Writing and marketing your novel: A glimpse from the trenches

September 2, 2010

Day 79 of 365

Books sold so far (May and June 2010): 246

In this issue:

  • Writing topic – The Writing Life, better as fiction than as fact
  • Marketing Topic – Fewer clicks for more sales?

Writing topic – The Writing Life, better as fiction than as fact

The recent announcement from writer Christopher Hitchens that he’s battling cancer, a cancer that started in his esophagus, got me thinking about writers and what the Writing Life, or “the life” as many writers call it, does to one’s health.

While Hitchens states in the article “Topic of Cancer” in the Sept 2010 issue of Vanity Fair, that his father also had esophageal cancer, and died from it, I can’t help but think that Hitchens’s lifestyle upped the chances of getting a sickness he was already in line to get due to his genes.

Hitchens is a notorious drinker and a chain-smoker. Did these “hobbies” contribute to his cancer? Probably. But did they also make him the larger-than-life character that we see in our mind’s eye when we read his stuff? Definitely. And do we still need figures like these in our world? Absolutely!   

Hitchens is not a lonely man in the ‘hard living writers’ category. Many of the great geniuses had intimate relationships with the bottle and the pipe. Off the top of my head, Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson come to mind. Certainly these two men were great writers. But is being just a great writer enough to make a lasting impression on the world? Would Hemingway have been Papa if he drank tea at four o’clock everyday with scones and Devonshire pudding? Of course not. If I mention the name Hunter S. Thompson, does your head fill with passages from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Or does it fill with visions of the author blowing things up on his Woody Creek ranch, or the author sitting in a wrecked hotel room surrounded by enough drugs to make a dealer’s entire fiscal year?

Sadly, the images these people portray is the “hook” that grabs us to read their stuff. Hitchens played the part of the intellectual Brit who unapologetically loves his drink like a master. Whether it is a part that was the real him, or just a part he was playing, we may never know. Either way, I think he knew it is a part that all of us who like him and enjoy his stuff would love to play. And that was, in part, our attraction to him. Hopefully, it won’t be a part that will end in tragedy, for if Hitch loses his battle with cancer, a wonderful character in the play of Life will have been lost. And the world, especially the literary one, needs as many characters as it can get.   

So, the question for discussion that comes out of this is, should we judge writers solely on their words and ideas? Or, like we expect of our modern day heroes i.e. sports figures, should we hold them, behavior included, to a higher standard because they are living in the public spotlight?  

To the keyboards!

Marketing Topic – Fewer clicks for more sales

I was reviewing my website analytics page the other day and noticed two troubling things: one, I get many visitors to my site (average about 300 a week), but they don’t stay very long (avg length of visit is 40 seconds). Two, 80% enter and exit from the homepage. While I’m in talks with a web designer to change up the look of the site to make it more attractive and flow better, I was thinking about what web marketing folks say is most important: content. While my home page has links to my blog, the book trailer, a couple video interview links, and a link to read a preview of my latest book, The Brink, it doesn’t have the one thing that could suck people into the book – the sample of the book.

My book preview is over on “the novels” page, but that’s like the appe-teaser lady at the grocery store giving you a map to the sample at her booth instead of the sample itself. People don’t like jumping through hoops. They don’t like clicking and then having to click again. They should get a sample of your stuff right away! So, I’m adding my book preview to the homepage so it’s one of the first things they see when they visit my site. I’ll review if this adjustment ups the numbers next week.

Until then have a fantastic holiday weekend.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,

Rest easy tonight my friends, but stay hungry tomorrow…  

Writing and marketing your novel: A glimpse from the trenches

August 30, 2010

Day 76 of 365

Books sold so far (May and June 2010): 246

In this issue:

  • Writing topic – Characters’ back stories
  • Marketing Topic – What’s a Word Worth? Google AdWords Keyword Tool

Writing topic – Characters’ back stories

Okay, so the five of you that regularly follow this blog probably didn’t do your homework and create epic back stories for you’re the characters in your next novel. That’s okay. I understand you are probably adults and you either have demanding jobs, demanding families, or both and you either spend you evenings doing something akin to TPS reports or telling your four-year-old for the 87th time not to jump up and down with a rusty straight razor in one hand and an open cup of Kool Aid fruit punch in the other on the new Haverty’s couch that won’t be paid off until June 2014. So, let’s all go out into the virtual academic quad where it’s always a crisp 72 degrees and sit underneath the white aspen trees in a circle on the soft blanket of Kentucky bluegrass and just do one together shall we?

