Sunday, November 13, 2011

We've moved!

You can move with us!

The original need to separate this blog from my main blog was due to technical issues; my blog wasn't designed to handle lots of different categories and was not easy to sort.
However, I have a new site design and have moved "Writer in Residence" there. Just look for the category, "Author Clinic."
I hope that you will continue to join me there!

www.kristadball.com

Monday, October 10, 2011

Field-Tested Marketing: Twitter and Facebook

Field-Tested Marketing is a new series focusing on my own experiences replicating common marketing advice seen on writing forums and in marketing books.


The Advice: Provide a daily link to your book on Twitter and Facebook. Try doing it several times a day, to ensure that you cover all of your followers who visit Twitter at different times.

In action: I've discovered two issues with this approach. First, I stop following people only send out links to their books, especially if it is several times a day. It gets even more annoying when it's just the same tag line over and over. It doesn't make me want to read the book, when it's being repeated so many times.

I used to follow a person who only talked about how many sales they'd made that day and link saying "let's make it a round dozen" or whatever. I don't mind the occasional tweet like this. But daily? No thanks. And worse, many other Tweeters started talking about the person in code, making fun of them. I don't want to be that person!

The exception to this is when there is a special promotion or contest happening. In those cases, such as Read an Ebook Week, I expect to see a lot more links going on around social networking sites. Oftentimes, these tweets and facebook messages contain sale information, free codes, and specials. These are time-sensitive events, so it makes complete sense to have them tweeted often.

The interesting thing that I've found is that people tend to retweet or share these special events far more frequently than the general "buy my stuff" messages.

I tweet a link to one of my books whenever I think about it: once or twice a week, on average. I have an Amazon Affiliates account, as I use it frequently on ebook review site. The side benefit to this is having very easy "Share" links available to me for Amazon pages. I generally use this buttons to share my book link, plus include a special message.

I personally see Twitter as a chance to chat with people, like a chat channel. A Facebook fan page has a great potential as a modified forum. I love asking research questions, opinions, and generally silliness on my Facebook page.

Bottom line: Many of the people who follow me on social media have either purchased my work. Others  have stated that it isn't either in their genre of interest, or don't like to read ebooks (and are waiting for the print copy); they stay because I entertain them. 

Yet, whenever I do my occasional new release or sale link, all of these folks retweet or share my links to their followers. I've gained several new follows this way, which helps spread name recognition and word-of-mouth potential.

My Recommendation:  Do link your work a couple times a week, or whenever you remember. New releases, sales, and contests are short-term enough to allow for much more frequent linkage. Try changing up the book titles and the tag lines you use.  

And remember: social media is about being social, not about bombarding people with commercials.

What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree?






Krista D. Ball is a Canadian science fiction and fantasy author. She's currently hiding from necromancers. Better safe than undead.



Sunday, September 18, 2011

5 Tips If You Can't Afford an Editor

Last week, I caused a little stir on my personal blog with "I ain't your beta reader." I firmly believe that a person's best work needs to be put forward when they self-publish with a price tag attached. Now, if a product is free, I figure all bets are off. After all, you've giving it away. It's when you ask for someone's money that I feel quality needs to be at the forefront.

The most common retort I got to this post was, "I can't afford an editor." That's a legitimate statement. Editors can run you a lot of money, especially if your writing isn't up to a basic level. Another comment, equally legitimate, is, "I did the best I could." But, what if your best still isn't good enough?

I worked as a slush reader for a small Canadian publisher, as well as for a speculative fiction magazine. I've seen a lot of different submissions, from funny short stories to epic sword and sorcery tomes. Why did so many get the no vote from me? Simply put, they are boring.

The largest issue I see with new writers is that they don't understand that editing means a lot more than just typos and removing excess words. When people are told they need to edit their work, they check for typos. When told they need to tighten their writing, they do the 10% rule (remove 10% of the overall word count) or do the one-word-a-line method (removing one word per line on the screen). Those do help, but they don't address the underlying issues of plot holes, dull dialogue, boring characters, and non-existent setting.

At this point, many writers intent on self-publishing (or, already have and can't figure out why they aren't selling) get frustrated and throw up their hands. "I know I have these problems, I don't know how to fix them, and I can't afford an editor!" There's still hope for you to get your manuscript in better shape.

  1. Read two writing books. You need a beginner one to teach you writing basics, and one to help you with editing. I recommend "Edit Your Book in a Month" by Eliza Knight and "You Can Write a Novel" by James V. Smith, Jr.  I also recommend reading this blog by post Ilona Andrews, which explains the concept of Show not Tell better than any resource on the internet today.

