Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Moving Forward or Picking a New Path

One of my favorite adages is perfect is the enemy of good. While attributed to Voltaire in modern times, the concept is in the writings of philosophers such as Aristotle and Confucius, and probably in every SAT-prep class high schoolers take. If you hold out for the perfect answer/paragraph/photograph/birthday gift, you will never be satisfied.  Forget satisfied, you may not finish your task.

As I near the end a book (which has taken too long to write!), I've come up with several thoughts about procrastination in book writing. They may ring true to others.

1)  Think of the least favorite job you've had and imagine yourself getting up at five AM to get there on time. Still not writing? Set the alarm clock.
2)  Imagine that the hero of your book is drowning and you aren't able to get to him/her. If you yawn, you may not be working on a book you truly want to finish. Time to think of another plot.
3)  Picture yourself at a book signing surrounded by piles of books. No one is buying. Take this as a sign that the book may not be that good. Move on.
4)  Imagine a rainy day, with your yard full of mud. If you are thinking about going out to garden, consider therapy.
5)  Remember that you've put yourself on a tight budget so you can save for something important--maybe a new car or trip to the Grand Canyon. Your car or trip depends on book income, and you still can't write. You flip paperclips at the wall.

If you can see yourself in one of these scenarios, perhaps you need a dose of self-discipline. Not to keep working on a poorly conceived draft, but to remember that writing a good book has very little to do with the initial idea. It's more about parking yourself in a chair and continuing to work.

You can edit a lousy draft.  Or so I'm told.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Books as Friends

After a year of living in two states, my husband and I have finalized our move to Springfield, Illinois. It was a challenge, not so much because we needed to be apart for periods of time, but because we often couldn't find 'stuff.'  We knew which town had which beds, not so for a specific book or spatula. We now have two of a lot of things. If we buy a vacation home in the Hamptons, we're all set.

People who expect me to have the most boxes of books would be surprised to find out is my husband who has fifteen boxes -- to my two. I have always been a big library user, but three years ago I came up with a new criterion for keeping books. I have rather bad osteoporosis, so I now ask, what am I willing to crush a vertebra to carry? The answer: not so much.

I kept some books on the craft of writing. However, only one deals with how to poison people. This can be important to a mystery writer, but three books? Really? Not when I can supplement the book with a trek to the library or an Internet search.

I retained all books by friends--wait, that makes it three boxes. Some of these are in a box under the guest room bed and will appear on shelves when we get a bigger place. My personal library has a few books by favorite authors -- Anne Tyler, M.C. Beaton, Leigh Michaels, J.K. Rowling, Robert Harris, and a couple of others. Had I not given Milne's Winnie the Pooh and Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses to a niece, I would have kept them.

It was tough to cull other favorite fiction, but if there was no chance I would read a book again it went into the annual book sale for the local American Association of University Women. These books are not lost to me. If the urge to own becomes overwhelming, most would be readily available at future books sales.

Now for the hard part. How do I rein in the urge to buy more books? Mostly, I don't, but now I buy far more electronic copies than paper.  My husband and I also became customers at Springfield's Book Rack, which lets us buy books for a reasonable fee, using credits from books we have donated. We can later donate them back to the store and get more credits.

I'm not going to pretend that the sorting process was easy, but it did clarify who my favorite authors are. As I get settled into a new town, these are the friends who join me.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Best Bets for Marketing Books

I did an article on marketing books for Yahoo Voices, and thought I would adapt it for my blog. Here's to good book sales!

Writing a good book is not easy. The characters have to be interesting, better yet, memorable, and the plot has to go somewhere. Somewhere can be as simple as an afternoon at the beach, but it can't be boring. I write cozy mysteries, which are less gory than detective novels or police procedurals. I think of them as murder without maggots, but that's not a good marketing slogan.

How do you market a book effectively?

I self-publish the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, and spent almost five years writing the first two books. Now that I'm semi-retired, I write two books every year. After all that hard work I have the audacity to want people to buy them, and not just for a sense of self-fulfillment. I want to make some real money.

Electronic book production altered the publishing industry as much as the movement from typesetting by hand to desktop publishing changed getting a book from author's draft to final copy.

Writers now have many of the capabilities of a New York publisher, and sometimes make more per book than a publisher would pay. It used to be that if you wanted to put out a book yourself you either paid thousands of dollars to what was termed a vanity publisher or you found a printer and had them turn over the fifty boxes of books to you. In either case, you did most of the marketing, which meant going from bookstore to bookstore, with a few stops at libraries. And there was no room for a car in your garage.

There are formatting guides at each site, so I taught myself how to format a book for sites such as Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble. I can load the finished product to those sites, preview the product, and have it for sale in two days. This is two days after the book had been finished, received comments from friends or other writers, revised, edited, and proofed.

