Friday, December 31, 2010

Be Careful What you Wish for

I could kick myself.  Two years ago now, I accepted the help of an 'editor' on the suggestion of a writer friend of mine.  This 'editor' runs a publishing shop in New Hampshire and was willing to help me clean up my first book, Aure, the Topaz.

However, this guy has done more harm than good it seems.  First of all, he told me things that weren't true. For example, he told me that each book I wrote had to stand alone.  I found out later from other fantasy writers that is not true, particularly in a series, which I am writing.

Second, he told me that since my story was about find the lost Aglaril (magic elven gems) I would need one book for each gem.  I'm pretty that's not true either.

Third, he read my introductory chapters, which describe the effort of Michaeline knights to locate some necromancers among some ruins.  Never once did he say, this has nothing to do with the story, why it is here?  More importantly, he also did not point out the impression this opening would have on readers.  Since most bookstores provide a free sample of the first 10 or 20% of the book, all readers see this part and come away with the wrong impression of the book.

God knows what else he told me that is wrong.  No wonder I've had such a hard time selling this novel.

Guess I have to chock this up to experience and do better next time.

The moral:  Be careful who's advice you seek and accept.  You might be better off without it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's Like Shoveling Heavy Wet Snow

Once again I think I've been doing things backwards.  If I was smart, I would be put together a plan for selling my novels before writing them.  I say this before it is becoming clear that social media isn't the answer.

According to the reading and research I've done, the way to sell products on the Internet is to provide the customer with content they want.  Content that is related to what you are selling.  For example, if you selling videos on improving your golf game, then you might provide free tips on golf.  If you sell car tires, you might provide free information about how to care for the tire and all the technical stats on your tires compared to tires from other companies.

In that vein, I decided to offer short stories to folks for free.  It is related content and background information on the world.  This has worked to a limited degree but as far as I know has not sold any more books.  The problem is that I'm not well-known.  If I had news that say Stephen King or Dan Brown, or even J K Rowling had a new book out and it was posted to my site, it would be flooded.  But I don't.  All I have is my work and -- as good or bad as it may be -- that sparks no excitement in the heart of prospective readers.

So I need to provide more free short stories or perhaps sell a few.  I could also try posting in forums so that people know who I am but that's not guaranteed to help me sell books.  This, of course, begs the question:  how does one sell books?

Well, one way is to be in bookstores.  That's where people go to find books.  Thanks to Smashwords, I am in many bookstores.  But I am one voice in a chorus of thousands (maybe millions).  So I need to establish myself as a name, like Stephen King.  Social media might help with that (I am not convinced however).

No, I think the real answer is to attend genre-related conventions and try to sell my novels there.  Or perhaps become involved in these organizations and network.  Tell people know I am a writer and have a novel available.  Speak on panels, attend trade shows, and appear at book signings.  Those last three are only going to happen once I can pierce the veil that separates me from being an unknown to someone who is known, if only in certain circles.

And so I need to do a lot of heavy lifting, kinda like digging out from a blizzard.  Hopefully, it will all be worth it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Review: Shades of Green

Since the holidays are nearly upon us, I thought I'd post a review I recently wrote as a change of pace.  Here's wishing all my readers a good holiday and a happy new year to come.

Shades of Green by Ian Woodhead has been described as "a psychologically maddening, convoluted and at times thoroughly disgusting read."  I have to agree with that.

It is like a British episode of the Outer Limits and a little like Dr. Seuss (I'm thinking of Bartholomew and the Oobleck here).   I want to stress the British part because some of the local idiom was hard to follow for me, a poor American.

The story is full of monsters and some of my worst nightmares, like being covered in green growing things to the point you are a plant. Ick.  That's the horror part.  If you like that kind of thing, go order a copy of the book now.  If not, keep reading.

The main characters are well written and you definitely get a sense of them and into their minds but the story does not resolve all plot threads (leaving room for a sequel, perhaps) and the end is anti-climatic. A sort of POOF! everything is all better now.

But the premise is odd too.  Without giving everything away let me just say it involves a blood-eating alien machine that re-sequences DNA.  Now I love science-fiction and fantasy (I even write the latter) but that's a bit much for me particularly since if you are going to go that far, why not have the machine a personality and make it a character I can get to know?

So overall, Shades of Green is enjoyable and entertaining but at the same time odd and convoluted.   Horror fans should love it.  Others, maybe not so much.

