ISBN Shopping (and other practical accomplishments)

This week signals the end of my calm, lazy month. At the end of the week I’m going to speak to a high school, next week I’m heading over to Melbourne to see about some paid work, and after that my notes for The Edge of the Woods are due back from the editor.

Scary. Awesome?

Both.

So today, even though I stayed in my pyjamas and hung out with my nephews, I managed to get some practical things done in preparation for the book.

To begin with, I set up a mailing list with MailChimp (which I’m honestly still figuring out how to use, but I have one, and that’s the important thing). It seems to be the most recommended of the mailing list sites, and the logo is a monkey in a hat. I don’t know about you guys, but animals wearing hats is a pretty good way to get my business.

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I’d vote for him.

After that, I bit the bullet and forked over some cash in exchange for ten ISBN numbers. This is an optional expense for self publishers, as Amazon and Createspace will supply a free one for you, but I wanted to cover my bases and make sure the copyright for my work stayed 100% with me. I got mine from Thorpe-Bowker, the Australian ISBN supplier. It costs $84.00 for a set of 10, though they charge a one-time $55.00 fee if it’s your first purchase. For non-Australians, you can get yours here.

And then, because I was on a roll and/or wanted to use an ISBN straight away now that I’d spent all the money on them, I set up a Goodreads page. Since the book is still a few months away from being published, I’ll use the page to (hopefully) drum up some more interest and organise a giveaway.

So there you have it. Productivity! And some things crossed off the to-do list.

As for writing, I’ve been tinkering with a few things to see what I’d like to focus on once The Edge of the Woods is done. I have 20,000 words of a Young Adult zombie novel done, and have started playing with a fantasy and a few fairytale shorts. My gut is telling me to go with the fairytales, as so far they’ve been the most fun to work on. But we’ll see! I know have to just pick something, but flitting between ideas has been kind of a pleasant change of pace.

Anyway, if you don’t hear from me in a while (though I’ll be back next week for Book Club), it’s because I’m working, working, working.

Happy writing!

UPDATE: About twenty minutes after publishing this post, my edit notes came back a week early and really positive. So I guess my calm, lazy month ends right now!

Workshop: Standing Out From The Crowd

The second workshop I attended as a part of the Perth Writers Festival, 2014, was Standing out from the Crowd with indie author Susan May. Susan has an incredible story, having only chosen to become a self-published author in the past year. She already has one novel, two short stories and an anthology for sale on Amazon, has almost 40,000 followers on twitter and is the tenth most searched author on Goodreads Australia.

The workshop revolved around marketing yourself as an author – whether traditional or indie. This can be started before you publish your first work, or after you’ve published several. She mostly shared her own experience and stories of her other author friends successes – from modest earnings to the runaway success of Hugh Howie (who she just worked on an anthology with).

Susan was incredibly engaging and inspiring to listen to. A complete go-getter, she’s funny, confident and business minded. A lot of what she said were things I’d heard before in my indie publishing research, but some was new, some gave better insight, and all of it was just really great to hear from a real person – and someone local! – who has braved indie publishing successfully.

As before, here is a summary of my notes. I hope they’re helpful!