Brandon Styles – the name just evokes a yuppie punk, doesn’t it? Now our tale is set in the 1980s, but in a rural Texas town, so young Brandon, who is just a smidge under 16 and looking forward to Daddy buying him a brand new Ford pick-up for his birthday, shouldn’t conjur images of James Spader in Pretty in Pink or even Jake What’s his Face from Sixteen Candles. No, think James Dean from Giant meets Judd Nelson’s character from the Breakfast Club…a guy with a stoner’s laissez-faire attitude but wouldn’t dare put smoke inside his hallowed temple of a body, a delish dessert of a young man where the swagger of frosting hides the angst hidden in the dense cake underneath.  Although he is the younger of two brothers, his lanky, 6 foot 3 inch frame has never had to deal with hand me down clothes, and he wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less than ostrich skin Lucchese boots, or brand new Michael “Air” Jordan basketball sneakers. He does however, have to deal with the legacy of his older brother Clayton, who still holds the record for most touchdown receptions in the history of the high school. Brandon is trying yet again to break that record, but this is his last season to do it and time is against him. Because of that, it becoming harder and harder to hide his nasty temper. 

The Styles family comes from old money. Brandon’s great-great-great-great granddaddy was one of the founders of the town and “acquired” several thousand acres as a reward for his service in Mexican-American War. Now that it’s okay to talk about it, people are beginning to talk about how the land was stolen from the Native Americans. There’s even a lawsuit from the Caddo tribe against the Styles family for the remaining tracts of land that they still own. I say remaining tracks because they sold a lot to the state of Texas to put through I-45 and another piece was sold to build the state penitentiary on it. On the other parts they drilled for oil and natural gas and found both, lots of both.

Brandon will never have to work a day in his life. He knows this and so does everyone around him. Therefore, he has a less than perfect attendance record – I think he’s attended maybe 12 days of pre-calculus the entire fall semester. Mr. Weems, the pre-calc teacher, made a stink about Brandon’s attendance mid-semester, and the last we heard is teaching kindergarten down in Brownsville to a bunch of illegal alien children. I mean, what was he thinking? You just don’t cross a Styles in this town, and Weems should have known that. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Weems had to go by their every day on his way to work as he trudged past the Harris Style Auditorium, the high school auditorium named after Brandon’s grandfather.

As you would expect, both Clayton and Brandon have dated the prom queens, but they both have done it since they were freshmen. That’s right. Even as a freshman, Brandon bagged senior ass. Since they’re four years apart, that means a Styles has had high school royalty as arm candy for eight years. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

Stacy Sutton is this year’s queen and has been lucky enough to be going out with Brandon since the end of last school year. There was some friction over the summer, and they’ve broken up a few times. But Stacy Sutton, who looks like a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and is in the running for class valedictorian, is something even Brandon knows you don’t throw away.

So there you go. A little description, a little drama, and a little motivation to describe a character that will be an integral part of the story. There’s even a hint of unrest about a powerful family that isn’t used to getting messed with. Now this is a murder mystery, so would someone in that family be willing to kill to maintain the status quo? Families have done exactly that in the past.

What’s your verdict? Like him? Hate him? Dated someone like him in high school? To the keyboards!

