Monday, August 29, 2011

How buying books helps you sell books

What does this guy know about selling books, you’re probably thinking. The one book he is advertising isn’t even out yet. You’re definitely within your rights to be skeptical of me. I’m still sitting on the sidelines. Hell, I barely update my blog. Too busy working on that book that I’ve promised but not yet delivered. Also developing some other ideas I hope to lay on you sometime between THE CONGREGATION’s release and the start of 2012. But what I lack in experience as a proven bookseller, I more than make up for in my expertise as a buyer. That’s right. I’ll stake my buying reputation against J.A. Konrath, John Locke, and any other successful author making a name for themselves peddling ebooks. I buy ebooks like they’re going out of style—they’re not—and I’ve taken it upon myself to study these habits I exhibit in hopes of becoming a more successful writer. I encourage you to do the same as you build a marketing plan.

1. Use Twitter.

Jon F. Merz, God bless him, opened my eyes to the successful use of Twitter. If you haven’t read his ebook on the matter, you really should. He’ll have your follower count in the thousands in a matter of days. If you’re like me, you’re probably following the successful ebook authors online: Konrath, Locke, Scott Nicholson, Amanda Hocking, etc. Once you read Jon’s book, you’ll know why that matters when it comes to finding potential followers for your ebook. After you’ve built up a following, you’ll start to notice that many of your new friends are writers, too. Don’t worry. Writers and readers are often synonymous with one another. Even though they’re selling a product, they’re still open to buying yours and establishing relationships that are mutually beneficial. Accept these friendships and be glad you have them. But once you’re set up, make sure that you take the next step seriously, which is:

2. Get off Twitter as soon as humanly possible.

Twitter is great for establishing the connections that will make your career worthwhile, but it’s not the endgame for your newfound relationships. While you will want to spend time on the social networking site each day, you want to focus on taking your relationships from Twitter to the actual website of the follower. Build relationships by leaving comments on blogs. Start email relationships with these people that are genuine. Find a common thread that unites you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and talk about your work, but value their blogs and join in on the conversation. If you’re going to establish true marketing connections and friendships, you can’t stand at the door (Twitter); you’ve got to go in for a visit and a cup of coffee (blog/personal website). You’ll find that your new friends are open for doing the same, and for seeing what you have to sell. But that isn’t going to be enough to convince them to buy. For that, you’ve got to talk about your books and make them sound as interesting as possible. And that brings us to the hook.

3. Keep your hooks brief and compelling.

A hook is basically the back jacket copy of the paperback. It’s the spiel that a Hollywood pitchman uses to try and sell producers on his movie idea. It isn’t a 500-word description of the plot and sub-plots of your novel. I read so many “synopses” on iBooks and Kindle that aren’t synopses at all. They’re friggin’ chapters. And as a buyer, my eyes instantly cross together and I quickly lose interest before moving on to the next indie author, who understands the concept of enticement. So before you put yourself out there, go back to your website and your entries at the Kindle and iBooks and Smashwords stores, and make sure the book sounds something like this:


What if you looked exactly like a famous movie star, and one day decided, that along with their beautiful face, you wanted the life that came with it?

And not like this:


Sarah Roberts has a unique problem. Routine blackouts occur to her on a random basis. What’s different about her temporary unconsciousness is she wakes to various notes written by her own hand.

These notes are prophecies. Dark Visions. Future events with dire circumstances. Circumstances that she can avert, for Sarah is what they call an Automatic Writer.

The novel begins with Sarah perched under a bridge with no idea why she’s there, except what the note said;

Sit under the Elizabeth St. Bridge at 10:18am. Bring hammer.

There’s a car accident on the bridge, plunging a vehicle into the river below. If Sarah wasn’t there at the right time, with the hammer to force her way into the car, people would’ve died.

The novel’s intensity increases as more blackouts occur, causing her to note them down. Her next task is to avert a kidnapping. She’s done it before. Couldn’t be that hard. But on this one, the kidnappers recognize her and nab her instead of their intended victim.

People are killed. Witnesses place Sarah at the scene. The police find her notebook riddled with prophecies of accidents and crimes.

They want answers. They want to know how she has such information.

All this happens while the eighteen year old star in this first novel of a trilogy suffers from trichotillomania, which means she’s a puller.

Most of her hair is missing.

The story has numerous twists and turns and finally ends with a massive climax and a lead in to The Warning, which is Part Two of this trilogy.

Overall a great read, combining the likes of John Saul, and Dean Koontz.

Crouch distills his story to the main idea and presents the premise in the form of a question—always a good tactic, though unnecessary so long as the hook is a compelling one. This time, it wasn’t. I didn’t buy Crouch’s story, but his product description was succinct enough that I decided to explore more of his catalog and did end up purchasing SERIAL UNCUT. So I would say FAMOUS works as a good description.

On the other hand, I’m sure Mr. Saul is a fine writer, but I’ve never read a word he’s written. Why? Look at the length of that description. Too many ebooks are on the market today, and I’m going to need to know right away whether one is worth my time or not. If you can’t capture my interest in two to three sentences, then I doubt you will in as many paragraphs. Besides, he tells you the entire story in the description. Why should I even read it?

