October 31, 2011

It's NaNoWriMo time...but not for me

To all you East Coast writers gearing up for the official Start of NaNoWriMo at midnight on November 1st, I wish you a productive 30 days of writing. I won't be joining you this year. I just finished the tax return, just put out a new eBook, had an outpatient surgical procedure this morning, and am gearing up for a phone call about a new grandbaby, at which time we will jump in the car and head to Florida. I think I've had enough stress...
October 30, 2011

A Few Words About Marketing

From time to time aspiring writers contact me and ask for any advice I might have about independent publishing.  I always refer them to the Indie Publishing and Writing categories of my blog, but someone recently told me that she’s already had her manuscript professionally edited and asked for the name of my cover designer (Sean D. Young of Young Creations, whether she should consider eBook, print, or both, and also for any tips on how she, about to put out her debut novel, could develop a readership.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter much whether you publish traditionally or independently, unless you are the next Kathryn Sockett, marketing is going to be your responsibility.  Publishers only get behind established superstars or those they feel they can build up into superstars.

In terms of format, I would advise that you consider skipping the print option altogether. You can always have a print book made at a later time if your sales warrant it.  eBooks are increasing in popularity, and they also cost less to produce...an important factor when a writer is on a budget. 

As a formerly traditionally published writer, I was fortunate to have already had a readership when I started indie publishing, but of course I wanted to expand on existing readers.  Some of the things I did were to widely circulate my book trailers prior to release to help build interest and to cross-market my eBook excerpts with other authors who write similar genres to get more readers after publication.

Because published authors are busy people who aren’t going to have time to read your book to determine if they want to include it in with theirs, only the book trailer option is going to be available to those previously unpublished.  A book trailer doesn’t have to be a Spielberg production, but make it as good as you can (no typos in the text, please!)

Get on Facebook and befriend book clubs and reading groups who are open to the genre of what you’ve written and ask if you can post your trailer on their wall.  Join genre Facebook groups (romance, mystery, thriller, etc.) and ask if you can post your trailer on their wall (or, if you see other members are doing this, go ahead and post).

Your website (and you definitely should have a website) should have an excerpt to the book plus links to purchase sites (plural).

Also, consider writing a brief prequel to your story and offering it as a free download, and make sure it includes an eLink to the purchase page for your book in the corresponding format (a link to a Kindle eBook won’t be of any benefit to someone with a Nook).  You'll want your prequel to have an air of completeness about it, though (no cliffhangers, please). It’s not fair to leave the reader hanging, with their only option for resolution to buy the book. You want readers to want to buy your book, not trick them into feeling the have to (you want readers, not enemies). And yes, I know that some published authors have put out books that don’t have defined endings, but I personally wouldn’t recommend anyone do this.

Contact book review sites and ask if you can send them a complimentary copy (Smashwords coupons come in handy here; you can make a 100% off coupon and provide the reviewer with the code) in exchange for a review. The caveat is that they might not like your book, which means you won’t like their review, but that’s the chance all writers take with the public at large.

I don’t much care for marketing one’s book as “in the tradition of (insert name of Bestselling Author here)…” but the fact is that you do want to approach readers who enjoy stories in a similar vein to yours about your new book. Sites like Goodreads are good for this purpose; you can see who’s read and enjoyed which books. Message them and tell them about your book; invite them to download your free prequel and read your excerpt (provide links to both). All they can do is ignore you.

Run a contest on Facebook, your blog (you definitely should have a blog) or both to win a free download (again, Smashwords is a good choice for this, because of the coupon and the availability in all formats—although I have to wonder how good the formatting really is).  Consider an eBook giveaway on reader sites like Goodreads. Their traditional Giveaways site is for print books only, but they do have a special eBook giveaway group.

If you can locate any blogs that feature new author interviews, ask to be interviewed.  Also look for blogs that allow guest posts.  You can always mention your new book plus links to your excerpt and free prequel in your two-sentence Bio.

