Marketing

I joined three friends to give a writers’ workshop on marketing and promoting your book yesterday.  It was a beautiful Saturday.  We had a small audience, but that’s never bothered me.  I know and respect some of the writers who came to hear us.  I love and respect my fellow writers on the panel.  A win/win for me.  And then we went to the Outback to eat when the panel was over, and what can I say?  I can be had for a bloomin’ burger.  And the company?  There’s nothing more fun than talking to fellow writers.

All four of us have been writing for a while now.  Kyra Jacobs, the newest and shiniest writer in the group, is probably more savvy than I am at marketing.  I try, but I’m no whiz kid.  The thing that struck me is that we’re all good writers–all in our own way–and it’s just plain hard to get your name out there and find success.  The other thing that struck me is how willing writers are to help each other.  If we learn something that works, we’re happy to share.  We WANT to see other writers succeed.

We shared sites that had worked for us when we advertised.  Of course, the best site is BookBub.  It’s expensive, and it’s HARD to get them to accept your book, but if they take you, it’s worth it.  At most sites, you have to have a set number of reviews to be considered.  Not always true of BookBub.  They factor in lots of things.  And often, you have to have an average 4.0 ranking.  That led me to thinking about reviews.

Every author needs reviews.  If you reach 50 reviews on Amazon, you get more visibility. Amazon might even spotlight your book.  The only time I got 50 reviews was when I was active on Goodreads and BookBub accepted my urban fantasy novel, FALLEN ANGELS.  I ended up with 67 reviews, most of them good.  I really enjoyed Goodreads, but for whatever reason, the group I was in sort of trickled apart and I still haven’t plugged into a new one.  My fault, but I’m writing more, and it’s hard to find the time.  The thing is, good reviews make a difference.  They open doors for authors.  We have more options.  I like advertising at The Fussy Librarian, but you have to have 10 reviews and a 4.0 average ranking for them to accept you.  Since I started over with a new pseudonym, I have trouble getting 10 reviews.

There’s another reason having more reviews helps an author.  It’s sad, but true, that your book just isn’t going to click with every reader.  That’s all right.  You can’t please them all. But some readers are more than happy to write the worst reviews they can to let you know how much they didn’t like your book.  It hurts.  I know people who just don’t read their bad reviews, and maybe they’re smarter than I am.  I still read mine.  I’m curious what worked and what didn’t for readers, but a really bad review feels like an open wound that takes a while to recover from.  On top of that, those reviewers give your book a low rating.  If you only have six reviews to start with, your average rating is shot. When you get a new review that’s positive, you feel like someone gave you a dose of sunshine. It affirms that you might be doing something right.

The other thing that I noticed on our panel yesterday was that every writer on it is hopeful.  We all think that the time is coming when we’ll “make it,” whatever that means to each of us individually.  For Kyra Jacobs and I, we both want to see our print books on bookstore shelves.  For M. L. Rigdon–she loves self-publishing and making all of her own choices–so she just wants to make more money.  And for Les Edgerton–well, he’s already pretty darned successful and writes pretty much what he wants to–he’d just like to sell more, too.

And so, I wish each and every one of us success.  And I wish you success, too, whatever that means to you.  Happy writing!

 

BTW, my 5th romance, FIRST KISS, ON THE HOUSE, comes out June 27th.  It’s available for pre-order now.  I think it’s pretty darned fun!  http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/35025

cover 5 judy

And, if you’re interested, I started a new Babet and Prosper story on my webpage:

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

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NetGalley for reviews

My fifth Mill Pond romance is available for reviews on NetGalley now.  Miriam is a high school English teacher who can stop a rebellious teenager with one raised eyebrow.  Take her seriously!  Joel’s daughter is nineteen, but will always be mentally twelve.  He comes to Mill Pond to open a brewery.  Will beer and literature make a perfect blend?

https://s2.netgalley.com/widget/redeem/111228_53734_149271355558f900535e47d_9781516101375_US

firstkissonthehouse

Reviews

I have a brainy, literary friend who won’t review a book unless he can wholeheartedly give it five stars.  He’s well-read, favors the heavyweights.  Knows all the classics.  Which means he hardly ever writes a review.

