Ashley Barron
Ashley Barron

Blogging: Let the real fun begin on IndieBookWeek.com!

After 1.7 million hits from 260,000 unique visitors over the last 20 months, the day has finally come.

My blog is moving on.

The new site, IndieBookWeek.com, combines many features to promote the works of fellow writers, authors, and bloggers. Once completed, there will be categories to promote your:

  • New book releases
  • Free e-books
  • Blog tours
  • Contests
  • Blog posts

IndieBookWeek.com is still in development and it will take about another month to get all the upgrades, features, forms, quirks, and bells and whistles active.

Last year, while I was experimenting with ways to showcase what’s going on in the self-publishing community, I created a blog post I called “Community News” as way of sharing information about other writers' new interviews, new blog posts, new releases, new book trailers and more.

The idea of "Community News" had merit, but the formatting on this old blog is not properly designed to allow for an attractive, easy-to-use presentation of the categories, covers, links, bios, and more. The new site, IndieBookWeek.com, makes it much simpler to connect with all the different types of information available through the site.

This switch will impact different areas of my blog. Here are some of them:

Author Interviews - Old
If you have been featured on my blog in the past and you share that link out on your social media, please keep in mind that you’ll need to switch the link to the new site. Eventually, blog.thepriyas.com will be inactivated. For now, it will remain where it is until the new site is complete.

Author Interviews - New
If you are interested in being featured in an IndieBookWeek.com author interview, please contact me on social media. Please be advised there is already a waiting list. Once completed, the new format will make it possible to showcase and promote a greater number of author interviews at one time.

Reciprocal interviews are appreciated.

Blog Subscribers
With the new categories and new presentation of IndieBookWeek.com, there will be significantly more information becoming available, daily, on the blog, which would make for a constant stream of emails in your inbox. For this reason, I have decided not to add a subscription button. The option may be added later, or I may decide to do a weekly recap or newsletter-style summary.

Comments
Comments are about to get a whole lot easier on IndieBookWeek.com. One of the most persistent areas of feedback I have received since I began blogging is about how difficult it is to leave comments using the old format.

Happily, the new WordPress blog offers a higher level of functionality for the exchange of ideas, feedback, and networking in the comments section of each post.

Follow IndieBookWeek.com on Social Media
Twitter
Facebook

What’s Ahead?
At some point, IndieBookWeek.com will grow into the next phase of its evolution. More information will be forthcoming on this topic in the next few weeks.

What? No logo?
IndieBookWeek.com will have a logo of its own before too long. For now, until one is ready, I’ve put a place holder photo in the avatar spot on social media and it is one you just may recognize if you follow @dcPriya.

Ideas Welcome
Come visit IndieBookWeek.com and take a look at the new community-centric format! What features do you want to see, to engage with? What author, writing, or blogging news do you want to share, but there isn’t a current space for it on IndieBookWeek.com? Ideas, feedback, and helpful WordPress tips are always welcome, too.

I Have News to Share!
Do you have one of the following events happening in your writing life right now?

    A new book release
    A blog tour or contest
    A free e-book on a major e-retailer site
    A book trailer

Interested in sharing your news? Please contact me on Twitter or Facebook. (DMs are welcome!)

See you over at IndieBookWeek.com!

Author Interview: The Next Big Thing

From Carl Purdon's blog:
"I'm it. I got tagged. Does that mean I'm a big thing? No, not exactly. 'The Next Big Thing' is a 'game' designed to promote authors who also blog. Or bloggers who also write books. We have to promote each other, you see, because that's the nature of the business these days. You can only go so far with self-promotion. It's like this: how many times can you tap someone on the shoulder, trying to get their attention, before you annoy them? But if you have someone else say, 'hey, you might want to see what that guy over there has to offer.' Get the picture?

Besides, promoting other authors is actually quite addictive. You build friendships with like-minded people. One of the most enjoyable things I've done as a blogger (I have to admit a love/hate relationship with blogging) has been my 10 Questions interview series which highlights others (mostly authors) involved in the business of writing books.

If you are an author and you don't help promote other authors, you're cheating yourself."
(CLICK HERE to read the full post — and meet the other "tagged" authors — on Carl's website.)

I couldn't agree more. Thanks for tagging me, Carl!

In a break from the usual process, I am "tagging" three of the authors I reference in my answers below. All three authors are traditionally published and are wonderfully successful. I've read all of their books, and I have given copies of their novels as gifts to friends and family.

I drew both inspiration and motivation from the stories and styles of these three authors while I was writing my first novel, Ava. With this in mind, I feel it is only fair to acknowledge the contributions they have (unknowingly) made to my happiness, both as a reader and as a writer.

Here are my tags as "The Next Big Thing": (Yes, I get the irony of the title when applied to the following names.)



Here are my answers to "The Next Big Thing" questions sent to me by Carl, and passed on by me to Carla, David, and Adriana.

1. What is the working title of your novel?


I am currently spending most of my writing time on Bonner (Book Two in the Priya Series), which is the next of my novels scheduled to be published. While I can easily spend an entire day (and night!) writing, I do not spend all of that time on one manuscript or story idea. I divide my core writing time between novels, short stories, non-fiction, and blog posts.

In addition to manuscripts, I’ve written 80,000 words worth of original blog posts over the last eighteen months. Would it be too obvious to point out that I find this publishing journey to be highly inspiring?

2. Where did the idea for the novel come from?


Bonner is the sequel to Ava and continues the story of the Priyas, lifelong friends who have grown up together in Washington, D.C.

I am surprised at how different the two books are when it comes to telling a story that both Ava Arden and Bonner Danilov already know. And the main character from Carys, the third book in the series, is literally (okay...figuratively) breathing down my neck. Carys Kelly wants her story written! 

The Priya series represents one long story broken up into 26 parts. There is the main story arc – that’s the thriller part — that runs the length of the series and will be resolved in the final Priya novel, Zara. The Priyas take turns telling the main story, while adding to it complications, challenges, and romantic hopes of their own.

Ava tells the story of a woman who has a second chance at love but is too afraid to take it. Bonner is about a woman who has always known what she wants and, right at the moment she achieves her dream, it all falls apart.

3. What genre?

I write about love. For Bonner that category is closest to Romantic Thriller or Romantic Suspense. The short stories (The Birthday, Famous, The Angel, Zippers) are about relationships within families and friendships. Each one is completely different, and more of the short stories are coming this year.

I think my blog posts are about love, too, in a way. For the most part, I write about the adventures of self-publishing and marketing books. When one considers the depth and range of obstacles an unknown, newly-published author faces while working to build a readership and fan base, I realize it must be love.

4. What other books would you compare yours to in this genre?

There are many writers who have inspired the types of stories I’ve chosen to write. They are hugely successful authors and I can’t compare my own writing to theirs. I can only point out some of those who have inspired me, and why.

Jane Austen is the best writer (yes, a personal opinion) of the happily-ever-after-against-all-odds novel. I’ve read and re-read her works since I was a girl. I appreciate that she was able to tell powerful stories that focused entirely on the emotional interplay, without any use of adult language or sexually explicit scenarios. I do recognize that she wrote in a different age. Still, there is much to be learned from the classics and the way in which they deliver a compelling story without using any of the modern literary devices.

Nora Roberts has the same ability to pull the reader right into the love story, into the emotions and hopes, and to keep the reader’s interest firmly held right up to the last word on the last page. (And beyond, frankly!) She adds so many layers to her novels, yet keeps the storyline moving along without losing any of the details she has so carefully woven into the plot. She is truly gifted.

When I read a Carla Neggers novel, I always feel as though I am the female lead she has created. I completely identify with the emotions and life situations presented on the page even when my own life bears no resemblance to it. I get lost in her stories and, when they’re over, I feel a loss that I cannot continue to be a part of her characters’ lives. (I’m an author; characters are “alive” to me.)

David Baldacci writes the type of D.C.-centric thrillers that I devour at a brisk pace. His gift is in taking what may seem implausible at the beginning of a novel and making it perfectly logical by the end. I enjoy his characters and his plots, but it wasn’t until I read Wish You Well that I completely fell in love with his talents as a writer. That novel took my breath away.

Adriana Trigiani writes novels that strike right into my heart. Her style of storytelling is lyrical and deeply emotional, even when she’s not writing about the heart. In Big Stone Gap, she writes, in just a handful of paragraphs more than halfway through the story, of what a father’s love means to his daughter. I am a daughter who loves my dad deeply, and I thought of her novel, her method of bringing family relationships to life, while writing the hospital scene in Ava where Kettle Arden holds vigil by his daughter’s bedside.

5. Which actor would you choose to play one of your characters?

I have no idea. That decision is best left in the hands of the casting professionals. Here’s to hoping that one day I get to sit in a movie theater, staring at my book "come to life" on the big screen, and see who they’ve cast in action.

Until someone can run a cable from my head to the projection room at a movie theater, the actors cast in the movie version will never match up exactly with the characters I see on my pages. Books and movies are different mediums, each with its own power and beauty in the realm of storytelling.

6. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your upcoming book, Bonner?

Beware of dreams come true.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This is always a hard question for me to answer. I don’t write stories in the order they are read. More, I daresay my manuscripts are never actually finished. There is always something I would change, even after a book has been published. Call it a writer’s prerogative. Or obession.

8. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration for the books comes from Washington, D.C., an endlessly fascinating city. It is diverse and vibrant, and it holds secrets no one will ever uncover – even if we all suspect they’re there. These factors lend themselves quite easily to fiction, and I’ve had a thrilling time conjuring up plots and crafting characters for the pages of my novels.

I think the second part of the inspiration behind this series is my belief that love will always win the day – if we want it to.  

9. What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?        

I enjoy slipping unexpected characters into the story. These characters might only be around for a chapter or two, but they make an impression. While I was writing Ava, I found that Jezzabelle, a teen pop princess, appeared on my page one day and insisted on being put in the story. She was quite pleased with herself, as comes through in the chapter she dominates, and she definitely exasperates Ava Arden.

And this is not the last we’ve seen of Jezzabelle. Every character that appeared in Ava — at least, the ones that lived – will show up again in another book in the series. The fun part is wondering when and where and why!


International Novelist Competition




A few days ago, I received a tweet from @InterNovel alerting me to a newly created contest for authors. I followed the link, and what I found there intrigued me.

The contest fosters interaction between readers and writers in a way I had not seen before now. To enter, authors submit their novel titles, covers, and a brief summary of the plot. The contest’s judges then choose 50 books to move on to the next round.

Here is where it gets interesting. Readers submit and vote for topic ideas that they want the 50 authors to write about in order to compete for a place in the next round of finalists.

What subjects will readers choose? How will the authors respond? How creative will those responses be? It’s exciting to wonder.

The competition continues, using chapters from the books submitted, and the pool of finalists narrows from 50 to 10 to 5. The readers return once more, suggesting and voting on new topics for the contestants to respond to in an effort to win one of the final two spots.

As I’ve written about several times before on this blog, one of the most challenging things for a newly self-published author is to find ways to connect with potential readers. After all, we often have miniscule budgets, no formal marketing training, and are usually somewhat new to social media.

What we do have in abundance is a deep passion for both reading and writing, a belief in our stories and novels, and an ability to self-start, no matter the challenges and obstacles in our paths.

This is the first year for this contest, one that neatly intertwines writers, readers, books, and social media. A willingness to put ourselves “out there” and test out new ideas, ones with the potential to connect us with readers who are actively engaged on social media, seems to be a hallmark of self-published authors.

To learn more about this contest, its origins and its future, I reached out to the author who developed the International Novelist Award to find out what inspired him to create it. Here is the interview. Enjoy!



Author Andrew O’Brien

Facebook: InterNovel
Twitter: @InterNovel
Contest Details: InterNovel.Blogspot.Com

Q: Welcome, Andrew! Tell us about yourself and how you came to be an author.

Andrew O’Brien: Well, that's a funny story. My life has been quite entertaining and everyone I have ever talked to about my life thinks it would make a great movie, and I actually agree with them. More of a "LMN" movie though, haha. So, I started writing and decided to take another approach and help people in need with my writing, which is why I wrote Welcoming Your Soldier Home, which is a guide on how to understand your soldier when he comes back from war.

I decided to donate 50% of my profits to the Wounded Warrior Project.



Q: You’ve recently launched the International Novelist Award. How did this idea come about?

Andrew O’Brien: I'm new to this scene and have just been amazed at watching how many novelists there are in this world. One thing I hate most about this type of business is it seems as though you have to have connections or money in order for your book to get attention.

I feel like writing is a talent, and it doesn't matter if you're rich or broke, you're either good at it or you’re not. So, I decided to do something about it by putting this contest together. A way for authors like myself, who don't have publishing contacts or a ton of money to invest, to get word out about their book for absolutely no cost.
    
Q: Who is eligible to enter?

Andrew O’Brien: If you are a Novelist with a book out, you're eligible to enter. The genre of your book doesn't matter, the amount of sales of your book doesn't matter, the most likes on Facebook or most followers on Twitter... DOESN'T MATTER!

This contest is about judging the talent, not the marketing of the Novelist. It doesn't matter if it's your first book or fiftieth, if it's a book you're eligible.

Q: How will the judging process work?

Andrew O’Brien: The judges for our contest will pick their top favorites in each event.  For example: Step 1 will only allow 50 people to continue on to Step 2, so the judges will each send me their top 10 of the contestants. I will take the ones that are on multiple lists and they are the ones guaranteed to move forward. 

If there is a wide variety in any step then it will be passed over to the readers and followers of our contests, who will then be given polls to vote on their favorites. The ones with the most votes will continue.
    
Q: How did you go about securing prizes for the competition?

Andrew O’Brien: What I did was just email some smaller businesses who I thought would be interested in this. I have heard a lot of complaints about how there is no one famous backing the competition, that's the whole point! If we are giving small Authors the chance of getting publicity why wouldn't we help small businesses as well? Smaller businesses agree with this competition and also think it's a great idea, which is why they donate prizes to the winner. We are hoping to get more prizes donated before the end of the contest.
    
Q: How and when will you announce the winner?

Andrew O’Brien: The winner will be announced on Tweep Nation, our Podcast sponsor. After the podcast goes public we will then post the winner on our home page. As far as when we will, this is going to depend on the amount of contestants and the difficulty of the decision process.  Depends on the talent!

Q: The International Novelist Award engages readers and authors in a whole new way, and I’m excited to watch as the competition unfolds! What topics do you envision the readers will want authors (those who make it through to each new round) to write about?

Andrew O’Brien: You know, this is actually something I am very curious about and have spoke to a couple of our judges about. I am wondering if it will end up being a very serious topic or a very comical one. This is what keeps me on my toes and keeps me excited. I hope we get some very creative ones that will throw our contestants for a loop.

Q: With so many different genres to consider from entrants’ books (based on the titles I just reviewed), do you think you’ll expand to include category winners in the future?

Andrew O’Brien: Yes! This was the plan from the beginning. This year we will have the "International Novelist Competition" which is judged only on the skill of the writer, and not the genre they write in. By “skill,” I mean, who will keep people interested?

After this contest is over, other competitions will be held by genre, through the year. At some point, once we have done a few contests and attracted more people, then there will just be one contest annually that will judge writers by genre. Once we get enough of a fan base we will do that one contest and turn into an e-zine to keep people up to date about past winners, future talents, etc. An e-zine focused just on small unknown authors!

Q: Are you considering putting together an e-book containing all of the contestants’ writing assignments from the competition, round-by-round?

Andrew O’Brien: I hadn't even considered that to be honest!  But, that is a fantastic idea.  Maybe you and I can work out something if you would be interested in handling that.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or motto that guides your professional life?

Andrew O’Brien: "Your past doesn't control your life, you do... So find a way to turn something bad into good, and you never know what you'll find waiting around the corner!" - By… Me!

————————-

Authors, this is the link to submit your novel.

Readers, this is the link to become a judge.

Small Businesses, this is Andrew O’Brien’s email for those would like to contribute a prize to the competition: RadioAustinFM@gmail.com







Blogging and Twitter: The Guide


Are you thinking about starting a blog, but you’re not sure where to begin? Is Twitter a mystery to you?

Perhaps, you’ve written a novel or opened a small business, and you want to find ways to use a blog to connect with a broader audience of potential readers and customers.

How I Went from Zero to One Million Blog Hits in One Year explains the basics of developing blog content and marketing that content on Twitter.

This guide, written for beginners, emphasizes the importance of creating a marketing plan, networking in the online community, and focusing on developing a unique brand based on your novels or products.


Excerpts from How I Went from Zero to One Million Blog Hits in One Year:

INTRODUCTION
“When you’re ready to start a blog, set a course for fun, plan well, and be open to trying new experiences and following new paths. If you’ve already created a blog, and it is not reaching the potential you believe it has to offer readers, hit the pause button, take an honest assessment of where you are and how you got there, and outline a new set of goals.”

WHY I DECIDED TO START A BLOG
“The Internet is a big place, and it is filled with real opportunity. Using a blog to establish your brand, to introduce and explain new books, products, or services, and to network with peers can be a wise use of resources.

From my perspective, developing a blog is a means to an end. On its own, a blog may generate some revenue through ads, but more often it is a resource whose true value is tied to establishing a brand, and turning that brand into a vehicle for sales of books, products, or services.”

GETTING STARTED
“Think of your blog and Twitter account as your PR team.

Their job is to work at promoting your books, or products, or services while you are concentrating on other aspects of your professional obligations. (Or, you know, having a life.) The more material you add to your blog and Twitter account – plus the quality and usefulness of that material – the more effective they’ll be at attracting new readers to your blog and converting some of them into fans, customers, or clients.”

CREATING CONTENT FOR POSTS
“Your blog posts are conversations. In them, you are reaching out to the world at large with ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. (Hashtags are a big part of this process, and we’ll be covering them in a later section.)

Think about the conversation topics that immediately draw your interest, or make you smile. If you’re going to put the work into your blog, make certain its work you enjoy. Many times, you will be learning right alongside your readers.”

TWITTER & THE HASHTAG
“Not everyone will buy your books or products, not even in a perfect world. But by exponentially increasing the number of people who visit your blog, you are dramatically increasing your chances of gaining new customers or readers and your chances of building new professional relationships. Reaching out into the Twitterverse, using tweets with hashtags, will also connect you with more followers, and with more people to follow.
 
When designing the marketing plan for your blog, put Twitter’s hashtags to work for you.”

COMMUNITY
“There are several categories in which you should be making progress every time you log on to Twitter. Get yourself on a schedule, five days a week. To power the growth of your brand, you need to be meeting certain goals.”

SCHEDULING TWEETS
“Just as online stores never close, neither does your blog. There are distinct advantages to always being visible in a 24/7 marketplace, but they are advantages that cannot be fully realized without the aid of tweet schedulers.”

Do you have a new blog? Invite me to stop by and read your newest post! Tweet me the link at @dcPriya.

See you in the blogosphere!







Remembering (How To) Love


When I decided to write a novel, a love story was the natural choice. It seems that anything I write, including short stories and poems, ends up being about love. So why fight it?

I often wonder if the act of loving is an ability, an inclination, a talent, or a Heaven-sent gift. Maybe it’s a combination. I also wonder why some people excel at love – at the process of growing and nurturing love – while others fail, miserably.

Yes, I do believe love is a process. It has steps, sequences, and a risk of failure. And, whether you honor them or break them, love has rules and boundaries. If it weren’t for these things, love couldn’t be the central plot in a novel, because plots are based on a series of actions that take us from one place, location, or extreme to another.

I do enjoy love stories above any other genre and this preference applies to books, movies, television shows, songs, musicals, operas, and paintings. It is the dance of love, the giving and the receiving, that I find most riveting.

For me, writing a romance required figuring out how love was formed, how it grew, where it went off track, and how to reunite its splintered ends. It was cathartic. In my own life, I’ve made a mess of love several times and I haven’t always known how to repair the damage to him, or to me, even after my heart had moved on.

They say an author’s first novel is the truest version of his or her life. Based on my own experience, and in very general terms, I would agree.

Ironically, not a single one of my short stories, eighteen in total, comes anywhere close to resembling my life.

In them, I write in a variety of voices, including that of a small boy, a dying man, an adopted woman giving birth to her first child, a wife who has left her family, a mother who wants another baby, a middle-aged dad coming to terms with mortality, a cowboy out on the range, and more.  

Where those stories came from, I do not know. I can only tell you this: they are filled with love. They begin and end with love. That is their only similarity with me. That’s it; just the one.

Perhaps, I am able to be someone else in those short stories because their very trim length keeps me focused on the voice of the character, without much room to tempt me to add in some of my own experiences. 

A first novel, on the other hand, can take a year, three years, even a decade to write. That’s a lot of time for similarities to take up root in the plot, setting, or character development.

Ava’s story has clear elements that were drawn from my life. She is tall with long hair. She has brothers. She runs a business. She lives in my same town. She has a cool, interesting, and close-knit circle of best friends.

But, at the root of it all, she is a woman who has forgotten how to be loved.

Over the hundreds of pages and dozens of drafts of my first novel, I fought for Ava and Kader’s love. Who did I have to fight? Myself. Eventually, I got out of the way, stopped adding impediments from my own unfulfilled love life, and let them get on with the process of loving, and being loved.

If, like me, there is an unfinished manuscript, a romance, waiting in your heart, I hope this is the year we both find happily ever after.





Community News, August 3, 2012


Second installment!

'Community News' is a new weekly feature designed to collect links for new book releases, new blog posts, new guest posts, new interviews, new price specials, new marketing opportunities, and more all in one location.

For the self-published and indie-published authors on Twitter, a huge part of our time is spent building relationships and finding new ways to connect with readers. 'Community News' is designed to be a weekly announcements page, an opportunity to learn about and share what's going on in our world of books and blogs.

An extra special thank you to all of the writers, bloggers, and authors in our Twitter community who took the time to share what's new in their worlds this week.

The format of 'Community News' will evolve as we move forward, and will include more bells and whistles. For now, the style is clear and basic, with emphasis on getting the information into the hands of readers and colleagues.

Please retweet and share links you find to be of particular interest. If you'd like to copy 'Community News' and add it as a post to your own blog, please do so!

OK, community newsreaders, here we go... Enjoy!

GUEST POSTS WANTED

I've got a new section on my book Web site's blog called The Backstory. I'm currently looking for independent authors and musicians to submit a guest post and share their own backstories. Check out http://behindblueeyes.ca/blog-content/category/the-backstory for the guidelines and details, and please pass this along to your author and musician friends. You can also reach me @BadManSadMan on Twitter if you have further questions.

NEW BLOG
I recently launched a humor blog illustrated with chalkboards that seeks to find out where, exactly, the time goes in any given scenario...with a good chance I'll poke fun at it. Or me. Or my husband, kids, and dog. Or the indecisive idiots in front of me on a line for ice cream. But most often, me. I bridge the gap between the Actual Time something takes and the Real Feel, one rationalization at a time. Please check it out at www.ActualTimesMayVary.com. I'm also on Facebook www.facebook.com/ActualTimesMayVary and Twitter @ChristieStorms.

NEW BLOG
I have launched a new blog this month called http://pattytmitchell.com/.  For the past year and a half I have been putting together a collection of essays about my mother’s life, and about the connection between us as mother and daughter.  The working title is A Girl From The Hill: My Mother’s Journey from Italian Girl to American Woman.

The blog has excerpts from the draft book, but it’s about a whole lot more.  I am interested in stories about being Italian American, being a daughter, a mother a woman in today’s world.  I would welcome a guest blogger who is interested in doing a post about writing, Italian American food, culture, or using social media to relay family stories.  My fb page is https://www.facebook.com/pat.mitchell.129/pat.mitchell.129 and I can be reached on Twitter @PattyTMitch

NEW POST
I’ve been experimenting with Pinterest as a marketing tool for authors. Though I’ve come to some conclusions about it, I’m still wondering about its effectiveness in helping authors to sell more books. Could it be that it’s just one of those things we do for fun? My blog: http://stevenramirez.com/how-can-authors-use-pinterest/ or @GrimBlazer.

NEW POST
'If You Have a Thick Skin, You Might Want to Be a Writer' http://www.bibliogrind.com/2012/07/31/if-you-have-a-thick-skin-you-might-want-to-be-a-writer/ – a post about what it takes to go the distance. Author Mark Beyer is @bibliogrind on Twitter. His blog is http://www.bibliogrind.com/.

NEW POST
Partially in response to my recent move to Kansas and the appalling driving techniques I've witnessed here and to commemorate the end of my year of exclusive writing, I've written a new blog entry, "Miles To Go," available at http://www.writevictoria.com/progressblog.html.
Thanks, @writevictoria

NEW BOOK
The third and final book in the Princelings of the East trilogy has been published on Amazon.  THE PRINCELINGS AND THE LOST CITY sees Princeling Fred and his true love Kira set off on a simple trip to visit his home castle.  Diverted by a landslide, they find themselves approaching a castle hidden in the woods.  Kira changes her mind about exploring once they are inside and makes Fred's life miserable from then on. Just what is the secret of the Lost City?  Can a totalitarian regime ever change? Will Fred ever find happiness? And just how many times can Kira be kidnapped in one book?

Amazon link: www.amazon.com/Princelings-Lost-City-East-ebook/dp/B008NXEP5C/  Website: http://jemimapettauthor.wordpress.com Blog http://jemimapett.wordpress.com  Facebook http://facebook.com/princelings Twitter @jemima_pett

NEW BOOK
'Presage' (subtitled 'The Reality of The Virtual')  is  a dystopian /Sci-fi novel with social political twist about a world in 2018 .It is mostly about the personal struggle of the main characters in a changing environment -where nothing is what it seems and mis-information is the rule-  the transformation they go through, and battles they have to fight to pursue their dreams. Synopsis : They say the past is no longer an indication of the future, but can alternative visions of the future give us any indication of what we should do today?  Read this and then decide...

The year is 2018. Nothing is what it seems and mis-information is the rule. Hugh van Santen is the editor in chief of a major newspaper who mediates the riots surrounding a controversial new class system enforced to gear up the grass roots to do community work to replace welfare that the government can no longer afford.   Meanwhile he relies on scoops to keep his newspaper afloat. He recruits Sophie Chantal, a cub journalist knowing her brother-in-law is a computer scientist, who can create accurate simulations of humans down to their thoughts. Sophie’s first assignment is to write a feature on the bicentennial birthday of an infamous bigwig and she asks Sam to simulate one historical persona after another whose idiosyncrasies and radical theories cause more mayhem. Meanwhile the CIA is after Sam’s simulation technology and to distract them, he designs a game called ‘Presage’ in which gamers and intelligence agents begin their race to find Sam’s secret in the reality of the virtual. Presage is about the personal struggle and battles the main characters have to fight in order to pursue their dreams.

Available at  Amazon Kindle  page  http://www.amazon.com/Presage-ebook/dp/B0089MSVKW/ref=la_B0089PVUNO_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1341453212&sr=1-2

NEW POST
“10 steps to mastering your book marketing plan” - http://www.30daybooks.com/10-steps-to-mastering-your-book-marketing-plan/ a post with helpful tips and ideas for authors ready to sell books. Many more helpful articles on the site. Laura Pepper Wu is a writer and the co-founder of 30 Day Books: a book studio.