Those are the tips that come to my mind right away (I’m writing this between answering the door to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters). Finally—and this one is really important—after you publish, devote most of your time to working on your next project instead of tracking your sales numbers!
October 29, 2011

A tale of two reviews

My newest eBook, A Kiss of a Different Color, received two reviews this week, one on the Barnes & Noble site, one on the Amazon site.

The Nook reader entitled her review "Wonderful" and gave it 5 stars. The Kindle reader entitled her review "DNF" (I don't know what that means, but since she gave it just 1 star, it can't be anything good--my guess is "did not finish?").

It just goes to show, two people are not going to get the same thing out of the same story. The Nook reader said it was a "really good story." The Kindle reader said she "just could not continue" beyond the first third of the story. The Nook reader said she really liked the way I showed how the main characters got through the racial issues and work issues and enjoyed a "very passionate romance." The Kindle reader said that while racial references are fine, it became too much, and that the main characters "lacked chemistry."

I find the differing opinions fascinating. One says the hero and heroine were passionate, the other says they lacked chemistry. Wow. Can two interpretations possibly be any different? But I have always maintained that people will get different things out of a story, and this is a perfect demonstration of that.

The Kindle reader states that by a third of the way through the story the main characters should at least have some kind of dating relationship established. I believe I'd established pretty well why the heroine was skittish about that (I even mention it in the summary), but I have to consider that this may be part of the problem. Romances usually are written according to a formula, but since I'm publishing my own work and don't have to answer to a publisher, I let the story unfold naturally with the characters acting within the personalities I created for them. But the bottom line is that the Kindle reader (who has written a favorable review of at least one of my other titles), simply didn't like this book. And that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Every writer hopes that readers will like their book, but I think most writers know that it's not possible to please everyone. The writer who expects universal praise of their book is a first cousin of the attorney who represents himself in court (and you know what they say about him). Who among us hasn't looked forward to a book, only to find ourselves totally indifferent to and/or unmoved by the storyline? (This is one reason why the reader in me doesn't find novel sequels particularly appealing. Like movie sequels--the one exception that comes to mind being The Godfather, Part II--I usually don't feel the sequel is as good as the original.) Why should I expect a book I've written be idolized? Because I wrote it? That takes an imperialistic outlook I just don't have (thank God).

Yes, myself and other authors put our blood and sweat into creating characters and storylines we hope will be memorable. But that's no guarantee that readers will gobble up the words we've written and want seconds. We're asking readers invest their time and money in our work. Some readers will wish they hadn't made the investment. It's not someone out to "get" me. It's not a case of the person writing the review being somehow jealous of me. There's no vendetta involved, only an honest reader opinion. And while it is one person's opinion (a very frequently heard author refrain used to dismiss negative reviews), so are the positive reviews we receive. The fact is that majority of people who read our books are not going to take the time to write a review, whether they loved it or hated it.

What it really is? A crapshoot, just like most other factors about publishing. We as authors have to get over it.

Now, back to my work-in-progress. I'm loving this story...

October 29, 2011

eBook Giveaway!

In honor of my mother's 93rd birthday today (that's her in the tiara at the celebration her fellow workout folks gave for her at the "Y," where she still works out three times a week), I am having an eBook giveaway!

Save The Best For Last...The Heat of Heat...A Love of Her Own...A Kiss of a Different Color

There will be five winners, each of whom can choose one of the above titles as their prize. This contest is being run through Smashwords, so each winner will be able to choose the format for their particular eReader device, including text for those who don't have eReaders!

To enter, simply send an email to contests@bettyegriffin.com with the heading eBook Contest between October 29th and November 12th (which would have been the 62nd birthday of my late brother Gordon). Winners will be chosen at random, and the winner names will be announced on Sunday, November 13th, by 6PM Central Time, both here and on my Bunderful Books Facebook page.

Good luck, and Happy Birthday to my mom!
October 25, 2011

Release Day!

My latest eBook, A Kiss of a Different Color, is now available for Kindle, Nook, and any other type of eReader via Smashwords.  Order your copy today!

As always, I wish you good reading!
October 17, 2011

The book is done, now what?

