Monday, July 29, 2013

Sitting Syndrome...Writer's Ass

Writing and personal health.

I was big, like 120 pounds "too big," when I started writing novels seriously. Hour after hour passed at the computer while I munched through literary landscapes fueled by chips, chocolate, raisins, cookies and pretzels...all washed down with Pepsi. Stories poured out. Life seemed good, well except for my growing writer's ass.

One day, I could not walk. Severe pain shot through my right foot. My doctor convinced me to get a blood test, something I had managed to avoid for at least five years, in trying to figure out why I could not walk. It was strange. There was minimal swelling but the searing pain was so bad I could not even move it, much less put pressure on it. Tests showed one problem. Diabetes.

Doc put me on what I call sugar-dope to lower levels, and the foot pain slowly passed. Sugar levels bounced between normal and mildly elevated. During this time, I wrote four new novels. Productivity was high, so I didn't much care about the weight or diabetes, as long as that stupid pill could control it.

Severe pain returned, only it was in my other foot. "What the hell?" I thought as the pain was so bad I could not even sit at the computer. My solution? I bought an HP laptop so I could write with my foot elevated. During the next six months, the severe pain came back in my right foot again and then in my knee! Writing productivity plummeted.

The days of ignorant bliss ended. Pain was from diabetic neuropathy. There were only two ways to fix it. 1) Start taking insulin shots, or 2) get rid of the diabetes. I DON'T do needles!

Today, I weigh 268, 50 pounds less, and I'm getting regular exercise. My goal is 205. I stopped taking my sugar-dope twenty pounds ago. While sugar levels still jump if I skip a day of walking, or if I eat too much, I can completely control the diabetes without drugs.

Why am I writing about this? Simple. Writing is work. Sure, you won't build an aerobic heart rate sitting at your desk, but it requires stamina and mental acuity to write in long durations. Since losing the weight and ending drug therapy, my literary productivity has nearly doubled. It's easy to knock out 2K words in an evening and 10-12K on a weekend. My clothes fit really loose, and the neuropathy has vanished. Even my broad writer's ass is getting tighter.

Look out world. I will have three more books on the market in the next six months!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Turned Down a Publishing Deal

About three weeks ago, I was offered a publishing contract from a traditional publisher for my thriller story, Faces of Hatred. The deal included a small advance, books in three formats (hard cover, eBook and audio book) and paperbacks after the story sold enough of the other formats to justify the trade paperback printing/distribution costs.

I was thrilled. My artistic achievement, Faces of Hatred, finally found a home.

I spent the last 35 years in the insurance business, often analyzing contracts, so naturally, I scrutinized the document. One question after another surfaced. I ran these issues by my agent, and she shared many of my concerns.

"No problem," I thought. "We'll negotiate the questionable issues, sign the deal and get started on the production process. I'm only a few days away from my dream coming true."

While the agent negotiated, I dug deeper into the company, beginning with a look at their existing offerings through Amazon. I saw a distressing pattern. High prices. Worse still, I didn't recognize the names of most of their authors. Sure, Dan Brown, Stephen King or Tom Clancy can command such prices, but what about an unknown, debut thriller author like me?

Consider the excellent, paranormal novel by Sass Cadeaux, The Secrets of Albion Falls. It's a great full-length story at $3.49 for 330 pages . . . consumers win. They get a wonderful novel, not some short story or novella being hyped as a "novel." How could I possibly compete against a quality novel offered at such a fair price when my eBook would cost three times as much?

In addition, the publisher's editor wants me to cut a number of chapters out of my book, chapters that graphically illustrate the trauma suffered by the people (faces) who are harmed by terrorism. Those chapters are central to the story. I'm not sure my artistic concept and theirs match.

Other questions arose. Each one threatening to reduce the chances for my book's success. Am I tempted to sign anyway? Of course. But, after much thought, I sent them a rejection that ended with the following note, "Ultimately, both publisher and author should be excited about collaborating on a new book for the public. I realized I do not have enthusiasm for this deal, hence my final decision."

Bottom line--the deal didn't feel right. I have just rejected an offer for my thriller for the second time in six months. Neither company appeared to be a healthy field in which to grow my dream. Yet, many aspiring authors would have snapped up the deal will little hesitation. Does that make me stupid? Perhaps.

What about eBook pricing, since this is one of the core issues in my decision?

I am a consumer advocate. Businesses have a moral/ethical responsibility to give readers "value received" in exchange for their hard earned money. Some "indie" books masquerade as novels. Lately, I have seen short stories and novellas promoted on Amazon as if they are full-sized books. That's just wrong.

Before I purchase a book on Amazon, I check the page number count to make sure I am getting a full-length story. If an eBook only has 100 pages, and Amazon asks $3.29, there's no way I will buy it. My own western-romance-paranormal novel, Ghost of Lost Eagle, is priced at $3.49 for 366 pages in keeping with my consumer belief that a penny a page is a reasonable price for an eBook. If the book ends up being a great story, then it becomes a great find, and I tell everyone I know about it.
My decision to reject the traditional book publishing offer might haunt me in the future, but I don't care. I have to be true to my values. I will only support a book that I love, and at a price I believe is fair for readers. To me, that's a win:win. Now, where am I going to find that special publisher who agrees with my values? <fingers tightly crossed>


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bird in the Hand? (Quitting the day job)

I earn a good living as an insurance broker . . . been at it for over 35 years.

