Friday, October 31, 2014

A NaNo Lament

by Jemi Fraser

'Tis the week before NaNo,
And all through the 'verse
Writers are mumbling, and cursing,
And swearing, and worse.

November is on us,
How'd it get here so fast?
The last time we checked,
Summer barely had passed!

We need time to start plotting,
We need time for a plan!
We need time to develop
Our characters...oh, man!

The outlines are bare
No settings are made,
The backstory's blank
No foundations are laid!

At From the Write Angle,
We writers are tough,
But it's that time of year,
So we're screaming, "Enough!"

NaNoWriMo is calling,
We must heed its call,
So we'll be back in December,
With more posts for you all!

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How You Can Help Your Small Press Writer Friends – Start by Sharing This Post

by RS Mellette

A while back, Sophie Perinot posted here about how helpful pre-orders are for a published writer. That was way back in 2012, but it's still true today, especially for books coming out from major publishers. The majors have very little patience, so a book that doesn't catch fire right away can quickly fall out of favor. Pre-orders help fight corporate anxiety and give a book better first week numbers. That's a great way to have your purchase do a tiny bit more to help promote the book.

But since 2012, the market has changed dramatically. Small presses and self-published authors play in the same electronic playground as the majors and they are all fighting for the same thing – good word of mouth that turns into sales. Thankfully, small presses have more patience when it comes to building an audience.

Since you're reading this article, you know at least one small press author with a book on the market (me), and probably more. Since you're a nice person you're probably wondering, "How can I help my friends with their book?  I don't know anything about publishing."

Not to worry. In a world full of social media there is plenty you can do to help – and the best news is, you can scale up your participation depending on how much you want to do.

For example:  Let's say the writer you know isn't really someone you know, you know?  Maybe you have thirty-seven mutual friends on Facebook, but for the life of you, you can't remember who this person is. Still, you'd like to do your bit … as long as you can do it from your phone while you're taking a break from work in the restroom. This is easy. If they invite you to like their author's page, do. If they post something about their book, like the post. In two quick seconds, you've done your part.

But let's say you do remember how you know the author. Maybe you went to high school or college together. Sure, you haven't talked to them since then – but fifteen years ago (or thirty… five years ago), you were close friends. You'd like to do a little more to help the author out. What can you do?

Here's the first thing that people often forget to mention:  READ THE BOOK. Chances are, you'll like it. If you don't, you can still politely like their pages and posts. I don't think anyone is going to hunt you down for liking a post about a book that isn't worth the cover price, and you'll still be socially safe when you run into your friend at a reunion.

If you do like the book, then your assistance can scale up again. Go from liking posts to sharing them. A small press book has to sell tens of thousands of copies to be a success on the scale of one from the majors. I don't know of anyone with ten thousand actual friends and family, much less ones that are willing to cough up money for a book. Sharing posts with your friends is the easiest way to have an impact on the number of people who are aware of the title. Hopefully, that awareness will lead to a new reader, and then a new fan.

Still want to do more?  Great!  Post a review on Amazon. Reviews are the biggest way to boost sales, period. Don't worry, you don't have to say much. If you love the book, give it five stars and write something as literary as, "I love this book!"  If you have a Goodreads account, post a review there. While you're at it, copy a link from your Amazon review to Facebook. That way, your friends can click on the link and see your brilliance.

Still want to do more?  You're fantastic!  I hope you're a friend of mine.

Talk about the book with people who might be interested in it. For example:  Say your author-friend has written … I don't know… a Sci-Fi adventure that's good for 6th-9th graders. You might know some 6th-9th graders. You might know their teachers or librarians. You might have a relative or two looking for good gifts for that hard-to-shop for geeky 'tween. You can be the hero with a single sentence, "I read a book they might like."

And, who knows, if the title becomes a household name, and you're at some stuffy cocktail party and that person who constantly looks down his nose at you mentions the title of the hot new indie book they've just read, you can say, "Oh, yeah, the author is a friend of mine, and I helped make that book the hit that it is."

