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Tammara Webber: Indie Author Hitmaker

Her latest novel debuted on the bestsellers lists but it wasn’t her first time out.  Tammara Webber rocked the indie publishing world when she came out with hit after hit but things didn’t start clicking until her first few novels.  She is living proof that as an indie author, you cannot give up if your first book does not hit the New York Times. Her determination lead her to the USA Today and New York Times bestsellers lists and in my interview with her, she shares her real secret for success, when she knew she’d truly made it and all about her latest bestseller-in-the-making.

Jeff: Are you a schedule author or do you write when you’re inspired?  Do you deal with procrastination as well?

Tammara: I’m still trying to hold myself to the idea of a writing schedule. I tend to write when moved to do so, no matter what time of day (or night) that happens to be. I can be motivated by a deadline, however, even when it’s self-imposed. I decide on a date to have the first draft completed, and the number of words I assume the story will need. I divide that into words-per-day, and write those cumulative totals at the bottom of each day on the wall calendar I can see from my desk. Sometimes I get behind or ahead, but I try to stick close to the total for the day.

When I’m procrastinating, it’s always because I’m not happy with either what I’ve just written, or what I plan to write next. When I’m happy with my WIP, and I can see where it’s going next, I don’t procrastinate. So that need to “not write today” is a red flag for me that my subconscious is scrutinizing something and saying, “Um. No. I’m not writing that.”

My way of beating it is to take a notebook, a pencil, and my husband out for a long lunch. I have to be away from the house, and away from my computer. My critique partners and beta readers don’t want the story spoiled for them, but my husband allows me to throw out every crazy idea I have, and he gives me great feedback. There have been times he’s been instrumental in changing the course of a story. He’s a smart reader, and if something doesn’t ring true for him, he tells me, and I pay attention to that. These sessions usually serve to get me back on track.

Jeff: How did you know when you had made it big time as an indie author?

Tammara: I admit I didn’t have the years of rejections that many people had – simply because I didn’t put my work out there in any way for a very long time. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t writing. I was looking at what I wrote and judging it not good enough. Most authors have shelf novels. I shelved my first three without much, if any, outside input – and certainly no professional input. My fourth novel was Between the Lines, followed by two more in that series – and those three were my first foray into self-publishing.

Easy was actually the seventh novel I wrote. I knew very early into the writing process that it was special, but I never expected it to be on The New York Times or USA Today lists. That still feels unreal.

Jeff: How has your life changed?

Tammara: I’m a lot busier! I can’t believe the increase in the volume of email, let alone other social media contacts. I’m rather introverted, so it’s overwhelming sometimes. If I get sick (like I did during the past week) or have any personal or family issues – the types of things everyone has to deal with – I get behind very quickly.

Jeff: What advice do you have for the writers who are reading this and want to follow in your foot steps?

Tammara: As I mentioned above, I’m an introvert. I’m not anti-social – I’m just extremely shy. I’m the person who can go to a party and later someone will say, “You were there? Really?” The idea of marketing my books was horrifying.

My entire process in a nutshell:

Get a cover made and write a blurb. Post these on my blog, Facebook page and Goodreads.com two months or so before publication.

Do “Tuesday Teasers” from the book on my blog, and provide a link from the Facebook page to those.

Contact book bloggers to request that they review my book. I don’t do ARCs. I buy (gift) legitimate digital copies of the book the day it goes live to the reviewers who accept. (By the time I got to Easy, I only sent requests to the bloggers/reviewers who’d reviewed for me before – about twenty of them.)

When the book goes live, I post links to the individual venues on my blog, Facebook page and Twitter.

Other than that, I interact with my readers as much as I can, whether that means telling them about other books I liked and think some of them might like, letting them know milestones like when I’m done with the first draft of a new book, or answering questions.

Jeff: What did not work?

Tammara: I have no idea what of the above works or doesn’t work, as most of it is instituted before publication, and are things I would do regardless of how they affected sales. I actually don’t track sales – if I’m curious how many have been sold of a particular title “as of today” or what the average daily totals are, I ask my husband, who keeps charts! When I first published, I watched sales every day, but I quickly figured out that was an emotionally harmful thing to do. Too much up and down, based on nothing I could control. Ditto for reviews. I don’t read them, unless someone tweets or emails one right to me. I can’t change the product that’s out there. It’s done, finished, out. Once a book is out of my hands, it would be pointless to agonize over it too much. I’d never get the next one written.

Jeff: What is your latest book about and how is it different than the others?

Tammara: Easy is my latest young adult/new adult novel, and it differs from my series (Between the Lines) in content and structure. The characters in Easy are college students. The story centers around a girl, Jacqueline, who followed her high school boyfriend to the college he chose, only to have him break up with her at the beginning of their sophomore year. At the start of the novel, Jacqueline leaves a party alone and is assaulted by a frat brother of her ex. A boy she’s never met intervenes, and sets into motion a complicated relationship between two damaged people attempting to reinvent themselves.

Why Indie Author Ruth Cardello Turned Down a 7-Figure Book Deal

She was just a kindergarten teacher barely making ends meet months ago and now she is an indie published New York Times bestselling author who recently turned down a 7-figure book publishing deal to continue on her path, definining her own destiny. I had the privilege of connecting with author Ruth Cardello about her astonishing success and asked her what her advice is for other moms and authors who have a dream of becoming an author but are experiencing nothing but rejection.

Jeff: You have been a major force in the indie publishing world with your Billionaire series.  What are you working on next?

Ruth:  My latest book is Bedding the Billionaire. It’s an over-the-top, escapism romantic read with high drama, fun dialogue, and just enough sex to satisfy. All of my books portray confident, sometimes arrogant, billionaires. Dominic Corisi (Maid for the Billionaire) is your classic, alpha male who sweeps Abby Dartley off her feet and takes her on a wild adventure in China. Stephan Andrade (For Love or Legacy) is a man who is on the brink of losing himself to the darkness of revenge until Nicole Corisi reclaims his heart. Jake Walton (Bedding the Billionaire) is Dominic’s conservative business partner – at least until he meets Abby’s younger sister and loses his heart as well as his tie.

Each book is a separate romance that is set in the same “world” but is told through the perspective of the main couple. Readers say that they love the characters, hate them, want to shake them and eventually laugh and cry along with them – all the while rooting for them to find a happy ending.

My next book, Saving the Sheikh (due out in November), explores cultural identity and reconciling one’s individual dreams with family responsibilities – along with the big-hair drama and steamy romance I love to write.

Jeff: How do you fit writing in with being a busy mom and wife?

Ruth: My writing schedule is a joy now that I’ve left my day job. I used to get up at 4 am everyday to write before my 2 year old woke up. I also wrote on the weekends and struggled to balance family time with writing time. God Bless my patient husband. I couldn’t have done it without him.

Thankfully, I left my job in April of this year. Now, I write from 8-3 each day. No matter where I am in the story, I close my laptop, go pick up my daughter from daycare, and am simply mom the rest of the day. I don’t write on the weekends anymore. I could write faster and potentially make more money if I used the weekends, but I’ve designated that time exclusively for family and I couldn’t be happier.

Jeff: Are you a major procrastinator like the rest of us?

Ruth: I’m the youngest of eleven children. We never had much, but my parents instilled a good work ethic in us. I worked my way through college and met most the of the goals I’ve chosen for myself since. Procrastination? If anything, I often have to remind myself to take a deep breath and enjoy living in the moment rather than trying to do everything in one day.

Jeff: What’s it like to suddenly have your life change and all your dreams come true as a writer?

Ruth: Two years ago, I was counting my blessings and lying awake all night wondering if I could afford them. In 2006, I married my husband, retired-Marine, Anthony Cardello. He came with two amazing children. Soon after getting married we tried to add another member to our family the natural way and couldn’t. We’d just about given up on adoption as a viable option when my youngest one became available at only two weeks old. I still get misty every time I think about how lucky we are.

Unfortunately, after almost 20 years of teaching, the school district I was working for went into severe financial distress. All of a sudden my income was dwindling. I had loved being a Kindergarten teacher, but paychecks were bouncing and my job was cut again and again.

I took a leap of faith and put my first book up for FREE. It had been turned down by a few category publishing houses, but the rejections had said that my writing was strong.

Sometimes the bumpiest roads lead you to the most incredible destinations. Almost immediately 200,000 people downloaded my first book and the reviews were positive. Since it was FREE, it wasn’t bringing in any money, but it did give us that first glimmer of hope that my writing might pull us out of a difficult situation.