Should I quit my job to write full time?

That's a heady question. If I quit, I am walking away from financial security in a job I have come to hate. My clients are the only good thing about this business. Insurance companies could not care less about the people they insure. It's all about profits. My unhappiness is because I care about people, so I often find myself angry at one company or another about how my clients are being treated. It's gotten so bad that I don't want to start my day every morning. Being a responsible adult, I grumble and "go to work" with knots in my stomach.

Back in 2009, I tested the writing business by releasing my first ever science fiction book, Space Chronicles: The Last Human War. What a thrill! Writing and editing the book never felt like a chore. I couldn't wait each day to get my insurance work completed so I could plunge into my fantasy world and add to it.

When It came time to seek a publisher, I made a bold choice. I would build my own publishing company and produce the book.

Contracts had to be negotiated with Barnes & Noble and a national wholesale distributor. Neither accepted "self-published" books at that time, so I registered the American Writers Publishing Company with Bowker, bought ISBN numbers, contracted with a publisher and purchased cover art. In addition, I bought necessary software . . . CoverPro, CorelDraw and InDesign. I had over $3000 into the company before I held a single book in my hands.

I pulled the trigger! Using all those programs I had acquired, I "made" a real book--not an eBook or plastic binder book, but a for-real paperback book with full-color covers, perfect binding and some kind of special UV coating that the printer snookered me into buying. He said it would prevent the cover colors from fading. I spent $4,000 for 1000 500-page books that were priced at $12.99. Now what?

Lesson # 42:  books don't sell themselves.

Yep, I opened a cool website about the book and watched for three days for the orders to start rolling in. They didn't. Ooops. Another failure.

At that time, I had spent over thirty years marketing insurance, so I did what I do best. I started advertising. Bought some internet ads, put fliers in store windows and even put an ad in the local high school yearbook. I checked the computer twenty times a day to count all the sales coming in through my PayPal account. NADA!

That's when I figured out that selling books was going to be a hard job. I bought "How-to" books on paperback marketing and followed the advice. Some things worked a little, some things did not. Then, I discovered the magic formula. Ironically, the solutions - there were two of them - came from 1) one of the earliest things I learned in the insurance business, and 2) from a friend who owned an indie book store. Between Centers of Influence marketing and creative book signings, I managed to sell most of that first edition over a six-month period. Even made a small profit over all my start up expenses and after donating some to Books for Soldiers, an organization that ships books to soldiers in combat zones.

I have just released my second book, Ghost of Lost Eagle, and I am learning that marketing eBooks is vastly different than I expected. Nevertheless, I am determined to be successful.

Now, for the big question. Should I quit my reliable, but unhappy, day-job to invest all my time in marketing and writing. If I do, I will go from a comfortable income to zero. Yes, I can live on savings and investments for a couple years, but the starving artist gig can't last forever.

I plan to make that big decision by the end of the year. What would you do?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ghost of Lost Eagle - released!

I am proud to announce the release of my western-romance-paranormal story, Ghost of Lost Eagle on Amazon today.

Click here to visit my Amazon page. While you're there, please drop by my author page.

Release Parties - there will be two release parties.

The first party is the Release Day Party on the original planned release date of July 10, 2013.

The second is the Grand Release Celebration. It is scheduled four days later in order to hold a Q&A contest based about the story.

Prizes - 1) free e-books, 2) autographed cover art posters and 3) Amazon gift cards will be won during events at each party. On the Sunday Grand Release Celebration, the prize in a creative writing contest will be a short story written by me and dedicated to the winner. It with all rights will be exclusively owned by the winner.

Information and sign up for Release Day Party.

Information and sign up for the Grand Release Celebration.

Please join me at either party (or both) to participate in the event(s) and have fun. Thank you for reading my blog. Hope to meet you at the parties.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ghost of Lost Eagle - steps to publication.

It's here! Ghost of Lost Eagle is done and will be released on Amazon, July 10th.

What has the experience been like?

I can't speak for all authors, but this journey for me has been full of trials and tribulations. It turns out that writing and editing the story was easy compared to preparing it for publication, building the marketing infrastructure and coordinating the vast array of "things-to-do" before the book even hits the market. Here's the abridged version of my experiences so far:

1) Writing - As you know, everything begins with writing a book. Ghost of Lost Eagle is a western romance with an important paranormal element. It was a blast to write. The whole experience of researching the Old West in 1875 was fascinating and educational. Studying Native American lore, and then, making it come alive in the story, was challenging and fun. As characters evolved through the story, they almost demanded certain surprises in the ending. Nothing could be more fun.

2) Polishing the Stone - Beta readers are the difference between a good story and a polished story. They turn the jagged stone into the polished diamond, and MY beta readers are the best! I owe much to them for the critical comments, suggestions and inspiration they provided. This story grew from its initial manuscript to a vibrant tale, complete with fleshed-out characters and complex storyline, thanks to their feedback.

