Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Inner Crack Whore

Zestful Blog Post #98

So last week I talked a bit about the demands of marketing / promo and the fact that an author must—somehow, somehow—strike a balance between it and everything else. In a way I feel I have a tin ear for it. For instance, today I cannot bring myself to give away e-copies of Left Field exactly as I promised last week. I said I’d give away copies to two lucky winners, selected at random, among those who posted a comment or sent me an email.

As you will see if you look back, three Zestful Writing Club Members (which I consider you all) left comments, and a few more got in touch via email.

I considered claiming that the random number generator malfunctioned and awarded prizes to everyone, but the truth is, I can’t let anybody down. So if you left a comment or emailed me, you’ll get a book. (Some of you I have email addys for; one of you I messaged on Google+.) I guess if like fifty people had signed up I’d have to stick to my original plan, just because of the sheer administrative time involved. But maybe not.

I recently read something by a marketing expert who works with authors. We know that lots of authors don’t do adequate promo. This person said he thought those authors are ‘arrogant’ and they feel promo is ‘beneath them’. I suppose some are and do.

But for me, and I suspect for many others, the reasons are two:

1) Marketing is a skill set. To do anything well—or at least halfway decent—you have to learn it. This requires, in my case:
            a) admitting you have a problem;
            b) committing to change;
c) learning the skill set;
d) applying the skill set. Which takes a boatload of left-brained effort, which is counter to the right-brained effort of creation us authors committed ourselves to long ago.

[Sometimes it all feels so desperate...]

2) The plain fact that most of us were brought up not to boast, not to thrust ourselves forward, not to make lofty claims for our work and actions, not to be insincere. I prefer to let my work speak for itself. Except that its voice—confident but quiet—gets drowned out by the digital cacophony, and so needs help.

It is literally a physical and emotional struggle for me to do promo. I confess this not to elicit pity but to share a baffling thing. When I force myself to update my Amazon author page, or log into my (currently pathetic) Goodreads profile, or even type a post onto Facebook or Twitter, or do any other sort of putting-my-self (and-work) into the world, or even JUST READ AN ARTICLE about how to ‘interact with readers’, my stomach drops a little, my palms sweat, and my heart starts to pound. I really don’t know what the emotion is: fear? If so, fear of what? Failure? Success? Is it that my brain hurts because I have to use the left part instead of the right? I cling to my membership in Mensa and my history as a part-time college math tutor, to convince myself that I have at least some working left-brain molecules.

Regardless, I will continue my quest to get good at marketing and figure out ways to do it that don’t make me feel like a crack whore. Or perhaps I simply need to embrace my inner crack whore. I bet she's a nice person, once you get to know her.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Free Book, and Promo-Itis

Zestful Blog Post #97

Hey, so we’re caught up on my publishing chronology, although I've not nearly exhausted every marvelous/entertaining/shocking anecdote. I’m sure I’ll unleash more in the future. Especially, I believe I've not yet shared my inspiration to write Left Field, which involved a particular public conversation in Los Angeles. I think I’ll write that next week. For now, I promised to let you know how that title is doing.

I published the book about ten weeks ago. It took off nicely, hovering around #1 on Amazon’s GLBT Mystery & Detective novel list, and appearing on Amazon’s ‘Hot New Releases’ list. It has since dropped back, awaiting more promo / marketing.

Initially, I put the word out via my web site, this blog, my Newschat list, Facebook and Twitter, and did a Kindle Countdown deal a few weeks in. I've done miscellaneous other promo—sending copies to reviewers and other professional connections, announcing the book on a few Yahoo groups, and doing that Google+ Hangout with Cocktail Hour last month. The biggest bump in sales happened the day I sent out the Newschat.

Yet to happen are possibly some free-promo days on Kindle, as well as some giveaways on different web sites, and other more targeted promos. Will talk about those as they happen.

But let the first giveaway be right here, to my faithful blog chums!

