Monday, 22 October 2018

2018: a (somewhat early) recap

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There are still over 2 months left till the end of 2018, but I feel I can already do a yearly recap, since most of my work plan for 2018 is complete.

Like in 2017, four of my books came out this year:

In January, I opened the year by releasing The Last Outpost, a sci-fi/government conspiracy/dystopian novel set in Antarctica. This soon became, and still is, the book that earns me my highest number of KU monthly reads, and confirmed me in the decision of sticking, for now, with KDP Select, despite Amazon's underhanded tactics that often harm authors.

This busy start was interrupted by some months of Real Life - in March, I had a baby girl who joined the merry bunch of her three siblings. The upping of our total kid number to four resulted in a long period of happy chaos.

Meanwhile, we prepared for a house move, which was completed in August and turned our lives upside down for a time. Thank goodness, most of the boxes are unpacked now, but it will take a while until everything is quite in order.

In September, just as I was fighting to get out of the mess of cardboard, I celebrated the release of not one, but two books: The Hourglass and Freeborn, books 2 and 3 in the Wild Children dystopian series. The decision to release them both at once was based on the reasoning that the promotion of a series always leans heavily on the first book, and the more subsequent books you have available for your new fans, the better.

October was the official release month of The Ice Fortress, sequel to The Last Outpost and the second book in my Frozen World Antarctic series. I say official, because I actually uploaded the book back in August, but didn't do any promotion at all while I was busy with the release of the Wild Children sequels.

Phew! This has been a whirlwind year, and I feel like I can reward myself by sitting back for a bit, having a nice cup of coffee, and fueling my creativity by some good books and movies.

So what are my plans for 2019?

Four books a year isn't a crazy pace for an indie author, but for me, it has been really intense because balancing writing and family time isn't easy when you have a houseful of young kids. Therefore, 2019 is definitely going to be a slower year for me.

Nevertheless, I am tinkering with some new projects.

I already have the overall concept for the next book in the Frozen World series, which will include more world cataclysms, climate change, and government corruption.

After a long while of writing primarily sci-fi and dystopia, I have started working on another historical fiction novel set in Ethiopia, in the same world as Land of the Lost Tribe. I'm not rushing it, because to my chagrin I realized that readership interested in that epoch and place is extremely small, but I also know that this story will drive me crazy if I don't get it written.

I'm toying with the idea of self-publishing a Middle Grade fantasy novel I've had sitting on the shelf for a while in the hopes of finding an agent, because trad pub is still the best deal for Middle Grade. Meanwhile, I've mapped out the sequel and started writing it.

So 2019 is going to be a year with more diversity of genre and less deadlines. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Different hats, different genres

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Check out this excellent post on Joanna Penn's blog, about writing in multiple genres and wearing many hats as a writer. This really resonated with me, an author who has published books in genres as different as dystopia/sci-fi, Regency with a paranormal touch, and epic fantasy. Oh, and I also write nonfiction, under a different pen name.

Beginner authors are commonly advised to choose a genre and stick to it, as part of building their brand. From a commercial point of view this makes excellent sense, as the readers grow to associate a name with a genre and know exactly what to expect (i.e., "Nicholas Sparks = romance in small Southern towns"). If I see the name "Dan Brown" or "Stephen King" on a new title in the bookstore, I'll pick up the book almost without a second glance at the blurb, because I already know pretty much what I'm getting.

However, I kind of defy this rule - not because I find branching out to be more profitable, but because  I feel limiting myself to only one genre would make me stagnate as a writer and, ultimately, become bored with my work. To me, writing is more than a way to make a living; it is my passion, creative outlet and favorite escape, and I need variety. It's like limiting myself to watching nothing but Jane Austen film adaptations; as much as I love the genre (and, really, I am almost embarrassed to admit how many times I've watched the 1995 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility), eventually I'd find myself longing for a contemporary romantic comedy, an Alejandro Amenabar film, or even some Game of Thrones.

