Category Archives: writing advice

5 Tools To Help Promote Your Book

The other day I was asked by a fellow author what programs/websites/etc. I used in my promotional efforts (not including paid advertising), and realized that it might be a good post for the blog. I think that as indie authors, we just assume that other indies use the same stuff and know all about the latest and greatest.

So, in the hope that there might be something useful to you writers out there, here are 5 promotional tools I’ve been using:

bookfunnel logo

BookFunnel: First off, I want to give a huge shout out to BookFunnel for making life soooo much easier. Bookfunnel is the website to use if you give out free books like ARCs (Advance Review Copies), or lead magnets for your email list. For a small annual fee, they will host your EPUBs, MOBIs, and PDFs, and—best of all—give readers download instructions. They take over when a reader has trouble getting the book onto their Kindle, Nook, other e-reader, or tablet. I’ve heard nothing but good things from folks who use the help function, and it’s freed up a lot of writing time for me. You can create as many expiring links as you need for your books, and they’re working on all sorts of cool stuff for the future. They have also been incredibly responsive when I had questions. Highly recommended.

calibre logo

Calibre: There are a few places online that you can use to create different e-book formats for giving out to reviewers or if you have a contest with an e-book as a prize–not the least of which is your KDP dashboard to download a MOBI, or your Nook, Smashwords, or D2D dashboard for EPUB files. But if you want to be able to tweak the end matter and links and have a way to keep track of your files, I would recommend using Calibre. Calibre is free, downloadable software that allows you to convert your source book file from a .docx, HTML, EPUB, or MOBI into whichever format you need. Pretty darned handy.

bigstock logo

Bigstock/Pixabay: I’ve used BigStock for royalty free (but not free) images for years. There are scads of others, but for some reason I usually find what I’m looking for on BigStock. For free images, I use Pixabay. (Be aware that the top line of photos on Pixabay are sponsored imagespixabay-logo that aren’t free.) You can easily find something to use, as they have an extensive, searchable database of free photos.

 

DesignFeedLogo

DesignFeed: I’ve used Canva before, but I didn’t like having to cough up $1 for every image I wanted to use—and not just because I’m cheap frugal, although there’s that. Mainly because I don’t like giving my credit card number out to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet. But that’s just me. Luckily, I stumbled onto a cool new site called DesignFeed. Although still in beta, it’s pretty easy to use. All you need are some quotes from your book, an idea of what you want the background to be, and DesignFeed will create your chosen promo card in the correct dimensions for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest. They even give suggestions, in case you’re stuck. I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a huge time saver. And best of all, for the time being it’s free 🙂 Here are a couple I did for A Killing Truth:

It wouldn't be long now...FBAKT_bw

 

 

 

 

 

Free Advertising: Although free and bargain books don’t garner the number of downloads/sales like they used to, when you’re having a sale it’s always a good idea to list with as many free promo sites as you can. Here’s one list to get you started. It’s been compiled by fellow author Martin Crosbie, who writes for Indies Unlimited. Not all of the sites he mentions have free options, but if you do your homework you should be able to submit to a large number of them for low or no cost.

And there you have it. Five tools to help you when promoting your books. Do you have any favorites? Share them in the comments below!


Writing a Prequel, or, What the Hell Was I Thinking?

It wouldn't be long now...

 

So A Killing Truth is out (yay!) and early feedback is encouraging, which is a huge relief. Why, you ask? Because the book is a prequel and had two enormous tasks:

1: it had to hew closely to everything I’d written about Leine’s early life in the other books (my thoughts of which tended to be along the lines of Oh, holy crap, what was I thinking???), and

2: it had to strike the right tone and not be just a rehash so that readers of the series would still be intrigued enough to read it. Aka: Reader Expectation.

Okay, so let me dig a little deeper into the first, seemingly insurmountable task. As many of you know, my writing process is a hybrid of sketching out a rough outline combined with a seat-of-your-pants, cross your fingers and hope for the best, kind of style.

But I wasn’t always that organized 🙂

For example, when I wrote Serial Date, most of that novel came out in a torrent of mad writing sessions with a freaky dream as the catalyst. It’s filled with all sorts of, “Hey! Let’s make Leine loath tattoos. Why? Hell, I don’t know, maybe something happened in her past.” Followed by, “Well, what happened? I know! It should have something to do with an old target named The Frenchman, who of course almost killed her.”

And do you think I left it at that? Nope. Then I had to think of a reason that Leine and her old boss were no longer on speaking terms-the reason she left the Agency and ended her career as an assassin. What could Eric (her boss) have done that was so heinous that she should have killed him off? And why didn’t she? So I created what I thought would be a good explanation and left it at that. But I hadn’t thought through the logistics because I didn’t have to.

You know, because the book was going to be a standalone.

Bonus writing tip: Always think of the book you’re currently writing in terms of an over-arching series, even when it’s not. Because dollars to donuts, if you don’t, it will become one, guaranteed.

Female showing on map vintage photo

Must. Plan. Next. Time.

