Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kindle Countdown Sale!

Now through March 5th, 2014, you can get both of my suspense/thriller novels for just $0.99 each. Normally $3.99 each, so this is a steal! Also available in the UK. Kindle Select members can still get the book for free. Enjoy! :-)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

You Won NaNoWriMo (ie, wrote a book)!? Now What? Part 2

Oi! How the time flies. It's a lame excuse, but work and personal life was just too much over the holidays. I was burnt out. Now, here it is February and it still feels like I'm going 100 mph. Anyway, here's my follow up article to Part 1. So, what follows is the second part of my list of "must haves" for successfully self publishing your first novel.

5. Know Where You Want to Publish

This might seem like a no brainer, but determining where you want to publish ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

eBooks
Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon) - This is an absolute must. They are the largest provider of ebooks in the US, with coverage across the globe as well, and growing
Nook Press (B&N) - Strictly US and UK distribution. Their website is pretty awful and some of the publishing quirks are strange, but it's still got strong name recognition
Kobo Writing Life - Remember Borders Bookstores? Well, this was their Kindle/Nook. Still very popular in Canada
Apple iBookstore - Still haven't jumped head first into the book game, but too big to ignore. Need to have a Mac in order to upload through their service, but there are other options (read on)
eBook Aggregators
Smashwords and draft2digital - Third-party distributors that will, essentially, do the work for you (for a small fee). You submit a single file (formatted to their standards) and they send it out to the various ebook sellers (see above) and then some (eg, Sony, Diesel, Oyster). If you aren't tech savvy, this may be the most logical option, though be warned that Smashwords' formatting requirement may just have you pulling your hair out by the end of the day

Paperbacks
There are many print-on-demand (POD) options out there with CreateSpace and Lightning Source being two of the most popular. Formatting a paperback is very different from formatting an ebook, plus you'll need a different image file. Though both of these services offer create-your-own-cover options, I would recommend asking the artist who created your cover (because bad covers don't sell books, remember?) to create the binding and the back cover as well. It'll cost a little more but, again, well worth the expense. So, you might be asking yourself, "Do I really need a paperback?" Well, do ya punk? ;-) Paperbacks are fun to have and require very little additional expense. It's a tangible token of your accomplishment, they make great gifts, you can use them for marketing at book events (yes, people still buy paperbacks), and believe it or not, folks may even want you to sign it!

6. Build a Platform

Whether you put yourself onto every social media site known to man, or focus your efforts on one, you need to have a place where you can talk to potential customers and colleagues. Create a Facebook page, join Twitter, create a blog, or build a web site. It's important to have a web presence. Personally, I've ventured out to them all and found that I just don't have the time to keep up with all of them. I'm an irregular blogger, an occasional Twitterer, and a fairly faithful Facebooker. Don't even get me started on what an awful Plusser I am (Google+). Even if your book isn't ready to launch, you can build up a fan base. Talk about your writing. Talk about the subject matter. Read other blogs on those subjects and make thoughtful comments.

You too can have a giant too-close-for-comfort face shot on Facebook!

Establishing a platform can build an audience who is willing to listen to what you have to say. Be engaging, start conversations, find a like-minded forum and talk about what interests you. If you become a trusted voice, you may find that folks are willing to help you out when your book launches.

Just don't get overwhelmed. Remember that you're a writer first. Social media can be the biggest "time suck" known to man. Limit yourself to a small time frame every day. Ten minutes here, five minute there, another five minutes to craft a smart response to an article. I recommend picking two social media channels and dedicating yourself to becoming a part of the writing community there. Spamming tweets and Facebook posts about your book will only leave people with a bad taste in their mouth. Make comments, have conversations. They're just people like you.

