why it’s the first sentence in the back cover blurb, the first image you see in the book trailer I created for it, and what I’ve been using in most of the advertising I’ve done for Snake. Hopefully it entices a few people to read it.

Get a feel for taglines. Most of all, one has to get a feel for taglines, see what works and what doesn’t work. What taglines make you excited, scared, weepy? What just make you feel disappointed? Ultimately, coming up with a tagline, just like creating a story and everything else in the business of writing and publishing, is taking in the work of those before us, and practicing and practicing until you get a feel for what works for you.

Now, you don’t need to have a tagline for your novel. As far as I’m aware, Harry Potter, anything by Stephen King, and the Bible never needed taglines. Their names and authors are enough to get their stories to millions and millions of people. But taglines are helpful. They’re great marketing tools and in some cases they can become a part of our culture and part of our fondest memories (ask any Trekkie about the phrase “Boldly go where no one’s gone before”). And the best part of being a self-published author is that you, as the author, get to create your very own tagline.

What is your favorite tagline? What are some you’ve created for your own stories?

Some Tips For WattPad Users

I’ve been using WattPad for the past couple of weeks, and I thought that an article about it would be fun to write. Also, I found out this blog doesn’t have an article on WattPad yet, so I thought I’d break the ground and do a piece on it.

Throughout this article, I will try to give some sound advice on using WattPad and possibly getting some success through it. If any WattPad users have any additional tips they would like to…well, add in, please let us know. I’ll do a follow-up article with your words of wisdom.

So, first things first: What is WattPad? WattPad is a website where writers can upload and share stories with the public. It’s been in operation since 2006 and it’s been nicknamed the YouTube of storytelling. Writers can upload stories, gain feedback, create covers, and enter contests with their short stories or novels.

What sort of work is published on WattPad? Just about anything is published on WattPad. Novels, novellas, short stories, poems, non-fiction pieces, of all types and genres. Science fiction, fantasy, and YA stories tend to be the most popular, with horror and romance in a close second. There’s also a sizable amount of erotic fiction on the site, though I haven’t personally browsed that in any great detail. And technically erotica isn’t allowed on the website, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

Is it possible to get success through WattPad? Depends on what you mean by success. It is possible to spread your work to other writers and readers, maybe get feedback, and learn something from other writers by both reading and being read. And it is also possible to get the success that every author only dreams about (there’s an example of that in a recent issue of TIME magazine), but like anything in fiction, that is very hard to achieve and what can cause it is very difficult to predict.

How do you spread your work through WattPad? Tags and categorizing your work is very important, because it allows people with similar interests to search out and find your stories (and on that note, make sure to also rate your short stories appropriately. At the very least, an R-rating might deter some nine-year-old from reading a wildly inappropriate story). Also, networking with other authors, commenting on their stories, and even recommending works to authors you make friends with can be very helpful.

What are some ways to keep your readers interested in your work? Besides having interesting work, there are a couple of ways. One is to post frequently new stories or updates. Another is to post a novel on the site, but to do it in serial form. Posting new chapters on a regular basis keeps our readership up and it keeps them wanting to know more (especially if you end every chapter on a cliffhanger).

Should one copyright their work before posting? Well, that depends. Copyrights cost money and take time to process, so if you don’t mind waiting and shelling out money for the fees, then by all means get copyrights. At the very least, you should get copyrights for novels or for works you plan to sell in the future, and do it before you post it on WattPad.

I should also mention that WattPad allows users to post whether a story is copyrighted or not, so take advantage of that when you post a story. It could be seriously helpful.

If you publish a story on WattPad, can you put it on your resume as a publication? Again, that depends. This is a website where anyone can upload a story, so whether or not you want to include uploading stories onto an author’s YouTube on your resume is up to you. Some authors are comfortable, some aren’t. I know a few of both. If you are comfortable with it though, then only do it for stories that you’ve never published before in any way, shape, or form. And if you’re shopping for a publisher, definitely don’t do it!

What are these contests through WattPad you mentioned earlier? Wattpad holds a number of contests throughout the year. Most are small, but there are some big ones, including the Wattys, which are held once a year, and the Attys, which are for poetry and were started by author Margaret Atwood (yeah, she’s on the site. How cool is that?). The contests are open to all users with a WattPad account and who follow the rules of those contests.

If you are a regular WattPad user and have any other tips you’d like to mention, then please let us know. If I get enough tips, I’ll do a follow-up article on the subject with your tips in it.