3) What now?  This is the uncomfortable point where an author shifts from the art of storytelling to the business of putting books into readers' hands. The first thing I did was to build a cover. It started out as a fun project and morphed into my own little hell. Each member of the story screamed, "Put me on the cover!"  The Indian ghost and spirit-guide lone wolf demanded cover space. One night, I even dreamed about those suckers . . . the writer's own creations haunting him. (Hmm, does that sound like the beginning of another story?) Anyway, Tuck and Sass, the two main characters, wanted the cover all for themselves. My problem was that the story would not be possible without all these personalities.

How did I resolve this dilemma? I found a good cover for the western romance that suggested tension between the two main characters, but it did nothing for the paranormal side. Another cover did a great job showing the paranormal Native American theme, but I could not find a good way to insert the MCs. I ran my problem past a wonderful friend who suggested I borrow a paranormal element from one cover and insert it into the other as part of the title. (She's a genius!) The "O" in Ghost became a full moon with a howling wolf silhouette in it, and she suggested the gold font color. I fell in love with that cover design instantly.

4) When a writer has a book and a cover ready, the next job is marketing...right? Wrong! There's a bunch of infrastructure needed to successfully promote a book. I did not know the extent of "stuff" I needed to do. First, there needs to be a website for the author, a place where people can read about the writer's books, background, ongoing announcements and to build a "presence" as an author. Second, social media is critical to selling books in today's world. I had to build a Facebook author page, set up a reliable email that can be accessed from any computer, establish a Twitter "friend-list" of reliable people who will help to spread announcements and sign up with additional social media like Google+, LinkedIn, GoodReads and WattPad. All this infrastructure should be in place before marketing could begin. I did not know how to accomplish all these things, but a wonderful friend/fellow author stepped in to save my sorry cyber-inept ass.

5) Done. Can I release my book now? Nope. Before a book is released, there needs to be "buzz" created about it. There's nothing worse for an author's morale than to release a book and see no sales other than purchases by mom, sis and a couple best friends. Before starting that promotional engine, there is one more critical task that needs to be completed. ARC (Advance Reader Copy) books are free books given out before the release date to selected people. Those special people, in turn, agree to read the story and provide honest reviews for Amazon and sites like Goodreads and Wattpad. Who do you pick?  People you trust. Professionals who review new books. Bloggers who review and promote new stories. This means the book has to be in final form BEFORE it can be sent out to them. It is essential that the book have reviews available on the day it goes "live" to help people decide to buy the book.

Another surge of effort will produce those finished Amazon MOBI and protected PDF files for the ARC readers. For an experienced author, it's probably a three hour job. For a neophyte like me, it would take days . . . even weeks. Fortunately, I had the wonderful assistance of my aforementioned best friend/author. I could not have done it without her. By the way, I'd love to give her public credit, but she's shy and asked me not to. Anyway, this all takes place at least three weeks before the "Release Date" to allow time for reading and posting reviews.

6) So, the MOBI and PDF files went out to the ARC readers and I set a release date. What's next? Now, it's finally time to begin the pre-release hype. Tweets, comments on Facebook and notices on my website are getting the process started. Tweets about what? Easy. Announce the release date, price and story summary with links to my website, author page, email and other social media. What else needs to be done?

7) "Release Party" - If you are wondering what a release party is, you're in good company. I had heard the term before but wondered how I serve punch and cupcakes over the internet. I admit to being perplexed. My friend/mentor explained how to set it up. Turns out, it's not nearly as daunting as I imagined. In fact, it looks like it will be a lot of fun. Online games include a cyber scavenger hunt, a book story Q&A and a community chain-writing story (my favorite) and will run with a series of prizes. The prizes include free e-books, autographed book-cover posters, gift cards to Amazon and a special grand prize. I chose to do two book release parties. One, the day of the book release (July 10), will have an Ask-the-Author component, special back story releases and prizes. The second will be four days later on Sunday, July 14. It is the Grand Release Celebration and will be more comprehensive (with prizes), as well as a special Top Prize.

8) What happens next? My official release is five days away. I am getting excited. My job now is to send out announcements of the Release Parties and to follow through with my ARC readers to get as many initial reviews as possible for the release day. It seems to take me about three hours a day to get all my chores done. My marketing advisors and a couple book bloggers tell me there will be even more responsibilities after the book starts selling.

I am a bit overwhelmed by all this hoopla, infrastructure and time-demanding social media. Along the way, I hired a marketing company that is supposed to schedule me for a "blog tour", tweet blasts to over 100K people, interviews and some other things that I don't yet understand. I'll learn as I go.

The simple truth is, I just want to be a writer. I'm not enjoying the business side of being an author, but if I want success, there is no other choice. Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. Commercial success is a combination of both. I must develop skill in both, if I want lots of readers to enjoy my stories. I do.

Well, it's time for my cheap plug, so please forgive me. I would love to have you join me at my Release Party on July 10, or better yet, come win the special prize on Sunday, July 14th at the Grand Release Celebration. Thanks, for indulging my personal pitch, and I hope to see you there. Send your friends, too. It'll be fun.