Saturday, March 22, 2014

Between the Bindings with CE Martin

I have had many interesting conversations with Charles, so how could I not ask him to be a part of this?  After reading what he had to contribute, I am glad that I asked him.  He may not feel like he has a lot of knowledge, but I found his words very helpful. :)

When I was asked to do this, I was a bit hesitant.  I'm no expert.  Heck, my novels have been seen by less people than Bigfoot.  At best, all I can do is share my ongoing struggle.  I figure I'm no more than a few hundred yards down the road of self-publishing from most of you reading this.  Feel free to pass me.

I first wanted to become an author back in the 1980s.  I was hooked on The Destroyer series by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir - it's a groovy Men's Adventure series about a super assassin who works in the shadows to keep America safe from all sorts of nasty menaces.  Basically, Science Fiction Kungfu.  With lots of political satire.

Anyways, I embarked on my authorly journey.  I had written some stuff before for fun, but now I wanted to write as a career.  Unfortunately, I never seemed to get past those darn slushpiles.  Over the next twenty years, I would try, fail, try, fail, take a few years off, rinse, repeat, etc.

In the early 2000s, I decided to try nonfiction, writing about my career as a crimefighter (that sounds cooler than saying I'm in the Criminal Justice career field).  I landed a contract, wrote a book ... and got cancelled.  Argh.  The publisher had to cut back on their over ambitious line and I got the axe.  No advance, just a tomahawk in the back.

I turned to blogging.  This was fun.  Then in 2011 or so, I discovered Amazon Studios.  I love movies, so writing a screenplay seemed like a no-brainer.  I did two: one was about a mailman who learns he comes from not one, but two family lines of werewolves, and has to accept this to fight zombies when they attack his suburban home.  Pure schlocky cheese (I love B Movies).  Next, I crafted a more grownup, Young Adultish movie, carefully studying elements all of them had and meticulously planning it out.  I even recycled old characters from two decades prior.

Then I found out about self-publishing.  I was floored.  I had missed the rush of self-publishing and would have to put it in overdrive to catch up.  This was extra infuriating as in the late 1990s, I had tried making my own e-book, offering it for free on a webpage where folks could pay if they liked.  My homage to shareware.

Almost two years later, and I am still writing, and have learned a lot.  More importantly, I am selling.  Not enough to quit the day job or buy a mid-life crisis sportscar, but enough that I see I might actually have a future in this self-publishing thing.  Eventually.

So here's what I have learned:

1. Write what you like.  Meaning, actually write.  Yes, you can research, outline and plan, but the key to self-publishing is product.  No one is going to pay you until your novel, short story, etc is actually done.  If it's going to take you two years to write, it sounds more like a hobby than a sidejob.    And make no mistake, writing is a job, like landscaping, painting houses, etc.  It can bring in beer/pizza money or turn in to a full-time gig.  By writing what you enjoy, you can crank out a finished product, stay motivated and have fun doing it.

2. Volume!  I'll give you two names of indie authors I have personally watched grow to hugeness: Elle Casey and Russell Blake.  Each of these authors started small but now sell really well.  Their secret?  Lots of books.  Elle Casey writes one a month (I suspect she is a cyborg).  Mr. Blake does one every six weeks, if memory serves.  The more you have, the more you can sell.  Imagine if you had a restaurant that only served one dish.  You wouldn't have near as many customers as if you offered many dishes.  And don't think you can't do it.  Ms. Casey has a husband, kids and was teaching and managed to write one novel a month (hence my cyborg accusation).  I've got two kids, a wife and a day job I don't particularly enjoy, but I'm able to do each of my cheesy pulp novels in about a month or two's time (I slack between novels).  It can be done, and even better, the more you write, the easier it gets.

3. Serialize them!  If someone likes something, they want more of it.  McDonald's is built on this premise.  They don't expect you to come once in your lifetime, they expect you to keep coming back.  Novels, and more importantly, characters, are no different.  Nearly all the books I loved growing up were serials.  Tarzan (yes, there's way more than one book), Doc Savage, Retief, Xanth, and finally, The Destroyer.  If you look at the really successful indies, you're going to see series.  Yes, you can do trilogies, but the key is, you're giving the reader what they want - more.  And, when you do a sequel, half the work is done - you've already figured out your characters.  How they talk, their quirks, their mannerisms.  You can develop them more, or not.  But in any event, you've got a huge jump on starting from scratch.

4. People want your money.  And by people, I mean the thriving industry that feeds off aspiring authors.  Freelance Editors, Freelance Cover Designers, Freelance Formatters.  They are all there to let you spend money making your book, or making your book better.  You aren't alone.  Oh, sure, if you want to totally DIY it, you can.  But if you lack graphic art skills, or have no idea what a .mobi or an .epub file is, fear not.  Well, maybe fear a little.  As in the days of vanity publishing, there are some unscrupulous sharks out there ready to devour your wallet.  Shop around.  Compare prices.  But rest assured, you can buy help.

5. Advertising is key.  I hate promoting.  I am the world's worst salesman.  I couldn't sell water to a thirsty man in the desert.  It's just not me.  Alas, that makes selling my books difficult.  You see, there are MILLIONS of other indie novels out there.  No one is going to sift through all of those online to find your work.  You have to find a way to reach your target audience.  This is done by advertising.  Maybe posting on Facebook or Twitter, or hanging out in Forums and telling anyone who listens you write.  Or you could cut past all that and look into Bookbub.com (or similar services).  Readers sign up for a daily email telling them about new books.  I finally got my first Bookbub (they are notoriously picky) and it made a huge difference.  People have actually read my stuff now.  And that means dollars.  Dollars I can reinvest - in more ads, in editors, proofreaders and maybe even cover designers (although I enjoy doing my own).

Wow, five things - that's it?  Well, yeah, that's pretty much it.  And your mileage may vary.  You might be incredibly lucky and sell a bazillion copies of your first book without trying.  Or you might plug away for a couple of years, writing to a niche market that hasn't fully embraced e-books.  You can never tell.

Okay, one more tip.  If you need to know anything about indie authoring, ask.  Ask other indies (and they prefer that to "self-publishers").  In the nearly two years I've been trying this, I have found indie authors to be a very helpful and supportive crowd.  Kboards.com even has a Writer's Cafe for us, that has some amazing people.  I challenge anyone to pose a publishing question there that can't be answered.  And, you get to watch folks like Elle Casey and Russell Blake start off slow and become giants.  That is always cool and aspiring.

So, you want to be a writer?  Then write!  It's not that hard, and with millions upon millions of readers, no matter what you write, someone will be interested - if you can just find them.

See, great advice!!  Thank you so much for being here.  

Until the next time, y'all ....... :)  

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