Shades of Green
by Ian Woodhead
available on Smashwords and Amazon

Monday, December 20, 2010

Marketing Thoughts

I have been reading a book on web marketing to learn what I can do to promote my novel and boost sales.  So far I've not learned that much, except that I'm probably not in touch with my target market though all the social media I use.

I tend to go find other writers on Facebook, in forums, and even this blog is targeted for writers.  I need readers and more specifically, I need readers of fantasy novels.  I had hoped the release of the Lord of the Rings movies would have sparked an interest in the genre the way Star Wars did for science-fiction.  But I'm not sure that's happened.

I do have a few ideas of my own.  One is to give away the first book in the series to generate interest.  That's not something I'm going to do now since I've only completed one book so far but may be an option once Book 2 is available.

Another thought is to give the reader more information about the book on my web site.  Currently, I only provide the back cover text.  I'm thinking a slightly longer and more in-depth synopsis with links to sample chapters might help.

And I need to experiment.  One of the things I've learned to promote my blog is to post in Facebook and change my status to reflect the current blog post.  That seems to attract more people than having them completely unrelated.  I discovered this by accident while experimenting with the medium.

The same is true for promoting my novel.  I need to try different things and see what works.

So far not much has been successful so I need a way to reach readers that I've not tried yet.

I'll post more once my experiments are complete.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Have a Hammer, Does that Make me a Carpenter?

One comment I received on my last blog post is: 'Why is a non-writer writing a book?' This person went on to observe that just because one has a camera that does not make you a photographer.

The point is well-taking.  Writing is a skill after all and even the most skilled in the craft can have difficulty expressing himself upon occasion.  And I do know people who think they can write fiction because they can string words together in an email.

Well here's a news flash.  Writing fiction is a lot more complex than writing an email.  There's plot, description, and dialogue to consider.  And let's not forget character development and interaction.  Scenes have to flow from one to the next.  And some people I know don't even pay attention to small items like spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

Of course, I've not said any of this to anyone who wants to try and write fiction because most of them can't find the time to do it and you also have to be dedicated to the task of writing to get anywhere. If I didn't spend copious amount of time on my writing I'd still be working on my first novel.

And that's a threat too.  Life is constantly thrusting diversions in my face.  It takes all my concentration to remain focused on my writing even when I don't feel like it and I am uninspired.  In some ways I begin to feel like I'm chasing a windmill.

But that's where my love of writing sustains me.  Writing is hard.  And if I didn't love the work, I wouldn't do it.  I'm sure many of my non-writer friends don't love it which is why they give up on it or don't pursue it after they realize how hard it is.

Monday, December 13, 2010

When Non-writers Write

I was at a party the other day talking to a non-writer friend who had shown interest in my writing.  Briefly we discussed the fact that my novel was now available.  One point I made to him was that I am busy working on the next book because it takes so long to write a book and get it ready.  Given the number of books I want to complete that the amount of time it takes, I have to wonder if I will finish all the books in my head.

He said to me, he has the same problem.  But being a non-writer he can't even start.  So his plan is to dictate the book into the computer (he wants to use the voice recognition program, Dragon) and then hire an editor to clean it up.

While this sounds feasible, I have to wonder if it could really work.  My concern with this approach, which I voiced to my friend, is that the spoken word and the written word do not obey the same rules.  Well, not always.  Certainly poetry, plays, and good speeches should work both when from the page and spoken aloud.

But short stories and novels really don't have this need -- despite the increased demand for audio books.  More importantly, I'm not sure my friend can pay attention to POV or word choice or dialogue of each major character just by dictating his ideas into the computer.  It is far more likely that he will create something like a fairy tale and less like the action/adventure novel he wants.

Worse still, my experience working with editors has not been a good one.  To date, every editor that I have hired to help me almost always made things worse, giving me advice that I later learned was wrong.  I'm not sure my friend will be able to tell when he is getting bad advice or how to pick a good editor.  And I'm in no position to help since I've not had much luck there myself.

And it is sad in a way because I think, in the right hands, he might have a good story.  But what is a non-writer to do?  I only hope he does not fall prey to the many spams and schemers out there that wait lurking for non-writers.

Let's all wish him luck.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Where Have All the Readers Gone?

