When I was a kid and got a toy I’d wanted with the desperation of a child, I’d play with that toy exclusively for days. Okay, weeks. None of my other toys mattered. Of course, when the newness wore off, it got relegated to the toy bin with all the others.
I’m the same way with books in a series. If I like a series, I’ll read every book in the series and wait, impatiently for the next. It wasn’t until I wrote a series that I stopped being angry at authors for not writing fast enough.
This past week, my online author group, The Author Transformation Alliance, posted a challenge on doing a book trailer using a free program called Lumen5. I won’t go into all the specifics of how it works here; you can go look for yourself. It has a paid version and a free version, and the major difference between them is in the paid version, you don’t get an “ad” for Lumen5 in the closing credits and your video will be HD. And–big plus for me–it’s far less complicated than other video-making programs.
Before my novel came out, I’d purchased a couple of inexpensive book trailers from a vendor. They were great, but the ability to customize them was limited. Not so with Lumen5.
Bottom line. I not only did a book trailer for my debut novel, A War of Deception, I also made ones for each of my collections of short stories, my novella, and my novelette–six book trailers total. In two and a half days. (And, there’s one or two more, I think, to do.)
Yes, obsessive much.
But it’s another tool for an indie author. The money saved purchasing book trailers can now go toward buying a professional cover or paying my editor, etc.
Anyway, here’s one of my projects, the new book trailer for A War of Deception. I’d love to know what you think of it. Comment below. (And, yes, I caught the typo; it’ll get fixed.)
To view the trailers I made for my other books go to my Facebook Author Page.
A common question usually asked on a Monday morning, and the perfunctory answer is usually something along the lines of, “Great,” “Good,” “Fine,” or “didn’t do much; stayed in the house and chilled.”
I remember running this gauntlet Monday mornings at work. Truth be told, I live a reasonably uneventful life, and now that I work for myself at home, the weekend is like any other day. Why, I’ve been known to take a weekend in the middle of the standard work week.
This past weekend, however, was pretty darn special.
A Marketing I Go
For the past year, I’ve been stepping up my marketing of my written work using the guidance of The Write Services, LLC. I have a social media plan for each month with a specific, themed post for each day. (Mine go to Instagram, my Facebook Author Page, and Twitter. I’ll have links for each of my accounts, in case you want to follow, at the end of the post.)
This past Saturday (July 15) was National Give Something Away Day. I, and a lot of other authors, decided to give away a book. For the 15th and 16th (National Ice Cream Day), A War of Deception was free for Kindle.
Whenever you give anything away for free, there’s always a lot of interest. I was hoping for a modest boost into the top 100 of Free Kindle Books on the Espionage list. Actually, the top 100 would have been more than a modest boost. It would have been a moon launch.
I’m not one of those authors who checks on sales by the hour. If I did, I’d likely give up writing. In fact, I’ve avoided looking at the sales rank of any of my books. Midday on Saturday, however, I decided to take a look at how the giveaway of A War of Deception was doing.
Seventh in Espionage; 51st in thrillers; 125th in YA Thrillers. The latter, frankly, was a big surprise. There are no YA characters in my novel, unless you count the twenty-year-old college student.
To me, 7th was that moon launch. To see my book up there on the list with the Harlan Cobens, the Clive Cusslers, etc., was pretty exciting. Readers in search of a bargain downloaded 300 copies of my novel. I was content and pleased.
Excitement in Starbucks
On Sunday morning, I went to have breakfast at Starbucks and do a little #coffeeshopwriting. At about ten in the morning, I thought, “What the heck. I’ll go have a look and see if I’m still in the top 50.”
My gasp brought attention from a guy at a nearby table.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Would you do me a favor and look at something?” I asked, showing him my computer screen.
“Sure,” he said. “What?”
“The book at number two, would you read the title?”
He gave me that, okay-I’m-talking-to-a-nut expression, but he looked and said, “A War of Deception by P. A. Duncan.”