One of the best feelings in a writer's life occurs when the current work is completed.  There's a rush of adrenaline as your brain processes the fact that the project that has played such a dominant role in your life is done, baby done! 

This was especially happy news for me, because the completed work--my soon-to-be-published eBook A Kiss of a Different Color--was started way back in 2006, five long years ago.  I knew the basic premise of the story, but I didn't have a strong conflict.  As every reader and writer knows, with no conflict there is no story.  I put it aside to work on contracted projects and came back to it periodically to try to work it out, but it wasn't until earlier this year that a strong plotline finally came to me.  This story had germinated for so long that my editor asked me to clarify the time setting because she was confused.  An exchange early in the story has the heroine stating she's not familiar with pomegranate, and my editor pointed out that in recent years, this fruit has been featured in many bottled fruit juices, which made that piece of dialogue seem more like 2006 than 2011.

So now that the book is done, what happens next? For me, it's a cinch:  I get myself organized for the next book...in my case the next several books.

In the weeks while I am working on the next-to-last set of edits, I traditionally create quite a bit of new text for my follow-up projects, because editing isn't really writing and usually gives me a frenzied desire to create something new.  I end up with half-organized snippets of text in a dozen or so files.  My latest preferred method is to dictate into my handheld recorder that comes with a special version of Dragon software, which I then plug into my computer and it transcribes what I've dictated.  I save each file by date and bring my handheld with me everywhere, whether driving or out walking.  I remain grateful to my friend and fellow author Roslyn Carrington (AKA "Simona Taylor") for introducing me to Dragon, which I also have installed on my laptop for direct dictation that is transcribed as I speak).

I am, rather ambitiously, working on actual narrative and dialogue for a contemporary romance and a women's fiction, a re-write of my 2006 novel One on One, plus plotting out a follow-up to a plot thread I started in The Heat of Heat that readers have been asking me for.  Somewhere in there I will also work on another release of a previous title in eBook format...one of the more recent ones that I won't have to tinker with (One on One has changed so much that I'll have to file for a new copyright).

My first step is to organize all those scattered documents into one file by dates within each project, with page breaks between each project.  I did that yesterday.  Then I cut and paste the text into the existing MS Word document (I used to start my projects in MS Word), and then cut and paste by chapter into Scrivener, my new preferred software for writing a book.  Scrivener is especially friendly toward my sometimes haphazard way of writing, as I don't write sequentially and often have gaps in my story.  From there I mark the status of each chapter as being a first draft, revised draft, or to be written as I fill in notes about what should happen in missing areas.  I'm in the process of doing this now.

Somewhere in there I am able to get a word count for each project, and I was thrilled to see that I have over 62K words for my contemporary romance WIP, which I actually finished outlining several years ago.  I am eager to publish this story (working title Isn't She Lovely?) because it has a political theme at its core, and with the presidential election coming up in a year it will be particularly relevant.  I'm feeling pretty good about being two-thirds done with this, to the point where I feel that it might be ready in the late winter rather than mid-spring.

I have yet to determine the word counts for my women's fiction project, but I do know that a little bit of writing at a time adds up to a lot of text.  Just as some writers prefer not to edit as they go along, I prefer not to check my word counts in the beginning.

So that's my process.  I've got to drive down to Gurnee, Illinois this morning, so I'll be taking the back roads rather than the highway and will be dictating all the way!  There is no rest for weary writers...
October 15, 2011

The Week in Review

Ah, politics!  Chris Christie, after removing himself from consideration, stated he was not ready to endorse anyone.  Two days later, he endorsed Mitt Romney.  There were a few news stories about the endorsement, but Romney's numbers went nowhere.  Instead, there's a new guy on top of the totem pole.

The latest catchphrase: 9/9/9.  Herman Cain has made it to the top of the GOP field with his oft-proclaimed solution for our country's economic woes.  I predict that this severely flawed plan (which includes a 9% federal sales tax on top of all the local taxes being paid for gas, clothing, and other merchandise, and to even include groceries) will never go anywhere, but it just goes to show, if you're the only one offering a plan, people will listen.  Cain's rivals for the nominations have nothing except criticism for President Obama, and that will only carry a person so far.