Is it optimal? Is it wise from a marketability point of view? I'm not sure; but this is who I am, and this is how I write. The world is so wide and there are so many things to explore; for me, narrowing down my choices is nearly impossible.
For some useful insight on author branding when writing in multiple genres, check out this blog post:

"The first step is figuring out what exactly does all of your work have in common?  Do they have a common audience, common themes, etc?  I always ask my clients to list at least three things all their books have in common.   At first most of them say “nothing, they are all different.”  But when pressed, they can usually find many more common traits than just three.

For me, it is the escapism element; I hardly ever touch upon the contemporary - my books all transport the reader to a different world, whether it is the past, the future, or an alternate reality. I'm still figuring out how I can brand this, but I know that writing across multiple genres is something I will continue doing for a long time to come. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Raveling: a story of indie publishing success

The Silver Sorceress (The Raveling Book 2) by [Hutson, Alec]

I don't usually post book reviews on this blog, but The Silver Sorceress, sequel to The Crimson Queen, isn't just a delightful read for every lover of epic fantasy - it's another page in the success story of an indie author who thoroughly deserves it. 

I was privileged to watch Alec Hutson's self-publishing journey unfold, basically from the ground up. He started out as one of the Wattpad crowd, did the usual cold querying route, and eventually self published with a very modest platform and no particularly aggressive book promotion. The Crimson Queen began to roll, and I've been waiting for the sequel ever since. 

So what is the secret? Alec has put a lot of time and work into his project, and delivered not just a brilliantly written book, but a high quality product all around, with a beautiful cover, professional formatting, and gorgeous maps made by a talented fantasy cartographer. He cut no corners. The book was so good that it tapped into the ultimate advertising venue - word of mouth. People genuinely loved it and recommended it, which is something you can't buy. I'm sure there was also an element of luck, but not the kind of luck that makes you shrug and say, "I don't know what people find in this". 

In case you haven't heard of these books yet, they are like The Song of Ice and Fire without the smut. It's epic fantasy at its best, with a complex, intricately built world, and thoroughly believable, very well-rounded characters with highly realistic motives. 

The Raveling features classic sword and sorcery elements: an epic quest, a battle between good and evil, a Chosen One... Which just goes to show that people still love and read traditional fantasy that doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. As literary agents try to force something groundbreaking into fantasy and scoff at what the public knows, loves and seeks as "unoriginal", readers turn to indie fantasy authors that focus on the important thing in writing fiction: delivering a good, really good story. Do I need to say this makes me happy?

So, epic fantasy readers, if you haven't started on The Raveling yet, you are in for a treat. The books can be found on Alec Hutson's Amazon page.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Books, Publishing and Hamburgers

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Re-posting this following a social media thread:


Warning: this is a long-suppressed rant. Speshul sensitive snowflakes are welcome to leave now, to avoid any harsh feelings. 

In the trad publishing vs. indie publishing debate, I keep hearing the following argument: "But trad pub produces plenty of crap too!"

Does it? 

Let's say, for the sake of the argument, that you want to open a restaurant.

You might decide to open a classy gourmet place where elegant waiters in tuxedos saunter around the candlelit hall,  carrying silver trays, and live piano music can be enjoyed every weekend. 

Or you may say, "You know what? Not many people are willing to spend a month's rent's worth on one dinner. I'd better open a hamburger bar."

And that's OK.  

Hamburgers are legit. There’s a market for hamburgers. By choosing this option, you can feed people and make an honest buck a lot easier than by charging a gazillion dollars for half a dozen fresh oysters on crushed ice (or whatever.  I'm Orthodox Jewish. What do I know about oysters?).

You know what you can't do, though? 

You can't poison your clients. 

You can't say, "this meat fell on the floor and got trodden on, but I'll use it anyway."

You can't use the same black rancid oil for French fries, over and over, for a month. 

You can't stick unwashed vegetables in salads and hope that salmonella will miss the target.  

You can't serve food on half-washed dishes and unwiped tables.

You must, in short, adhere to certain Ministry of Health hygiene standards, or your business will be closed pretty fast, with a nasty biting fine thrown in.  