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Do you have a new blog post, book announcement, price special, guest post opportunity or other news you'd like to include in next Friday's 'Community News' post? Email it to communitynews@thepriyas.com. More info here.

Do you have suggestions or ideas for how to improve and/or add to next week's 'Community News' post? Please share!





Prepping For My New Blog


Today has been interesting. I think I’ve turned a corner and finally conquered a major task that has eluded completion since I first realized it needed to be done.

For the past few months, I’ve been working myself into a frenzy of concern and trepidation at the thought of upgrading my “starter” blog to a beautiful and modern new format.

After weeks of searching hundreds of WordPress sites, analyzing them, envisioning my own version, deciding to move forward with an idea, then scrapping that idea, I’ve finally done it. I’ve selected a new structure for my blog. I chose a WordPress theme, one already designed and ready for installation and customization.

This new blog of mine will change the way I both communicate with and support the community of writers, authors, and publishing vendors that populate the online world I inhabit on most days. I’ve purchased the template from a company that, for a fee, will also install it and then load my old blog posts into the format.

Love that.

Of course, the categories on my existing blog don’t match the categories I’ve created for the new one. I see self-publishing differently than I did when I started this journey, and I understand so much better now how the pieces fit together.

I also better understand the impact of social media and Internet marketing. (So much so, in fact, that I’m having a hard time stopping myself from spinning off new ideas into start-up businesses. We all have go-to people in our lives, and a man I like to call The Godfather is always the voice of reason, the one I turn to when I’m ready to leap before looking, thinking, planning, and strategizing.) 

My decision to expand the ways I will use my new blog means that every minute of free time this weekend will need to be dedicated to relabeling 18 months of blog posts. But it’s worth it.

After all, what’s the point of working so hard to gain new knowledge, if not to use it?

If my two previous and wholly unsuccessful attempts at designing my own WordPress site taught me anything – and it’s a lesson I keep needing to learn, apparently – it is this: know your limits, accept your limits, invest your time in your strengths, and plan your budget accordingly.

The value of the time I spent trying to convince myself that I could learn enough WordPress (with no prior experience to my name) and design something as beautiful as the one I’ve bought, is time that would have been better spent elsewhere. And it has delayed the arrival of the new site by nearly six months.

The new blog will have room for ads, something I’m very excited to test out. Marketing is fun, and it invites creative thinking in a way that few other areas of a company’s structure allow for, in my opinion.

Here’s the thing; I’m not sure how I will use the ad space. This afternoon, I signed up for Google’s Adsense and for Amazon’s Affiliate Program. If, as, or when earnings begin to show from any of these new ads I’ll be layering into place over the next few weeks, I’ll be certain to blog about it. I’m guessing there are many other self-published authors, writers, and newbie bloggers in the community who would interested in learning about the pitfalls and benefits of incorporating ads on a blog.

Specific information on the value of adding ads, in terms of income-generation, is harder to find than I had first believed, but this may be because I don’t know how to ask the right questions, or where to look for the information.

I’ll also be incorporating banner ads, both my own and, ultimately, those belonging to members of my social media community. To get things started, the graphic designer who made my short story covers is working with me to figure out what ads to create, and how best to position them on the site.

Last summer, I tried to create a way to share specifics on what was happening, work-wise, with my fellow self-published authors. The purpose was to create a weekly blog post that would provide links for new releases, new awards, free books, etc. Though the purpose had merit, the marketing logistics and information-gathering processes were flawed, and it was an idea that was destined to fail.

At least, in that incarnation.

Spending my days (and many nights) here on the front lines of self-publishing, marketing, and small business development, has brought to light gaps in the main structure of this emerging industry. I’ve observed many other writers and authors step forward and find solutions that strengthen the shared platform upon which we are all building our dreams.

I’ve benefitted from their solutions. Now it’s my turn to contribute.

The new format, one which may finally make an appearance on the Internet in the next seven days, will launch in what I would label as the “Beta” version. New features will be added in during this phase, and mistakes will certainly be made as I work to establish a useful, viable marketing tool, and, through it, make my own my contribution to our shared purpose of connecting with readers.

Still, life shouldn’t be all work and no play. Yes, no matter how long my list of tasks this weekend, I’ll be taking a break in order to observe the time-honored and fun-filled tradition that is Super Bowl Sunday.

Now if only I knew which teams were playing in it.





Television Writers, Novelists, and Casting


Have you ever wished the producers of your favorite TV show would invite you to add a story line?

I have.
 
All this book writing I’m doing has inspired me to take a look at my favorite shows, from a new angle. Now, while I’m watching them, I replay dialogue to try and uncover how the writers make it flow so well. (Some of the constructive criticism I’ve received from readers of my first novel, Ava, is to work on developing the dialogue a little more.)
 
While writing Ava, a solitary process, I constantly found myself going back and forth on plot elements, character strengths and flaws, and scene construction. It makes me wonder how teams of writers manage to blend all of their individual creativity into a single script.
 
How do they resolve disagreements about the right way to evolve a character, or about whose new plot idea to weave into the script? Do they write together, or meet up once a day to compare notes? And how much influence does the casting of a particular actor have to do with the quirks and language they choose for the character he or she is playing on the show?
 
Before I wrote my first novel, I never wondered about these things. I do now.
 
While I don’t have the knowledge or experience to write a full episode of a TV show, I do enjoying trying to pick up on clues the writers leave unexplained from one season to the next, and to brainstorm on ways to turn them into a major plot line in a future episode.
 
NCIS, anything Law & Order, and The Mentalist are shows I routinely watch. As a viewer, I enjoy being along for the ride as the pieces are put together to solve a crime, while, at the same time, the dialogue and scenes used always somehow manage to add to the development of the relationships between the main characters.
 
The lines the NCIS writers give to Gibbs' team, and the way they consistently write banter that fits everything we fans already know about a character while still adding something new, appeals to me.
 
I believe the Law & Order franchise always has the most talented guest actors on television – actors who are usually unknowns at the time the episode was filmed. It makes me think about my own characters and the ways in which actors might deliver the lines I've written, and improve upon my original intent.
 
As for The Mentalist, well…Simon Baker. Enough said.
 
I’m not usually into half-hour comedies, but both Modern Family and The Middle send me into fits of laughter each time I watch them. (I wish their writers would start doing late night talk show jokes, too!) The Big Bang Theory is a show that I just discovered in 2012. I can’t absorb episodes from previous seasons fast enough.
 
Newcomers, like the Dallas reboot and Smash, hooked me from their opening scenes. The writers for Once Upon A Time are wonderfully inventive, and there is no end to the fun their design team seems to be having with costumes and sets. I adore it. But I don’t want to write for that show. I want to be a guest on it, and be transformed into a character from a childhood fairytale.

Too bad I can’t act.
 
Shark Tank, which doesn’t have writers, as far as I know, is great TV. I find that watching the small business people and micro-entrepreneurs as they pitch their products – and dreams – to the “Sharks,” provides a valuable learning tool for structuring my own marketing plans. I hope the producers spin off a junior edition, too, for the ABC Family channel and gear it for the high school and college crowd. (Can I buy stock in that show?)
 
I watch all the Bravo “Housewives” shows. I can’t really explain why; I just do. I suppose that makes them an addiction, of sorts. And I generally tune into the final episode of any reality TV contest show, including American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and The Bachelor/ette
 
And then there’s Castle.
 
If you watch the show, you know that the main character, played by Nathan Fillion, has never met his father. I’m guessing the discovery of the father's identity will be a major plot line somewhere down the road.
 
As it turns out, a family member of mine looks quite a bit like the actor Nathan Fillion. But it’s more than looks; it’s the likeness of their mannerisms, the surprising similarities of their facial expressions, and that they each seem to have that general air of the "good kind of bad boy" surrounding them. (They are also both members of the Screen Actors Guild.)


                                  
 

Every time I watch the show, I am struck anew by their likeness. With that in mind, I’ve found myself thinking about creative ways to plot the meeting of the show's title character, Richard Castle, with his father.
 
Suppose that Castle, while out chasing criminals and solving crimes, keeps crossing paths with a man who looks remarkably – suspiciously – like him. Perhaps, this man becomes the main suspect in a crime and, while digging into his past, Castle learns they are half-brothers, that they share a father. Where could it go from there? Who knows, but it is fun to try and think up plot twists that even the most loyal viewers wouldn't see coming.

 



Once the writers for the show do decide to script Castle’s discovery of his father’s identity – and I'm thinking it is coming this season or next – I hope they cast Don Johnson in the role. It's all about his grin, one that says "I might be a good guy, and I might be a bad guy. Keep watching to find out."

He would certainly be a fun character to write each week.
 
Authors, what if you had written a novel that was being turned into a television series or movie? Would you want to be a part of the scriptwriting team? Who would you cast in the lead roles?





CreateSpace or Lightning Source?


My first novel, Ava, will be coming out in print in a matter of days. While I'm excited to finally have this option for readers who do not use e-readers, it has taken more time than I had originally anticipated to make a paperback version of the book available.

On this blog, I’ve been candid about the highs and lows of my journey from occasional writer to self-published author. Even as I write this post, a certain part of me still hopes that a literary agent, one skilled in navigating the release and promotion of print books, will discover my novel and insist on representing it, and me.

There is real value in having an educated, experienced guide when traveling to new areas of business, and personal growth.

I can't help but wonder if making the choice to move forward on my own will remove the possibility of agent representation, permanently. Time will answer that question, I suppose. For now, as my dad would say, Onward!

Through research, I determined that my best two options for self-publishing a print novel were CreateSpace and Lightning Source. I spent several weeks reading up on the two, and comparing procedures, pricing packages, distribution logistics, and ease of use. Happily, there is a lot of useful information, and a wide variety of opinions as to which company offers the best possibility of making a printed book accessible to the widest range of shoppers.

I decided to consult on the matter with three self-published authors that I know and admire. Two of the authors used CreateSpace and were happy with the results, and one, though she had started with CreateSpace, had moved over to Lightning Source.

Once I had their input, I went back and reviewed the websites for both companies. CreateSpace came across as faster, easier to work with in terms of preparing the manuscript, and had the obvious advantage of getting a newly-published paperback version of my novel onto Amazon.com in a matter of days. 

Lightning Source, on the other hand, seemed more complicated to me, considering this was my first time prepping a book for print. I could have dealt with the complications if it weren’t for the fact that Lightning Source has no immediate path to availability. Amazon will carry books printed by Lightening Source, but making that happen would add in more steps – and more time – to achieve what was essentially the same outcome: the availability of my paperback on Amazon.com

The key advantage Lightning Source offers, it seems to me, is the potential to have my novel reach the shelves of brick-and-mortar book stores. However, I would have to do all the marketing myself, on a store-by-store basis. With one reasonably new novel and no readership history to my name, I determined that marketing my books to the stores would take far more time than I would be able to give, or justify.

Imagine making this call hundreds of times in a row: “Hi, I’m a self-published author! I’d like to let you know my novel is now available in print and is ready to be stocked at your store. Who is the right person to speak with about this process?”

I can’t count the number of blind marketing calls I’ve made over the course of my career. With my first business, I made a thousand — maybe more — in the first few months alone. Once those calls started connecting with right buyers, at the right time, the volume of daily marketing calls I needed to make declined, but I still had to make time for that activity every afternoon.

Of course, that was a service-based business not a product-based business, and it was an entirely different marketplace from this one.

Still, if I went forward and dedicated the time to make those marketing calls, would I have success? Some, yes. But I have no idea how many calls it would take, how many books would be ordered by a store, and how many of those books would ultimately sell. I also don’t know how much time, in terms of paperwork and channel management, is required once a book is added to the stock of an individual book store.

And what about the opportunity cost of spending huge chunks of my time on marketing the paperback version of Ava?

There is always a chance that a large distributor, or well-connected book buyer, would choose my novel, thus opening many doors with one connection, but, for the same reasons stated above, I had to face the fact that this was an unlikely outcome.

My decision made, I opened an account with CreateSpace and moved forward into the next phase of self-publishing.

I already had a professional cover, one for the e-book version of Ava, but had forgotten that I’d made arrangements with the designer to wait on producing the print version of that cover until I had completed the book description. The time had come; I had to buckle down and write a 3-paragraph description of Ava.

As you know, authors, writing a first novel is a very personal undertaking. When it came to boiling down my plot to a handful of paragraphs, I had never been able to see the forest for the trees. Finally, the words came to me. It was if they were waiting for me to reach a point in my development where I could step back far enough to see the big picture. 




The next part, understanding the mechanics of properly formatting my manuscript, took me longer than I had anticipated. I made a mess of it several times before the logic behind the process began to make sense to me. But, on the upside, it gave me a chance to review my entire novel once more, looking for any small changes that needed to be made.

(Starting now, I plan to use a print format for any manuscript I’m working on. Once I’d tweaked the margins and set up the proper spacing, I could see six pages at a time on my computer screen. I found that this view made a real difference, from an editing perspective, with the flow of the story.)

Within a week, my print cover had come back from the designer, and the formatting of my manuscript had been approved by CreateSpace. Now, I was ready to set the price of my print novel. The task gave me pause, as it always seems to do. After much internal debate – and an informal study of the pricing choices made by dozens of other self-published authors – I settled on $9.99 as the right price point.

My share of that price is less than a dollar, but that doesn’t worry me so much. It’s too early, as I learned from my e-book pricing challenges, to focus on royalties over distribution. I’m an unknown author (I’d prefer to say undiscovered author!), with one novel in publication, who is working to establish a readership. I felt an $11.99 price point, which I was seriously considering, would be too much of a deterrent to readers who might be willing to gamble a certain sum on a writer’s first book.

Plus, with the e-book version of Ava currently priced at $.99, I felt there was too much disparity between the two amounts if I chose the higher price for the print version.

This afternoon I completed the last step in the CreateSpace process. My novel will be available in print format, on Amazon.com, sometime in the next five days.

I can hardly believe it. I think I feel a little dizzy with excitement!

So much work, so much time, so much sacrifice to arrive at this place. I want to savor the feeling of accomplishment and celebrate the knowledge I’ve gained. And I will, right up to tomorrow morning, when I open my eyes and a new day begins.

And what does tomorrow hold in store for me? I don’t know.

But I’m ready to find out.






Dear Barnes & Noble, Part Four


You’ve finally done it this time, Barnes & Noble.

What I’d really like to know is who isn’t listening at your corporate headquarters? Who are the ones so rooted in the past that they would rather collapse your future than step aside and make room for innovation and rebranding.

Who should be the recipient of our communications, the ones we self-published authors keep sending from the front lines of writing, publishing, and marketing books? The blog posts and tweets we’ve been so passionately writing to you for a year, Barnes & Noble, obviously aren’t getting through to a person who can effect change — big change — within your organziation.

Here is some advice. Right now, right this very second, call a meeting. Start a national conversation and hold it in your bookstores – while you’ve still got them. Ask the question, the only question that matters. How do we make the Barnes & Noble brand thrive?

Ask that question, and then listen to the answers offered.

But you won’t. You are shuttering stores. You have already given up.

I suspect that the finger-pointing must be rather intense right now. If anyone who earns more than a dollar in annual salary from your company is sitting around pointing the finger of blame, fire them. Put out the flames of retreat, before they burn the whole operation to the ground.

Where is your new marketing blood? Where are your cutting-edge ideas? How many of your top-level employees have written and self-published a novel (even if under a pseudonym) to gain first-hand experience with the most powerful business tool in the marketplace right now.

How can anyone effectively manage, and build upon, what they don't understand?

You’ve had plenty of warning that change was coming, and that you needed to change along with it. In fact, you’ve had a year of absolute proof that you needed to leave behind your outdated self-image and see the new you, the modern you.

The old days are gone, Barnes & Noble. Let go of the pride you feel for your past successes before they make today the last of your tomorrows.

That sounds harsh. I almost want to apologize, and would, except for the fact that you are on a sure path to obliteration if you don’t start making changes immediately.

You are prepared to give up 30% of your retail locations? I’m not surprised. It seems, lately, you’ve been making choices that haven't been the right ones, including how you design, stock, and market your stores.

Your website is as inefficient today as it was a year ago.

You don’t seem to have found any mutually beneficial ways to join forces with the giant – and growing – self-publishing community.

You missed the boat with the Nook. Someone’s ego must have gotten tangled up in that mess of a production and marketing plan. It is the only explanation I can think of that makes any sense.

Eleven months ago, I wrote my first open letter to you, Barnes & Noble, and begged you to listen. Here is what I said.

And why do you still have cafés? There is no excuse for this. Get rid of them. Do it this afternoon. Clear out the space and restyle it as the Nook Apps store. Here are ideas on how to do it. You could be up and running in thirty days. But will you?

Ten months ago, a member of your corporate team called me to discuss the ideas presented in my two open letters to you. This person and I talked for half an hour.

At the end of that call, I knew your days were numbered, Barnes & Noble.

It’s why I never bothered to finish “Dear Barnes & Noble, Part Three,” even though I had more innovative revenue-generating ideas to share with you, and a nearly complete outline of that blog post.

A part of me thinks that we self-published authors need to storm your castle, and save you from yourself. Someone has to do it. And, really, who is better suited than an army of intelligent, creative, motivated, social media-savvy, self-starting, friendly, community-centric, non-judgmental, experienced book marketers who love to read?

Raise the castle gates, Barnes & Noble, and welcome us inside. Let’s work together to develop a new strategy, a new brand, a new look, and a new future for you.

Let’s start today.



Mea Culpa (You Probably Saw This One Coming)


I said I wouldn’t do it. I even wrote two blog posts (To KDP Select Or Not To KDP Select and a Self-Publishers Dilemma) about why I wouldn’t do it. But here I go, anyway:

AVA is free today on Kindle.

Am I turning my back on everything I’ve believed up until now? Have I cut a behind-the-scenes deal with Amazon? Have I been hypnotized, or brainwashed? Have I been replaced by a bot?

Nope. I simply changed my mind.

Evolution by way of experience is like that; one day things are running smoothly, and the next day that same world looks different.

On its own, knowledge isn’t what’s important. Context is, and application. It takes time for new information to sink in, to take root. It also takes time to make enough mistakes that only one real option is left.

I’m down to the one option.

Seven months ago, when my book first appeared on the e-shelves, I set the price at $4.99. Yep, mistake. My mind was filled with images of all the hours, days, months, years I had spent bringing that novel to life. How could I justify setting the price at anything less than something reasonable, something that would be a bargain in a traditional bookstore, like $4.99?

But this isn’t Barnes & Noble, this is the Internet. And a novel by an unknown, first-time self-published author shouldn’t have been listed anywhere near the top of the e-book pricing structure.

I learned my lesson. Well, the first part of it. There’s more.

About three months ago, once AVA had been properly edited (yes, that was after publication), I lowered the price to $2.99. I chose that price because it was the lowest I could go and still receive 70% of the sales price.

I should have understood all along that Amazon would know where the self-publishing money was, and that they would make sure their percentage was always to their advantage. For self-published books priced under $2.99, Amazon’s share jumps from 30% to 65%.

Isn’t it reasonable to infer that this identifies the lower price points for self-published books as the biggest moneymakers for Amazon? Meaning, that those are self-publishing prices that sell e-books in big numbers? I think that’s called hiding in plain sight.

Anyway, for the second time in a row, I had chosen the wrong price point, for the wrong reason.

(I did not enjoy typing that last sentence.)

Aside from a handful of sales on Nook, Smashwords, and Apple, everything that sold was through Amazon. I decided to pull my e-books off the other sites (it took nearly five weeks, FYI) and give Amazon Prime a try.


       


Prior to joining Amazon Prime, The Birthday and Famous had both been free for a good chunk of 2012. Each one spent months on Amazon’s Free Top 100 Literary Fiction list. Once I took the stories down from the competing e-bookstore sites, Amazon automatically changed the price back to 99 cents each, and the stories disappeared from the magic list.

While they were free, the two stories were downloaded at a respectable clip at almost all the e-bookstores at which they were available. I figured my fiction wouldn’t be spending so much time on that Amazon Top 100 list if the early readers weren’t enjoying what they found in my pages and passing word along.

Let’s be honest; I know it wasn’t my original covers or summaries.

So far, AVA hasn’t lit a match, much less a fire. The editing was a major hurdle, and the new cover is light-years better than the first one, which I made myself. And the novel is now properly priced at 99 cents, but downloads remain slow.

Over the past few months, I’ve repeatedly heard from readers (both men and women) that they hadn’t actually wanted to read my book. Most said they’d originally bought it because of their enjoyment of other work I’d done, primarily my blogging. They decided to start AVA, the readers tell me, thinking they wouldn’t get all the way through it, but ended up engaged with the story and connected to the characters. (I told you I always believe in a happy ending!)

Happiness aside, my book summary definitely needs work. AVA needs the chance to be able to stand on her own. It’s clearly a weak spot for me, trying to effectively describe my novel in a handful of paragraphs. But I'll get there.





For now, by making AVA free for the day, I’m hoping to inspire readers to help fill in the parts of the storyline that will, in turn, help other readers, those who are interested in this type of novel, have a better understanding of the story when making a decision about downloading it themselves.

AVA will be free on Amazon Kindle on Saturday, January 5th. Next week, I’ll post a follow-up blog all about the results of my mea culpa. What will happen? I have no idea. Fun!





A Few Comments about JA Konrath’s Resolutions for Writers


I always smile while reading J. A. Konrath’s blog posts.

Whether he’s being sincere, sharp, or snarky, he has a way of using just the right amount of humor, in just the right places, to get his point across without detracting from the seriousness of the topics he addresses.

I’ve just finished reading his newest post, Resolutions for Writers, and though I’m smiling, I find I have a point or two of disagreement with his advice.

Perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that I am looking at the same view he is, but from a far different vantage point. His level of experience far eclipses mine, and I wonder if he would categorize where I am on this self-publishing journey as “a good start, with so very much more to go.”

J. A. Konrath, by comparison, is orbiting earth.

I am not glorifying him, or implying that he rules our planet. Rather, I mean to illustrate that he has ticked every box on the page; he has legacy books, e-books, print books, short stories, magazine articles, audio books, and a groundbreaking blog. He has marketed his novels countless times, in countless ways, all over this country, both in person and through social media. He has sold film rights to some of his novels, and he has been to Amazon headquarters for a sit down with their movers and shakers.

The only thing I could think of that he hasn’t yet done, at least as it relates to his work as an author, is to create video games based on his characters. And comic books, too. But I think that’s all that is left until another new frontier is either created or carved out for novelists.



Here’s my point about holding a different vantage point than the one he is communicating in his Resolutions for Writers blog post. Whiskey Sour, the first book in his Jack Daniels series, was published in 2004. My first novel, Ava, was published in 2012. That eight-year difference in experience is substantial, potentially life-changing, as in the case of J. A. Konrath.

Eight years from now, will I have crisscrossed the country for book signings? Will I have been invited for a private meeting with the chiefs at a major corporation? Will I be invited to speak at conferences?

I don’t know.

I can easily see to the end of this month, and if I squint really hard, I can see to the end of this year – sort of. Beyond that? It’s anyone’s guess.

When I read the 2013 portion of J. A. Konrath’s Resolutions for Writers, I was surprised at his advice. It didn’t seem to fit with the advice he had shared in previous years, or with the honest exuberance with which he always seems to recount both his successes and his failures.

But it was this part, in particular, that struck me:

“I'll never do another book tour. I doubt I'll ever do another official booksigning. I've stopped speaking in public, stopped attending events. Once it was important to meet fans and network with peers. Now I can do that just fine via email.”

I hope that’s only temporary.

When I was brand new to the idea of self-publishing, and I was still a year away from loading my debut novel onto the e-shelves, J. A. Konrath was the first voice of clarity I could find on social media whose posts contained carefully explained points about the pros and cons of choosing this path to publishing.

Over the past few years, practically everyone has wanted a piece of his energy, his talent, his success, his time. I’m no different. In fact, when I check in on his blog and see that he has added nothing new since last I was there, I tend to be annoyed.

That’s wrong of me, but it’s also honest.

He’s been out there leading this charge, fighting major intellectual battles on behalf of the self-publishing community. He personally benefits, yes, but so too do legions of others, me included.

If I knew where to send him a box of PG Tips, or a bottle of whiskey (Jack Daniels, naturally) as a thank you, I’d do it. And here’s the note I would include:

Dear J. A. Konrath,

You don’t know it, but you are a brick in the foundation upon which I am building my future. I thank you for sharing your wisdom with the self-publishing community, and for having no expectations of a return on that investment except, perhaps, that we will use that knowledge well.

I plan to.

Many thanks,
Ashley Barron

In the end, it thrills me to read that J. A. Konrath is shutting out the noise and applying his abundant mental resources exclusively to his writing. It equally thrills me that his tireless work, and the quality of his novels, has created a fan base that will continue to fuel his success no matter where he is, or what he’s doing.

Eight years from now, I hope to also have earned the respect of a dedicated readership, and to have provided a roadmap of my journey, too, for the newbies – like I once was – who may find the information reassuring, even helpful, no matter which morning, in which year, they decide this is the day to follow a dream.





The Genuine Article


I buy books all the time, both paid and free, both paper and electronic. It generally takes me months and months to start a novel once it has found a home on my Kindle or my bookshelf. Part of the reason it takes so long is the sheer volume of writers I’ve come to know through social media. The other part is my determination to read every one of their books while keeping up with my favorite traditionally published authors, too.

My Twitter community has 22,000 members. Six months ago it was half that number, and I anticipate it will be approaching 50,000 by mid-summer. Every day, I get to meet new writers – or, at least, writers who are new to me – and, nearly every day, I download a handful of their novels and short stories.

My Facebook community has 983 members – that’s quite a difference from Twitter. The reason? Facebook confuses me. It is a format that doesn’t naturally fit my way of thinking, or my style of communicating. Same goes for Pinterest and Triberr. I understand G+, but am not stimulated by its format, and so do not invest any time there.

Twitter is my darling.

I spend 98% of my social media time there. I have personally followed every single one of the 22,000 members of my Twitter community. I do not use auto-follow, nor do I buy followers.

Even though I try to be careful about it, I’m sure I have followed some bots along the way. They are certainly getting cleverer about disguising their “botness.”

It takes hard work to grow anything, including a social media community. For those unwilling to put in the serious time needed to achieve serious results, it must be very tempting to present a false image by artificially enhancing their number of followers.

But buying followers, instead of earning them, doesn’t gain that account holder any knowledge; there’s no learning involved. It’s cheating, but the irony is the one being cheated is one taking the short cuts in the first place.

Pay your dues early on, and reap the rewards later.

Accounts with a sizeable following on Twitter can attract new and unexpected opportunities from outside business interests. Since reaching 20,000 members – a notable, but not exceptional, number – I’ve been on the receiving end of some interesting offers. I’m looking forward to capitalizing on some of those opportunities, because the benefits and/or advantages will apply to my entire Twitter community.