MSNBC's Chris Mathews asks "Is Cain able?" My answer is, not with that current plan, he's not.  But stay tuned for the next segment of The Great GOP Hope...

On the publishing front, I completed A Kiss of a Different Color and expect to publish within two weeks.  Now I'm organizing my notes that I've been working on recently so I can get started working on my next two projects (yes, two projects; I'll be working on them simultaneously...and that doesn't include my next re-release).  A blank page terrifies me; I'm a big believer in always having something on paper to build on.  I'll be blogging about this in a day or two.

Enjoy your weekend!
October 11, 2011

Clawing my way to the middle, or Lessons in Independent Publishing

Just six short years ago my writing career was going gangbusters. I’d been publishing contemporary romances since 1998. In 2005 I broke into my first love, women’s fiction, and for the next three years I did a book per year in each genre.

The first bomb dropped in 2007, when my romance publisher dropped me. They gave no reason, other than they were currently drafting a letter to me (it came just eight short months later, so I'm glad I didn't hold my breath on that one). I continued with my women’s fiction, had a hit in 2008 with a novel about four friends from childhood and the challenges they faced as they faced their 50th birthdays (Once Upon A Project), but by 2010 things were looking pretty bleak. My numbers were down. I found myself wondering if I would still have a contract after my present one was fulfilled. But I kept writing.

After getting yet another rejection for a marriage of convenience story I really liked, I decided to publish it myself, in print and in eBook form. It did well enough where I proceeded to get my rights back to my other romance novels (a process that took quite a while to complete, since the more recent books were not yet eligible for rights reversion) with the plan to re-publish them myself.

A few months after the publication of my well-received mainstream novel Trouble Down The Road in 2010, the other shoe dropped. Despite submitting a proposal that my editor loved, she was not able to convince management to offer me another contract. I was on my own.

Since then it’s been a whirlwind of learning. A few things I’ve noted as I’ve clawed my way to the middle of the indie publishing world:

