Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Thrillers and Superheroes

It's been a while since I posted last. I've been working on the newest book in the PROJECT series, The Russian Deception... and now it's done. Well, the hardest part is done, i.e. writing it. Now comes the next hardest part, getting the word out there that the book is available.

Right now it's on preorder, here:

The release date is October 10 but it can be ordered now by going to the link on Amazon. It's also available on all other platforms. I gave up on exclusivity with Amazon some time ago and it was the right move for me.

The Russian Deception continues the saga of the Project team, a covert group of men and women who work under the radar to keep America safe. They always get in a lot of trouble and somehow, one way or another, most of them come out alive. Sometimes people tell me that the characters are superheroes. They're not. The kinds of things Nick and Selena and the others do aren't easy but they are not impossible. Just take a look at modern special forces and the things real heroes are asked to do. For most of us mortals it's true that they're not possible because we don't have the discipline and training necessary to take on the challenges faced by these men every day. I never ask my characters to do something that is impossible. I do ask them to never give up. I think that's not a bad philosophy.

For example, in White Jade the team is climbing in the Himalayas at 17,000 feet with about a 35 pound pack and another 15 pounds or so of weapons and ammo. I can tell you from personal experience that this is possible. I've done it (without the weapons) and I wasn't as young or in the kind of shape my characters are. I got dinged for that by a couple of readers who didn't think it could be done.

You want a superhero, go to the movies. You won't find them in my books.

Another criticism I sometimes hear is that the secret weapons described in my books couldn't possibly exist or are something from the realm of science fiction. The problem is that they do exist or are in development, things like powerful laser cannons or satellites in space capable of doing serious damage on earth. I research everything extensively when it comes to weapons and technology. If I'm not familiar with it or I can't find something to back up the concept it doesn't go in the book.

Sometimes my characters get wounded, sometimes seriously. Getting shot doesn't mean you have to die. Wounds leave scars, physical and mental and my characters have plenty of them.

The plots are based on real-world possibilities and/or events. For example, part of the plot in The Russian Deception involves the current problems in the Ukraine. It's not hard to create a storyline when the world provides plenty of free material to work with. The trick is to make it entertaining. Nobody needs another news brief.

Here's a picture of the cover for The Russian Deception.

This is Book 11 in the series. I'm not sure how many more there will be but it's not done yet. I may start a new series with different characters and put off Book 12 for a bit. I'm not sure about that yet, but it might be the next creative step.

What do you think? 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Marketing Musings

I'd like to share a few random thoughts about marketing. Making a living as a writer is a goal most authors never realize. Unfortunately for those of us who write, it requires marketing. Most writers resent marketing because it distracts them from writing. When I decided to get serious about writing and turn it into a full-time occupation, I knew nothing at all about marketing. Once the first book (White Jade) was up on Amazon I faced the reality that my book was one choice for readers among what amounted to an infinite number of choices. How was I going to get people to notice it?

The world is awash with books in any given genre. No one could possibly read them all. I write thrillers, which means that at first glance it looked as though I was competing against blockbuster stars like Steve Berry, Clive Cussler, James Rollins and Tom Clancy. Not to mention Vince Flynn and Brad Thor. A little intimidating, no? You get the idea.

Therein lies marketing truth #1 as an independent writer. Competition is an illusion. It's a mistake of perception.

Your Perception is Everything
Change Your Perception and Change Your Reality

There are millions and millions and millions of readers, more than enough for everyone. More than enough to find and enjoy your work. It's not about competition, it's about discovery. Change your perception about competition. Give up the idea that you are competing for market share. That's a waste of time which will drain your energy.

Okay, you say, I'm not competing. So how do I get noticed?

I'm not going to give you advice about social media, book signings, podcasts, etc. There's plenty of that available and you don't need to hear it from me. If those things work for you, that's fine. One of the truths about marketing is that nobody's quite sure what really works. I do know one thing that works. Before you can succeed at marketing, you have to have a product people want. That means you must learn your craft and write a good story people want to read. You need to have a professional presentation. A good cover, clean copy, an edited manuscript and so on. If you don't have those things you're wasting your time trying to sell your book. Marketing truth #2 is:

You Have to Write Something People Want To Read

Let's assume you've done that and have a decent product. Good. Write another book. Write another book. Write another book. Am I getting through? Selling one book is difficult unless you are very lucky. Writing is a business you make out of something that you love to do. At least I hope you love to do it, because otherwise you will not be able to sustain the output required to succeed. Lee Child said that he became an overnight success after he'd written ten books. Think about that.

If I had to pick one single tool that has helped me sell books, it would be free promotion. I've lost count but I know I've given away more than three hundred thousand books in the past few years. I've seen articles and posts from people who hate the whole idea of letting books go for free. They think it cheapens the price for everyone and devalues the quality of the book. They think their work is too precious to give away and that they should always be paid something for it. They get very annoyed at the idea that someone's free book might be chosen over their not-so-free offering.