I wrote For Love or Legacy while working full-time. My husband could not have been more supportive. He took over house chores, barn chores, diaper duty – all so book 2 could happen.

The income from book 2 allowed me to leave my day job. I had more time with my little one, more time to write and I didn’t think life could get better.

Then Bedding the Billionaire hit the NYTs bestsellers’ list!

Doors flew open when I hit that list. All sorts of offers came in from places I never dreamt would be interested in my writing. Even though one of the offers was seven figures, I haven’t accepted any of them yet. So far self-publishing is the route that makes the most sense for me to continue on.

These days my goals are pretty simple. I dream of a larger home where (Don’t tell my husband. ) we could have the room to add one more member to our family. I’d also really like to be able to pay for my children to the college of their choice.

If things continue as they have, I just might be able to do both!

Jeff: Self-publishing has improved the lives of so many women I know. How does being a bestselling Indie author feel?

Ruth: It feels a lot like – hope.

Jeff: How many books did you sell when you got the news that you hit the New York Times bestsellers list?

Ruth: In July of 2012 alone, I sold more than 60,000 copies of book 2 and book 3 combined.

Jeff: So for the authors out there that are trying everything but nothing’s working in terms of promoting their books, what are your tips, Ruth?

Ruth: I suppose you could say that I’ve designed a Kindergarten Teacher’s Approach to Marketing

KTAM 1: Play nice

I know that sounds simplistic, but if you’re out there giving other authors poor reviews – you’re not making any friends. In this business, good networking is priceless.

KTAM 2: Ask your friends what they want to do

When someone contacts me (via Facebook, Twitter, or email) I often follow their links back to their websites. I look at what projects they are working on. I write to them and ask them if there is some way that I could help them. I don’t ask them to help me, but they often come back and do. The best way to get someone to care about your book is to care about theirs.

KTAM 3: Try to make a new friend every day

I reach out to authors who are sitting next to me on the rankings at Amazon. I buy their books, read them, and if I like them I tell them that I enjoyed it. As I learn more about marketing and the business, I offer to share information with them. I can’t tell you how many wonderful people have come into my life because of this. Sure, I’ve gotten the cold response (or no response) from many along the way, but I don’t focus on what didn’t happen – I keep my focus on the positive responses and the possibilities and information they bring.

KTAM 4: Share

This is not a race. There is no single winner. You don’t have to hold your trade secrets to your chest and hope everyone else fails.

Look at the Indie world as a community and pay forward the kindness you receive as often as you can.

Share your reader base. I cross-promote with fellow authors all the time and I think it is one of the main reasons my books have done so well. My readers are grateful to discover new authors and my books find their way into the hands of someone else’s readers. It’s a win/win.

KTAM 5: Pay attention

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to publish anymore, but there is an informed and an uninformed way. Watch the trends. Be aware of what bestselling authors are doing. Skim informative blogs on a regular basis. (Skim because you don’t want to lose writing time by getting sucked into reading all of the comments.)

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Study the contests that people are using. Watch their results. Ask questions. You’d be surprised what you can learn simply by putting the question out there.

KTAM 6: Try something new every day

I don’t have a lot of time to promote my books. I promote for about 30 minutes to an hour every day. Thirty minutes goes into answering emails, talking to my readers on FB and Twitter, and posting on places that may have mentioned me on the internet. In the remaining 30 minutes I try to do something new – from tame to outrageous – to promote my books. One day I wrote to Ellen. Another day I found websites to post my FREE book on. You can’t do everything, but if you do one new thing a day – by the end of the month you’ve done about 30 new things. It adds up quickly and the seeds you plant come back to you in wonderful and unexpected ways. A lot of those ideas don’t pan out, but that doesn’t matter. Move on. Keep brainstorming. Your tenacity with this will pay off.

KTAM 7: Don’t be greedy

Even the big authors know that sometimes you have to give something away if you want to find new readers. Maid for the Billionaire has been FREE for well over a year and almost two thousand people download it a day from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes. Not everyone reads it. Not everyone loves it. However, enough people come back and buy the rest of my series that I’m sold on using this method to build up your reader base – especially if you’re like me and no one knows who you are.

KTAM 8: Work hard

Don’t forget that your best promotion is that next book that you’re writing. You worked hard to gain your reader base, to keep them you have to put out new works on a regular basis. Keep learning. Keep writing. Keep reaching.

As you can tell, I’m not a marketing person, but so far this system has served me well.

If you found any of the above helpful, Maid for the Billionaire (Book 1 of my series) is FREE on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes…a simple mention would be hugely appreciated. Also, I have a FB page http://www.facebook.com/AuthorMoms where I’m encouraging other moms to come and support each other. Drop by if you’d like and swap publishing tips with us. You can also find me at www.ruthcardello.com or at Author Ruth Cardello on Facebook.

Marie Force – An Indie ‘Force’ to be Reckoned with

Indie romance authors like Marie Force are leading the pack of authors who are making a killing trailblazing up the indie bestseller charts.  Force is also living proof that you can quit your job and even buy your dream house from your profits without needing a New York publisher.

Curious minds wanted to know (mostly mine), how did she do it and what tips could she offer my readers, aspiring writers, who wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Force graciously provided the answers in my interview below:

Jeff: You are a romance writing machine, Marie. What are you working on next?

Marie: Right now I’m working on Longing for Love, which is book 7 in my bestselling McCarthys of Gansett Island Series. These sexy contemporary romances, set on a small island off the southern coast of Rhode Island, have been very popular with readers. I’ve also got Coming Home, a follow up to my Treading Water series, and Fatal Attack, book 5 in my Fatal Series, coming later this year. And I just signed with Berkley for a new contemporary series set in Vermont that will be out in early 2014.

Jeff: How do you keep writing with such a busy schedule and where do you fit in important things like, procrastination?

Marie: I work all the time! Luckily, I love what I do and it hardly feels like a job. I write whenever the muse is calling me, but mostly during the day since I left my day job last December. I procrastinate things like updating the business checking account register and cleaning up my chaotic desktop on my computer. I usually don’t procrastinate the writing.

Jeff: I know for a fact that you dealt with rejection but you’ve proven that you can make it if you keep going. What did it feel like to prove all the naysayers wrong?

Marie: Well, it feels pretty darned good! For years I suspected if I could just get my books out there, I’d find my readers. I had friends telling me my books kept them up all night, so I thought if those regular women love my books, maybe other regular women will, too. Turns out I was right. That’s very satisfying, to say the least.

Jeff: How many copies had you sold during what period of time when you were put on the bestsellers list?

Marie: The numbers vary, but to make the Top 100 on Amazon, you’re selling more than a thousand copies a day. I sold 99,000 ebooks on Amazon in July in addition to what I sold on the other platforms. That was my best month to date.

Jeff: How would you say things have changed for you now that you can add bestselling author to your title?

Marie: I quit my day job and bought my dream house, but otherwise, my life is pretty much the same was it was before. I’m writing a lot more than I used to be able to with the job, so that’s another big change. I love being self-employed and being able to focus exclusively on what I most love to do.

Jeff: For those authors out there, especially romance authors that really want to make an impact, what would you say to them?

Marie: The best piece of advice I can give to other authors seeking the magic bullet is to write the next book. In my experience, paid advertising doesn’t work. Blog tours don’t work. Writing another great book to keep your readers engaged–that works to build a following. I always say that quality is job one, but quantity is job two. The more you write and produce, the better your chances of breaking out.

Shayne Parkinson on the Secrets to Indie Authors Success Worldwide

Indie success isn’t just happening in the United States. eBooks and self-publishing have become a worldwide phenomenon.  Shayne Parkinson is a perfect example of that.  Being a historical fiction writer, Parkinson proves that no matter what the genre, no matter where in the world you live, you can truly find success.

In my interview with Parkinson, we find out how she beat all the odds and why patience, although not easy, can truly be the difference between having your career take off like a rocket ship and career constipation.

Jeff: You’re such an amazing historical fiction writer.  What’s next on your roster?

Shayne: My latest book is “Daisy’s War”, which was released in June of this year. “Daisy’s War” shows the impact of the Great War on the people of a New Zealand farming valley, through the eyes of a child.

While many familiar characters from earlier works appear in this book, my main character has made it clear to me that she’d enjoy a quieter life from now on, and the focus has shifted to another generation. The other major difference is in how much this book’s plot is shaped by a single event: the Great War of 1914-1918. In the earlier books historical events are threaded through the story, affecting the characters in varying degrees, but in this one their lives become increasingly intertwined with the War, as it grows from a shadowy threat to a very real one.