  • Treat your writing like a business. Keep up with the industry, know what’s happening, what’s working, what’s no longer effective.
  • Become someone worth discovering. Readers want to connect with authors in a way they haven’t in the past. They want to know you. What’s your brand? What’s your story?
  • Your biography is important. Update it as your career develops. Be positive about yourself, include your smaller achievements until you can replace them with bigger ones. Have you talked at schools? Had any short stories or articles published? Taught a class? Everything counts!
  • Connect all of your social media to your website and author page. Learn to use each effectively. You don’t have to be on twitter, and it’s no longer effective as a selling tool, but it does allow your readers to engage with you and get to know you.
  • Join Kindleboards to get in touch with other authors and share tips and advice on what’s working best at any given time to boost your sales.
  • Your time is valuable – measure it. Time = words = money.
  • Don’t waste too much time on marketing methods that don’t show you a return. If everyone is doing it, there’s a good chance it’s no longer effective. Think outside the box, and don’t forget to think local.
  • Effective free marketing methods include: mailing lists, goodreads giveaways, interviews (radio, television & newspaper, blogs if they have a significant readership in your intended demographic and genre), talks (in schools or universities, at writers festivals, etc)
  • Some examples of ‘Good’ Marketing (i.e. a good return on your time and investment): Local interviews and/or podcasts, price pulsing/sales/free (controlling the price of your books to lure readers), discounted/free first book in a series (most effective when the series is completed, or there is at least a follow up book), mailing lists (linked to via your website, and in your eBook),  group promotions, box sets (joining with other authors of similar genre/demographic to offer a low priced deal, and hopefully sharing and expanding each others reader pool).
  • Some examples of ‘Bad’ Marketing (not a good return on your time or investment): hiring a publicist, any expensive advertising with no promise of a return (paid advertising is less and less effective), blog tours (unless you’ve ensured the blogs have a large readership, and cater to your demographic and genre), guest posts (same again), not getting paid for work in competitions or anthologies (don’t just give your work away).
  • Don’t go crazy with your money. Prioritise what you need to pay for, and find another (legal) way to get what you can’t. Do you know someone good with photoshop? Can you teach yourself to format? It’s not ideal, but you need to do whatever works best for you.
  • If you don’t ask for help or opportunities, the answer will always be no. Put yourself out there. Get in touch with authors you admire, ask local newspapers and radio stations if they’d like to do a piece on you.
  • Prepare a media package (which could also be posted on your website) to provide to anyone prepared to interview or write a piece on you. This makes it easier for them to agree, and easier to get the information about yourself you want out there. This media package could include: a blurb, an article already written about you (which you could write yourself, or have a friend write) featuring quotes, a page with your information, some photos of yourself you own and are happy for them to use in their publication, and a page with reviews of your book.
  • Set short term (yearly) goals for yourself. Deadlines are good incentives.
  • Your books are your best form of marketing. Write a lot of them. Each book increases your chance of sales, and don’t bother with marketing that takes too much of your attention away from your writing. Make each book the highest quality you can.
  • Publish short stories and novellas to support your novel sales. Price them accordingly, or offer them for free. They’ll keep your readers interested in between your novel releases.
  • Put lead ins to your next book at the back of previous novels. Don’t forget, you can edit books after you’ve posted them on Amazon.
  • It’s better to find success on your tenth book than your first.
  • Be cool to your fans.
  • Stay positive, stay creative.
  • Keep writing, and keep focused.

I guess in retrospect it was a very indie biased workshop. Which was great for me, as someone planning to publish her first novel via Amazon in the next few months.

Some people may not agree with everything Susan said, which is okay. She urged us not to follow her own path to the letter, but to go out and find what works best for us and to think outside the box. At the end of the day, there’s no one thing that will work. If there was, we’d all be famous. The most important lesson she left us with, I think, is that our time is our most valuable asset, and not to fall for ‘must do’ lists found everywhere on self publishing advice guides. You don’t have to go on a blog tour to sell books, you don’t have to make a book trailer, you don’t have to be a twitter mogul.

The only thing you have to do is write.

How To Use Twitter: A Readers Perspective

I’m a big twitter user, and have been since 2008. Since deciding to get myself in gear and write and self-publish my own book, I’ve read a lot of blogs about how to market your indie book. And all of them say the same thing:

Use Twitter.

Which is great advice, because twitter is an excellent platform to get in touch with likeminded – and even famous! – people and exchange thoughts and opinions with them from the safety of your 140 character security blanket.

Unfortunately, I keep seeing people on twitter with something to sell going about it all wrong. And this is not a post by someone who’ll soon join your ranks with authority on the subject from the inside (my first book is still months from seeing the light and I have a grand total of 364 followers) but as an avid reader and twitter user who follows a fair amount of authors – traditionally published and self, famous and… less famous.

So, having spent at least an hour a day on twitter for the past five years (oh dear), I have compiled Some Thoughts that may be helpful for authors hoping to connect with their audience.

1. YOU ARE NOT A SPAM BOT

You know what DOESN’T make a reader want to buy your book? A link to your amazon page. Tweeted again. And again. And again. I’ve seen this mistake made many times before, and I’ve unfollowed every account that’s done it – even if I like the writer and/or their work. And no, changing the tiny blurb does not mask the fact you’ve posted the same link twelve times in one day.

Many marketing blogs will allow you one amazon link tweet per day. I’m going to disagree. One a week. Maybe. If it’s relevant and you’ve hit a personal milestone with sales, or someone’s written a really great review, or you’ve done an interview about it. In which case, post a link to the review or the interview, rather than the amazon site. Readers who have read your book will be happy for you, readers who haven’t yet committed will be much more interested to hear what someone else has to say about it than you do.

Tweeting Links To Your Amazon Page, A Cheatsheet:
1. Put a permanent link in your twitter bio.
2. Tweet it along with all your excitement when you first launch your book.
3. Tweet it when you hit personal sales milestones.

