Monday, January 23, 2012

The Self-Promotion Treadmill: Part Two

Lately I have been making myself crazy over the cover for my next book, The Seventh Pillar. One of the dictums of self-publishing, something you hear all the time, is the necessity for a good cover. But it's not just a cover: it's the KEY TO EVERYTHING, or at least that's what the gurus seem to be saying. If your cover isn't "good enough" your book is doomed to remain unnoticed, hovering somewhere around the 2,000,000 mark on Amazon, if you are lucky enough to have any number at all.

I have a wonderful cover designer for this book. Her name is Bonnie Lea Elliott and I am sure I am driving her to drink. I know I'm driving myself to drink. See, I know someone who is a really super guy who is also a genius when it comes to the publishing industry. I developed a cover with Bonnie that I thought was really good. My friend didn't like it. He gave me some very constructive criticism, some of which I cheerfully accepted. I made changes. He still didn't like it. But I like it. Bonnie likes it. Other people like it. It's a scary and powerful cover for a scary thriller. But my professional advisor doesn't like it.

The creeping shadow of self doubt has filled my soul and now I am lost...oh, wait, that's from a bad story I never finished....

Self promotion, for an Indie writer, means you wear all the hats. It's like being an entire football team on its way to the Super Bowl and of your hats is a punt returner. One is a field goal kicker. It's easy to make a mistake that can cost you...what? Not the big game, but that's what the mind tells you. If the cover isn't right, no one will buy it, you will have failed.

How did we get here, with this self promo thing? I just lost almost an entire day I could have been writing, thinking about this cover. Perhaps you have had a similar experience. It's true there are a lot of bad covers out there. But I don't buy books because of their covers. Ebooks aren't like going into a bookstore. I buy an ebook because I have read other works by that author, because someone I trust recommended the book, because something appealed in the excerpt, because I liked the description. I might even buy one with a lousy cover, for the same reasons. So it isn't the cover so much as the reviews, the word of mouth and plain serendipity.

Self Promoters Of The Indie World, Unite! Throw off your chains! Throw off the shackles of conventional thinking about what works and write! The Revolution demands sacrifice of the Old Gods...

I am reminded of an Ojibway saying, which I try to remember when I feel like I'm screwing everything up, like my latest cover, because of obsessive and unrealistic thoughts about what it's supposed to do. Here's the saying:

"Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while
A great wind is bearing me across the sky."

I'm going to make myself a drink, now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Self-Promotion Treadmill

One of the downsides of being an Indie writer is the need for self promotion. I've spent a lot of time over the last year trying to figure out how to promote White Jade and The Lance. I've read a lot of blogs, articles and books about guerilla marketing and self promotion. Joe Konrath has probably written the Bible of Indie promotion. If you have not already done so, look him up. His blog is at Joe's basic philosophy is brutal in its simplicity: promotion takes time and a lot of work.

The problem isn't so much finding out what to do, it's balancing that with writing. For me, that is the real work. It's where the juice is. Marketing is a job. Writing is hard work, but it's not a job. It's life.

Nelson DeMille's approach is that writing more books is a better way to spend your time than self promotion. Konrath would agree that you need as many books out there as you can produce, a body of work over time.

You're probably in trouble if you are writing just for the money, both from a creative standpoint and for the future of your early retirement. But is good. Reward is good. Millions of readers would be good. That is going to take self promotion.

We are in the first stages of a massive revolution in publishing and marketing and it's not clear yet what really works and what doesn't. It also depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Here are a few things that keep popping up from various experts on marketing your books.

WARNING: Cliché Alert

Take this list with a grain of salt.

1.      ads don't work, don't waste your money
2.      press releases don't work, don't waste your money
3.      you need a great cover
4.      you need to write a lot of books
5.      a series is good
6.      you need to stick to your genre
7.      you need to keep control of your work
8.      you need to think in terms of the long run
9.      you need to think internationally
10.  you need friends
11.  you need to support other Indie writers
12.  you need to do all those things Amazon suggests, like the Author Central page
13.  you need the patience of Job

By friends, I don't mean Auntie May, your buddies Joe and Irene and your Mom. I mean the people you support and meet online, on Facebook, on the Amazon forums, in specialized groups on Goodreads and LinkedIn. I'm not so sure about Twitter, but maybe. The groups you choose to join are an invaluable resource. It doesn't mean those folks will buy your books. It does mean you can joke, laugh, tap resources, learn, celebrate success, get the word out about your writing, get yourself out of the writer's isolation and in general participate in the human race. That is good, trust me.

It boils down to this: link up with others and support them. Write as much as you can. Trust in the value of what you write. Have fun doing it. Otherwise, why bother? Remember Field of Dreams? If you build it, they will come...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Two Scene Solution

Perhaps you have encountered Writer's Block, that dreaded affliction where the creative muse frolics elsewhere while you sit hunched over your keyboard, numbed of mind and body, gnarled fingers poised to enter...nothing.

Paralysis has set in. You're overwhelmed by problems of plot and character that you never anticipated when you started the book in the first place. Suddenly, it's all too much. How can you decide what goes next, how can this thing ever progress, how do you get out of this mess?

Easy. Forget about the big picture. Forget about that neat idea you have to blow something important up in the middle of the book or whatever (I write thrillers). Forget about how it's all supposed to end, if you really think you know that in the first place. I usually don't, and I'll bet you don't either, beyond the broadest possible outcome like the good guys win. If you do, chances are your book is doomed anyway by the gods of predictability and boredom.

Just write a scene, any scene. I'm assuming you have actually STARTED a book, a good first step. Hopefully a scene that has something to do with your book. For example, suppose your hero is imprisoned in a dungeon. Now you're set. Description, description, description. What's it look like? What color are the stones? What kind of floor does it have? What does it smell like? Bad, I'll bet. You know, a hole in the corner for a toilet ff the hero is lucky. Are there other dungeons? Is anyone in them? Are they screaming, crying, cursing, silent? Is there a window? Is it daytime? Night? Raining? Are there rats? Bugs? What's our hero thinking? You get the idea.

Naturally scene one leads to scene two. Hero gets out of dungeon. You weren't going to leave him there for the whole book, were you? That would be depressing and you don't want to write a book that makes people want to shoot themselves unless you are seeking a grand literary prize in contemporary literature.

Okay, hero gets out of dungeon. How? He escapes by way of a secret passage, the King's men let him loose, he picks the lock, he's rescued, an earthquake knocks down the wall--the possibilities are endless.

Suddenly it's lunch time, you've just written 1500 words and it was easy. You might throw out half those words later, but so what? Write scene one. Scene two will follow.
Try it, you'll see. And let me know how it goes.