Jeff: What is your writing schedule, Shayne?

Shayne: I can’t bear *not* to write – mainly because I miss the characters too much if I’m away from them for any length of time. Spare moments waiting for a bus or in the dentist’s waiting room are filled with thinking through plot ideas, running through imaginary conversations between characters, or scribbling down notes.

I’d love to say I have a writing schedule, but with so much coming and going between town and country it’s often a matter of snatching what time I can. I do find it’s worthwhile to plan around my most creative times of the day, rather than trying to force creativity when it feels like walking through treacle. I’ll set aside a fixed amount of time, even if it’s a particularly busy day and I can only spare 15 minutes, during one of those creative periods, with nothing to do but work on the current book. On a good day I might manage to spend several hours writing, and when I’m in editing mode it might go up to 14 hours. That’s not counting time spent on research, which takes many hours each week – fortunately I love it.

Jeff: A lot of authors would love to do what you do but they’re battling the evil demon; also known as “procrastination”. What advice do you have for them and is that something you deal with too?

Shayne: Oh, yes. If I find myself wanting to do housework instead of working on that next scene, I know I’m in serious procrastination mode. Something that works for me (most of the time, anyway) is to set a
modest minimum words-per-day target and stick to it – or preferably exceed it. I don’t allow myself to claim writer’s block; if the words really won’t flow, I write notes for future scenes, work on plot outlines or character descriptions, or write up research notes.

Jeff: Were you one of those authors that dealt with years and years of rejection?

Shayne: I have to confess that I don’t have years of rejection to look back on. Early on I made a tentative approach to a couple of New Zealand publishers, and was told that there would be little interest in long historical novels set in New Zealand. That was the closest I ever came to traditional publishing.

Although I’d put aside any thought of being published, I didn’t stop writing, and when I realised that self-publishing could be an option I made my books available. Since then it’s been a slow growth, so I don’t feel as if I was thrust on bestseller lists. But having found myself there is quite wonderful – I keep expecting to wake up!

Jeff: How many copies have you sold, Shayne?

Shayne: Over 100,000 copies. That was over a period of three years, but the bulk of those sales have been since mid-2011.

Jeff: Are things pretty much the same or has your life totally changed since you became so successful?

Shayne: I had a faint hope that I might one day be able to fund my research expenses through book sales. The thought that I’d be able to become a fulltime writer felt like a daydream. To be living that dream is a blessing, one I’m hugely thankful for.

I wrote (and still do write) for my own pleasure; these days I have readers to help keep me motivated! I get mail from readers all around the world, and I love those interactions.

Jeff: What did you do specifically to market your books? Give us a step by step guide to your success.

Shayne: I’m probably not the best example of how to market. For me it’s really been about word-of-mouth, with readers recommending my books to other readers. This can be a slow process, and certainly was in my case. Sales gradually increased over the first two years, then they appeared to reach a tipping point about a year ago, just from the sheer number of people who were mentioning them. I’ve also had more and more readers report that sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have recommended the books to them.

The most important thing of all is that I do my best to make the books as good as I possibly can. Beyond that, the two things that I believe have helped most: my books are widely available through a range of retailers, and the first book in the series is free.

I don’t think of most of my book-related activities as marketing, just as being accessible to my readers. My web site is mainly aimed at providing extra information such as family trees and historical background. I answer all emails from readers, and am happy to talk about the books when invited by bloggers or message board owners. I have a blog where I talk about New Zealand history, country living, and whatever has recently inspired me.

I didn’t have much success in approaching bloggers for reviews, and it’s not something I do now. They tend to get overwhelming numbers of requests, and if my genre isn’t one they enjoy there’s no point in wasting their time.

Indie Bestselling ‘Veteran’ Boyd Morrison on Why He’s Returning to Self-Publishing

Boyd Morrison has shown me more than anyone that you can have the best of both worlds: indie and traditional book deals and some books are better-suited for one world more than the other.

Morrison was one of the very early successes in the earliest carnation of the ePublishing revolution and came in on a tsunami wave that included “the greats” like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking; ancient history, old veterans in the less than five year ePublishing phenomenon.

There was much ado in the press when Morrison’s dream book deal came about after he was initially rejected by traditional publishers; founded his own indie success, kicked ass and took names.

Well, guess what? He’s baaaaaack! Well, kind of.  As Morrison explains in my interview with him, it is possible to ride two waves at the same time. He also shares with us the lessons he’s learned on the emotional roller coaster journey he’s experienced since he first began.

Jeff: So, now you’ve been sort of straddling both worlds lately. You started out self-publishing, then you sold your book to publishers and now you’re back to ePublishing again? What’s the scoop?

Boyd: Okay. Well, I got a deal with Simon & Schuster – 2 separate 2-book deals – after I self-published in 2009, and that was for 3 books that I had already self-published plus a fourth that I then wrote called The Vault. So, 2 of those books were in the Tyler Locke series, and I contracted for a third book in the series, called The Roswell Conspiracy, with Simon & Schuster and with Little Brown.

I finished the book and sent it to Simon & Schuster, and they said it was unacceptable. I never got any editorial notes or any reason why it was unacceptable; they just considered it unacceptable and canceled my contract. Little Brown in the UK, on the other hand, loved it, and it’s out now in the UK and Australia and has already gone into a third printing there. So, we tried shopping the book around to other publishers here in the US and nobody wanted to jump into a series in midstream, so I decided to self-publish the book. Four weeks ago, we did the Nook First program. It went very well; we got up to a ranking of #14 in the Nook store based on the promotion they did. Now, today, I am self-publishing it to Amazon Kindle, Kobo and iBooks.

Jeff: I know that Nook has been making a push.  What do they have to offer that made them so attractive?

Boyd: The Nook First program is unique because in exchange for 4 weeks of exclusivity – you agree that your book is on the Nook First before it’s on anywhere else, so it’s never been published as an e-book before in the US, and in exchange for that, they do special promotions for the book. So, they have a website where they choose 4 books every 2 weeks that are part of the Nook First program and do promotions for them. My book was on the Nook home page for 4 days, I think. They sent out emails to all the Nook buyers so that people would see my book, and the promotion worked very well. That’s different from the KDP Select program, which is you give exclusivity for 90 days, and in exchange for that you can make your book for free for any 5 of those 90 days and you’re also part of the Kindle lending library, but they don’t promise any other promotional opportunities.

Jeff: But if you do that, then you have to take it off of Nook for the 90-day period?

Boyd: Correct.

Jeff: Okay. Is that worth it?

Boyd: It depends. Some people feel it’s worth it because they’re not selling many books on Nook or iBooks or Kobo. For me, I hope to continue selling well on the Nook after this initial promotion, so for now I’m not going to do the Kindle Select program.

Jeff: Your writing schedule must be hectic! How do you manage it all. What are you up to like 5 books so far?

Boyd: Partly it’s kind of an illusion because I had 3 of those books done already. I had come out with 5 books in 2 years, but 3 of those I had written long before I ever got a publishing deal, so really I’ve only done 2 books – written 2 books – in the last 2 years. But I did heavily edit the books that we eventually published, and doing all the publicity and travel and going to conferences and Facebook and emails takes up a lot of time. I wish I were more disciplined in my writing, but I tend to be goal-oriented when I write, so I do a rough outline of my plot and then, once I have that, I usually try to set a goal of 1 chapter a day of writing once I have that in place. And my chapters are pretty short – they’re usually 5 to 6 pages – so doing a chapter in a day is reasonable for me.

Jeff: Let’s talk about the editing. What is your editing process? So, you’ve got a crap draft, something on paper to start with, then what? How do you turn that into a gem?

Boyd: Usually, my wife is my first reader, so she reads everything as I go and then she takes out her red pen and gives me feedback. After that, I usually just fix the major plot issues so that the story makes sense, and then I send it out to a couple of trusted family members and friends who give me feedback on what’s working and what’s not, and then I send it to my editor. Hopefully, at that time the book is in good enough shape that she can really dig down and help me mold it into a final product. I’m kind of in a unique position in that I have an editor and a copy editor at one of the Big 6 publishers, but then I used the final product to self-publish here. I don’t know many other authors who have that combination. In fact, I licensed the cover art from Little Brown as well to use in the US, so I didn’t even have to find somebody to develop a new cover; I just used the same.