4. Be very clear about the genre you are working in.

Too many of my followers on Twitter simply say they are a writer. Not compelling enough to grab my attention. When I go shopping for indie fiction, I want to find someone, who I’m compatible with (mostly horror, suspense, and thriller authors). If you just say “writer” or “author” or “I tell stories,” then you’re not giving me the info that I need to take a chance on you. As of this writing, I’ve got about 1,200 followers. Not gonna dig through all of those to find someone, whose writing I may like. Tell me the kind of writing that you do, and don’t give me that, “Well, it really can’t be confined to one genre” crap. Maybe it can’t, but that’s for me to decide as a reader. Just tell me the genre it most fits in to. If you can’t, then I’m going to think that you have trouble determining theme and focus, and that your writing will likely be one confusing mess not worth my time and attention.

5. Go shopping.

How does spending money help you become a more successful writer? Think about it. By getting to know your own buying habits better, you are developing a closer understanding of what it means to be a buyer. You know what they are looking for, and you know how best to reach them. That’s why it’s important that you don’t just add books to a wish list, but you actually make the purchase. When it’s real money that you’re parting with, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt what it takes for sales conversion, because you’ve just responded to a successful marketing tactic. After you’ve bought the book, determine what it was, in particular, that compelled you to buy. Was it the description? The price? Or a combination of both? If you’re going to charge $3.99, $4.99, or even $9.99 for your ebook, then you’d better make damn sure there is a good reason for it. That means a professional looking cover, a succinct hook, and a reasonable price. If you’re selling a “book” of 11 pages for $2.99 and Michael Prescott is selling three novels for 99 cents, who do you think is going to win that little battle? I’ll pay $2.99 for your novel. Hell, I’ll even pay $4.99 if the hook intrigues me. But I’m not going one penny over $1.99 for a novella, nor one cent over 99 for a short. End of story.

Here’s the thing. I am desperate to give you my money. Dying to. I’m an eReader fan, who loves discovering new authors and getting a great deal on a book. I’m just waiting on you to give me a reason to purchase. Are you willing to do that for me?

What are you willing to pay for a short story, novella, and novel? What most intrigues you—cover, price, description, or a combination of the three? Share your thoughts below.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What do you write and where did it begin?

When I was a little boy, all bright-eyed and full of wonder about what the future would hold for me, I never would have thought that 20 years later I’d end up in virtually the same place. I foresaw a Mars landing in my future. A metamorphosis into some kind of intergalactic hero a la Buck Rogers. I’d do that after I rescued a few damsels in distress and put away some bad guys while wearing trademark yellow Dick Tracy coat and hat. Perhaps I’d even swing across the rooftops of a place not unlike Gotham City and do harmless battle, invincible to any effects the Joker could throw my way, because I was a kid, and that’s what we were. Invincible.

My list of fantasies were my reality, and life was a long enough time to experience them for real. Unfortunately, life can do a lot to knock those dreams out of you. But in my case, an unfaithful ex-wife, several missed opportunities, and other unexpected losses along the way have not been enough to take away one dream from the 10-year old boy that still resides somewhere in my psyche. When I’m not busy writing things that keep the lights on, usually for other people, and usually stuff that’s a lot more of a job to me than I would care for it to be, I let the child out to play, and he writes some pretty dastardly, horrific things, some of which you will see when my debut horror novel THE CONGREGATION lands with Kindle, iBooks, and Barnes and Noble in October.

Every scrap of torn flesh, each drop of spurting blood, can trace its roots back to a single comic book that my father allowed me to have one summer day about 20 years ago. I’d heard of the old movie TALES FROM THE CRYPT. I’d also heard that HBO would be doing a TV show of the same name. I was excited about the possibilities, but it wasn’t until I saw an old Gladstone Comics reprint on the newsstand of my local Waldenbooks that it would come to me this was, in fact, the original source material. TFTC was a comic book before it was anything else, and here I was holding a beautifully rendered full color reprint on cheap newsprint and standard four-color cover. The Jack Davis werewolf drawing, the corpse stretched across a tombstone under moonlight, was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I couldn’t wait to get home and tear through every last page of it.

And that’s what I did. Along the way, I read about a group of poor Hungarian immigrants accused of lycanthropy by a bigoted sheriff. (I actually learned “lycanthropy” was the technical term for werewolf from this book.) The tragic twist of fate that closed the story left me stunned and excited to move on to the next story. “Midnight Mess,” the Vault-Keeper’s offering, was a cozy little small town vampire story with another glorious twist ending that all but took my mind off the fact that there was more than just the Crypt-Keeper in this book. The next tale was one of a cheating spouse looking for a way out and finding that murder was the only way to do it. In the end, just desserts were served. Such was also the case in “This Wraps it Up,” a fast-paced and exciting mummy story.

Beyond these stories, there was a reprint of CRIME SUSPENSTORIES in the back 32 pages. It was filled with more of the same kind of lurid tales, each with a twist at the end I didn’t see coming. When I finished those 32 pages, I went right back to the front of the book and tore through them all again, focusing on advertisements for other books and old Crypt-Keeper’s hilarious verbiage in the letter column.

My whole life I’ve been drawn to horror movies, but this one day is when the dream to become a horror author was born. It’s something I’ll do for the rest of my life, whether I make a dime from it or not. It’s a passion and it was born to me on that hot summer day in our dearly departed bookstore. A lot has changed for me, and a lot has changed for publishing, in the last 20 years. I feel the biggest changes are yet to come, and I’m hopeful of where they’ll take us all on this journey into the future. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is that little tinge of excitement that I still get whenever I break open that old comic book and relive those stories that awakened my creative spirit and showed me how truly fun the world could be through blood colored glasses.

What is your passion, writers? What do you love to write about, and where did it begin for you? I’d love to hear the stories behind the stories. Feel free to share them below.