Mary W. Walters published an interesting post on her website (The Militant Writer) entitled: Promoting your Book on Facebook and Twitter is a Total Waste of Time. In a nutshell she states that Twitter and Facebook are not effective insofar as selling books is concerned, and that writers are better off employing their time writing or engaging in other promotional activities. In the comment section to the post and in the comments on other blogs that made a reference to this post, several people agreed with the premise, stating they had found exactly the same thing. However, some stated that they were selling books through Twitter and Facebook just fine, and if a writer is not selling books successfully using social media then they are doing something wrong. To this others replied that every time social media doesn’t work the apologists blame the user instead of accepting the truth that social media is a bust. I am no stranger to feeling that social media doesn’t work. The sales of my book The Sun Zebra are lousy despite the fact that it is a highly rated book and that my social media reach and performance has been growing. Should I accept this reality and quit Twitter, Facebook and other sites that take substantial time away from my writing, or am I doing something wrong? As it turns out I think the latter is true. I believe that most writers like me are indeed doing something wrong. What are the majority of my blog posts about? Writing! Who are the majority of my subscribers in Facebook and Twitter? Writers! And the thing is that this is normal. Writers are fascinated by the process of writing and publishing and we are interested in helping our fellow authors and exchanging information and ideas. But here is the issue: the vast majority of readers don’t care for that. Readers are interested in reading and they use social media not to look for new books to read but to be social. Some argue that writers are also readers, but the flaw in this argument is that you cannot achieve high sales figures based on other writers buying your books. For one, most writers expect you to reciprocate the favor. To sell 10,000 copies of your book you cannot buy and read 10,000 books. Also most writers, beside a day job and family responsibilities, are very busy, well, writing. Joe Konrath has remarked that it is readers not writers, who buy his books. To this some may raise the counterargument of synergism. If you have 30 writer friends who write blogs, having your book featured in their blog is an asset. But this depends. If those 30 blogs are also about writing and thus only read by other writers, then the impact is minimal. So I think in the future I will make an effort to diversify away from writing about writing and to befriend more readers in my social media accounts. Also when push comes to shove the best promotional tool a writer can have is many books, so maybe we should all heed the Joe Konrath’s advice “stop reading blogs and get back to work,” which of course includes this one. But just in case you wish to linger a little, just for today, I am going to ask for your opinion. What do you think? ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
I wrote a post where I passed on to new authors the advice that the best way to begin writing is not to go for a novel, but rather to write short stories. Although I still believe this is sound advice, my experience selling my book of short stories The Sun Zebra and that of other authors requires that I bring up an important caveat to this advice that I briefly mentioned before. There is a bias against short stories. This bias has existed for a long time in the traditional publishing industry where the preferred work, especially for new authors, is the novel. You would guess that in the self-publishing world that would not be the case, but this unfortunately is not true. Many blogs and websites that feature books do not even have a category for short stories, and a few even state that they don’t feature short stories. Others don’t state it outright but clarify that they will not feature works under 50,000 words or so (which also excludes novellas). Some of this bias may come from the misguided notion that short stories are for beginning writers, whereas “real writers” are the ones who write novels. This is of course hogwash. Even though some writers do consider short stories to be a stepping stone for greater work, many of the greatest writers of all time have regarded the short story as a bona fide art form of its own. Among these you find Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Updike, O. Henry, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Washington Irving, H. P. Lovecraft, and many others. However, this notion still persists nowadays. The other reason for the bias is probably rooted in reader behavior. Readers may just feel better about becoming involved with a certain set of characters over the expanse of a longer work instead of having to repeat the process every 5,000 words or so as they would have to do with a diverse group of short stories. Readers also may crave the level of plot development and character definition that is only possible within the context of longer works. Therefore, as a new author, you will have a harder time selling short stories compared to novels. Also if the collection does not include a lot of stories you will probably sell them for a price below $2.99, which is the limit of the 70% royalty for Amazon (anything below that is 35% royalty). This will make it harder to recoup your investment on the book and on promotion. But even given the above caveat, I think that there is something that must be understood. Many stories are better told as short stories, or novellas, instead of as novels. I believe that if you find yourself asking “How can I add new characters, or more description, and other filler material to beef this story up to the 50,000 word mark of a novel?” you are going down the wrong track. Writing a novel is not like inflating a balloon. Unless you are a gifted writer or have tapped into a crowd of readers who don’t care, filler material is going to stick out like a sore thumb and your otherwise great short story or novella will be ruined by long, boring, senseless passages and/or superfluous characters. What do you think? Photo credit: Gflores / Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0 ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
