Sunday, March 29, 2015

What You SHOULD Do as a New Indie Author...

***Updated 2/3/16

Earlier this month, I wrote a What NOT to Do list for new indie authors. In it, I said that I would follow it up with this list..what you SHOULD do.

I'll be honest with you: I don't know if I'm really qualified to be dishing out this advice. I mean, the what NOT to do, sure. I have discovered plenty for that list, and it seems that I uncover more things to avoid each day. But the SHOULD do list? me, that means that I developed this list by successes and I don't think that (against the current measure) that you could say I am a success as a self-published author. Not by volume of sales, anyway.

I feel that I have succeeded in achieving my dream, and I think I'm putting out good work that still continues to get better...but it may not be to the point where I can give this sort of advice to others. I don't want to sound arrogant. I haven't earned that right in the writing realm. ;)

Having said that, I still want to share with other indie authors (especially those just starting out, and trying to figure out where to begin). I think the best way to preface this list is to simply say that these are my non-failures. These are the things that have made a positive difference in my experience. This doesn't always equate to more sales, but more positive feedback and inclusion. I hope that makes sense.

1. Get on social media. This was (and still is) a tough one for me. I didn't even figure this out for almost a YEAR after my first book, Bloodline, came out. It was after I wrote the second in the series, Heritage, that I finally came up for air. Literally. I was SO entrenched in the incredibly involved story that I wasn't even paying attention. I chuckle now, because like almost every other indie author out there...I thought the books would sell themselves. You know, stick it on the internet and people would flock to it based on the worth of the story and writing alone. Humph! Not even close to reality. All you have to do is read some of the 'best sellers' out there, and you will find that quality has little to do with it. It's all about the marketing. Here is my list (PLEASE add to it in the comments. I am still learning!!!!).
*BLOG - even if it's about nothing. Get yourself out there in the search engines and slowly build.
 *Facebook - *sigh* Don't make my mistake. I started out making everything about the first book. BIG mistake. It needs to be about YOU. Yes...YOU, the author. Make an author page on Facebook, make a blog about you and include pages for your books.
*Twitter - As much as I hate to admit it, this may be the single best outlet, if used properly. Read up on it and how it works, then experiment.
*Amazon - get on it. I won't get into the whole debate on whether to be exclusive or not, but you should at least be there (you can't deny that it IS the giant) and make a good author page. (if you aren't exclusive to Amazon, be sure to hit the other sites like Smashwords and Kobo)
*Pinterest - *another sigh* Yes. Pin. Pin away.
*Goodreads - This is greatly debated among authors. This is a MASSIVE message board set-up that is now owned by Amazon. Problem is, that it has the power to make or break you. Their star system is tough, because you can rate without reviewing, so you get 'drive-by raters', which I have been the victim of . However, the benefits I have gotten from this site FAR outweigh any negatives. I think that they're an incredible resource, if used properly. My best advice to you about Goodreads, is to make sure you participate as a READER, too. The networking opportunities are amazing, but you can't come at it with a take, take, take, mentality.  You have to GIVE, too.
*Other message boards and book sites - There are too many to name. Do a search and find the biggest ones and then JOIN. Put your author and book info on as many as possible. It's all about the networking.

2. Hire a professional book cover designer. I don't want this list to simply be an opposite of the what NOT to do's, but this is something I want to address by giving out some resources for it. there are a TON of options out there, some cheap and some expensive. Did you know you can buy pre-made covers for as little as 40-60 dollars, and they'll add your title and name for you? Yes? Well, then you're where I was over a year into my adventure. Seriously. It took me that long just to figure that out.

This is something you need to take time researching. It's also something you need to invest in. I know that most indie authors can't afford to dump a bunch of money into their books. I couldn't. Want to know how I funded this? When I finally had my epiphany and realized I needed to invest, I tried to figure out how. Well, I have taught CPR for going on 15 yrs now. Several years back, (when I was working a good, full-time job) I invested over $1,000 into some CPR equipment so I could teach it as my own business. In three years, I had taught about four classes that I was paid for. I did twice as many for free...and my equipment was sitting under the house, unused for months at a time. I looked on-line and discovered I could sell them for almost as much as I paid. So that's what I did. I funded both my photography venture (selling canvas prints at a street fair) AND my book covers with this money and it was more than worth it. Sometimes you need to get creative. :)

Back to the covers. I went on Amazon and started looking at other books in my genre and found some covers I really liked. I then looked at the credits and followed those back to the sources. Unfortunately, most of the ones I liked charged from 600-800 for original work. BUT...this also led me to a really cool site called  DeviantArt . This is an amazing resource of artists. It's also where I found my amazing designer, Mel at Melchelle Designs .
Example of her work: (I took the picture of the girls and then she created the scene. I LOVE it!)