Have no doubt; self-publishers on Twitter have created a vibrant, creative, hard-working community.

An authentically large Twitter following provides that account holder with a tool to effectively promote the novels, songs, graphics, blog posts, and achievements of (in my case) fellow authors, artists, and musicians. And I do, regularly.

There has been a fair amount of news lately about the number of celebrities who have been buying Twitter followers, and about Amazon independently eliminating reviews that their staff determined to be faked or bought.

I couldn’t care less about celebrities who decide to supplement their fan numbers with bots, but I do care about Amazon removing reviews without giving either the reviewer or the author an opportunity to show why or how a particular review is legitimate. I hope this was the only time Amazon will act in such an autocratic, high-handed manner, even if their intentions were good.

Genuine reviews are simply too difficult to obtain, too precious to the future sales of a book, to proceed without using every caution to protect the contributions that are, indeed, legitimate.

Some reviews on Amazon are faked. I get it. So do the readers. I admit I understand why some authors choose to go that route. The silence can be brutal when an unknown author is waiting for, hoping for, the feedback, acknowledgement, and validation delivered by a review.

Sometimes, I feel like a saguaro in the desert, waiting, ever so impatiently, to reach the next stage of my growth. (It can take up to 75 years for them to grow their first limb. My first novel was published seven months ago, but it feels more like 70 years ago.)



Recently, I made my short story, ZIPPERS, free on Amazon for three days. It was published less than two months ago and had, prior to the promotion, received one review on Amazon UK, but nothing on Amazon US. And while the US reviews show up on the UK site, which is helpful, the reverse is not true.

When the promotion was over, readers had left behind one new review and five likes.

Based on what the short story would have earned from the downloads, had those readers purchased it, that promotion cost me $27.00. What did I get out it? One shining, sparkling, beautiful, authentic review.

The genuine article.

My Twitter community is real, so are my (precious few) book reviews on Amazon. Building up the readership of a novel or short story, and thereby building reviews, has been a long, slow process for this unknown author. Happily, the book promotion on Amazon turned out to be the literary equivalent of an organic fertilizer, one that made a positive change in the readership rate, without putting at risk the integrity of the feedback.

Is it any wonder I’m now on the hunt for more literary fertilizer? In fact, the more powerful, the better – as long it is organic, of course.





2013, The Year of Action


It is New Year’s Day, the year 2013, and I’m excited. Really excited.

This morning, I went back and read my first January post from last year and, looking back, I am a bit startled to recognize how much we self-published authors have collectively accomplished, and how different the landscape looks to me a year later.

For starters, self-publishing, as a business strategy, is no longer looked down upon by the biggest names in the publishing world. In fact, most have taken headliner steps to incorporate this method into their own product portfolios.

Good, good, and more good. I hope the year ahead brings new and mutually profitable ways for the traditional publishing industry to partner with both established and emerging self-published authors.

In February, it will be two years since I decided to self-publish, and it has been a wild ride. For me, self-publishing was about joining with the e-pioneers – mostly comprised of other writers and devoted readers – who welcomed the challenge of venturing into an unknown marketplace, and who chose to invest real time and resources in growing their own knowledge and experience, while still contributing to the greater good by carving out opportunities for those who would soon follow.

Looking back, I realize that 2011 was The Year of Preparing, while 2012 turned out to be The Year of Learning. Looking ahead to 2013, I think I’ll call it The Year of Action.

My Twitter community blossomed over the course of 2012, and there are many self-published authors whose tweets, blog posts, and novels I have been regularly reading for over a year. It amuses me to think back on how green we all were, how starry-eyed and hungry, at the start of our respective journeys.

We’re still hungry, and that, alone, bodes well for the future of our industry.

Starry-eyed ideals, in my opinion, provide the kind of motivational fuel essential to taking the first steps on a new path. But reason soon takes over, firmly set in place by experience and disappointment, and the starry eyes begin to focus on points much closer than the far-distant dreams of big, big success. That’s why I named 2012 The Year of Learning.

Disappointment is a routine and necessary part of achieving big, big success. It teaches us where to install guardrails and warning signs on our individual paths to success. It teaches how to gauge what is reasonable, what is rational, how to evaluate risk, and how to balance creating our novels with marketing them.

In other words, as small business people, once the dreams of what could be settle down into what is, we have officially left the first phase of major learning behind us. I do think 2012 was unique in that the chaos of this still-forming e-marketplace was calmed by the addition of sturdy foundation pieces, and by the achievement of professional respect for the income earning power and social media skills we bring to the table.

2013, The Year of Action, gives all of us who have been out there for a year or two an opportunity to test our hard-earned working knowledge of writing and producing e-books, and to structure marketing plans that create books sales. Big ones.

Since many of us self-published authors are also bloggers, we have accurate records of our own journeys, trials, failures, successes, and goals over the course of the past twelve months. I look back at some of the questions I asked established self-published authors in my earliest interviews, and I laugh at my naivety and admire their patience with an eager newbie.

My blog posts are, in essence, my business records, my work history. Tomorrow, when I sit down to strategize and organize my plan of action for the coming months, those posts will become the platform I use to target and shape my new goals.

While, personally, I do have several books slated to come out this year, my primary focus will be on developing a marketing plan for selling books, lots of them. Blogging is the fun part, the true wild card in a game with no guarantees. There is so much territory to cover, so many ideas to explore, I can hardly contain my excitement that today is January 1, and The Year of Action has officially begun.

Bring it on.




What I’m Learning About Love


Does an author fall in love with the characters, with the quirks and settings, every time he or she writes a new novel or short story?

I do.

Sometimes as I first set my fingers on the keyboard, I find myself thinking about the relationship between two characters and wondering what their future holds, and how, or if, they will ultimately find that precious stretch of common ground we identify as happiness.

Love is sweet, tantalizing, ever-luring in its quest to completely overtake our minds and hearts and lives – even if that love is fictional, something created to breathe life into what might otherwise be simply names on a page.

As a flesh-and-blood woman, my own ideas, beliefs, and experiences with love deeply influence the manner in which my characters express their own versions of love to one another. In as much as I often find myself writing about romantic love, I also write about the love inherently contained in those most complicated of pairings, family relationships.

For example, how do parents prove their love to a child? How do those parents, and those children, adapt to the unforeseen trials life inevitably brings to everyone’s door? What happens to their old patterns, their confidence in the future, when their shared vision is altered? And what about adult siblings, independent beings forever tied to each other by rules and deeds that were often not of their own making?

I’m finding as I write my current novel that reaching happily ever after is often a more complicated journey when the love is not romantic. For example, in romance, when two characters fall in love, they encounter and traverse obstacles – some of their own making, some not – and ultimately commit to building a life together based on shared principles, ideals, and physically intimate expressions of their love.

But what about the adult child of an aging parent struck down by a terrible disease? What is happily ever after for their relationship? Does it exist? Can it?

How about two sisters who see the world, and all it has to offer, in totally different ways? How do they find resolution, find peace in their sibling relationship, when each one cannot reconcile, or even identify with, the choices the other sister makes?

Answering those types of questions is, perhaps, the greatest challenge an author who writes happy endings encounters as his or her words begin to take shape on the page. Working through fictional challenges can and must have a direct impact on how an author lives his or her life, and on the choices he or she makes as a layered, hopeful, inquisitive human.

I think the experiences, triumphs, battles, joys, and losses an author has faced in his or her own life create the foundation of a satisfying novel, no matter the genre.

In the novel I am currently writing, the love story between the two main characters is much like a boat cruising along, unhindered, through calm waters. It is the family relationships surrounding the couple that brings into focus the threat of shifting tides and hidden dangers. My challenge is figuring out how, when that family is ripped apart by problems not of their own making, they find their way back to what they once were.

Here is the conclusion I’ve come to: I don’t think they can.

That’s the point, isn’t it? The past is done, finished. Life changes. More, it is meant to change. Holding on to the past and trying to pull it into the present is akin to tilting at windmills. I find myself presenting each of the Priyas in my series with new obstacles, taking them to new places, filling their peaceful worlds with new emotions and new characters. Some of those characters are welcome additions, and some are devastating additions. Regardless, room must be made for all of them.

Love is never the hard part – acceptance is. Why I find that so ironic, I cannot tell you.

Whether human or a fictional character, we all change no matter how vigorously we defend the idea that we are as we have always been, and that it is the world around us that is losing sight of what should be.

Question after question must be asked, explored, debated, challenged, understood, before harmony can be restored and a new day embraced with all the good it will bring if we are lucky enough, smart enough, to look for it.

As a writer creating fictional worlds, it is equally important to me to explore and test the relationships surrounding the lovers as it is to guide the central couple to a place that makes a happy ending possible.

I always, always believe happy endings are possible. They just may not look or feel like the ones we fixed in our minds before the inevitability – yet, somehow, always unexpected reality – of  change entered our lives.

Some say my type of writing, the happily ever after type, is not authentically literary. They say happy endings are a myth, or are simply unattainable on account of the nature of humans, and of love.

How foolish. Happiness, in some measure or form, is always within reach. And love is a conscious choice, one that, if we give up our faith in it, will almost surely banish from our lives that most critical of all emotions – hope.

I understand more and more, while writing this new novel, how the family and friend relationships become much a like a circle of protection around the couple at the center of the love story. I would even go so far as to say that they become a living talisman, of sorts, and the health of those relationships, the strength of them, can ultimately determine the success or failure of the love they surround.

And with that thought in mind, the thought of the importance of family and friends in the happy ending we each of us seek, this post has unexpectedly transformed into my New Year’s wish for you: A year filled with purpose, with respect, with finding and treasuring every inch of common ground with the people in the circle that surrounds you.

I wish the world peace, the elders hope, and the youth opportunity.

Most of all, I wish you love.





Changing to a WordPress Blog


For months, I’ve been putting off changing over to a WordPress blog. Bad move on my part. My current blog, the one I started with, is through GoDaddy and uses their Quick BlogCast template. It was reasonably easy to set up, is remarkably affordable and, once I got into the rhythm of creating posts, became infinitely satisfying.

My blog grew quickly, in posts, unique visitors, and number of hits. Good news for me. But growth always brings new challenges. Admittedly, I wasn’t willing to address those challenges when they first appeared on my horizon. In part, I held off on taking action because I knew I would need to carve out real time, weeks or months, to research and investigate my options. The other part of me was just being lazy.

In the end, I waited too long to address the move and have now added more complications, unnecessary complications, specifically in two areas.

First, GoDaddy is phasing out their Quick BlogCast option. They’ve invested their company resources in other, more profitable directions, and will not be bringing new bells and whistles to the wonderfully simplistic structure of their blogging templates.

Second, Quick BlogCast does not support the full range of ads that a committed blogger (which I am) uses to generate income once a blog’s stats reach a particular threshold. I’ve combed the internet looking for data, information, and guidance on inserting ads into a blog, and there is a surprisingly small amount of hard data. The best reference sources I could find indicated that blog ads will generate approximately $1750 - $2500 per month, per one hundred thousands hits.

Had I put ads in place from the very beginning, and if that earnings estimate held true, I would have earned in the neighborhood of $35,000 - $50,000 by now.

Ouch.

But I didn’t know any better, not at the beginning. Once I reached the point where my blog traffic became a potential asset, I was deeply involved in other projects and didn’t stop to course correct.

For me, writing books and blogging is about creating revenue streams through passive income. Different from service businesses, where every dollar must be actively earned, creating products in the form of books and blog posts allows the self-publishing entrepreneur to earn income from past work while dedicating the bulk of his or her time to new work.

My first business owned me in a way I plan never to repeat in my professional life. I worked seven days a week, was always attached to my phone and email, and traded personal happiness in pursuit of revenues and company growth. Was owning a successful start-up worth all the sacrifices? Ask me that question when I take my last breath – hopefully many, many years in the future – and I’ll know what to tell you.

For now, my professional focus rests squarely on creating an infrastructure that maximizes earnings potential from every writing investment I make. My blog is certainly a serious investment of time, thought, research, and preparation. My books and short stories require months, or years, to prepare and deliver to the reader. There are other new projects coming to market this fall and next spring, and all are in some way related to this self-publishing journey I officially embarked on 18 months ago.

A cornerstone of that infrastructure is an active, income-earning blog. It turns out there are many different ways to earn income through a blog, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with a good number of them. (Cue future blog posts.)

First, I must deal with making the move to WordPress. I was told this very afternoon that my blog posts will all have to be manually reentered, and that I will lose all of my comments from readers. That’s a punch to the gut; readers’ comments are what most every blogger waits for, hopes for, from the moment a post goes live.

It’s my own fault.

When I started my blog 18 months ago, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had zero experience. Looking back, I’m relieved I chose not to outsource blog construction and management in those early days. I would have saved loads of time, yes, but I would have lost exponentially more with regard to the knowledge and practical business experience I gained in social media.

Over the course of the past 18 months, my knowledge of social media evolved into a skill, and the sum of experiences became an asset. It’s time to apply them in new ways, income-earning ways, all of which are centered on writing. There are simply too many talented graphic artists and web designers who can accomplish in a single day what would take me weeks, if not a full month, to do on my own. And they’ll do it better.

Learning where the line exists between necessary knowledge and diminishing returns is a challenging part of business development. And, far too often, a sticking point for the small business entrepreneur. I learned that one the hard way.

It’s a mistake I don’t plan on repeating.




Money, Self-Publishing, and Marketing Plans


Anyone who has ever launched a small business knows how tricky marketing plans can be. There are endless configurations for distributing a start-up’s meager capital resources and plentiful sweat equity. The challenge is in determining which steps to take when there is no company history to influence the direction of spending.

In the end, every step forward by a business requires money – whether in cost of a product or service, industry membership, or in the form of salaries paid to employees.

There is no such thing as free.

Decisions have to be made about office space, equipment, insurance, business fees, communications tools, website development, marketing materials, postage, lunch meetings, travel, parking and, of course, salaries or hourly wages. And that’s only the starter list.

Self-publishing, a viable and growing form of small business, is no different.

For a small business owner, experimenting with different forms of marketing is, in the long run, money well spent – even if an idea does not pan out.

If you read my blog, you know I am not a traditionally published author. I do not have an agent, a publishing house, or a distributor. Nor are my books available on the shelves at brick-and-mortar stores. Yet.

At this point, my novel has been on the e-shelves for four months, and the current phase of my marketing plan focuses on using social media tools like my blog, my Twitter account, and my Facebook page.

That’s all about to change.

Just after publishing my novel, I turned my attention to researching and investigating less traditional book marketing methods, and I will be putting this new knowledge to good use in the coming months.

If these ideas succeed, I’ll be sharing the hows and whys on this blog. If they fail, I’ll be sharing the warnings and costs of these new marketing choices. As an experienced small business owner, I’ve learned the critical value of trial-and-error when lifting a marketing plan – and a brand – off the ground.

Risk isn’t for everyone. It takes guts to look at a failure, to face it, reach into it, and grab hold of those gold nuggets of wisdom. They are invaluable, and they are always present. Entrepreneurs, yet another way to describe self-published authors, acknowledge the risks and set out on the path anyway.

I’ve been reading an increasing number of articles about traditionally published authors who are making the leap into some variation of self-publishing. Sometimes, they dip a toe in the pond by releasing a new short story or novella, in e-book form, and independent of their existing publishing relationships. I’ve also seen an increase in authors who choose to re-release their own out-of-print novels, the ones where the rights have reverted back to them, as e-books.

I’m all for it.

Growing a business is a bit like sowing crops: the earnings are all theoretical until the crop is harvested and brought to market. I learned a lot about planting marketing seeds while getting my first business off the ground and the bottom line is simple. Every action you take has impact.

Right alongside your plans for successes should be plans for failures, too. When, as a self-published author, your biggest chunk of capital is in the form of sweat equity, you have a certain advantage over those with a pool of money to spend.

Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t.

As a self-published author relying on sweat equity as your primary source of capital, you can take a larger number of smaller risks. You can sample more options for connecting with readers. And, as the sole decision maker, you can course correct overnight.

Traditional authors sacrifice a portion of their earnings in exchange for marketing assistance and marketing advice from their agents, publishers, and more. There are many different talents involved in launching the book of a new, traditionally published author, one who comes on the scene with a team already in place. The book, itself, was only the beginning.

The advantages of having an experienced publishing team by your side during the launch of your first work should never be underrated. If you have that option, you may very well be wise to take it from the get-go. It offers a distinct advantage, but one that does not, cannot, guarantee a best seller.

Only readers can do that.

I believe this is the underlying principle that guides many self-published authors to make some or all of their work free for a period of time. Amazon figured out early on that cutting a direct path from writer to reader was the key that unlocked the door to the untapped potential of the millions of unknown authors worldwide.

Smashwords figured it out, too, but used a different template to form the connection.

I ask you, is it really that different for a traditionally published author to pay out a portion of earnings to industry professionals to lift their novels off ground, and for a self-published author, in pursuit of the same result, to pay it out to readers?

The end goal of each marketing path is the same: to connect with readers and build a following.

Simple. Universal. Worthy.

The beauty of a free marketplace is that we each get to make the decisions that best suit our experiences, goals, sensibilities, risk factors, and budgets.

No single voice speaks for all writers, and no single voice speaks for all readers.

Let’s quit all the quibbling over how a marketing plan is conceived and implemented, and instead, let’s focus on what really counts. More readers entering the marketplace. More opportunities in the realm of publishing. More creative energy flowing through the minds and hearts of an ever-broadening range of inspired writers.

I believe this quote by George Washington Carver sums it up perfectly. “Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it, and never be satisfied.”

Follow your dreams. Let nothing and no one deter you.






Guest Starring in a Novel


Recently, I wrote a blog post containing ideas about how real estate agents and self-published authors could work together to sell houses and stories, respectively. Maybe the idea is a little far out, admittedly, but it does present an interesting way to connect two industries that currently operate in different areas of the marketplace.

Brainstorming about creative marketing strategies for self-published authors is an intensely satisfying pursuit, and one that often yields unexpected fruit. When it comes to passing those ideas around, feeling them out, tweaking or altering them, the distribution outlet provided by a blog is unmatched.

I never use my blog to attack. I use it only to suggest, and to hope.

In that vein, here is an idea I’ve been noodling since late summer.

Suppose two self-published authors decide to swap characters. Not in the full sense, not as protagonists in upcoming novels; rather, as “guest stars” in a specially written series of short stories.

What I’m finding as people read my novel, AVA, and share feedback with me, is that each reader has a favorite character. My big brother’s favorite, for example, is Eden Loring. Readers only caught a glimpse of Eden in the first novel in my Priya series, but it was enough page time to capture and hold his interest. And he wants to read more about her.

Ava Arden and Kader Thornton, the protagonists in AVA, aren’t featured as strongly in the second novel, as the telling of the Priyas’ story is turned over to Bonner Danilov and Locke Arden. For me, finding ways to bring Ava and Kader “to life” outside of the series is intriguing and filled with interesting networking opportunities.

For writers interested in developing more story lines about favorite characters, here is a thought about how to bring readers a few bonus chapters while, at the same time, joining forces with other authors to cross-market novels.

For example, AVA is contemporary fiction set in Washington, D.C., and several key scenes in the novel take place at The Thornton Museum. It is owned by Ava Arden’s love interest, Kader Thornton.

How can I take that setting, and some of my characters, and create a standalone short story that ties into the work of another author?

Well, let’s suppose that The Thornton Museum is hosting a special exhibit of rare fourteenth century artifacts recently unearthed during an archaeological dig in, say, Scotland. Kader and Ava meet with the historian, who travels with the exhibit, and he tells them what his team has learned about some of the items on display.

Through the course of the conversation, Kader discovers that markings on an item tie it into what he knows of his own partly-Scottish ancestry.

The historian might say that the item was discovered in a grave, one they’ve determined to have belonged to a warrior, and that its carvings represent the mark of a particular family, plus symbols of love and infinity.

My short story might end with Kader and Ava making plans to go to Scotland to look for answers about his ancestors, this warrior and his family.

Here is where characters from one of, say, Suzan Tisdale’s historical romance novels, Laiden’s Daughter or Findley’s Lass, would pick up the story.

Suzan’s short story, for example, could tell the tale of the death of a beloved warrior in fourteenth century Scotland, and could “guest star” her characters as people who witnessed his passing.

Perhaps, Suzan would write that this crossover character, let’s call him John of Thornton, dies valiantly (of course!) protecting the ones he loves. His grief-stricken family buries him with something sacred to them all – something that would stand the test of time.

As they lay the iron cross or stone carving in his grave, his family might prophesize that he will be born again, in a far away time, in a far distant land, and he will know the love and old age he was denied in this lifetime. Perhaps, they swear a promise to carry his name and his deeds forward to each child born to their family for as long as their generations continue.
 
Seven centuries later, the cross or carving turns up in Kader’s museum. The prophecy is fulfilled.

I’m just thinking out loud here, by the way. Suzan (who had no idea this post was coming) is a talented and creative storyteller. If she chose to tie-in a character from modern times, she would find a way to make it both plausible and interesting.

But what if Suzan and I do decide to pool our characters in a unique way, and to tie my contemporary fiction to her historical romance in a set of short stories? What then?

The idea would be to combine the stories into a novella and jointly publish the e-book in a way that gains it the largest exposure. (Queue debate.) The e-book would also contain our bios, social media and blog links, and sample chapters from both novels.

Many of the romance books I’ve read over the years contain special excerpts from other romance authors at the end of the novel. It is a great way to introduce a new author to an interested and motivated crowd of readers.

This is my self-publishing era spin on that idea. Happily, with the flexibility and autonomy of self-publishing, there is no need to contain the “guest star” to the same genre as the author.

Ashley, aren’t you just talking about fan fiction? No. I highly doubt that Stephenie Meyer collaborated with E. L. James on the “Fifty Shades” trilogy.

I’m talking about a coordinated, cross-genre marketing strategy. I’m talking about working with authors from across the fiction spectrum and trading characters for guest starring roles in a specially designed series of short stories.

I’m talking about ripping the lid off normal and shaking things up.

Crazy? Or fun!





Sponsoring a Book Club


I’d like to sponsor a book club’s selection of the month. The premise seems simple enough, except that I can’t seem to figure out how to go about connecting with one.   

For authors, getting detailed, friendly but honest, big picture feedback on our novels is a critical step in our evolution as technical writers and creative storytellers. There are many ways to be published these days, and while the stigma of self-publishing is rapidly diminishing, the challenge of connecting with readers remains.

It seems rather obvious to say that the better the story, the better odds are it will succeed in finding a readership. The challenge rests with making each book better than the one before it. The best way, maybe the only way, is to invite constructively critical study of a novel’s main components.

How? Book clubs.

Though I’m not personally in one, I do know many people in book clubs. My sister-in-law is in a book club, for example, and her group has offered to put AVA on their schedule.

As wonderful and generous as that is for a newly self-published author, there is one major problem: I know all the members. In fact, I’ve known most of them since high school.

Would they, as readers, be able to separate me from my characters? From my lovingly and painstakingly constructed fictional world that is set in a real city, their city, with reference to places they all know?

Certainly, there is some overlap between Ava and me – it is a first novel, after all – but if you don’t personally know me, you won’t know which parts have a toe in reality.

Ashley, you’re overreacting, you might say. Sign on for the book club. Give it a chance.

I will. Someday.

When people I know finish reading my novel, this sentence is always present in the feedback: “I couldn’t stop thinking of you while I read it!”

I enjoyed creating my main character, Ava, so I take those words as a compliment. But it doesn’t change the fact that she is not me.

And it doesn’t change the fact that this is my first novel, and that I am still learning how to construct a realistic, tightly stitched plot. Tracking those threads, especially the small changes I made late in the book’s development, was a challenge. I admit it.

I’ve read my own novel hundreds of times, in part or in full, and can no longer identify gaps, minor plot mistakes, or loose threads. Nor can I see the punctuation and grammar mistakes. (Happily, I am now working with an editor and, yes, there is a blog post coming up on the experience.)

From the first day I realized I was writing a book and not just writing as a form of creative expression, I thought the manuscript would undoubtedly be a romance. Frankly, I don’t think I have it in me to write anything other than a Happily Ever After ending. Life is tough enough; when I step into the pages of a novel, I want to get lost in the possibilities of a world where I know, from the first page, no matter what happens in between, happiness will be waiting for me on the last page.

When my story began taking shape on paper, and the thriller aspects began to take up more and more pages of the novel, I still thought I was writing romance.

Now that my book has been published for four months, I’ve been informed by the male readers – some I know personally, and some I don’t – that they don’t consider AVA to be a romance novel. It contains a love story, yes, but it doesn’t have any graphic sex scenes, no bodice ripping, and no overly sexual language.

Albeit, most (all?) of the men had never read a romance novel prior to downloading my book. Their consistent feedback got me thinking about my genre classification, and my pink cover.

Would they have picked up my book, as is, if they’d passed it in a store? Would they even have found it in its home beneath the romance tab when they perused the e-shelves at Amazon, Nook, iTunes, or Kobo?

I believe it is fair to answer that question with a resounding “No!”

After much thought, I’ve decided to relocate my romantic thriller, AVA, to the commercial fiction aisle. And the book is about to gain a new cover. One that is not pink and not made by me, happily.

But what about the name – does it need a change, too? I designed the Priya series titles to be the first name of the main characters, which run from A to Z. There is one story arc that is carried the length of the series, from AVA to ZARA, and answers all the questions set up in AVA and fanned in the sequels.

I do recognize it would be a big decision to change the title of my novel. But if I’m going to do it, I need to do it now, before BONNER comes out in December, and before the number of people who have read AVA expands enough to add another digit to the total.

OK, I should be so lucky. But, still…

I’ve polled my family and my friends about AVA’s potential name change. The jury is coming back with a split decision, and it seems to be along gender lines: men say change it, and women say keep it. For now, until an answer becomes clear one way or the other, the novel will remain as AVA.

All this brings me back around to the idea of sponsoring a book club. Members would need to have e-readers (my book is not yet available in print), and the group would ideally have somewhere between, say, eight and twenty members.

As a part of the sponsorship, I would submit a list of questions with the request that each reader take the time to complete and return them to me. I’d be happy to throw in a couple of bottles of wine, too, if I could figure out how to have them delivered to the meeting house.

This isn’t about populating reviews for my book. This is about gaining a level of reader feedback that will influence how I develop the plot lines and characters in future novels. It would be a focus group, if you will, providing constructive observations to help me identify my novel’s strengths and weaknesses.

Improving as writer, as a storyteller, is paramount not only to establishing oneself as an author, but also to satisfying the hungry reader that lives inside each of us.

The amount of work and self-confidence it takes to first imagine a fictional world and then write it all down is stunning. It is a solitary undertaking, and, aside from the first time we type a sentence on the page, we never again get to be surprised by our own twists and turns.

Is that why an author, no matter how successful, keeps coming back to the blank page?

The opportunity to see our book through the eyes of a reader, especially one who enjoyed the story, is a precious, magical gift. Its value far exceeds money.