Jeff: How do you weed through all the editorial notes without getting overwhelmed; not knowing where to start?

Boyd: The big stuff I usually work on first. If my editor gives me major notes on this part of the storyline that isn’t working or the ending needs to be punched up or something like that, I’ll usually work on those first and then go back and fix the smaller issues – wording and things like that – because if I change a chapter significantly, the smaller stuff may not apply anymore. I was fortunate with the latest book, The Roswell Conspiracy, in that there weren’t really any major structural changes to do. It was, “This chapter needs a little more action,” or “I didn’t understand this little part,” or “This character’s action in this scene didn’t seem to stem from what you had put before,” so it was littler stuff like that. In the end, I didn’t add or remove a single chapter from what I had originally sent her.

Jeff: Let’s talk marketing, Boyd. Suppose I have a book and I believe it’s truly ready to go.  How do I go from zero copies sold to enough – whatever enough is – to then entice an editor to want to acquire this self-published book?

Boyd: That also could depend on whether your goal is just to self-publish or if it’s to self-publish and then get a publishing deal. I don’t think you can really aim for that…I mean, that will happen or not happen. You can take certain steps to do that by getting an agent but the book really has to sell itself.

The self-published books that I’ve seen that have done extremely well and then gotten big deals from publishers have all sold because of word of mouth. It wasn’t because the author spent gobs of money on marketing or had a huge; and I’m talking fiction now; nonfiction is a completely different animal.  But fiction authors, I don’t know of any who had a blog that had 20,000 people following it and that’s how they sold all their books. It was just simply that the book was good enough that people recommended it to each other, put a lot of reviews on Amazon, recommended it on discussion forums.  That’s really what happened to me in 2009. I really didn’t do any marketing; it was just people saw my book was a good value because it was a low price and started recommending it to their friends because they had a good experience reading the book.

Other than that, it’s more about lowering your level of obscurity. It starts with your friends and family, making sure they know the book is out there. And it’s very different today. When I self-published in 2009, almost nobody that I knew had a Kindle, and today I know that almost all of my friends have some kind of eReader. So, I can send an email to all my friends that the book is online, ready to download, and they can immediately click on the link that I send and download it, and it’s a very easy process. After that, it’s just building a presence online that you’re a professional author, so having a good webpage that people can go to and see the list of your books.  I get a lot of emails because of that, I get to ask them where they heard about my book.  Also, having a good Facebook fan page, having a Twitter feed helps. I would also say don’t spend a lot of time doing that. I read your interview with CJ Lyons and she said that the biggest mistake is spending too much time on your marketing and publicity, and I totally believe that’s true. What you should be spending time on is making your book something that people have to read and have to recommend to other people once they’ve read it, and if you can do that the marketing will take care of itself.

Jeff: Out of all the things you tried, what was a total waste of time, Boyd?

Boyd: If you’re self-published, book tours are a waste of time. I did it when I was published with Simon & Schuster, and it was a great experience and I got to meet a lot of book sellers, but in terms of the value – the return on your investment – I don’t know how good that is anymore because when you’re an unknown author and going to do a book tour, it’s really hard to bring in people who don’t know you. Most of the people who came to my signings were people I already knew. Again, it was a great way to build awareness with people I knew so that they would tell other people, but…you know, I think you’ll get more bang for your buck doing stuff online.

I do think the Nook First program is worth it, though. It gave me a promotional reach that I never would have gotten on my own, especially on the Nook because, at least for thriller authors…I know a lot of thriller authors who say that they don’t have many readers on the Nook, they get most of their readers on a Kindle for some reason – I don’t know what the demographic difference is – so I think I reached a lot of readers that I couldn’t have gotten otherwise on the Nook. And I had a couple of other authors recommend the Nook First program to me. I’m very happy with how it turned out. It’s a really good program.

Wool Author Hugh Howey on How to Land a Film Deal for Your Self-Published Book

Hugh Howey is living every indie author’s dream. He landed a film deal with 20th Century Fox and even Random House acquired the print rights to his Wool series.  And he did it the right way, organically.  I had to track him down and ask him, How in the world did you do it? My readers want to know! (And so do I)

So, I did and remarkably Howey was completely accessible, not big headed, no layers and layers of assistants, agents and publicists to go through. Just me and Howey.

What you’ll find in the interview is exactly what Howey did step-by-step to build his emerging media empire and what his advice is for writers who want to follow in his footsteps.

Jeff: Wool blew up like crazy!  You are every indie author’s hero.  What else are you working on, Hugh?

Hugh: My newest book is set for release on August 15th. It’s called I, ZOMBIE, and it’s not just different from anything else I’ve written — I think it’s unique to most of the horror literature out there. Because of this, I’m not sure how it’ll be received or whether or not it will be a success, but it’s a book I really believe in.

In I, ZOMBIE, the main characters are the undead rather than the survivors. The tragedy revealed in the story is that zombies retain all of their memories, all of their sense of self. What they don’t have is any control over what they do. (Or very little control, and only in some instances.)

I believe this new angle adds to the lore of the zombie while also making them more tragic characters. There have been scenes in films where a zombie seems to have a connection to an object or another person. How much more horrific would their condition be if they were in this locked-in state that I’ve imagined? What if they knew what they were doing while they attacked and maimed others? Once you read this book, it might change the way you view zombies. It might alter what you think when you watch a film or read another book. I also hope readers will note the many ways that we are very much like zombies in the lives we live today.

Jeff: With so much craziness going on in your life, it must be hard to keep up with your own writing. How do you keep focused?

Hugh: By not doing anything else. Pretty much my entire day is consumed with writing or with all the various duties that surround writing. I spend my time signing books and shipping them out, answering emails, Skyping with book groups and classrooms, doing interviews, coordinating cover art, writing blog posts, spreading the word on Twitter and Facebook, and writing, revising, and editing on top of it all.

I probably spend 14 hours a day doing book-related stuff. I figure I’ll take a break when people stop demanding more of my stories. Until then, I feel like I need to really concentrate on getting my stories out there while there’s still demand for them.

Jeff: Do you get distracted with phone calls and email offers coming in every second? How to keep the urge of checking your Amazon status every five seconds?

Hugh: All the time. As much as I love what I’m doing, the urge to go do something fun or to distract myself is always there. How do I beat it? I’m not sure. I would say a force of will, but I think that’s giving myself far too much credit. We are who we are. For some, the ability to jump out of bed at five in the morning comes easier than it does for others. I’ve always had this desire to be doing something with my time, whether it’s a project around the house or reading a good book. I need to maximize every hour. But I don’t think that’s a conscious decision; I think it’s just how I’m built.

I, ZOMBIE deals with this problem in every chapter, this question of free will and of human individuality. I think it’s wrong and unfortunate that people with innate drives make those who are born differently feel bad for who they are. My wife’s parents have a labrador (Ben) who is constantly starving. The dog hunts down and eats any scrap of food left around the house. If he were left to his own devices, Ben would eat himself sick (he has done this several times) and would weigh twice what he currently weighs. And still, he would be hungry.

My dog Bella can go all day without touching the food in her bowl. She lacks the same drive to eat. Bella is skinny as a rail. Does she choose to be? Does Ben choose to be overweight? You would never hear us complain about Ben being a glutton or being weak. He is who he is. You would never hear us claim that Bella has weight issues because of all the Glamor she reads and Animal Planet she watches. She just doesn’t have a strong food drive.

So, why am I able to write every day? I would love to take the credit for how I just am. I would love to pretend that a word of advice would help those who have struggled with the problem suddenly overcome it. But I’m jut wrapping up a book that explores these issues, and I’m not sure I believe what I used to believe. I don’t think we’re as free as we like to pretend we are. And while that sounds dire and dreary, I also think the freedoms we do possess arise from our understanding of this sad fact of human nature. No good ever came from avoiding the truth. Accepting that we have certain strengths and weaknesses unique to ourselves can alleviate much of our guilt and confusion when we compare ourselves to others. Which might just free our chains enough to wiggle in the direction we want to go.

Jeff: So many authors would love to say “Shove it!” to all the people who rejected them in the past. Is that what you did?

Hugh: I doubt all those girls who turned me down even remember who I—

Wait. You mean literary rejection? Well, I haven’t had to deal with a ton of that. Some, sure, but I think the more traditional publishing route would have given me a broader taste for the rejection many writers deal with.