I’m not that picky.  I’ve read plenty of classics (not nearly as many as him), and I admire the hell out of great writing.  But in my mind, those authors are the top strastophere of writing.  They stand APART from we regular mortals and shouldn’t even be ranked alongside ordinary writers.  And let’s face it, we’re all biased.  What we consider good writing is subjective.  I’d list Elizabeth George, Alice Hoffman, and Sarah Addison Allen as icons of greatness, and maybe add Caleb Carr and Barbara Hambly, but my friend would list Stephen King, and another friend would add Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor.  We haven’t even mentioned the classics, because who could live up to those?

Today, I only read heavyweight books occasionally.  They demand too much time and emotional energy.  These days, I read books just as often to relax and enjoy.  Agatha Christie was an author I could count on for hours of fun.  Does she compare to Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles?  No.  But would I give her five stars?  In a heartbeat. Because what she did, she did well.

That’s my new test for books I read.  Do they deliver on what they promised?  When I pick up a romance, I don’t expect The Thornbirds.  That book was romance on steroids.  I expect an interesting heroine who meets an intriguing hero and plenty of bumps to keep them apart before a happy ending.  And good writing.  The stronger the writing, the better. I’m talking about ALL the components of good writing–grammar, language, pacing, plotting, description…the works.   The more it delivers, the more stars I give it.

And that brings me to “stars.”  I’m a writer.  I tend to maybe be more generous than the average reader.  I know.  That surprises some people.  They expect me to be pickier, to have a higher standard.  But I know how HARD it is to get the balance right and to hold a reader’s attention for an entire book.

I worked as a waitress for two years when I was in college.  Being a waitress is hard work! To this day, I overtip because I remember all of the times I was tired, grumpy, needed to study for a test, and didn’t really want to wait on people, but had to.  If the waitress doesn’t get my food to me at a decent time, I remember when we were short-shifted, and I was trying to pick up extra tables while giving decent service to my own customers.  I know there are bad waitresses out there, but I still leave them some kind of a tip.

Because I’m a writer, I can’t make myself write a review that’s under three stars.  A decent book deserves three stars.  A good book deserves four, in my opinion.  And an exceptional book that keeps me entertained, even if it has a few flaws, I give five stars, because it made me happy for three or four nights before I fell asleep.  It stood out for me in some way.  I wish there was some giant, gold star you could give to books that stand far above the rest, but there isn’t, so I try to say that in the review itself.

One and two star books?  I probably don’t finish, and I’d never review them.  I know some people would say that’s being a coward.  They’d say I bought a bad book and wasted my money and I should warn other readers not to go there.  But books are sort of like movies.  Some of the ones I didn’t enjoy at all, someone else loved.   Plus, I just can’t do it.  I know how many hours and how much effort went into those books.  I can’t make myself trash them.

As for reviews, in general?  Every writer needs them.  I think the magic number is 50 to get Amazon to notice your novel.  25 is good, but that might have changed by now. Kensington put my fourth romance up on NetGalley to try to get advance reviews, but there are a LOT of books to compete with.  Some authors get reviews with book tours.  I found this article that I need to read: https://booklaunch.com/amazon-reviews/.  I don’t know if you write reviews when you read books or not, but it’s the best way to support an author you like.  That’s why I make an effort to do it–as long as I liked the book.

Happy reading and happy writing!

Webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

Twitter:  @judypost

Writing: Reviews

When I first put books online, I was just so happy that I could finally SHARE my writing that I didn’t think too far past that. Dumb mistake. There are thousands, maybe millions, maybe kazillions (all right, I’m getting carried away) of other writers online. How could a reader possibly find MY books out of all of the others? I did everything that my agent told me to do–start a blog, join twitter, make a webpage and a facebook author page. Great, but how do readers find THOSE?

