Real Talk, Growing As A Writer

Okay, real talk here.

After reading over my first draft of the Alliance #3, I went back to book one to fact check a few things for consistency. I cringed when I read parts of Bloodlines. I won’t say it’s terrible, but it’s my first book and will never be my best. I’m still proud. And, hey, the reviews are strong so people are still enjoying the story despite the imperfections!

When I decided to get serious about writing the Alliance, I was straight out of high school with little understanding of sentence structure. Sad and surprising, I know. I had an imagination and could be descriptive, but I never really learned or retained all the rules of writing. I pretty much struggled throughout high school. I scraped by with low grades, and honestly, I copied off a friend’s paper when I got too behind. I cheated myself out of learning because I felt I couldn’t catch up. I absolutely didn’t learn well in classroom environments.

I slowly improved my writing with the help of some grammar savvy friends. Plus, I read a lot and just paid closer attention to the way other authors wrote. I did my research and got critiques were I could. I kept learning. I’m still learning. I think that’s an important thing to remember regardless of what you’re trying to achieve in life. Never stop learning.

Almost every author I’ve ever loved and followed has said that the first book you write will be crap, so I already knew I couldn’t expect Bloodlines to be perfect. Regardless, I was still shocked at weak description and poor structure.

I’ve learned so much since writing my first novel. My structure has improved and my descriptions are stronger. Drakon is much improved, and I think book three will surpass them all. Hell, the first draft of book three is stronger than the final draft of Bloodlines.

It’s amazing what you can achieve if you don’t give up.

If you read Bloodlines I hope you enjoyed and will give Drakon a chance. The Alliance sequels may surprise you. Click here to see what readers are saying about The Alliance: Bloodlines on Amazon.

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Indie Author Marketing Tips

As writers, we have to understand the phrase, “If you build it, they will come,” does not apply to us or our books. If we want sales, we have to work harder than we worked to write the damn books.

So, how do we do that?

Buckle up and I’ll explain!

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You won’t find one exact formula for success. Try different options and combinations for marketing your novel until you find one that works for your books.

There are two important things you must remember:

First, make sure your quality is there. If it’s not, go back and splurge for professional editing, formatting and, cover design. Trust me, I saw a bump in sales by releasing second edition of my first novel with professional quality. The sales bump wasn’t anything huge, but it was much needed progress. If you need help with how to generate the extra income for this, please check out my guide to self-publishing on a budget.)

Second, keep writing. Nothing sells book one better than book two or three. People are more likely to invest in a new title when they discover the book is part of a series. They won’t have to wait for the next book. They can binge read all the titles you have available. Many authors state they didn’t see significant sales until they were four or five books into a series, so don’t get discouraged with book one, two, or three.

Okay, still with me?

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Now we’ll talk about how to promote your current publications.

Know your keywords

You need to be savvy with keywords when publishing on Amazon/Createspace or anywhere else. Here are some helpful links to finding your appropriate keywords. Here is a guide I found for Kindle keywords to help you out.

Update your Amazon author profile

If you’re on Amazon, make sure your author profile is update. You can find tips for making the most of your profile here.

Update your social media accounts

I would assume that anyone trying to be an indie author would be social media savvy. Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest…whatever. Make sure those accounts are updated with your current bio, book info and such. Also, make sure you’re not being spammy with your promotional posts.

Send out ARCs

Advanced Reader’s Copy or Advanced Review Copy is a tool for generating a buzz and getting early reviews to entice readers at launch. Reach out to book bloggers and offer ARCs, but make sure you’re offering a polished manuscript. Don’t send a draft!

Find marketing sites

Research popular book marketing sites such as Bookbub and check their requirements for advertising. Some sites require a minimum number of views, some are free, and some are paid ads.

Perma-free first book

Some authors found success making the first book in a series perma-free. Readers who find value in a free book will generally buy the next one to keep reading the series.

Pre-orders

I haven’t tried this myself, but I’ve read many success stories involving pre-orders. I plan to offer pre-orders with this year’s holiday release.

