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Crowdfunding for Novelists

In between the second and third Lexy Cooper books I did a crowdfunding campaign to fund a research trip. The trip wasn’t critical to my book; I had already budgeted money for the cover, editing, and proofreading. I didn’t have to travel to Roswell, but believed the book would be more authentic if I had first-hand experience at the location. The writing and publishing of Griefed was happening whether the crowdfunding was successful or not. That gave me the freedom to test the waters of crowdfunding without it being a make-or-break situation. The campaign ended up being very successful, and here’s what I learned.

ufo museum

1. You Don’t Need a Video

Indiegogo (and Kickstarter) will encourage you to make a video and cite statistics telling you a campaign with a video is X percent more likely to be successful. I’m sure that’s true for films and video games, but I don’t believe it for books. And yes, perhaps I just didn’t want to make a video because hosting a show on Xbox Live was enough video for me for the rest of my life. Video is essential for showing motion, but how will you show a book you’ve yet to write? Or maybe it’s written and you’re asking people to fund a book cover or printed copies or promotional costs. What can you show them? Your face, I guess. If you are fantastically good-looking and charismatic go for it. It will probably work to your advantage. Otherwise, enjoy the fact that it doesn’t (yet) matter what writers look like.

2. Make Frequent Updates

alien shipLet your donors or backers or angels know what’s going on during the course of the campaign and as you deliver the goods. Don’t spam or annoy them with updates just to say you’re planning on an update. Think about news beats. A good time to update is when you’re halfway to your goal, when you’ve met your goal, and as you use the funds you’ve been given. For example: I updated my Indiegogo page six times:

  1. The halfway point. I also posted a photo of the paperback that some backers would receive.
  2. Goal met. Because there was still time in the campaign, I told backers where the funds beyond what I’d asked would be used for (cover art and editing).
  3. Details on the research trip. I provided dates of the trip and a photo of the trip mascot.
  4. More stretch goals. The campaign was still going, and money kept coming in.
  5. Leaving for the research trip. More thanks and links to follow along.
  6. Results of the research trip. Photos, what I learned, how the experience would benefit the book.

3. Exceed Expectations

lexypostcardIt was important to me that my backers felt like they got their money’s worth—long before the book came out. I made sure to get deliverables out to them as soon as possible. I never wanted anyone to have to wonder where their stuff was or if they’d been forgotten—or worse, ripped off. I also did some things that were not included in the Indiegogo perks:

  • I sent them postcards from Roswell, signed by “Lexy.”
  • I gave them all a free copy of the short story I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa.
  • I revealed the cover and title to them before anyone else

4. Here’s why I think my Indiegogo campaign was successful:

My goal of one thousand dollars for the research trip was met in five days. By the end of the campaign I’d exceeded my monetary goal by over sixteen hundred dollars, and I had a wonderful and productive trip to Roswell. Sure, I may just have gotten lucky or been in the right place at the right time, but I think these factors contributed to the successful outcome:

  1. I asked for a very specific thing — a trip to Roswell, for a very specific reason—research.
  2. Lexy Cooper books were a known quantity. People could see that I had successfully written and published two books in the series and probably felt like the risk of my flaking out and not finishing the book was low.
  3. People love to see their name in a book. Or anywhere, really. The perk in which I name a character after the backer was so popular I had to double the amount.

Here’s my advice to writers regarding crowdfunding: Wait until you’ve got a book or two under your belt before you do it. I have seen many campaigns from would-be authors that fail for these reasons:

  • They are unproven as writers. If you can’t show potential backers that you can see a big project to completion and have some degree of skill, you should ask your family to back you because they love you.
  • The book isn’t written and they are asking folks to pay them for their time to write it. That’s just insulting.
  • Their goals are vague or overpriced. If you’re asking for 10,000 bucks for editing, cover art, and the super-vague “marketing,” you come across as naïve and greedy.
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When to release and promote your books

There are those who say that authors should release a book simultaneously in digital and paper form. Their argument being that everyone who wants to read your book should be able to. If they want to give you money, why make them wait? Well, I’ll tell you. Every new format is a chance to promote your novel. Because unless you want to make enemies, you just can’t say “buy my book” every day. People will tune you out at best and unfollow you at worst. And then you’ve lost them.