    These books won't teach you everything, nor will they explain why things are the way they are (i.e. why "had" isn't a bad word when writing past perfect...and what the hell is past perfect?!?!), but they will get you a good distance.
  2. Find a writing group. This can be as small or as big as you need. What's important is that none of these people are related to you or your friend in any way, shape, or form. Many people say that they've ran manuscripts by friends and family, who loved their story. Families and friends are notorious for saying this. We all like to think our family is telling us the truth, but they generally aren't. Assume yours is protecting your feelings.

    A writing group can help identify your weak areas. It's helpful to get one that is around your own skill level. Online groups work well for this to start with. You build up friendships and networks and eventually can graduate away from needing a lot of feedback and just trusting one or two people.
  3. Find a beta reader. After a while, you won't need a group to help you with your work. If you work to address your manuscript's issues, you'll quickly find that a group critique no longer works for you. Instead, one to two sets of eyes will be more than enough. This should be someone around your skill level, so that you can reciprocate critiques on their manuscripts.
  4.  Exchange services for an edit. Perhaps another friend is going to self-publish, so exchange editing services with each other. You won't catch everything, but it will help ensure a cleaner manuscript.
  5. Hire a proofreader. A full editor is a lot more money than a proofreader. If you've taken the steps above, you will have a cleaner manuscript than when you first starter. A proofreader is usually half the price of a content editor, but they can still help with a lot of your grammar challenges. I personally use Faith at Have Faith Proofreading.

    A proofreader will not comment on your pacing, character, and plot issues, but they will get rid of the typos, grammar issues, and those other issues that can kill a manuscript right out of the gate.
Also, there is always the publishing industry itself. It is difficult to get published. However, if you can't afford an editor or a proofreader, can't seem to mesh with a writing group, and have read all of the books, perhaps try submitting a few short stories out to magazines and ezines. (A great list can be found on Duotrope). 

Many give personal rejections, so you can get some feedback as to what's wrong. Many times, you'll sell your story, make a little cash, and get your rights back to self-publish it later on (sometimes, the same year...sometimes, right away).

Publishing isn't easy. While places like Smashwords and Amazon makes it easy to press "publish" these days, that doesn't actually make the process any less easy. To be taken seriously, you still need to put your best work forward.




Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Challenging Traditional Formats: Collaborative Worldbuilding

I'm speaking with Eileen Bell today about her new collaborative project, The 10th Circle. I attended their announcement party a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated by both the story and the format concept. I asked Eileen to explain how this project came about.


How did "The 10th Circle Project" start?  Ryan McFadden and I were bored.

We started talking about an idea Ryan had, earlier in the year.  "We come up with a place and an event," he said.  "And everybody writes different stories about it.  Could be fun."

He was right.  It did sound like fun. We started talking about where this place could be, and what type of event we'd like to write about.  We decided on two cities, called Hope and Glory. Of course these two cities hated each other, and had for 60 years or more.  Think pre-unification Germany.  And the event?  It was a project developed by the two mayors to bring their cities together developing a cheap, plentiful source of power.  Geothermal power.  But we all know good intentions pave the road to Hell.

We'd had good luck winding a framing story through the novellas we'd written for our last project, and decided we could use the same format.  T'hat's how Harry Stafford, our down-on-his-luck cop from the City of Hope, was born.  He was chasing a serial killer, you see, and crashed through the border that separated The City of Hope from the City of Glory.  That was a huge no-no.  And then there was this earthquake...

We saw that it could be more than an anthology – it could be a whole series.  A series of ten, to be exact. The stories could be any length, and could either be complete in themselves, or serialized.  We also saw a pretty tight timeline – publishing a new book every two months.  Ebooks with website tie-ins seemed the way to go.  We approached Billie Milholland and Randy McCharles, to see if they'd be interested.  They were. And then, the whole idea really took off. 

"The 10th Circle Project" (www.the10thcircle.com)  launches today!



Eileen Bell lives in Edmonton, Alberta. She won the 2010 Aurora award for her novella 'Pawns Dreaming of Roses' in the Women of the Apocalypse collection. When she's not writing, she's living a fine life in a round house with her husband and her daughter's cranky cat. You can follow her exploits at www.eileenbell.com .




Saturday, August 20, 2011

Choosing a Small Press (part 3/3)


Douglas Smith and I sat down to talk about short stories and publishing with a small, Canadian press. Doug offers so much information and insight in his answers, that I've decided to break them up over three days.

Today is Day 3. Click here for Thursday's "Publishing a Short Story Collection" and here for yesterday's "The Road to Small Press." 