I never thought this would happen.  I figured that once I wrote something -- something big -- there'd be people to read it.  It never occurred to me that I'd have trouble getting people to read it.  Why?  Because people have been reading my short pieces for months.  My blog, individual chapters from my novel, short stories, and poems have all been read by different folks on different sites.  But now that I've got a longer piece of writing to read, no one seems interested.

At first I thought it was because no one wanted to pay for a copy.  Silly me.  That's not it.  I offered to give review copies away and still no one is interested.

Then I thought, it's because there's no paper copy.  That might be true -- up to a point -- but no I don't think that's it either.

Is the novel no good?  Maybe.  But no one will know that until they read it so if it's not been read who can tell?

Are people too busy?  Yes.  That's more likely.  I spoke to several people I know who have expressed interest but who have not purchased the book yet.  They have some story to tell all them.  The fact is people have lives and my book being published is just one more thing in a flood of events that make up our lives.

The other factor, I think, is I'm not famous.  If this was a new Stephen King novel or even another J K Rowling, Harry Potter book, I'm sure lots of folks would have dashed out and got a copy.  But it's not and I'm still working on building my audience.

I'm told it takes time to build an audience and be recognized by name so I'll just have to wait and keep looking for ways to get my name out there.

In the meantime, if anyone reading this wants a review copy, let me know at  Thanks.

Monday, December 6, 2010

eBooks: You can't live with them...

I've been having a debate with folks online about the publishing industry and its current state.  I will try to recap it and provide my perspective.

The general sense is the future is here.  Paper books are passe and eBooks are the way to go.  I think this is not quite true.  It seems to me that the future of eBooks seems bright.  eBook sales are up and since there is a lot less risk with publishing an eBook, the number of new eBook titles is rising fast while the number of new paper titles is flat.

However, not everyone has an eBook reader.  Not yet.  Someday soon this probably will not be true.  Cell phone, MP3 player, and eBook reader will be standard equipment for everyone. But that hasn't happened yet.

Also note there's an entire generation of readers (people) who want to read books by holding them in their hands.  So I think the main difference here in my position and that of the people I was chatting with is one of timing.  Some believe the brave new world of books is here now and I'm saying that the wave has started crashing down but we have to wait another year or two to see what the landscape looks like once the water finishes washing up on the beach.

This is why in my last posting in this blog, I suggested we will need to produce both paper and electronic versions of our work, at least for the next year or two and then re-evaluate.

Not that I think eBooks will disappear.  They won't.  There is too much money to be made on them.  And frankly, book publishing is now undergoing the transformation the music industry went through in the '90s with MP3 and digital formats. The main difference here is that no one eBook format has caught on.  There is no one standard.  So it remains to be seen how eBook technology will play itself out.

Also of interest is the issue of security.  I suspect a lot of writers (particular fledgling ones like myself) would feel better if there was a security standard that prevented theft.  One in which purchases are tracked so that if multiple copies of the some tracking information start to appear the book does not open.  Or if the tracking information is modified, it does not matter because it does not match the data in the central database.

So love them or hate them, eBooks are here to stay.  I'm just wondering what they will look like in 10 years and what new features they might offer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Paper or Plastic?

When I self-published my novel, Aure, the Topaz, I had to decide what form (and format) to use.  The choice seemed obvious and yet difficult because I know eBook sales are rising fast.  Traditional paper book aren't.  Yet I'm not sure most of my audience (or at least my initial audience) has an eBook reader.  This complicated the decision.

I finally decided to go electronic only, at least to start, mainly because that's the direction the market is going and because making revision is easier.  Since this was my first book, I accepted a few wrong turns as I sorted out the Smashwords service and the whole eBook technology thing.  

And I was right.  I had to submit the book twice to Smashwords to get what I wanted and revised the description (the marketing/packaging) at least three times before being satisfied.

Sales have been slow so far and that has prompted me to revisit my initial choice.  Paper or plastic? (By plastic I refer to the eBook reader, not the book itself)

Am I losing opportunities because there is no paper version?  Probably and there is only one answer for that.  I need to create a paper version.  I don't think there is anyway around that.  Not yet.  Maybe in 5 years or 10 years the need for a paper version will evaporate. But right now, today, people still want a paper version and so I need to give the consumer what he or she wants.

So I uploaded a copy of the book to Lulu and a test copy is on its way to me now.  Hopefully, there will be a paper version soon.  In the meantime, I'm identified markets and bookstore to place my book into.

But more on that next time.