Most of the people I see complaining aren't selling very many books.

Readers who discovered my work through a freebie and liked it will buy another book in the series or even all of them. I get emails all the time from people who picked up one of the Project books in a free promotion and discovered the rest of the series. They're happy to find a new author they enjoy. They're grateful that I made the book available to them for nothing. Some wouldn't be able to afford the book if it weren't free. So here is marketing truth #3 of Indie marketing as I see it:

Free Works

The marketplace for books is in constant flux and change is a given. Just the same, I find it hard to think that a good product offered for free will not be picked up by someone who knows a deal when they see it. In turn that will stimulate sales.

Remember what I said earlier about perception? If you want to succeed as a writer, you must see yourself as a writer who is successful, a writer who sells books. Picture yourself successful, whatever that means to you. It doesn't necessarily mean you have the number one bestseller in the New York Times. Maybe it means that you make enough money to pay for the groceries. Maybe it means you make enough to quit your day job and write full time. Maybe it means you make so much that you can take that European vacation you've always wanted. It doesn't matter. What matters is your perception. 

Perceiving/Feeling yourself as successful is the most powerful marketing tool you can apply

You still have to chop wood and carry water. You still have to get your book listed wherever you think it needs to be. You still have to pay for ads to get the word out. But the key lies in perception and feeling, seeing yourself as a writer who succeeds.

Reality Follows Perception

The last thing I want to mention in this post is branding. Branding is one of those words straight out of Madison Avenue. See Mad Men, if you don't know about Madison Avenue and how it has shaped our world. It seems to me that the primary place to establish brand is on the cover of your book. There are lots of opinions about covers, about how they should look. About what goes on top, for example. Should it be the title or the author's name? I've been told many times that the title should be the primary information on the cover, with the author's name in smaller type and of less importance than the title.

I disagree with this. What are you branding here? Is it the book? The book is ephemeral. It will be read and then the reader will move on. The author is the brand, not the book. I want people to remember my name as a writer they enjoy. It's not important to me that they remember which book in the series they read.

When I want to buy a book I rarely look for a title. I look for a favorite author. Robert Crais, Alex Berenson, James Lee Burke, Craig Johnson, Daniel Silva, James Rollins, Michael Connelly, to mention a few. These authors are branded. I remember them. I don't know how many books they've written and I don't really care. I just know that I like what they write and when I want to purchase a book for entertainment I automatically think of them.

That's branding. How can you get your brand across? I'll leave you with that question.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited

If you are enrolled in Amazon's KDP Select program and have concerns about Kindle Unlimited, I have a few thoughts I'd like to share with you. I now have nine books in the Project series and am working on number ten. Until very recently, all my  books were in the KDPS program. Then along came Kindle Unlimited.

KU cut the income from my books by half, almost overnight. Half is a pretty big hit, which meant I needed to make a few business decisions. Remember:

Writing is a Business

How was I going to regain income lost with the introduction of KU?

·         I could pull all the books out of KDP Select as the contracts expired and begin posting on other platforms.
·         I could raise the price.
·         I could do both.
·         I could do nothing and hope for the best. (not a good option!)

KDP Select has enabled me to earn a living writing. The promotional advantages are the strongest feature and I didn't want to lose those. Placing books on other platforms meant a long delay for results. It would eventually produce income but take time for readers to discover my work. I decided to try a hybrid approach, while still keeping everything on Amazon for the time being.

I raised the price of all the books except White Jade by a dollar, making them $4.99. White Jade is the first in the series and will remain at $0.99. I didn't really want to raise prices because I want the books to be accessible to as many people as possible and a buck is a buck. I figured a dollar less made it easier for people to purchase and gave readers a break. To my surprise, sales actually increased after the change. The price increase has had no negative effect. Of course, I don't know why sales increased or if the price had anything to do with that, but it's an odd coincidence.

Second, the latest books in the series, Eye of Shiva and Black Rose are not enrolled and not available for free to KU subscribers.

Third, all except the first three books will go out of Select as the dates for renewal pass.

My thinking is that KU subscribers will discover the first three, like the series enough to continue and buy the rest. In that way all of the first three books serve as loss leaders, although they still provide some income. I encourage new readers and I protect the full royalty payments for the later books.

I'm hedging on placing the books on other platforms, because once I do, it becomes a real hassle to clear the decks for putting them back into KDP Select. I'm taking a wait and see attitude. I want to see what happens over the next couple of months to the royalty payments.

This strategy can only work because I have more than one or two books out there. If I had only one or two, I'm not sure what I would do. KU may be a very good thing for some, because the author gets paid and people can discover the books. Discovery is everything, and Amazon has around 60-70% of the market. Whatever best supports discovery is worth doing. On the other hand, KU makes the book(s) look cheap. The price shows up as FREE and free books aren't always good books.

What's your stratgey?