Krista's question: What are three things that people need to consider before going with a small press?

First is reputation. If you're considering a small press, check out their authors and contact at least three of them. Ask them about their experience with the press. How involved were they in the publishing process? Did they get cover input? What about the quality of the editing and copyediting?  What about promotion?  Where were they reviewed?  Scan the awards ballots and see which presses are showing up regularly. And check out some of their books, especially their covers, and their author list. Any big names on their list? Would you like to be included on that list, or have you not heard of anyone that they publish?

Second is distribution. See my comments above. For the time being, print distribution into bricks and mortar bookstores is still very important. So you will want to understand exactly what distribution deals the press has to get your book into bookstores. And I'd include their business model in this as well. Do they only do limited print runs? Do they do paperback editions (cheaper for readers) or only hardcover? Do they produce ebook editions?

Third is the degree of authorial involvement in the publishing process. I mention some of this under the first point, but if you're considering a publisher, then they should be able to tell you how much you'll be involved with key decisions in the process, especially the cover.

Notice that I didn't mention money. I'm not saying that the money isn't important, but I'd suggest that you worry less over an advance and instead ensure that you understand their royalty structure, especially for the eBooks. And most importantly, make sure that you understand what rights you are licensing and are comfortable with how and when those rights revert to you.

Okay, I'm way beyond just "three things," but I have to mention another key option that any writer with a backlist of short stories needs to consider in 2011, and that is self-publishing a collection as an ebook or even as a POD book plus ebook. I haven't done an e-collection yet, but I have put up most of my backlist as individual ebook short stories, available through all the big e-tailers and now also on my own web site. I can easily put out an ebook collection of just my fantasy stories, or my SF stories, or only my Heroka stories. It's all under my control.

It would take too much space to discuss indie publishing here, but it's become fairly simple to self-publish a book, whether it is a collection or a novel. If you want to know more about that world, I would strongly recommend Kris Rusch's "Business Rusch" blog series and Dean Wesley Smith's "Think Like a Publisher" blog series.

Krista, I hope that this has been of some interest and help to any writer out there who is considering publishing a collection. Thanks for the invitation to be on your blog again.



Doug is an award-winning Toronto-based author of speculative fiction, with over 150 short story sales in thirty countries and two dozen languages, including appearances in Amazing Stories,Weird Tales, InterZone, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Baen's Universe, Postscripts,On Spec, The Third Alternative, Cicada, and anthologies from Penguin, DAW, and others.


His newest collection, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010), is currently a finalist for the 2011 Aurora Award. His first collection, Impossibilia (PS Publishing), was a finalist for the 2009 Aurora Award.
Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award. A short film based on his story "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" toured festivals in North America and internationally in 2010 and 2011, winning several awards.
His website is www.smithwriter.com and he tweets at twitter.com/dougsmithwriter.   

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Road to Small Press: Douglas Smith (Part 2/3)

Douglas Smith and I sat down to talk about short stories and publishing with a small, Canadian press. Doug offers so much information and insight in his answers, that I've decided to break them up over three days.

Today is Day 2. Click here for yesterday's "Publishing a Short Story Collection."

****


Question: Did you go the agent route? Why or why not.

For a collection? Nope. No need to and no advantage in doing so. Since I wasn't targeting the big NYC houses, an agent wouldn't have done me any good. I could research the small presses as well as they could, and could submit to those directly myself. Even if I had foolishly tried to target the big publishers, an agent wouldn't have been interested in trying to market a collection. They know collections don't sell, and a collection would get an incredibly small advance compared to a novel, even a first novel. So from an agent's point of view, that translates into a lot of work with no chance of success and for very little pay even if they could sell it. From my point of view, an agent was not going to do anything for me with a small press that I couldn't do better myself.


Question: What are the top 3 best things about a small press?

Well, for the two presses I worked with, I could list more than three. But most of my points would come down to retaining an involvement and degree of control over your book. With both collections, I had input on who should write the introduction, the stories to include, the order of their appearance, editing and copy-editing, promotion, etc..

And on the cover, which is just not heard of in big publishing. For PS, Pete had Fernando Molinari do the cover, and he asked me what I wanted. Because it was a collection with only three stories (albeit novelettes), I told him that I'd like to incorporate something from each story: a wolf in a dark forest, the particular van Gogh painting, and a carnival. I didn’t think that (a) he'd listen, or (b) could pull off such a list as an integrated piece of art, but he did an amazing job (you can see the final cover here. There's also a very creepy carnival seen through the trees on the back cover that you can't see here).