Sponsoring a book club would in no way guarantee positive feedback. Nor should it. That said, I do think sending AVA to a membership that prefers to read horror novels, for example, wouldn’t be a good fit.

The entrepreneur in me is tempted to create a website for this very purpose, right this very minute. If I do that, if I give in to temptation and get myself caught up in developing the idea, I will be hard pressed to meet my publishing deadlines this fall.

Alas.

Are there Kindle/Nook/iPad/Kobo-using book clubs out there, filled with members who enjoy love stories and thrillers in equal measure, and who would enjoy sharing their feedback, constructive criticisms, and plot ideas for sequels? I’m willing to bet on it.

But finding them? That’s the tricky part. Maybe, if I’m lucky, one will find me.





Klout, Kred, and Social Media Scoring


When I first learned about Klout, I thought the idea of providing a scoring system for social media users was smart. I still do. While I don’t regularly check my score, I have found the information useful as a general road map for reinforcing weak areas in my social media communications.

The highest score I am aware of receiving on Klout is a 57, which occurred late last spring. Over the summer, the score went up and down like a rollercoaster before settling in at a relatively steady 48.

Based on articles I’ve read, it seems Klout dedicated a fair portion of those same months to revamping their scoring methodology. In my case, the results of those rolling upgrades were not always helpful. Still, having an index of this nature available to me, and for free, has been beneficial for fine-tuning my marketing plan.

Frankly, the Klout “perks” haven’t been fruitful for me. I never seem to click on a freebie link in time to benefit from it and, since my score dropped so dramatically, I don’t get any perks worth clicking on these days, anyway.

As I say in my Klout bio, it was “love at first tweet.” I received great advice from a friend, a man I like to call the Godfather, and it turbo charged my ability to harness the energy of Twitter to promote my blog.

Facebook is still somewhat of a mystery to me, and I suspect that has to do with the fact that I use it for business, for self-publishing and writing exchanges, and not for personal communications. At some point my knowledge of Facebook will need to evolve, I know. For now, my Klout score is based solely on my Twitter interactions.

Recently, a Twitter friend asked me if I preferred Klout or Kred. I hadn’t yet heard of Kred, so I quickly pulled up their site and created an account. Like Klout, Kred also provides me with a ranking for my social media usage, but the methodology and presentation is entirely different.

Kred’s display of my social media impact looks more like a Pinterest page. I like it. At a glance, it’s easy to see what’s happening, to see the community members I’m interacting with the most, and to identify which tweets are resonating most strongly with other Twitter users.

What’s interesting to note is that Kred breaks down scores into a variety of measurements. For example, their three main numbers for me are:

Influence: 834 out of 1,000 possible points
Outreach level: 9 out of 12 possible points
Total Influence Points: 377,121

Being new to Kred, I didn’t really have a grasp on how to interpret those results. To establish points of comparison, I looked up the Kred scores of about a dozen people I interact with the most on Twitter. Our scores were all in the same range, which made perfect sense to me. While not identical, we’re comparable in our usage, interactions, and follow/ers. It gave me a sense of confidence in the scoring process, for whatever that’s worth.

The only member whose social media scoring stood out head-and-shoulders above the rest of us was Melissa Foster. Her total influence points were above 2,000,000. I have no doubt that she earned every single one of them.

I like to joke that Melissa is our fearless leader – only, I’m not really joking. She’s out front, making good things happen for all of us who support and admire her innovative spirit and entrepreneurial ability.

So, I got to thinking about Kred. Aside from “perks,” I wondered what else they could do to unite members of the social media community. I wondered what could be their “edge” over the larger and more established Klout. My guess is that both companies have extensive data on each one of us who is publically active on social media — whether we officially join their ranks, or not.

I propose that they use that data to increase their sphere of influence by hosting “bonus point days” for their registered members.

For example, suppose a large number of writers, authors, readers, and book reviewers regularly log into Kred to monitor their social media standings. Kred can market directly to these members by assigning bonus points to each Twitter user who participates in taking a Kred-assigned hashtag and turning it into a trending topic.

Users would be tracked by a predetermined hashtag (let me suggest #FanCelDay, hint-hint), and people who choose to participate, by using the hashtag on the assigned day, would receive special scoring advantages.

Monthly, weekly, or even daily, Kred could identify a subset group within their active users (authors, sports fans, students, a charity, fans of a particular product, etc), and award extra credit, of sorts, to those social media members who choose to engaged with the hashtag and help it trend, on behalf of Kred, on Twitter.

In the future, if the idea works, Kred could charge businesses a sponsorship fee in exchange for promoting a particular hashtag to their members. And if those businesses were smart, they’d throw in some free merchandise, too. After all, we’re human; on the whole, we like points, perks, and number tracking.

Harnessing this natural affinity, this opportunity to build and grow Kred relationships, could provide advantages for all involved. For self-published authors, the opportunity to increase visibility is paramount. We often have tiny budgets, a surplus of enthusiasm, and a willingness to follow a new marketing idea simply to learn where it leads. For us, every new opportunity to get our names and our books out there counts.

Certainly, charities are always on the look out for new and appealing ways to encourage sponsorship and dialogue. And businesses, the primary investors in marketing advances, could provide Kred with a secure cornerstone for growth.

More importantly, building a brand, tying in with other groups, products, and ideas, is not only a proven path to success, it is just plain fun. Count me in!





The Book Cover Debacle


Maybe “debacle” is too strong a word, but I’ve finally faced the fact that my current book covers have to go.

As a part of learning the business of self-publishing from the ground up, I chose to make all of my own book covers.

And it shows.


         


For the short stories, I used an old family photo, one of my all-time favorites, as the focal point of the covers. It made the process extra special for me, and I’m happy I started with it.

But it’s time to move forward.

Self-publishing is a small business. Part of running a successful small business is to invest time and resources in determining the value, or weight, that each component commands as part of the overall product or service.

Outsourcing, whether it is for covers, editing, or website design, shouldn’t be undertaken until the value of that piece, and its relative price, has been determined. That’s my belief, anyway.

Many first-time self-published authors bring experience or education in areas like graphic design or editing with them from previous jobs or schooling. When I scroll through my Twitter community, I often see bios that say things like “self-published author and freelance book editor,” or “indie author and book cover designer.”

Initially, I thought I would simply create the covers myself and use them to publish my first set of stories in order to learn how the entire process, and timeline, worked. Those starter covers ended up being in place a lot longer than I had originally projected. There are reasons for that delay, and all of them are business related.

But one reason stood out above the rest. What kind of covers do I choose? What should they convey? Do I use images of people, or nature, or…?

I did consult with several designers, and each one sent me a detailed list of questions to help them gauge what aspects of the stories were relevant when it came to cover design.

That was the first problem.

I realized I didn’t know how to describe my work. I didn’t know how to communicate which elements were the most important. I couldn’t prioritize my plot lines, my characters, or even the settings.

A few months ago, I began studying the top selling books on Amazon. I also read plenty of blogs to learn what I could from the experiences of other writers and, eventually, followed their leads to a number of websites offering premade book covers. Week after week, I saw no match for my stories.

And then, one day, I did. Two beautiful book covers all but winked and waved at me from my computer screen. Seems that they knew they were a perfect fit, too.


                       


One seemed custom made for the ‘The Birthday,’ a story that is happy and loving and hopeful. The other provided an interesting twist for a story named ‘Famous.’ That cover was dark and moody, and yet somehow still imbued with a sense of hope. Perfect.

Fast forward a week and the new covers are now in place. Whenever I click into my e-book accounts, I’m a little surprised to see them there and I wonder, for a second, who they belong to.

And then I remember: me.

There are more new book covers coming in 2012. Happily, none of them will be my own handiwork. Those days are officially in the past. My small business is (finally) growing up.





Fan Celebration Day, December 1, 2012


I believe it is reasonable to assert that most writers started out as readers.

The serious kind. The wallet-draining kind.

It is a state of bliss, reading, and one that is always as accessible as the nearest good book. Some novels deliver a new friendship to the reader in the form of a beloved character. Others introduce new worlds, ideas, or ways of living.

Often, hope is found in the pages of a novel. Inspiration might be there, too. Even renewal of a long ago dream might arise in the reader as the chapters progress.

For those of us who have cut a path from a simple idea to a completed book, appreciation of the elements that went into writing a full novel—perfect or not—takes on an entirely new significance.

The experience of becoming an author invites enlightenment in the best possible sense. It is a camaraderie that transcends genre, location, and even the means by which a novel was published.

For, if you love to read, it’s all about getting caught up in the characters and finding yourself swept away on a swelling tide of plot lines and ripe phrases.

In honor of this shared knowledge, this path that is somehow well worn yet completely wild, I’d like to propose a special day, a Twitter day, to open the social media doors and invite readers and authors inside to celebrate our shared love of books.

Let’s call it Fan Celebration Day.

This isn’t about us as writers; it’s about us as readers.

I propose we invite our favorite authors to join in the Twitter fun. This community gathering isn’t about how an author was published, so include names from your book shelf and your e-book shelf alike as you make a list of authors to invite.

Whose novels do you curl up with at night? Whose books do you eagerly reach for during your lunch break, or on a quiet, rainy afternoon?

Invite them.

Reach out to those authors, to their representatives, their agents, and encourage them to participate in Fan Celebration Day.

Notice I don’t refer to this adventure as “reader appreciation.” It has the potential to be so much more than the image that rather bland description conjures up.

This is an online party, a fiesta, an open invitation to all things, and all people, literary. It’s a day to say—to shout—THANK YOU to the authors who have brought us enjoyment and tears and hope and new worlds and brainteasers and happy endings.

Let #FanCelDay become the gathering place.

When spoken, the above sounds like “fan sell day.” That’s intentional. Devoted readers of a particular author want other readers to buy those same books in order to support that author, and to keep him or her in a position to write more novels to feed the appetites of hungry fans.

For my list, I started with the stack of books on my nightstand. Yes, printed books.

If you’re planning to join in, consider adding a post about #FanCelDay to your blog. Include links to the websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter handles (if they exist) for your favorite authors. Invite your readers to add their own suggestions in the comment section.

What’s nice about establishing a single day to appreciate the work of other authors, and to interact with them, is that a lifetime commitment is not required. For established authors who haven’t yet created a Twitter presence, Fan Celebration Day may be the perfect opportunity to join in the fun—and to gain new readers.

Some of the names on my list are Marisa de los Santos, Melissa Foster, Pat Conroy, J.A. Konrath, Nora Roberts, R.S. Guthrie, Jeff Shaara, E. Van Lowe, Ruth Cardello, Carla Neggers, Suzan Tisdale, James Patterson, Chicki Brown, Stephen King, Deborah Batterman, David Baldacci, Carl Purdon, Adriana Trigiani, and more.

Since I live here in reality, I can’t add the obvious dream invitee, Jane Austen, to the list.

But if, say, Charles Frazier attends, I would have the chance to ask him if he knew how many hearts he would break with the closing pages of ‘Cold Mountain,’ and if he shed tears while deciding the fates of his characters.

If she attended, I’d ask Nora Roberts if she has ever seen a ghost (I’ll bet Pat Conroy and Jeff Shaara have), and I’d ask James Patterson if he plans to write a romance novel someday. I’d also like to know the funniest joke David Baldacci has ever heard, and who Adriana Trigiani will be casting in the Big Stone Gap movie.

So many questions. So many authors.

The holidays are coming and, with them, the biggest sales week of the year for e-books. Fan Celebration Day would present a good opportunity for authors to raise their online profiles just in time for all the new Kindles, Nooks, Kobos, and iPads that will be entering the book buying market ten short weeks from now.

Which authors would you like to see join in the fun on Fan Celebration Day? What would you ask them? What questions would you hope they ask you? 

#FanCelDay, December 1, 2012. Let the fun (and sales) begin.





Amazon and Gary Sinise


I have an idea, Amazon. It’s one I hope you’ll embrace – or, at least, fully explore.

First, let me applaud the innovations you continue to bring to self-publishing, and to the many writers, authors, and dreamers who have joined with you to create a diverse, thriving virtual marketplace.

As a devoted believer in the creative abilities of humans, and as one who will never abandon hope in the progress generated by united minds, I thank you.

Yet, this “virtual” world — and its distinct limitations — is the very reason I am reaching out to you today.

Self-published authors, people whose creations are alive and well in that intangible place we call cyberspace, who want to find ways to contribute the fruits of our hard work to charity, face a unique problem.

We’re virtual.

For months now, I’ve been trying to think of ways to use my stories to help raise money for charities and causes I believe in. I’ve made a list of groups I’d like to help, and it is long and diverse. 

About a month ago, I decided to act. I reached out to the Gary Sinise Foundation. The person I interacted with was lovely and thoughtful. Yet, what they do as an organization, and how they raise money, is not a direct fit for what I bring to the table.

Unlike the awesome Kevin Plank of Under Armour, for example, I did not have a physical product, something tangible, to offer as my contribution to the important work of the foundation.

Instead of items, I have words. I have stories in the form of e-books. Figuring out what to do with these words, how to use them to positively impact the good work of organizations like Mr. Sinise’s, is a real challenge.

I’ve focused a fair amount of energy on that challenge these past few weeks, especially with holidays – and the strong spirit of giving they carry into our lives — soon upon us. Perhaps, there is way for self-published writers, those of us desirous of sharing a portion of our profits, to turn that spirit of giving into a reality.

But we need you to lead the way, Amazon, to open a new door and invite us to walk through it.

Yes, you might be the titan of the online world, but you are made of people, flesh and blood, just like us writers; people who volunteer, and donate money, and buy books.

People who love. People who care.
 
Here is what I propose. Give each charity that meets the current legal standard of a 501 (c)(3), or similarly recognized tax status, an opportunity to register with you in a special category. Once registered, that organization would then become eligible to receive donations via earnings from selected e-books.

Let each participating author (or publishing house) designate a charity to receive a portion, or all, of their earnings from a particular story or novel. Let the author choose if it will be for a day, a week, a month, a year, or forever.

If the price of the e-book is less than the magic $2.99 mark, consider carving out a greater amount from your share of the profits to go to the charity. That difference would be tax deductible for you, wouldn’t it?

And readers might have a greater sense of purchasing confidence knowing that the money raised would be transferred directly by you to the designated charity, and that it would happen smoothly and without bumps or delays.

Many of us have blogs, Amazon, and would happily, gratefully support getting the word out to readers and organizations alike. You could even create a special tab for interested readers to learn which e-books have been newly added under a particular charity’s umbrella.

With an opportunity like this one available, I would have simply approached the Gary Sinise Foundation with a request that they register with Amazon. I could then have designated them as recipients of my share of the profits generated by sales of my work, in this case “The Angel.”

According to the NCCS Table Wizard, there are currently over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States.

That’s a lot of charities, Amazon – charities that are hurting in a down economy and need to find new ways to fundraise, to sustain the work they are already doing, and to grow into a future that will most certainly need the promise and goodness they bring to individuals and families affected by disease, poverty, injury, and so much more.

Let the self-publishing revolution pave a new road for an entirely new generation of charitable giving. There is not another business or company on this planet so uniquely positioned as yours to positively impact so many lives.

Show us the way.





Dear Smashwords, Part One


For the newly minted author, the process of bringing an e-book to readers can be daunting. You understand us, Smashwords, and the challenges we face as innocent, earnest, first-time storytellers.

Is it because, unlike your competitors, you are one of us?

Those other retailers have real value for us, the self-published authors, but they aren’t you. Some of them have primary allegiance to brick and mortar stores, or to a range of goods that far exceeds books, or to a history that isn’t quite ready to share the future with a new child of invention.

You are made of one thing, Smashwords, and that is books. Not just any books, mind you, but books created by passionate readers who opened their eyes early one morning to find stories inside them, rising with the sun.

It would be an understatement to say self-published authors, of whom I am one, have scaled many peaks before arriving at your door. You teach us about this strange new land, about sharing information and opening doors. You even carpool with us to other e-retailers when we’re not ready to travel there by ourselves.

And forward motion is point of being in business, isn’t it?

Only, these days, selling books takes far more than a well-crafted book summary and a snappy cover. It’s about the journey, the whole of it. No longer are authors some distant, talented force accessible only through the printed pages of books on a shelf.

I know you’ll continue to create new opportunities that enable us, the self-published community, to assist as you build new revenue streams, new branches and portals, and as you continue to forge new relationships and find inventive ways to help sell our novels and stories.

Now that I’m a year into this self-publishing adventure, now that I have lived the dream through one complete cycle, I have a few ideas to share with you, Smashwords.


LOST REVENUE


For starters, I’d like to talk about your website. Every time I see those wide, blank margins that border your content, I see lost revenue and untapped potential.

It hurts me.

Those blank margins are the online equivalent of prime, unfilled ground floor retail space.

Empty space equals lost revenue. For a growing business, especially a relative newcomer, one who is taking on long-established industry giants, cash is imperative. Growth requires fuel, and the most potent fuel is a 50/50 mix of human capital and monetary capital.

Put that empty space to work for you—and for us, the self-published authors.


SMASHWORDS 365


Are you sitting down, Smashwords? What I’m about to say next may give you a few palpitations, but know this: I’m serious.

I believe your website needs a complete overhaul. When you’re done, I hope it looks like a cross between People.com and Pinterest.

…what?!

No kidding.

Give your site all of the visual appeal of an entertainment industry magazine, because, let’s face it, that’s what novels are all about, entertainment. Add in some People.com appeal with color, movement, and catchy category headers. Add in the Pinterest appeal by figuring out how to present an explosion of images (a mass of book covers) in an appealing and ever-updating flow.

Twitter and Pinterest, for example, keep their main pages streaming with user driven content and information. Your front page, Smashwords, is the single most important piece of advertising real estate you own, and yet it has no flow. Build it out. Push the boundaries. Turn it into the social media equivalent of a mixed-use property, and use book cover, vendor services, and author-paid promos to do it.

Come at this redesign from a place no one is expecting. Do something no one is doing. Set your entire site in motion, amp it up, sell lots of targeted advertising space (to writers, authors, formatters, graphic artists, pr pros, editors, copy writers, etc.), rake in the cash, and grow.

Here’s a question for you. Why do e-book retailers make the covers so small? Please don’t tell me it is the only way to sell books, because I’m not buying it. Literally. You need more motion, more interest on that front page. You need fewer words and more images.

I recognize the irony of suggesting a book seller use fewer words, but in the online world, words are secondary—it’s the images that come first. You’ll need more text than Pinterest, obviously, but the focus should be on categories. Portals to genres, top sellers, newest additions, the Smashwords blog, etc.

Sure, there are some people in the literary community who would frown upon using the word “entertainment” to describe books. I would ask them why they published their novels in the first place, if not to sell them.

Anyway, I think your new website will be copied. No one has anything like it, not that I’ve seen.

The cornerstone of your business is the self-published unknown writer, not the big name author. Harness that energy. Build more securely upon the vast network of self-published writers. Woo us. Lure us. Make it impossible for us to stay away and, once there, impossible for us to leave.

Give us, the unknown authors, presence on the front page of your website, Smashwords. Make it a presence we can’t get anywhere else, and we’ll return that advantage by marketing your site, your links, to our carefully and lovingly developed networks.

I’ve spent the last ten minutes flipping back and forth between the Smashwords website, Pinterest, and People.com. There are ten images on your front page, while Pinterest has a continuous and unlimited flow. People.com has nineteen showing on the main screen. (Amazon has forty-one, by the way, and Barnes & Noble has forty-eight images as of the writing of this post.)


SMASHWORDS SPOTLIGHT


While you’re over there checking out People.com, I hope you’ll talk to them about adding a “Smashwords Spotlight” to their website. Self-publishing is a hot topic, and it’s a money maker. Forge a new relationship with People.com to shine a light on self-published books by displaying a new Smashwords-supplied book cover every five minutes.

If my book is one that gets its five minutes, and if People.com wants a cut of every e-book I sell through the link on their page, I’d be happy to oblige them. It’s a marketing opportunity, a level of visibility I’ll (likely) never otherwise get.

Entertainment sites change information displayed on their front pages all day long. Good. It’s more visibility for more people.

They have categories with silly names like ‘Caught in the Act’ and ‘People Pets.’ But silly names work, or People wouldn’t still be in business thirty-eight years later.  

Plus, I do believe the spike in traffic to the People.com website that would be generated by our vast community of readers, writers, and authors would have the parent company at your door, asking if you’d put a “Smashwords Spotlight” on the websites of all other magazines in their portfolio.

Think about all the novels and non-fiction books you could market and sell on the web pages of Sports Illustrated, Fortune, InStyle, Life, GOLF Magazine, Southern Living, Essence, This Old House, All You, Entertainment Weekly, What's On TV, NME, Country Life, Marie Claire and Nuts.

Those few minutes of cross-marketing publicity could represent a NASA-sized launch pad for an undiscovered novel, and could, if other factors align, send a self-published author right into orbit.

How glorious.

Every business likes a new revenue stream—especially one that generates cash profits with minimal start-up costs. Approach People.com, and Southern Living, and Essence. The worst they can say is no, so give them the chance to say yes.


FIVE BUCKS


The “Smashwords 365” redesign creates openings for a whole host of other revenue streams, all of them filled with the potential of cash for you and opportunity for us.

Suppose you make special book promos available to authors who sell books through your site.  Five bucks for one day in a highly visible spot on your website, sorted by genre, and capped at one hundred books displayed per genre.

Every day, you’d be bringing visibility to a whole new set of novels. You’d also be drawing new hits from readers who want to see what’s on today’s list.

Don’t limit the “Five Bucks” program to books. Make it available for authors, writers, vendors, etc, who want to promote a blog post they’ve written. Same deal applies. Five bucks for one day. Many of us invest a lot of time, care, and energy into our blogs, and would appreciate new opportunities to promote those works as well as our novels.

Personally, my blog hits are in the millions. Still, every day I meet people online who are visiting my site for the first time. For as long as new readers are entering the marketplace, there will be an opportunity to turn a five dollar investment into a significant marketing experienced for us, and expansion fuel for you.

I would keep a limit on how many times per month an author, writer, or vendor could participate in any one category in the “Five Bucks” program. Why? You want fresh material showing up each day.

We’ll come back to look, we readers, and we’ll buy more because we’ll see more of the options for sale. I’m most likely to click into romance, thrillers, mystery, classics, commercial, and literary fiction. Others might prefer science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, erotica, horror, dystopian, etc.

Cool.

Variety is the spice of life. Yes? You already have it, buried in the e-pages of your website. Illuminate that site with motion, new categories, and new energy.

You’ll sell more books.

Smashwords, you’ve already impacted the way the self-publishing industry does business. Do again. This time, focus on marketing. Amazon has a lot of talent in their corner. So do you. Amazon thinks and acts like a start-up. They don’t let old ideas get in the way of new growth. They don’t let outdated notions dictate corporate policy.

It is a winning strategy. I hope you employ it as you continue to grow.

Please, please don’t become stodgy, or old-fashioned, or stuck in the past. Be forever fresh, innovative, unexpected. Let the new face and function of your website send shock waves through the industry.

Be the word on everyone’s lips.


NEW RELEASE DAY


While you’re out there forming unexpected alliances with other industries, talk to Target or Macy’s about hosting “Smashwords New Release Day” in their stores. Once a week—or, heck, every day—have a special coupon code, maybe one with a discount, for a Smashwords novel print out on the receipt of each customer.

Same as with People.com, give Target or Macy’s the cut Amazon or Barnes & Noble would otherwise be getting if a Smashwords author sold through this program.

Take it a step further, and plan for growth.

When setting up “Smashwords New Release Day,” match up each Target or Macy’s store with the novels of self-published Smashwords authors from their local region. It’s a great way to set the stage for future “Meet the Smashwords Author” book signings at Target or Macy’s.

These signings, of course, would coincide with the new Smashwords imprint of e-books, paperback, and trade novels. Perhaps it’s time to explore putting together a team of literary agents and begin building a new wing onto your existing business. The cash generated from the “Five Bucks” program would go a long way toward funding those start-up costs.

In most stores, greeting cards are displayed according to manufacturer. People go to a brand (Hallmark, American Greetings, Shoebox, etc.) because they know they’ll find a certain something in those cards.

Why not look at a similar set-up for Smashwords? Why not create a Target or Macy’s display with a mix of genres, all by self-published authors, and all in the same Smashwords section?

But, you say, Macy’s doesn’t sell books.

No, they don’t…yet.

Getting a product into a retail store isn’t just about the merits of that particular product. Not anymore. It’s about the marketing force behind that product, and the reciprocal or cross-marketing opportunities that the relationship makes possible.

Smashwords, I believe a persuasive case could be made for the merits your authors, and their books, bring to businesses or industries outside of publishing, in terms of social media power, networking (word-of-mouth and e-street marketing), and brand visibility.

And, lest I forget, new revenue streams. 

More ideas are on the way in “Dear Smashwords, Part Two.” Stay tuned…





Sacrifice And The Writer


It might be the single hardest communication I’ve ever had to deliver, explaining to well-meaning people in my life that I’m on deadline, that my calendar is full, that my heart pounds a little bit harder in my chest as each new day draws me closer to the December release of my sequel, BONNER.

For starters, the novel isn’t yet complete. When you consider that I just published AVA ten weeks ago, my timeline for this second novel in the Priya series is aggressive.

And with good reason.

I believe this will be the penultimate year for e-book sales between December 25th and January 3rd. And I want to be ready for it. One novel doesn’t get the job done. The faster I build the depth of my e-shelf, the better my chances become for reaching one or more of my major publishing goals in the future.

Reaching these goals requires sacrifice. No if, ands, or buts about it.

Saying no to invitations, especially the week-long kind, from loved and adored family and friends is always tough. It’s harder still when I try to explain the work commitments of my job.

You see, I’m a writer and self-published author. It’s sort of a mysterious category—so I’m being told—and I’d like to take a few lines to expand on it.

I’m the person in my one-person office who has to figure out why the printer is literally mooing (oops, wrong brand of ink cartridge) and solve the mystery of the crop circle-like stains that appeared one day on the surface of my wooden desk (leaky tea cup).

Yes, it’s in my job description to spend hour after hour on the phone with the tech guys, trying to figure out, for example, why my blog data won’t transfer to Word Press. (Once, my mind was so tired by the end of a conversation, I had to nap after I hung up.)

I prep and load the tweets, a process that takes at least an hour a day, when done correctly. I research the industry news and developments, and read the blogs of as many friends and colleagues as I can fit into the schedule. 

I’m also the one who writes the original blog posts for my one-person company, and am happy to report I have fifty-four new ones on their way to this very page. I develop the business and marketing plans, handle all research projects, and set up informational interviews with people who have something interesting to say on a subject related to my storylines. 

Oh, and I write the Priya novels and Love + Family short stories, too.

And then there is the social media marketing aspect of my one-person office, a category second only to writing in its ability to suspend time as I know it.

My marketing budget, currently measured in sweat equity not dollars, has been seriously low on funds this summer. Since publishing my first novel on May 28th, I’ve made a conscious choice to temporarily transfer that category’s sweat equity to other areas of the business plan.

