Thursday, 5 December 2019

2019 Recap

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As the end of the year is approaching, it's time for another recap. Compared to 2018, it was a less intense year in terms of books: I only released two, compared to four last year.

I opened 2019 with the release of Dragon Diplomacy, my first Middle Grade fantasy novel, which I did not predict to bring me many sales, and so it did indeed happen - but I'm still glad I wrote and published it, because it was a labor of love co-written with my two eldest daughters, and I immensely enjoyed working on it.

Then I shifted my focus back on working on the Frozen World series, and released The Breath of Earth, the third book of the sci-fi saga, in September. I am now working on book four of the series, which will be titled The Bloodthirst Gene, and while I don't have an estimated release date yet, it will definitely be sometime in 2020.

It was also a year of professional growth for me as an editor, with having such an inflow of work that I actually had to turn down several manuscripts - I haven't had to advertise actively for almost a year now, a vote of confidence from my clients which I appreciate beyond what words can express.

In the meantime, I also did quite a bit of self-education on novel serialization and expanding into the Asian market, which has been an ongoing learning curve, and on which I hope to be able to provide an update soon.

2020 is going to be another busy year with more writing, and probably two books coming out, more exploration of new markets, and more growth. I daresay it will be pretty exciting!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Some slice of life writing challenges

The latest post on Joanna Penn's excellent blog features Andrea Pearson, who offers some essential advice on time management for authors who are also the mothers of young children.

... And who happen to have the privilege of a cleaning lady, an assistant, budget to outsource things like editing and layout, and a fantastically supportive husband who is totally on board with their writing business and actually lends a hand with some aspects of its management.

Now welcome back to the reality of a frazzled author mom on a shoestring budget, who doesn't have a peaceful moment in a day and whose husband believes that if today is the 27th of the month and she has a deadline on the 29th, rearranging the pantry is still WAY more important than anything writing-related.

Please understand that my snark here is not directed at Ms Pearson, who does sound like a fantastically organized and competent author. She has three children and homeschools, so any help she can get is definitely warranted and I can imagine she is not spoiled with an excess of free time either! Many authors with fewer commitments struggle with time management. In fact, as Ms Pearson rightly says, being busy forces us to make good use of our time.

But here's the thing. Many authors are struggling so hard to keep their heads above water that they wouldn't even have the time or energy to give an interview like Ms Pearson's. I was one of them. Like a miser lovingly clutching his coins, I would snatch every available moment to write - on a pad while being stuck in traffic, on my phone while lending myself as a pillow to a child who was struggling to fall asleep. I was literally clawing out those moments out of an overworked, unappreciated existence.

Getting my own laptop was a game changer. I used to write on the family desktop PC located in the middle of the living room, which meant I was always in the eye of the tornado. It would also often crash and my work would be unsaved.

Often, I knew that the baby wouldn't nap for long, and I needed to choose between a shower and writing. A snack and writing. Answering a call from a friend who was going through a hard time and writing.

And I chose writing.

I was that perpetually hungry, crazy-haired, lonely individual who resented her bladder for stealing a few moments that could be spent in front of the screen typing. Does that sound nuts? It is. I was nuts.

It's just that I wanted to make it really, really, REALLY bad.

And I am making it, because I still make the same choices every day. I'm more efficient in a lot of things, but my work doesn't just happen unless I put my foot down and say "Now everything waits while I meet that deadline".

What about support from your spouse or extended family?

A couple of years ago, an author told me concerning family support: "A clean house, cooked dinners, and the full-time paycheck I made didn't matter. What mattered to them was that not every single moment of my day was focused on them and serving their needs".

She was not alone. And if you are going through the same thing, neither are you. This isn't because so many spouses and children are big meanies trying to sabotage the author who happens to be their mom/dad/wife/husband. It's just that many people genuinely don't get it. And children are, by nature, selfish - you have to teach them otherwise.

If you are surrounded by an environment that all seems to conspire against your writing dream, you have to stand up and assert that dream. Take up spare moments and hoard them until you have an hour. Take those words, one by one, and put them together until you have a novel.

Things do get easier. You manage to carve out your writing corner. People learn not to drop in on you unexpectedly. Your children learn to respect your boundaries. You become more efficient at what you do and are able to do more in the same amount of time.

You rise, baby. And then you laugh in life's face, and say, "Ha! I made it despite everything!"

You can do it. I can do it. All it takes is getting up, each day, with the determination of following your dream.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Downside of Discipline, or why I allowed myself to loaf for a bit

Feet up in Paradise - Time to Relax (XXXL) : Stock Photo

Those who have been reading my blog for a while know that my biggest point of writing advice is: Consistency! Consistency! Consistency! Write 1000 words a day, every day. I don't believe in writer's block. My "writer's block" consists of a kid or three blocking my way to my laptop because they want to watch cartoons on it.