7. Develop Your Thick Skin
It's going to happen. You're going to put your work out there and someone... some fool... some horse's arse who doesn't know good writing from chicken scratch... will give your pride and joy... your brilliant masterpiece... a nonsensical 1-star review. Be prepared. It happens to the best of us. Deep breath... it'll happen to you too. Go to Amazon and look up the best book you know and you'll find that some snarky troll has slapped it with a 1-star review. Know why? Because they can. Now, are all 1-star reviews the work of trolls? No. But, we're going to pretend that your masterpiece is at least good enough to avoid deserved 1-star reviews.
One of my favorite reviews for my debut novel, Multiples of Six, is a 2-star review. Why? Because it's absolutely honest and well thought out. Plain and simple. You can't argue with the truth. But, that being said, you can't argue with lies in this business either. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard of authors responding to bad reviews. It never ends well for the author. Do yourself a favor... look forward to your first bad review. Cherish it... give it a hug... welcome it into your home... then lock it in the closet and leave it alone. Sure, you may hear it whimper on occasion, but don't be tempted to respond. It'll never go away, but you can only hurt yourself by trying to "fix" it.

8. Get a Head Start on Book #2
Nothing sells a book like another book. I wish I had followed this advice. Apparently, I just didn't have enough of a head start (what can I say, I write my thrillers slowly)! If you're writing a series, it's essential to have that second book ready to come out on the heels of first. If your're not sure you can write the next one quickly enough, you may want to consider holding off until #2 is ready to go. Yes, you heard me... hold off. You'll thank me. In this day and age of quick publication, readers no longer have to wait years to get their favorite (self-pubbed) author's next book. Sometimes, it's as little as a couple months. Russel Blake is cranking them out every six weeks! Sure, we can't all be that prolific... or anywhere near that prolific in some cases, but we can glean from that an important point; if a reader likes book #1, they like to know that they can pick up book #2 right away. Of course, this isn't just for series. This carries over to stand-alone books as well. So, what are you doing reading this? Get back to work!

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I hope you enjoyed my list of what you need to self-publish. Again, I'll reiterate that this is not a comprehensive list and that monetary success with self-publishing is never guaranteed. However, if you've got these things set, you'll be well on your way to self-publishing the best book you possibly can.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Am I missing something? Please feel free to post questions or comments on any of these topics below. Thanks! :)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's Alive! Divisible by Six Now Available for Kindle

Just a quick note to let you know that my long-awaited sequel, Divisible by Six, is now available on Amazon. You can read a sample by clicking on the tab in the header or check it out here.

Special shoutout to my good colleague and friend, James Cornette for creating an awesome cover. He's a talented artist and photographer. You should check out his work.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

You Won NaNoWriMo (ie, wrote a book)!? Now What? Part 1

So, you're on your way to finishing National Novel Writing Month with a completed manuscript (or already have one). Congratulations! It's quite an accomplishment to finish a novel. Now, the real work begins. Editing, revising, having "real" people read it. Getting it into shape to be published. If you're on the road to traditional publication, my usefulness probably ends here. Good luck to you. If your book ever gets published, I look forward to seeing it on a shelf in a bookstore several years from now (if bookstores are still around). I'm for independent publishing. And what follows is the first part of my list of "must haves" for successfully self publishing your novel. So, here goes...

1. A Finished Novel
Ok, this might seem obvious, but you'd be amazed the time some people waste looking into how to publish when they haven't even finished the story yet! If your manuscript is incomplete, you're not ready to be reading this list! And even if you think you're ready, you might not be. Story finished? You have my permission to read on. Not finished? Get back at it!

2. Honest Feedback
Yep, it's time to seek out some people who aren't your Mom, Dad, Sister, best friend, grandma, etc. Honest feedback is what can really take your writing to the next level. Let's face it, we all get a little blinded to our own writing. It's perfect in our mind and, obviously, what we've put on paper (or screen) is just as perfect. Errr... probably not. So, find a writer friend, a writing group, go out and seek people who are writers (or regular readers of your genre) who are willing to be brutally honest. Even if it hurts, it's an important part of the writing process. Guess what? If you're planning on publishing, you'll get that feedback one way or another. And, personally, I'd much rather have the feedback offline than online for the world to see.

