Marketing Step #1 – listen to self and DO IT!

To be honest, marketing terrifies me. I feel totally inadequate and uneducated. Most of the book marketing I see and read is focused on nonfiction. I write science fiction and fantasy. I’ve been told it is much easier to market nonfiction than any type of fiction. As I look over the past four years I realize I have allowed my fear of bucking that statement to keep me from doing just that. I have set up a website, http://www.timberdark.com (which needs a lot of work), a Facebook page, https:// facebook.com/timberdarkpublications (which I do pay attention to almost on a daily basis – my one good marketing exercise), and I also have this blog, https://timberdarkwriter.wordpress.com (I am not nearly as consistent in posting here but part of the plan is to improve on that). So I am not totally without a couple of marketing opportunities. They can all be better, more visitor friendly, and less confusing for me to update.

The odd thing is, two years ago I was asked to present a seminar on how to get started using social media to market the square dance activity.  I did quite a bit of research and pretty  much overwhelmed a group of dancers representing square dance clubs from across the state of Colorado, most of whom were over the age of 65. I presented info on five of the top social media platforms and instructions on how to set up accounts and suggestions on what to post on each. However, I encouraged attendees to just pick one or two to start with. I did not let them know how afraid I was (and still am) of the whole marketing process. I am not currently a whiz at any of this. My learning curve is pretty high and long – BUT I CAN LEARN (at least I keep telling myself).

As stated above I do have three platforms to work on. So, what’s my problem? FEAR. Fear of not being the best or at least better. Fear of knowing how amateurish my website is and knowing how technically challenged I am. Fear of how lame some visitors may view my postings on my blog or my Facebook page. Fear of success. Yes, fear of succeeding is a big one. But, I have to improve on what I have right now before that happens so I have time to accustom myself to success when it comes. Because I must face my fears I returned to my seminar notes and adjusted them to focus on my books and the three platforms that I have at least set up and can improve on. While taking positive steps forward toward improvement I need to keep the following points in mind (a portion of my marketing seminar follows as adjusted to marketing my science fiction books):

Author presentation at Lake County HS 2017-Nov-10 #1You want to find people to buy your product – your book. Every reader is an advertiser whether they want to be or not. What message are you sharing? If no one is talking about you and your books then no one is talking about you and your books.  So, start talking – don’t keep this a secret. There are thousands of people who are looking for a good book to read. Let them know where, when, how, who, and most importantly, WHY they should choose your books. Common responses heard when asked why a reader reads a fiction book are “I enjoy escaping to different worlds.” “It got me thinking.” “I couldn’t put it down.” “I stayed up all night to find out how it ended.” “I can’t wait for the next one.” “I didn’t want it to end.” Have you written a book that receives these types of comments?

You don’t have to become an expert on the internet. All you really need is the desire to learn how social media works, a marketing plan that works for you and a way to measure your results. You can learn how to take advantage of online tools that are mostly free. Social media helps you find people who are looking for relationships. Use social media to develop relationships with people to get to know, like, trust you and only then will they buy what you are selling – books, editing, articles, techniques to write better, etc.

Social media allows us to let people know what’s happening with my writing and how to become a partner in that “happening.”  Current marketing trends are changing to a more social approach where the prospect decides when and where he gets the information. We no longer search for the news — the news finds us. We will no longer search for products and services they will find us via social media. Social media is not a fad; it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. But if I present something interesting that draws your interest, that draws you in, you are more likely to participate in the conversation and then in the activity.

Author presentation at Lake County HS 2017-Nov-10 #2You can’t pay them to like you or your books but you can encourage them to enjoy your company and the stories you offer as entertainment. And if they decide they don’t like it – okay – go find more people to invite. Be useful – would people thank you for your post? Put yourself in the shoes of potential readers. What do they want to hear, see, or participate in? Don’t talk to people – talk with them about your process, your ideas, your struggles, what books you enjoy or have recently read – Social Media is about sharing not selling.