Proofreading is different than editing. You must have a professional proof or there will be dozens of typos. Trust me on this. I even did a blog post on avoiding typos and there was a mistake in it. An author only sees what she thinks she wrote.

Okay, you've got a really good book and it is error-free. Now what? Here are things I do to make sure people who buy cozy mysteries can find my books.
  • Don't be shy. Let your friends and colleagues know about a new book. I do a bi-monthly email to many people. These are not names I scooped from a Yahoo group or a blog post, these are people I know, mostly in person. Each email says if a recipient does not want to get more update emails, just say so. In the email I mention things such new books, a blog post they might like, and a recent success. Your friends will be your biggest fans, and they'll tell their friends about your books.
  • Seek reviews. Potential buyers look at a book's ratings and reviews. There are many sites that publish these, and you should ask local papers to mention your book, even if they don't do reviews. Ask a few people you know to write reviews of your books when they are first issued. Do NOT go around saying, "I need some five-star reviews. Just read the synopsis and you can say something good." This is unethical. If these are your plans, please stop reading.
  • Start a blog. No, not because the entire world wants to read what you think. You should be so lucky. A blog lets people find you, and it's a place where you can keep a list of all your books or things such as samples of good book reviews. Blogs are free and easy to set up. I use the Google-sponsored Blogspot because I found it easier to set up than a Wordpress blog. Once you have one, post regularly, and don't make every post self-promotion.
  • Create a web page. Use a web page only if you want to spend the time keeping it updated. I have elaineorr.com, which I did myself. You can tell that I did, and I may get a professional to start from scratch someday. Right now, it meets my needs. Remember, there are fees to register your domain and often fees to host a site. Blogs are free, and generally easier to update.
  • Tweet. I delayed doing this and wish I had not. You cannot document books sold as a result of your tweets because you use many marketing techniques at once, However,
    Tweet like a birdie.
    I sold no books to overseas markets until I tweeted. You will not have a large Twitter following immediately, so send tweets to people with common interests using hashtags. Some I use are #cozymysteries, #avidreader, #womensleuths, and #mustread. My Twitter address is @elaineorr55. I almost always follow back. There is a post on my blog about tweeting.
  • Use the correct link. If you tweet, or do anything else designed to reach markets in a country other than yours, make sure the book links provided go to sites where, for example, folks from the UK can purchase your books. They cannot buy them on Amazon.com, they have to use Amazon.co.uk. If you search for Amazon International Sites, you can get to an Amazon page that has flags for most countries in which they sell. Search for your book on each site and use that link as needed. You can then tweet to #kindleuk, #kindleaustralia, and the like. You can list international links on your blog.
  • Use Kindle Boards. Kindle Boards has forums and you can create a profile for each book. Then use that page as a link for the book. It will be a super-looking page and there will be flags for each Amazon site. Amazon also permits links to other sellers on KB Boards' profile pages.
  • Set up a Facebook fan page. If you don't know how, do a Yahoo or Google search about how to do it. My personal page is for friends, family, a few writers I've come to know even if not in person, people from my church... Get it? Personal. My posts are not public. A fan page can be public and deals only with your writing. If you give it a title such as Elaine Orr's Fiction Page, then when people look for things related to fiction, your page comes up. Don't post what you had for dinner. Stick with writing. Do a post if you write a book review, read something that might be helpful (such as this article), or are pleased with the new cover design an artist sent you.
  • Do not do your own cover unless you are a graphic designer or expert hobbyist. Never. Ever. Do a Yahoo search for something like 'bad covers' or 'finding a good book cover artist.' You don't have to pay a lot for a cover. I even used Fivver for a couple of nonfiction items.
    That's a site where you can get anything done for five dollars. Smashwords maintains a list of people who assist writers for a reasonable price. You buy cover artwork in a work-for-hire arrangement, which means it's yours to copyright with your book, and reuse for marketing. The one shown here is for Behind the Walls and is among my favorites.
  • Join a Yahoo Group that deals with your genre or subject matter. I belong to Murder Must Advertise. Members of these groups share what they know and are often generous with ideas.
  • If you enjoy social media, set up a Pinterest account or use sites such as Tumblr. Some authors post videos on sites such as You Tube. If you use the latter, don't do it yourself. You can get recommendations from friends or people on social media.
  • Create an Amazon Author page. I know of no other sales sites that let you do this. (Tell me if you do.) You can modify a book's description, keep your bio updated, and provide your thoughts on each book. Best of all, if you have books produced by a publisher other than you, you can add them to your profile and include more info than is in the book description on Amazon's page for the book (which is only what the publisher put there).
  • Use Goodreads and Shelfari. The latter lets you list characters, settings, and more for each book. Goodreads (which Amazon bought in 2013) is a world unto itself. Create an author profile and link it to your books. I now do a Goodreads giveaway for new paperback books, which draws a lot of attention. If you agree to send books to other countries, be aware you will pay international postage, which is not cheap.
  • Here's a don't. Don't make your entire Internet presence relate to selling your books. If your writing features pets, go to some pet blogs and post comments. If a book features a realtor, ditto for those sites. My articles on Yahoo Voices are my primary outlet for this. Most articles do not deal with books.
  • What about KDP Select or Kindle Countdown? I make a good deal of money on Amazon. I'm a huge fan. Amazon also looks out for itself very well. For example, you cannot price a digital book lower on another site. You agree to this when you publish a book, and that's the policy whether you use an Amazon marketing program or not. If you sign up for a special marketing program, you cannot sell a digital book on another site for the ninety day period. You can use KDP Select, which lets you give away books for five days during that ninety-day period. The Countdown alternative (you cannot use both concurrently) lets you price a book very low for a period of time and then work the price back to its regular price. I've done both, and believe they are especially effective if you publish a series. For now, I keep a couple of books on KDP Select, and sell the rest at all sites. I make enough money elsewhere to want to keep the books available through all sellers.
  • Publish a paperback. If you don't, what would you show people when you give a talk or attend a writers' conference? Create Space (an Amazon company) is truly simple, and they have help available 24/7. I am about to use Lightning Source for additional editions. Bookstores are sometimes more comfortable ordering from Lightning Source, but there is a fee. Create Space is free and books are listed on all major book retailers' web sites. Also, if you use KDP Select, having a paperback on Barnes and Noble or iTunes lets readers know there may be an ebook somewhere else.
  • Set limits. Whatever you choose for Internet marketing, make a commitment not to do it more than a set amount of time each day. You could spend a morning going from link to link.
  • Market everywhere. Jeffrey Marks has written Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel. It deals with all aspects of marketing, including Internet. If you buy one book, I suggest it be this one. You need to do press releases, visit bookstores, and volunteer to give talks at the library or to groups such as Lions or Rotary. Authors get used to marketing from their chairs, and that is not enough.
Want some more ideas? Check out the tab that says Index, and you'll see several articles on formatting and marketing books.