When I queried my first book, I got the usual form letters from agents and publishers, but one thing to keep in mind is that many of these agents only take on two, three, possibly four writers a year. And they receive dozens of query letters a day. There are a lot of agents who are so busy with their current stable that they simply reject everything. So it never really got me down. I did feel the frustration of knowing I’d written a work that would sell very well if given the chance, but I was realistic about how many others had done the same thing and felt the same way. Being heard amid all that noise is nearly impossible. I always distracted myself by writing the next work.

What has hurt over the years are the rejections from readers and from my fellow writers. When I see a review that lambasts one of my works for having a gay protagonist, that makes me sad. When I read a review that tells me I’m horrible at what I’ve dedicated my life to, that cuts to the quick. It takes ten positives, it seems, to counter a single negative. Dealing with this has made me a much more gracious person when critiquing others. It’s like learning to tip appropriately: I think every human being should wait tables for a summer or a year, just to know what it’s like.

The other criticisms that hurt come from fellow writers. It’s a small minority, but all the negativity I heard early on was frustrating. Fellow aspiring authors would doubt every bit of good news, would cast aspersions on my chosen genre or publisher or publication method. I never understood all of that hostility. I was in a very active writing group in North Carolina and participated in all of these critiques. When it came my time, half the group didn’t even read the work, claiming they “don’t like science fiction.” As if I liked memoirs and poetry!

The worst, though, was a writing forum I used to participate on. It had (and continues to maintain) a strong bias against self-publishing. Back before I had any of this success, I asked what people on that forum thought about landing an agent by proving oneself with self-published sales. I was jeered and called a fool for suggesting that agents would dare scour the bestselling lists for self-published authors. “As if agents have the time,” they said. When I wondered aloud whether it wasn’t better to self-publish and allow readers to pick the winners rather than gatekeepers, it was insinuated that only poor writers would do this and solely to justify their inability to publish elsewhere. Even though these trends are now well-established with hundreds of other self-published authors, a forum designed to lend advice is still giving horrible advice. This saddens me far more than a form rejection. I think it should sadden everyone more than the form rejections.

Jeff: What did it take to his the New York Times bestsellers list, Hugh?

Hugh: I honestly can’t remember. I’ve gotten so busy that I no longer track my daily sales like I used to. I believe it was around 14,000 copies in a week when I grazed the NYT list. This was caused by a flurry of media mentions after Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian secured the film rights to WOOL. I may never have another week like this as long as I live, and I’m cool with that. I never expected my lifetime book sales to hit 10,000 across everything I would ever write, so I don’t take any of it for granted. I’m just charging forward in shock and full of ignorance.

Jeff: What’s changed in your life since you hit it big time?

Hugh: I get more sleep than I used to. Being able to quit my day job means I can write and do all my promotional stuff without wrecking my body. There are drawbacks, of course. I don’t have all those hours away from my computer to brainstorm and recharge. I have to force myself to take long walks with my dog to plot. It’s easy to forget how important this is.

My life has changed more in the past six months due to my wife’s occupational shift. She took a job in Florida, which has caused all sorts of upheaval for us. Selling and buying homes, all the repairs that need doing, the difference in weather and routines . . . that has led to more change than my writing success.

Financially, it’s hard to say. I’ll be paying a lot of taxes this year, but I also have all these new expenses. Agent fees, lawyers, tax attorneys, pension managers. It’s easy to see how people make a lot of money and manage to stay broke. My wife and I moved from a 750 square foot house to a 900 square foot house. It feels palatial to us, but I bet every single person reading this (who doesn’t live in NYC) would walk into our house and wonder how on earth we live in such a tiny space.

My dream isn’t to own lots of things, it’s to write for the rest of my life. It’s to not worry about how I’m paying the bills while I do what I love. As such, I’m preparing for the years when I make far less than I’m making now. And I’m convinced that I’ll be back to shelving books one day, and my co-workers will be absolutely sick to death of hearing about my little moment in the sun. They’ll probably stick their fingers in their mouths and make gagging gestures when I’m not looking. I’m prepared for that.

Jeff: So, give our readers some advice. What should they do to get the word out there about their books. What did you do?

Hugh: Here’s the sad thing: I didn’t market WOOL until after it had already become a success, so it’s difficult to know what part of the growth has been natural and what part is me pushing a thing that was already going down the slope on its own.

I think what’s important to look at is what I’ve done over the past three years. Immediately after I wrote my first book, I began writing my second. My father used to get on me for not doing more to promote the book I’d already published. I would set up signings at coffee shops and art fairs and sell a handful at each, and he would wonder why I wasn’t doing more of that.

My idea was to write while I could. I would always have the finished product to promote at a later date, when I felt I could no longer produce. And so I wrote four books in that first series, promoting a little on Facebook and a website that drew very little traffic, but mostly concentrating on the writing.

I eventually realized something yucky about writing a series: it meant I was forever promoting the first book in the series. My sales were always going to drop off, because not everyone reads all the sequels. It was the syndrome of a writer acting like a reader (what’s the next book after this one?) when I needed to think more like a publisher (we have no idea what’s going to sell, so we ought to diversify).

Inspired by the crunch of NaNoWriMo, I broke out and wrote different styles of books and books of varying lengths. I found out that a sizable portion of the reading public wouldn’t get near science fiction, so I wrote a coming-of-age story. I learned that young readers enjoyed violent, dark, and more fantasy-like books, so I wrote Half Way Home. I saw digital books taking off and that they didn’t conform to a standard length of about 100,000 words, so I wrote novelettes and short stories as well.

I’m continuing this trend and expanding on it by releasing a horror book next and working on a romance title on the side. I never would’ve guessed that WOOL would be the thing to take off. I could easily have not written it all because of my ignorance. All of this, I think, backs up the old adage that the best way to promote your work is to keep writing. When something does finally do well, how much back catalog you have in place can be more important than how strong your writing platform is.

Jeff: What did not work out of all the things you tried?

Hugh: Here’s another sad truth: I love reader blogs. Love them. I treasure every review that pops up on someone’s blog; I bookmark each one; I share the links with all my readers. There’s no greater thrill than seeing a new Google Alert pointing me to a review on someone’s website.

But I have to say, I’ve never seen a blip in my sales due to a blog review or an interview or a podcast. The only websites that have led to a bump have been BoingBoing, Gizmodo, and Reddit. The only media mention that gave me a boost was Entertainment Weekly. And these are outlets with tens of millions of readers. Even then, my sales would merely double. I say “merely,” because you might expect sales would go from 300 a day to 3,000 or 30,000 in a day. I mean, tens of millions of readers, right?

But no, sales would go from 300 a day to 600 a day. And the next day, down to 450. And then right back to 300.

Getting a mention anywhere is very much like winning some kind of writers’ lottery. I know that, believe me. I get giddy with every post on Facebook or RT on Twitter because I languished in obscurity for years hoping for anything like this. So understand that I am thrilled with every stroke of good fortune that I’ve won. I just think it’s important to share with other writers that the dream we all have of getting that one mention that makes our career isn’t just unrealistic — it’s unfounded. Unless it’s Oprah singing your praises, you still have the slog ahead of you. And I bet even the Oprah selections found that they soon tailed off into oblivion and had the same struggles start anew with their subsequent works.

That’s the thing about success: there are so many levels of it, and so you have to learn to appreciate every ounce of height you attain. You also have to learn to anticipate and not dread the fall.

The other way to go about this seems dangerous to me: that’s where you take for granted each victory you win and delude yourself into thinking that success is like a ratchet and that you’ll only go up from there. I’ve got a friend who had 6-figure advances who can’t get their next book sold. Just when they thought their struggles were over, they learned how tenuous it all was. It can actually be more difficult for an author who didn’t earn out a huge advance to get a second shot than it is for an unknown to get their first one. Think about that for a while.

There are possibly two or three dozen writers who can guarantee that all their future books will sell well. The rest of us are like the pro athletes on the end of the bench who damn well better be living sensibly and saving every penny. Because pretty soon, we won’t get any more playing time. And if we didn’t enjoy what we had and prepare for the worst, we’ll have something to go with our tales of one-time and former glory: a mound of regret.

Start with this: Celebrate the fact that you wrote something today. Celebrate the conclusion of your manuscript. Celebrate every day spent revising. If you get a sale, celebrate. A review, celebrate. Treat each morsel of good fortune like a feast. That’s what I do. I’m loving this while it lasts. And I think I appreciate it more by telling myself that it won’t.

Jeff: I know you didn’t market until after it found success but what did you do specifically to go from one sale to the first 10,000? What is your step by step guide?