Press Release

Creating a press release can be an easy way to have your book information ready to hand over to any bloggers or sites willing to promote for you. Initially, I found press kits to be overwhelming because I had no idea what I was doing. I found this helpful guide here and maybe it will help you too.

Make use of giveaways on sites like Amazon and Goodreads

They are pros and cons to each one, so try them all or see which ones best fit your budget. I like Amazon’s Giveaway options because they do all the work for you! Unfortunately, you pay full price for your book plus shipping costs, and with Goodreads you can buy books at your cost and ship yourself. So, part of your decision might boil down to whether you prefer to save a little time or a little money.

You also want to consider that the people who could win your Amazon Giveaway might not be a bookworm, but assuming if someone enters the giveaway on Goodreads, chances are very high that they are a reader likely to review.

 

I hope you find this information helpful. As you try combinations of these options, try to gauge how well your book sells with each. Measure which price points and promotions work best, so you’ll have a better strategy for the next book release. Remember, lack of success isn’t losing, it’s a game of learning. So, make marketing your novel a game you aim to win at.

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How to Self-Publish with Crowdfunding Help

Writing a novel is not an easy task, but the steps for self-publishing can create an even greater challenge. Writers can write. They can’t always be writers and masters of cover design or formatting. Authors seeking to self-publish a professional quality book may be discouraged when their budgets don’t match the costs of self-publishing.

So what do you do?

While this approach may not be for everyone, some authors might find that the answer is crowdfunding.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo are just some of the platforms available for those looking for a site to fund their latest creation. There’s a ton of information surrounding the specifics of crowdfunding for those who aren’t familiar, but this blog post is focused on building a plan for your campaign and what worked for me. You can view my campaign here.

So you want to start a campaign?

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I was successful with my Indiegogo publishing campaign last year, and I’ll share my plan with you. Everyone has different strategies and what works for some, may not work for others. The rules mentioned below will apply to most campaigns, and the you can tweak the plan to make it work for you.

RULE ONE: Plan ahead

This sounds like a no-brainer, but not for some people who can get impatient (like me) and want to jump in head first. I didn’t launch my campaign until May 2015, but I started planning in 2014. It was so hard to be patient, but there was a lot of planning involved which led me to my successfully ended campaign.

RULE TWO: Know your audience

In order to effectively market the campaign, you need to understand who is going to be interested in your novel and where to find them. This is probably not too hard because authors should always be considering who their target readers are. Don’t limit yourself to just friends and family on Facebook. You need to think outside the box when it comes to reaching your audience.

RULE THREE: Build your fan base

You want people to know what you’re doing. Start with friends, family and coworkers and compile a list of people you think you can count on to help.

**disclaimer** Only a percentage of that list will activity participate, but you still need to build it. Just don’t get discouraged when you don’t see the number of people you estimated.

The more people you have actively supporting you the better. It’s even better if you have some on your list with big social media connections to help you spread the word. Word of mouth can be huge for advertisement—crowdfunding is no exception.

If you already have a website/blog, FB fan page for your book, Twitter…whatever. You might already have a social media presence of your own. Keep building that. If you don’t have any social media presence, spend time on that long before you attempt to launch a campaign. People aren’t going to take a campaign seriously about “the next hot book” or ya know, whatever, unless they see you putting yourself out there on social media. I won’t give much thought to a campaign promoted by someone with a meager 8 Twitter followers and no blog or other social media presence. Put yourself out on social media and be active. And not spammy! Be engaging. Talk about topics related to your book or discuss books you love. Interact with people who can share interests with you. Find some of those target readers.

RULE FOUR: Research and develop your game plan until you’re sick of it and then research more

Search the vast craziness of the web for minor celebs or other authors who might be willing to help you. Maybe your local newspaper would be interested in covering your latest work. Look for sites related to your project where you could send a press release. (I made a press release, but I really didn’t know what to do with it at the time. I’m successful, yet still continuing to learn how to get better at crowdfunding.)

