December 29, 2014

On a Quest for the Mythical Tipping Point


I think my last blog post was unconsciously in preparation for this one, because in it I discussed some of the difficulties I've wrestled with in regards to advertising, and it set the stage for me to reveal what I've been doing instead of writing.
I've been rather fixated in the last several years on finding that magical, mythical tipping point, where my work slides from obscurity into at least a modicum of success. If you don’t factor in a marketing budget, authors (indie and tradpub alike) have pretty much the same options, a tried-and-true formula. If you haven’t seen my tongue-in-cheek video on the hoops we jump through to get attention for our books, the link is here. That video, as goofy as it is, was the first thing, of all the things I tried, that put me on the map, which is how I realized sticking to the same old formula wouldn't lift me above the crowd.
I decided to do something different, but do it so well people would be impressed enough to like or share it (without me having to beg them to). So for the last couple of years, I've been working on a fresh new book trailer for the Xenofreak Nation series – but in the style of a movie trailer. I hope I've come close to achieving my goal (because there’s nothing like putting your heart and soul into something that thuds onto the scene).
In the event anyone would like to know how I made it, well, my methodology and resources are way too long to list here, but I’ll narrow it down to the basics:
DAZ Studio – free 3D software. Talented digital artists create the content to use within the software. That content is not free, but over time, you can build up a healthy library of figures, hair, clothes, props, scenes, lights and much more. The learning curve to produce something decent is steep, but as far as DIY 3D goes, it’s the best and cheapest option out there.
Digital Juice – royalty-free graphics, animation, stock footage and music. This is a subscription service, but the cost vs. what you get is a good deal, especially if you’re a video editor.
Adobe Premiere Elements – this is the downgraded version of Adobe’s movie making software, but it has all the features you need at an affordable price.
Adobe Photoshop Elements – same as the above except this is their picture editor.
So, with no further ado:

December 27, 2014

Where’s the Sequel? and Advertising Woes



It’s difficult for an OCD-type such as myself to admit it, but I’m late again. I had intended to have written and released the third book in The Gossamer Sphere series by now, but I’ve only just begun writing it. For those readers waiting, I humbly apologize. It WILL come out eventually.

Why have I dropped the ball? Well, I have some pretty compelling personal reasons, but since I’ve mostly outgrown the over-sharing tendencies of my youth, I won’t trot those out. Instead, I thought I’d ramble on a bit about advertising and how it has affected me, as a writer who enjoys the occasional meal of Top Ramen but prefers not to subsist off of it.

First off, Captain Obvious is tapping me on the shoulder. He’d like to point out that nothing is free, especially not advertising.

Not anymore.

Not long ago, Facebook was free. I created my Author Page there, a happy little place where I could blithely update my fans on upcoming releases, etc. In hindsight, those were the good old days. It was a truly good time to be online. But then Facebook decided to limit what posts our fans saw unless we paid to promote them. That, too, was okay, because I knew my fans could always pop over to my page if they wanted to know the latest.

Now Facebook is rumored to be planning further monetization changes that will restrict or ban entirely anything they deem to be advertising. So my fans will have no way of knowing what I’m up to. Unless, of course, I pay for it.

Something to look forward to in 2015, apparently.

Anyhoo, advertising:

If I want my books to sell, I have to invest more than just the usual blood/sweat/tantrums of the actual writing/editing/formatting process. That’s right, I need to market them. I’ve blogged about this before, ad nauseam. Since I’m only one person, blahblahblah, with limited capacity to market my work online, blahblahblah, I have to pay someone to advertise for me.

The process sounds cut and dried (payment for service), but it really isn’t.
In the real world, a business pays to have an advertisement placed in a publication, whether it be a physical paper or online webzine. Unless that business is offensive to the publication (like, say, a brothel attempting to advertise in a religious journal), the deal is likely to go through. In Indie Author Land, not so simple a matter. Because even though we are each of us individual small-business-persons, we are collectively lumped together.

And, as it happens, some find our lump offensive.

I’ll use, for example, a new business model that developed on the heels of the ereader/ebook explosion: the Discount Mailing List. Here’s how it works: Publishers and Authors pay to be included in a daily email that goes out to a mailing list bursting with eager Readers. The books in question must be steeply discounted or free to be included. More on this later.

So here we have these (shrewd, shrewd) Discount Mailing List entrepreneurs whose businesses were at least in part built on the backs of indie authors. Say what? Well, I won’t go so far as to suggest they lured us in with a classic bait and switch, but we indies wanted our books to be included, so we signed up in droves, plumping up their mailing lists. At some point they got enough Readers to attract the attention of the big boys, traditional publishing (tradpub).

Once tradpub was on board, the crafty Discount Mailing List folks could pick and choose who they offered their service to. Indie authors, in general, were no longer good enough for their discerning Readers. Bookbub, for instance, accepts or rejects a book based on their “editorial team’s” determination of worthiness. Do they actually read it? No, silly, they don’t have time for that business, nor do they have time to explain why you were rejected. However, since they have your email address, you’re welcome to console yourself perusing the daily list of books that were worthy.

If you’re lucky enough to get accepted, however, Discount Mailing Lists are effective, even though you’ll be forced to steeply discount your book, or even give it away for free in order to use the service.

Wait a minute! Did I not just claim above in this very essay that nothing is free?

My mistake.

Because my work has been free on multiple occasions. I have no choice; the competition for Readers is fierce. Authors, indie and otherwise, are in a constant elbow fight, jostling for space on the Amazon lists, one of the only places where we can be SEEN. In the case of the indie, our best chance of getting on those lists is to give our product away for free, and to exhaustively advertise the event. It’s ironic that we literally have to pay Readers to take our work. But if they like the free sample, they just might come back for more, and that’s why we do it.

Certainly not because we’re making money hand over fist at this writing lark.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the vast majority of indie authors, if you were to calculate payment for hours worked, bring in well below the minimum wage. Personally, on my best sales year, had it been my only income, I would have been forced to beg on the street to feed and house my family. And I know several indie authors – really good writers, mind you – who envied me that sales income.

This negative return on investment tends to wear a writer down, but I won’t quit. I’ll try to keep my sense of humor intact and resist bemoaning the futility of it all. It might take longer for me to work up the old enthusiasm, but at the very least I’ll finish The Gossamer Sphere.

Not for the money, but for my fans.

Because they rock.