In a previous post I went over the fact that I have many muses, which provide me with a steady stream of writing ideas and as a result of this I never experience writer's block. However, I stated that this creates a big problem for me. My problem is that, as a result of my muses, my writing is eclectic. It's all over the place, from romance to horror, from fiction to non-fiction, from fantasy to science fiction, from wholesome family stories to naughty stories. Thankfully I can pick and choose which stories to write and, of course, to publish. But if I were to restrict my writing to say only the Nell stories that many of you have loved reading in The Sun Zebra, I would not write much. The Nell stories are just a fraction of who I am, the rest of what I write is very different. And herein lies the problem. The cardinal rule of this business is: writer, know thy reader. If you write wholesome family stories and your readers expect more of that, you cannot put out say a horror or erotica book. It would drive your readers away in droves. Well this is just the problem I have. The stories in my book The Sun Zebra are about family and love. But I have stories about murder, mayhem, monsters, and ghosts. I have stories overflowing with sexuality, and stories with bleak "unhappy endings." I even have a collection of essay and poems! How am I supposed to publish all this without rubbing my readers the wrong way? Some people have suggested that I create a new alias for myself but that would just multiply the work I have to do, which is already far too much on top of my day job. So I wanted to know about others in my situation. Are you an eclectic writer? If so how do you deal with publishing in several genres? Please leave a comment and let us know.
You know how most writers have a muse? Well I have a confession to make: I have more than one muse. All in all (as far as I can tell) I have figured out I have nine muses. Let me run you down the list. The Little Girl: This muse is a magical child. She is adorable, very intelligent, and looks a lot like the child in the cover of my first book The Sun Zebra. In fact, she is the chief architect of all my Nell stories. I love her dearly, but if I wrote exclusively what she inspires I would only write children's books. The Comedian: This lady is all fun and laughs. It is impossible to engage her in a conversation without her going on a humorous tangent. If she were to take over my writing it would look like a cross between the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. The Clergyman: This muse looks very much like a rabbi but he wears a cassock like a Catholic priest! He is constantly questioning the ulterior motives of every action and measuring them up to the highest moral standards. If he were to take over my writing I would not write. The Bard: This guy looks and dresses like Shakespeare. He has had a heavy hand in all my poetry. The Professor: This guy sports a bushy beard and looks like one of those German scholars from the days of yore. He is only concerned with academic discussions and favors the adventures of the mind. He is responsible for the scientist in me. The Hero: This swashbuckling muscular dude is dressed like a Roman centurion and is always on the lookout for quests and adventures. He is like Conan the Barbarian on steroids and looks suspiciously like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Sweetheart: This one is the quintessential hometown honey. The type of girl you break up with to go see the world but then end up marrying when you have grown up and return. She is into romance, happy endings, and keeping things tidy. If I were to totally embrace her, my writing would be Lake Wobegon-perfect: something that I try to avoid at all costs. The Slut: This muse is the type of woman my mother warned me about. As you would expect she wears fishnet stockings, lingerie, and high heels, and she is sizzling hot. If I were to allow her free reign over my writing I would only write erotica. The Death Lady: This one looks very much like the grim reaper. She comes to me in my dreams under the faint glow of the moon. She opens the mausoleum doors and beckons for me to follow her to some of the darkest places that have ever existed. The way my mind works is that these muses team up and then produce ideas for me to turn into stories. Each team effort is heavily slanted towards one or two muses with the rest adding a little touch of their own. For example, my first book The Sun Zebra was the product of a muse team commandeered by the Little Girl but you can detect the influence of the others including the Death Lady, the Comedian, and the Hero. My muses provide me with a steady stream of ideas that I write down in a list that keeps increasing all the time. As a result of this I have never experienced writer's block. The only time I've come close to experiencing writer's block is when I tried to force my muses to deliver a certain type of story. This doesn't work, and I have learned to just let them be. The above may sound good but it creates a big problem for me, which we shall talk about in my next post. In the meantime I would like to hear about your muse. Do you have one, or more? How does it look? Does it come and go, or is it with you all the time? Please leave a comment and let us know.