“That’s me. That’s my book,” I said.
“Wow. Cool. I’m sitting next to a best-selling author,” he said, and went back to his phone.
In My Wildest Dreams
When you decide to be a writer, when you have work published, that phrase “best-seller” or “best-selling author” nags at you. It’s what you want to be, but you know the state of publishing; it’s never likely to be your book or you.
Of course, I imagined this for myself, but I’m a realist. I don’t call it pessimism. Rather, it’s a lifetime of things not going the way I anticipated or wanted. It’s not a pity party; it’s life. I suppose that’s why I’m not a big fan of romance novels or rom-com movies: It doesn’t always happen that way in reality. So, I’m a realist. I have stories to tell, I tell them, they get published, and that’s enough for me.
But, always, in the recesses of my brain are the two words that drive every writer: What if?
I got a great answer to that question this past weekend. For forty-eight hours, my book was a best-seller (Yes, technically, it was free; I’m using dramatic license.), and I was a best-selling author.
I’ll take those forty-eight hours, much as I did the screen shot of my book at Number Two, and keep on writing.
Which all means, when you’re the one who has to do your marketing, do it.
Social Media Links:
The Book Trailer became almost a must a few years ago, a brief infomercial for your published work. I looked at several of my writer friends’ productions–some made by them, some by their publicists–and thought, well, that’s something I need to do when my first novel comes out.
But, how do I do it?
As an independent author, I don’t have a publicist or a marketing department, and a writer friend said, “You’re a Mac user. Try iMovie.”
Okay. iMovie does provide a number of templates you can use for any type of short video. I looked them over, and none seemed to fit the theme of A War of Deception, i.e., Mai and Alexei are not twenty-somethings riding off into the sunset on a motorcycle. And there was the matter of not knowing how to use iMovie. Yeah, I’m pretty much a techie, but at this stage of my life a program has to be “plug and play” (Dated myself there, right?) because I don’t have the patience to trial and error it.
Then, a couple of weeks ago in a Facebook group for independent authors, I saw a post from a company called yourbooktrailers.com. Someone commented on the post, the tone a bit snarky, and said, “Nice, but you can do your own for free on iMovie.” Well, pre-supposing you know how to use it, smarta$$.
I looked at the page, examined the samples provided there, and decided to buy a short book teaser to see if I liked the product. I posted the book teaser here the other day, and I was thrilled with the 10-second teaser.
So, I went back and purchased a 55-second book trailer. The turnaround was quick–fewer than two days. There was a small error, and when I pointed it out, it got fixed right away. Again, I had to supply a graphic of the book cover (this time the front, back, and spine) and text for the description and testimonials, as well as links where to buy the book.
And here’s the result:
What do you think?
Haiku 366-191 to -208 will come soon, but today I thought I’d get back to a post about fiction and the struggle of every indie author–getting people to give your books a chance.
I’ve ranted before about the quality of some indie publishing, but as I’ve read more and more of it, I’m finding the truly awful (i.e., unedited, misspelled, and grammatically deficient) is fast becoming a minority. Add in Barnes and Noble, that behemoth of traditional publishing, will allow indie published work in its stores (at last), and the writer, who decides to forego the traditional and often demoralizing hunt for an agent and a publisher, is getting R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This is especially heartening for those who took the time and effort to publish a polished product and who didn’t succumb to the coveted “published author” title at all costs.
So, before this becomes a rant: join a critique group, hire a professional editor (for all stages of editing), design or purchase a professional cover, hire a proofreader, and, if you’re not familiar with a book’s interior design, hire someone who is.
Now, onto “getting your name out there.”
An Unexpected Find
I’ve always believed my books about my spy characters would be successful if I could “get them out there” where people could see the depth of the characters, the timeliness of the subject matter, and the pains I’ve gone to for an intriguing story. I’ve done the bookmark thing, the postcard thing, the purchase-an-ad thing, the book signing thing, the open mic thing, but what more could I do without bankrupting myself?