If you leave a comment on this post, you’ll be entered. What if you can’t leave a comment because Chrome or some other browser is giving you a hard time? Try either coming here via Internet Explorer, or shoot me an email via my web site: (select ‘contact’ from the top line). Just say in the email you’re entering the Zestful blog giveaway, and then put in any other loving words you might wish to share.

Everybody who enters will be assigned a number, and just before posting next week's blog, I’ll use a random number generator ( to select two winners. If you win, I’ll ask for your email address, and whether you’d prefer your copy to be for the Kindle application (Mobi) or the BN one (Epub), or regular old pdf. If you already have a copy, you can give your prize to someone else—I’ll just need their email addy and preference. You need not be present to win.

Other notes: Left Field’s release boosted the sales of all my other titles, which is what every multi-book author lives for. When you see a big spike in sales from a new title, you get new-title fever, and all you want to do is put out your next, and your next, as fast as you can. But of course one must also consider what one wants on one’s tombstone:


[photo by ES]

Needless to say, the bitch wants both. But one’s time is a zero-sum game. Every hour you spend on promo work is an hour away from 1) your writing, 2) your reading, and 3) gaining fresh life experience. (Which is, like, supposed to fuel your art, right?)

A balance must be struck.

I feel proud of my work, but I know I’m far behind the leaders when it comes to marketing and promo. My background in the corporate world has proved to be mostly irrelevant, because everything is different and constantly changing in this digital age. I learned in-store marketing techniques (that is, physical placement, etc.), I learned about paid advertising, and about doing in-person appearances. Some of that has helped me, but mostly I’m learning on the fly like everybody else.

Next week I’ll talk about my not-always-smooth relationship with promo, and will share that story about the genesis of Left Field.

Leave a comment and enter to win! I'd love to hear any questions you might have, or suggestions for future topics.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

An Easy Choice

Zestful Blog Post #96

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I said a journalist had interviewed me for an article about the benefits of writing by hand? The article came out on March 2, but I forgot to give you the link last week. Here tis:

The writer, Marianne Hayes, did a great job pulling together multiple sources in a concise piece. As I wrote to her when I thanked her, I too had read about Neil Gaiman’s preference for writing by hand. I still have a bottle of Private Reserve Black Cherry ink that I bought after he mentioned he liked it. (One could imagine that it looks like dried blood on the page…) What do you think of the article?

I feel this week’s installment of Elizabeth’s Publishing History will bring us more or less up to date. I’ll call it:

#15 An Easy Choice

It’s funny, this whole sequence of posts on my publishing history is basically a long answer to the question of why I chose to self-publish a novel (Left Field, Book 5 in the Lillian Byrd Crime Series) after having achieved the (arguably enviable) goals of:

1) getting representation and

2) having all of my prior books initially published by publishers of note.

The capsule: I went the trad route; while some things worked out well, others did not; given the tools now available to authors who want to control their whole process, it made sense to give it a go.

In an earlier post I mentioned there was interest by trad publishers in Left Field, but I declined to discuss anything with them. My reasons:

1) I just plain wanted to see what would happen if I went solo;

[Do you believe it's me inside that solo space-walk suit?!…]

2) I wanted to keep the vast majority of the proceeds; and

3) I wanted the up-to-the-minute sales information a publisher (or self-pubbed author) gets but an author who is merely part of her publisher’s supply chain does not.

As I’d already reissued all of my novels in Kindle e-book form, I’d learned how that whole thing works. I’d run promotions (basically just the ‘free days’ you can do with Kindle Select) and been gratified by the results.

While preparing Left Field for publication in e-book and paperback forms toward the end of 2014, I also reissued my seven other novels in paperback on Amazon. This was no small task: I did all the design and formatting myself, worked with a graphic artist on cover designs, and handled all the steps for listing and releasing the titles via Create Space. (I know Amazon omits the space between Create and Space, but I atavistically write the two words as two words.) It's a painstaking process. As a Russian-born housecleaner once told me, "To do a good job takes time."

Why Create Space? Initially I thought I’d use Lightning Source (not least because they represent their two-word name normally), but I discovered that the publisher’s cut of the list price per book is much smaller with Lightning Source than Create Space. Knowing that the huge majority of all online book sales go through Amazon, I elected to use Create Space, which still leaves me the option of issuing the books via Lightning Source as well, for other sales outlets.