I do know, however, that there is such a thing as burnout. I was quite alarmed, once, at my sudden intense aversion to books and daydreaming of never having to write a single darn thing again. Was this me? Me, the one who has identified as a writer and storyteller since the age of six?

I give myself more slack now. Well, perhaps "slack" is not the right term. I work as a fiction editor, so basically, my whole life revolves around books. Every month, I edit the equivalent of two full-length novels. I read no less than 50 pages of fiction, sometimes written so poorly it makes my eyes water, every day just for work. Is it any wonder that when night rolls around I often feel so run down I can't bring myself to read anything but crochet patterns?

In 2017 and 2018, I released four books per year. In 2019, I released two, and my output is not about to increase in 2020 if the volume of work I perform each month remains the same. I enjoy what I do, but I just had to come to terms with the fact that it takes up, in addition to time, some of the "writing space" in my brain.

So I just had to let my brain lie fallow for a while. Remember the concept of the Sabbatical year? Not working the land and just leaving it to soak up the rain and dew and letting the worms work their magic? A year might be a bit excessive, but after the release of The Breath of Earth in September I stepped back and allowed myself to slip into hibernation mode. Read for fun, no review copies. Watch inspirational videos (Antarctic scenery. Who doesn't love to watch whales frolic and call it research?). Just sort of vegetate until writing started to be fun again, rather than a lifetime penance.

Now that the mojo is back, it's time for some discipline again. Time to tell myself, No, you won't just 'check your email for a moment'. You won't get up to get yourself another piece of chocolate, you glutton. You'll keep at it until your 1000 words are added to the daily word count, you lazy slug.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Walking on eggshells: diversity in literature

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Here is another article that serves as a perfect example of how diversity in literature is becoming a scattering of sharp eggshells authors find extremely hard to walk on, because whatever you do (or don't do), there will be people wielding a large magnifying glass, scrutinizing your work and tsk-tsk-ing about your shortcomings. And the shortcomings are there, believe me. Because whether you underplay or emphasize race, whether you include many minority characters or not enough, someone out there will complain.

And even if you have the perfect nonwhite, non-standard main character and do it all perfectly, it's a shame you had written this at all, because #ownvoices, you know?!

A disclaimer: I hate racism and bigotry. I hate those things with a passion and whenever I encounter them, my blood pressure rises, my heart starts racing, and I normally won't walk away without taking a stand. You want some background? Hitler nearly wiped out my family. Being Jewish, I belong to one of the most ethnically diverse peoples in the world, with a Jewish diaspora having existed in almost every country from Finland to Ethiopia (and yes, they are all MY people! Jews from Yemen and Jews from Ukraine. People who speak Yiddish, Arabic, Amharic. People who make gefilte fish and people who make couscous. Isn't that awesome?)

I find the very beginning of this article - "adding diversity to your writing is a difficult task" - a bit problematic. I can honestly tell you I have never gone through a manuscript saying, "hmm, is this diverse enough? Have I included enough minority characters?" - nor do I think it would be reasonable. My books don't generally focus on race. Neither do, or should, most books. I do have characters of various ethnicity, but it has always been a part of who I was, not a "let's include this character and that character because DIVERSITY!" thing. 

And how about, "Also, don’t dehumanize us. A common example is equating skin tone to food. Avoid this insensitive technique as it’s a grave reminder of our history as slave labor involving commodities like coffee, cacao, sugar, et cetera. We are not products to be consumed, so do not treat us as such."

Really?! What about peaches-and-cream skin? Honey-colored hair? I could go on but you get the idea. Once, I recall reading about a farm worker's freckles described as "a smattering of golden wheat grains". Does this allude to social oppression?

It is true, however, that description of characters' looks shouldn't boil down to redundant cliches. I have learned some important lessons in this during my work as an editor of translated Chinese novels. In books written by Chinese authors where all the characters are Chinese, nobody has "silky black hair and almond-shaped eyes" (you could as well describe someone as 'the dude with two ears and one nose'). Characters are described as having heavy brow ridges, high cheekbones, light or heavy build, thin or puffy lips, and so on. And the occasional European or American foreigner? He doesn't get any description beyond "the middle-aged Caucasian man". 

My own novel, Land of the Lost Tribe, takes place in Ethiopia. You can bet I didn't describe any character as "dark-skinned" or "with kinky hair" (beyond the encounter with different-looking foreigners). I had to get a lot more creative!