 

Okay, so readers wanted more Leine and I was happy to oblige, but I wanted to tackle current issues. Although the subject of Serial Date is reality shows, which is a current phenomenon in our culture, the book has an irreverent, satirical tone and I couldn’t figure out a way to satirize human trafficking without coming off as an asshole.

You see my dilemma.

So, I changed the tone of the second book (Bad Traffick) to hard-hitting, traditional-ish thriller and we were off! (Bonus writing tip #2: Always think of the book you’re currently writing in terms of an over-arching series. This includes consistency in tone.) I added a few more details to Leine’s backstory throughout the next three books, this time with the idea that I would someday write a prequel.

And here’s where it gets gnarly. The horrible transgression Eric committed was having Leine do something she would never, ever do if she knew all the details.

Leine’s a smart woman. In A Killing Truth, she’s at the top of her game as an assassin and takes pride in eliminating the worst of the worst. Eric had to make sure she was off-balance and would more likely make a mistake, or at least not be aware of his duplicity, which could royally mess with his plans.

Luckily, after much tooth-gnashing and pulling of hair, I was able to craft a realistic scenario that would incorporate all the little clues my subconscious had deposited throughout the series. I even had a couple of aha! moments that I surely didn’t see coming. Which brings me to Task #2.

Reader Expectation.

The only way I knew to be sure the story matched or exceeded reader expectation was to write a fast-paced, explosive plot, with Leine as the central character. Yes, she’s younger and a bit less damaged (until the end), but the narrative tone is still vintage Leine, ensuring that longtime readers of the series won’t be disappointed.

I refuse to post spoilers here but if you’ve read Serial Date, you’ll have an idea of the heinous thing Eric has Leine do in A Killing Truth. And since I’m not a fan of back story in my novels you’ll also learn a whole lot more about her early life. And, as promised, I reveal why the hell Leine hates tattoos.

Go ahead and read A Killing Truth and tell me what you think. It’s on sale everywhere for the super-special launch price of $0.99. (see links above, on the right).

Do you enjoy reading prequels? If so, which ones really nailed it in terms of story and tone? If not, why not? Inquiring minds want to know.


Gunshot Wounds and What They Tell Us

Bullets Hydra-Shok 9mm JHP 2871988380 o
Here’s a fab post by Ben at The Writers’ Guide to Weapons regarding what a gunshot wound (GSW) can and cannot reveal about the weapon used. Great information for those of us who write crime.

It appears that I’m on a roll with linking to other blog posts. I hope you mystery/thriller writers/readers out there find this one helpful/interesting. Original content will resume as soon as I’m finished with edits for the latest Leine Basso, A Killing Truth–coming soon! 🙂


Voice

Here’s an excellent article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch regarding the blandness of writerly voices from those who ONLY write by the rules. The takeaway: follow all the rules all the time and you may write passable-to-good books–but never great ones.

No Bland writing


The Smell of Cordite Hung in the Air

Woman with Smoking Gun by Clarence F. UnderwoodSo I’m reading away on the first in series of a new-to-me thriller author, enjoying the story line and the protagonist (tortured male assassin–one of my favorite kind of characters. Cliché, I know, but I still love ’em) and I come to the line “The smell of cordite hung heavy in the air” (or something like that).  As I’m sure you can tell by the title of this post, there just might be something wrong with that.

Well, yeah.

Back when I was a newbie to the crime genre, I read as many crime novels as I could find, and it didn’t matter what year they were published. Often, I’d come across the cordite reference and I wondered, “what the heck is cordite?” So I looked it up. Turns out, cordite was a propellant much like gunpowder, used mainly in the UK.

Notice the past tense.

That’s because cordite is no longer around and it hasn’t been used since WWII. Now, I’m not trying to be all snarky about accuracy in books, since I’ve made mistakes in my own fiction (like using the word clip for magazine. Got called on that one a couple of times.) But the author claims to have several experts read their work for accuracy and it makes me wonder how “expert” those folks really are. This author is independently published, but I’ve read a few books by traditionally published, well-known thriller authors who used the same reference in fairly recent books. Aren’t they supposed to have fact-checkers? Or at least a good editor?

Oh, well.

I’ve also read books where the character flipped the safety off on a Glock. A Glock doesn’t have an external safety . After reading the most recent book with that reference I gave the author the benefit of the doubt since guns weren’t their forte, and because it didn’t throw me too far out of the story. I do that with most of the books I read. Being an author myself, I realize how hard it is to make sure unfamiliar subjects are accurate, and the best you can do is research and try very hard to get it right. If the rest of the book is compelling, then a mistake here and there isn’t a deal breaker, at least for me.

The one thing that does make me throw the book across the room, though, and I’ve touched on this before, is when a male writer tries to write a female and either makes her a one-dimensional, convenient character, or puts lipstick on a dude and calls it good.

Ugh.

But, then again, being female is one subject where I have plenty of experience  🙂

How about you? Do you give authors the benefit of the doubt when you notice a mistake, or do you throw the book across the room? Better yet, do you tell them?