Prior to that, PS had actually communicated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to try to get the rights to use a copy of Van Gogh's "Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase" painting for the cover (since it was the lead story in the collection). PS's discussion with the museum went on for some time, but finally fell through when the MMoA would only agree provided there was nothing else on the cover but the painting--i.e., no title, no author's name, nothing!! So that's when we turned to Fernando. But can you imagine any big publisher going to those lengths to work with an author on a cover? Nope. With big publishing, you take what you're given (check out this recent blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch to see a horrible cover that a big publisher gave one of her books, and the cover she put on when she recently reissued and self-published the book. It's about halfway down the blog, but the blog is a good read as well, as are all her blog entries).

With ChiZine for Chimerascope, Erik Mohr did the cover. Erik does all the CZP covers, and they are all uniformly amazing. He's like CZP's secret weapon. Erik's up for an Aurora this year for best artist for his CZP work, and if anyone votes in the Auroras, you should give Erik your vote. He has also done almost all of my ebook covers for me. With Chimerascope, Erik did an initial cover for me, which was gorgeous, but which to me said "SF." Since my collection is a mix of fantasy, SF, and horror--and since my first two novels will be urban fantasy--I wanted something that didn't look purely science fiction. So he promptly came back with another design, which we went with as the final cover for Chimerascope.

Secondly, I'd list quality and attention. In both cases, both PS and CZP produce beautiful books and take great pride in doing so. This is more than just a business to them--it's something they love doing. And because they're small, you get more personal attention. They like and respect their authors, and it shows.

Thirdly, especially for CZP, I'd list promotion and profile that the book received. Chimerascope was reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, Quill and Quire, and ever so many more, all without effort on my part. I added some review sources based on my own list, but I'd never been reviewed in all of those places before. In addition, thanks in part to CZP promotion, Chimerascope made the final ballot for the 2011 CBC Bookies Award for best collection. It is also on the 2011 Aurora Award final ballot and (much to my surprise) is one of the five finalists for the 2011 Sunburst Award, Canada's juried speculative fiction award.

I'd also mention that all of the good things I've listed about PS and CZP were often what was missing when I talked to other authors about their bad experiences with small presses. So, basically, do your homework before selecting a small press.

I'd add a fourth item for CZP, which I mentioned earlier. Their business model includes trade paperbacks, not just limited run hardcovers, and most importantly, that they have distribution deals in Canada, the US, and the UK.

Small presses have also, generally, been quicker to both embrace and establish ebook editions. CZP added ebook editions early on, and thanks to urging by myself and another author, PS recently added ebooks too (which I think is a great idea and supplements their business model, without competing with their print books. A collector will still want the numbered print version, but ebooks open up the market for PS to capture other readers who just want to read the stories.)


Doug is an award-winning Toronto-based author of speculative fiction, with over 150 short story sales in thirty countries and two dozen languages, including appearances in Amazing Stories,Weird TalesInterZoneThe Mammoth Book of Best New HorrorBaen's UniversePostscripts,On SpecThe Third AlternativeCicada, and anthologies from Penguin, DAW, and others.


His newest collection, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010), is currently a finalist for the 2011 Aurora Award. His first collection, Impossibilia (PS Publishing), was a finalist for the 2009 Aurora Award.
Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award. A short film based on his story "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" toured festivals in North America and internationally in 2010 and 2011, winning several awards.
His website is www.smithwriter.com and he tweets at twitter.com/dougsmithwriter.   




Thursday, August 18, 2011

Publishing a Short Story Collection

Douglas Smith and I sat down to talk about short stories and publishing with a small, Canadian press. Doug offers so much information and insight in his answers, that I've decided to break them up over three days.


****


Krista's first question: In Chimerascope, most of the stories were at least nominated for Aurora Awards and one was a winner. With a strong list of credits like that, why did you choose to go with a small Canadian press like ChiZine?

True, the stories in Chimerascope have a lot of award credentials. "Scream Angel" won the Aurora, while another nine of the sixteen stories were Aurora finalists. "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" was also a Best New Horror selection, and several more received honourable mentions in the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror.  I could talk similar numbers for my first collection, Impossibilia, which had another Aurora winner ("Spirit Dance") and an Aurora finalist in its three-novelette line-up.


But if I pick up any collection, I'd expect to see award credits for the stories. A collection is supposed to represent an author's best work. But unfortunately, regardless of awards, a "big" publisher will simply not be interested in publishing a collection, unless you are a Name (which I'm not). The strategy for how an author should market a collection changed from when I started writing to when I was ready to market Impossibilia in 2008. And it's changed again since I published Chimerascope just last year, thanks to eBooks and indie publishing options.


