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This post is cross-posted from the new blog. I hate to be a pain but I’m trying to keep comments in one place, which is why you can only comment there.


It’s Saturday and that means a guest post! Today it’s an old friend of mine Indie Author Stacey Cochran.

I’ve been reading Stacey’s work since 2005 or thereabouts and the fact that Claws 2 is Kindle only is the only reason I’ve finally downloaded Kindle for PC. Which probably tells you something.

I’ll be reviewing Claws 2 sometime in the next couple of weeks, and I’ll also upload the reviews I’ve done of his previous works to the new blog.

Today Stacey is going to talk about his experiences as a self-publisher, what he’s learnt from it and why he’s committed to ebooks.

Claws 2 is only available at the Kindle Store

And now over to Stacey.


Hi, Becky, thanks so much for having me at your place today. As you know, I am on a two-month Blog Tour campaign to spread the word about my new thriller CLAWS 2. I think it is safe to say that you were one of the first readers to “discover” me way back in like 2005, and so my blog post here today holds a special place in my heart.

I thought it might be helpful to reflect on some of what I’ve learned regarding how to DIY market self-pubbed novels. What has worked and what hasn’t worked, and where can newbies get started… that sort’a thing.

I self-published my first novel in 2004 as a print-on-demand trade paperback. I had no idea whatsoever how to market the novel, and I may have even believed that just having a novel published would mean that people would start to buy it and it would become a hit. I think I’ve sold about two dozen copies of that first novel to date.

Lesson #1: Just having a novel published does not mean people will buy it. Somehow, you’ve got to spread the word and make people aware of your book.

So some of my earliest efforts at marketing were as simple as e-mailing people I knew and asking them to buy the book. I exhausted this well of people after about two days, and then rather painfully began asking total strangers to buy my novel. I mostly did this by reading Amazon reviews and then contacting the reviewers to ask them if they’d consider buying my book and writing a review, which leads me to Lesson #2.

Lesson #2: Do not directly contact total strangers and ask them to buy your book. This is the marketing equivalent of throwing paint at someone’s house in order to sell them on your paint brand. They won’t like it, and they’re very likely going to get online and spread the word about what a jerk you are for direct-selling to them.

That said, you’ve got to start somewhere, and no one’s first steps are going to easy or painless. In my case, after I got burned by direct-marketing to total strangers like this, I started trolling writer discussion boards like NaNoWriMo. I would often talk up my books to fellow writers, and while this did not meet with as painful a result as my earlier efforts, it was far from smooth. I managed to sell a few dozen copies of my short story collection The Kiribati Test using this method, but mostly I irritated a lot of people. This would’ve been around late 2004, early 2005.

Lesson #3: Don’t let the fear of people not liking you or even attacking you, prevent you from trying to sell your book and your brand.

By summer 2005, I had learned that direct marketing online was painful at best and could backfire at worst, and so when I released my novel Amber Page and the Legend of the Coral Stone in October of ’05, I began trying to use my imagination to market and sell the book. I visited area bookstores and tried to set up author signings. I visited area libraries, coffee shops. I printed up flyers and posted them all around town. I asked at the library if I could stand on the sidewalk out front and hand out flyers to patrons coming in. I drove to other towns and walked the streets with hundreds of flyers literally handing them out to passersby and anyone who didn’t look threatening. I managed to land my first two or three bookstore events working like this. I did a coffee shop gig that sold a few dozen books. A library gig that sold a few. I tried to get libraries to buy the book for their shelves.

Anything and everything. But mostly it was done in real-time, real-world locations (i.e., not online). On the internet, I used my website to do free T-shirt giveaways, fridge magnets, signed copies of the book. I started making videos and posting them online (literally before YouTube was available to the public). And then when YouTube became available in early 2006, I started using my channel to market and promote my books and brand.

I started attending writers’ conferences and tried getting on the programs so that I could speak to audiences.

All of this amounted to a couple hundred copies of Amber Page being sold.

Despite all this hard work, the price of the book was too high. The base cost of print-on-demand books was cost-prohibitive, and many readers wouldn’t take a chance on an unknown writer.

Still I was beginning to gain confidence. I was raising eyebrows, and I was selling books.

Lesson #4: Persistence is everything in this business. If something doesn’t work, revise it and make it work better the next time around. But keep trying. Year after year.

In 2006, I moved from Arizona back to my home state of North Carolina. I had learned some valuable lessons out West and good, bad, or indifferent, I had learned how to publish my own novels.

