Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Would Anyone in Their Right Mind Want To Write for a Living? by Scott M. Baker

“Why would anyone in their right mind want to write for a living?”

Nobody wants to write for a living. We do it because we have to. Once we’ve put pen to paper that first time, we’re addicted. The only fix for that addiction is to type out a few pages of a short story or novel.

Those of you who have a passion for writing know exactly what I’m talking about. You carry a pocket-size notebook everywhere you go to write down your thoughts. You carefully observe people for unique mannerisms that then make their way into your characters. You listen in on conversations not because you’re nosy, but because you study how people talk so your dialogue sounds realistic. You can’t watch the news or read a newspaper without getting an idea for a short story or novel. To you, a personal crisis is when you find out that the really awesome scene you thought of last week was already used in another book or movie. To you, writing is not so much a profession as it is a calling.

The reward is not the paycheck. Most writers will be damn lucky if they make enough from writing to pay the bills. No. the reward is seeing your name on the book cover. It’s the thrill of having people read the story you have to tell. It’s hearing from your fans how much they enjoyed reading your story or novel. It’s going to conventions and book signings. It’s watching that one story or novel slowly become a long bibliography.

If you’re nodding your head while reading this, then you’re one of the lucky ones.

“Lucky ones?”

Yes. You’re lucky because you’ve answered the call. Like any calling, the road ahead will not always be easy. You’ll have frustrations. You’ll have doubts. And you might even abandon writing for awhile, only to go back to it soon. Writing is that addictive. But the rewards are worth it.

So if you answered the calling, I wish you the best in your endeavor. You’re going to need it.

If just one of you finds enough inspiration in these blogs to write a novel or short story, or picks up some advice that helps you get published, then my efforts were not wasted.

Just remember me when writing the acknowledgment page of your book.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Marketing Your Book and Yourself Part II by Scott M. Baker

“So that’s it? I set up a blog and a webpage and I’m done marketing my book?”

Hell, no.

In addition to a web and blog page, you will also need to establish an author’s account on some of the various social networking sites (SNS) available on the Internet. Facebook and Twitter are the most common ones, although there are dozens of SNSs available. Set up profiles on as many of these networking sites as you want or on the ones where you feel you can have a greater presence. A great website for the serial social networker is Ping.fm, which allows you to post to numerous networking sites simultaneously. Just bear in mind that Ping should not be used as an excuse to establish a presence on every SNS available, because the more time you spend maintaining these sites and networking means the less time you spend writing.

You will also want to join a few forums and chat groups to make your name known throughout the community. I suggest a mix between those directed primarily to writers and those frequented by fans of your genre. A good place to begin is Goodreads. This site is dedicated to writers and readers and maintains numerous chat groups that span all genres. Beyond that, do your research and check out various forums/chat groups until you find a few where you feel comfortable and enjoy the discussions. As with the social networking sites, moderation is the key.

“Cool. I love Facebook. I have a couple of dozen zombie pets that I’m taking care of.”

You’re missing the point. Your goal is to market your book, not to steal your friend’s zombie rabbits or create photo albums of your last trip to Europe. Always remember that you need to market yourself as much as your book. The best way you can accomplish that is to establish a reputation as a reliable expert in your genre. Although it’s important, don’t use these sites just to talk about yourself and update people on your latest writing project. Discuss the latest books and movies in your genre, provide links to other sites that are of interest to you and may be of interest to your readers, offer the latest news in your genre or the publishing industry, or maybe write a series of blogs on how to get published. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t have a thousand followers at the end of the first week. This is a slow process, so be patient. If you market yourself correctly and give it time, slowly but surely you’ll build up a following of fans who will want to read your book, who will tell their friends to read it, and who will eagerly await your next novel. (NOTE: Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It!, available from Amazon, provides an excellent step-by-step approach on how to achieve this.)

There are two important things to keep in mind when blogging and networking. First, always use your writing name when posting. While it might be fun to call yourself zombiebunnies on Facebook, it makes it almost impossible for your fans to find and follow you. Second, avoid controversial subjects and flame wars with fans and colleagues. This is one of those instances when bad publicity is worse than no publicity. If you take sides on political issues, militantly support certain causes, or publicly and consistently lambast a colleague as a hack who can’t write for merde, you run the risk of losing major portions of your fan base.

Finally, there are other things you should do to market yourself and your book:

Book signings. These are your most important venue for building your fan base. And don’t limit yourself just to book stores. General book and genre conventions are also a big draw for fans. Of all the horror conventions I’ve attended, authors are among the most popular celebrity guests. John Lamb, author of the Teddy Bear Mystery series, once told me that he sells almost as many books at teddy bear conventions as he does at book signings.

Guest blogging: These are vital for new authors to get their names out in the public domain. There are many established blogs that allow aspiring or first-time authors to guest blog on their sites.