Marketing Topic – What’s a Word Worth? Google AdWords Keyword Tool

I wish I had a tenth of the smarts that the average Google employee has. Every time I delve deeper into the powerful tools Google offers, for FREE mind you, I ma blown away. Case in point tonight, Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool (GAKT). You can go onto GAKT, enter a keyword that you think people would use to find your website, and see how many actual global and local searches there are for that keyword or phrase. For example, my latest book, The Brink, is about a sinister secret society planning global financial Armageddon. So, I typed in ‘financial Armageddon’ into the GAKT search engine and found that that phrase got 2,400 global monthly searches and 1,900 local. I scroll down to see related keywords and notice that ‘economic crisis explained’ and ‘surviving financial crisis’ have 201,000 and 49.500 and 368,000 and 90,500 respectively. Guess what keywords I’m adding to my site tonight? Guess where you should go right now to check your keywords?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,

Rest easy tonight my friends, but stay hungry tomorrow…  

 

Writing and marketing your novel: A glimpse from the trenches

August 11, 2010

Day 58 of 365

Books sold so far (as of the end of May 2010, which is my first official month – sales reports in this industry lag big time!): 157

In this issue:

 

  • Writing topic – Getting inspired part II – searching the news for juicy stuff
  • Marketing Topic –  All writers must be bloggers

 

Writing topic – Getting inspired part II – searching the news for juicy stuff

So yesterday, I talked about getting inspired by your local newspaper. A great, and convenient, source is your local paper’s website and their crime time blog.

 

A second way to get inspired is to just keep your ear to the ground and listen around you. Grisham tells the tale that he was inspired to write A Time to Kill after sitting in the audience waiting for a trial he was working on and listening to the trial of a black girl that was raped by two white men. While you may not have access to your local courtroom, dramatic stories abound in…you guessed it, your local newspaper. People ask me how I came up with the conspiracy portion of The Brink, and I tell them that it stemmed from an article I read about the Federal Reserve is not subject to an audit by our U.S. government. The vision of an unscrupulous cabal controlling the Fed formed in my brain right then and there and I was hooked. I had to find out more about the organization, how it works, and if, in fact, there is something to the amount of authority the US government has over a seemingly secretive organization that has such an enormous impact on each and every one of us.

 

There are all kinds of websites out there to get your ideas flowing. One I happen to like is The Drudge Report, because the news on it is so compelling and inspires great plots. Case in point, I found two fantastic articles today that pertain to the plot of The Brink; one is a WSJ article about the US going deeper yet into debt, the other is from CNBC about the Chief Investment Officer (CIO) and managing partner at Wermuth Asset Management stating that America is a “Mickey Mouse economy” that is technically bankrupt. Articles like these are gold mines because one, they are extremely current, and two, you can post links on your website and tag them. People will be looking for the information, because it is so current, and, walah, they find your site.  

 

 

Marketing Topic –  All writers must be bloggers

 

Again, before we get into the marketing topic for tonight, I’ll do a little shameless self promotion and let you know I have two signings this weekend, one at the Dallas Uptown Border on Friday, Aug 13 from 5-7pm and the other at the Mesquite Borders on Saturday, Aug 14 from 3-5pm. Hope you can make it.

 

 One of the blogs that I read is “Pimp my Novel.” Even though this is a “rerun” post, I think it bears repeating. If you are a writer, you need to be blogging about your book. If it’s non-fiction, blog about your topic. Fiction is a little harder. Maybe do something like I am and just talk about the writing life. Or blog about the topic of your story. Whatever. You need to blog. And here are the 10 Commandments of Blogging from the “Pimp my Novel” blog:

The Ten Commandments of Blogging (Rerun)

Posted: 11 Aug 2010 07:00 AM PDT

Work abounds, mes auteurs, so another blast from the past (this one from last September). Enjoy! — E

Episode: “The Ten Commandments of Blogging”
Originally aired: Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

1. I am thy blog. If you’re an author, you should already have a blog. If you’re not yet published, now is the time to start.

2. Thou shalt have no other blogs before me. We all love reading blogs—we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t—but yours comes first. Write your own posts before you spend all afternoon reading someone else’s.

3. Thou shalt not make of thyself an idol. Keep your ego in check; you always want to portray yourself positively in your blog. Your reputation is all you’ve got in this business, and if you earn yourself one as a likable person as well as a great writer, you’re a golden calf.