If you can afford it, I highly recommend hiring a professional editor. Even a simple copy edit from professional eyes can make the world of difference. Your readers will thank you. However, be prepared for a bit of sticker shock. A simple edit of a 60k word novel will run you upwards of $500... and that's without really looking at content. Shop around. Preditors & Editors is a good place to start.

3. A Professionally Designed Cover*
*Unless you're an amazing artist with mad Illustrator/InDesign skills
What to not do...

Despite the wisdom of "don't judge a book by its cover," we all do it anyway. With the ease of self-publishing, it can be tempting to make your own or have that "nephew who knows computers" slap something together for you. Don't do it! If you invest any money in publishing your book, make it the book cover. You can get a professionally made cover for as little as $50 (for non-exclusive artwork) and ~$200 and up for custom work. It can make all the difference. And, while I could go on forever about what to not do (see image at right), I have a couple of pet peeves that stand out in what you should do when designing your book cover.

  • Big text for all! Your name should be as prominent as the title of the book. Most readers remember the author's name, not necessarily the book title. Make it big
  • Use bold colors or striking contrasts. Your book needs to stand out from the crowd. Avoid bland and vague
  • Make sure you can still get the gist of the cover when it's super small. Remember, Amazon uses thumbnails that are no bigger than 1"x 1.5" depending on the screen and some people are using B&W Kindles (the horror!). It should scale well and be clear
  • If you're going to use artwork, make sure it tells the right story. Readers notice these things. If there's a picture of a desert on your cover, your main character better be hopping camels through the sand (or something like it) or you'll hear about it. A recent example of this was a traditionally published book that had a dog prominently on the cover. Turned out the dog had very little to do with the story

4. A Properly Formatted Manuscript

No one wants to read
                   a poorly formatted                               BOok.

See what I did there? Believe it or not, this is how your book can look if you're not careful. If you're familiar with Microsoft Word, you shouldn't have a hard time. But, if Word seems like it's been written in a foreign language, you might want to seek out help. There are people out there who will format your book for epublication for a nominal fee. Anything over $50 is pushing it. That might seem like a lot, but again, if it's the difference between people making it through your book or returning it because they couldn't get past the formatting errors, the investment is worthwhile. Most epub sites (Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook Press, etc.) have instructions on how to format. Smashwords, which is a mass distribution site has what they call "The Meat Grinder." It takes your manuscript and turns it into whatever format is needed. It's a very strict process, so if there are mistakes, they'll flag it and notify you before allowing it to be published.

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We're half way there!

Be sure to check out Part 2 of my You Won NaNoWriMo (ie, wrote a book)!? Now What? series!

What do you think so far? Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to post questions on any of these topics below. Thanks! :)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Divisible by Six Gets a Release Date!

Very excited to announce that I have set a date to release my sequel, Divisible by Six. The ebook version will be released on December 1, 2013 to the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes platforms! If you haven't already, be sure to read the sample chapter and sign up to "attend" the release over on Facebook (don't worry, no purchase necessary ;). It's been a long time coming. I hope there's still some fans out there interested in the story. The paperback version will probably release later in the month or, more likely given the holidays, early in 2014. Stay tuned!

~Andy

Monday, October 14, 2013

Strategies for NaNoWriMo - 2013

There is nothing NaNo about this WriMo
So, I'm on the fence this year about actually participating in NanNoWriMo. I haven't taken part since 2008 and find that the time of year just isn't conducive to writing consistently. I'm definitely going to step up my output though and I've developed a strategy for cranking out those 50,000 words. And, while I might not participate, I can highly recommend taking part in NaNoWriMo for the inspiration and challenge. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, which happens every November. Established in 1999, the nonprofit organization aims to motivate writers to produce a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It's a daunting task, to say the least, as it forces the author to crank out 1666 words a day for 30 consecutive days. But, it's possible. And, having just finished my sequel, I need a goal to recharge my writing engine. The trick to NaNoWriMo is to have a game plan. Here's mine.