At Virginia Festival of the Book this past spring, I came across a local fantasy writer who’d purchased a table at the book fair. I almost walked past because I’m not much of a fantasy reader. However, on one corner of her table were several small (as in thin) books with a sign that said “Free.”
“Free?” I asked the author.
“They’re short stories featuring my characters and aspects of the mythology I’ve built,” was the reply.
“And you give them away?”
“Bookmarks and postcards get thrown away. When someone’s done with one of these, they won’t throw them away. They’ll give them to a library or a used book store, and that’s exposure. Hell, maybe they’ll even keep them.”
I must have stood there gaping with the shock of “why hadn’t I thought of that” because she picked up two of the “booklets” and handed them to me. “Enjoy,” she said.
Back home when I unpacked my goodie bag from the festival, I came across the two booklets and sat right down to read them. The author was right. They were engaging, a quick read, but complete, well-crafted short stories and certainly piqued my interest for her longer works.
But life moves on, and I put them aside and forgot about this unique marketing idea.
Imitation and Flattery
After polishing off the edits on a couple of draft novels, which I hope to have ready for the demoralizing agent hunt (Yes, the dream is still alive in my head.) later this year, I decided I wanted to go back to writing some short stories, not the flash fiction I’ve been delving into for years, but a true short story of 7,000 to 8,000 words. I’d come across an article in The Washington Post about Russian security services allegedly harassing diplomats in Europe and Moscow–juvenile pranks mostly, but they were escalating. The Russian government, of course, disavowed any participation on its part, but those of us who’ve studied that country throughout its iterations knew better.
The result: a 7,500-word short story called, “Spymaster.”
And the booklets from the Festival of the Book came back to mind. What if (a writer’s favorite question) I used CreateSpace to make that short story into a booklet to give away at book signings and over events. At CreateSpace, it’s free to publish, and the size of the booklet means ordering copies for my personal use will be a minimal investment.
Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.
The story is with a beta reader/editor right now, but while I’m waiting for the feedback, I went ahead and designed a couple of cover possibilities.
If you’ve never heard of Canva, it’s a great online tool for designing a number of graphic art pieces, from Facebook page headers (go to https://www.facebook.com/unspywriter and have a look at one I did for my author page using Canva) to Instagram posts. Canva has templates for ebook covers, including Smashwords and Kindle. Most of their artwork is free, but even the ones you pay for start at a dollar a piece. Unlike another good resource for professional covers, http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/index.php, where once you buy a cover, it’s taken down and not sold to anyone else, with Canva you risk having the cover you choose used by someone else. Of course you can customize it. I remove all the sample text on the Canva cover, download it as a .jpeg, and further customize it in Photoshop. Canva’s selection of free graphics is limited compared to SelfPubBookCovers, but I managed to find a few that appealed to me and fit the theme of the story, “Spymaster.”
“Spymaster” Cover #1
This cover appealed to me because one of the critical scenes takes place in a forest in Eastern Europe. What it’s lacking is color. The story has dark elements, but not quite this dark.
It fits the story but to me has limited appeal in getting someone to pick it up and look at it.
“Spymaster” Cover #2
This cover also appealed to me because of a specific theme in the story. Again, it’s black and white. While it’s certainly intriguing and I know people who would pick up a book with a cover like this, it lacks color. I experimented with other fonts and putting the type in different colors, but that didn’t quite work either.
“Spymaster” Cover #3
The final choice appeals to me visually, has excellent color, and is very evocative. It doesn’t directly relate to a scene in the book, but it screams “intrigue” and “mystery.” I know I’d pick up a book, even a free one, with this cover. Of the three choices, this is certainly the one I’m leaning toward.
But what do you think? Which cover appeals to you and why? Let me know in the comments below.