RULE FIVE: Have rewarding rewards

You need a range of reward/perk tiers for various budgets, and they need to actually feel rewarding. You also need to spend a lot of time debating how much the rewards will cost you. Digital rewards are great because they don’t cost shipping, but they need to have some value. Some people prefer physical rewards, so you’ll want to consider your options for books, shirts, bookmarks and such. Calculate and plan for this. You don’t want to launch your campaign just to realize you messed up and some money comes out of your pocket to finish shipping out the physical items.

RULE SIX: Be reasonable

I left this near the end because you’ll probably try to be pretty reasonable in the beginning, but maybe things got out of hand. Go back and check your project. Check your plan and minimum goal. Is your minimum the actual lowest amount you could receive and still get the job done?

My first campaign failed because I wasn’t nearly as reasonable as I could’ve been. I budgeted for the highest level of editing costs, high priced cover art and so on. Set your budget to the bare minimum you need to complete your project with a satisfying quality and still cover your rewards.

Stretch goals are designed for increasing the quality of the project. So you can plan to add those if you are successful at hitting your initial goal. So you can add in your campaign details that you can get your cover art done for X amount of money, but if you surpass the goal, you’d like to try for a higher quality illustration or artist if a stretch goal of X amount of money is met. You can also use your stretch goals to up your reward tiers or add new ones. Maybe you hit a small stretch goal and want to offer bookmarks for everyone already set to receive a physical reward.

Whew, now that now that my basic rules are covered, let’s get more specific with my plan.

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My pitch was a YA supernatural thriller. I knew my books contained fantasy and supernatural elements with a bunch of geeky pop culture references thrown in. I had my bases covered with social media because I had already built up a social media presence—which of course I continued to grow throughout the year. I also built a street team of fellow readers, writers, gamers and friends to help me spread the word.

I had a spiral notebook where I kept a detailed list of ideas, supporters, and of course my constantly edited campaign plan. I planned out my rewards to be mostly digital copies of my novels, but also offered higher tiers for those wanting signed copies of my finished products.

Books make great rewards because not only are you rewarding your contributors, but you get your story into more hands and that’s exactly what you want as an indie author. If you used the money from the campaign to make a great quality book, then you could very well generate some reviews and word of mouth advertisement from those who received your rewards.

Here’s where things get real. Maybe you have more eager friends and family with the extra cash than I had, but the number of family that supported my campaign was pretty damn low, and I have a pretty supportive family. You have to consider that people get busy, forget, or don’t have the cash. We all know times can get tough, but we wouldn’t be crowdfunding if we had all the money ourselves, right? The hard truth is your support from friends and family might be super limited. You’ll need to think outside the box.

For me, I used a different platform for occasional advertisement. I found those geeky gamers who I marked in my initial plan as my target audience. Where? I found them while gaming, duh. I write stories that I would want to read, so naturally I needed to find others like me.

So I logged on to live stream a video game on Twitch (as I had been doing all year) for viewers to chill and chat. We talked about a variety of topics. Our favorite games, comics, books…you name it. I spent a small amount of time talking about my book and when my campaign launched, I added a bot to the chatbox which would display the link to my campaign. My best friend (who also live streamed for a much bigger audience than I did) did the same to help spread the word. Between her channel and mine, we fully funded the campaign in just three days with most of the contributions coming from our regular channel viewers in just one night.

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We did it by going outside the normal social media outlets and creating a discussion. I let viewers ask me questions about writing and influences. It was an amazing—possibly magical experience with the appearance of unicorns and double rainbows—and I probably would’ve been far less successful or barely hitting my goal if I had limited myself to the typical social media outlets.

Don’t be afraid of the rejection because some people are going to tell you no. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Work your butt off. Find your people. Be passionate.

And for the love of Joss Whedon, don’t be annoying and spammy with promotional links.