As an experienced businesswoman, I believe there are four constants in success: exploration, innovation, evolution, and sacrifice. I have learned not to stay too long in still waters.

Are there days when I would rather be standing at the edge of the ocean, or sipping wine at a café in another land, or gorging on my TBR pile?

You bet.

And will I have those days? Yes, God-willing, once my one-person office earns its way a few rungs up the ladder. For now, what I have is a stack of deadlines and a pile of dreams. 

Small business is a gutsy undertaking, and there is no safety net, which is why it is important to be certain that each step forward is a step on firm ground. But that’s not the only challenge. I found, during the writing of my first novel, I was susceptible to the “…but this is a special time” argument from family and friends when they wanted me to participate in an activity I’d already declined.

Ultimately, I extended my own writing deadlines to accommodate the wants of others. It was my choice, let me emphasize that fact, to put my writing second. Perhaps I gave in because, deep in my heart, I thought I’d never really finish a whole novel—much less publish it and sell copies.

Perhaps it’s because the discipline required to write a novel is on par with running a company, and I wasn’t ready to go all in. (I should know; I’ve done both.) But for the writer me, unlike the businesswoman me, there are no employees, clients, travels, meetings, offices, agents, vendors and HR challenges to point to as unspoken evidence of my heavy work load.

Running a business, especially one with employees, office space, and a national client list, requires making commitments to many people in many places. I’ve found that as a writer and novelist, my prospects for professional success are contained solely in the level of my commitment to myself.

It is something I find infinitely harder to do.

One day I sat down at my computer, and right there in the patch of universe between my eyes, my fingertips, and the computer screen, sat Ava Arden. The arrival of this character, only the first of many Priyas who would find their way into (out of?) my mind, changed my future. I knew immediately what had happened. I took one deep breath, one big leap, and ended up on an entirely new path.

To be honest, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. When it happens to a person—and I hope artistic passion, in one form or another, finds us all at least once in this life—there isn’t a thing that can be done to stop the forward march of a story ready to be told.

For all of us, sacrifice has a purpose. And, for writers who blog, those posts leave a trail of the choices, good and bad, that they have faced in pursuit of a dream. The dream. It’s hard for me to believe, a year ago, I wrote my very first original blog post and officially took my first step on the path to self-publishing.

I sure would love to have publishing-style success on my horizon: book signings, with really long lines, scheduled across the country; television and magazine interviews; copies of my novels on the shelf at every store that sells books; a pack of wild fans tweeting their excitement when they find out that woman in line next to them at the grocery store—the one wearing yoga pants and a pony tail—wrote their favorite romantic thriller.

Well, what’s the point of having dreams if they’re not going to be BIG?

And what’s the point of having BIG dreams if you’re not willing to commit to them, to power them forward into the great unknown?

To work for them.

Later this August, I’ll be trading tan legs and sandy toes for a writing goal of 30,000 new words on a page—one that’s aching to be filled. Yes, I may miss out on crab feasts and card games and chasing waves, but I can tell you this: Bonner Danilov is about to have the time of her life.





Blogging Email From Laura Howard


Earlier in the week, I received an email from my friend, Laura Howard, regarding ideas for increasing her blog traffic. The email exchange was interesting, and could be helpful to other new bloggers who are working to increase their social media presence, and to build a readership in advance of the release of a first novel.

I asked Laura if I could share this conversation and she graciously agreed to let me do it. Here’s more about her:



Bio: Laura Howard is the founder of Finding Bliss –– an educational community for awesome women on the path to becoming published authors. The site features interviews with top experts in the fields of writing, editing, marketing and publishing. Laura is currently revising her first contemporary fantasy novel, and is actively pursuing publication. Visit Finding Bliss for free tips, tools and more.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraHoward78
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LauraHoward78
Blog: http://www.laurahoward78.blogspot.com/

Initial Email From Laura

Hi Ash,

I was just looking at my blog views and was thinking about a post you'd written a while back about how many hits you should get each week.

If I remember correctly you said you should be trying for 5,000 per week. I'm only getting about 500 per week. How on earth can I pump up the hits??

SOS!!

Laura Howard 
My Response

Hey, Laura! How are you? )

Blog hits...a complex yet manageable hill to climb. You want to focus on number of hits and on the number of unique visitors. It's not an exact science; it's more of a "feel your way" proposition. To better understand where you are now, the following information would be important for me to know [see dialogue below].

It's a building process, and one that requires a serious investment of time. But more on that when I see your stats...so send them to me!!

Ashley
Our Email Dialogue
 
Laura: First let me say I began actively blogging in April of this year, if that matters.
Ashley: OK, that's good.


Ashley: How many blog posts do you have (total) in 2012?
Laura: 46
Ashley: So you are averaging about twelve posts per month? Good. Really good.


Ashley: How many of those posts are for August?
Laura: 5
Ashley: Considering it's only the 8th, that's really good.

 
Ashley: What types of posts are they? (audio interview, excerpts, written interviews, etc.)
Laura: I've gotten into a rhythm of posting a Marketing post on Mon, video on Wed, and Writing post on Fri
Ashley: I think the audio interviews are a nice idea, but they take a really long time to listen to and people aren't always going to dedicate the time. You mentioned to me that you have editing software. I think you should edit down the interview into clips that correspond with the "What we talked about" section you've posted.

For example, suppose I'm interested in why an author doesn't like Smashwords, but I don't want to have to listen to the entire interview just to hear that part. If you have the clips available, I can go right to the part I'm interested in.

More work on your part, but better results will happen. Also, you can then tweet out a link to a super short clip and say:

"@__________ tells us in 2 mins what's wrong with @Smashwords. Do you feel differently? (__insert link__) #books #selfpub #sales #blog"

Next, you need to create an index of these clips by topic, not author. If someone is searching for info on book covers, or marketing techniques, or setting up scrivener, make it easy for them to access the information. You will have a well-stocked index of topics in a very short time. Also, this lets you get a double return on investing the time in making the clips.

Plus, as a third ROI, you can send a clip to the author to put on his or her blog along with a link to the full interview on yours. The key is to have layers of marketing in place.

There are more things you can do with the audio interviews, but this is what came to mind right off the bat.


Ashley: How many tweets do you send out each hour/day/week/month? (Can be approximate.)
Laura: I normally tweet once an hour
Ashley: Totally not enough, not when you're building a presence. I have a spreadsheet filled with a thousand (or more?) different tweets. Each time I create a post, I make a bunch of tweets for that same post. I try not to send out the exact same tweet more than once every other week. The one exception is the first two or three days after I put up a new post. I tweet the link much more heavily right at the beginning.

Right now, I'm on hiatus from tweeting...too crazy busy on other fronts. But I will be turning my attention back to tweeting soon enough, and will be tweeting at least twice an hour. I tweet new links heavily the first day or two the post is up. I tweet links to older posts (I have several hundred written by now) throughout the day.

Something I wrote or posted this past May, or in December of last year, may be relevant right now for someone who is totally new to selfpub today. The very first blog post I ever read about selfpub was an oldie by J.A. Konrath. He hadn't actually tweeted the link, but some super helpful person in my (at that point) 18-member Twitter community did. Thank goodness! Otherwise, I don't know how long it would have taken me to find him.


Ashley: Which tweet aider are you using? (E.g., I use Hootsuite.)
Laura: Hootsuite
Ashley: Me, too. It has limitations (like only 200 tweets loaded in advance...ugh), but I think it is the most user-friendly of all I have so far tried.

Ashley: When you tweet, do you use quotes from the article/interview/original blog post?
Laura: Sometimes I do quotes, others the post title
Ashley: I don't recommend doing titles unless you are explaining what the post name is about. For example, here is a tweet using the post name, and it has had tens of thousands of hits:

'Reality Bites' - a blog post about constructive criticism http://ow.ly/aGfd6 #selfpub #indiepub #author #editor #agent #books #novel #truth

I checked out your most recent guest post, the one about POD, and would suggest tweeting something like this:

Thinking about POD? Read about @_________'s experience (insert link) #authors #selfpub #books #stores #sales @BNBuzz #print

Use quotes from your post and load up those hashtags!
 

Ashley: How many hashtags do you include?
Laura: Normally 2
Ashley: Not nearly enough! Chose your hashtags carefully, and load them up right after the quote and link. They are invitations, and are the primary path for connecting with potential new followers and new blog readers. Don't be shy! Hashtags are the single most important advantage of Twitter, imho.
 

Ashley: Do you cross market on your other social media?
Laura: Yes, I post each new blog on Facebook and Gmail, normally only once a day.    My twitter feed automatically shows up on FB.
Ashley: That's good. The goal is keep them reasonably fresh while you focus mainly on your Twitter and your blog.
 

Ashley: How many followers do you have on Twitter, Facebook, G+?
Laura: Twitter =2,010  Facebook fan page= 109 Facebook norm page= 1,000 G= 90
Ashley: Set a goal of growing your Twitter by 500 - 1,000 new follow/ers each month. Hashtags will help this process. By the time you launch your book, you want that Twitter community to be as big as you can make it.


Ashley: How many followers do you actively add (meaning, you follow them) each week?
Laura: It's erratic, I don't have a set amount. I normally look on Amazon top selfpubs and link with authors I hear about.
Ashley: Be more aggressive. Focus on the genre of your upcoming book as a starting point. Set weekly goals, and reach those goals. It is the center point of everything you are working to achieve.


Ashley: One final note: I think you should consider changing your blog template. Maybe it's just me, but I find this one hard to read. The articles are not clearly delineated, and the yellow color isn't very enticing. This is your personal bookstore, the one place where you get to control everything readers see. The information is the most important part—keep access to it clean and clear. And put the links for the guest posters and people you interview right at the top of the article. Make it easy for the readers to click to their social media and book links.
Laura: I'm not going to change the appearance right now, because I'd like to switch it to word press soon, and I will put a snazzy getup in place. I need to budget these things, tho.


—————————


The “How To” Blogging Series:
Part 1 – Blogging: The Series
Part 2 – Blogging: Getting Started
Part 3 – Blogging: Content
Part 4 – Blogging: Twitter & The Hashtag
Part 5 – Blogging: Community
Part 6 – Blogging: Scheduling Tweets


Ideas? Questions? Comments? Links? Please share!





Realtors And The Self-Published Author


Realtors are some of the best networkers I’ve ever encountered. I’d like to point out that I come from D.C., the land of politicians, where if it isn’t about money, it’s about relationships. Realtors are still tops.

Come to think of it, political candidates would do well to have their ground games in the hands of realtors. They understand messaging, sales, budgets, financing, teamwork, schedules, and organization.

What’s more, realtors are in a heavily competitive industry that has a presence in every single community across this country. (I’m guessing the world, too, but I have no personal knowledge one way or the other.)

Realtors are efficiently creative and are often willing to take a calculated risk in the name of sales and marketing. Sounds like self-publishing, doesn’t it?

Perhaps, in light of all these parallels, it’s time for realtors and self-published authors to unite!

What am I talking about? Let me explain.

Suppose a realtor recruits a local self-published author to write a short story featuring the house he or she is trying to sell. The story would be of the happy ending variety, naturally, and would be somewhere between five and twenty pages. 

The completed story gets uploaded in PDF form as “additional material” in the MLS listing. It would have a cool book cover on it, one that features the house and comes courtesy of a local graphic artist or photographer willing to trade for the free publicity.

It would also have a bio and links for the author, and any advertisers in or contributors to the short story. The story gets published online, too, and copies of the e-book are free for a pre-determined amount of time.

Post cards could be printed to look like a book cover on the front, and to have links for the house listing and the short story on back. They could be handed out at open houses, events, stores, and other local gathering places. They could also be mailed to the realtor’s list, and blogged about with the link tweeted by both the cover artist and self-published author.

If a realtor has a sizable budget for marketing a house, he or she could even print out the short story in booklet form, or make into a coffee table book—autographed by the author—for the person who ultimately purchases the house. 

It could be fun to sell "ad space" inside the story in the form of a “featured role” in the plot. For example, maybe everyone thinks the house is haunted, but the plumber solves the mystery. Or perhaps the landscaping team, honest and hardworking, comes across buried treasure in the yard and turns it over to the family.

Maybe the story is written in an urban fantasy style, or young adult, or as an historical romance. Who knows? The possibilities for genre and story construction are nearly endless. That’s all part of the fun.

The key is to remember it is a marketing device intended to help sell books and houses. And maybe plumbing or landscaping services, too.

Think of it as guest posting in a medium other than blogs.

The first realtor or self-published author to offer a short story marketing piece for a house may be able to get a little local media coverage out of it—so don’t forget the press releases.

Frankly, the idea could be an interesting business opportunity for a writer who chooses to take his or her one story, tweak the plot depending on the features of a specific house, and make it available to, say, one realtor per county in all fifty states.

That’s potential for a lot of eyeballs on your pages, authors.

As writers, we draw inspiration from many different places. As self-published authors, we’ll benefit from reaching beyond our lovingly constructed Twitter communities, and carefully tended blogs, to seek networking opportunities that will open doors to readers who might not find us through social media.

As the primary (sole?) marketers of our novels, we are well served by looking for creative marketing opportunities that provide a layered return on investment.

For example, do you think the vendor who buys “ad space” in the plotline will market that story? You bet. How about the realtor selling the house? Yep.

How about the readers who find out about you through that fun short story, enjoy the style of your prose, and come looking for your other works. Think they’ll buy a novel from you?

The odds are in your favor.

Creative types don’t live in a vacuum. More than likely, you’re surrounded by similar energies that have simply taken different forms. Good. Harness that other energy, covert it into marketing momentum, and from there, into book sales.

Take risks—shared risks. Look around you. What are the jobs, hobbies, and interests of your family and friends? Most of the people who love us writers, who have watched us embark on this beautifully complex, and sometimes painful journey of self-publishing, want to be supportive in more ways than only reading what we write.

Help them to do just that. Have a brainstorming party. Meet for tea, or wine, or a walk around the neighborhood. If people are shy about putting their big ideas out there then have everyone write something on a piece of paper and drop it in a bowl. Draw the ideas one by one, have a good laugh over the nutty ones, sort out the keepers, and schedule a second meeting for a week or two later.

Ask each other unexpected questions. Give bold answers. When it comes to marketing ideas, there is the finest of lines between absurd and ingenious. And that's the goal of all this brainstorming fun—to come up with a marketing idea custom-tailored to you, to develop it into a plan, and to pursue it.

Have you tried an unusual marketing technique? How did it go? Would you do it again? Have you blogged about how you came up with the idea, and how you put it into action? Please share your links below!




How To Make A Memory


We’ve all experienced it. That moment a song unexpectedly comes on the radio, or over a store’s speakers, and we are swiftly pulled back into a memory so strong we feel like travelers to the future when we snap back to the present.

It has happened to me, many times in many places. I figure it’s the same for every person who has ever loved. I figure there is a song, perhaps more than one, playing in the background as we each live our daily lives.

Though I’ve been putting pen to paper since childhood, I began writing stories and novels in earnest about three years ago. When I started, I had no concept of how important a role music would play in my journey from writer to author.

Each day, as I sit at my computer, my fingers firm on the keys, a song begins to play. It’s not on the radio, or in my iTunes. The song is in my mind, the creative part, and is a memory of the future as seen and told through the eyes of my characters.

It is a strange sensation, an odd way to live, really, to be wedded to memories and people and music that aren’t the result of one’s own experience.

Such is a writer’s life, a writer’s passion.

Music accompanies every word I type, every chapter I set on the pages, and every character that emerges from that secret place in my mind where the seeds of stories are born. If you listen carefully, if you read between the lines, you can hear them playing in the background of all my stories.

Writing fiction is a strange combination of a past that isn’t mine, and of relationships with people I’ve never met—and never will meet. Not in person. Not at a party, or a concert, or the neighborhood park. Yet they intertwine themselves, these unmeetable people, wrap themselves in the lyrics and notes of a song, and they become reality.

My reality.

And if I’m doing my job properly, the readers’ reality, too.

There is always a song, a defining blend of lyrics and notes, of memories borrowed or invented, that accompanies each one of the characters in The Priyas, my romantic thriller series, and in the Love + Family collection of short stories. 

The notes of love, the language, words, that reach into us can chain us, or set us free. They can open a window for a new love, or seal the door to the past for an old love.

Music, far and away beyond words, beyond diplomacy, subtitles, even photographs or handshakes, is the center point of the slice of universe we share here on earth.

As a writer, the sounds of sweet summer, of restless fall and bleak winter, never seem to be remembered when the notes of spring begin to play in my mind.

It is these songs I crave to hear—lyrics and melodies that power the eternal flame of hope, of a new day, a new future—when I write. These are the sounds I listen for when a new character comes to greet me, or when I find the seeds of a new story taking root in my mind.

A song tells us what happened. A novel tells us why.

They go together. No, they belong together, music and books. They are indivisible, two parts of the same whole. As the story comes alive for us, whether sung or written, it begins to blend with our own ideas, hopes, fears, joys and experiences. It can sweep us up, capture our minds, and reach into that place where we hold onto our yesterdays.
 
And together—songwriter, singer, author, and reader—we make a memory.





Author Interview: Jason Scott Gleason


The interview series with members of my Twitter community continues with author Jason Scott Gleason. Enjoy!



Author Jason Scott Gleason

Bio: Jason Scott Gleason is a resident of Elkridge, Maryland, where he lives with his fiancé, her son, their cat, her bird, his snake, the other’s two lizards, and a couple of fish claimed by nobody. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and raised in the small town of Mandeville. While not busy holding down a day job, he enjoys spending his free time writing, and can be found at the Maryland Renaissance Festival while it is in season. He is an avid dilettante in the field of martial arts and holds the distinction of holding white belts in no less than seven different styles. He can be reached at jasonscottgleason@gmail.com. Erosan’s Tears is his first book.

Blog: endlessiterations.blogspot.net
Email: jasonscottgleason@gmail.com
Twitter ID: @JSGleason

Ashley Barron: Welcome, Jason! Thanks for being here today. What is your genre? Why did you choose it?

Jason Scott Gleason: First of all, thank you for having me! And congratulations on publishing Ava, which I really enjoyed!

My first novel, Erosan’s Tears, is adult fantasy/mystery—it has themes and subject matter not for the YA reader. I’ve been reading fantasy all my life, and I’m a big fan of traditional fantasy (Tolkein, George RR Martin) as well as a lot of “contemporary fantasy” (Laurell K Hamilton’s my secret indulgence). What I love most about fantasy is that it gives me an opportunity to address touchy subjects, such as racism, oppression of women, and religious and cultural conflict in a manner that doesn’t trigger people’s ingrained blinders. It provides a framework for allegory that other genres can’t match, since it necessitates a certain suspension of disbelief.

In various stages of development are a number of other books, including a humorous book about an accountant who has a wish granted by a god, a YA sci-fi with dragons, a YA thriller about a boy who finds out he’s a science project, a horror set in New Orleans, an epic fantasy trilogy that caps off my fantasy world, and my current project, Thelorin’s Bones, which picks up where Erosan’s Tears leaves off.

Although they are across the map in genres, they all have themes of the identity of conflict and grappling with religious issues, both of which fascinate me.

Ashley Barron: I see you published your first novel a little over four months ago. What was your path, in length and challenges, to reach the magical marker of a first novel?

Jason Scott Gleason: It took me the better part of two years to write Erosan’s Tears, and another six months of tinkering before I felt like it was ready to share with anyone but beta readers. The hardest part was editing. I joined the Online Writers Workshop, which was a great help, and where I found the person primarily responsible for editing the book, Gene Spears. I also got a lot of help from my fiancé, MaryJane, who told me that my female characters sucked and needed to be given more depth before the book had a shot at appealing to female readers. The thing that was the most difficult to overcome was the lack of guidance in all the steps involved. This book was really a product of the wilderness of the unpublished author, and in feeling my way around those unnavigated waters I discovered a lot about what to do and how to do it, which has helped immeasurably in writing Thelorin’s Bones.

Ashley Barron: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Jason Scott Gleason: I’m a plotter, no doubt about it. I have been building the details of my world for a long time, and I have the grand story arc of Raelyn’s life plotted out, from birth to death. His story—which is what this book series is ultimately about—is part of the history of a world that currently spans about two millennia. Each book in this series has its own plot (like the Sherlock Holmes or James Bond series), and I currently have the plots for the next three drawn out in broad strokes.

After I have the book’s story arc in mind, I usually start with a bunch of visual images and scenes that I think would be really cool. These are the things that stick in readers’ minds, so I try to work with them; but they aren’t my babies, so I’m careful not to “force” a scene for the sake of the story. With those scenes in mind, I start plotting the book out chapter by chapter. Once I have every chapter plotted, I start writing.

Once the writing starts, the characters take over my subconscious. Sometimes they don’t do what I thought they’d do, and I have to revise my outline. From that point on, the characters write the book for me, often taking me in surprising directions.

There is one caveat to this, however. Since I write mysteries, I don’t want to accidentally give too much away, especially the identity of the main antagonist. To avoid this, I rely on the advice of the late George Alec Effinger: I don’t know who the bad guy is going to be when I start writing. I set up three or four potential antagonists in my outline. As I write, I make sure that each one could still be a suspect, and as I close in on the final chapters, I decide who would be the best antagonist for the story arc and the super arc. By keeping things surprising for me, I figure it increases the probability that the reader will be surprised.

Ashley Barron: Marketing is often a challenging area for self-published authors, and e-retailers are finding ways to stimulate interest in undiscovered books. One of these ways is Amazon’s KDP Select, a program in which you participate. How has the experience been for you? Is it something you would repeat? Recommend?

Jason Scott Gleason: Marketing’s tough for me, which is something I hear from indie authors all the time. I went with KDP Select because I had to keep it simple at the beginning, and I could download the Kindle app to my phone and computer, which meant just about anyone could get a copy. As for the efficacy, I’m on the fence about it. On one hand, it did exactly what I wanted it to; it gave me a platform to get it out there. On the other hand, I don’t know that it’s done anything to “market” my book. I’m planning on sticking with it in the future, until I get to the point where it’s hindering me from branching out into other platforms. The KDP Select program has an exclusivity clause in it, so while I think it served my needs quite well, I think authors should follow the advice, “caveat emptor.”

Ashley Barron: Tell us a little bit about the main characters from your novel. And if the movie version of ‘Erosan’s Tears’ was being cast right this very minute, who would you choose to play the lead roles?

Jason Scott Gleason: Interesting question! The main protagonist is Raelyn, a war veteran and former detective with an opportunity for redemption. His childhood patron and longtime friend, Lord Perinor, has him investigate a murder. Along the way, he is helped by Astal, a foreign merchant who he has known since their childhood, and Callais, the woman who he has loved his entire life. There are a bunch of other characters who have prominent roles, but this is a mystery and I don’t want to give anything away. If I was to cast the movie right now, I’d probably like Russell Crowe as Raelyn, Liam Neeson as Lord Perinor, Orlando Bloom as Astal, and Scarlett Johansen as Callais.

Ashley Barron: How much time do you invest in social media? How do you measure the return?

Jason Scott Gleason: Social media is a social experiment for me at this point. I work long hours in my day job and try to save some time for home life, writing, and doing things I find inspiring. I’m bad about systematically focusing on Facebook or Twitter, and I’m horribly behind on replying to people who have been gracious enough to post on my blog. That having been said, I do make an effort at all of it. I’d put it at between five and ten horribly inefficient hours per week. As far as how I measure the return—I try not to. More important to me at this point is that I’ve been meeting a lot of really good authors, and I’m making new friends. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s true.

Ashley Barron: What tips or advice would you offer to writers who are about to join the self-published community?

Jason Scott Gleason: The first thing I’d say is to write. There’s no substitute for time spent pounding away at it. Write without criticizing as you go, so that you can actually get the words out instead of hemming and hawing at everything you put down. Then, find an editor. Find someone whose work you admire and who is willing to take a look at what you wrote (I found mine on Online Writer’s Workshop). If most of what they say resonates, follow their advice damn near blindly, with the attitude that they are helping to play midwife to your baby rather than critiquing it into oblivion. They’ll see things you won’t, and will be able to tell you what worked and what didn’t. Once it’s been edited for continuity/content, hire someone to edit it for real. A fresh set of eyes who isn’t family or friend, who’s being paid to find grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, is a necessity in this field! Then find a professional artist (or a semi-pro artist) whose work you like and offer to pay them in magic beans, because you’ll have already spent all your money on an editor. Finally, once you put it out there, tell everyone you know and shout from the rooftops of the twitterverse that you’ve published a book—and then promptly forget about it. It takes years for authors to be recognized, and one-book authors disappear overnight. The more time you spend anguishing over why you only sold three copies this week, the less time you’ll spend writing the NEXT one. And nothing sells more copies than a body of work.

In the meantime, read. Read the kind of books you NEVER read, but that come recommended. The more you read outside of your genre, the more well rounded your own writing will be.

Ashley Barron: You posted an interesting article on your blog, Endless Iterations, in which you proposed forming a unique publishing company. How did you come up with the idea? What has been the response from fellow writers and authors?

Jason Scott Gleason: I was drunk.

Just kidding. I had given a lot of thought to my personal journey with Erosan’s Tears (naturally), and I wondered what independent authors could do to elevate their craft. People publish independently either because they don’t want to give up control or profits, or because they can’t break into a market guarded by indiscriminately blind gatekeepers. But those gatekeepers do provide valuable support for authors, in the way of services like art, editing, and marketing, as well as the value of a “brand name”; services that are expensive for people trying to go at it alone. I started kicking around ideas with my illustrator, Gary Anderson, and after a while we came up with a non-profit collective where everyone is an investor in each others’ work, and they are rewarded for the investment of their time and effort. And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed perfectly sensible. It’s what the indie community is doing already—editing and illustrating each others’ work for practically free—but this creates a platform to which you can go, rather than just wandering around aimlessly in the wilderness. I’ve only just started explaining the model to people, but I’ve gotten some pretty positive feedback from authors as well as artists.

Ashley Barron: What is the best comment/compliment you have received about your work?

Jason Scott Gleason: The best compliment I’ve gotten so far is one that I’ve gotten from a number of people, which is, “When is book two going to come out?” Aside from that, I’ve had a lot of people who I don’t know say that they don’t read fantasy, but they really liked Erosan’s Tears, primarily because they found the characters believable. That in particular means a lot to me, since I primarily wanted to avoid archetypes that lacked dimension, which is one of the classic pitfalls of writing fantasy.

Ashley Barron: Wedding bells are ringing for you in the near future. Congratulations! Weddings are very romantic, and romance is contagious. Would you ever consider writing a love story? Do you think there’s a market for happily ever after novels, man-style?

Jason Scott Gleason: Thank you! I’m getting married in a little over a week, and I’m super excited about it! My fiancé, MaryJane, has been my biggest supporter, and I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have finished Erosan’s Tears.

As for love stories, I certainly would consider writing one, and I think men can do a great job with them. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a great example of a male author who has a gift for love stories. My current series has a bit of romance in it, but most human dramas aren’t complete without that element. Aside from that, my fiancé and I are already planning on writing a story together after Thelorin’s Bones is completed, and it’s the story of a woman torn between two men.