On Saturday, after the great Friday evening social hour and opening events, we got down to the nitty-gritty. The first session started at 0830, and there were three possibilities to choose from: “Ten Things You Can Do Now to Promote the Book You Haven’t Even Sold Yet,” presented by Gina Holmes and River Laker; “Why New Media Changes the Way We Write and What We Can Do About It,” presented by Bill Kovarik from Radford University; and “Writing Cookbooks,” by Waynesboro, VA, author Mollie Cox Bryan.
I chose Kovarik’s presentation on New Media, which was a brief primer on social media. We introduced ourselves and told how involved we were in social media, which ones we used, etc. I was surprised by the number of people much younger than I who were terrified or who lacked knowledge of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. So much for the Gen-Xers and Millennials who are supposedly the most cyber-smart of us all. Kovarik did a fascinating measurement of the number of monks it would take to produce the amount of information moved about in one day on the Internet. He used monks because they were the ones who first delved in media by reproducing by hand the Bible and other, then-rare books. Basically, it would take billions and billions (sorry, Carl Sagan) of monks to generate the information we have access to today, but it was a fascinating way to show how media have grown over a couple of millennia.
We got into a debate about whether we, as writers, adapt to technology or whether it adapts to us and concluded it was probably a little of both, but Kovarik got the point across that today’s social media “has changed the way we write, publish, and promote,” and that we definitely need to adapt to media as they evolve.
The second morning session offered “Refining the Pitch for Your Book,” presented by Neil Sagebiel; “Writing Humor,” presented by Michael Miller; “Legal Protections for Writers,” presented by Roanoke attorney Erin Ashwell; and “The No B. S. Guide to Networking,” presented by Sarah Beth Jones, a freelance writer.
Because I’m in the process of developing a query letter to obtain an agent, I opted for “Refining the Pitch for Your Book.” This was perhaps the only disappointment for the conference. The conference brochure clearly said, “Refining the Pitch for Your Book,” but the presentation itself was “Refining the Pitch for Your Non-Fiction Book.” And the presenter noted the process was somewhat different, namely when you’re pitching a non-fiction book, it doesn’t really have to be completed. The agent bases his or her decision on a lengthy and detailed proposal. Why didn’t I leave? Well, climbing over a row of people in an auditorium would have been too obvious, and Sagebiel had an interesting story to tell of how he turned his love of golf into a best-selling book about a little-known but significant event in golf history.
In the third and final morning session, we could choose from “Marketing Your Own Work,” presented by Kathleen Grissom; “Self-Publishing How and Why,” presented by Brooke McGlothlin; “Memoir: What’s So Important about Your Life?” presented by Judy Ayylidiz; and “Making Your Photos Better,” presented by Christina Koomen.
I’d enjoyed Grissom’s keynote address from the evening before, I attended her session. Grissom indicated after she finished a draft of her novel, The Kitchen House, she set out to understand “the business of publishing.” Through trial and error, she learned that one of the most important aspects of that business is “don’t send a manuscript out too soon,” which she sees as the reason for all her early rejections. By chance she encountered another writer in the town where she lived, and that writer became her mentor, assisting her with a re-write and a second, successful agent-querying round.
However, Grissom may have a leg up on the rest of us: She had previously worked in marketing and promotion and had built a career doing that. She did, though, explain to us how she took that knowledge and applied it to marketing and promoting her book. For example, once she developed a list of bloggers who reviewed books, she familiarized herself with the blogs, contacted the blogger directly and sent review copies, then followed up. When she got a review, she sent a thank-you to the reviewer, whether it was a good review or not, and she followed any comments on the review–and responded to them.
Grissom also made personal contact with independent book stores and libraries within a three-hour drive of where she lived, i.e., she went to those places and gave a copy of her book, then set up a reading or signing event on the spot. She also emphasized the use of social media– “Make sure each book has its own Facebook page”–and drove home the importance of positive interaction with commenters on social media.
Yes, a busy morning with lots of note-taking, discussion, and great ideas. In Part Three, we’ll move on to the equally busy afternoon sessions.