As usual with diversity posts, I feel I could go on and on. But you know what? I won't. Just go ahead and write that story. A darn good story with awesomesaucy characters and spot-on brilliant descriptions. Write what fires up your imagination and don't worry about anything else, because you can't please everyone anyway.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Marketing a book series: initial insights

It has been a month since the release of The Breath of Earth, the third book in my Frozen World Antarctic sci-fi saga, and though I am not a metadata whiz like many of my fellow indie authors, I can share two observations:

1. The amount of sales and KU page reads for the whole series has definitely jump-started.

2. I see the most dramatic increase in the sales of book 2.

Part of it is no doubt thanks to reader-funneling after a free book promo for book 1 (The Last Outpost) which I ran on the release of book 3. However, even taking this into account, the read-through from book 1 to book 2 has definitely increased with the release of book 3, even though book 3 hasn't made any substantial waves yet.

Which brings me to the following conclusion, which might or might not be accurate:

Readers are more eager to keep reading when they see an actual ongoing series, not just a book and a sequel.

Psychologically, I know this is definitely true for me as a reader. When I read the first book in a series and like it, I'm more motivated to keep going with the next books in the series if I see I have a lot to look forward to, and the more the better. Therefore, you could argue that the very existence of book 3 is prompting me to buy/read book 2, even though it will be a while before I get to book 3 yet.

All this tallies with the advice to indie authors to not even bother doing much marketing for a series until at least three books are out.

Bottom line: keep writing and getting those books out there! The books in a series work as a team, promoting each other and making it easier for you to make sales.

Also check out this excellent article, How to Launch and Promote a New Book That's Part of a Series

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Author interview on Paul's Fantasy Writings

In perfect timing with my latest release, I've been granted the honor of an interview on Paul's Fantasy Writings. Pop over and check it out:

The Breath of Earth (the third instalment in The Frozen World series) is your most recent book. What would you like readers to gain or learn from the story?
What is your next book called and when will it be released?

The entire Frozen World series is in the sub-genre of what can be defined as environmental science fiction. It tells about a near-utopian society of the Anai, an isolated tribe living in a warm microclimate pocket in Antarctica. The themes, or rather the universal questions of these stories, revolve around humankind and its relations with nature. Namely, can people coexist with nature without despoiling it? Can the desire to do right and preserve the world we live in overcome greed and power struggles? What are some things one is never justified in doing, not even in the name of survival?
I am currently outlining the next book in the Frozen World series. It will be titled The Bloodthirst Gene, and it will explore the question of whether violence is a necessary trait for human survival. It will also, of course, include elements from the previous books in the series: an Antarctic setting, a dystopian world, and an oasis of harmony between man and nature.

Friday, 6 September 2019

The Breath of Earth is here!

It has been longer than I planned, but The Breath of Earth, the third book in my Frozen World Antarctic sci-fi series, is finally here!

Like all of my books, it's a living example showing that once you want something badly enough, the impossible becomes possible. I have four children aged 10 to 1 at home and a husband who works from home and who, let's face it, thinks taking the time to write is never justified if it clashes with housework - which is kind of always, because I don't think I'll ever reach a point in this life where I have no housework piled up. Furthermore, last January I had taken on an editing job to help pay the bills. If anyone can legitimately say that they have no time to write, it would probably be me. I have no set hours, no private work space, no budget for any extras, and zero support from my family.

What I do have is a brimming well of stories within me, a laptop, and a virtual cheerleading community of indie authors and amazing readers that keeps egging me on. Oh, and an overpowering, burning desire to make money from what I love and do best - writing fiction.

The Last Outpost, the first book in the Frozen World series, was a pivotal point in my writing career in the sense that it was the first book I didn't try to pitch to agents and publishers before going the self pub route. I didn't want a publishing deal even theoretically. What I did want was to have that book out in the world as soon as possible, working on my behalf and, hopefully, earning money. I also wanted a full measure of control over my story and how it would see the light of day. I knew I would make mistakes, I was prepared to do that and bounce back and keep learning.

While I had some ideas about a sequel to The Last Outpost when I released it, I was also prepared for the possibility of the book remaining a standalone. I knew I was tired of writing and publishing books nobody would buy. I no longer bought into the starving underappreciated artist trope. Just like a storyteller of old wouldn't be spinning their tales if nobody came to take a seat next to them beside the fire, I wouldn't keep writing things nobody else was interested in. But I got some very positive reviews for The Last Outpost and, for the first time ever, a trickle of sales that didn't fizzle out after the first few days.

Encouraged, I did two things:

1. Wrote a freebie short prequel, The Frozen Shore, and offered it for free on Smashwords to funnel readers to The Las Outpost. I don't have exact numbers, but I'm pretty sure I gained a few new readers that way.

2. Went full steam ahead with writing the sequel, The Ice Fortress, which took a few months. Once it was released, I was glad to see that the conversion rate from the readers of the first book was pretty good. It means that many readers have enjoyed the first book enough to buy the second, which is thrilling.