And of course you can tweet about your book (sans linkage) but do it like a normal person rather than a sweet little robot who just wants to learn about love has been programmed with exactly three sentences: Have you read Title Of Book yet? amazonlink.com; Excerpt of book synopsis, check it out here! amazonlink.com; SPECIAL SALE 99c/FREE ONLY AT AMAZONLINK.COM

Seriously, would you want to look at anything that looks like it came straight from a subject header in the depths of your spam folder?

No. You’d delete it, and the person who keeps clogging up your timeline with it.

Which leads me to…

2. YOU ARE A HUMAN PERSON

All of those marketing blogs aren’t telling you to use twitter to sell your work because spam is a scientifically proven path to moving goods, they’re telling you to use twitter because the best way to sell your writing is to sell yourself.

Think about it. How many times have you become more open to watching, say, a movie because you saw an actor on Graham Norton and they turned out to be really likeable? I know I do it all the time, and when I was a young person working behind the ticket counter of a cinema, I heard it about twenty times a day (people above the age of forty-five really like to tell you things).

It’s not that you have to force yourself to be likeable per se (though I’m sure many of you are), but tweet in the way you would normally talk. Put yourself out there a little, allow people into your thought process or your day. Do you like/have animals? Share something funny they’ve done. Same goes for kids. Are you crafty on the side? Post pictures of the awesome things you make! Love to cook? Congratulations! I don’t understand you, but I do want to see pictures of your food.

Amongst these normal people actions, tweet about what you’re working on at the moment, or books you’re currently reading, or thoughts on a TV show you’re completely addicted to. The people who follow you, as an author, are most likely going to be friends and family; fellow writers; and readers. All of them want to hear from YOU, author and person, rather than AUTHOR B. WRITERSON, desperate amazon spam artist.

3. BE NICE TO YOUR FANS

Do you have fans? That’s awesome! Do you have someone who’s expressed mild interest in your work and communicated this to you via a tweet? That’s still pretty great! No luck yet? Well, it’ll come.

The point is, anyone getting in touch with you about your work is good news (bar trolls, but we’re not going to talk about them), as it means you have a READER, or FUTURE READER. So answer these tweets genuinely and with enthusiasm and respect. DO NOT just retweet them to make yourself look popular, or, if you must, make sure you also reply to the tweet. Maybe you can afford to ignore them when you’re a big shot and your fan base is solid, but at this stage you should be thrilled anyone’s actually spent a few dollars and a few hours of their time on your work.

And aside from being polite, it’s good business sense. I’ll admit it, I’m so much more loyal to authors and other celebrities who’ve taken the time to engage with me. And your fans will be too, even if you’re not at celebrity status. By communicating with your readers, you’re telling them that you appreciate their opinion and their time. And they’ll most likely return the favour by continuing to follow you, and by checking out your next book. Not to mention the word of mouth that comes with you being a lovely/awesome person.

4. JUST DON’T BE TERRIBLE

Unless this is the market you’re going for, try not to be a negative person who trash talks other authors, other books in their genre, anything popular just because it’s popular, etc.

I’m not saying you have to be a Carebear and love everything, or that you can’t criticise anything via your twitter account, but avoid being THAT PERSON who hates on everything so much that your opinions become invalid. Unless you can make it funny, it’s kind of a massive turn off.

tumblr_lwn747LtCM1qdlkggThe tumblr unfollow meme applies here.

And there you have it! My very basic guide to Using Twitter While An Author, from the perspective of one person who follows a lot of them.

What are your twitter do’s and don’ts? What makes you follow or unfollow someone?

How To Slay The Procrastination Overlord Of Mount Productivity Doom

You can’t.

Procrastination is an immortal and indestructible d-bag who will follow you around your entire life trying to get you to watch a YouTube video of a dog being weird.

PUPPY BOOTS

But the good news is that while you can never get rid of the looming shadow of distraction and procrastination, you can force yourself to ignore it, and you can also channel it into doing things that are still productive and relevant to your work.

THE IGNORING GAME

You know exactly what I’m going to say here. You’ve probably been telling yourself to do it for the last twenty minutes.

Turn off the internet.

Turn off the TV.

Turn off your phone and put it in a drawer.

Put on some headphones and listen to Enya or raining.fm or whale sounds or Dragonforce or whatever music/sounds help you chill out, focus and get in the writing groove.

And then, via an old timey not-connected-to-the-internet-completely-analog-clock-or-pomodoro-thing, set yourself a goal and a feasible time in which to accomplish or work toward it.

Then, when the alarm goes off or the time ticks over to freedom, take five – ten minutes to get yourself a drink, or walk around, or blast Beyonce, or check Facebook to see WHAT YOU’VE MISSED and read that Cracked article someone posted on twitter and watch those videos of animals riding roombas.