Real-time-marketing-news-cycle-1024x766

In public relations you have what are known as “news beats.” I’m sure a PR professional would explain the concept differently (and probably with a twenty-slide PowerPoint presentation), but here is the way I understand and use it: You create “news” about your product (in this case your novel), and dole out these bits of news in increments that are most likely to be noticed and shared. So the news beats that I could do for my novel Summer Wind could go like this:

• March – Announcement of book “A Lexy Cooper Spinoff Featuring Detective Malick is in the works”
• April – Cover and title reveal “Title of Mike Malick #1 is ‘Summer Wind.’ Check out the cover”
• May – Launch date reveal “Detective Malick returns in Summer Wind October 31”
• August – Book release “Summer Wind, Mike Malick spinoff now available as eBook and paperback”

And then…nothing. You’ve got no more news. Sure you can post reviews and interact with your readers and all that good stuff, but you don’t have any “news.”
Now, if you hold back on paperback or audio versions, then you have more news to share:

• November – “Summer Wind coming to paperback”
• December – “Summer Wind now available in paperback”
• June – “Summer Wind audiobook in the works. Who will voice Mike Malick?”
• August – “Summer Wind audiobook now available”

You’ve had a full year of newsworthy items about one book. And you’re probably ready to start releasing news about the next book. Now, if you’ve got multiple titles to promote, you can do even more. Here’s a peek at my Marketing and Release calendar.

marketing and release calendar

This spreadsheet actually goes all the way through 2017, four more Lexy Cooper books and two more Mike Malick books.

Newsletters are in yellow, promotions are in blue and releases are in green. You can see that I’m promoting different things at appropriate times. I’ll do two promotions for I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa this year. It was free for five days in a “Christmas in July” promotion, and when the holidays roll around again, I will post about the story in all my social channels and hopefully get another round of sales. I’ll do a “Back to Schooled” promotion in September because it’s topical, and it’s the first book in my series–the bait I use to hook new readers.

Today I didn’t do any writing on my fourth Lexy Cooper book, but the time I spent on the business end confirming schedules with my editor and proofreader, updating Lexycooper.com, making a blog post on Goodreads, and scheduling announcements and promotions through the end of the year is well worth missing a creative day. You can be creative AND strategic!

 

 

Backstory: Don’t Blow Your Load

003-easy-connect-dotsI’ve seen some writing advice that suggests would-be writers know their characters as well as they know themselves. To come up with a complete dossier on their background including their family tree, the name of their first pet, favorite color, college minor, and blood type.

Bullshit.

That may be a fun exercise, but it’s a stall tactic. It’s shit you do to avoid the real work of writing. The other reason not to do it is that if you know every freckle on your hero’s ass, you’ll be tempted to catalog them for your reader because you don’t want to waste it. So you’ll end up breaking up the flow of your story with some lengthy aside about how Bobby summered every year at Lake Beelzebub where he and his six brothers would build forts and found a stray dog and named him Fleabite and all his brothers were brunette and tanned easily but poor Bobby had ginger hair and freckled all over and the last summer before Mom and Dad divorced (and Mom ran off with the redheaded UPS delivery guy), two of his brothers held him down in the grass while another one played connect the dots on his ass with a permanent marker. Poor Bobby. At this point your reader is wondering what this has to do with the International Space Station and Near Earth Object number 55436-X. So unless you’re going to bring back Fleabite as a ghost dog (or zombie!) or have UPS Delivery Dad swoop in for a last-minute space rescue…just don’t.

Dossier

Leaving your protagonist’s backstory unwritten gives you the freedom to fill in the blanks when you have need of them. For instance, if you write a series and you want to set one of the books in another country, well, look at that, it turns out Brenda did her junior year abroad in that very country! She’s got old friends who live there. Maybe an ex-boyfriend she’s never gotten over. And yay! She speaks the language! If you’d blown your college wad in book one going over Brenda’s entire collegiate experience, you’ve removed your flexibility. Because if you try to give Brenda a junior year in Italy when you’ve already said that was the year she had a showdown with her evil resident advisor and nearly burned down her dorm…your readers are going to come after you with pitchforks.

TL;DR: Leave some holes. Even if you don’t fill them in subsequent books, leave wiggle-room for your reader’s imagination

Writing Tools – In Praise of the Humble Index Card

index cards

I always have a stack of index cards close to hand. They are useful for writing down phone numbers, grocery lists, character names, brilliant ideas, quick notes, or possible book titles. You can even use them to get something out of your teeth or provide a nasty paper cut.

With a blank wall, a stack of index cards, and pushpins/tape/that-gummy-shit-for-putting-up-posters-in-dorm-rooms-where-they-freak-if-you-put-holes-in-the-wall, you can plot out your entire book from girl-meets-boy (or girl discovers boy’s bullet-riddled corpse) to happy ending (or not-so-happy).

Summer Wind index cards

I love the flexibility of index cards. Yes, you can fold, mangle, and spindle them. Rip them in small chunks–or heck, use scissors–. The best part though is that you can continually rearrange and shuffle them. Say you’ve got ten key moments in the piece you’re writing. Don’t number ’em, just move ’em from chapter to chapter or scene to scene and see where they will work best. If I have this happen before that, will it shock the reader? Or do I want to save shock and awe for Act 4 and go for more creeping dread in Act 2?