Trad publishing is that Ministry of Health.  

I am yet to encounter a single traditionally published book with consistently missing commas, or a chapter title at the bottom of a page, or periods in the middle of a sentence.  

I have never seen a trad published book in which Mindy suddenly turns into Cindy on page 278, or which makes the reader want to puke and run away by phrases such as, "her eager and responsive body eagerly responded to his amorous advances". 

Indie books, though?  I've seen all this and more, just this week. There is nobody to put their foot down and say, "this is illegal. We are closing this restaurant".

You don't have to be the next Dostoyevsky. You can aim to be the next SciFi McHorror, or Nicholas Sparking Sparks, or whatever. 

You can serve hamburgers. 

But you can't serve shawarma made of a donkey with tuberculosis. 

Because if people come out of your fast food joint barfing and writhing with stomach pain, you'll soon go broke. 

So... I've said this. I'm quite prepared for an influx of voodoo dolls and Anthrax envelopes coming my way, but at least I got this off my chest.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Double release: Wild Children sequel strategy

These are exciting days for me: almost a year and a half since Wild Children was first released, my readers get to find out what happens in the world of illegally born outcasts living on the fringes of society.

This project has been a long time in the making, because my publisher and I made the decision to release not one, but two sequels simultaneously. The reasoning behind this was a marketing strategy: since we were planning to give a really big push to promoting Wild Children, the first book in the series, once the sequel were released, we wanted to give the book's potential new readers a larger foray into the world of the series. Once they had read the first book, we wanted them to have the opportunity to purchase two additional books, instead of just one. I plan to write another post about this a few weeks later and tell you guys how this has turned out.

 The Hourglass is told from the perspective of Priscilla Dahl, a 16-year-old girl who forfeits her privileged position in society to seek justice. Freeborn is the story of the backlash that occurs when the government decides to rein in the outlaws it has shunned for many years. The beloved characters from the first book - the children from the orphanage, Benjamin Grey, his parents Rebecca and Daniel, and the new friends he makes in the world of freedom and precarious life on the edge - are all there in the sequels, too.

In celebration of this double new release, Wild Children will be free on September 15th and 16th, so be sure to download your copy. Your support in the form of shares, reviews and social media mentions is always appreciated.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Writing: art or craft? (Pssst: it's both)

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I avoid subscribing to many newsletters because I don't want to clog my mailbox, but I really love Derek Murphy's. He always gives solid, useful, practical advice and isn't afraid to cut it out like it is. I highly recommend you subscribe. Here's an excerpt from his latest newsletter:

"People assume writing for others or considering the market, or even OUTLINING will suck the joy out of the process; the truth is, writing good books is hard, and most people never finish anything - those who finish something probably have a total mess. Writing doesn't always have to be puppies and rainbows. Sometimes it's just work. Sometimes it's frustrating and difficult. That's OK! If you don't do the hard stuff, you won't improve! (Most writers never improve, because they keep circling back to the fun easy stuff but avoiding all the hard stuff)."

I used to despise the grind of outlining, revising and editing, and only appreciated those starry-eyed moments of conceiving a story and flying through the first draft on the wings of inspiration. But some years down the road, I realized that if I make it all about inspiration and my creative enjoyment, I will never end up with anything I can show others without making a fool of myself. Now I celebrate the process of revising and fine-tuning a manuscript as a part of my professionalism as an author and my dedication to giving readers the best value I can possibly provide. I might still enjoy the first draft stage most of all, because it's then that I can let my imagination really run loose, but I realize this first step is worthless without all the rest. 

I also used to scoff about keeping the reader in mind as one writes, writing to market and, without thinking about it, put more value into so-called "pure art" - high-quality books that supposedly only a handful of refined readers can enjoy, while most of the market consumes primarily "trash" in the form of romance novels and thrillers. I totally ignored the fact that I, myself, may enjoy the mental labor of reading Tolstoy and Fielding, but to relax and escape, I go to Nicholas Sparks and Dan Brown. 