Once back in North Carolina, things started to take off. I visited area bookstores and libraries and joined writers’ groups. I helped organize the Raleigh Write to Publish Group, which has subsequently grown to include Charlotte, Wilmington, and Washington DC Write to Publish Groups. I was offered contract work with Lulu, which sent me on my first national book tour to Borders Bookstores in Michigan, Arizona, and California.

In summer 2007, I launched The Colorado Sequence as a print-on-demand trade paperback. Despite being my best novel to that point, it was a big book, and the base cost was way too high. Regardless, I had made friends with some key people at Lulu, and they helped to print up hundreds of copies for me as I was spreading the Lulu brand around the country and around the state of North Carolina. I probably sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-400 copies of the book, and most of these sales were 100% revenue because Lulu had paid for the printing as I was a contract employee for them.

In addition to bookstore and library events, I teamed with other writers and sat in on booths at street fairs and book festivals. Sometimes I’d sell copies for 5 or 10 dollars. I learned something that should be obvious to everyone. The lower the cost of your book, the more often people will buy it.

Still there was a serious problem that I simply could not see a way to overcome, and Lulu was completely reorganized at the corporate level in 2008. Most of my contacts were forced to resign, and I was back at square one.

The base price of the books was too high to lead to impulse buys.

Lesson #5: In any industry, the price point you set must seem reasonable and fair to consumers. If consumers perceive they’re “getting a deal” then you’ve priced your product well.

So how to overcome the high price of POD books? I struggled with this one for almost two years before I released CLAWS in summer 2009.

With CLAWS, my initial goal was to release a trade paperback and sell at least 200 copies. By poring over the booking phase of the project and searching exhaustively online and at writers’ conferences around the country, I managed to arrive at a base cost of about four bucks for the book (U.S.).

I think it’s safe to say that this was a Priority #1 Goal with the release of CLAWS. To get the cost down as low as I could.

And then Amazon Kindle came along.

In 2008, Amazon began beta-testing their Digital Text Platform for Kindle by e-mailing established authors and asking them to upload their books. By early 2009, Amazon ended the beta-testing and opened the DTP to anyone who had a book and the technical skill to upload it.

Sometimes stars align in life, and this was exactly the case for me. I priced CLAWS on the Kindle eReading device for 99 cents in mid-May 2009. The book became a bestseller in days.

Then I brought out The Colorado Sequence at 99 cents, and the book shot to #111 overall in the Kindle store (out of 300,000 titles at the time).

For the next six months, I sold a lot of books.

Then, in December with the help of a friend, I listed my short story collection The Kiribati Test in the Kindle store for free. I had 30,000 costumers download my book to their devices in six weeks. Suddenly, I started getting e-mails from movie studios and had literary agents contacting me. It was a wild ride.

Which brings us to summer 2010 and the release of CLAWS 2. For the past year, I’ve been hosting an online interview show Book Chatter using ustream.tv. I’ve mostly concentrated on Kindle authors and bloggers, and so have made some important friends in this community. With their help, I launched a Blog Tour to market and promote the novel.

With CLAWS 2, I actually increased the price to $2.99… the first time in six years I’ve moved in that direction with pricing. As a result I’ve started earning a 70% royalty rate on each sale, and in the past week combined sales of CLAWS 2 and CLAWS have been good. It’s too early for me to assess its overall performance, but it seems to be working well. And most importantly, I’m having fun.

If you can get to a point as an author where customers are happy, you’re happy, and you’re selling books entirely on your own initiative, then you are in a good place.

If anything, I guess my story is the story of perseverance, of learning from your mistakes, of wanting to grow and get better, and of never giving up.

Thanks, Becky, for having me at your place today, and thank you for all your support, your reviews, and encouragement over the years. If you weren’t the very first, you were certainly one of the first half dozen or so folks to acknowledge my work.

Thank you.

==================================

Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University. His books include CLAWS, CLAWS 2, The Colorado Sequence, Amber Page, and The Kiribati Test.

Ambitious spider seeks revenge on fastidious homeowner.

Itsy Bitsy Fritsy by Scott Carpenter is a bit of an odd animal really. The above sentence is all the blurb there is suffice to say it’s a blogfic in the truest sense of the word. It’s not just fiction on a blog but a blog by a fictional character. In this case the fictional character is a spider, who’s had enough of seeing her friends squished by the homeowner or eaten by his cat and resolves to kill him even though she’s just a little house spider and certainly not venemous enough to take him down. So it’s a David and Goliath setup with an arachnid in the David role.

There’s only nine parts posted so far and I found it a fast and very fun read. Fritsy is an engaging character with a distinctive voice. Once I suspended my disbelief about a spider writing a blog I found myself rooting for Fritsy. Yes, even though she’s a spider trying to kill a human I found myself rooting for her. Her antics have me laughing out loud.