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Aaaand repeat.

TRICKING PROCRASTINATION INTO BEING USEFUL

Procrastination during the day in small portions isn’t actually bad for you. If you’re pulling an eight hour writing day, taking half an hour to chill out and give your brain a break with funny internet stuff or chatting to a friend won’t hurt.

But some days, even when you’ve tried unplugging the modem and have thrown your phone down the toilet, you’re still going to be unable to focus and spend two hours staring out the window or trying to check twitter on your egg timer.

This is when it’s time to admit defeat. You’re not going to get any work done on your actual project today, so you can either take the rest of the day off (allowed, if you’ve been working well for the last few days, or if you’re a part time writer and you’ve been at your actual job/parenting all week and could seriously use a nap and some Project Runway) or you can channel your distraction into something that’s still quite useful.

RESEARCH

This can mean several things:

Research for the topic of your novel/screenplay/play so that you have it all there, ready and waiting when you get back into the actual writing and need to check up on a fact.

Research avenues of production or publication. As a novelist, you may want to look into literary agents and publishing houses, to see what they require of you when you’re ready to get in touch. Or you could research the process of self-publishing, how to be super effective at getting your work out there when the time comes. For screenwriters, you could look into the black list, or agents, or look up local producers and people to connect with.

Research how to improve at your craft. This is a bit of a double edged sword, as there’s plenty of blogs and articles out there (hello!) by fellow amateurs or even professionals whose processes just won’t work for you. But while you should always take writing how-to and THE 8 THINGS ALL WRITERS SHOULD JUST STOP DOING articles with a grain of salt, they’re a fun read to see what you agree and don’t agree with, and why.

Research the kind of author you want to be. This is my favourite, because it involves sitting down with your favourite book/movie, the one that got you into this whole mess, and remembering what you love about it and why it inspires you.

Remember, for a writer, reading is research. Just don’t do so much of it you actually forget to write something.

EDIT

Writing is all about re-writing. Even if you don’t have any fresh ideas, go back over what you’ve done. Even if you accomplish nothing else today, you probably really needed that proofread.

PRACTICE

Always, always, always practice your writing. You may have hit the wall with your main project, but it’s not your only avenue. Write a short story, write an article, write a blog, write a review, write a really long email to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. No piece of writing is ever wasted, and no writer, however successful or popular, has ever finished learning.

SELF PROMOTION AND NETWORKING

Yeah, this is the one most writers struggle with and hate a bit. Many writers are, by nature, not big on talking themselves up. Self-depreciation is the default, and approaching people to talk about their work, let alone themselves, can be a nightmare situation.

Hide dog

But it’s not actually all that scary. Networking on the internet is all about finding people you connect with and share interests with. Basically, follow a bunch of writers you like on their blogs or twitter accounts and interact with them. And in doing so, you’ll be exposed to some of their followers (just don’t be that jerk who ONLY comments to link back to your own site. That makes you a spambot, not a person).

Even if they don’t respond to your comments (though a lot of the time, they actually will) they’ll appreciate them and might follow you back or take note of you. And think about it this way – what do you have to lose by sending someone a comment on the internet? Not a thing. Rejection stings a lot less here in webland.

And don’t forget to check out the many writing/filmmaking facebook groups, where you can meet a lot of great people and get tips, feedback and encouragement for your work.

As for self-promotion, it can actually be really fun. Keep an active blog and twitter account, and just write about your processes as a writer, what you’re working on, and then just talk about topics or shows or movies or books that grab your interest. Hell, I’m doing it now! And it helps tie back to that networking thing – I’ve met some pretty cool people through blogging and tweeting.

Other self promotion specific to your book can be working on your cover and accompanying promotional materials with a designer (or scouring the internet for a really great pre-made one), working on your synopsis (and then reading it out loud in your best trailer voice over guy impression). If you have the money, hire a photographer and take some awesome author headshots. If you don’t have the money, grab a friend and do it anyway – you’ll probably have more fun, and iPhone cameras are pretty awesome now.

IN CONCLUSION, OR, STANDING TRIUMPHANTLY OVER THE DAZED DRAGON OF DISTRACTION

Procrastination is the bane of the writer (and every other work from hom-er, but this here is a writing blog), but there are more useful ways to deal with it that don’t involve cleaning your house from top to bottom or watching four seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in a row.

Just try to stay focused and keep your mind with your project, but don’t be afraid to give yourself the day off once in a while. Just as no work comes from lazing about and avoiding the computer, no good work comes from creative burnout.

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But this is just what works for me. What are some of your tricks to keep yourself productive?