I want to thank all my readers for their support and encouragement since I've started writing. I began publishing my work on Scribd under the Phantomimic pseudonym more than 2 years ago, and I continued using it when I opened a Twitter account, when I created this website, and in the publication of my first book, The Sun Zebra. The pseudonym and the "hands" avatar have served me well for many things, and I know some of you have encouraged me to keep it. However, my alter ego has some limitations that are holding me back in things that I want to achieve. Therefore the time has come to step out of the pseudonym closet, so to speak.So to all my readers and followers I want to let you know that my real name is Rolando Garcia and from now on I will go by the name R. Garcia. It will take me a while to leave my "Phanto" alter ego behind and make the necessary changes to reflect this in my social media platforms, but this is my resolution for this New Year 2012. Otherwise everything will remain the same.Take care and I hope you have a great year.R. Garcia (Phanto)
I came upon this document recently, although it was published back in 2008. It is about a computer that wrote a novel! The program was put together by a group of IT professionals and language experts in Russia. They uploaded several literary works into the computer and 72 hours later the gizmo brought forth the novel entitled "True Love". According to the article it is a variation of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Kareina written in the style of the Japanese author Haruki Marakami.This type of news gives rise to the question of whether computers will replace writers. Towards the end of the article several people claim this will never take place. One draws a parallel to how computers composing music have not replaced musicians. I believe this is the case. Writing is such a complex and multifaceted activity that it seems to me no computer would be able to reproduce it successfully. However, I lived through the times when chess playing computers were on the rise. In those days I read many an article claiming that computers would never be able to beat the strongest chess players. Nowadays those pundits have long been proven wrong. Computers have been able to defeat even world chess champions.You can argue that playing chess is nothing compared to writing. I would agree with you but I can't help but shudder at the thought that one day computers will be able to replace us writers. Such a writing machine would have several advantages over us. It would not despair over receiving negative reviews, or worry about whether its work is not selling well, or ask itself whether it would be ever able to quit its day job. But to quote former world chess champion Garry Kasparov after he was defeated in 1997 by a computer: "At least it did not enjoy it!" That may be the key difference. Even if a machine can write as well as we do, it will not enjoy it, and that is not writing. What do you think?
Why are writers attracted to cats? Barbara Holland once wrote: "A catless writer is almost inconceivable. It’s a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys." So is it because writers like someone to make life difficult for them? Are writers masochists? Or maybe like Andre Norton wrote: "Perhaps it is because cats do not live by human patterns, do not fit themselves into prescribed behavior, that they are so united to creative people." There certainly seems to be something otherworldly about cats.In his Bartimaeus Trilogy Jonathan Stroud states that there are several planes of reality through which all sorts of entities from the spirit world move. He writes that most living things (including humans) can only see the first plane, with the exception of cats. Cats can also see the second plane. Have you seen how sometimes, for no apparent reason, a cat will jerk its head and stare wide eyed towards an area where there is obviously nothing worth staring at? It sort of makes you wonder what they can see that you can't.These and other characteristics have created some problems for these felines. For example, in the Middle Ages Pope Gregory IX in the papal bull Vox in Rama linked cats to evil rituals. In the ensuing years countless cats (and sometimes their owners, too) were slaughtered, setting the stage for Europe to be overrun with rats carrying the black plague. However, in other times and places like, for example, Egypt, people were fond of cats and the ancient Egyptian Goddess Bastet was depicted as having the head of a cat. Depending on where you live today, a black cat may be associated with good or bad luck. Here in the U.S. we have the saying that a cat has nine lives.No wonder cats have a supernatural aura about them. Perhaps it is because of this that creative people like writers are avid cat owners. Some writers go as far as to include cats in their fiction. The writer Lilian Jackson Braun published 29 books in which cats help a reporter solve murder mysteries. Perhaps staring at those haunting eyes framed by those pointy ears, helps writers establish a connection with their muse. On the other hand, there may be a more obvious explanation. Dan Greenburg wrote: "Cats are dangerous companions for writers because cat watching is a near-perfect method of writing avoidance." Be it as it may, if you are a writer and you own a cat you are part of a long and distinguished tradition. Today let's celebrate writers and their cats!