In the past, I never approached NaNo with more than a whim and a vague idea. This can lead to burnout and frustration when the initial idea runs out of gas (as they often can). I've been brewing up a story lately that I think will work very well in the NaNo setting. It's a young adult (YA) post-apocalyptic paranormal series that I plan on telling in short episodes. It revolves around a young man who is living in a world changed by a cataclysmic event that wiped out almost all of the Earth's population and left the landscape a smoldering remain. When finished, I'll publish them as an introductory series to my YA writing under my own name.

In a sense, I've been preparing this story for a while. I've been jotting notes down for this story for the last three months, right after the initial idea came to me. It all started with an image. I saw it and thought, "That's got a story in it." At moments, I've thought over scenes and characters and tried to lay them out in an order that makes the most sense. I've now got more than enough to write several "episodes" and have written about 4000 words so far (don't do this if you're actually participating in NaNo... that's cheating).

With several weeks to go until November 1st, you should be using this time to plan ahead. Now is the time to plot, lay out that chapter structure and at least have a game plan in place. Trust me, it's so much easier to approach NaNoWriMo with a plan, than hope something comes up as you're writing. My plan involves having a full outline of each section before starting. Essentially, breaking it down into five 10,000-word episodes. A chapter in a book runs anywhere from 2000-2500 words in my usual writing, so the goal is to have 4 to 5 chapters per episode.

Sometimes it's easier to get a grasp when you see it layed out:

Episode 1 (10k words)
     Scene 1 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

     Scene 2 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

     Scene 3 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

     Scene 4 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

     Scene 5 (2k)
          (Characters, Setting, Conflict)

Episode 2 (10k words)
     Etc.

Rinse, repeat as necessary until you've reached your goal.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite Neil Gaiman quotes: "This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It's that easy, and that hard." Writing a novel is a difficult process and NaNoWriMo asks you to take all of that difficulty and try and condense it into a 30-day period. Remember that your goal here is a first draft that reaches 50,000 words. It's often more about turning off your interior editor and putting words to the page than creating something magnificent the first time through. I hope maybe I've given you some direction into how to make the challenge a bit less steep. It's not a bad plan for approaching any story, but when faced with a tight deadline and a seemingly insurmountable word count, it's often best to break it down into more manageable portions.

Good Luck! Are you doing NaNo this year? If so, do you have a plan? Let us know in the comments below!



Friday, October 4, 2013

Giving My First Library Presentation


Several months ago, I wrote an article on Social Media for the Independent Author, so when the
opportunity came up to do a presentation at a local library (actually 45 minutes from me, but now we're splitting hairs), I thought this would be a great topic to discuss. The presentation was to be 2 hours with 1.5 allotted for me to talk and a half hour for Q&A.

When I started putting the presentation together, my first thought was, "How am I going to fill 2 hours?" By the time I was done, I was afraid of going over. Social media is such a dense subject that can often rely on the knowledge of the audience. In this case, I had prepared my presentation with no real idea of who my audience was going to be.

Being my first solo talk outside of a professional environment, I didn't quite know what to expect. Hosted at a library, the presentation was open to the public. I arrived early and set up the room, discovering that the open blinds made the screen impossible to see. Great, I thought, now my audience was going to be in the dark... trying to stay awake during my presentation. With about five minutes left before the start, my first guest arrived. Phew! Worst case scenario, I was prepared to sit and chat with one person. I was not prepared for there to be no one at all. That might have burst my bubble just a little. Then another showed and another until there were 8 people there, looking at me eagerly. Now the pressure was really on.