Don’t want to throw your books at them–Draw them into your world. Post something small on a consistent basis – it builds authenticity. Be honest. Be warm. Be authentic. Be real. Be yourself. Have an opinion! It’s okay to make people angry but be responsible and respectful. There is nothing wrong with being disagreeable or to disagree with an opinion as long as you’re not rude about it. Treat them as if they are in front of you – as if they are in the same room. Never say anything on social media you wouldn’t want known as common knowledge. Never post when you are upset.

Be Positive in how you word your posts. Example: “Do Not Close” why not word it “Keep Open”. Which is more positive? This is especially important for non-English speakers – often the middle words get dropped as unimportant. Keep it simple.

What do you hope to gain from using social media? Conversation, sentiment analysis (are people over all happy with your product?), reputation management (what are people saying about you, your books, etc.). What are you marketing? For me it is entertainment first and then maybe some thoughts on identity and how it changes. These are things you can talk about within your posts, to open up conversations. What is the theme of your book/series? How do you learn new skills or techniques – have you read some one else’s post that has helped you write better? SHARE those postings with your followers, SHARE YOU. Don’t sell your book – Sell you.

So, if I listen to myself what are the next steps I need to take? I need to be consistent with postings and not just to Facebook. Make appointments to write blog posts and DO IT. I need to get out more by attending book signings for authors (who may or may not write in my genres), to find writing/reading communities in my genres and attend gatherings. I need to listen more, share more, read more. I need to visit other author websites, Facebook pages, Goodreads pages, etc. to hear what they are talking about. I need to join the conversations. I need to ask for help when I get stuck and then act on it. DO IT!

 

 

 

 

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Writing is just a series of questions and decisions.

Deciding what to write, whether in a blog, a short story, novel, nonfiction article, children’s, YA, or adult is just a simple decision, right? A decision, yes. Simple? No.

Is it just picking up a pen or pencil or turning on a computer and start typing? Not really, though sometimes that’s a start. Sometimes we just need to start. But start where? At the beginning. With individual letters, then words, then phrases, then a sentence. Then what? Yes, you start asking questions. What if? or Why? are the most popular. Then you discover a character or an idea to research. The questions you now get to ask include things like what’s his name, what’s she look like, how is that made, what happened when, what’s oPOV outline 2 for The Balance 1-16-2015ne thing about him that he keeps secret, or she dreams of accomplishing? Should people know about this? What happens to this character? Why?  Okay, now you are getting to the point of writing a story or an article. Have you written these questions and their answers down?

Now you get to choose an audience for your story or article. More decisions. Who is interested in what you want to write about? How are you going to convey your information?

Next decision may be how are you going to get what you’re writing to them? That often leads to a much longer set of decisions such as do you want to learn how to market what you’ve written, or do you need help? Can you afford doing it yourself (less time to concentrate on writing) or paying someone else to do it for you?

Every step in the process demands you answer a new set of questions. All the way to the finish line – publication. Is that the end of the questions? Probably not, because, what are you going to write next?

 

Summer Word Count? It Changes – daily

Through a Facebook post by another author I was asked what my word count was this summer. I was kind of surprised at my reaction of “Well, it depends.”

First, I don’t know about you but I think my word count for the first two months of the 2018 summer is pretty high – just over 40,000 since June 1st – in the draft of the third book of my sci/fi series (this count does not include any of the newsletters I write, or posts I make on my personal Facebook page, on my business page (TimberDark Publications, LLC), on pages or groups I am an administrator for (Square Dance Etc, The Lloyd Shaw Foundation, and Callers Partners Committee), or the uncounted emails I send out for various entities such as my P.E.O. Chapter. Neither does it include posts here on my blog – which I admit I have been slacking on for the above reasons. I don’t want to count the words on all that other stuff. The important word count, for me, is for the third book of my series. And that changes or at least will change and vary, up and down, on a daily basis once the full draft is done (any day now). I should also let you know that I had planned on writing a classic trilogy for the main story with an optional two additional books for side stories. But when I looked at the number of loose ends and sub-stories that I needed to clean up after publishing the second book I realized that a single third book would easily be over 800 pages. I was adamant about NOT doing that. Book one has 362 pages and book two has 384 pages. So I divided the proposed #3 and choose which story lines to focus on ending and which to continue to the fourth. 37151878_10214627187845830_6808061521130684416_n