There are precious few visual cues or descriptions in the story, which some people may have an issue with. It actually doesn’t bother me, but it’s something to be aware of. I’d say the lack is justifiable in this story anyway. Spiders don’t have good eyesight, so visual description would be out of place.

The website design is clean and readable without a cobweb in sight. Though the author’s habit of linking unusual words to explanatory pages is a touch distracting at times.

All in all I’m finding Itsy Bitsy Fritsy to be a very enjoyable read in the evenings. Definately worth a look if you want something silly and light.

4 stars

“Strong Heart” is a sword & sorcery fantasy about Joana (Jo to anyone who hasn’t pissed her off lately).  Jo is female, but her tribe made her officially a man so she could train as a warrior. Now she’s a mercenary guard, and thanks to a job with a magician, life is about to get even more interesting than figuring out how to piss standing up without the right plumbing.

As the blurb says Strong Heart by capriox bovidae is very much in the sword and sorcery genre.  At eleven installments it’s still early days but it’s shaping up to be a well written and engaging story so far.

There’s obviously been some careful worldbuilding. The magic system is well thought out and the details of the setting  are positively palpable, and the two main characters, Joana and Tobias, come to life and leap off the page. Even better it manages all this without excessive infodumping.

Perhaps the only problem with the story is the plot is a little slow moving. It feels like things are about to start moving, but even sand info-dumping much of what is up so far feels like setup.

One other big problem is that it’s currently hosted on Livejournal which is not the idea platform for web fiction. This makes navigation less than ideal. Fortunately there is a post which acts as an index and every chapter has a link to the previous and next chapters. According to the landing page Capriox is looking to move to a better site soon, but for now it’s something to be aware of.

Verdict: Fans of the sword and sorcery sub-genre of traditional fantasy would do well to give Strong Heart a chance. It’s really shaping up to be a good one.

4 stars.🙂

Nothing much ever happened in Haven Park, Wyoming. Closely knit, deeply religious and with a population of just over 500, it appeared to be a small town just like any other. Then, on the night of July 4, 1966, everything changed forever. Gripped with the horrifying realization there was a killer in their midst, Haven Park reels from one murder after another, at the diabolical hands of one of their own.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now I’m usually a reader of speculative fiction – especially fantasy, so Independence Day by Rebecca Spencer is not my usual choice in reading matter. I do like a good murder mystery occassionally, however, and this is shaping up to be a decent – if somewhat soapy – addition to the genre.

So far we have one murder and a lot of people with dark secrets and possible motives . Oh, and a detective who’s way too close to the case which is occluding his judgement.

The characters are interesting, the setting – 1960s small town America is beautifully realised, and the tension is rising with each passing chapter. Something is going to give soon.

The blurb promises more than one murder, but so far there’s only been one. The end of chapter eleven seems to be setting things up for another.

The layout of the site leaves me cold however. I detest frames and if you break out of the frames navigation becomes difficult. And the text is red on black with bright white links to character profiles littered through the text. Thematically appropriate but not all that easy to read. I ended up clicking on the “printable version” links a lot, as they were easier on the eyes, and this is what I’d recomend other potential readers who find the design offputting try.

To sum up Independence Day is a nice little murder mystery, so far, and will hopefully fulfill its potential.

I’m giving it 3.5 stars

Sorry about this review being posted on Saturday not Wednesday. I had a banging headache on Wednesday and went to bed early.

Anyway today I’m reviewing Refuge of Delayed Souls by Miladysa. Which is available as free web fiction on that link or as two ebooks for a reasonable price at Refuge of Delayed Souls Volume One – RoYDS and Refuge of Delayed Souls Volume Two – Billy.

In a story spanning many lifetimes, we follow Elizabeth Whyte’s journey as she investigates the supernatural & seeks information about her own past, all while trying to keep a balance between the light & the darkness in her work for an agency known as the Refuge of Delayed Souls. A world where ghosts, angels, the Living & others exist side by side, although not always in harmony. (Blurb for volume one).

Volume 2 ~ Billy. Elizabeth Whyte’s investigations into the past and the supernatural continue. A barguest wreaks havoc on the moors above the town and Billy Lawrence is introduced to the world of RoYds. (Blurb for volume two).

Refuge of Delayed Souls fits squarely into the Paranormal Fantasy Genre and is an enjoyable read.