Finally, keep writing. The best marketing tool you have is a new book.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Snowy Day to Write

A view from my brother's back door, in Waters Edge, near Baltimore. The water is Bear's Creek, which feeds into the Patapsco River. I wanted to be closer to the fence to get more of the water, but the snow was up to my knees. It's a good day to write.

Lately I have had trouble putting my tailbone in the chair until afternoon. I'm usually more disciplined. There is nothing like being snowed in to focus your attention on writing.

I am well into the seventh book of the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series. My goal is to finish before the end of the month. That will require more cooperation from my tailbone.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finding an Author's Books

It can be confusing to authors to keep track of the many places that sell their books. In a way it's like an abundance of riches, except instead of a question like "what to eat first?" we ask "what should I promote first?" or most often, or whatever.

If it's confusing for authors, imagine what it can be like for a reader. There is the basic decision assistance tool--the library. But they may not have a copy (paper or ebook) when you want it or it may be a book you want to buy. If you buy books to keep forever, hardbacks or paperbacks are often the choice. As one who moves a lot, I lean toward ebooks when I buy. When I want to hold paper, I go to the library, which is often.

I have a Kindle Fire and a Nook HD, so there is an additional choice of the format for ebooks I buy. The Kindle is smaller, but the Nook HD (for all its larger size) is much lighter and the on-screen keyboard is larger. That's important when I travel and want to access the Internet on my ereader.  However, I sell way more books on Kindle than Nook, so I usually buy more for the Kindle.

Back to author marketing. The online sites I push are Amazon, Barnes and Noble (BN), Kobo, and Smashwords. Kobo is big in the Canadian market, and Smashwords translates a book into all ebook formats. That's a big plus for authors. You can download for any device, including in a pdf or text file if you read on the computer. (This is me being crafty. Each link in this paragraph is for a different book.)

Readers seem less aware of Smashwords than authors are. Smashwords loads books to all sites except Amazon. However, they format books in a mobi file (for Kindle), so you can buy books for Kindle there. Smashwords is a way to put my books on itunes (iPad, iPod) and smaller sales sites, such as Kobo or Sony. I load them to Amazon and Barnes and Noble myself. An author earns more and is paid faster by selling directly through a site. Still, I bow to Smashwords. What a concept.

I have recently learned that Amazon's Kindle Boards creates a page for each of your books, and that page has a link to all of the Amazon sites. That means a reader can go to one spot to link to a book in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, Mexico, and on and on. This has become an important marketing tool for me.