This coming week I hope to complete the full rough draft of the third book. Then, the work really begins. After a day or two of not looking at it at all (I’m challenging myself to do that!), I will go back to the beginning of the document and start editing – aiming to cut 30,000, particularly from the first half of the currently 134,000+ draft, though, if the story needs to be over 100,000 then it will be (I think I can tighten it up enough and hoping to keep it under 400 pages). Such is the life of a writer – write a bunch-cut a bunch-add a bunch-cut a bunch. See-sawing back and forth to create a great story. I actually love this part of the process.

I tried a ‘new’ process on this third book. Start from a para-graphical outline and fill in the scenes to get me from one high point to the next. I entered the word Chapter and inserted one or two sentences about what I thought should happen. Then I went back to the beginning and started filling in. I had to work at not going back and edit each chapter or scene shortly after having written them. I did make notes in margins about questions of who knew what when, spellings of alien names, words that needed to be added to the glossary at the end, etc.

One of my problems is the characters seem to have minds of their own and go off and do or say their thing – they force my fingers to type! Thus, sometimes they come up with crap and sometimes I actually need to pay attention because it is so very good and right. On this draft I have left all of that in – with cautionary notes like “do I really want to go in this direction?” in the margins. So, some of the edits will be fairly easy – I’ll just cut.

But when I looked at my opening notes yesterday, I saw some ideas I am pretty sure were not included but that I think should be. So, editing involves adding words, too. Editing is not just about cutting it’s about making the story better.

So, should I be worried about the higher than anticipated word count on a rough draft? Not necessarily. At least I have plenty to work with and I’m more than comfortable with that. And starting next week the fun/work begins.

When do you start worrying about word counts? Should a series stick to a ball-park figure book to book or is it dependent on how many the words the story needs? Will I have negative word counts – I hope so.

Marketing is HARD – but I can learn how!

I now have two beautiful bookmarks, one for each book, and a hanging banner, two and a half feet by six feet. These were made because I shared a table with another fantasy writer at the 2017 Starfest Science Fiction/Fantasy Fan Convention in April. I received all three items in time to do a trial run of the banner and bookmarks at a much smaller convention (dance oriented not scifi or fantasy) two weeks prior to the Starfest Convention to good success. At this much smaller convention I had expected to sell a couple of books, mostly to individuals who I knew had purchased the first book of the series and were expecting me to have the second with me. I ended up selling a dozen2017 Starfest Convention Author table

books and connected with three other dancer leaders who were also writers. I decided that was a fluke and just good timing and placement. The fact I had both books available probably accounted for many of the sales. When I returned home from the dance convention and faced the knowledge that I was jumping off the next cliff by being at an author table at one of the first fan-based conventions I felt more than a bit overwhelmed. I chose to approach this first genre specific convention with the intention of just being there, enjoying the happenings, make connections with readers and other authors as well as get the word out and begin creating a buzz – not just to sell a bunch of books. Whether I sold one book or all 75 that I had on hand I planned to be happy. Marketing is hard and it takes a lot of time to do on your own.

That being said I sold six books. I count that as success! I am slowly learning and adding to my knowledge. I am not trying to do everything at the same time – first thing was to write a good story. Then I brought in a talented network of specialists who make my books and marketing efforts better (editors, proofreaders, book cover and interior designers, eBook transformers, etc). I made inroads to building a presence on Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon.com, LinkedIn, and am very slowly updating my website and trying to keep active on my blog.