Likes:

  1. Refuge of Delayed Souls has an interesting premise and plot which definately kept me reading.
  2. The characterisation is well done.
  3. The multiples times are well handled. The jumping around could easily have been confusing but isn’t.
  4. The writing is generally strong.
  5. It’s not a romance, thank goodness. Doesn’t happen often in the Paranormal genre.

Dislikes:

  1. I read this as an ebook on Stanza. The primary reason I did this is I’m not fond of the layout of the website. The black on grey text makes my eyes go funny. This, of course, is a matter of taste.
  2. While, as I noted above, the multiple times are well handled I did sometimes wish the story jumped around less.  Again a matter of taste.
  3. Miladysa occassionally resorts to small scale telling. What I mean is that there are no long passages of narrative summary, but she sometimes tells us what characters are feeling instead of showing it. Sometimes she shows it and then tells us. The alternatives to “said” sometimes get a bit out of hand as well (people seem to remark a heck of a lot for one).
  4. I want book three now, but it isn’t written yet.

Verdict:

Refuge of Delayed Souls is an unusual Paranormal Fantasy and well worth taking a look at (and buying if you have the moolah to spare).

3.5 stars.


Alezair Czynri, an immortal being with no memory of his past, embarks on a journey with a mysterious woman claiming to be a resident of Purgatory.  Through her, Alezair learns the many dark secrets behind the universe, and eventually begins to realize this woman knows more about him than he initially thought.

This will be a fairly short review since there are only three chapters up so far.

The Antithesis by T.L. Whiteman bills itself as a horror/sci-fi /dark romance series. From the three chapters which are up so far this seems like a fair assessment. I’ve seen other reviewers compare it to “Dollhouse” but with supernatural elements. I’ve never actually watched “Dollhouse”, but I know enough about the premise to say I see why they say that.

The main character is the non-human servant of a force called the Nexus. After each mission he is mind-wiped and put back on the shelf until he’s needed again. So far I see the resemblence, but Alezair goes rogue at the start of the story to track down the mysterious woman.

Likes:

The writing is solid, and the premise interesting. I’m not a great one for romance, but the dynamic between the two-some and the whole mystery of what’s going on are good. I’m curious to know how this pans out. The main character seems real and has an interesting voice. In general the first three chapters make for a strong start.

Dislikes:

The layout. It’s not that it’s white on black (though it is and if you hate that be advised) but that it’s inconsistent. Sometimes the author leaves a line between paragraphs and sometimes they don’t. Personally, I wish they’d leave one between all lines, but it would be tolerable if it was the other way as well. I also find there’s too much sidebar and not enough main text section for my liking, but that’s a matter of taste.

Verdict:

The Antithesis is an interesting piece of web fiction and is off to a strong start. The layout isn’t the best, but if you can see past that and like dark fantasy and horror it’s worth a look.

3 stars.

The Starwalker is a starship with an experimental star-stepping drive. Designed to use the gravity wells of stars to fold space, she can travel between star systems faster than FTL. That is, if they can get it to work.

She is run by a sophisticated AI who doesn’t always follow her programming. She has only just been born, and she has a lot to figure out. She is often torn between the needs of the crew and the demands of the scientists responsible for running the tests on the new drive. There are politics surrounding this new drive of hers that she has to get a grip on before they get a grip on her.

Most of all, she needs to track down and explain the glitches in her software before someone notices and wipes her memory drives. What she doesn’t know is that it wouldn’t be the first time.

Starwalker is the new web fiction project by Melanie Edmonds author of “The Apocalypse Blog” which I reviewed here, and in my opinion it’s a much stronger project.

Likes:

1. The concept. A ship’s log told by the ship is wonderful.
2. Starwalker (the ship) has a wonderfully distinctive voice. I can imagine what she sounds like just from the way she uses words.
3. The story is currently in the midst of its second chapter but the tension is building beautifully. We’re already getting strong hints of the problems facing the protagonist if anyone catches on that she’s “malfunctioning”. (Where malfunctioning equals having a mind of her own), and there’s a mystery building up – why is she unaware of certain things.
4. The protagonist, as I mentioned, is the AI that runs the ship. It’s a computer, but I’m empathising with her. She feels like a real person and I want her to win out. This is no small feat.
5. The peeks at other crew members are good as well.

Dislikes:

Not many. It’s early days to tell if it’s going to run into any of the problems I found with Apocalypse Blog, but so far it’s a much more vibrant read. The only caveat I have so far is that it’s fairly light – which isn’t a problem so much as an observation.

Summary:

Starwalker is a fun SF Blog fic with an engaging main character, and the fact it’s a still in the early stages means it’s a good time to start reading before there is a mountain of backlog to read through.

4 Stars