Each in this series of publishing history posts has been fairly long, circa 800 words or more, in order to catch us up. Now I’m gonna scale back to a more modest length.

Next week I’ll tell you how Left Field is doing, and answer some questions I've gotten about marketing.

What do you think? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.
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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Invisible Threads

Zestful Blog Post #95

This morning, thanks to Google’s as-usual-incredibly-charming Doodle, I read about Momofuku Ando, the guy who invented instant ramen. A quote from him: “Each and every event in the past is connected to the present by invisible threads.” How Japanese, I thought; in so many Western cultures we’re so eager to get to the future that we barely acknowledge the present, let alone the past. And how appropriate to my subject today.

This week’s installment of Elizabeth’s Publishing History:

#14 Invisible Threads

Although I tell something about how I came to develop and write You've Got a Book in You in the book itself, the very first germination of it occurred in a single unhappy moment.

I had had four novels published (the Lillian Byrd books) and had written a different kind of novel and was shopping it around to literary agents, as I still didn't have representation. This was like 2005. I was getting turned down and was starting to get depressed. I called up my friend Phil, who, being a Hollywood actor, was by definition no stranger to rejection. When I whined out the story of my latest near-miss with an agent, he said gruffly, “Good. That means she was the wrong one for you.”

And I felt better (marginally) and I started thinking about all the various ways there are to cope with rejection, and I started to think I could write something that other authors could benefit from. So for the hell of it, I shot off an email query to Writer’s Digest magazine.

[I could not find a public-domain photo of invisible threads, so here’s one of normal ones.
Photo by ES.]

They wrote back rejecting the coping-with-rejection idea but asking me to write an article on one of the little ideas I’d thrown in at the bottom of the email, the one about how to jump-start your writing when you’re stuck.

Thus began my career writing for WD. Instantly, I became an expert on writing.

When, as time went on, friends and strangers would ask me for help with writing or getting published, I found that no book out there told the message that I was telling aspiring writers in my articles and over cups of coffee in conference-hotel concourses, which is that writing is an easy pleasure. All you have to do is get out of your own way and let your natural talent and creativity take over. I realized I needed to write my own book, based on things I’d worked out for myself.

I talked it over with Cameron, who agreed I had something unique to offer. She urged me to write up a proposal that she could shop to publishers. I had little doubt that she could find a publisher for it, but at this point (this was like 2011) would that be the best course of action? I'd been busy putting out my novels on Kindle, and already I felt addicted to Amazon throwing money into my checking account every month. Not that it was a lot, but it was nice.

Some other WD contributors were self-pubbing their craft-of-writing material as well as trad-pubbing it, most of them with Writer’s Digest Books. So I talked with a couple of them, and they pretty much said, “If you go the trad route first, you establish a good credential. Then you can self-pub more stuff and keep all the money.”

Also, I talked to Cameron’s boss, Don Maass, the supreme guru of agentdom who was also a WD Books author. Of course he had a vested interest in me going the trad route, or putting out “a real book,” as he called it. But he made lots of objective sense, pointing out the wider distribution a trad publisher can offer, as well as the numerous other opportunities that can more easily come your way if you’re with a publisher of note—things like speaking invitations, private consulting, etc.

So I went the trad route with You've Got a Book in You. Writer’s Digest Books, we knew, would be a logical home for it, but Cameron presented it to a number of other publishers as a matter of course. In the end, we went with WD Books. Although a separate entity from the magazine (under the parent company F+W Media), they knew me, and were immediately excited about the book.

I will say that the publishing process was a bit rocky, with the acquiring editor leaving the company halfway through the project, and a new editor taking over, but these things happen, and you have to deal.

Next week: Why I went indie with Left Field, and what’s coming up next. I might note that if you’d like to comment (and I wish you would), some people have been having problems doing so via the Chrome browser. Internet Explorer seems to work better. (Can Google address that? I don’t know.)
Anyway, to post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

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