I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. There are people with thousands of blog followers, even more facebook followers, and tons of twitter friends. Recently, I was invited to join a state-wide author facebook page. I learned right away that I was outclassed. These authors were SERIOUS about marketing. Most belonged to RWA. They attended author signings anywhere they could drive to. They carried bookmarks, postcards, and swag for giveaways and contests. They invited me to participate in a facebook “party,” which I did. And I learned a lot. These women knew how to promote their books–and I was grateful to them for including me.

I belong to a writers’ group, but we concentrate more on writing. We aren’t so wonderful at marketing. For that, I recommend joining a romance writers’ group. If they’re like the ones in Indiana, you’ll learn a LOT–and the writers are friendly and generous. What helps one, helps everyone. They share. That’s something I’ve learned about writers. They WANT to share what works for them.

One of the things that helps a writer is reviews. Most readers dismiss reviews if a writer only has five or six of them. They figure the writer coerced friends and family into writing them, and they don’t trust the five stars. I’ve read that if a writer has all five-star reviews, it makes readers suspicious. No book, supposedly, is perfect. A four star review here and there makes a writer more credible. Then there are the “trolls” who leave a one-star rating and a scathing comment because you’ve simply irritated them. I was so happy with a five-star review I got, I put it on twitter, and I immediately got a one-star review with no comments, just a rating, just to deflate my bubble. Sad. But true. Sort of pathetic, if you think about it.

To advertise on most promotional sites, you have to have a certain amount of reviews. It varies from site to site. I have no idea what it takes to get on BookBub these days (it’s hard), but some sites demand 10 reviews, some 15, etc. That sounds like a small number in the big scheme of things, but believe me when I tell you that if you’re a new writer and you’re not good at promoting yourself, it’s not so easy to achieve. I think I’m pretty generous to my writers’ club, but can I get most of the members to review my books? No. Can I get friends to read and review them? No. Family? Forget it. If you write a book and you need to depend on friends and family, my opinion is that you’re screwed. And that’s all right! Don’t take it personally. First off, people like what they like. I haven’t met an abundance of people who are into urban fantasy. And even if they read my stuff, they don’t feel comfortable rating it or writing about it. So what I’m trying to tell you is, when you finish your book and you put it online, have a marketing plan in mind–even if it’s a modest one. I’ve listed some bloggers who specialize in marketing before. I think Lindsay Buroker’s one of the best: http://www.lindsayburoker.com/ Her thoughts on reviews: http://www.lindsayburoker.com/book-marketing/analyzing-a-mid-list-series/ So is Rachel Thompson on twitter: http://badredheadmedia.com/category/blogging/ Read them and listen to their advice, or cross your fingers and hope you get lucky. And if it doesn’t matter to you, you want to write what you write and you’re happy with that, so be it. We all write for different reasons. So whatever you’re doing, enjoy it!

(I want to plug the Fussy Librarian. He won’t review a book unless it has 10 good reviews, but bless the man, he saved one of my books until I got my 10th review, and Blood Battles will be on his pages tomorrow: http://www.thefussylibrarian.com/).

I also want to add that everything I have online–books, bundles, and novellas–will be 99 cents from Monday to Sunday, and then on the 27th, all of my prices will go up. (I want to experiment a little. Keep your fingers crossed for me.) http://www.amazon.com/Judith-Post/e/B007P48F5G/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1413756902&sr=1-1

And P.P.S My friend Sia Marion posted a short story on her blog that’s perfect for Halloween spooky fun:
http://siamarion.weebly.com/blog

Writing–how to get depth

Feedback on writing is a tricky thing.  Flat statements are just frustrating.  “I loved that,” makes me happy, but doesn’t help me much.  “I hate that,” hurts, but it doesn’t tell me what didn’t work or what to look at and maybe fix.  I say maybe, because no writer is ever going to please everyone.  And that’s probably a good thing.