Take the time to do this part right. Don't make the same mistake as I did, and waste so much time either doing it yourself, or as cheap as possible. Mel is incredibly affordable and GOOD. There are a lot of artists out there willing to work with you.  THIS is perhaps the greatest impact on sales.

3. Network with other authors. This is a recent discovery for me. Other writers aren't your competition; they are your peers. We can all learn from each other, and also help support each other. Check out my book review section...a lot of them are indie authors. There are quite a few sites dedicated to indie authors and you should spend some time exploring them. Find other writers in your genre and read their books. If they're good, review them and help support them. I say "if they're good", because I don't believe in writing a bad review. I will let the author know, in a positive way, about what can be improved, but giving them a bad rating will NOT be encouraging nor help them. (for me, a bad review is anything below a three-star rating).

4. Solicit for reviews. This was a hard one for me to figure out. I am NOT good at pushing or promoting myself. It's been a slow process. When I say solicit, I don't mean badger. There is etiquette involved. (I just found out a couple of days ago that Amazon doesn't allow authors to 'swap' reviews, so be careful with this. It needs to be honest, genuine reviews.) There's plenty of places dedicated to this, so you don't need to go after anyone that doesn't advertise for it. I'll use Goodreads as an example. There are a TON of threads solely for the purpose of finding reviewers. Use them. However, don't jump on every other thread, NOT dedicated to this, and harass people. This is frowned upon. BLOGS. There are MANY, many blogs out there that welcome authors to submit for a review/interview. There are even sites committed to listing these blogs for you. Take some time and find the ones that are appropriate for your book. READ their submission guidelines. It's rude to waste their time by submitting a book that doesn't meet their requirements, so take a few minutes and make sure before hitting the send button.

5. Be prepared to give copies away. I'm not saying you need to make your book free. THAT is a whole discussion of its own. I'm talking about offering a free copy for review. This is not the same as paying someone...I would NEVER do that. It's standard practice to give a free copy though, to someone that you are asking to read it. You can achieve this by either gifting it through amazon (which helps bump up your ranking), or by emailing a PDF or MOBI file. Giving away your book is just a necessary part in the process of getting it 'out there'. Budget for it. (I actually BUY other indie author books that I review. I think it's just good etiquette and I also believe in karma. ;) )

6. Make a printed version available. For mine, I have used CreateSpace . This a free platform and a print-on-demand. Yes, they are also owned by Amazon. You get a decent percentage though, so long as you set the price high enough.  (A trick I learned: If you have amazonprime, it is cheaper and faster to just go online and order your 'proof' through them. you get it in two days, vs. a week-and-a-half, don't pay shipping and it bumps your sales rank.)

7. Don't price your ebook too high. There's a ton of debate over this, and you can find numerous articles dedicated to it. My humble opinion, is that if you want to sell an indie book, you have to set the price accordingly. I think 4.99 is the MAX, and that would be for a full-length novel from an indie author that has already found some success. I am not there. My books are all priced from 2.99-3.99. The 3.99 books are set as such because they are the 2nd and 3rd books in a trilogy and are fairly large books. Descent is over 90,000 words and I have quite a bit of both time and money invested in this series, so I don't think 3.99 is too high. I am tempted to make a 'don't price it too low' section, too. BUT...I'm not sure enough about that to say it. I tried pricing mine lower, and it had the opposite affect. Here's the deal: Readers out there looking for free books will only download free books. They will probably never read it, and if they do, won't review it. (unless they like to be mean and give 1 star reviews) The people who only look for .99 cent books will only buy those... but their expectations will be as high as someone buying a 4.99 book, so they'll review accordingly. You get your more serious readers in the higher price range. They've actually taken the time to look in their preferred genre, to look at the cover, read the blurb and probably even the sample excerpt. So before they purchased the book, they already know it's the genre they like, they like your writing style and the story sounds good. They are much more likely to read the book, and less likely to give a bad review. It's just kinda common sense.