Hugh: WOOL was published in July of last year. Up to that point, I’d sold a few thousand physical books, mostly to friends, family, and a readership I’d developed by being active online. I set up a dozen signings, did some readings at a bar my sister frequents, stuff like that.

I’d had less success with e-books. I didn’t market them as much. By September of last year, I maybe had sold 1,000 total e-books across a dozen titles over a three year span. Maybe. It could have been less.

And then, in September, I sold a few hundred copies of WOOL at 99 cents. In October, I sold 1,000 copies. For the first time, I started spreading the link to the book on Amazon. I also dropped what I was currently writing and began writing four more stories in the series. I tried to stick to the shorter length, but the entries grew as I went along. I tried to stick to the same price point, but that became difficult as well. I basically took what worked and tried to create more of it. I read the reviews and e-mails from fans and incorporated their feedback. Probably the most important thing I did was release the next entries quickly. Readers didn’t have to wait months for the next book; they had to wait weeks. The flurry meant all five WOOL books were in the top of several bestselling lists on Amazon. They became difficult to ignore.

I also took risks with the plot. I killed off my main characters. I tried to inject real tension into my story, something we’ve become inured to in fiction. I believe I succeeded; it’s hard to say.

The problem with these causes and effects is that they appear to be a chicken and egg problem. I did more promoting because a work started doing well. That work began to do even better. I promoted more. But was I really having an effect? I’m promoting as much now as I ever have, but sales have declined slightly from a high of about two months ago. Is the market saturated? Or is it waiting on another Gizmodo-like bit of news? Maybe for progress on the film side? The Random House release in the UK?

I have no clue. As I said earlier, I truly believe my best promotion has been to keep writing. Most of my marketing has been done on Facebook. And yet, while I have 1,600 friends and another 600 subscribers, how could that account for 200,000+ books sold?

My fear — and I’m loathe to admit this — is that all the marketing and promotion accounts for very little. I could probably do that all day and sell a few dozen books. And I could do it tomorrow and sell a few dozen more. But how do you sell tens of thousands? I have no clue. If I did, I would be selling that many copies of my Molly Fyde series, which I promoted much more heavily than WOOL. That series was endorsed by Douglas Preston, a #1 NYT bestseller. It won book of the year awards from several bloggers. I promoted it everywhere. It didn’t begin selling in appreciable amounts until after WOOL took off. It’s an also-bought.

And yes, that makes me feel extremely powerless. I wish I had a different answer.

Robert Gregory Browne’s Advice to Authors: Why You Should NOT Market Your Books

Robert Gregory Browne’s advice to authors, don’t market your books. That’s what he did to hit the self-published bestseller’s charts with his indie book.  Sounds ironic, doesn’t it? But that’s the advice 9 out of 10 indie authors who have struck gold have been telling me. They didn’t do really anything to push their book other than two things. To find out what one of those two things are, check out this interview with Browne.

Jeff: Tell us about your latest book, Robert?

Robert: My latest book, TRIAL JUNKIES, is about a group of old college friends who reunite when one of them is brutally murdered and another is accused of her murder. The story centers around Evan “Hutch” Hutchinson, a washed-up actor, who is convinced that his friend is not guilty of the killing and convinces the others to help him prove her innocent. There are a lot of twists and turns in the story and an ending that I hope will surprise you.

TRIAL JUNKIES is different in that it’s a straight mystery-thriller. Most of my books have a have supernatural elements—some more than others.

Jeff: What’s your writing schedule like?

Robert: I regularly take time off to refuel. Like now, for instance. After writing a book under a pen name for a publisher, I’ve taken the last few weeks off to spend time on vacation, read some books and watch a lot of movies. Now it’s time to get back to work.

My usual schedule is to get up at six a.m., grab a cup of coffee, putter on the Internet for a while, then get to writing. Some days are more productive than others, but I try to do at least a thousand words a day, preferably two thousand.

Jeff: Are you a procrastinator?

Robert: I battle it constantly. I think most writers do. I think it was Dorothy Parker who said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” The only way to beat procrastination, unfortunately, is to simply sit down and write. It’s tough, but it has to be done.

Jeff: Did you encounter rejections on your way to success?

Robert: Well, most of the rejections I received over the years were for screenplays. After winning the Nicholl fellowship in the nineties, I spent a decade and a half in the film industry, had a few successes and a lot more rejection. On the book front, however, the first book I wrote sold to St. Martin’s Press and I did four books with them, followed by another with Penguin, as well as ghosting a book and several under a pen name.

None of those, however, brought me the success I was hoping for. It was until I decided to follow the advice of the many friends, who had already taken the leap, and self-published TRIAL JUNKIES that I hit the bestseller list. And because I did everything on my own, from cover design to marketing, it was an especially rewarding experience.

Jeff: How many copies had you sold?

Robert: I believe in the first five weeks I sold about twenty-two thousand copies of TRIAL JUNKIES, which, by New York standards probably isn’t a whole lot, but by indie standards is a pretty good start—especially since the only overhead I’m dealing with is my time. And I certainly never sold that many books that fast when I was traditionally published.

Jeff: Has your life changed or your perspective changed any since all this success?

Robert: It hasn’t change a whole lot in terms of lifestyle. I was making a pretty good income as a writer before I self-published, but now I’ve managed to make my yearly “salary” in just a couple months, so the rest is gravy.

The “change” is more psychological. I feel more relaxed knowing that there are readers out there that appreciate my books, and knowing that I can write what I feel passionate about writing and still sell books is gratifying. When I first proposed the idea of TRIAL JUNKIES several years back, I was told it wasn’t an idea that could be easily sold. Which made absolutely no sense to me, which is why I decided to forego shopping it and take it straight to the people who really count:  the readers.

Jeff: So, tell my readers what you did to market your books and what can they do?

Robert: Well, I hate to break it to you, but I didn’t do a whole lot of marketing. I’ve long had a presence on Facebook, which I think is important to have, but you have to make sure it isn’t all about promotion. I interact with a lot of friends on FB and enjoy my time there, talking about a lot of things besides books.

So when TRIAL JUNKIES was released, I was able to use Facebook to get the word out without everyone thinking I was a self-promoting hack. But what really helped me with sales was giving books away. One of my friends is CJ Lyons, and she told me to give away as many books as I could—which echoed the advice of another friend, Allison Brennan, who, like CJ, is a New York Times bestseller.

My problem, however, was how do I give away a lot of books? How do I reach enough people to do that? And that’s where KDP Select came in. I didn’t mind the 90-day exclusivity clause because I really had nothing to lose at that point. So I signed up, did a three-day giveaway, paid for an announcement in Kindle Nation Daily, had friends tweet and Facebook about it, and managed to give away 46,000 copies of the book.

The day it went on sale, TRIAL JUNKIES raced up the charts and a bestseller was born. And to be quite honest, I have no idea why. I’m still trying to figure it out. I can only believe that it had to be a combination of a good cover, a good story description, a great title, and sample chapters that were compelling enough to get people to buy.

I also don’t think it hurts that I was already traditionally published, so I was able to use reviews and blurbs from my other books to generate a little excitement about the new book. I also had two great author blurbs for TRIAL JUNKIES from a couple of bestselling authors.

Jeff: What didn’t work for you?

Robert: Well, I can’t really say, because there’s no real way to know. I think every thing you do—interviews, blog comments, social networking—helps a little, but who’s to say how much?

I think the main thing is to keep writing more books. The more you have, the better off you are. Which reminds me, I need to get back to work.

Indie Bestselling Sensation Joseph Lallo: Don’t Splurge Your Earnings!

Joseph Lallo can’t wrap his head around the deluge of praise his indie books have received the last few months and no wonder. His Book of Deacon series as taken off like gangbusters and he beat all the odds by not giving up and keeping a good attitude, no matter how much rejection New York literary agents gave him before.

In my interview with Lallo he shares with us what it took to create his bestselling series and why giving away your book for free might be the best thing you can ever do to promote your book.

Jeff: What is your latest book about and how is it different than the others?

Most of my more popular books are fantasy novels in “The Book of Deacon” series, but after publishing the third book of the Book of Deacon Trilogy, a friend asked me if I thought science fiction would be worth a try. In response, I wrote a novel called “Bypass Gemini.” It didn’t do very well, but at the time none of my books were doing very well, and I’d really enjoyed writing it, so I decided to do another book in the series. Thus, my latest book was written. It is called Unstable Prototypes, and I suppose it is unique from my other writing in a few ways. For one, it is the longest single novel I’ve written. My my other books generally focus on one character or group of characters as they progress through the story, with the occasional glimpse into what the villains are doing, but this time around I decided to try to juggle three different plot threads for most of the story, with characters and events weaving between them. This is also the first time I’ve taken a few pages to look at the sort of relationship problems that might develop between two characters dealing with hectic, dangerous lives in the sci-fi setting.