When I started writing short stories in the late nineties, the traditional route for a new writer was to build a name in short fiction, then sell a novel to a NYC publisher, and then have that publisher put out your collection once you'd had a few novels out.


That strategy had disappeared by the time I decided to market my first collection in 2007, for a number of reasons. First, collections have never sold as well as novels, and with publishing downturns, it had become even harder to sell a collection to the big NYC houses, even if you were already with them.


Robert J. Sawyer, the multi-award-winning Canadian SF writer and a mentor of mine, pointed out another issue to me at that time. If you sold a collection after you'd had a couple of novels out, the sales dip in the collection would hurt the orders for your next novel, since the chain buyers didn't differentiate between novels and collections. The well-known UK anthologist, Steven Jones, also advised me that a collection was becoming a way for short fiction writers to raise their profile with publishers to help when they were marketing their first novel.


So taking all those points together, my strategy switched completely from the old model of novels first, and a collection later with a big house, to an approach of selling a collection ahead of my first novel and focusing on a reputable small press to do that.


That meant that I needed to decide on which small press for my first collection. I started talking to writer friends who had done collections in the past couple of years regarding who they went with and why, and most importantly, what their experience had been with that small press. This proved to be a critical but depressing step, since it caused me to cross several small presses off my list. I didn't find many happy campers.


I also reviewed the recent awards lists, looking for small presses that showed up regularly. Steve Jones had recommended PS Publishing (UK), and I noted that they were getting a lot of award appearances and positive press. I did some more research, hearing only good things about them. They seemed to be the most prestigious small genre press around. I also knew Nick Gevers, one of their editors, and knew that he liked my work.


So I pitched Pete Crowther (publisher and owner) a full collection. And quickly received a very polite thanks but no thanks. Well, I knew it had been a long shot. I figured that was it, but then I received an email a few days later from PS, offering me, instead of a full collection, a mini-collection of 25-30k words in their "Showcase" series, a brand new line intended to "highlight genre fiction's best up-and-coming writers" (their words, not mine). I said yes (actually, more like "YES!!"), and in 2008, Impossibilia was published, much to my delight. Unlike most collections, Pete wanted new material, but I wanted to include my story "Spirit Dance," upon which my first novel is based. So we compromised, and Impossibilia contains two new novelettes and "Spirit Dance." The collection picked up two Aurora nominations, one for best long form and one for best story ("Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, by Van Gogh" -- more on that and the Impossibilia cover later).


A year later, I decided to try pitching a full-length collection again. Although I was completely happy with the job that PS had done with Impossibilia, I wanted my second collection to be more widely available, including a paperback edition (this was late 2008, so ebooks weren't quite the obvious other option yet). The PS business model aims at collectors and the book as a physical artefact: very high quality production, hardcover and jacketed hardcover editions only, limited print runs of numbered, signed editions--but no retail distribution (beyond being able to order via Amazon). 


As I was considering my options, Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi of Chiarascuro Magazine fame, announced that they were starting ChiZine Publications. Brett and Sandra have been friends of mine for years, and I had high regard for their editorial taste and publishing industry acumen, as well as the early list of authors they had lined up. In addition, they were expecting to have retail bookstore distribution in Canada and the US very soon (they did, and added the UK and eBook editions as well). Plus their model would focus on larger print runs of trade paperbacks for the bookstores (in addition to limited edition hardcovers based on pre-orders only). So I pitched them a full collection. Chimerascope came out in early 2010, and I've been 100% happy with the result. I provide more details on working with both PS and CZP in my answer to the third question below.








Doug is an award-winning Toronto-based author of speculative fiction, with over 150 short story sales in thirty countries and two dozen languages, including appearances in Amazing Stories,Weird TalesInterZoneThe Mammoth Book of Best New HorrorBaen's UniversePostscripts,On SpecThe Third AlternativeCicada, and anthologies from Penguin, DAW, and others.


His newest collection, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010), is currently a finalist for the 2011 Aurora Award. His first collection, Impossibilia (PS Publishing), was a finalist for the 2009 Aurora Award.
Doug was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award. A short film based on his story "By Her Hand, She Draws You Down" toured festivals in North America and internationally in 2010 and 2011, winning several awards.
His website is www.smithwriter.com and he tweets at twitter.com/dougsmithwriter.   









Print Edition: ChiZine | Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Chapters/Indigo | Powell's
Ebook Edition: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | E-Junkie (all formats) | Crossroads Press (all formats)
Print edition (signed, personalized): Doug's website