Ashley Barron: That will be a fun one—can't wait to read it! Thank you, Jason, for sharing your publishing experiences with us. We wish you continued success—and a very happy honeymoon—and hope you’ll come back and share updates with us in the future!

Jason Scott Gleason: Thank you for having me! I wish you the best of luck with Ava, and I’ll certainly be stopping by when I get back from my honeymoon!


Erosan's Tears is available on Amazon





When Priorities Change


My novel, AVA, was already in its fourth draft when I opened my social media accounts one year ago. As a result, I’ve had the luxury of channeling my time into building an online life, one filled with the kind of people who make it easy to forget about the clock.

Now, I’m gearing up to write BONNER, the next novel in the Priya series. And what I’m finding, as I stare at my long lists, is that those days of luxury are over. A big chunk of the time I invested in social media is now the sole property of BONNER.

When I realized this, around the end of June, I became concerned about losing ground. If I took my focus off of social media and blog building, what would happen?

Ironically, I’m prepared for the writing of BONNER in way that I never was for AVA. Still, we’re talking about two months of wearing my writer hat for the majority of my working hours.

How do I keep things steadily moving forward, keep on building—or, at least, not lose any ground—while I turn my focus to the second novel? Trying to determine the right answer to that question was stressful, and I felt the pressure building as I tried to solve a problem I wasn’t fully addressing.

It was also the first moment I genuinely felt the loss of not having an agent, someone who has traveled this road countless times, and would offer sound thinking derived from the mother of all teachers, experience.

The result?

For two weeks now, I’ve been off social media. It wasn’t intentional, not in the beginning. I suspect everyone knows that Washington, D.C., lost its electrical power for a good long stretch. While I was lucky to have a place to escape to, the unexpected shift in my carefully balanced schedule knocked me off course.

Thank goodness.

I don’t think I could have stepped away, not for this length of time, and not so completely, if the break hadn’t been forced on me. I needed the distance to gain perspective and learn lessons.

For all those writers out there gearing up to publish a first novel, here are some thoughts on planning for the weeks immediately following your launch.

First, write extra blog posts in advance. Even if you are a steady blogger, one who is pretty darn good with time management, you need to be prepared for the number of days, weeks even, you will spend thanking all of the family, friends, colleagues, and community members who will send their congratulations and lucky wishes your way.  That surge in incoming communications will eat right through your usual time blocks for prepping blog posts.

If you have to choose between updating your blog, and responding to tweets, posts, emails, DM, and comments, make it the latter.

Priority number one, most especially for self-published or indie authors, is responding to the people who take the time and thoughtfulness to reach out to us. On that note, my primary worry about being away from my very active social media accounts for so long was that I might unintentionally offend someone who had reached out to me but received no answer in return.

In the end, I decided it was best to see this restructuring period through to its natural conclusion.

I don’t foresee another opportunity to take a break of this magnitude for at least another twelve months. Even as I sit down to write BONNER, my thoughts are increasingly being pulled to CARYS, the third novel in the Priya series.

I didn’t expect that, either.

Fortunately, the outline for BONNER is layered and detailed. Perhaps, that is the reason my brain feels comfortable wandering over in CARYS’ direction.

Or, maybe, that’s simply the way it is when a first book, and all the emotional power that writing it commands, becomes a marker in your rearview mirror. I’d love to learn what authors on their third or fourth novels have to say about the subconscious urgency of planned, but unwritten novels.

As usual, I digress.

Second, those first few weeks are unbearably long. Minutes really can stretch into hours when a writer, now author, is constantly checking his or her social media and sales numbers. I was all over my social media, but left my sales numbers alone in the beginning.

For a first-time self-published author, early sales numbers aren’t a viable indication of the long-term prospects of a novel. This is a hard one to wrap the brain around, I know, but it is the truth. We wear all hats, and we must adjust our time and energy, and rotate the priority of each hat, to ensure that we create a balanced environment for the growth of our books, present and future.

This December, when BONNER launches, I will have blog posts prepped and loaded for the weeks after the debut. I will also have dinners and events scheduled, if only to force myself to step away from my computer. I didn’t do that with AVA. I thought I needed to sit there, roosting, in essence, and protect my newly hatched chick as she made her way into the world.

But I didn’t. And neither will you.

Trust in your creation—and know it’s only your first step on long, dynamic, challenging, rewarding path. If mistakes emerge, own them, fix them, and move on.

Third, it has long been said that timing is everything in life. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been examining my own data from the past year, looking for patterns. By my non-scientific observations, I’ve concluded it is most effective to publish new material every three to four months.

Any less than three months, and readers may still be working their way through your last novel or short story, which may be queued up in their TBR list. Any more than four months, and you may miss the natural cycle of when a readers returns to your e-retailer page, blog, or website, looking for new material.

My plan is to alternate between publishing novels and publishing short stories every three months. Anthologies will also factor in, but are not in the same category. Fortunately, I have more than a dozen of the LOVE + FAMILY short stories to alternate with future Priya novels.

And who knows what’s presently brewing, silent and unnoticed, in my creative mind.

Another purpose of this careful examination of my online world was to find better ways to help share news of the new achievements, huge milestones, and small joys of my fellow writers and authors.

I believe it is accurate to say that a lot of people have worked tirelessly to establish this unique place, one built on respect, acknowledgement, and gratitude. Contributing, adding value to this community is always foremost on my mind.

New elements and features for communicating are coming soon to my blog, and they are all tied into my website to make them easier to track. I hope they will add to the spirit and enjoyment of this, our community. Stay tuned…and if you’re in the midst of this crazy weather this summer keeps bringing, stay cool!



A Path With A View


It is now five weeks since the ‘birth’ of AVA, and my world is upside down. The actions I’ve taken over the last year, the foundations I’ve patiently, diligently set are but a fraction of what is needed going forward.

I had warning; I knew I was publishing AVA, and that doing so would require a few alterations. What I didn’t expect was just how much the structure of my writing life—processes, focus, communications, goals, daily patterns—would change overnight.

I spent more than a year prepping for the launch of AVA. During that time, I learned about social media, started a blog, invested daily time in growing that blog, re-wrote chapters of AVA, read everything I could find on publishing, studied the business models of successful authors, and opened accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest, G+ and more.

Why, then, have I spent these past five weeks feeling as though I am adrift, disconnected from the guiding forces—one creative, one business—that live in my brain?

The recent power outage in Washington, D.C., afforded me plenty of thinking time to explore the question, and the conclusion I’ve come to is a simple one, really.

By publishing AVA, I have started the whole process over.

The beautiful, interesting, fun road I spent the last year building has forked. I’m officially one step into a new journey, a new collection of uncharted ground, dreams, practical goals, and hard work. Yes, change has come to this author’s life, swiftly, unexpected in its measure.

And I love it.

A new day rises, and it is shining a light filled with opportunity on the path of this first-time author—opportunity to connect with and learn from readers of AVA, to write the second book in the Priya series, and, loveliest of all, to gain knowledge from the experience of making right choices, and wrong ones, too.

The only way to learn is by doing, and these next few months are all about turning momentum into action. Some of the new steps will be creative, some business, but all will be in the realm of publishing, self or otherwise. 

Around the end of summer, BONNER will be finished and ready for publication in December, and AVA will be coming out in paperback. Those aren’t surprises, for they’ve been carefully planned. But I have a feeling that the unplanned opportunities now taking shape on the horizon are worth each and every ounce of hard work, focus, determination, sacrifice, and risk it has taken to earn a place on this new path, the one with a view.

Beautiful.



The Edward Gordon Interview - 10 Questions





A new interview on Edward Gordon's blog!

Edward Gordon: How often do you leverage twitter and other social media platforms to promote your work?

Ashley Barron: I’m on social media every single day. I think of my Twitter account and my blog as my PR team. They reach out into the world on my behalf. Communicating, networking, learning, growing—they do it all.

As Shark Tank member Daymond John says: “When it comes to sales, it’s all about the distribution channels.” For a self-published author, those distribution channels are primarily located in the realm of social media.

I’ve come to understand what that means to a self-publish author. I need to be prepared to invest far more in marketing my book than I ever did in writing it—and I’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and creative thought in my novels.

Read the full interview here.





Author Interview: Carolyn Brown


The author interview series continues with New York Times and USA Today bestselling romance author, Carolyn Brown. Win an autographed copy of Carolyn Brown's novel, One Hot Cowboy Wedding. See details below. Enjoy!



Author Carolyn Brown

Bio: New York Times and USA Today bestselling romance author and RITA® Finalist, Carolyn Brown, has published more than sixty books. Brown's books have been translated into eleven foreign languages and fourteen have been reprinted in large print format. Her books have been reviewed in Library Journal, Booklist, Romantic Times, Romance Reviews Today, Publisher's Weekly, Cataromance, USA Today and Romance Reader At Heart. Two of her romances have been published as Japanese Manga books.

She and her husband have three grown children, enough grandchildren to keep them young and two tom cats that rule the back yard.

Website: carolynlbrown.com/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/carolyn.brown
Author's Page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Carolyn-Brown/198727816879253
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/book/show/12872083-one-hot-cowboy-wedding
Books Trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yVU4dP39aU
 
Q: Welcome, Carolyn! Thanks for being here today. What is your genre? Why did you choose it?

Carolyn Brown: Thank you for inviting me to stop by and visit a while. Romance has been my genre for many years: historical, contemporary and cowboys. I’m not sure if I chose it or if it chose me. Touching people’s emotions is what romance is all about. If a reader has experienced laughter, tears or a mixture of both they’ll close the book with a sigh and wish it could have gone on another hundred pages. And that’s what brings them back to read another book in the future.



Q: The reach of your books is exceptional. You have novels everywhere from Barnes & Noble stores, to Doubleday Book Club, to Amazon, to Walmart. What was it like for you back at the beginning of your career? How did you start? How did you grow?

Carolyn Brown: My career started off in Walmart. They had an exclusive deal with Kensington to produce Precious Gems and my books found their way into that imprint. I’d tried for years to get into the market and suddenly I’d sold two books. That line died and I went on to Avalon but I wanted to write bigger books so I queried Deb Werksman and wound up at Sourcebooks writing about hot cowboys and sassy heroines. Amazon Publishing recently bought Avalon so my last two books with Avalon will be published by Amazon in the near future.

Q: Your first women’s fiction novel arrives in March 2013. What inspired you to open your writing to a new genre?

Carolyn Brown: I’ve always wanted to try my hand at women’s fiction and my agent, Erin Niumata, kept encouraging me to give it a try. Ms. Werksman and the folks at Sourcebooks took my dream and helped me turn it into a reality that I hope sells well enough that I can write more about Cadillac, Texas in the future. The book received its title this past week….The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee. It’s a romp of Texas humor from start to finish!



Q: I like that you have a “What’s happening today!” page on your website. (Don’t be surprised if you see a similar page appear on my website soon.) The style is a nice combination of blogging and Facebook posts. Have you considered a formal blog?

Carolyn Brown: Right now I’m gearing back to four books a year. I had been producing six or seven which kept me too busy to produce a formal blog. That page on my website seems to work pretty well, especially when I back it up with Facebook announcements. Plus, every time a cowboy book hits the market, the awesome Danielle Jackson, publicist over at Sourcebooks, sets up blogs that keep me hopping for a month.

Q: You actively engage with your readers. It’s a commitment I both admire and respect in an author, especially one who is traditionally published. You’re on Facebook, you make a personal email address available to fans, and you update your website regularly. If this had been the norm, this social media facet of a writer’s life, when you first started, do you think it would have impacted the choices you made, the books wrote, and/or the opportunities available to you?

Carolyn Brown: Without readers, it wouldn’t take long for writers to be at the top of the endangered species list. So I appreciate every single one of them. If they read my books and brag about them to their neighbor over the backyard fence or buy my books and share them with their sister or even their brother (I’m not calling any names so all you male readers can breathe easy) that’s simply awesome. I try to answer every single fan letter that I get because my readers are very important to me. If we would have had this type of social media when I first started writing I would have licked a lot less stamps. And I wouldn’t have used up so much of my supply of patience waiting for replies. I’m not sure it would have made a difference in the books I have written but it sure would have multiplied my opportunities.



Q: You have written more than 63 novels. What starts a story for you? Do you use outlines, or writing software?

Carolyn Brown: Most anything can start a story. Lucky in Love started when I saw a couple arguing with a barbed wire fence between them. Immediately my mind went into overdrive and I wondered what they were fighting about, why she was pointing at him and by the time I got home I knew Milli and Beau personally and they were already telling me what happened. I use a very rough outline that changes with my mood, the weather, the amount of coffee I drink or chocolate in the house. Mostly I depend on my characters to tell me the story and I write it. And if I don’t get it just right, they aren’t not a bit too bashful to wake me up in the middle of the night and tell me what I did wrong. Pesky little critters, they are.

Q: Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?

Carolyn Brown: No. I have tunnelopticalomitis. Simply said, it is a severe form of tunnel vision in which I can’t see anything but the light at the end of the tunnel when I’m writing. Dust bunnies can grow to the size of elephants under my bed. I can live on take out, doughnuts and coffee. And the only thing I hear is the voices inside my head during that time.

Q: How do you know when a book is done? How long does it normally take you? Do you have a set writing schedule?

Carolyn Brown: It’s finished when the aforementioned voices in my head stop talking and when the word limit is fairly close to what it should be which, thank goodness, most usually happens at the same time. When I’m afflicted by tunnelopticalomitis, I write between three and five thousand words a day which means the rough draft for a 90,000 word book is going to take me from four to six weeks. Then there is the polishing, editing and second guessing that goes on for a few days after that before I toss it across cyberspace toward the Sourcebooks offices. I really, really like to get a thousand words in before breakfast. It sets the mode for the day and gets my brain into working gear.

Q: Which of your novels would you like to be the first one made into a movie? If it was up to you, who would you would pick to star in it?

Carolyn Brown: The upcoming women’s fiction, The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee. Shirley MacLaine would play Aunt Agnes; Trixie would be played by Ashley Judd; Katherine Heigl would be perfect for a double role as Marty and Cathy. And if Michael Weatherly would gain a few pounds, I can see him as Jack.

Q: When you are at a formal event in public, for example, a book signing or convention, do people surprise you with their reactions to your work?

Carolyn Brown: Oh, yes! Recently at a writer’s panel in a library in Texas, this sweet little lady wanted to talk for hours about every character in my cowboy books. She remembered details that I’d forgotten and places that I’d only mentioned in passing in the book. It was amazing!

Q: Back to the 63+ novels. Would it be inappropriate for me to suggest that you have a very patient husband, one who admires his wife’s talent and success?

Carolyn Brown: Darlin’, that is an understatement! Husband and I’ve been married for more than forty years. When we got married his wife produced three meals a day, complete with fancy desserts. She tailor made his three piece suits and his house was always clean. Nowadays, he’s learned to eat take out without even rolling his eyes. He wears clothing right off the rack and dust bunnies tell him bedtime stories while I finish one more scene. All that and he has a bookshelf in the living room with his copy of every one of my books displayed on it.

Q: After fourteen years of seeing your published works on the shelves, it was your fiftieth novel that reached the New York Times and USA Today best sellers lists. Is there any advice or encouragement you’d like to share with new authors who may be struggling with the doubts and challenges that so often seem to accompany the life and times of an undiscovered writer?

Carolyn Brown: I’ve got enough rejection slips to paper the whole Pentagon, bathrooms and broom closets included. My advice is WRITE; don’t WHINE! When you get a rejection slip, you get fifteen minutes to wallow around in the whining pool and then you have to file it away, forget about it and go back to the pen, the computer or the typewriter and write another scene. If you don’t write, you ain’t going to sell. Plain and simple as that! I was so amazed that I’d made the lists that I was speechless and darlin’, that’s a BIG thing for me. But the same week I made those lists a fan wrote to me and said that she never read a complete book until she picked up one of my cowboy books and now she was hooked on reading. That was also amazing, believe me!

Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your publishing experiences with us. We wish you continued success, and hope you'll come back and share updates with us in the future!

It’s been fun to prop up my feet and visit here today. Keep your jeans on and your boots polished because there are more cowboys on the way. And if there are any movie folks out there looking for something to make them giggle, then it’s on the way in March, folks!

———-

CONTEST!



Win an autographed copy of Carolyn Brown's novel, One Hot Cowboy Wedding! I haven't figured out how the winner will be decided, not yet (this is the first contest on my blog), but I'm thinking it will involve a hat—maybe even one of the cowboy variety.

To enter, please leave a comment for Carolyn below. Please be certain to include your Twitter ID, Facebook page, website, blog, or other way I may reach you if you are the winner of the novel. Drawing will be held on or about July 10, 2012.

———-

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iBooks 
Sony
Rhapsody Book Club 
Doubleday Book Club 
BOM2 Book Club
Discover A New Love Book Club 






My ‘50 Shades’ Aren’t Grey…They’re Red


I don’t consider bondage to be romance.

Erotic? Of course. Sexy? For some. Appealing? Up to the individual.

As I set out to market my first novel, one that contains not a shred of erotica or BDSM in it, I wonder what impact ‘50 Shades of Grey’ is going to have on reader perceptions of what they’ll find in a romance novel.

I know many people who have devoured E.L. James’ novels, one after the other. Here is what one of my friends had to say about ‘50 Shades of Grey’:

I can't believe I have read this book...it must be morbid curiosity to see what all the hype was about, but in some weird way I am hooked and will have to see it through to the end...there are things in there I didn't need to know!

Most of the news articles I found labeled the novel (or series) as a part of the romance genre. Here is a sampling:



I only found a few articles that did not label the novel (or series) as romance. Here is a sampling:



I thought this column provided the most unexpected take on the novel:

"'Fifty Shades of Grey,' along with its companions 'Fifty Shades Darker' and 'Fifty Shades Freed,' is porn all right. But underneath the titillating allure of E.L. James’s books is another, more elusive female fantasy."

All this makes me wonder if I should shift my category over to commercial fiction.

It occurs to me that if erotic fiction really is going to be relabeled as romance, traditional romance had better find a new home.

What will happen when readers start combing the traditional romance shelves looking for bondage and explicit sex only to find love stories, the type where the changing positions are emotional not sexual?

Will they turn away, disappointed, when they don’t find the trademark ‘50 Shades’ kink imprinted on most of the novels on the romance shelves?

Or will a fair percentage of the romance novelists, those with name recognition and a solid number of “traditional” books under their belts, suddenly take a hard turn (pardon the expression) into erotica or BDSM?  

Perhaps the answer comes down to the definition of one word: romance. To me, a romance novel focuses on the emotional interplay between the two people, on the development of their relationship, their hopes and fears about life, and their slow, sweet path to happily ever after.

As far as I can tell, and speaking as one, most readers cover a lot of genre territory over the course of a year. This isn’t a question about what should be available; rather, it’s about how to manage reader expectations when two genres appear poised to meld into one.

I am a woman who writes about love. Erotica and BDSM are not now, nor will they ever be, in my wheelhouse of desire. Why? My ‘50 Shades’ aren’t grey…they’re red. There is no ambiguity for me about love, only in the challenge of finding and holding it long enough to let the roots grow.

No accessories required.





Industry Interview: BookBuzzr and fReado CEO Vikram Narayan


The interview series with members of my Twitter community continues with Vikram Narayan, the founder and CEO of BookBuzzr and fReado. Enjoy!



Vikram Narayan, Founder and CEO of BookBuzzr and fReado

Bio: Vikram Narayan is the founder of BookBuzzr Book Marketing Technologies. (Twitter – @bookbuzzrCEO ) Vikram is a graduate from Carnegie Mellon University. Prior to starting BookBuzzr, Vikram founded another software company that has been successfully serving clients from all over the world since 2001. When he is not dreaming up ways to help authors accelerate their earnings and book sales, Vikram spends his time playing the guitar, practicing Aikido and spending time with his family.

What is Freado?
A: Freado.com helps readers discover new books while winning prizes . Think of Freado as a fun carnival for readers where you play some games, have loads of fun and win a few prizes ... And by the way, it is completely free for readers. Authors pay us to have their books show up on the site and in the games. It is a form of advertising for them. Till date over 1931 prizes have been won by readers.
 
Please tell us about your Summer Romance Festival. How long does it run? Which authors are involved?
A: The Summer Romance Festival is an online celebration of sizzling romance books for your enjoyment this summer.  The festival starts on June 25th and ends on July 31st.  We have over 130 authors participating in the festival with over 200 books and gift prizes to be given away. Some of our participating authors include Rachel Caine, Eloisa James, Susane Colasanti, Barbara O'Neal, Donna Alward, Beth Kery, Faraaz Kazi, Charlotte Stein, Rachael Wade and many more...

Please tell us more about your sister site, BookBuzzr, an online book marketing technology suite. When was it created?
A: BookBuzzr is the world's leading provider of book marketing technologies for authors with over 8000 registered authors. If you are an author, BookBuzzr will help you automate some of your marketing activities and get readers to discover your book in unique ways. Some of the popular features of a BookBuzzr subscription include creating quick quizzes on topics that interest your readers, sending out automatic scheduled tweets on your Twitter account, building up your Facebook fan base and running promotions on Freado. BookBuzzr was created about 3 years ago.

How did the idea come about?
I am a software entrepreneur, and was chatting with author Chetan Dhruve when the talk turned to the challenges that authors face when it comes to marketing and promoting their books online. This translated into the first version of the BookBuzzr widget - a small tool that shows your book in a flip book format with information about your book (such as where to buy, reader reviews, about the author etc.) bundled in. One thing led to another and before we knew it, we had begun helping hundreds and eventually thousands of authors with our technologies.

How long did it take to develop the site?
Both Freado.com and BookBuzzr.com have gone through numerous iterations. The first versions were up and running in a few months.

Will you be adding new features in the future?

Absolutely! For authors, we've got a new version of the Facebook fan page widget coming out in a few weeks. For readers, we're streamlining Freado a lot more and making it easier to claim prizes. We're also introducing tools to make book discovery a whole lot easier and fun.

What other festivals do you have in the works for 2012?

We have many more festivals that we're working on. For sure, you can see some fun stuff happening in the fall.

What are two key advantages for authors who partner with BookBuzzr?
Advertising of their book on Freado.com and engaging with fans on Facebook.






Interview With SK7 Book Club


The interview series with members of my Twitter community continues with Tessa Doughty, the founder of SK7 Book Club. Enjoy!





SK7 Book Club Founder Tessa Doughty



How did your book club come about?

I love reading and always thought about the idea of joining a book club but never quite managed it. Eventually I set about looking for one but they are quite popular things round my way, you either had to join a waiting list or they are just too full!

One group I asked to join, (because obviously they would say yes to me when they say on their site no new members?!?) - The answer was 'sorry no new members I wish people who asked would set up their own.' So I did!!

I made a few friends join in case it didn't take off and I wouldn't be sat on my own discussing the book with the wall. And then I set off advertising my club and recruiting new members. Our first book was one that had been staring at me from the book shelve for months!

What is the management structure?

Just me, but as I love a good spreadsheet and organising everyone's life so this suits me fine!

Where do you meet? How often?

We meet once a month on a Tuesday, at a member’s house. Whoevers book choice it is, is also in charge of providing food!

What social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc) does the book club have, and how are they used?

I have a twitter account (SK7bookclub)
Facebook (SK7 BOOK CLU
and a blog (sk7bookclub.tumblr.com/) well I attempt a blog

I use Twitter for promoting the book club. This is where most of our members have originated from.

Facebook is used once people show an interest. I have a group on there and it keeps 'members' up to date.
 
My blog is just a bit of fun for me, I review the book!

I posted a few adverts on gumtree at first but we are now a healthy size book club. 

How does it work with new members? Do you have a greeting committee?

I usually get an email address and let people know they are more than welcome to come along and meet us even if haven't read the book.

We are very informal, not the type of group who sit in a circle and answer the questions you get when sitting A level English! It was decided in our first meeting that we would just chat about our own thoughts not use questions advised for book clubs.

There is usually a few members who haven't managed to read the book but they get laughed at rather than thrown out!

Who chooses the books, and how far in advance are they chosen?

A different member chooses a book each month. They announce it at the meeting so people go away and read for the next meeting. I have advised people when it is their turn in advance so they have time to think about what book they want to offer up.

How much managerial work is involved?


A few emails to make sure I know who is coming, and try to encourage people to read the books (sometimes this is not possible).

I plan out who chooses a book, and I make sure whoever is sorting out foods knows numbers.

I update Facebook, Twitter and the blog between meetings.

Do you have any advice or tips for people thinking of starting up their own book club?

Decide what kind of book club you want to be (formal or informal), when I was researching book clubs some had strict rules, I.E if don't read the book two times in a row you will be asked to leave.

My club is very much informal and my members know they won’t be shouted at if hadn't read book!

Communication is the key so members know when and where to meet. I try to email half way through the month so I may remind people need to read book. And I update the Facebook page with the same information.

I think being organised is important too so people know what they are doing and where they are going.

Decide on number in book club, we have about 9 members, but obviously everyone being free every meeting is unlikely, so numbers average about 6 per meeting. This seems to be enough. I think quieter members of the group would get drowned out if there was many more people.

Variety is key to good book club: different members, ages, book choices. I think using Twitter has meant I have a younger book club. 

Make sure you are open to peoples books, give them a chance don't dismiss the book because you wouldn't have chosen it!

Have you ever had something romantic happen for one of your members during book club? You know, like the scene in Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise busts in on a meeting and says "You complete me!" to Renee Zellweger?

Ha Ha erm no, - wouldn't that be nice .............

Personally, Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman carrying me out of book club would be my preference!

Has your club picked any books yet by self-published or indie-published authors?


No to be honest I didn't know much about this kind of author until my book club Twitter, and a few have introduced themselves. They were interesting blogs/interviews I have been given.

You know I have to ask it: Has your book club read "50 Shades of Grey?" If yes, was there any controversy amongst members when it was chosen as a reading selection?


No it hasn't been a choice but a member didn't read book club book because she was reading that!!!

Does your club allow authors to "sponsor" a book club meeting by providing their own novels or e-books to your members?

I think we would consider it.

That is good news for self-published authors. Thanks for being here today, Tessa!

To get in touch with SK7 Book Club:

Twitter

Tessa's Blog






The Carl Purdon Interview - 10 Questions





A new interview on Carl Purdon's blog!
 
Carl Purdon: Let's switch gears. In addition to being an author, you are a prolific blogger with a strong Twitter presence. You've achieved success in a very short time. How much was the past year planned and how much of it caught you off guard?

Ashley Barron: While I have plenty of business experience, I didn’t know anything about social media a year ago. Last spring, I heavily researched the internet to try and discern how important things like blogging and Twitter were to writers planning on self-publishing novels.

Guess what? They are both critically important.

I started my blog on June 19, 2011. A month later, I joined Twitter. It was love at first tweet. The concept of Twitter is remarkable, and it is stunningly effective as a business tool. For a self-published author, the two competing priorities become writing time and...