Look for R.S. Mellette's new book, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand in December from the independent publisher, Elephant's Bookshelf Press.  

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers, The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse, and Summer's Edge anthologies.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Self-publishing, Free, and Flexibility

by +J. Lea Lopez 

Free is a hot topic in the publishing industry. Depending on who you ask, free is:
  • an effective pricing strategy
  • the only way to get people to take a chance on self-published books
  • the reason publishing as we know it is dying
  • devaluing writing and making readers reluctant to pay for good books
  • pointless
  • a way to gain exposure
And a whole host of other things. Everyone has an opinion, and if you know me even a tiny bit, you probably know that I'm going to tell you that none of those opinions are 100% right or wrong. There's often bits of truth behind each person's opinion. Quite often, authors will speak from personal experience, and in that case, I'm certainly not going to tell anyone that they're wrong about what they've experienced firsthand.

I can tell you from the experiences shared with me by several successful self-published authors that free certainly has a place in your arsenal of tools. Depending on the genre and type of book, it can be a very powerful tool. If all (or several) books in your romance series are out there and you're looking for a way to grab some more readers, putting your first book free (and yes, it is still possible to go perma-free on Amazon) could be a great tactic. Especially if each book has a strong hook or lead-in to the next.

If you're not writing a series, can free still work for you? Maybe. Maybe not. But a great thing about being self-published is your ability to analyze, react, and adapt. As a self-publisher, you have to be flexible and know when somebody else's tried-and-true isn't so true for you. Let me share my own experience with a free book as an example.

When I self-published last year, I knew I was going to publish my contemporary NA romance Sorry's Not Enough, but I was worried about readers taking a chance on me, an unknown author. Everybody was talking about the free strategy then like it was the holy grail of marketing tactics. But my book was a standalone. How could I still make the free strategy work for me? I got the brilliant (or so I thought) idea to pull together some of my short stories that had both romantic and erotic elements and package them in a collection. I figured it was a good introduction to my writing and a good lead-in to my novel because each of the short stories had elements you can find in my novel: character-driven and introspective narration, complicated relationships, steamy sexy.  It had to work, right?

I published my collection, Consenting Adults, and included an extended sample of my novel at the end of it so readers would be instantly compelled to go buy it after (hopefully) having enjoyed the short stories. Then I made it free. And then I spent many months trying to figure out if the free strategy was working like it should. I mean, I was getting a few sales a day of my novel usually, and the short stories were consistently ranked between 300 and 500 overall in the free Kindle store and in the top 10 of a couple different category lists. That must mean it was working, right? So I left it alone. Then something happened this year that made me rethink the free strategy for my books.

Sales of Sorry's Not Enough began to decline slightly early this year. I only worried a little bit, wondering if it was just a bit of a post-holidays slump. Sales continued to decline. And continued to decline. As of writing this, I've seen roughly a 60% decline in sales of my novel since the beginning of the year. Most of this year my worrying has centered on how to turn that around, how to increase visibility for the novel, how to entice more people to buy it. That included running price promotions, creating a new cover, tweaking the description and keywords, trying paid promotions on different web sites. Aside from publishing another book (which I'm working on doing), I felt I had done everything I could do and I had to stop driving myself nuts over it. And that's when my focus shifted from the novel to the free short story collection, and it dawned on me.

Free wasn't working for me. In all of my fussing with Sorry's Not Enough, I never paid attention to the fact that free downloads of Consenting Adults were still pretty steady. There's been a slight decline since the beginning of the year, maybe 15% or so, but nothing like what I've seen with my novel. My free book was not pushing readers to my paid book. And that's what it's supposed to do. That's the whole point of the free strategy. Obviously it was time to rethink that strategy.