Good books don't necessarily need to be heavy, intellectually burdening, or only enjoyed by a select few. Consider Jane Austen, one of my all-time favorite writers - I love her books because they are both lighthearted and engaging, beautifully written, and intelligent and psychologically accurate at the same time. No wonder they have withstood the test of centuries, and are as much enjoyed today as they were 200 years ago!

Quoting Derek again:

The truth is, nobody has time to read it all: people buy what's useful, relevant or entertaining for THEM. Years ago I discovered I can create work I love, that other people enjoy. I can make art AND money. I can enjoy the process AND make sure others do as well. If I do this, I will get paid for the value I put into the world, which will let me create more great art.

Let's face it - writing isn't just an art, it's also a craft. It's like jewelry making; inspiration will enable you to produce a great design, but only lots and lots of polishing will give an actual product. 

Thursday, 30 August 2018

7 social media mistakes authors make

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"Get on social media" is one of the most common bits of advice given to authors looking for ways to grow their platform and promote their books. It is not bad advice, either, as long as you keep in mind two things: one, social media is not a fast track to book sales (for direct sales, AMS ads are far more effective); and two, in all things social, you only get as much as you give. 

So here, in my opinion, are the most common mistakes authors make when they try to approach social media as part of their professional platform: 

1. Making it all about you - this one is perhaps the most obvious, but it's incredible how many people try to force sales through social media, and/or tire their followers with constant cover reveals, reviews, banners, teasers and promos. I can't think of a more effective way to make people mute or unfollow you. Also very annoying is when you are thrust into some obscure group as soon as you accept someone's friend request. Don't do that! 

2. Getting too personal - a personal touch is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it's great. Social media is, after all, about making connections, so there's a place for posting pictures from your latest trip or your kitchen makeover. But if all you ever post are photos of your cat at different angles, it won't contribute much to growing your professional network or enhancing your fan base. 

3. Not posting any actual content - memes, games and funny videos will get you some likes and make some people engage with you, but it won't do much for you in the long term. You have to be selective. Seek out content that will educate, uplift, surprise or entertain your audience on a deeper level, and add something personal: a phrase, an anecdote, a comment. It's much better than just sharing or re-tweeting without saying anything. Show that you've actually put a moment of thought into what you're sharing.

4. Being sporadic - many authors are very active on social media in the period surrounding their book launch, and disappear for weeks or months afterwards. It doesn't work this way. The social media world is very dynamic and fast-paced, and you must keep up a steady presence to build and maintain connections. 

5. Getting off-topic - I have seen many author accounts where 90% of the time the author posts about how much they hate Trump. Or about dog shelters. Or pollution. This is called getting off track: you open an account for one purpose and get caught in something completely different. Stay focused! I personally try to keep away from politics and hot topics such as gay rights. 

6. Trying to do too much - if you are new to social media and open a Facebook account and a Twitter account and get on Instagram and Pinterest and YouTube and try to keep up a podcast and two blogs, you will most likely be overwhelmed. It's better to stick to one or two platforms and really engage there, than do a perfunctory social media rush without the time to really develop meaningful connections. 

7. Choosing the wrong platform - what platforms to choose depends both on your personality and the audience you want to address. If you write for teens and want to hang out with your crowd, you most likely won't find it on Facebook. If you love photography, you might find a good place on Instagram. Use your common sense and play to your strengths. 

One last thing: I don't spend much time on social media, and there's no real need to. It's more about distribution of your allotted time. Here's approximately how I split mine:

1. 30%-40% - checking out other people's stuff, liking and commenting, participating in group discussions. 
2. 20% - sharing non-commercial content - writing posts, uploading photos and videos, passing on other people's interesting stuff. 
3. 10%... OK, 20% - goofing off. 
4. 10% - Optimizing and updating my profiles, banners and pages. 
5. 10% - sharing stuff about my books, including cover reveals, quotes, reviews, giveaways and releases. 

I get good response (engagement, sharing, etc) on my commercial stuff because I've "paid" for the right to post it by making it only a tiny fraction of my overall social media activity, and also by helping others promote themselves.