H. P. Lovecraft
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
Jean Paul Sartre
Jorge Luis Borges
Somerset Maugham and Max Ernest
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Do you have a cat? Does the cat let you write in peace? What do you think of this video?
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I have been thinking about the advice I have read that writers should define their target audience and its size. It is important to define the target audience so you know to whom you should promote your book. This will allow you to focus your marketing efforts. And defining its size is also important for considerations such as sales expectations and book pricing. Defining your audience depends on who you are writing for. Examples are families, young adults, older adults, women, men, African Americans, etc. But once you figure that out, how do you determine the size of your market?
I think we can approach this several ways. One is to use statistics that are available on the internet such as the percentage of people who own the devices that allow them to read e-books.
For example, I have previously posted here that 12% of adults now own e-readers, but who are these people and what are their numbers? According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, e-reader ownership displayed the following characteristics from November 2010 to May 2011 (see table).
If you take these figures and go to the webpage of the US census using their latest population projections you can do some calculations.
Suppose you are writing something that may be of interest to African Americans. With a population of 40 million and 8% e-reader ownership, that is 3.2 million people.
Or suppose you are writing something that may be of interest to people 50-64 years old, of which there are about 58 million in the US. From the table 13% of them own e-readers, so that is 7.5 million people.
There are other ways of going about this. Consider data from the study released by Bowker's Pub Track Consumer Service that I have quoted before regarding the percentage of e-books units sold per category (see graph).
Let's assume that about 1 million e-books are sold per month in the US. If you are writing fiction that is a market of 600,000 e-books a month, but if you are writing about religion it is only 40,000 e-books per month.
I don't claim that these approaches are accurate as there are many other variables to take into account. I am just trying to figure out a way to gain insight into the size of the market for the books we write and obtain a ballpark figure.
If you have a method or observation you would like to share or you know of some website or other resource that may be of help, you are welcome to leave a comment.
For the majority of authors, selling their books will be a slow uphill climb that will take many years and regardless of all this effort many authors will not sell well at all. There are no magic formulas or shortcuts. There are things you can do to increase your sales, but most of the time their effect will be incremental; don't expect anything dramatic to happen overnight. I have read advice that we should face this process like we would run a marathon; the trick is not speed but rather consistency, perseverance, and dedication. However, every now and then an unexpected break will come to some writers.
Some authors have had their sales boosted by a comment made by a celebrity. For example back in 1984 novelist Tom Clancy had published his classic "The Hunt for Red October" and president Ronal Reagan casually mentioned at a press conference that he liked the book. This guaranteed the book's success and helped launch Clancy's career. But this was way before the modern internet culture took off. Today, the interconnectness of people instantly communicating over the World Wide Web creates the potential for a given, story, book, or video to go "viral".
A recent example is the children's book for adults "Go the F*** to Sleep" by author Adam Mansbach. The author sent a PDF to several booksellers before the publication of the book on Amazon. Somebody forwarded the PDF out into the world and it went viral. Initially the author and his publisher, not yet savvy in the ways of the web, tried to contain the beast but then it dawned on them that this illegal spread of the book was helping their sales. "Go the F*** to Sleep" became an overnight success and went straight to the number one position.
Mansbach's case was more of an accident but there is the author John Locke who wrote a very particular piece in his blog and promoted it to a well-defined audience, which made it go viral. He describes what he did in his book "How I sold 1 Million e-Books in 5 Months", that I have reviewed here in my blog. However, although I agree with the merits of following this approach, and I believe it can help book sales, I don't think the viral power of the internet can be harnessed so easily.
It is extremely difficult to predict what will capture the attention of people in social media so that they share a given content or link with thousands of others. Of course, it doesn't hurt to try, and some people will be successful, but I think most of us will get stuck running the marathon rather than catching the virus.
What do you think? Do you have any tips for going viral you would like to share here?