I knew these things for sure:
  • Consenting Adults has great innate visibility thanks to my keywords, description, and categories (and magic, because I swear sometimes it all just feels like magic)
  • When you search for "erotica" in the Kindle store, Consenting Adults is the top result
  • It had a consistent download rate of several hundred a day when it was free
  • People who downloaded it for free were not going on to buy my novel
Because of that last point, I felt confident that having the short story collection out there for free was not doing me any good. That was the whole reason I'd put it out there for free to begin with. But could I make money with it? Would people pay for it? Or did they only want it for free? Based on those first three things I knew to be true, I decided that maybe some people would be willing to pay for it. I decided that even if no one bought it and the rank plummeted once it switched over to the paid lists, I'd wait to see if it negatively affected sales of my novel to further test my guess that it wasn't pushing people to the novel anyway. And if only two or three people bought it every day, that's still more money than I was making from 400 free downloads a day.

Consenting Adults switched over from free to paid this past weekend, and so far, people are still buying it. Not 400 people a day, but enough that I'm cautiously optimistic that this was the right decision. So what's the lesson for you self-publishers out there?  

Free is a tool. Use it wisely. Flexibility is also a tool. Use it to take calculated risks and to kick free to the curb if it doesn't work for you.

What are your experiences with free, either as a reader or an author?

Monday, October 13, 2014

5 Tips for Fleshing it Out

by Jemi Fraser

Last month, my post talked about 5 Tips to Trim Your Writing. This month, I'm tackling the opposite. With my current rewrite, I attempted to plot (kaboom!) and ended up with a shorter story than I expected (15k shorter).

So, now I'm focusing on how to flesh out a story without padding it. Some of the things I've discovered:

Fleshing it Out Tip #1 -- Emotions

This one I'm having a blast with. I write contemporary romance, so it's all about the emotion, but I think that's true for most stories. It's the emotions that pull me in and make me gobble up those pages, no matter what the genre is.

Delving into the character's emotions helps the reader connect and makes the writing much more interesting. For me, plot is obviously important, but it's how the characters respond to the plot that intrigues me. So, show that!

Fleshing it Out Tip #2 -- Show, Don't Tell

Another fun one, and very connected to #1. Telling removes the emotion. Wasn't it Mark Twain who said, "Don't tell me the old lady screamed, bring her on stage and let her scream"? Looking for those telling words/sentences in the draft helps me find places I can strengthen my story and make it longer/more compelling at the same time.

Fleshing it Out Tip #3 -- Dialogue

Connected to #2! I love dialogue and tend to include a lot of it in my writing naturally, but there are still places I find where I can have my characters really telling. Dialogue infuses the story with life and lets the readers hear your characters talking. It also gives the reader a visual--and mental--break from narration, thus increasing the pace of your story.

Fleshing it Out Tip #4 -- Description

Blech. I'm not an especially visual person or writer. My descriptions tend to be focused around the emotions of the characters. And I'm not a fan of reading paragraphs of description either, so I tread very, very carefully when I do this.

For people, I sprinkle in the description. A mention of hair colour by another character here, a comment about height there. Nothing obvious, certainly no looking in the mirror and offering up a self-evaluation. For example, rather than saying my character is short, I'll have her drag a chair over to reach something off a high shelf.

For places, I don't mind stringing a sentence or two together to anchor the reader in the setting, especially when it's a new place. I try to focus on what the character would notice, and only on what is relevant to the story.

I'd rather leave most description up to my readers, but I'm learning I need to include those anchors and let the readers fill in the rest.

Fleshing it Out Tip #5 -- Character Arcs

This one is more complex than the first four. Here, I'm looking for the pace of how my characters are growing. I want them to slowly learn to change, have strategically placed AHA! moments, and obstacles tossed in their paths to have them second guessing their realizations. This is another instance where I find Scrivener invaluable. I can colour code, or use the side bar, or make another file to put side by side in order to track the arcs. Then I can spot where the arc needs some help, tweak a scene here, add a scene there, throw in another obstacle, or three.

There are many more ways to flesh out a story (adding in a subplot and looking for plot holes to fill in come to mind), but these are the 5 I'm working with. Any tips to add? Do you like fleshing it out or do you prefer to trim?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.