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I also strongly suggest learning about press releases and how to write them. I will also make this one of my goals for 2016 and will assist in a campaign I hope to launch later in the year. I’ll also do a blog post on the topic once I’ve learned enough to be helpful, haha.

I hope this information helped and feel free to ask questions in the comments below or tweet me @sedoster. If you’d like to find out more about my Alliance YA series, you can check out my website sedoster.com or find my books on Amazon.

 

The Pitch Wars Experience

If you follow my Twitter account, you’ve probably seen an abundance of writing related tweets using hashtags such as #PitchWars. What is Pitch Wars?

Pitch Wars is now one of many contests/author events geared towards helping writers who seek publication. The contest was created by the lovely Brenda Drake, and you should check out her page for the details and schedule here.

Basically, writers can submit their query letter and first chapter to select mentors who are participating in their genre. The mentors are published/agented authors, editors, interns who are offering up their free time to read each submission they get. After they read through their submissions, they can only select ONE author to scoop under their wing as a mentee.

What does this mentor and mentee partnership mean? Great knowledge! And the mentor will assist the mentee with polishing their query letter and manuscript to become ready for the final round of the contest: The Agent Round.

During the Agent Round the mentees submissions will be made available to the select agents participating in the contest. There’s no guarantee of scoring an agent, but if you get this far in the contest, you should feel rewarded knowing you’re on the right track.

This year the numbers totaled at a little over a hundred mentors and well over a thousand submissions were received. So there’s no guarantee of an agent and the odds are tough no matter how strong your submission might be, so why enter? Regardless of whether you get an agent or even selected to be a mentee, the overall Pitch Wars experience is very rewarding.

Why?

First, submitting is great practice and that’s never a loss! You might even score some feedback from the mentors. Feedback is not required because the mentors are already devoting their free time to the contest and have to focus on helping their mentee. So, let’s keep things classy and make sure to be both patient and appreciative if any mentors take the time to offer feedback to you.

Second, this was my first Pitch Wars and I was not chosen as a mentee, but it was a pleasure connecting with the community. The mentors are pretty active on Twitter, and they provide valuable information via Twitter and their personal blogs. This also gave me a chance to make new writer friends! So basically, search the Pitch Wars hashtag for the chance to learn from industry professionals or meet some awesome writers who might be looking for a critique partner.

The contest is annual, and it’s never too early to work on your submission for next year’s Pitch Wars! Also, visit Brenda Drake’s page for other contest options scheduled throughout the year. Good luck and happy writing!

Don’t Be Scared to Change Your Story

I decided to re-write the first chapter of Sacrifice because it’s the only section of the book I’ve been unhappy with. I always grimace when I have to provide that section for queries. Every time I submit to an agent I catch myself saying, “Ugh this isn’t the best part.” Well why isn’t it? Why would I keep an opener that isn’t strong enough to be a good selling point? If i’m not fully happy with the first chapter, why would I expect an agent to enjoy it?

Trust your instincts and don’t be stubborn with your drafts.

If something feels wrong or weak, you can always get another opinion or test a different scenario out.

Ask yourself questions. How could this part be more interesting? What is the weakest part? Is it the dialogue? Are the first few lines not catchy enough?

For Sacrifice, I asked myself what I thought was weak about the first chapter. I asked myself what parts worked and what parts weren’t helping the flow of the story. I came to the conclusion that I had all the information I needed to convey, but I needed to change my execution. I brainstormed different ways I could change the first chapter to better introduce my character. I decided to keep important dialogue bits, but i’m completely changing the setting. Instead of a boring phone conversation, my main character will be on the job and battling a supernatural creature. I’m currently testing different creatures and settings for this particular supernatural encounter.

So remember, don’t be scared to go back and make further revisions to your story. If something isn’t working, it’s best to improve the areas before making the plunge into queries. Sometimes I think we mentally tell ourselves the manuscript is done because we want the story to be finished, but not always when it’s actually a polished final draft. I wish I had thought to fix my “final draft” sooner. Lesson learned. (;