Appraisal for Murder http://www.kboards.com/book/?asin=B005PJM8WO
When the Carny Comes to Town  http://www.kboards.com/book/?asin=B0079SJC78
Jolie & Scoobie HS Misadventures  http://www.kboards.com/book/?asin=B00F6JACWQ
Orr, Campbell, Shirley [and more] history http://www.kboards.com/book/?asin=1490986030 

You can see a pattern in the web addresses. The only variation is the book's unique Amazon number (the ASIN number).  It's worth becoming a KB Boards member just to be able to do this. There are also a number of options for interacting with other writers and readers, and a couple of boards for promoting books.

There is an element of choice is the KB Boards' profile for your book.  The profile can also list other places to buy the book besides Amazon. Those links you have to list yourself. There are decent instructions in the help menus, or you can post a question on one of the boards.

I do maintain my own comprehensive list of where to buy my books, and that's on this blog, on the tab entitled Links to All My Books. It helps me keep track as much as it helps readers.

The most passive way I market to all sites that sell the books is via Twitter. A tweet can contain one link, and it can be to any site. You target the tweet with a hashtag such as #nook, #kindlebooks, #kobo, #smashwords.  Or any of thousand other choices. The link in the tweet simply has to coordinate with the hashtag.

It would be tempting to do only online marketing. I ask to do guest posts at others' blogs, pay small amounts to "boost" posts on Facebook, promote this blog, and do dozens of other things. Even if most books solds are on the Internet, it's still really important to do more personal (and time consuming) face-to-face marketing.  I do talks at libraries, visit book stores, and join local author groups. When you visit, it's important to leave something (yes, a piece of paper) behind. The photo here is an early postcard I did to promote the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series.

In February I'll do my first radio interview with a station in Osage Beach, Missouri. Why? Although I don't live in that state I have Missouri family links and belong to an author's group in Lawrence County. That may help a new group of readers find my books.

It's an author's job to make it easy for readers to find their books. It's also important to keep writing new books, and marketing takes away from that. Gee, a balancing act. That's what makes all aspects of life manageable.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Milestones Matter

Today would have been my mother's (Rita Rooney Orr's) 92nd birthday. She died in late 1998, and given that many doctors thought she would die in the 1960s, just being around that long was quite an accomplishment. Living that long with a strong sense of purpose and good sense of humor was an even greater feat.

Her survival (after a stroke and rapidly progressing multiple sclerosis) was such an achievement that on January 31, 1985 we had an anniversary party, complete with a cake that read, "To Rita--Celebrating Life for 20 years."

Catherine Ellett, Emily Carlin, Rita Orr
Doctors and nurses helped her get to the point that she could leave the hospital, but Rita was around for those twenty years because of the support of family and friends, and we invited several to the party. I don't remember where my aunt and uncle (Marguerite and Clarence Harlowe) were the day of the party, but the two women shown are Catherine Ellett and Emily Carlin.  I can still see my aunt helping my mother get into the car to get her weekly blood test (she was on blood thinners), and still taste the bologna and mustard sandwiches Mrs. Ellett placed in our freezer so I didn't have to pack school lunches for younger siblings. Until that time I did not eat mustard.
Miles Orr serves ice cream at the party.

Mrs. Carlin, our across-the-street neighbor and nurse, was in our house every day for maybe months. Her encouragement and care helped Rita get over many hurdles. And of course Miles Orr, our dad. He had always done more household chores than most husbands of that era, and improvised as needed. You have not lived until you taste spaghetti sauce with kidney beans.

It was day-to-day humor that pulled our family together as a team that focused on progress rather than despair. My sister had a three-foot tall doll that was supposed to be able to walk next to a child. The doll had a ribbon that said, "I walk when you hold my left hand." Dad had that on the wall above mom's head almost as soon as she was home from the hospital. And she did walk again unaided for a couple of years.

We take note of milestones such as graduations, birthdays, and fiftieth wedding anniversaries. Sometimes our greatest accomplishments have to do with handling really tough challenges with grace and courage. Not everything needs a party, but it's worth celebrating meaningful events, even if that celebration is a wink in the mirror. Take heart and keep plugging away.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

All Mystery Newsletter Always Has Good Ideas

Rebecca Philips Dahlke not only writes good books (Dead Read Cadillac and many more), she is also very generous about promoting the work of other authors. Her All Mystery Newsletter regularly highlights mysteries from cozies to thrillers.

A number of sites charge a fee to mention authors' books, but not Rebecca. Why does she take the time to help other authors? She says, "Because it’s good karma, that’s why." 

If you believe that what goes around comes around, this lovely woman must have many friends.