Two hours later, we wrapped up the last bit of Q&A and they gave me a round of applause. At that point, I actually felt a bit embarrassed for it. Over the course of the morning, I felt more like I was just up there having a conversation than speaking on a particular topic. It was a nice feeling though and the overall response was fantastic. I've been in touch with some of the attendees since and have been a bit overwhelmed by the gratification on their part. It was a great feeling to be able to pass along, what I considered, just a small amount of knowledge and perhaps get people thinking about things in ways they hadn't before.

I really enjoyed every aspect of giving the presentation. My wife just shakes her head and wonders how I can get up in front of people and talk. That's the easy part for me. Stick me on a stage any day. So long as I know my lines, I'm good. When I forget my lines, that's when the nerves kick in. And, while presenting isn't for everyone, I highly recommend adding it to your arsenal of promotional tools. I don't expect to sell many books by presenting, but I hope to create relationships with writers who will recognize that I'm just trying to help and someday might be able to return the good will if they have a chance.

If you would like the 52-page PDF version of the presentation I gave, just sign up for my newsletter and send me an email (andyraneauthor[at]gmail[dot]com) with "Social Media for the Independent Author" in the subject line. Or, if you already receive my newsletter, just send me an email. If you're in the NJ area and are interested in having me give this presentation (or another on the subject of writing or publishing) for your writers' group or library, please let me know.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Authors, Entertainers, and Their Politics

I'd like to think that most authors are fairly open-minded people. I guess I like to think that way because
that's how I consider myself. I'm a rational thinker who doesn't like to go to extremes. The world isn't black and white, so what good does it do to think in those terms? So, when I saw a recent headline detailing ridiculous and borderline insane ideas being spewed by an author who, up until now, I had respected, I decided to investigate further. Needless to say, I'm utterly disappointed in what I found.

Dammit, I really wanted to see the movie too! >:(
Apparently, Orson Scott Card, the author of one of my favorite series (Ender's Game), has been drinking the Kool-Aid. It's disappointing on many levels. The first being that, in order to reach such conclusions, you have to be pretty damn paranoid. The second being that I really wanted to see the upcoming Ender's Game movie. Now, you won't see me in that theatre for dust. Sure, it does nothing to his bottom line, but it's the principle of the matter. This isn't just eye-roll worthy party bashing; it's downright insulting and over the edge bat-shit crazy.

Mr. Card, you've done some phenomenal writing in the past. And, yes, you have every right to express your opinions, as many other entertainers have done before you. But, I feel like you've crossed a line here. Like, the Ted Nugent line. And, once you cross a line like that, there's no taking back what put you over. I'm sorry, but you've lost a fan.

Now, while I am in total disagreement with what Orson Scott Card has to say about the Obama government, that isn't to say I'm particularly pleased with where this country is headed. However, my point here is that I would never jeopardize the opinions of my readers (both of them) by interjecting political rhetoric when that isn't my place of authority. That's not why I'm here! You're an author, Mr. Card! You want to rant about how awful things are? Impress me and write an allegorical tale that mirrors modern day. That's what you do! Use your talent, make your point with subtlety, and keep your mouth shut. I get your point, and still buy your books. We all win! I expect actors to act, writers to write, and athletes to... ummm... athlete. If I want to hear bullshit about politics, I'll turn on C-SPAN. If I want to hear crazy talk about politics, I'll turn on Fox News.

What's your opinion on this? Do you think it's important for entertainers, be they authors, singers, actors, or sports stars, to express their political views? And, if so, does it change how you view their value as an entertainer?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Great eBook Pricing Dilemma

I got $3 over here, do I hear $4?
Two years, when I started this great self-publishing escapade, I did my fair share of research regarding ebook pricing. When all was said and done, I settled on $2.99 for the price of my full-length novel. I thought it was the standard going rate and as an unknown, I didn't expect anyone to want to pay more than that. I rated my writing at $3. $3 for a full-length novel. $3 for something that, had I been traditionally published, would command a price upwards of $9.99.