I followed a LONG thread once on Goodreads about reviews–what readers, bloggers, and writers considered a good review.  I liked the comments because they came at reviews from a lot of different angles.  Readers looked for information that would help them decide if they wanted to read a book or not, if it was worth picking up; and I have to say, the readers proved generous and discriminating to authors.  They wanted to like their books.  If there were characters they could like or a plot that could entertain them, they were pretty forgiving of flaws if they saw some potential or promise for improvement.  I found that encouraging.

Bloggers read a book and tried their best to give enough details to inform readers what was good about it and what wasn’t.  I learned a lot from their comments because they took the time to list what they considered each book’s strengths and weaknesses.  And writers tended to comment on how they approached good or bad feedback.

I’m thinking about all of this because I just got a new review on Amazon for Fallen Angels.  I’m new enough that I don’t have that many, so a reader’s take on my work gets me pretty excited.  This review particularly struck me because the comments were so thoughtful.  The reader gave me three stars and said that she liked my book, but wasn’t crazy about it, that if it had more depth, it could have been a knockout.  I really appreciated the time and thought the reviewer put into my novel–maybe because I’ve been trying to put more depth into my writing, and hopefully, each book has a little more than the one before it.  But that brings me to the next question.  What really adds depth?

My opinion is that depth comes from conflict and emotions.  If we watch a character struggle with internal and external conflict and try to achieve a goal that’s important to him against great odds, if an author can bring that struggle to life, the character should have depth.  The more he struggles, the more we care.  Revealing the character’s frustration and determination and his inner battles makes him more real.  Internal dialogue can reveal his reactions in scenes, but his actions speak just as loudly–probably more so.   “Actions speak louder than words” is just as true in fiction as real life.  If a character tells himself that he’d give his life for his friend and then walks away when his friend is jumped, leaving him to battle by himself, the reader knows how that character really feels.  If he feels guilty for his actions later, the writer’s given him a new layer of depth.  On the other hand, if he has to walk away, when he doesn’t want to, sacrificing his friend to save others, the author’s created even more depth, because the more internal conflict for the character, the more powerful the story.

I’m starting work on my third Enoch/Voronika novel later this week.  That should keep me busy for a few months to come.  Let’s hope I can add  more depth to this one.  I’m trying!

 

 

Writing: Celebrate each victory

cover_mockup_30_thumb cover_mockup_28_thumb cover_mockup_29a_thumbThis post is about celebrating.  I’ve been writing for more years than I want to count, and it takes a thick hide to learn from critiques and rejections.  But a writer needs successes, too, to help her hang in there.  And I’ve learned that successes come in all shapes and sizes.  My husband took me out to dinner the first time one of my stories was accepted for a “pays in copies” anthology.  I took him out for hot dogs at Coney Island downtown when I got a check for a whopping $35.  When I sold my first mystery short story to Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, I took the whole family out to eat.  Sometimes, celebrations are scaled back to fit the occasion.  When I got my first “good” rejection for a novel I was pedaling, it was a raised glass of wine.  When I got more “close, but no cigar” rejections, it was a box of candy.  And yes, I counted the rejections as victories, not defeats.  After all, an editor had taken the time to write a personal note on them, something uplifting, not a standard copy of “thanks, but no thanks.”  They were a step forward, even if it was only a baby step.

When I get a speed bump in my writing–a rejection that especially hurts or a campaign that falls flat–I give myself a day to grieve and get it out of my system.  So it’s only fair that when I finish a novel or I get a glowing review or if more people download a book than I expected to, I give myself time to enjoy the victory, regardless of its size.  You should, too.  Take time to savor the good moments.  Wherever you are in your writing, enjoy each step along the way.  Give proper importance to each tiny victory that moves you forward.  Celebrate the journey.