**Update 2/3/16
I'm baaaaccckkkk...... :)

I wrote this list back in March of last year, and I see that it's been getting some hits lately. So, I read it. I still agree with , but I have a few more things to add:

8) Make an audiobook! I was told a couple of years ago, that these are the new and upcoming 'thing'. I looked into ACX, and after much debate, decided to narrate and produce my own. YOU don't have to. Fortunately, there are several options, including the very fun task of going through a whole bunch of narrators and listening to them. You can then send them a message to ask if they would be interested in narrating your story. You can even pitch your book, providing information and a script for the ACX narrators to browse through and audition for. It really is a lot of fun. A word of caution though, if you do decide to do it all yourself: take the time to watch/read the tutorials and then take the advice! It's tough. (but I think fun!) Here is a link to my book, Bloodline, which includes a five-minute sample: Audible Sample

After you upload all of your files, ACX then processes it and puts it on its own site, plus Amazon (yes...Amazon owns this, too)

WHY do it? Because they ARE popular, and I believe that having an audiobook available gives the book more credibility. It's also one more way to get it out there and be discovered. What have you got to loose?

9) Get out there and do book signings and promote yourself. Unfortunately, I greatly underestimated the importance of being visible, and hitting up local venues. During the months that I have made in-person appearances, I tend to make more in paperback sales than everything else combined. Street fairs, libraries, book stores, coffee shops, senior centers, conventions...GET OUT THERE!

10) Print up some book marks or cards for advertising. Why? Well, because it's an easy way to advertise. I stick one in all of my books, and have stacks out whenever I do signings. I also keep a supply in my car and purse, so that when I'm at the store I can browse through the book section and drop some off next to the popular titles in my genre. Does it work? YES!

11) Enter contests. This helps build credibility, and believe it or not, those award seals on the cover DO help sales. Especially the in-person sales. Just be careful that you aren't entering the vanity scams. As with everything else, do your research. Make sure they are legitimate contests.

Okay...that's it for now, but I think I will revisit this list and add to it as time goes by. PLEASE add to it in the comment section. I have SO much more to learn!!!!!  :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

New Release! Trilogy Box Set!

It dawned on me recently, that since my trilogy is complete, I should offer it for sale as a set! This weekend, I made it my mission to make that happen. :)

You save over 30% with this ebook bundle!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A New Book Trailer and A FREE Book!

Since book trailers seem to be gaining in popularity with readers, I decided to take the plunge and try my hand at it. Hopefully, the following result is interesting enough! :)

Please, let me know what you think!

My second announcement today, is that my newest children's book, The Secret of Camp Whispering Pines, is FREE for a few days! Pick up your free ebook copy now!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What NOT to do as a New Indie Author...

Things have calmed down enough in my life at the moment (knock on some wood) that I'm able to sit here in one of my favorite spots, drinking some coffee, and staring at my computer screen again. It's a great thing. :)

I was browsing through some article headlines that were all geared towards Indie authors and it brought me back to the first months of my journey. I was clueless. I didn't even know what Indie author meant. (self published or small press books)

I made a WHOLE bunch of mistakes...but that's okay, because I learned from them. In a time when this is still basically a new frontier (even more so two years ago), it's okay to make those mistakes, so long as you take something away from the experience.

I searched the internet at the time, trying to figure things out and not really quite sure how to do it. There's a ton of advice out 'there', some good and some very bad. It's a unique experience for each author, based on the genre of book and their situation in life, really. How much time and how much money and how much creativity do you have to contribute to your venture? What's most important to you?

Anyways, sitting here this morning, reading some of those article headlines, I thought to myself how I wished I had found a comprehensive, what NOT to do list, way back when. And then it dawned on me, that by following one of the good bits of advice I had gotten, I created this blog, which gives me the platform to reach out to other (perhaps new) Indie authors and make my own list!

So here it is, in no particular order. Please keep in mind that this is strictly my personal opinion, based on my own experiences and hardships. I am sure there will be lots of people who don't agree with me, perhaps because they had a different experience. That's fine, and it's the great thing about having so much info, because it gives you the option of browsing and finding what best suites you. If anyone can be saved a little time, money, or heartache by this list, then it's worth the time to write it!