Read the full interview here.






Cross-Marketing With Musicians



There is more than one type of indie out here (working hard on) living the dream.

As creators of novels, and as marketers, managers, and bloggers-in-chief for those novels, we self-published authors understand the steep realities an artist faces when pursuing an audience. We know many doors are open to us, and many more are being built in our wing of the “House of Artists.”

It’s time to walk down a different hallway, and look for new and interesting ways to connect with other artists, in this case, musicians, who are traveling a path similar to our own. There would be some legal-type conversations to be had on the ideas presented below, but the first thing is to decide if they have merit. So…

Is it reasonable to assert that buyers of self-published or indie-published books might also be inclined to sample indie music? I think it is, and that it works both ways.

As the old saying goes, use what you’ve got. Here are some thoughts on how to combine efforts with bands and musicians who are also working hard to create art and find an audience.

Let’s work together to cross-market our novels and their songs.

Idea 1: Blog Posts

Create an “Indie Band Week” on the blogs of self-published and indie-published authors, who would host interviews (plus music clips and links) with indie bands and musicians. The following month, in return, those same bands and musicians would feature “Indie Book Week” on their blogs and websites, and host an interview (and excerpts and links) with that author.

There would be organizational work involved, pairing up the bands and the authors. I think a quick questionnaire might be the ticket. Keep the factors consistent for all involved, and let participants make as many of the decisions as possible. 

For example, if a band is heavy metal, it might not be the best fit for the blog of an author of children’s books. But who’s to say? That’s the point of having each artist identify the type of music genre or book genre with which they feel their work is the best fit.

Same goes for the author hosting the band or musician on his or her blog.

Patience would be required by all. A first run at this idea would reveal all of those little details that can come loose and stop an idea before it starts. If it works, hey, we’ve all got new opportunities on a monthly basis.

Not to mention, new eyes on our books and new ears on their music.

Idea 2: Book Trailers


I can’t say exactly how many of the hundreds of book trailers I’ve watched have nearly identical soundtracks, but the percentage is high. There is too much good music being created out there, and book trailers could be a fantastic way of introducing an indie band or musician to your readers, and your book to their listeners.

Suppose an indie band or musician makes a thirty-second clip of their original music available to an author to use for a book trailer. The musician retains the rights, naturally, but gets promoted to the readers, and gets a plug and a link inside the author’s novel. The author gets a cool and original sound to help promote his or her novel, and the book trailer would be hosted on the blog or website of the musician.

If the book takes off, the band benefits from the exposure. If the song takes off, the book benefits from the exposure.

Idea 3: Let’s Make Music Together

There is no reason we have to leave all the fun to the big dogs. Plus, we make e-books. Why not tap into all the features we can incorporate into our marketing plans?

How about a contest for original song for a self-published or indie-published novel that has sold a strong number of books? Don’t Kindles play music? What about Nooks? Sony? Kobo? iPads?

Here’s how it could work. Interested bands or musicians would send a sample of their song to the author. After listening to them all, the author would then select three to twelve options, depending on the total number of submissions received.

Then, let the fans vote. Put the options up on the author’s blog or Facebook account, and let the book lovers and song lovers decide. The winning song becomes “the song” for that book. Fire up the press releases and have some social media fun. Plus, depending on the rights the band assigns to the author, the song could become a “free with purchase” bonus for everyone who buys the novel.

The songs that get the highest votes could even be put together and released as an album, a soundtrack to the novel. It’s cover art could be tied into the book's cover, and could even include bonus tracks, say, an interview with the author or an audio excerpt from the book.

In a way, self-published and indie-published authors could become the KDP Select for bands and musicians working to gain an audience.

Idea 4: Let’s Write Songs Together

I’ve read some beautiful prose in self-published and indie-published novels. Suppose a songwriter wants to draw inspiration from a particular novel? Maybe even incorporate a few lines, verbatim, from that novel.

An author supplies free books to interested songwriters. Those artists build a song with a combination of their own lyrics, and the “prose with potential” they find in that novel.

Once the song is written, any band or musician can record it and submit their arrangement to, you guessed it, the voters. For what happens next, see above.

Idea 5: About Those Love Songs

Since I write about love, I’m thinking about how a song written for a popular romance book, one with tens of thousands of downloads in a year, could become a favorite choice at weddings and other celebrations of love.

Is there a place to go with these ideas? Would authors be interested in joining forces with musicians? Which one would be the best place to start? What are other ideas for combining the marketing efforts of authors and musicians? What genre is your book? What music genre would fit your style best?





The Author As Zombie


The day before 'Ava' was released, I finally left my writing cave (a bright, sunny room, actually) and carefully sneaked back into the world.

I needed tea, desperately needed tea, but didn’t want anyone to knock me out of my mental “place.” I gambled on Starbuck’s, hoping the coast would be clear of anyone who knew me by name. I don’t remember ordering or paying. I do remember focusing on that last piece, that one small but critical gap in Ava’s story that I hadn’t yet been able to fill. 

And what happened? You guessed it. I ran into someone I know. It was disastrously awkward. I couldn’t recognize her, couldn’t speak, until my brain had been wrenched back to reality. At that point, she was driving away, confused and annoyed.

This is a small town, a place filled with outgoing personalities and lots of events, and the odds are essentially 100% that I will know one or more of the people around me at any given time, in any given place.

Normally, that’s cool. I like being a small town girl.

But when I am in my most prolific and emotionally intense writing state, I look like a zombie. It’s not that I don’t hear you—it’s that I can’t hear you. It not that I don’t see you—it’s that I can’t see you.

I am completely locked away in that precious place in my mind, that personal Eden where words are stored like legos. I wade through them, my brain in a state of absolute pleasure, both passionate and feverish, as I put the words together and then rip them back apart.

It’s hard work to achieve that state of mind. The hardest. Life offers every interruption imaginable. And, if it doesn’t, the neighbors do. Like the one across the street who started sawing things about an hour ago and hasn’t yet stopped.

It occurs to me, as thoughts of tea once again infiltrate my mental “place,” the one with all the legos in it, that I need to learn how to make a chai latte in my own kitchen. It's that, or a boyfriend who doesn’t mind doing the Starbuck’s run for his writer girlfriend, a woman who, occasionally, plays the part of a zombie, author style.

Giving up tea is simply not an option.





A Self-Publisher's Dilemma



I suppose it is a little unusual to be posting parts of an email I received from Amazon KDP.

But I know I’m not alone in the challenges I’m facing with launching a self-publishing career and feel it is important to document all these bumps along the way, as there may be fellow self-published authors who are now facing these same issues.

In fairness, I suppose it is important to point out that a whole host of challenges like the two I’m about to discuss pop up on a daily basis and cause Amazon some growing pains, too. At least, since the day their KDP tunneled a hole through the tried and true methods of traditional publishing.

The first item I contacted Amazon about regarded a pricing situation with my short story, ‘Famous.’ It is free on Smashwords and Barnes & Noble, but remains at ninety-nine cents on Amazon.

‘Famous’ is the story of a daughter visiting her father, suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, in a nursing home. I wrote a post about the origins of this story, and Tim Dittmer wrote a beautiful review of ‘Famous’ on his blog.

I loaded ‘Famous’ into Smashwords in April of this year. Since I already had experience with putting ‘The Birthday,’ another free short story, onto the e-shelves, I knew to wait a few weeks for Amazon to lower the price to zero.

When a month had passed, and the price had not been altered, I realized there may be a problem. I think I know what the problem is, and I created it by adding these words to the product summary the day I posted ‘Famous’: “Please wait for the price of this story to be adjusted to free before downloading.”

Oops. I think my good intentions angered the powers that be at Amazon. Here is the response they sent me when I asked to have the price adjusted to zero:

“Thank you for your information on pricing. From time to time, we may match free promotions on other sales channels, but we retain discretion over our retail prices."

Right. What I find particularly distressing about their response is that the “free” option is not being equally applied. You don’t have to be for me, Amazon, but please don’t be against me. I’m not against you. The ability to provide readers, buyers, with a free sample of my work is critically important, specifically because I am an unknown author.

As I explain in a recent blog post, I’m not yet in a position to benefit from KDP Select.

While I’m certain Amazon has its reasons for retaining the right to selectively apply the benefit of “free,” the fact is they don’t need a reason. They are the business owner, and they make the rules. Just because ‘Famous’ is my loss leader doesn’t mean they want to miss out on a potential revenue stream.

My guess is, eventually, they will charge authors a fee for posting “free” stories. Amazon will want to earn direct income from a story, no matter that it’s free to readers, because they are a business. That’s what businesses do. Amazon has operating costs to pay, not to mention that fact that they are fighting some pretty important court battles right now—battles that, if lost, will deeply affect self-published authors.

I suspect the reason for not always lowering the price to zero may also have to do with a goal of increasing the number of books in their KDP Select marketing program, which is really all about recruiting new members of Amazon Prime.

I do love they way they think, those innovative people over at Amazon. Their team looks at all the pieces, all the threads, and rarely, if ever, seems to leave a loose end or loophole. I’m from Washington. I like loopholes, if only for the sport of finding them.

But I digress.

The second item I contacted Amazon about involved mistakes in my first novel, ‘Ava.’

Yes, it crushes me to write that sentence.

The first copy of ‘Ava’ to hit the e-shelves had typos in it. They were the result of changes I made during the final read-through, an intense time during which I ended up rewriting about a quarter of the novel in a matter of weeks. I pressed the send button when I should have waited for those new parts to be properly vetted.

Once I was made aware of the typos, explained here, I made the corrections and loaded up a new copy of my novel. The challenge was, I had already sold books and didn’t know how to get the corrected version into the hands of those readers.

I contacted Amazon. Here is the answer I received:

"Also, I see you wanted us to provide the updated content to customers who purchased your book. In order to accurately describe the new updates, we need you to provide some more information.

Please reply and provide us with details and specific examples of the corrections made for this version of your book. The more details that you provide, the better we will be able to accurately categorize and message your update for end customers. Once we receive these details, we will perform a review of your book and take appropriate action within two weeks. The possible results of our review are listed below.

1. If the changes made to your content are considered critical, we’ll send an email to all customers who own the book to notify them of the update and improvements made. These customers be able to choose to opt in to receive the update through the Manage Your Kindle page on Amazon.com.

2. If the changes made to your content are considered minor, we won’t be able to notify all customers by email, but we will activate their ability to update the content through the Manage Your Kindle page on Amazon.com.

3. If the changes made to your content have caused unexpected critical issues with the book content, we’ll temporarily remove your book from sale. We’ll notify you of the issues found so you can fix them. Once the improvements are made, just let us know and we’ll then email customers as in case 1.

Once our review is complete, we’ll email you to share the results and action taken.

Thanks for using Amazon KDP."

The good news is that this can be done. Readers can be notified and given the option of downloading a corrected version. The bad news is it’s not automatically done when that new version is uploaded.

In a conversation I had with a person at Amazon, I was told that they are working on a solution to this exact problem. Apparently, if the information I received is correct, the big challenge with automatically pushing through an updated copy is how to retain bookmarks and notes a reader added to the old version.

I understand that challenge. Frankly, the fact that Amazon is actively working to find a solution is commendable. Why? Because the problem is entirely mine. I made the error. I leaped over those last few steps on my path, and I had to go back and walk each one individually, the way I should have done the first time around.

But “should have’s” don’t count, and learning curves are powerful things.

Even those seemingly little choices we make along the journey to self-publishing, like adding the words “wait until it’s free,” can add a long stretch of unanticipated bumps to this sacred path we travel as we transform from writer to author.



To KDP Select Or Not To KDP Select


It’s time to decide.

I have paid attention to KDP Select since its launch at the beginning of this year. Over the past six months, I’ve posted my own initial questions about the monetary structure of KDP Select in a blog post, and listened to and shared the experiences of fellow writers I admire and trust, including Collette Scott.

Hundreds and hundreds of the e-books that I downloaded when they were temporarily free are now sitting on my Kindle, waiting to be read. As a reader, it is exciting to scroll through the list of possibilities and know I could find a book to suit any mood, any craving.

When I’ve paid for a novel, though, it tends to jump to the top section of my TBR list. That’s my reality. Maybe it’s yours, too.

I do have a short story, ‘The Birthday,’ currently free on Amazon. I would also have ‘Famous,’ but Amazon has informed me they will not make it free despite its free availability on Barnes & Noble.

Yes, there is a post coming on that subject.

Two weeks have passed since the day I self-published my romantic thriller, ‘Ava,’ on Amazon Kindle. I chose to begin with Amazon because they are the biggest fish in the self-publishing pool. I will be adding ‘Ava’ to Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, etc, in e-book form. Soon enough, the paperback version will be here, too.

One of the restrictions of KDP Select is that a novel must not be on any other e-book retailer’s site when it goes free on Kindle. I would not undo the hard work I’ve put into getting my novel on the e-shelves of other e-book retailers. That’s a fact.

But ‘Ava’ isn’t on any other shelves. Which is why I’m standing at the proverbial fork in the road.

Once I put ‘Ava’ up on the other e-shelves, I have no plans to take her back down. A sale is a sale, whether at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Smashwords. There are avid readers at all locations, and I am working to connect with those that enjoy my genre.

Still, as I said, ‘Ava’ isn’t anywhere but Amazon right now. If I’m going to give KDP Select a try, this is the time. I’ve researched articles and blog posts, digested opinions, and thought it over, long and hard. My decision comes down to one thing.

I have no backlist.

I have determined there is no strategic advantage to giving away my one and only novel, when, no matter how inspired, a reader cannot go and buy another novel from me. There won’t be another until December of this year, when ‘Bonner,’ the next book in the Priya series, hits the shelves.

And isn’t that supposed to be the whole point of using a marketing tool like KDP Select? To give readers the first novel in a series to try and hook them with the story so they’ll buy the rest in the series?

Plus, Nook is now to be managed and expanded by Microsoft. This new partnership has the potential to skyrocket Barnes & Noble’s Nook sales. Perhaps, Microsoft will introduce a marketing program similar to Amazon’s KDP Select.

Suppose this program has the exact same terms as KDP Select, but it pays double the royalty an author receives from Amazon. Would you do it? Would you take all of your e-books off other retailer sites? What would happen to all those comments and reviews of your novels?

Despite being a multibillion dollar corporation, Amazon thinks like a start-up. They are open to new and fresh ideas, and they don’t get bogged down with fighting battles that aren’t theirs to begin with. And they are smart about using innovative tools to build author loyalty.

Theirs is a competitive advantage that, so far, no one else in the marketplace has been able to match.

But, for me, those advantages don’t change my present decision. With one novel on the e-shelf, I’m simply not yet a good candidate for their marketing programs.

I’ve planned twenty-six books for my Priya series, and each one is named after a different character. If, before the invention of KDP Select, I had already published ‘Ava,’ ‘Bonner,’ ‘Carys,’ ‘Devon,’ ‘Eden,’ and ‘Fallon,’ and the book I uploaded this past May 28th was ‘Gemma,’ it might be a different story.

In that case, a reader would have many purchase options in my Priya series, and I would know that making my novel free could be an effective method of attracting new readers. I say “could” because a lot can happen between an author’s first and seventh novels.

I won’t know until I get there. And when I do get there, I’ll let you know what I find.

To be continued…in 2014.




The Waiting Game






Waiting for the first feedback on a debut novel is nothing short of torturous. I'm ten days in, and I have received exactly one comment thus far. I'm flat out thrilled to have that feedback on the story, the plot, and the characters.

At some point, the reader will be posting it on Amazon. Until then, and since it's the first, the very first reader review, I am posting it here on my blog.


Ashley! I just finished Ava about 15 minutes ago. I was NOT able to put her down since I downloaded to my Mac yesterday (thanks for the tip on how to do that). Thankfully, it was a nice rainy day at the beach, so I just sat on the porch all day reading Ava.

I absolutely loved it!

I've been following a lot of your blog posts over the past year or so (and had no idea we both shared such a love of reading and writing). It was really great—It took my mind away to a much better place than it has been this past month. And, I miss the characters already.

How long do I have to wait until the next installment? You nailed the perfect combination of love, romance, suspense, and of course, I love that it was set in D.C.—our hometown! Congrats! Let me know how I can help spread the word. I'm new to e-publishing. xo. Thank you for your gift to readers everywhere!


Can you feel my heart fluttering with joy?

'Ava' is currently available as an e-book on Kindle.

'Ava' is coming soon to Nook, iTunes, and Smashwords. Paperback copies of 'Ava' will be available mid-summer.

The 'Love + Family' collection of short stories is available on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and iTunes. Two of the stories, 'The Birthday' and 'Famous' are free.

The second novel in the Priya series, 'Bonner,' arrives on shelves in December 2012

See all the book covers in the Priya series.





Industry Interview: Entrepreneur Merry Miller


The interview series with members of my Twitter community continues with musician and entrepreneur Merry Miller. Enjoy!



Musician and entrepreneur Merry Miller


Q: Welcome, Merry! For those readers who are meeting you today for the first time, would you please take us through your evolution as a businesswoman, musician, and entrepreneur?

Merry Miller: Absolutely and thank you for contacting me! I always enjoy reading your work.

I never desired to be an entrepreneur but I always had a passion for creating things, a vision for how I wanted them built and the freedom to pursue many things from music to business to TV to writing. I was classically trained and started playing the harp professionally at age 12 then interned at a prominent music agency in the mail room starting at 16 and worked my way up to an agent while attending college at night and on the weekends.

I moved to New York City after college and became a National Media Buyer for Hasbro and Coca Cola, yet continued playing the harp on the side. I loved learning the importance of quality TV programming but wanted to create it, not buy it, so I took a leave of absence and played the harp on a cruise ship to see the world and save up money.

When I returned to NYC, I became a music agent and manager again, which led to a job with Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp when it launched, then helping build the Learning Annex and Creating and Producing Joel Siegel’s series…all the while buying domain names, writing children’s TV shows and books, playing the harp professionally, and the rest is history… or rather, history being made… 

I decided to record my first solo album titled “Dream Baby” and launch BabyMusicToGo three years ago when my music calmed my friends’ children. I have now recorded sixteen albums in the last three years, which are available online, iTunes, in retail stores and Amazon. Then this past fall I was one of the highest selling artists ever on QVC selling over 8000 CDs in less than ten minutes which put my name on the map as a recording artist. 

As for TV, I introduced many of our celebrities and major speakers in front of thousands at the Learning Annex but also went on air many times promoting it so I was somewhat comfortable in front of the camera. But when I started my own companies, I had to do media to promote them, which got me really comfortable on air – to the point of hosting “The View” and now being on Fox regularly.



Q: While you were EVP of Programming at The Learning Annex, it soared from three million in annual revenues to 100 million. That is a tremendous (unprecedented?) level of growth. How did this come about? What marketing choices had the greatest impact on the bottom line?

Merry Miller: I LOVE learning and the ability to get someone to teach anything, I mean ANYTHING, was exciting beyond belief so I booked 300 classes my first month and quickly got us to 1600 classes per month.

I focused, begged and worked extremely hard to get the highest profiles, leaders and celebrities to teach in order to elevate the brand, which, in turn, made it easier to book the biggest names. We also started selling “back of the room” products which made a tremendous impact on our revenue.

Lastly, when I got Joel Siegel, who was at that time the #1 movie critic in America from Good Morning America, to host a series, then it enabled me to book the biggest names in Hollywood. I taped our interviews and eventually got ABC to air them and that’s how I created his show and series. 

Q: In addition to running your businesses, you are a Governor of the Recording Academy. Would you tell us more about this honor?


Merry Miller: Yes and it is one of the biggest honors of my life, not just as a musician, but for what the Academy stands for and how they help and enable artists outside of the (obvious) Grammy Awards.

I learned I was nominated for Governor two years ago but never thought I would get elected. I’ll never forget getting the call, and it has been a wonderful experience and I have made life long friends with many of the people I serve alongside. I just got re elected last month and look forward to two more great years.

Q: Where can we find your music?

Merry Miller: www.HarpMusicToGo.com, www.BabyMusicToGo.com, iTunes, Amazon , and hundreds of boutiques and major Christian retail stores.

Q: In the music industry, how have social media sites and online music stores like iTunes changed the options available for independent musicians with traditional record labels?

Merry Miller: They’re wonderful! No longer does an artist have to spend thousands of dollars manufacturing CDs because they can upload them for $9.99 to iTunes via Tunecore.com and start selling immediately.

As for Facebook, it’s a Godsend to be able to build your fan base and connect with them for free (well, time is money but still…). In the old days, only artists signed with major labels could get retail distribution but that’s no longer the case thanks to online stores and many retail distributors taking independent artists.

In many ways, it’s the best time to be an artist because of the freedom these avenues provide!

Q: Do you write your own music?

Merry Miller: Yes, and I also write all my own arrangements. “Tranquility” is originals, and I wrote many of the songs on “Serenity.”

I’m not naturally a writer but sometimes I have to get a melody or emotion out, and that’s when I write my best songs. Arranging comes very easily, and I love rearranging and playing with a song to see what it can become.

Q: What is it like traveling through airports with a harp? How big is it? How much does it weigh?

Merry Miller: I WISH I could take it through airports! Unfortunately, I do my US traveling via an SUV or cargo van, but can ship it when I have to play internationally. It’s a hassle and costs around $1500 when it’s in its large case.

Also, most of the time I travel with my harp, hundreds of CDs, a sound system, signage and a tent when I’m playing festivals so it would cost a fortune to ship all that. My concert grand harp weighs around 120 lbs but is moved with a dolly – in fact, not sure if I appreciate the harp or the dolly more haha! 

Q: Have you ever produced songs or albums for other artists?

Merry Miller: I have helped many artists and have my certification in Audio Engineering so I could produce them but haven’t YET. But it’s something I’m definitely open to and would welcome the chance.

Q: Do you tweet?

Merry Miller: Not enough…. I’m @MerryLeaMiller. I do Facebook both personally Merry Miller and through my fanpage Merry Miller

Q: Do you blog?

Merry Miller: Not yet but am starting one shortly.

Q: Do you own an e-reader?

Merry Miller: Not yet. I still love the feel of a newspaper or magazine and to “rip” out stories and things I desire. You don’t want to sit next to me on an airplane, salon or waiting room!

Q: How do you know when the time is right to start-up or spin-off a new business?

Merry Miller: You never know but a good guess is when you see a need that no one has filled, people start asking you for your product, you’ve completed something that you truly love, or you have a dream and simply can’t live until you’ve given everything to make it happen.

You don’t have to forsake all your stability and quit your job to start working on making your dreams come true, but you do have to believe in yourself and have enough courage to risk succeeding or failing.

Yes, I said succeeding because many people are actually more scared that their wildest dreams WILL come true due to deep seated self-worth…

Q: Once you've decided to move ahead with a new business, what is your preparation process?

Merry Miller: First of all, I pray that it’s God’s plan and ask for his direction and help. Then I write down all the avenues I can sell and market it and ask people in that field for their advice and referrals then I get many quotes for the cost of creating it. Then I carefully weigh the cost against the potential income or impact (it’s rarely about money) and move forward with everything I have to make it happen.

I believe in myself, and therefore prefer to fund my own businesses, take out a loan or use my line of credit. It’s scarier, but allows for the most freedom and profit.

Q: How valuable are social media marketing tools versus face-to-face marketing?

Merry Miller: Honestly, nothing tops face to face marketing because I personally believe people need people and we live in a disconnected world. However, you need to reach people all over the world and social media provides that invaluable outlet.  

Q: What are some of the unique ways in which you have marketed one of your products?

Merry Miller: I partnered with The Cute Kid (owned by Parents magazine) and held a contest to find a child for my “Merry Kidsmas” CD cover. Over 20,000 parents entered their child and an adorable girl named Cailyn won, and then the website and magazine did a complete media campaign to promote the CD.

Q: There has been a lot of debate within the self-published community about whether or not to give away free copies of our novels. Have you ever given away free products? Would you do it again?

Merry Miller: Of course and still do it. However, I try to limit it to people who will truly promote my products. But I also have to make sure to recoup the cost of production as quickly as possible and always have inventory on hand for buying customers.

AKA don’t give away the farm as they say in the south!

Q: Public criticism of his or her work can be very difficult to adjust to for a newly self-published author - especially one who has spent the past several years sacrificing in his or her personal life to write that novel. Any thoughts on how to keep perspective when you work is coming under fire?

Merry Miller: Yes! First off, it’s natural to have your feeling hurt anytime you’re criticized – whether for your work or personally. But it’s important to remember that many of the people who criticize have never done what you’ve done so they’re not in a fair position to judge. And when they do judge, it’s from their own insecurity or more likely, jealously.

Secondly, at the end of the day who really cares as long as YOU LOVE what you created? Think of the endless amount of wonderful things that came about because someone believed in it when everyone else shot it down! Nothing great comes without its share of naysayers and critics, so please don’t take it personally!!!

Q: Audio books is an area of swiftly rising interest in the self-published community. As an artist with sixteen albums - and all that time in the studio - what advice would you share with authors who are looking at putting together the first recordings of their books?

Merry Miller: This is an area that I’m not very familiar with but definitely interested in learning about. My advice would be to treat it like music but it would be easier because it’s spoken word so you don’t need a fancy sound studio and mic so shop around for the lowest rate. I recommend Duplium or SWS to manufacture the CDs as they’re the best and cheapest I’ve found. Then I use ULine for my packing and shipping supplies.



Q: In an interview you talk about Donald Trump's business advice to you, and that he emphasized the importance of having "multiple streams of income." What has that meant for you?

Merry Miller: EVERYTHING!!! Everyone should have more than one income stream, whether it’s something you do on weekends or at night from home, a side business selling something, real estate, consulting, selling items on eBay but never count on one stream because that’s just dumb given the modern economy.

Q: Many self-published authors are surprised by the amount of marketing required to get their books moving on the charts. Are there any marketing strategies or brand-building ideas that you would recommend they try?

Merry Miller: Always carry cards promoting you and your product at all times and give them to everyone you meet.

Do as many online promotions and email blasts as possible offering discounts, keep your email blasts simple, partner with as many people, groups and companies as possible and ask your friends and family to help you. Lastly, sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which is a free email, and pitch everything that fits you or your product to get media.

And remember the ABC’s – Always Be Selling!

Q: What's coming up for you in 2012?

Merry Miller: Hopefully a nice beach!

I try and take it one day at a time but I’m playing many festivals, art shows, concerts and churches all summer and fall; recording a jazz album this fall; releasing my children’s book series “Chocolate Sneakers” and “The Adventures of Eddie Bull;” rebuilding and relaunching GetInterns.com and all the college sites that go with it; building and launching TeenChristianNetwork.com; working on the right production partner for my kid’s show “The Noteables”; finding products for QVC and will hopefully be back on in the fall or on Home Shopping Networking; continue being on Fox and as many TV and radio stations as possible; and lastly, I’m distributing and selling Tortilla chips that come in every school and holiday color…don’t ask but every tailgater needs them!  

Q: What haven't you yet done in your career that you would like to do?