At the moment, I’m celebrating my two, new novella bundles that just went online.  I love the covers Michael Prete made for them, one for each collection and two for the new novellas inside Collection II.  I bragged about Michael’s work last week, but I felt the need to brag one more time.  I shared the first cover in my last blog.  Here are the covers for the second collection.  The voodoo priest is on the creepy side, but he’s not very nice, so it suits him.  This blog is my joyous moment before I hit rewrites on Monday and return to my everyday life of fingers on keys, striving for the right words, the right flow.  But today, I’m going to play and push writing thoughts away.  Today’s for fun.  Enjoy your moments, too.

(If you or someone you know needs a cover, I’ll list Michael’s link one more time.  He’s wonderful to work with and reasonable.  You can contact him through his business site for web pages:  http://vertex10.com/).

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

 

 

Writers, readers, & reviews

It’s taken me a long time, but I finally got up to 44 reviews on one of my  novels.  When I offered Fallen Angels for free for 4 days on amazon, I got over 18,000 downloads (big for me, not so impressive for best selling authors).

I’m not sure, but it might be possible it takes 18,000 downloads to get 33 reviews–I had 11 to start with.  That, in itself, was an eye opener.  I’ve read that a lot of people download free books and then never get around to reading them.  *Sigh.  I’m guilty of that myself.  Out of the ones who actually read it, only some write reviews.  But thank you, thank you, thank you to the ones who do!  Because readers didn’t react to my book the way writers do.

I have three friends who I trade manuscripts with.  They mark up my stuff.  I mark up theirs.  We look for everything–word choice, pacing, conflict, tension, plot holes, characterization…you name it.   If we find anything that we think could be better, stronger–we mark it.  Not to be critical.  But because each one of us wants to write the best book we possibly can.

Before I offered Fallen Angels for free on amazon, I offered free copies for read-to-review on Goodreads.  I love Goodreads.  It’s becoming sort of saturated with writers right now, but the readers and bloggers on the sites I joined are some of the most supportive people a writer could have the joy to meet.  These are serious readers.  They’re voracious and they know their stuff.  Their reviews are honest and insightful, and they’re almost always harder to impress than most people who walk into a bookstore or open a book on their e-readers.  They compare you to other big name authors and know the markets, every major series in the genres they like, and what’s current.  But they’re generous.  When they see potential, they say so.

The reviews I got from the free days on Kindle were different.  Every bit as intelligent and insightful, but in a different way.   These people read for fun.  They download a book and want to be entertained for a few hours.  If you accomplish that, they’re happy with you, and they give interesting feedback.  Their reactions weren’t always what I expected.  More than a few had trouble with Voronika.  I love Voronika.  I know why she’s built a wall around herself and is aloof and prickly.  Enoch loves and understands her, too.  But I still haven’t made her into as sympathetic a character as I’d like her to be.  Maybe I’ll get her right in book 3…let’s hope:)

Even most of the negative feedback was interesting, if for no other reason than to remind me that I’m never going to please everyone.  But these people read for fun.  They didn’t analyze plot or structure.  They just asked if the book WORKED for them.  Did they like it or not?  Were they glad they’d spent a few hours with my characters?  What made them keep turning pages, and what made them get up to trim their toenails?  Yes, a book CAN be that boring.  And when it gets right down to it, that’s what we need to think about.  We want people to pick up our book, turn a page, and get hooked in our story.  And we do all that we know how to do to keep them engaged from the first page to the last.