1. Don't edit your own work. Sure, the first and second hard edit, that's all you. But the final check? PLEASE, if you have the resources for it, do NOT skimp on this. I'm sure you've heard it before, but it's true. If you absolutely don't know someone good at editing and willing to do it for you, or can't afford to pay someone and have to do it yourself, set the manuscript aside for a couple of months. Brush up on your grammar (there's a ton of resources on-line) and come back to it with a fresh eye.

2. Don't design your own book cover. Oh man...I cringe at this. I thought I had done quite well. (snicker) To be fair to myself, by comparison, they weren't horrible...but they were bad. A professionally designed cover is what will sell your book. If it has a bad cover, no one will even consider it! Trust me on this. Please.

3. Don't use a publishing platform where you have to pay. There are so many free ones out there now (KDP is the ebook subsidiary of Amazon and Create space the print on demand branch).  I am not that tech savvy, but I'm stubborn. It took time (which I was fortunate to have) and I was able to figure out how to do all of the formatting. Really, if you have a decent knowledge of how to use Word, or it's equivalent word processor, than you'll be okay.

4. Don't use Booktango. Just don't. I did, and it wasted nearly a year of my books life. Horrible accounting process (with no way to track your sales), took forever to get my book on other sites and they have an absolutely non-existent customer service. I still don't think they paid me what I was owed.

5. Don't pay to advertise free books. You don't need to. There are plenty of sites that will do it for free, and it works just as well. I have gone both ways, tracking everything, and it makes little difference. Sure, you might get a few more downloads, but anymore, the giveaways just don't give you a big enough bounce in sales to make up for it. You are giving it away for FREE. WHY would you PAY to give your book away? Think about that before making your own decision.

6. Look long and hard at the failure/success of other advertisers before deciding to pay to advertise your own book. Then, you will likely chose NOT to pay to advertise. (to do this, simply click on the link for other books advertised on their site. If their Amazon book rank is in the hundreds of thousands, then the add is obviously not working for them!)  In my experience, there is very little chance of actually making money off of this. If your philosophy is "That's okay, I don't mind if I loose money, so long it leads to some sales and reviews. It's worth it for the reviews." You aren't going to get reviews. At least, not enough that you should ever base paying money on it. For example, during my most successful giveaway of my book Bloodline, it had nearly 1,200 downloads. I was VERY excited, thinking that surely, this would lead to at least a few dozen reviews. WRONG. I would hazard that there weren't more than two out of that. TWO. Think about those numbers, and then compare it to paid advertising. Your best bet is to solicit book reviewers/bloggers. (again, NOT paid) I have NEVER paid for a review. Ever.

7. Don't ever comment on a negative review. Even if they are totally wrong, obnoxious and deserving of a smack down. It will only make you look bad and create a platform that invites more negativity. It's not worth it.

8. Don't isolate yourself. I am referring to both social media AND real life. I have made more money off of 'real' book sales, than I have ebooks. Having a nice, professional looking book in hand is great marketing. GET OUT THERE and sell yourself!!!

9. Don't isolate your family. If they have an interest, involve them. (if appropriate) My books are all kid-friendly, so my kids were my beta readers (and my daughter is on the cover of my third book, Descent. My son is the guy peeking out from behind the tree in The Secret of Camp Whispering Pines). Your writing is a big part of you. Include the people you love.

10. Don't do it for the money. Because odds are, you are setting yourself up for failure. I have both short and long term goals. I'm not expecting any short-term monetary success (although it would be nice), but I'm hoping that if I stick with my game plan, in ten years I might have enough monthly for a small retirement. This plan includes around 30 titles, and audiobooks. For now, I'm lucky if I make 100/mo between ALL of my sales (ebook, paperback and audio), with six books and 2 audiobooks out there. I spend a heck of a lot of time on social media, plugging myself. So yes, I am loosing money still, but that's okay. Why? Because when I'm feeling like a failure, I simply go back and read some of the amazing and encouraging reviews I have gotten from complete strangers that entered the world I created and LOVED it. THAT is why I write. What an absolutely amazing feeling!!!