More From the Author Earnings Report

Thought I’d follow up that last post on Author Earnings with this one that includes both Kris Rusch’s and Passive Guy’s assessment of the data:

http://www.thepassivevoice.com/10/2015/kris-rusch-on-author-earnings/

Takeaway? Taking into consideration the obvious pro-indie bent of both Rusch and PG, the data apparently supports the idea that if you want the best possible chance of making a living as a writer, then Indie is the way to go.

…but we already knew that, didn’t we? 🙂


Update on The Body Market: Post-Launch

I thought since I hadn’t posted in a while (I’ve been concentrating on researching and writing the next Leine Basso book) I’d give an update on how things are going after the launch of The Body Market. The book’s been selling well and a couple of authors have contacted me privately to ask what I did differently, and whether I think those strategies worked. Since I love to analyze (not in any real scientific way, mind you) I sorted through all the things I did differently and those I didn’t and came to the same conclusion:

I have no effing idea which strategy worked the best.

Now, before you give me a ration of crap in the comments, let me clarify: if someone tells you that yes, this one thing they did caused Amazon’s bots to get behind their book, I’d have to call bullshit. Only Amazon knows how their site works, no matter what someone says. We can all try to guess what works until the moon explodes, but NO ONE REALLY KNOWS (and if anyone reading this does, in fact, know please leave a comment 🙂 )

Personally, I think it boils down to a combination of things: pre-launch hype, backlist, cover, genre, description (including using SEO keywords, and tags.), early reviews, press releases, advertising, social media posts, et al. You’ll notice I didn’t list pre-order, per se. That’s because while I expected Amazon’s pre-order option to work similarly to traditional pre-orders, e.g., all pre-order purchases rank on release day and give the book a bump of some kind hopefully onto a list or two, this did not happen with The Body Market. In fact, after all the work I did pushing pre-orders, the day after launch book sales on the ‘Zon dropped 70%.

gif of plane crashing

Blech. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I’d never had that happen on a launch before and I was pissed.

GollemAnd I didn’t know who or what to be pissed at, except myself. Somehow, somewhere, I’d messed up, but I didn’t have a clue what I’d done wrong. I dropped the price of Serial Date, the first book in the series, to 99 cents and advertised the hell out of it the week of the launch (AwesomeGang, EreaderNewsToday, FB, etc.). The Body Market’s pre-order price was 99 cents, which I also advertised with both free and paid options, although not too expensively (in other words, no BookBub ads).

cat on slide

Trying to get traction…

There was one bright, shiny moment on launch day: when a handful of advance readers who had agreed to read and review the book posted their reviews. They were all fantastic and I’m so incredibly grateful for their support. If not for them, I think I would have crawled into a corner, assumed the fetal position, and sobbed uncontrollably into a glass of wine.

Elaine with a bottle of wineI had one more ad coming out the Saturday after launch, a new release post with Free Kindle Books and Tips. I usually see a good rate of downloads whenever I run an ad with this site (not NYT bestseller numbers by any means, but enough to push the book onto some lists). This time, though, something was wrong. I clicked over to the page where the book was listed and realized I’d toggled the wrong genre. Instead of thriller/suspense, I’d somehow chosen history. I sent a message to the owner of the site, but by this time the email had gone out to subscribers and that first flush of purchasers, if they didn’t read the description and figure out the book wasn’t even remotely history-related, had more than likely skimmed past the book.

Okay, so at that point Mark pretty much had to talk me off the ledge (which, in retrospect, wasn’t hard to do since we live in a one-story house). I decided then and there that whatever happened to the book was just meant to be and that I had done everything I could short of dancing naked in the middle of Pike Place Market holding up a cardboard cutout of the book cover and offering free booze to passersby.

Hmmm…maybe…um, nah. Seattle’s too damn cold.

Then, a miracle happened. Somewhere, somehow, something clicked and downloads started to do a kind of a crazy zig-zag on the report page. One day, sales tripled, the next day they sank back to post launch. The next day sales tripled again, but then the weekend hit and sales tanked. By this time, I was feeling all zen about the launch and I figured, hey, sales were sales and I should concentrate on the next book, forget about it all, immerse myself in the world of Leine once again, do what makes me happy. Basically, I adopted a fuck it attitude and let it go (cue song from Frozen)

Frozen gifThe following Monday sales increased seven-fold and have been growing ever since. As I write this, the whole series is selling well. I rooted around to see if The Body Market somehow made it onto any big lists on the ‘Zon, but I couldn’t find it anywhere other than the usual suspects like Mystery, Thriller & Suspense>Crime and Thrillers>Assassinations, so I’m stymied. Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe the rate of downloads will last, but I’m supremely happy knowing the series is reaching more readers than ever and can’t wait to see how far the 4th book in the series will go. I wish I could point to one thing I did right, or even a few things, but hell if I know. I’ll probably do a lot of the same stuff for the next launch, but don’t expect it to follow the same patterns. The timing will be different, for one thing, so who knows what’ll happen?

I think that whole unknown is what intrigues me about this business. Predictable, it’s not.

So how about you guys? What are your launch strategies? Are you doing anything different? If so, what’s working and what isn’t?


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