Building your Author Brand

There is a difference between book branding and author branding. Book branding means that everything you do online will encompass your books. They will remember the name of the books over who wrote them. If you step outside your book branding with a new series or genre of books, you better have a pen name for those books because people will be upset if they are too different from your book brand.

Now, if you build your brand around you, this means making a name for yourself in the reading world. Yes, you heard me right, reading world. Why not the publishing world? Because not all of us have to answer to publishers and their impossible dictates. Some of us only have to answer to our muses, ourselves, and sometimes our readers. Although the opinions of readers are rather subjective to tastes, so that doesn’t always work.

An author brand is more than logos, color schemes, taglines, or message points. Though those things do help create an ambiance, but what you need is:

Write a Great Book and grab your readers attention

This isn’t the NaNoWriMo novel that you slapped together in four weeks and never touched again. This is the book that you revised, edited, and proofread. This is the book that you sent out to beta readers for feedback. This is the best version of the book that you created, and finally let go into the world, only to think of more things you could have done better. Like the Underworld in my novel could have been darker and more gloomy at first, oh and there was that part…See what I mean.

As an author, the ability to provide readers with something unique that no one else can offer will grab the readers attention and make them fans.This usually takes the shape of author’s voice, because no two authors write the same way. Although some may try.

This emotional attachment happens when people believe that they have formed a bond with the author, think they understand them, and/or they are moved by the stories they love. Note: the stories don’t necessarily have to be any good for readers to become attached to them. Readers will buy a book on the sole fact of this emotional attachment, because the perception of higher quality is there. Now not ever reader will agree that the same author is worth reading and buying. The reading experience is subjective.

Define what makes your brand unique and stick to it

Find a distinctive word or phrase that defines an aspect of what you do and then make it yours. I’ll take my writing as an example. At this moment I’m a fantasy and paranormal romance author. So what would be my brand? What should I focus on? Romance? Fantasy? Paranormal?

If you chose any of these you’d be wrong. I focused on none of the genres. I noticed that my story ideas all have a common thread. Every single story idea is based on a creature from myths or legends. Every single one of my ideas has a romance running through it. So that’s what I focused on, Myths and Legends and Love. My tagline is, “Where legends live. Where myths walk. And where love is eternal.” I says everything about what I write.

Build every aspect of your brand equally

These are your actions as well as your visual and verbal elements. Your message points that should be used in every spoken and written communications. This would be your email signature, you sign off at forums, reviews, and interviews. Your visual elements would be your website, your letterhead, and your professional photo. Think about that one for a moment.

People are judgmental; it’s just part of our nature. We judge a book by its cover, a website by its look, and an author by their photo. So take a good look at your website and author’s photo. Do they reflect the image you want to send out to others? Do they look like other authors in your genre?

Just like book covers have a certain look for different genres, so should your websites and author photos. Take a look at a few of your favorite authors. Then look at some that aren’t in your chosen genre. See if you can tell the difference. And if not, look for my post on author websites, author bios, and author photos another day.

Be consistent on marketing your brand

Just as publicity works better than advertising in the beginning to get your foot in the door. People who visit your sites need to know what you are marketing, which means that you need to communicate with a solid core message. Your brand should be in all that you do. However, if all you do is sell your, what makes you different then a car salesman with a flashing sign screaming: SALE! SALE! SALE! EVERYTHING MUST GO!

Part of effective marketing is the ability to connect with people on a personal level, not just because I want them to buy My Lord Hades (transmit subliminal message: Buy my Book! Mawhaha…)

The connections you do make with readers in chats, workshops, interviews, random emails, and reviews are what sale your book. Think word of mouth. One person tells five friends. Those five friends might tell five more friends. And the cycle goes on.

Deliver what you promise

Whatever your brand image, make sure that you stick to it. I made this mistake two years ago when I co-authored a book with a relative. I didn’t want to do separate websites so I ended up confusing my merging brand. I put a fictional book on my romance website. People bought the fiction book thinking it would be a romance. Others, who would have read the fiction thought it was a romance and didn’t buy it.

I removed it from my website and created a website that I hope better fits the brand I want to convey. Consumers are loyal. But they’re also fickle. Disappoint them and you lose them.

Always evaluate, build, and refine your brand

This will be a constant thing as society, readers, and your career change. When your image is no longer consistent with your brand, you need to refine and adjust the brand to make it fit you as an author. This is going to be a continuous process.

I hoped this helped. I invite you to comment, question, or discuss what I’ve said below. And if you found this of help to you, please share this with your friends.

(Disclaimer: This is a re-post of articles written in Dec 2010 and updated.)