At the time, it made sense. $2.99 was sort of the standard indie number. It seemed that the majority of titles from colleagues were being set at the same price point. I dabbled with free back when Select had the most benefit (early 2012) and even dipped for a while into the $0.99 waters, without much luck. Since then, I honestly hadn't given much thought to pricing my book. Now, with the coming release of my book's sequel, the argument had crept back into my mind:
Am I short-changing myself at $2.99? In short, I felt the answer was "Yes."

So, that's why I'm changing my pricing regimen. I'm taking that leap of faith and asking... for a whole dollar more. I know, it's risky. $4 seems like so much more than $3, but it really isn't. I figure if erotica writers can get away with selling 15 pages "stories" for $2.99, then I can sell a 70,000-word novel for $3.99 and not feel too guilty.

I think the self-published market is experiencing dynamic change. People are recognizing the fact that quality work is coming from independent authors. I think more and more of those authors are taking chances with their pricing schemes and finding success. I'm feeling more confident about my pricing decision. It allows me more flexibility in terms of discounting and better return in regard to royalty rates. Some folks have it broken down to exactly how much they'll charge for a number of words. <10,000 = $0.99; 10,000-40,000 = $1.99; >40,000-<70,000 = $2.99, etc. I'm not producing at a rate where I need to worry about that, but I understand the scheme.

What do you think? Do you have a scheme, or are you still winging the whole pricing thing?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why You Should Definitely Create a Paperback for Your eBook

I've observed, recently, that some authors don't bother creating paperback versions of their books. This surprised me, especially given that they were publishing in standard genres and not something that might merit such discretion (ie, erotica). Apparently, they felt that there wasn't enough potential for sales from that format to warrant the time needed to create the paperback file. While I’ll admit that some investment of time (and probably a little bit of $) is necessary, I’m still a bit boggled at the idea of not making the effort. I mean, if you were selling T-shirts, you wouldn't produce only one size. So, why would you not take advantage of a potential revenue stream by producing your book in only one format?

Because, gosh darn it, I'm worth it! ;)
My first novel (Multiples of Six) is now available in 3 different formats, thanks to recent work with ACX. And, while the audiobook was a bit of a bonus effort, I never had a doubt about creating the paperback version. In a world where ebooks are beginning to dominate, there is still a significant traditional readership market to be had. It might just be a matter of going out and getting them the old fashioned way, but that’s part of the fun!

I've probably given away as many paperbacks as I've sold. I’m hoping that changes this fall, but I won’t hold my breath. It’s not a big deal. To me, the paperback is a marketing tool for the independent author. It’s a means with which to put something tangible in readers’ hands. Some people need that. Some people need to see that stack of paper and the accompanying look in your eye that says “I've crafted something that I think you’ll like.” Only then are they willing to give it a shot.

There’s something also very personal about having a paperback copy of your book created. Sure, it sniffs a bit of the old vanity presses, but today's self-publishing is a completely different animal. You're an entrepreneur now. You worked hard to get where you are. And, even if you can count on two hands the number of paperbacks you've sold in two years (like I can), it’s a physical memento of what you've accomplished. It’s your trophy. That’s how I treat it, at least. I don’t expect anyone else to give me one, so I made one for myself.

Personally, I use CreateSpace for my paperbacks. While there is some monetary outlay at the beginning (cover creation, ISBN), additional cost is entirely up to the author. You can purchase copies at a significant discount and in any quantity you desire. My paperback is listed at $12.95 through Amazon and B&N and they regularly discount that at 10%. However, I can purchase for <7$, which allows me to discount the retail price and still make a little bit in the end. The quality is good, the shipping is usually timely, and their affiliation with Amazon makes it simple to link with the ebook.

If not publishing in multiple venues (eg, other than Amazon) is leaving money on the table, then publishing in a single format should be considered the same. In order to maximize your opportunity for income, you should leave no stone unturned. If you're on the fence about paperbacks, go for it. You'll be happy you did and you'll have a nice addition to your bookshelf.

I think the more formats, the better. What say you?