11. NEVER GIVE UP! Believe in yourself and your dream. Take any negative reviews and LEARN from them. If people are telling you that your editing probably sucks. That happened with my first book to a small extent, and I did a total re-write and it was absolutely worth it. Don't turn away from something that doesn't work....keep pushing on until you find something that does.

(I will follow this up with a What to DO list!)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

How Quickly Things Can Change...

My last post was a light-hearted tale about a cute mouse and my apparent face-off with him. How I wish that were my greatest challenge still!

The past two weeks have been nothing short of disastrous, as well as scary and overwhelming.

On Feb 25th I headed to Missoula, MT (10 hr drive) to help my mom recover from major back surgery. She had a difficult time coming out of the anesthesia, so after a gripping ten hours, she seemed to be okay and I took her home two days later. We spent the next week in a daily routine of basic survival, as well as short walks and LOTS of home-improvement shows. :)

Mom was doing amazingly well, but my MS was starting to rear its ugly head and I had this overwhelming sense of urgency to get back home. After I was assured that the proper in-home care was in place by Friday afternoon, (March 6th) I finalized my plans to head back home the following morning.

About an hour later, I received that phone call that ALL parents dread. My son, Brandon, had been injured at track practice and was in the ER. Based on what I was being told, I suspected it was a major injury to his right ankle. He is a sophomore at Western Washington University and has a partial scholarship for track. They were just starting their outdoor season, and he had big plans (realistic) to go far in discus, shot put and the hammer throw. This was a season-ending injury, as he broke his fibula and ruptured the main stabilizing tendon of his ankle. He had emergency reconstructive surgery Friday night (8 pins in the bone, open reduction and tendon repair), while I waited by tensely several states away. (It would make no sense to leave that night. I wouldn't get home until four in the morning, long after the surgery, and there are three passes to get over.)

My son got back home on Saturday afternoon, just a few hours before I arrived. It's an incredibly painful injury, and a week later, he is still laid up on the couch. He's a major athlete and normally works out nearly every day, so this is a tough one for him.

By Monday we were starting to fall into a routine of medication and brain-numbing activities while he tried to keep himself from going crazy. I had thought we over the worst of things. Then Tuesday morning happened.

My fifteen-year-old daughter, Megan, woke up feeling quite sick. She threw up, felt better, but then took a turn for the worse. About eight hours later, after non-stop vomiting and inability to keep anything in, I took her to the ER for fluids. They treated her for a stomach flu and sent us home. She went to her dads since we were all afraid of Brandon catching it, too...which would be horrible.

After the pain meds wore off (her lower back was hurting), she was right back to where she had been earlier in the day. In addition to the nausea, back pain and general malaise, she had this overwhelming sense of dread. The only other time I had seen her this way was four years earlier when her appendix ruptured. I took her seriously. Back to the hospital she went, but to the bigger one this time, where they have pediatricians.

Thankfully, they ran a full abdominal blood panel, otherwise they would have never thought to look at her pancreas: she's just way too young. She had acute appendicitis, with her lipase over 500 (should be under 50) The docs were shocked. The pediatrician called in said that in his 45 years, he had never seen it in someone so young. After a thankfully normal ultra sound, she was admitted to the hospital.

I spent the next couple of days sleeping at the hospital and going back and forth to make sure that Brandon was okay, medicated and fed. I also had to change his bandages daily, and just try and give him some company. Talk about a horrible feeling. BOTH of my kids were either seriously hurt or sick and I wanted nothing more than to take away their pain.

Thank God Megan made an amazing recovery. There had been talk of transferring her to children's hospital in Seattle if she didn't, because they really didn't know how to deal with a pediatric pancreatitis case. (they consulted with a specialist) marks one week since Brandon was discharged from the hospital and Megan is home and doing well. My son is facing several more painful weeks and a difficult few months of healing and rehab, but I know he will come back stronger than ever. That's just who he is.

Megan will be seen at Children's soon, to try and determine what caused the pancreatitis. Hopefully we can get answers so that we can prevent it from happening again.

I love my kids...I'm extremely blessed. I don't need these traumatic incidents to remind me of this, but man-oh-man, does it make me appreciate the 'boring' days!! I hope to get back out into my fifth-wheel soon and start recording again. If I happen to see any mouse droppings...I don't think that I'll complain. ;)