Merry Miller: Win a Grammy! Develop and sell my kid’s show “The Noteables” and create the matching product line – that is my dream! I also cannot wait to sell one of my companies or websites for enough to buy a dream vacation property!

But mainly, I want to accomplish what God needs me to do!!! 

Q: Thank you for being with us today, Merry! We hope you'll come back and visit with us again later in the year.

Merry Miller: Anytime and please keep up the great work!






And So It Begins…Typo Edition


The final version of ‘Ava’ came in at 111,414 words.

I stared at those pages so many times you would think I could recite the novel by heart. Come to think of it, maybe I can.

I certainly can tell you everything about the story, the characters, the setting, the past and the future of the Priyas.

What I can’t tell you is the location of the typos.

I wanted ‘Ava’ to be perfect for all those kind readers brave enough to sample the work of this first-time author. I’m embarrassed at having missed the obvious mistakes, and I’m not entirely surprised at having missed one or two of the more complex examples.

A special thank you to reader Donna Fontenot for her gentle and private communication about finding six typos –  and she’s not yet finished reading ‘Ava.’ I value Donna’s truthful communication and thoughtful consideration when telling me what she had found.

How many words will be affected in the end? I hope the number is not enough to warrant another blog post about mistakes in my debut novel. If it is, I’ll post it. That’s what this blog is about, after all. It’s about this journey to tell the story of entering the world of self-publishing, complete with all the twist and turns.

And typos.

If you come across a mistake in ‘Ava’ and would like to share the location of it, I would greatly appreciate knowing where the corrections need to be made. You can tweet me, Facebook me, DM me – whatever is convenient for you. I have also created an official email address for mistakes readers may come across in the novel.

YouMissedOne@thepriyas.com

If you read ‘Ava’ and you come across a typo, I hope what will stay with you long after you turn the final page is the story and the flaws of the humans in it, not the flaws of the words.

And to those readers who have purchased ‘Ava,’ thank you for taking a chance on the book, and on me. Here’s to a typo-free sequel!


More Posts
And So It Begins
Reality Bites


 






Cool Stuff, June 3, 2012



Here are links to some of the articles I tweeted this week. All have some connection to publishing, writing, authors, e-books, etc.

Enjoy!

"Ridley Scott optioning an indie novel" http://ow.ly/bgdVQ @RidScott @hughhowey #indiepub #books #fiction #movies #film #author #scifi

"Twilight's Stephenie Meyer Sounds Off on Fifty Shades and Her Hunger Games Casting Choice!" from @eonline http://ow.ly/bged0 #books #film

"The Amazon Effect" from @thenation http://ow.ly/bgent #selfpub #indiepub #readers #writers #authors #books #novels #revenue #marketshare

"Interview: Hope Tarr of Lady Jane's Salon" from @USATODAY http://ow.ly/bgf82 @HopeTarr @ladyjanessalon #romance #books #authors #readers

Kindle and Tolstoy get punked by Nook from @baltimoresun http://ow.ly/bk089 @readstreet #kindle #nook #ebook #fiction #novel #classic

"Ebook revolution can kindle a passion for publishing" from @TelegraphBooks http://ow.ly/bjZWf #smart #literary #agent @EdVictor3 #books

"How My Self-Published Book 'Wool' Became A Hot Movie Property" from @HuffingtonPost http://ow.ly/bjT9q @hughhowey @RidScott #books #film

"Publishers Weekly Moves Into Self-Publishing" from @SFWAauthors http://ow.ly/bjT23 #fees #reviews #selfpub #author #books #fiction #genre

"Valuable Lessons From Self-Publishing Survey" from @Forbes http://ow.ly/bjSEA #selfpub #author #editor #books #amwriting #novel #fiction

"@Oprah Revives 'Oprah's Book Club;' Launches Online Monday, June 4" from @TVbytheNumbers http://ow.ly/bjxNS @CherylStrayed #books #author

"Getting a nibble in the literary world" from @startelegram http://ow.ly/biWux @juliathrillers #literary #agent #publishing #author #books

"Barry Eisler Interview: Amazon, eBooks, & the Writing Craft" from @DanBlank http://ow.ly/biVY3 @barryeisler #author #fiction #books

"How to self-publish an ebook" from @CNET http://ow.ly/biUtT @DavidCarnoy #selfpub #indiepub #author #Books #novel #valuable #advice #info

"The Real Skinny About Indie Publishing" from @TracyMarchini http://ow.ly/bhTo8 @NathanBransford #indiepub #authors #books #tips #advice

"Andie MacDowell to Star in Hallmark Channel's CEDAR COVE" from @broadwayworld http://ow.ly/bgdEO @AuthorPRLady @hallmarkchannel #book #tv

"Publishers really can reap rich rewards by snapping up ebook hits and bringing them out in print editions." @guardian http://ow.ly/bhSf6

Six Keys to Successful Networking for Entrepreneurs from @Forbes http://ow.ly/bhTPK #smallbiz #selfpub #indiepub #authors #marketing

A Case For Self-Publishing from @galleycat http://ow.ly/bhSxD @mediabistro #selfpub #authors #books #publishing #royalties #kindle #nook


Links to Ashley's 'How To' Blogging Series
Blogging: The Series
Blogging: Getting Started
Blogging: Content
Blogging: Twitter & The Hashtag
Blogging: Community
Blogging: Scheduling Tweets

Links to 'Ava,' a romantic thriller set in Washington, D.C.
Website
Amazon











Author Interview: Carmen DeSousa


The interview series with members of my Twitter community continues with author Carmen DeSousa. Enjoy!



Author Carmen DeSousa

Bio: Carmen DeSousa is a Florida native and currently lives in South West Florida. Her first published novel, "She Belongs to Me" achieved bestseller status in "paid" romantic-suspense right next to Nicholas Sparks and J.D. Robb.

Look for "Land of the Noonday Sun" spring of 2012, "Difficult Decisions" fall of 2012, and "Split Decisions" December 2012.

Her novels are sensual but not erotic, gripping but not graphic, and filled with romance, mystery, and suspense.

Author Website
Twitter
Amazon
Facebook
Goodreads


Q: Welcome, Carmen! Thanks for being here today. What is your genre? Why did you choose it?

Carmen DeSousa: Romantic-suspense and I guess the easiest explanation is because it is what I like to read.

Q: How many books, short stories, and other works have you published? Are they traditionally published or self/indie published?

Carmen DeSousa:  At the moment, I have two books published, and I fall right in the middle. I consider myself an Indie author because even though I did have several agents and publishers interested, I decided to go with a smaller independent publisher so I could get my manuscripts published faster than the traditional route, and I maintained more control over the finished novel.

  

Q: Your second novel, Land of the Noonday Sun, is a brand new release. You have chosen a smart way to cross-market both of your novels by offering a free copy of Land of the Noonday Sun to the first fifty readers who post a review of She Belongs to Me on Amazon. How did you come up with this idea? How is it working so far?

Carmen DeSousa: The idea just popped in my head, and it worked great. I picked up a few reviews I may not have received by readers who genuinely wanted to read my next novel. A win-win situation, I think.

Q: Have you published any of your work for free? Why or why not?

Carmen DeSousa: Honestly, I kept thinking I was going to write a short story while I was querying my first novel, but once I started writing, I ended up with four full-length novels.

Q: Do you have a motto or favorite quote you turn to on tough writing days?

Carmen DeSousa:  I have several favorite quotes I share with Twitter land because I think they inspire authors who are feeling as I felt when I was querying and feel as I do now that I’m published. I also have my own quote that I put at the end of my novel and tweet occasionally. Here are all three:

For querying authors who think it might be them: “The great American novel has not only already been written, it has already been rejected.” W. Somerset Maugham

For published writers who have no time to breathe: “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” ― Eugène Ionesco

And my “life is real” quote: “And they lived…Life isn’t always happily-ever-after, rather, loving forever, regardless.”— Carmen DeSousa

Q: Have you outsourced editing, cover design, formatting, web design, marketing, etc?

Carmen DeSousa:  Unfortunately, I do all my own editing and proofreading, which as an editor, I never recommend; it’s too hard for an author to see their own mistakes. My publisher does read the entire manuscript and make suggestions, but she leaves it to me to make all the changes. Again, one of the benefits of working with an independent publisher. She also does all the formatting, copyrighting, and uploading. I have two master designers, and yes, I’d love to give a shoutout to both, as I get tons of compliments on my covers. I simply described to both of these ladies what I wanted and it was as if they pulled the image from my head.

She Belongs to Me cover by Jan Marshall.
Land of the Noonday Sun by Viola Estrella:

Q: How long did it take for your first book to go from an idea to a published work?

Carmen DeSousa:  About twenty months.

Q: Tell us about your path to becoming an author. Did you have any idea at the start what the process really entails?

Carmen DeSousa:  Oh my word, no! I had no idea. I didn’t even get on Twitter until about fourteen months after I started writing. I had no idea you could self-publish. Never heard of Smashwords. All I remembered was back in the…er…um…eighties, when I was in college, how hard it would be to publish a book. So, I gave up and went in to sales. When I decided to start writing again in 2010, I thought, “Oh, this will be easy with modern technology.” Little did I know that there were hundreds of thousands of authors thinking the same thing.

Q: What tips or advice would you offer to writers who are about to join the self/indie published community?

Carmen DeSousa: Hire a good editor! The number one thing that sets out an Indie author from a traditional author is poor editing. And I’m not referring to a few minor errors. The readers who find a few errors and crucify the author over it are being petty. Every book I read has errors, even NYT Bestsellers. But overall poor editing including passive writing, head-hopping, and going back in forth between present and past tense is annoying and will cause me to close the book, no matter how much I like the story.

Q: Have you done a blog tour? If so, how did it go? Would you do another one?

Carmen DeSousa: No, but I would love to try one.

Q: Do you create an outline before beginning a new book?

Carmen DeSousa: I am the epitome of a pantser. An idea will come to me and I simply start typing. I have literally started the book in the middle and have gone back and filled in all the blanks. I only have a few questions when I start: Who are my protagonist? What or who is conspiring against them? And how will they resolve? But I don’t even map that out. I just will jot down notes in my iPhone as they come to me while I’m writing my novel. 

Q: Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?

Carmen DeSousa: I do! Actually, I have four finished, minus final editing, two halfway written, and twelve ideas in that iPhone of mine.

Q: What is the best comment/compliment you have received about your work?

Carmen DeSousa: I guess my favorite—because I’ve heard it from several readers—is that She Belongs to Me should be adapted to film. I’ve heard repeatedly that the characters were so unique and that the scenes played out like a movie that they could imagine seeing it on the screen. That warms my heart, because that would be amazingly cool.

Q: Let's flip things around for a moment. As a reader, what factors do you consider when deciding whether or not to purchase a book?

Carmen DeSousa: If it fits into my favorite genre, romantic-suspense, you just have to grab me with your hook and cover. When I have time to read, I’m pretty easy, and I’m faithful. If you sell me once, I will read everything you have before I move on to another author.

Thank you, Carmen, for sharing your publishing experiences with us. We wish you continued success, and hope you'll come back and share updates with us in the future!



Purchase Links for Carmen DeSousa


She Belongs to Me: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ iTunes (coming soon)
Land of the Noonday Sun: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ iTunes (coming soon)





Author Interview: E. Van Lowe


The interview series with members of my Twitter community continues with author E. Van Lowe. Enjoy!


Author E. Van Lowe

Bio: E. Van Lowe is an author, television writer, screen-writer, playwright and producer who has worked on such TV shows as "The Cosby Show," "Even Stevens," and "Homeboys In Outer Space." He has been nominated for both an Emmy and an Academy Award. His first YA Paranormal novel, "Never Slow Dance With A Zombie," was a selection of The Scholastic Book Club, and a nominee for an American Library Association Award.  His Best Selling novels, “Boyfriend From Hell” and “Earth Angel,” are the first two books in the Falling Angels Saga. 

He is also, horror novelist, Sal Conte, author of the 80s horror classics “Child’s Play” and “The Power.”  Sal’s latest, “The Toothache Man,” a short story published as an ebook, is available on Amazon.


E lives in Beverly Hills California with his spouse, a werewolf, several
zombies and a fairy godmother who grants him wishes from time-to-time.

Website: http://evanlowe.com/
Blog: http://vanlowe.blogspot.com/
Twitter ID: @evanlowe
Facebook: www.facebook.com/author.e.vanlowe
Google+: https://plus.google.com/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2909124.E_Van_Lowe
Books Trailer(s): Boyfriend From Hell/Earth Angel

Q: Welcome, E.! Thanks for being here today. What is your genre? Why did you choose it?

E. Van Lowe: Hi Ashley, thanks for having me.  I write paranormal Young Adult with a humorous twist.  I spent most of my writing career writing for television and film.  IN 2001 I developed a new TV show for the Disney Channel we titled Even Stevens.  It was my first time writing young voices and I really enjoyed it.  When I decided to write a novel, I knew the voice was going to be a teen girl.  It feels right for me—at least it does right now.

Q: How many books, short stories, plays, and other works have you published? Are they traditionally published or self/indie published? 

E. Van Lowe: I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, so this is going to be long and rambling; I apologize for that in advance.  I’ve published hundreds of works.  I started writing professionally a long, long time ago when I was in grad school. I started out writing True Romance and True Confessions.  I wrote two of those a week, but they all didn’t get published.  I graduated to writing horror for men’s magazines because I heard that’s how Stephen King got started, and at the beginning of my career I wanted to be a horror writer.  The pay was much better than True Romance, but they were harder to sell.  Over the three years I wrote them I published about ten or twenty.  I really don’t remember.  I saved very few of those early works.  I did it to keep a roof over my head and sharpen my craft.

In the late 80s I wrote a play that premiered at the Taper Too of the Mark Taper Forum.  The Running of The Wolves.  The play was critically acclaimed and went on the have several successful runs around the country. Other than student plays, that was my only successful play.  All of my early novels were published traditionally.  While in still grad school in the 80s I wrote a very successful horror novel, Child’s Play, and second novel, The Power.  Both published by Dorchester under the pseudonym Sal Conte.  Never Slow dance With A Zombie (my first YA) was published by Tor which is the fantasy division of Macmillan St. Martin’s Press.  I have never self-published.  I have nothing against it, and I know I will do it one day, but for now, it’s not for me.  The Falling Angels books—Boyfriend From Hell and Earth Angel are with indie, White Whisker.  The Hollyweird books, the first of which comes out this summer are with Indie, Imajin.

   

Q: Your television achievements include nominations for an Emmy and an Academy Award. How does that incredible experience translate to writing novels?

E. Van Lowe: I’ve been very fortunate with my TV and film career.  I have been nominated for the top industry awards, but I’ve won neither.  Those achievements, while nice, have nothing to do with writing novels.  I can’t use them to sell books.  My novel writing career has to stand on its own.  I’m good with that.  I think that’s how it should be.  No one should rest on their laurels.  If I want fans, I’ve got to write good books.

Q: Taking into account your background in television, if the movie rights to your novels are purchased, how involved would you want to be in the process of bringing those stories to life on the screen?

E. Van Lowe: That depends.  I don’t talk about it because it’s still premature, but movie rights for one of my novels and TV rights for another have been optioned.  On the movie, I will co-write the script.  In TV, I will be less involved.  I told the producers I wrote the book, I want the TV show to have fresh eyes—an added perspective I hadn’t thought of.  I will be involved in choosing the writer, but I won’t write. 

Q: What is it like doing a reading from your novel and answering audience questions afterwards? Do you ever get nervous? Do people surprise you with their reactions to your work?

E. Van Lowe: I never get nervous at a reading—not really.  I am comfortable in front of large groups of people.  In TV and film you are always presenting to groups of people who don’t want to buy, and your livelihood depends on them buying.  I used to be nervous in front of them, but after 20 years I’m not anymore.  When I do a reading of my book I am in a room of people who came to hear me.  So, I’ve already won with this group.  My job at the reading is the same as when I write a book—to make sure they are entertained.  I am a good entertainer.

Q: How important is social media to a self/indie published author?


E. Van Lowe: Social media is important to anyone who is marketing any product in the world today.  Social media allows us indie authors to get up close and personal with fans each and every day.  If there were no social media there would be very few indie authors. 

Q: Have you published any of your work for free? Why or why not?


E. Van Lowe: Yes, I have published for free.  But beyond that,  I believe FREE is a great marketing tool for an indie author. I feel so strongly about it I did a blog post about giving your work away I’d like to share with your readers.  Here’s the link.

Q: Do you have a motto or favorite quote you turn to on tough writing days?

E. Van Lowe: No.  On tough writing days I just dig in. 

Q: How long did it take for your first book to go from an idea to a published work?

E. Van Lowe: In the spring of 2006 I was supposed to go to work on an hour show at the then WB (Now the CW). At the last minute the deal didn’t make and I decided to write my first YA, Never Slow Dance With A Zombie.  I completed the book in the fall of 2007.  Tor bought the book in the spring of 2008.  The book was published September 2009.  But that was at the tail end of how business used to be done.  I wrote Earth Angel, the sequel to Boyfriend From Hell spring and of summer of 2011.  The book came out December 2011.

Q: Tell us about your path to becoming an author. Did you have any idea at the start what the process really entails?

E. Van Lowe: I told you some of my path when I talked about writing all those crappy short stories.  My path was more old fashioned.  When I graduated from college I knew I wanted to be a novelist/playwright.  I was accepted into the graduate Masters In Professional Writing Program at USC.  I quit my job in New York and moved to California.  I was very poor and very broke, but I didn’t want to take a job because I wanted to hone my craft.  I got lucky writing the romance and confessions, but some of them paid as little as $40, so I had to write lots of them.  That’s how I built up my writing muscle to turn out lots of pages a day.  It’s easy when the wolf is not only at your door, he’s sitting on the floor next to you.  I started Child’s Play as an assignment for a novel class.  My professor kept telling me to finish it, long after the class was over.  I told him I needed to write these other things to pay my bills. He insisted.  I’m glad he did.  My professor got me an agent. I had great visions of making hundreds of thousands of dollars with that book.  I was a year out of grad school and my agent sent the book back.  He couldn’t sell it.  After a week of depression, I went to a newsstand where they had a whole section of paperback original racks.  I wrote down the address of the publisher of every horror book on the rack.  I sent out about twenty letters—one requested the manuscript.  I sent it in, a month later they sent me a contract.  The book went onto be a huge seller.  The last part of your question “Did you have any idea at the start what the process really entails.”  Truth is, I had no idea how hard it would be.  Fortunately I was young and stupid—and driven.

Q: You've just signed a two-book deal with Imajin Books. Congratulations! What advice would give to fellow authors who are hopeful of a book deal, themselves?

E. Van Lowe: I love being a writer. LOVE it.  So, first off you have to love it, ‘cause if you don’t, the rejection will kill you.  Do not allow people to discourage you.  They will try.  Many people tried to discourage me, including my own father.  He wasn’t being mean.  He wanted to know that I could take care of my family.  When people are trying to discourage you, they’re not being mean, either.  They are actually looking out for you.  But unfortunately, most people don’t understand what we’re made of.  If you’re made of what I’m made of you can’t LIVE without being a writer.  You need to write.  And so I say don’t worry about book deals.   Just write, and learn, and grown, and stay with it, and one day your dreams will come true.  Mine did.

Q: Have you done a blog tour? If so, how did it go? Would you do another one?

E. Van Lowe: Yes, I’ve done several blog tours.  Blog tours are important for getting the word out there about your novel, and getting some needed reviews onto your Amazon page.  They also let you know how well-received your book is going to be.  All the tours I’ve done went well.  But I don’t look to blog tours for sales.  Blog tours are for impressions and they are a great way to get early impressions.  I believe impressions first, sales later.  If you don’t know what I mean by impressions, please read my blog post on the subject.  Here’s the link.


Q: Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?

E. Van Lowe: Yes.  I like a change of pace from-time-to-time.  Right now I have an MS I am completing for White Whisker, an MS in editorial for Imajin, and an MS I am editing for my agent.  So I don’t have much time for another MS, but I have another book I’ve been slowly writing for two years.  I only turn to it when I am burned out on the other work.

Q: What is the best comment/compliment you have received about your work?


E. Van Lowe: My favorite comments are: “Couldn’t put it down” “it’s a fast read,” “I read it in one sitting.” I try to write page-turners, so when I hear this kind of response I know I am doing my job.

Thank you, E., for sharing your publishing experiences with us. We wish you continued success, and hope you'll come back and share updates with us in the future!


Purchase Links for Author E. Van Lowe

Amazon:
Boyfriend from Hell
Never Slow Dance With a Zombie 
EARTH Angel
 
Nook:
Boyfriend From Hell 
Never Slow Dance With A Zombie 
Earth Angel 

Smashwords:
Boyfriend From Hell






And So It Begins


This morning, my new day dawned.

Ava arrived on Amazon’s e-shelves sometime around 4:00 AM. In the coming weeks, the novel will find its way to other e-shelves, too.

There were untold challenges presented, encountered, and traversed during this long journey to transform a simple idea, just one sentence on a page, into a novel about love, politics, relationships, and murder.

I spent most of this month locked away in, perhaps, this author’s interpretation of seclusion. During that time, I lived in the land of the Priyas, and they were as real to me as any human I’ve ever encountered.

It’s hard for me to remember that life existed before them, the Priyas. I haven’t yet decided what side of normal that falls on, but it is the truth. My truth.

Authors, you have walked this path before me, this path to a first novel. You know the dazed look in my eyes and the quiet, secret pride in my heart, because you, too, have felt it, lived it.

The journey is long and, at different points, I’ve had my doubts and struggles. Turning away from what one knows and cutting a new path, a new road, takes everything that person has to give—and that’s just on the first day. If there was one lesson from this experience, one piece of knowledge that rises above all others, it’s this: Have patience in all things.

I was never exactly sure when Ava would be finished, not until the moment I found myself staring at a new sentence on an old page and knowing, finally understanding, I had reached the end.

And that reaching the end of my first novel was, in fact, the real beginning. For Ava, for the Priyas, and for me.










The Challenge of Reviews


Writing my first novel has changed the way I read books.

Now, as I’m reading, I think about you, Author; I’m thinking about you in ways that I never, ever did before while buried in the pages of a story.

When I open a novel on my e-reader and it automatically takes me to the first page of the story, I find myself scrolling to the copyright, dedication, book cover, and anything else that may have been included before that opening page. 

Why? Because the opening page no longer represents the beginning of the story, Author. Not for me.

Now, after all these years of reading and loving books, I realize what I had failed to grasp before I set out on this, the journey to self-publish my writing.

Now, I realize the story begins with you.

Why this story? Why now? Why these characters? This ending?

I wonder all of those things when I am reading your book.

At what point did you decide the story was all the way done? Which scenes were the hardest to write? Which pages did you cry over? Which character still haunts your dreams?

I wonder all of these things, too.

What’s strange, Author, is I’ve just realized, sitting here at my computer, that I only do these things, wonder these things, about fellow self/indie published authors.

Perhaps, knowing I can reach out and ask these questions, my mind opens and sees these novels in a different context, with a broader slice of interest, than those where I know the author is unreachable, untouchable, or uninvolved.

I think it all comes down to the little nuggets you picked up along the way to writing the story, Author. You know, the plain-looking, seemingly ordinary nuggets that others walk past, oblivious, but somehow your vision knows there is a diamond underneath that plain wrapping.

These are what interest me, these nuggets. Where did you find them? How did you turn them into stories, characters, plots, beginnings and endings?

Many times, I will find answers to my questions on your blog or on one of your social media accounts. Maybe you gave an interview discussing it, or wrote a guest post with information about how you transformed a single nugget into a book.

As a reader, I find myself searching for that nugget, that original idea, in your story. It’s like a treasure hunt. A wonderful, glorious search through words, ideas, blood, sweat, tears, hurts, hopes, failures, successes, and love, all elements in the magical art we call storytelling.

It’s the reason why I can’t do reviews for your books, Author.

No matter how much I admire, enjoy, cherish or love them, I no longer read books with a reader’s eye, a reader’s heart.

I’m seeing them as a writer does, as one who has traveled down the uncut path, and faced all the obstacles and doubts one must conquer in order to present a first novel to the world.

It takes an almost immeasurable amount of work—and heart—to reach that precise point. But you already know that, Author.

When I read your books, I’m looking for evidence of you, of your spirit, your energy, no matter the genre or plot.

I no longer see a novel as a story; I see it as your story.

Your creation, Author.

For the readers who, like me, prefer to have some background, some clues about the treasure we are about to hunt in the pages of your novel, I hope you will consider adding a little more detail to your e-books, Author.

Add in a little bio, a paragraph or two about you, and put it right at the front. Maybe add a photo of yourself, or links to your blog and social media. Put a bonus chapter, or outtakes, or a preview of your next novel at the end of this one.

Make sure the book summary is right there at the beginning, too. Several months may go by between the time I download your novel, and the time I read it. Help refresh my memory about the story.

If you’ve written a blog post that connects with the evolution of that story, link to it or include the post as almost a prologue of sorts in the e-book.

For example, I recently wrote a blog post about the origins of my short story, Famous. It’s about a daughter whose father has Alzheimer’s. The subject matter is tough, certainly, and it is a disease that touches the lives of most, if not all, Americans, in one way or another.

I wrote Famous for a reason. It was the direct result of an unexpected conversation, and I choose to share the origins of this story with readers here. I will be adding the blog post, in full, to the e-book to share background about the story for those who would like to have it.

Now that this post is nearly complete, I think I understand the point of it.

See beyond the obvious when finding ways to connect with your readers. Use the pages of your e-book to provide context for, and information about, the story, its origins, and why you are the one telling it.

Add a little something special to your e-pages, something the reader will discover only when he or she sits down and opens your novel, ready to get lost in its pages.

Your novel is, and always will be, the treasure, Author.

But social media has broadened the map, the location of clues, and the means of communicating them. Have fun planting those clues all over your social media and in your novel.

Let the hunt begin!



The Countdown To 'Ava' Begins








Here, in Washington, D.C., some stories are hastily told.

Rushed through to fulfill an obligation, then left behind, forgotten, in the ruins of what once was or might have been.  

Other stories are savored, brought to a boil time and again to extract the richness of each tasty detail, and shared with anyone who cares to partake.  

That’s just life in a political town.

But this story, this tangle of events and perspectives and outcomes, is more than even these women had expected, bargained for, hoped for, feared.  

To think it all began on a hot August day, a time when the city moves at a lazy pace, a month in which nothing ever happens, makes it all the more difficult to reconcile.

To understand just how many lives were affected, changed, renewed, lost, the story of the Priyas must be told from the very beginning.

And the very beginning is Ava.






Read more about Ava:
"Excerpt from Ava"
"Another excerpt from Ava"
"Character Interview with Ava Arden"
"Ava Outtakes: Kettle & Gracie"


Read interviews with Ashley:
On Cassandra Davis' Blog
On SocialImprove.com
On Terra Harmony's Blog


Read short stories from the Love + Family collection:
On Amazon
On Barnes & Noble
On Smashwords
On iTunes







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