4. Remember thy Schedule and keep it, wholly. You don’t have to write a post every day, but keeping a regular schedule is a courtesy and a sort of unwritten contract between you and your readers; they’ll know when to expect new content and will come to appreciate and respect you for that.

5. Thou shalt honor thy agent and thy publisher. You couldn’t have done this without them. Give props where props are due.

6. Thou shalt not commit character assassination. Everyone has authors or critics they don’t like, sometimes personally. Don’t pull an Alice Hoffman. And, I guess, don’t try to kill anyone in real life, either.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery, but thou shalt pimp thyself. No one sells you like you do. Facebook, Twitter, &c. The more pervasive your presence, the more likely it is that people will buy your book.

8. Thou shalt not plagiarize. Always quote. Always cite your sources. Always link back to them if they’re on-line.

9. Thou shalt not deceive thy audience. Never post anything you don’t believe is true, and be sure to provide links to any research you’ve done. Always be sure to clarify whether a point you’re making is an opinion or a fact.

10. Thou shalt monetize. I don’t do it because I don’t consider blogging a part of my livelihood, but you, as authors, should consider self-promotion as part of the job. Let Google or whomever run a few relevant ads on your blog and make a little cash on the side. (Unless you’ve got a large readership, though, it probably won’t be much.)

 

 

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,

rest easy tonight my friends, but stay hungry tomorrow…  

 

Writing and marketing your novel: A glimpse from the trenches

August 5, 2010

Day 52 of 365

Books sold so far (as of the end of May 2010, which is my first official month – sales reports in this industry lag big time!): 157

In this issue:

 

  • Writing topic – Timing the ‘market’
  • Marketing topic – Revamping our websites

 

Writing topic – Timing the ‘market’

 

It happened to Dan Brown. And Stephenie Meyer. And Tom Clancy. Financial advisors say that if you try to ‘time the market’, or try to predict when the stock market will go up or down as the basis for your investment philosophy, then you will always lose. Many people have been trying for years, and while some have been lucky, their luck never holds.

 

But what about the writer’s market? The three aforementioned authors are examples of great writers, but they also were in the right place at the right time. Brown sold a few thousand copies of his first novels and then – bam – along comes a little tale called The Da Vinci Code that highlighted the Opus Dei sect inside the church, just as the scandal about Catholic priests abusing children, which was tied to Opus Dei as well, broke all over the world. Divine intervention not withheld, people across the globe immediately became intrigued with the scandal and they had a book they could immediately turn to that could further their interest in other conspiracies involving the Catholic Church. Meyer’s tale about vampire (and werewolf) love that has spread across the world was started by Anne Rice and even the movies like the Blade trilogy has helped keep our fanged brothers and sisters in the collective consciousness. Was it Meyer’s intent to use characters that have stood the test of time in pop culture? Judge for yourself:

 

 

And finally Tom Clancy. I love the story of how he came to be one of the most read novelists in history. During his presidency, Reagan was asked what he was reading, and he mentioned an obscure book about a Russian sub captain defecting to the US with the sub in tow. Till then, The Hunt for Red October was a little read novel published by the US Naval Press. News outlets latched onto that story and almost overnight, Clancy was a household name.

 

While that was an example of pure luck, The Hunt for Red October played on our fears of an escalation of the Cold War, which was still raging at the time.

 

Timing – how important is it? Should starving novelists, like hungry investors, try to time the next current event to tie in to their novel, or should we say to heck with it, if I want to write about a love story between lepers in the 13th century, that by God I will!  To the keyboards!

 

Marketing topic – Revamping our websites

 

My website blows. Okay, that’s a tad harsh. It’s not the best. Being a one-man show, I used one of GoDaddy.com’s templates for the design aspect, and I need to change it. It just doesn’t captivate the look I’m going for. I’ve been looking at James Patterson’s site, Sandra Brown’s site, and Dennis Lehane’s site to get some ideas in order to spruce up the old girl. Some things I’d like to are:

 

But I have no idea how to do it. I’d call Jimmy, Sandy or Denny, but I seemed to have misplaced their cell numbers. Besides, I’m thinking they have people that run their websites. So what’s a lone wolf to do?