So…happy writing to you.  And may you hook readers from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end of your latest novel/novella/or short story.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com

Writing–gird your loins

Writing’s a funny business.  The very act itself is a love/hate relationship.  When I start a book, I have new ideas swirling in my head, new villains, new worlds to conquer, and I can’t wait to dive in.  Somewhere after the first fourth of the book, when the set-up’s done and the middle is setting in, I doubt myself.  Do I have a strong enough conflict to push to the finish?  Are my characters interacting enough to create emotional tension as well as drive plot points?  I stagger through to the novel’s halfway point, and then I’m always sure that I’ve run out of steam.  My subplots now look like hideous diversions that will sag under the gravity of too many words.  That’s when I play the game of “what if?”  What if something comes at my protagonist that I, as his creator, never saw coming?  What if he takes a wrong turn, hits a wall, wants to give up?  Just like I do about now.  I don’t like this book anymore.  What started out as fun has become an impossible feat that I’m pretty much sick of.  And then I struggle to the last fourth of the book–the wrap-ups of my subplots, the final, big battle, and the short denouement–and all is well.  I love this book again.  Until I start rewrites.

But that’s just the writing of the book.  Now, it’s time to get beat-up, in the nicest possible way.  I hold my breath after I’ve made the story as good as I know how to, and then I give it to my critique buddies.  Believe me when I tell you, no one catches all of their own mistakes.  There are plot holes, that were perfectly there–in my head–but never made it to paper.  There’s repetition that drags entire chapters down.  There’s awkward wording, “duh” moments, and more.  When I get their feedback, it’s time to go through the manuscript again.  (I want to stress here, that I’ve had my writing friends for years now–I know when they mark something, I’ve screwed up.  But it takes a while to find critique partners who are right for you.  A friend wrote in circles for a while, because her partners didn’t know her genre and wanted to change her writing so that it mimicked theirs–not what a critique is for).  When I finish fixing that draft, I give the manuscript to my grammar guru who copy edits the whole thing.  Then I fix those mistakes  (hyphens don’t like me).   And finally, I give it to my agent.  And there are always more things to fix.

Finally, it’s time to put the novel or novella online.  And every writer wants readers to buy it, love it, and review it, right?  In our fantasies, every reader writes a glowing review of how much they loved the story and our writing.  And that is a fantasy.  Because it’s never going to happen.  People don’t like or look for the same things.  Hopefully, more people will like your story than not.  But you can’t please everyone.  Someone’s going to want more of this, less of that.  I’m not a famous writer.  I rejoice when I just get a review.  I read them, think them over, try to decide if I should change something in the next book.  The most helpful reviews, for me, tell me what they liked and what they didn’t.  The only reviews that bug me are the ones who give my work one star with no name and no comment.  What am I supposed to learn from them?  Come to think of it, though, that’s not as bad as my friend–who sells LOTS of books, who got a one-star review with a comment that said, “What a waste of time and money.”  That still doesn’t tell a writer what the reader didn’t like.  So maybe no comment is better:)  (My friend, by the way, had so many five-star reviews, she just shrugged and said, “Can’t win ’em all.”  And she’s right.  You can’t.)

The thing is, a writer needs to find her balance on a tight rope of listening to people enough to grow and improve and not listening enough to stay true to her own voice/style.  I belong to an awesome writers’ group, and new writers come and go.  They usually do fine when one of us is reading.  They listen to the comments and join in when we go around the table.  We often lose them after the first time they read, though.  And I understand.  Writing is a private endeavor.  And as much as all of us want feedback, it’s not always easy to take.  Most of us, even the members who’ve been writing for a long time, can get defensive.  When it happens to me, the trick is to keep my  mouth shut, give myself a few days to digest what failed on a colossal level, and then figure out how to fix it.  But my first instinct–and theirs, too–is to defend our work.  But if a person doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like it.  That doesn’t mean we have to change it.  I’d say that if four out of five people tell you something doesn’t work, though…well, you’d better fix it.  Reviews are pretty much the same.  They can be helpful, but at the end of the day, your writing is yours.  And you can’t please everyone.

My final point–as much as feedback can make us doubt ourselves, thank the heavens if you get some good, honest comments.  They’re not easy to come by.  I am grateful to every reader who goes to the bother to share his/her thoughts about my stories and writing.  THANK YOU!