I especially like to use them for story ideas that don’t really belong to a particular project yet. I write crime novels, and there is no end to the horrible, shocking, and creatively cruel things human beings do to each other. When I read about a murder that starts the creative neurons firing, I jot it down on an index card and stick it in a little idea box.

galaxy boron

The beauty of the index card is their size and their autonomy. Each card can be a piece of a bigger puzzle or it can be its own thing. An atom or a galaxy.

I’m currently writing Summer Wind, a Mike Malick spin off crime novel. At least that’s what I’m supposed to be writing. But Lexy keeps invading my subconscious and trying to get me to work on Lexy #4. Sometimes she convinces me, but mostly I’m able to keep her at bay by jotting down plot twists and snippets of dialog on index cards and shoving them in the Lexy pile. Which is not to be confused with the Summer Wind pile. Hey, how did that note for Lexy #6 get in there?!

Index pile

 

 

Ten Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Sequel

_origin_Harijs-Poters-ir-mana-7Is your book a one-off, or the start of a series? Ask yourself these questions…

1)      Can your protagonist carry a series? Is he interesting and relatable enough to headline more stories? What do your reviews tell you about your main characters?

2)      Will book two take place immediately after book one with book three following that?

3)      Will your characters age?

4)      Which characters will comprise your core cast?

5)      Will you include references to current events (which movies are playing or who sits in the Oval Office) or try to write a story out of time?

6)      Will your main characters grow and change over time or will they remain the same?

7)      How many books do you want to write? Do you foresee a trilogy or a dozen books?

8)      Can you commit to your readers? Don’t promise them a trilogy and lose steam after book two.

9)      Will you get bored writing about the same characters for year after year?

10)  Can you kill off characters if they need killin’?

BYOP Cover

My upcoming book BYOP: Be Your Own Publisher will include more lists, tips, and ideas about writing, publishing, and marketing your own book. Put it on your To-Read List!

5 Tips for Free Book Promos

Free Books sign

1)      Be strategic about the timing. Link your free promo to an event like Mardi Gras, the Daytona 500, Pi Day or whatever makes sense for your book and genre.

2)      Give yourself ample promotion time. Set the dates a month or more in advance so you can pitch your promotion to free book sites.

3)      Advertise it. It seems counter-intuitive to spend money to give your book away for free, right? But you’re getting your name and your brand out there and people have a hard time resisting free stuff.

4)      Make sure your free book includes: A list of other books you’ve written, a sample of another book, links to find you on social media, your website, your author page, a subscription link to your newsletter.

5)     Don’t do free promotions too frequently. If readers know you give away books every three months like clockwork, no one will actually pay for it; they’ll just wait until the next promo.

 

 

Researching the Novel – Crowdsourcing

When doing research for your book (and I’m talking strictly about fiction), you basically have three choices: Do it yourself, outsource it or crowdsource it. Crowdsourcing is putting a question to a crowd and collecting the answers. It’s best for single questions and not subject matter braindumps. I have solved many technical issues in my books through asking questions on Facebook. Your mileage may vary on tech help because 95% of my contacts are nerds. I have gotten answers on phone hacking, on aviation, and on computer viruses. My Facebook friends have named strip clubs and grunge bands for me, and my Twitter followers have provided many character names. Example: Me: I need a name for a semi-douchey marketing guy. Answer: Josh.

Woman-peering-over-crowd-001

Crowdsourcing has many advantages and “free” is a good one, but here are the three most important:

  1. It’s quick. Pretty much instantaneous.
  2. If you do it in a place like Facebook (as opposed to Twitter) where everyone can see the answers, you’re basically getting a peer review—a perfect way to make sure your information is valid.
  3. You’re engaging potential readers. When I asked my Facebook friends to help think of names for a strip club that caters to software geeks I got over a hundred replies. And every one of those friends that commented or just read the hilarious suggestions came away with two things: they knew my next book had a strip club (intriguing, right?) and they felt like part of the process. I used three of the suggested club names in Pwned (The Power Strip, G-String Theory, and Pole Position) and credited the folks who suggested them in the book’s acknowledgements.

The hidden bonus benefit is that you have a good excuse to screw around on social media instead of write. Shhhh….

B.Y.O.P – Be Your Own Publisher

I’ve been blogging about my trials and errors in this writing thing for a couple years now. From a post about discovering Kindle Direct Publishing and unearthing a long-lost novel, to crowdfunding a research trip, I’ve shared the journey with my blog readers.

BYOP Cover

If you’ve found my writing tips interesting or helpful, I’m collecting them into a short non-fiction book on writing, publishing and marketing your own book. If you’re a follower of this blog, some of it will be familiar but a lot of it is new content.

Why am I doing this? Because two years ago I hadn’t written any fiction in nearly two decades and hadn’t published a damn thing. Since then I’ve published four novels and a short story and have had a crash course in indie publishing and marketing. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve learned some tricks, and I’d like to help writers get past the doubts and inertia and get their book out into the world.

Look for B.Y.O.P this summer!

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