The exciting thing about the banner and the bookmarks is that people SEE them, not necessarily me at the table with a pile of books. They don’t HAVE to come over and ask what I am writing the banner, in particular, announces to everyone who walked by our table what was available – often we’d see people pause in their hurry to get to the main auditorium to look at our banners. Just noticing that they slowed long enough to get a visual was a mark of success. We both received positive attention and many of those who paused returned for closer examination of what we offered. They talked with us about our books, our ideas, what was next, and a lot of other fun stuff.

And between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, 2017, I joined nine other authors at the Georgetown Christmas Market in Georgetown, Colorado, about 45 minutes west of Denver. One of the fun things about that event was the two people who recognized the banner and books from the Starfest Convention in April 2017! I had not yet decided whether I would do Starfest this year (2018) and when both asked if I was planning to be at the upcoming convention again I immediately said yes without much thinking – thus booking a weekend in April 2018. At least one of those people actually came looking for me at the event – bringing a friend to buy both books at her recommendation. I sold over a dozen books during the two day event. Then the woman asked if I was going to have the third book ready in time for the Georgetown Christmas Market in December 2018, because she was planning to come up. I’m guessing that an audience for my stories are building – however slowly, it is cool to be recognized as an author. So, the banner, the book marks, business cards, etc. all have helped get my books in front of people/readers. These are tools I will continue to build on to increase the marketing of my stories.

More excursions into different ways of marketing fiction are being planned – I’m getting some help because I cannot do it all and with help in areas of technology that I know I am lacking, I am beginning to get the word out on these two award winning booksIMG_1727 2017 EVVY Award 2nd Place even as I have been working on the next book because readers are demanding the third book. Marketing also involves letting readers know that the third book is well under way and the good news is that the rough draft was completed this week! Now for the editing.

While I am busy writing, editing, expanding my knowledge of marketing fiction, and catching up on my stack of books to read (yes, authors do read other authors’ books. It helps us become better writers), I am hoping readers help spread the word. I encourage you to ask me questions, send me comments, and please post a review if you enjoyed reading The Blood and/or The Balance.

  • P.S. By winning a Second Place in the 2017 CIPA EVVY Awards in the science fiction category, The Balance joins book one, The Blood, as an award winning book. Of course, my editor points out that this means the third book should, obviously, be good enough to garner a first place award. No pressure there!

Two Too Long Reads

I am in a different place today than I was last year. But I found this to be relevant as pertaining to length of books, particularly fantasies or science fiction. Even though I did break up the proposed third book of my series to become two I find myself writing well over 102,400 words so far on the third installment. Not where I thought it would be. I am cruising into the final scenes and action and then will return to the beginning and begin first round of editing – hope to cut a lot of words. Below is where I was at one year ago – reading two too long books. Oh, I did finish The Curse Breaker: Enchanted before the end of 2017. Still frustrated and not sure I want to go through the process again with a sequel. I have my own to write and, today, I am praying my third book, The Blades: The Stone’s Blade, Book Three will not drag on and on and the ending will tie up some loose sub-stories while intriguing the reader to continue to follow the characters as they and their societies discover their true past and embrace their new identities. So on with my thoughts and reactions to two books from a year ago.

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Below are reactions to two of my most recent reads (in early 2017). Both are fantasies. Over the past several weeks I have wondered how I managed to start two “long” books at the same time. I am a bit miffed with myself for trying to do these, perhaps, overly long diatribes (at least one of them) while working to publish a quarterly publication for a nonprofit organization and get a handle on the third book of my own science fiction/fantasy series. Now I am glad I realized that I needed to split the proposed third book and now have a fourth in the planning stages. I really don’t want to publish a book over 400 pages. Book one, The Blood, has 362 pages and book two, The Balance has 382 pages. So, anyway, here is my take on two different fantasies that are a bit long winded.