 

One word: intern.  I’m not talking pulling a Kramer from Seinfeld and hiring an intern at Kramerica Industries (Fadtasktik, Inc. does have a certain ring to it, though). No, I’m talking about getting some fresh out of college kid who’s willing to spruce up the old resume with a website redevelopment project. Now, to find said fertile, IT minded soul who will work for that most coveted word, wait for it, experience. Google ‘website development project’? Ad on monster for a website programmer? Craigslist for web designer? Local college newspaper want ads? Networking with the locals? One of them has to know a kid who could inject some pizzazz into www.markfadden.com. I’m sure the Russians, and now Indians, that are visiting the site in high numbers would love to see some new, cool effects. And, dear reader, if you know anyone, send them my way please.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,

rest easy tonight my friends, but stay hungry tomorrow…  

 

Writing and marketing your novel: A glimpse from the trenches

August 2, 2010

Day 50 of 365

Books sold so far (as of the end of May 2010, which is my first official month – sales reports in this industry lag big time!): 157

 In this issue:

  •  Writing topic – The dreaded question, “So when’s your next novel coming out?”
  • Marketing topic – Video may have killed the radio star, but radio can still rock your message

 Writing topic – The dreaded question, “So when’s your next novel coming out?”

 Blog #50! It seems like some kind of milestone, but I still don’t have my June sales #s in yet. Curses!  Oh well, let’s keep plugging away, shall we?

 I love every person who has invested the time to read my books. And that’s exactly what it is you know, an investment. They are taking a chunk of their finite time on this planet and using it to read what I’ve written. God love them. After they finish the latest book, the question sooner or later comes out, “So when does the next book come out?” A writer, like so many entertainers, is only as good as his or her next product. So that begs the question, “When the *&*$#@#% do we find the time to work on the next novel when we’re busy marketing the current one, and holding down a day job and probably having some kind of interaction with our families?”

 If I sound like a crybaby, I don’t mean to. I’m trying to give a voice to the overwhelming consensus of most writers that must struggle with time management. While I have 3 novels in the hopper, they are less than ready to go. Whenever I review them, I spill much red ink. It’s just goes along with evolving as a writer. On The Brink, I worked with Mark Graham, who did an amazing job editing the novel. I’ve referred to him as my “writing coach” during that period, because he taught me so much during that time period. He took a pudgy and slow Philly leg breaker and turned him into the greasy-fast Italian Stallion who spit lightning and crapped thunder (If you haven’t seen the Rocky movies, you ain’t gonna get that one). I wrote those three novels before working with Mark and they all need work. So, starting in September, I’m going to whip 2 of them into fighting shape to be ready for next summer when my promotional campaign for The Brink ends. My plan is to devote 2 hours a day to them. How about you? Got any novels that are ready but not really ready? Starting from scratch? How much time every day do you plan to commit to it? Just want to vent about something? To the keyboards!  

 Marketing topic – Video may have killed the radio star, but radio can still rock your message

 This Saturday (Aug 7), I’ll be doing a radio show called, “Books n’ Authors” on a local radio station. The show will be broadcast at 10:00am on 89.5 KYQX and 88.5 KMQX radio in Weatherford, Texas, and on the Internet at www.qxfm.com. This is my third time to do the show and Linda Bagwell, the host, is absolutely fantastic. She’s a great interviewer for two reasons – one, she can show enthusiasm even if your book was titled, “The 101 Most Boring C-Span Transcripts” and two, if you send in the questions you want asked, she’ll ask them to you on the air. Most TV and radio shows give their guests some input into the questions that are being asked or let them create the actual questions. It saves the station staff time to try and come up with questions. So, as far as my best radio interview tip is concerned, if you’re ever on the radio, TV, or are doing any kind of interview, ask the interviewer WELL IN ADVANCE if you can give them a set of questions to use for the interview. 9 chances out of 10 they’ll jump on it.

 Tomorrow night, I’ll post the questions I came up with tonight after your sweet heads have hit your pillows. Until then…

 The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,

rest easy tonight my friends, but stay hungry tomorrow…