Jeff: How do you keep writing with such a busy schedule?  And what is your writing schedule?

Finding time to write with any regularity is tough, but it helps that writing is how I like to unwind. When any given activity helps relieve the stress of a rough day, you tend to find time to do it. I have a day job, so most of the useful part of the day is devoted to various information technology related tasks. Once I get home, I eat, then get to writing either for my next novel, or for a small game website I help run, Brainlazy.com. I do that more or less until it is time for bed… and sometimes long after I should have been asleep. It can eat into the social life, but hey, we all make sacrifices to do the things we enjoy.

Jeff: Do you battle with procrastination? How do you beat it?

Ugh, not terribly effectively. I try to turn my tendency to have a short attention span into a tool for getting things done. During a given writing session, I’ll usually have a browser window open with a chat, a Wikipedia article with my most recent bit of research, and some casual game or another. As my attention starts to fade I flip from one activity to the next, which inevitably loses my interest and I move on, until eventually I get back to the main task. It isn’t a terribly speedy way to get things done, but when I can’t focus, sometimes it is the only way. I only really manage to conquer procrastination when I get to a scene that I’m really enjoying. On a given week I might write two or three pages on an average day, but then that one day comes along where I really get my teeth into a juicy scene and pump out twenty-five pages in a sitting.

Jeff: What did it feel like to have received those years of rejections and then suddenly be thrust on the  bestsellers list as an indie author?

When I started sending out agent queries, back before I’d decided to try self-publishing, I knew there would be rejections. I expected to feel utterly crushed. When they started coming in, though, I found that what I mostly felt was helpless. Most of the rejections were form letters, or at the very least extremely impersonal and mechanically polite brush-offs. It is one thing to be told that my book isn’t good enough or didn’t grab their attention. That’s a shot to the ego, but at least you know that they saw your story. Most of my rejections clearly hadn’t even gotten far enough for someone to read my manuscript. Heck, I only a handful of people had even requested a sample of it. A bad story can be improved, but how do you get your foot in the door if they reject you without even looking at your story?

When I started showing up on the bestseller lists, on the other hand, disbelief was the main emotion. I honestly still can’t quite wrap my head around the amount of praise and success my books have had. I tell my friends, I’m afraid to spend any of the money I’m making. I keep expecting someone in the book biz to notice me climbing the sales charts and say, “Hey, what are you doing there? That’s for real authors.”

Jeff: How many copies had you sold during what period of time when you were put on the bestsellers list?

I don’t know if this is how it is for everyone, but my sales spikes can’t seem to get themselves organized. My eBooks are for sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, Smashwords, and a bunch of other places. Sales only ever seem to spike on one at a time, and when they do, I make my way onto the bestseller list. Depending on which site it is, the number of books sold during the spike varies. A rare Amazon or Barnes and Noble sales spike usually lasts for a week or two, then tapers off over the course of the next month. In that time, I might sell nearly 5,000 books combined. Smashwords seems to slowly build and the peaks last longer, but it is a smaller site, so sales are closer to a few dozen.

Jeff: How has your life changed?

Largely, my life hasn’t changed aside from getting much busier. As I said earlier, I haven’t been splurging with my earnings, so I still live in the same apartment, still take the train to work, etc. I’m talking to a lot more people, though, whether they are members of the press or my growing network of fans, many of whom have become friends. I’ve been learning a lot about how to handle a small business, and perhaps most importantly, my confidence is starting to improve. I’ve never been the most confident person, and the rejections and early failures were staring cause what I refer to as “The Twitch.” As I’ve worked to improve myself, and as I hear from more and more people who genuinely enjoy my writing, I’m slowly starting to stand a little taller.

Jeff: What did you do specifically to market your books? Give us a step by step guide to your success?

It has been a long sequence of trial and error. When I just had one book out, it there wasn’t much I could do. I tweaked the price  (usually making it lower) and sent requests to various blogs asking for reviews. Once I had a second book out, I decided to try a method I’d read about on the Smashwords blog. I made the first book in the series free on everywhere but Amazon, which didn’t have the option. It worked. People started reading the first book, and enjoying despite some rather glaring problems (more on that later) and praising it in reviews before moving on to the second book. The reviews gave more people the confidence to try my free book, and it began to snowball. Then Amazon price matched my book to zero, and everything exploded. And I mean everything. Sales across ever marketplace began to improve drastically, even those upon which it had been free for weeks already.

Once I had a good paycheck or two come in, I started improving my books. The first purchase was a set of high quality covers. I poked around on a few art sites until I found an artist who I felt had the skill and style to give my book a really striking cover. I realize that they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but clearly the eBook buying public hasn’t stuck to that particular philosophy, because once the gorgeous artwork of Nick Deligaris replaced my own meager attempts at cover art, sales tripled. (By the way, commissioning artwork for your books is also really fun. Seeing something you had only imagined finally come life through the hands of a skilled artist is mind-blowing.) From that day, I’ve reinvested as much of my earnings as possible back into books, I hired a professional editor to take care of the frankly embarrassing number of grammatical errors in my story, things of that nature.

The other major thing I’ve done is perhaps the most fun of all. I’ve tried to engage my fans as much as possible. I make it a point to reply to every email I receive. I’ve got accounts on GoodReads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing. I’m active on twitter. A friend helped me set up a website and Facebook fan page. I try to connect with fans in every way that I can. I make it a point to ask what new ways people might like to interact as well, which has led to me setting up a forum, adding a fan art section and preview section to the site, and even a wiki. Oddly, just about the only thing I haven’t done yet is pay for advertising.

Jeff: What did not work?

I hesitate to say that something hasn’t worked, rather than hasn’t worked yet. Sending out emails to reviewers hasn’t been the most successful. The very first blogger who ever accepted my book for future review, back when I’d only published a single book, still hasn’t gotten to it. That said, many subsequent bloggers who have picked the book up on their own have written articles and reviews that have been very helpful indeed. Likewise, the forum and wiki aren’t terribly active, but who knows, tomorrow that could all change.

Richard Sanders’ Double-Life: College Student by Day Bestselling Indie Author by Night

Richard L. Sanders is a college student by day but at night he lives a secret life as a: novelist. And not just any novelist, a bestselling indie novelists.  In no time at all, Sanders has proven you truly can do it all no matter what’s happening in your life and still hit the bestsellers lists.  In my interview with Sanders, he tells us exactly what did not work when marketing his books and how to beat the procrastination bug.

Jeff: Your Phoenix book really took off, Richard.  What is your latest book about?

Richard: My latest two books are The Phoenix Rising and Secrets of Silverwind, published at approximately the same time. My previous book (and best known) is The Phoenix Conspiracy about a star-faring spy who gets entangled in a vast interstellar conspiracy. The Phoenix Rising is the sequel to The Phoenix Conspiracy (an ongoing series) and Secrets of Silverwind is a standalone novel. Silverwind is not without its mystery, including twists and turns like the others, but it is not part of the Phoenix Conspiracy and is quite different on the whole. It takes place on just one planet (so no racing through the galaxy) and is more of a fantasy than a sci-fi, though there are futuristic technologies and whatnot. It’s about an unknown soldier who must discover the truth about his past in order to save the fragile post-apocalyptic remnants of the world (not earth). Secrets of Silverwind is a darker, more emotionally driven journey than Phoenix Conspiracy and has powerful themes of betrayal, failure, and redemption, whereas The Phoenix Conspiracy books are more about the tangled webs of plots within plots.

Jeff: Now, you’re a student too and this question is for all the high school and college students out there and working folk who are going to night school. How do you keep writing with school and everything else going on in your life?

Richard: I have had to work hard and during school I spent a lot of time writing — to pay for school — and that somewhat affected my grades. But since then I have learned to knuckle down, work hard, manage my time carefully, and to prioritize. I have since prioritized law, and learning law, which enabled me to pass the Bar exam on my first try, without any outside help or study courses. The truth is, you can do a lot with your time, if you really allow yourself to work hard, study hard, and prioritize. Time management is something that can be really liberating if we allow ourselves to plan ahead and work hard. That is what I learned to do, and certainly that is what I do now with law, as a licensed attorney.