  • The immeasurable value of a good cover, good cover copy, and good content. I know, you’ve heard this one before. There are still a lot of people who are skimping, but it’s got to be the trifecta, folks. Focusing on the content but not the outer appearance can result in being ignored by readers. Face it, it’s human nature to be drawn to the pretty and reject the ugly. (In other words, people tend to be shallow.) On the other hand, focusing on the outer appearance with an unedited, poorly formatted content is the equivalent of that guy from high school who played basketball all afternoon and then put on clean clothes and went to the party without showering first. (In other words, it’s going to stink.)
  • Experienced New York-based freelance editors can be very expensive. When it looked like my usual editor might not have the time to devote to a 95K manuscript, I asked a freelance editor for a quote. The number was less than what I’d put down on a new car, but not much less. Most writers cannot afford this. Try English majors at the local college, or English teachers. And be prepared to work harder. If you’re not using an experienced editor experienced with plot development, you’ll have to make sure that your story flows well and that the plotting makes sense. It's not enough for a book to have few or no typos or other errors, all that will be for naught if the plot is convuluted. It's true that the Big 6 have also skimped on their editing lately as well (I’ve read books by bestselling authors that I suspect were simply spell checked and then sent to press; the decline in the writing quality was that obvious), but that’s no excuse. Just like Presidential wannabees always get in trouble when they compare themselves to JFK or Reagan, it won’t behoove the lesser selling writer to compare themselves to huge names. These folks will likely continue selling big, even with declining quality. On the other hand, readers are not loyal to authors new to them, so put out a quality product and make them want to read everything you publish.
    Fortunately, cover designers are more affordable, particularly if you are doing an eBook. I personally don't feel that a cover designer should charge as much for an eBook, which is a front cover only, as they do for a print book that needs a back cover and a spine. You might have the talents to do this yourself, but be honest about any shortcomings between your cover and that of a professional. Remember: Homemade brownies are good; homemade book covers not so much.
    Most writers can manage to create good cover copy, but do edit and improve upon it frequently before you publish (of course, eBooks don’t actually have back covers, but you’ll need this to promote the book). You also might want to avoid anything that starts with: "Eva Mae Smith had it all..." because that's been done so often. Likewise, formatting can also be learned by the author, if not mastered, and because of that I’d recommend going into the Preview screen at each individual retailer and checking the formatting thoroughly for anything that's out of whack. If it proves to be too much, there are services out there who offer eBook formatting.
  • Cross-marketing can help sales. If one of your critique partners is ePublishing, or if you know an indie published author, ask if they would consider swapping excerpts; you will include an excerpt of their work at the end of your eBook if they will include an excerpt of yours. Obviously, this works best if you write in fairly similar styles (not just genres, which can be broad). You wouldn’t want to include a sexy romance sample with a sweet, not-much-sex romance, or pair Christian fiction with a violence- and profanity-ridden crime story.
  • Once you have enough eBooks, consider publishing bundles at a price cheaper than it would be if purchased separately. Once people start reviewing your books, new readers might decide to take the plunge and buy the bundle. This is especially effective for books with related plotlines, for instance, a previously published rights-reverted novel paired with brand a new indie published sequel, but is not a requirement. You’re in charge, and you can do what you want.
  • Since you're in charge, give pricing very careful consideration. Charging more than $4.99 for a short eBook, or one riddled with errors, or both, is not a good idea. Of course, no writer thinks their work is riddled with errors, but a good way to make the determination is by asking yourself if anyone else besides you has proofed it. Less recommended, but equally effective, is to simply wait for the reviews and see how many of them complain about the misspellings, typos, and repeated and run-on sentences in the content. Would you pay a premium price for a floor model that’s been on display for months and has a few dings in it? No, you’d want them to knock off 15% or 20%. So why pay extra for a book of less than stellar quality? You can always increase the price of your book once the kinks are out.
  • If you're a slower writer who tends to be longwinded, like myself, consider writing a shorter novel or even a short story to keep readers happy between full-length novels, perhaps a prequel to an upcoming book or to one you've already written, and price it accordingly.
  • If you're reissuing previously published works, ask yourself if it would benefit from being updated…or at least stick a date at the beginning to inform the reader of the setting, i.e. “2002.” My heroine in A Love of Her Own (originally published in 1999) “had been meaning to get one of those new cell phones” and drove an Oldsmobile, ha! And yes, I did make the story more current. Life has changed a lot in the past dozen years.
  • Remember that the opportunities for making improvements in eBooks are endless. Found an error or two in your text that you and your editor missed (or that your editor caught but you missed when making corrections)? Download a new file so new readers won’t see it. Cover copy can continually be tweaked, and so can the cover itself. I do have one cover (the one for my indie publishing debut, Save The Best For Last) that looks gorgeous in person but doesn’t photograph all that well, and having the designer tweak it is on my to-do list. The same holds for formatting. I used to format with the first line of each new paragraph indented, until I noticed on the Kindle preview (the actual preview authors can view after downloading, not the preview you see when you sample a book, which comes out differently) that any new paragraphs that fell at the top of the Kindle page were not indented. Unclear paragraph breaks will confuse readers, so I changed all my indie eBook formatting to the block paragraph style with an extra space between paragraphs. (The Kindle preview potential buyers look at as samples is formatted differently, putting in both indents and an extra space between paragraphs, which to me looks awful, but that’s out of my hands.)
  • Remember that Kindle isn't the only game in town. There's the Nook and the Sony reader. You can be missing out on potential sales by publishing only in one format. Sure, you can tell non-Kindle owners that they can download the application and read it on their computer screen, but I know I wouldn't do this. If it's not available for Sony I won't be reading it. I do take my time about getting my book listed in the Smashwords catalog until I’m fairly certain I’ve gotten most of the kinks out. Once my eBooks are picked up by Sony, Kobo, Diesel, etc. I’m not sure if they can be tweaked, so I’m very cautious.