Look for every opportunity you can find to get your name out there. See if you can convince your local radio and television stations or newspapers to interview you as a hometown celebrity. Try and arrange virtual book tours (which is especially important if you’re an e-book author) where you have chat room discussions on various forums. Spend the time and effort to create a video trailer for your book that you can post to YouTube. Donate autographed copies of your book to charity events, or do book signings at such events with all the proceeds going to that charity. These are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of things you can do to publicize your book, all of which inevitably increase sales.

Well, that wraps up my blog series on how to get published. Any questions?

“Yeah. You just described a hell of a lot of work to go through to be a mid-list author. Why would anyone in their right mind want to write for a living?”

Good question. Let me answer that… next week.

FINAL BLOG: Why Would Anyone in Their Right Mind Want To Write for a Living?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Marketing Your Book and Yourself Part I by Scott M. Baker

“What? You mean I spent a year writing my book, six months revising it, and three years getting it published, and you tell me that was the easy part?”

Yup. [NOTE: Of all the authors I’ve talked to over the years, most have stated that the average time to find a publisher is six years. And that’s the average. One mid-list SciFi writer who is now well established told me it took him ten years to place his first novel. So don’t get discouraged after your first dozen rejection slips. This is a long and ego-bruising process.]

It’s time for the harsh reality. Your novel is a product. In the publishing industry, it’s one product competing with thousands of others just like it. If you’re really lucky beyond your wildest dreams, you’ll hit a homerun your first time at bat J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter or, to a lesser extent, Brian Keene did with The Rising. For the vast majority of us, we have to work at building our reputation. You have to make the readers aware that your book is out on the market, convince them to purchase a copy, and hope that they like it enough to come back for more. Up until now you’ve spent all your time writing that first book. Now you have to spend just as much time marketing it if you ever hope to see your second book published. Trust me on this one – I’m speaking from experience.

[DISCLAIMER: What I’m about to say next is a generalization about the industry and does not hold true for each and every publisher. My publisher, Shadowfire Press, understands that it takes several years and several books for an author to come into his/her own, and is very nurturing in that process. However, I know of other publishers that I will not name that see their authors as resources to be exploited for their own gain. That is why, as I stressed in a previous blog, an author must be careful about who he/she contracts with and not feel as though they must take the first offer that comes along.]

All the authors, publishers, and literary agents I’ve talked to stress that publishing is an industry. As in any industry, if you can’t turn a profit for the company, the company will let you go and find someone who can make them money. Publishers spend a certain amount to get your book into print in the anticipation that it will be popular and turn a profit. The industry closely tracks book sales, and that information is readily available. So if the book doesn’t sell well, for whatever reason, and if it the publisher is not able to at least break even, then good luck getting them or anyone else to take a chance on your second book. (The good news is the rise of e-publishing. Since the initial outlay to publish an e-book is so much less since the company does not have to worry about printing and shipping costs, the chances of your book turning a profit are much greater. Conversely, your royalty on an e-book should be greater than with a hardcover or paperback.)

Compounding the problem is the vast number of books on the market today. Gone are the days when a publishing house had a small but reliable cache of authors and would devote its time and resources to making them successful. Today, most publishers dedicate their limited public relations budget to those books or authors they deem most marketable, letting the rest of us fend for ourselves. Even those publishing houses that look after their authors include clauses in their contracts that require the author to take upon themselves much of the responsibility for marketing the book. It’s a fact of life of the publishing industry today.

Years ago the author’s mantra used to be “Write or Die.” Today it’s “Market or Die.”

The good news is, marketing yourself and your book is neither costly nor difficult, only time consuming.

Since you have a product to sell, you need a place to sell it. So let’s begin by setting up a website and a blog. Keep it simple. The goal is to provide a forum to discuss your writing and what you’ve written, so everything that goes on it should be geared to that end. My blog layout contains the basics: a photo and brief bio of myself, links to my web presence and where to purchase my books, links to other websites I frequent, and banners to vampire-related websites that have also provided links to my blog. Check out several blogs and websites for authors you like to see what they have done, then create your own. If the idea of creating one intimidates you, don’t let it. There are several sites out there that allow the technologically-impaired to easily set up and manage a blog or homepage. Once you spend the time to create your blog and homepage, keep up with them. Try to post at least three days a week. If a potential fan clicks on your site and sees that it hasn’t been updated since the Red Sox won the last World Series, they won’t bother following you. It takes half a day at most to set one up and only a few hours a week to maintain it. (And before anyone who has visited my website comments, I admit I’m horrible when it comes to updating my webpage, but I hope to do better, especially now that I chastised you for not doing so.)

Keep the content interesting. Post updates about your writing, when you sign a contract or get published, any conventions or book signings you’re attending, etc. And be sure to vary the content. If your blog is only about you and your writing, you’ll bore readers. Include postings that are fun or informative. I post the weekly Sunday Bunnies and news about upcoming genre-related books, movies, or TV shows. Just try to avoid content that will be controversial or divisive (like politics and religion). If you give your honest opinion of a President or other leading political figure, don’t be surprised if you alienate half your readers.

NEXT BLOG: Marketing Your Book and Yourself, Part II