The Curse Breaker: Enchanted by Melinda Kucsera. I have struggled with this one. I abandoned it after Chapter 77 and was only about 60% through the book. A very long book that is taking way too long to get to the point. I have put it down for weeks at a time but still try to come back to it so there is something to the story but then it gets bogged down again and I put it down. At 564 pages for the print book and well over 100 chapters (actually 137) it is almost boring in many places. Too often I feel like I’ve been at some point more than once. I just want the author to get on with it. I think a good editing job would bring it under 400 pages and there’d be more action and it would hold the attention of many readers better. It feels like the author is telling the story in a very roundabout way, not wanting it to end – maybe she’s stuck in the labyrinthine maze of tunnels under the mountainous weight of the story. She seems to have included all the cut scenes (or scenes that should have been cut). I want to finish reading but I have other things to do that require my time and energies. Perhaps I will return to finish it. I thought I might be the only one who thought this was too long and repetitive, but there were several reviewers on the same page as me. The author refuses to end it just as Sarn refuses The Queen of All Trees’ summons, refuses to help himself (so far at 60% into it), and refuses to accept his magic, etc. Perhaps this type of journey story is not my favorite cup of tea, as another reviewer put it – for me the tea got cold thirty chapters ago.

I have abandoned only one other book so far, but feel like I am wasting time, spinning wheels, or being led down another twisting endless tunnel with no end in sight. Too bad, I had hopes for this one.

The Emperor’s Blades, by Brian Stavely. Another long read. Finally hit its stride about page 167. After that my reading speed went up as did my interest in the story. I liked how Staveley handled the P.O.V.s, even though the book begins with Adare and it is a long time before she is back – almost forgot about her. Most of the book concentrates on the brothers so it is almost a shock whenever Adare’s story appears. A bit on the gruesome side which is sadly typical for many of today’s fantasies. Cruelty makes people better? I wonder.

That being said, I am still intrigued with the “story” as a whole and am curious about the second installment.

At least I finished this one!

Have you abandoned a book? Did you ever return to it and finish reading?

Thoughts Brought on by Hugh Howey’s Blog

I just read “Writing Insights Part One: Becoming a Writer” on Hugh Howey’s blog,  Hugh Howey, the Wayfinder. The first of a four part series. It has started me thinking, given me support, and inspired different thinking when it comes to marketing. I find much of Howey’s ten things he wished he’d known before he started writing hits directly on me. I understand what he is saying. I have either been there, am there right now, or will be there. It is a relief to know that I am not the only one whose first real attempt at writing something I thought might be publishable was when I was a teenager and that it was more than twenty years later before that particular attempt became a finished product. It is a relief to know that it is okay to want to write and read – to need to write and read. It is a relief to know there are readers out there looking for my books, my stories – I just have to write them first. Then once they are written I can spend the time marketing them to those readers. But I have to write them first.

Howey suggests getting five to six books published before really diving into marketing. I am not quite halfway there. So in the mean time how do I get the word out? How do I build that 1,000 followers who will demand my books, share my books, talk about my books? Do I have to figure out how at the same I should be writing? Can I do multiple things at the same time? Should I spend money on getting someone to help me in this area just as I have hired an editor, book designer,  proofreader, and e-book transformer? I know I am struggling in this marketing portion. I know I can’t do it all. How can I get those readers who seem to like what I’ve written so far to help me?

And I have a several readers who are passionate about what I am writing. Some of them are helping me get the word out by telling their libraries to get copies of my books; by telling their friends to get my books; and they are buying books to give to others because they want to share their excitement and enjoyment for what I am writing. They are demanding the next book. I am learning from them – becoming a better writer. I am filled with energy and ideas that I receive from conversations with them about my books. I still have a long way to go. I know I have to get the third book of the scifi series out. That it has to be better than book number two, which was better than book number one. Each one will be better than the last – at least that is my goal. (see my blog about Another Award Winner!)