This is an exciting time to be an independent author, and I plan on making the most of it, because with the speed with which things are changing, who knows what things will be like in another year?
October 8, 2011

The Week in Review

Chris Christie is not running for President, and neither (gasp!) is Sarah Palin.  It's looking more and more likely that the eventual Republican nominee will likely be one of the currently declared candidates.  Good news for the Democrats, in my opinion.  No one has really caught fire.

Rick Perry's hunting grounds continue to be discussed.  I personally found it ironic that Herman Cain spoke out against it.  I mean, Godfather Pizza is not exactly an ethnically sensitive name, is it?

The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth passed away at the ripe old age of 89.  This in itself is miraculous for a man who had more physical attacks directed at him than anyone else in the Civil Rights Movement, including a bomb that went off in his bedroom over 50 years ago, at which time his mattress curved around him and saved his life.  He spoke his mind and was rarely wrong.  Some will say it wasn't fair that Rev. Shuttlesworth's death was overshadowed by that of Steve Jobs a few hours later, but the reverend wasn't about the fame game.  Even during his accomplishments as a pivotal figure in the movement, he took a back seat to MLK, Abernathy, and others.  But he outlived them all, surviving long enough to become a revered figure in Birmingham, the city once so hostile to him.  The city renamed its airport Birmingham-Shuttlesworth in 2008.  He lived long enough to see Barack Obama become the first black President the same year.  Fred Shuttlesworth's efforts for black Americans to live their lives with dignity and the rights automatically granted to other Americans will never be forgotten.

Steve Jobs' life was 33 years shorter than that of Rev. Shuttlesworth, but Jobs crammed many accomplishments into the 56 years he was given.  He remained active in technology development while living with the pancreatic cancer that eventually killed him.  Like the reverend, Jobs could be obstinate and argumentative..and like the reverend, he got the job done.  This child given up for adoption at birth, who later dropped out of college, will go down in history as an innovator in the vein of old-time greats Edison and Ford.

Two losses for America. Two gains for Democrats.  Let time march on...
October 7, 2011

No rhyme or reason

I've known for some time that one of my traditionally published mainstream fiction titles is selling quite well on the Nook, with a sales ranking hovering around 10,000.  I finally got around to checking how it's doing on the Kindle.  It doesn't even have a ranking. Now, does that make sense?

Go figure.
October 1, 2011

Coming Down the Home Stretch

The manuscript for my upcoming eBook, A Kiss of a Different Color, is in the edit stage.  This is a happy time for any writer, because it means that completion and ultimate publication are soon at hand (of course, this happens a lot sooner for an independently published eBook than it does for a traditionally published novel).

I had originally planned to publish the revised version of One on One first, because this was a story in which the terrorist attacks of 9/11 played a large role in the heroine's life, but when I moved up a pivotal scene to earlier in the story it ended up changing the entire dynamics, and there will be extensive rewriting involved.  I decided I had to miss the commemoration of 10 years since the attacks, but overall it will result in a better story.

But editing is a process that can't be rushed through.  It's a writer's chance to put their best foot forward, to make their words shine.  In addition to general cleanup, grammar, missing or extra words, character's names that change mid-story (or are duplicated--I noticed I had two minor characters named Ralph and changed one to Anthony), continuity errors within the storyline, etc., I have to make sure the story contains plenty of sensory images that enhance the reading experience, things like the smell of the food being cooked or eaten...the feel of a dog sleeping at your feet...the touch of bare skin beneath fingertips.  This is a fine line, because while I want to give the reader a sense of imagery, I don't want to bog them down with it.

So I'm working in conjunction with my editor to bring you the best story possible.  We are not professionals (the rate a professional would charge is equal to about 3 times my monthly royalty, too rich for me; my name is Griffin, not Konrath), but between the two of us we have a good enough grasp of language, punctuation, and storyline to create a project that will pass muster.

Back to my edits.  Look for A Kiss of a Different Color, coming soon!  For a sneak peek, click here to read a new excerpt.