Jeff: Are you a email checker? I mean, do you constantly avoid writing when you’re supposed to be writing?

Richard: I do–and I think most people do. For me it’s about prioritizing. The things I love and care about most (such as my stories) I won’t really procrastinate with. I get a rhythm going and make sure I’m making steady progress (even if it’s slow). If a story simply isn’t coming or if I’m having trouble finding the discipline to sit down and get to work, it’s probably because I haven’t developed it enough. The temptation is always to jump the gun and get cracking on the writing part, but that doesn’t work for me. In my case the pre-writing phase: preparations, outlines, etc., actually takes me longer than the writing phase. Especially with the stories I’ve put out there so far. The plots are extremely complicated and it’s always a challenge to tell complex ideas in a clear way. Especially for a green writer like me. I also don’t want to contradict myself or forget about a side-plot, etc., so it’s an effort to keep everything together.

Jeff: Did you have to go through years and years of rejections like many indie authors?

Richard: I never really had years of rejections to deal with. I’ve been writing for years but most of what I came up with in those early stages never saw the light of day. It wasn’t until The Phoenix Conspiracy (in 2010) that I started sending out queries to agents. I got the stacks of rejections like one would expect, the personalized ones were always more encouraging than form rejections and I was lucky to receive a few of those. Every now and then an agent would bite and want to see more but ultimately it was always the same story. Agents don’t want to take risks on new authors unless they’re convinced the idea is marketable, and the idea that I pitched (The Phoenix Conspiracy) might have seemed too niche for what they’re looking for. Of course even J.K. Rowling had to contend with rejections in the beginning (imagine being the person who turned down the chance to represent that!) so it’s not necessarily the most effective system. Ultimately the agencies and publishers are trying to predict what the public will buy, but if you bypass them and go directly to the public and find people are willing to buy your work, then in doesn’t really matter if you received one rejection or one-million from publishers and agencies, you’ve proven you’re relevant.

Jeff: What does it take to hit the Self-Published Bestsellers Lists? How many copies had you sold?

Richard: Well The Phoenix Conspiracy has been a “best seller” for almost a year, but it’s a free book competing with other free books so I haven’t actually “sold” any. The Phoenix Rising has made a little bit of money and is proving to be popular on Kindle UK (for sci-fi), on smashwords, and on itunes, but this is a recent phenomenon (it was published as recently as June and July, on Kindle and itunes respectively) and I haven’t actually been paid yet (except for a little from smashwords) so I’m not 100% sure on the level of success that it’s had. Especially on itunes where I’ve received exactly zero information on downloads. But, whatever the amount turns out to be, I am grateful for everyone’s support–be it big or small. And I’m hoping to take a chunk out of my students loans, and to give my family a nice Christmas.

Jeff: How would you say your life has changed since you had such success with your writing, Richard?

Richard: My life hasn’t changed in any kind of drastic way, but I am very pleased with the success. All this time, over the years, I’ve always believed that I had stories in my head that people would want to read if given the chance. It’s nice to now have tangible evidence. And it only increases my motivation. Before it felt like a distant dream but now the opportunity of becoming a full-time author actually seems achievable. And it’s all thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way, from family and close friends, to all the many readers who were kind enough to give me a chance. I shall not let them down.

Jeff: So, tell me your success plan. What did you do step-by-step to create such success with your novels?

Richard: I think success is about ten percent persistence and ninety-percent luck. It’s also a matter of how you define success. Just finishing the book in the first place is what I would call “success”. Then when that first person downloads it, it’s very exciting. That first positive review is more encouraging than I could possibly describe, and so on. Baby steps, I guess. But if the goal is to get on a best-seller list, all I can really suggest is that the aspiring author write what he or she is passionate about and not worry about the business logistics until afterward. A lot of people worry too much about the first thirteen lines of prose, or whether their idea is 100% original, or what is trending on the NY Bestseller lists currently, etc. They get all worked into a bind over a whole lot of nothing. I say worry about that bridge when you’re actually trying to market your book, in the meantime just fall in love with your story and tell it as truly as you can.

Here’s what happened in my case: when The Phoenix Conspiracy got its final rejection from all the agencies I’d pitched it to, I put it on smashwords as soon as I could. I made it free, believing that if I didn’t, no one would read it. And if the story was going to be lost under a mountain of other stories, I’d like to at least give it a fighting chance of being noticed. Months later I added it to Kindle as an afterthought for the same reason. I’d prefer a few people read it than nobody read it. So I was content with whatever success it did or didn’t have, so long as it was available and out there I’d done my part. I didn’t know then how to market the book, and still don’t, (and I’m very shy with self-promotion) so I didn’t invest too much hope in the idea that Phoenix Conspiracy would take off. During this phase my heart was still in love with being a writer but my circumstances were forcing me to believe I had to continue on with school and eventually fight for a job as a lawyer in the increasingly flooded market of would-be lawyers in the United States. (I don’t even like lawyering, to be honest). Then I started getting e-mails from grateful readers and I realized the book was more popular than I’d thought. Since then I’ve written the sequel (which I’d always intended to do) and am working on the third book in the series.

Jeff: And what would you not do again as far as marketing your books?

Richard: I ran a few cheap facebook ads not long ago and tried to create some attention with a few paid ads on various literary sites. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have much to spend or didn’t run them long enough but none of that really got me anywhere. What does help is getting the attention of bloggers who write about Kindle Books for download. Another thing I tried was the Kindle Select program (with Secrets of Silverwind) but it hasn’t done much for me so I’ll probably duck out of it once my 90 days are up. I’ve heard similar stories from other indie authors but a few have had the opposite experience. Personally I don’t like the idea of being exclusive to Kindle when there are so many readers available through smashwords channels.

Ryan Holiday on How to Manipulate the Media Into Writing About Your Novel

If you’re wondering why the media is not featuring your novel on national television, you might want to pay heed to my interview with Ryan Holiday, the author of the brilliant book, Trust Me: I’m LyingRyan Holiday is a self-proclaimed media manipulator.  Meaning, he knows exactly the tricks and trades of getting bloggers and journalists like me, “the media” to write about his clients.

First of all, I loved the ironic title and that got my attention and I immediately began to wonder, how could his book help novelists with their careers.

Time and time again, I hear about how difficult it is to get the media to pay attention to novels.  You may not think that way, after you read this short interview Holiday.

Jeff: Ryan, many authors blast out press releases or try to badger journalist and nothing’s working. What are they doing wrong?

Ryan: They think that marketing is about reaching out to the media when really it is about having something that the media wants. Anyone can contact a reporter, how do you make the reporter HAVE to open your email? How do you make them NEED to write about you? What most authors do wrong is think that writing a cool book is enough. It isn’t. You have to write a great book that readers will enjoy. That’s step 1. But step 2 is about translating that content into something the media will care about. They are simply not in the business of recommending great books. No, they are in the business of publishing material that will get clicks and ad revenue. If you can show how writing about your book will accomplish that, they will be happy to recommend it.

Jeff: How can a novelist who can’t seem to get any press to save their lives, use the techniques in your book to get everyone talking about their novel?

Ryan: Basically, I show exactly how the media system works–for better or for worse (mostly worse). I’m not going to sit here and lie or spew rhetoric the way most of these marketing gurus seem to want to do. The web is not a meritocracy. It’s not about popularizing or finding cool stuff. In many ways it is an evil, corrupt system that doesn’t have time or interest in good novels or books. My techniques are designed to help you fight/play/defeat a rigged game.

You can’t win if you don’t know the rules. You don’t have to like them but you have to know them. My book explains the rules.

There are a few things I think a novelist needs to do if they want to be effective at using the strategies I teach in the book to really make an impact:

1) Think of a controversial aspect of your book that is “juicy”

2) Find a small potatoes blogger starving for content

3) Find a larger blogger in your niche and have a friend “anonymously” feed the link to blog to that larger blogger.

4) Take that link from the larger blogger and feed it to a mega-blogger.

Jeff: What are you doing specifically to get the buzz going for your own book?

Ryan: I did pretty much everything I talk about in the book–to prove my point one last time. I packaged my book in a way that will make people talk. I created an exciting trailer that spread well. I leaked information to the media. I did a publicity stunt. I encouraged controversy. I gave away tons of content for free. I made sure the book was anywhere and everywhere and it worked. TMIL debuted at #8 on the WSJ Bestseller list.