I am listening to those readers who talk to me. Their voices are filled with excitement. Their body language is animated. They ask lots of questions. Some I won’t answer. Some I can’t – not yet. They give me ideas, they explain their thoughts on why I wrote something, or what they hope I will include or what they hope will happen. They tell me how much they like my writing style, my author’s voice. Sometimes I wish they would write it all down and post to their Goodreads pages, to Amazon, to my Facebook pages, to LinkedIn, and to my blog page. I wish they would go to my website and write down these comments, questions, etc. I so enjoy seeing them, hearing them and I want to share their enthusiasm. Right now these interactions happen between tips at a dance event, during an interlude at a meeting, late a night after an event while Bob & I are trying to clean up a hall or just before an event is to happen and we are setting up.  I am trying to figure out how to let others hear and see their reactions to what I am writing. And I realize that while I am trying to research and learn how to share that, I am not writing the next chapter of the next book. The few I have so far, already really want the third and fourth books, as soon as possible. So, I am in a quandary. Write? Market? Both?

 

Another Award Winner!

My cell phone buzzed, my editor’s name scrolled across the screen. I clicked into the text message. It read: You got SECOND PLACE!

I was in Wyoming at a national dance event and not able to attend the 2017 Colorado Independent Publishers Association’s EVVY Awards for independent publishers. I had been informed two weeks prior that The Balance, the second book of my scienthe_balance_cover_for_kindlece fiction series was a finalist in the science fiction category but I would not know if it had earned enough points to place until the award ceremony on August 19, 2017. Since I knew that I would not be able to attend the ceremony I had asked my editor if she would represent me just in case the book picked up an award. She graciously accepted saying that, of course, The Balance would place. I was not so sure because I had entered it in two other categories, Fantasy and Cover Design, and it had not been a finalist in either. My reaction was mixed on learning that – but that will be left for another blog.

I was surprised at my relief after reading Melanie’s text. Then I reread the text. SECOND IMG_1727 2017 EVVY Award 2nd PlacePLACE! I did a little happy dance and ran to find my husband and friends to tell them.

In 2014, the first book of The Stone’s Blade series, The Blood, had placed Third in both Fantasy and Science Fiction categories and the cover & interior design had received a Merit award. I had originally planned to enter The Balance in the EVVY Awards in 2016, the year it was published. However, due to unexpected delays in the cover design, publication of the book would not be in time to enter. So I had to wait almost a full year. It seems the wait was worth it.

I knew the second book was better than the first. There was a tremendous amount of work to keep story line’s straight, characters straight, and the decision to focus on particular story lines was perhaps the most important, all the while continuing sub-stories moving forward at the same time so I could highlight them in the third and perhaps fourth books being planned. And to my surprise (yes, I was surprised) a Second place in the 2017 EVVY Awards stated that we had succeeded in our goal of making The Balance better. It took team work to get this award and I thank my daughter, Kristina Book, for sparking the idea that led to the story line; my editor, Melanie Mulhall, for her coaching, mentoring, editing, and help in ferreting out the intricacies of writing a complicated series; my proofreader & e-book transformer, Helena Mariposa, for her talents, and my cover & interior designer, Nathan Fisher, for his inspired vision of the Stones which graces the cover.

When I picked up the physical award from Melanie the following week she commented that she expected the third book to bring in a First place when it was entered – she’s thinking of 2018 and I’m thinking 2019. No pressure there. Since I am only a third of the way into the rough draft I guess we will just have to wait and see. There’s exciting stuff coming up.

In the mean time you can get your own copies of award winning science fiction The Blood and The Balance via Amazon (paperback and e-book) or paperbacks at any of the three locations of The Tattered Cover Bookstore in the Denver metro area – they are in the young adult fiction shelves. Of course, you can always track me down and get a signed copy from me at a reduced price.

Let me know what you think. Oh, I am available for author events, book signings, etc. Contact me at allynn@timberdark.com.