I have been holding off on paid promotion until I would have at least three books in the series, but even so, I have had daily sales with the first two Frozen World books - without advertising and initially, with no reviews to speak of. I do have a social media presence (this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and lately Instagram), but it is relatively modest.

My marketing plan for the near future includes making the first book of the series free for a few days, some AMS ads, and most importantly, working on the next book in the Frozen World saga.

So is there more to come? You betcha! I am currently working on an outline and getting pretty excited. Give me a few late-nighters, and it should be well under way.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Little Victories

This week, I wrote those two glorious words - The End - at the bottom of the first draft of The Breath of Earth, the third book in my Frozen World series. Yes, it's a first draft, and yes, it's a hot mess, and yes, it will probably (OK, certainly) require a whole lot of editing, but I still got this novel out of me, and I'm taking full advantage of this opportunity to celebrate. 

I don't remember ever working so hard to finish a first draft. Most of it was due to sheer exhaustion. I would spend the day taking care of the house and the kids and working on editing projects for the company I work with, and then, finally, the house would be quiet and I'd carve out some time for writing, and I'd sit down to my laptop and write a few paragraphs, and then my eyelids would droop and I'd wake up half an hour later, slumped forward with a crick in my neck. 

Or I would write in the living room, surrounded by my kids, who are always busy making sure my life wouldn't be boring. I'd type on, with the sounds of "Mom, mom, mom, mom!!" in my ears, and eventually I would stare at the screen and realize I've written total nonsense. 

Please don't think I've been intentionally neglecting my family. I'm an extremely efficient writer intent on making the most of the minuscule amount of time I have, and can churn out a 1,000 words in half an hour. Usually I split this into two 15-minute daily writing sessions. My kids can survive without having my undivided attention for 15 minutes. 

I'm not telling you all this to complain, but rather to reaffirm the efforts of anyone who is struggling. If you really want to, you can do it! It may be slower and harder, and building a backlist will take longer, but you will have that book in your hand eventually, and then another and another. 

Having very limited time, I've been focusing entirely on Frozen World during the past months, because it's my best-received series, and the only one for which I have mostly organic reviews. I have some thoughts about subsequent books, too - four and beyond - with plans for a POV shift and new characters. 

I'm also tweaking the first book's cover and changing the second book's cover entirely to create consistent branding for the series. But that's a subject for another post. 

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Mental health for writers

It has taken me years to acknowledge that I do indeed suffer from legitimate emotional/mental issues and do need help to cope from time to time. During my first session with my therapist, when I mentioned that I'm a writer, she smiled and said, "Well, you know, depression and anxiety are something like professional diseases."

Indeed, depression and anxiety do seem to be something like an athlete's foot for writers. The same acute receptivity that makes us good at transmitting shades of emotion into words makes us extra sensitive to existential fears, insecurities and mood swings. Throw in the loneliness of the writer's work, the long-term uncertainty and struggle, and oftentimes the financial instability, and you've got the makings of General Anxiety Disorder.

Obviously, mental health issues are something anyone might struggle with, but I do believe writers had better pay attention to themselves because sometimes those things are elusive. Are you suffering from writer's block or are you simply too anxious to think straight? Is your home extra messy because of your irregular work hours or because of depression?

What made me more open about this was the loss of a dear friend to suicide caused by depression. I would never have believed it of her, such a sunny person overflowing with life. Apparently she was struggling by herself and few people knew about it. So please, please don't suffer in silence.

1. Acknowledge there is a problem. Don't try to push through, holding it all together at any cost. You don't deserve this, and neither do your loved ones.

2. Be kind to yourself. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, keep a healthy posture while you work. Avoid unhealthy habits such as overeating and smoking.

3. Writing is an excellent therapy, and I certainly have found that putting words down helps me feel grounded even during the toughest of times, but keeping one's hands busy is therapeutic in a whole different way. I garden, bake, and crochet. Many of my writer friends are also painters, crafters, bakers, etc. Try it - you might just discover a new hobby you love.

4. Don't be alone. Find your tribe, whether in real life or online. Whatever you are going through, chances are many people are in the same boat as you, and things are easier to deal with together.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Making it as an author: diversify your strategies

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Making it as an author (however you define "making it") can be a twisting, steep path, and if you ask established authors to tell their success stories, their breakthroughs, you'll likely hear very different tales as to what finally got the snowball rolling for each of them. One thing all the stories are almost guaranteed to have in common, however, is persistence - nobody has succeeded by quitting yet, as far as I know!

This doesn't mean, however, that you should just keep going on doing the same old thing, the same old way. That would be like banging into the wall again and again, insisting that there MUST be a door. That's probably true - but the door might be a few steps away, and you need to make those steps to find it!

Stepping back and taking a break for a while might be necessary for your mental health. I had once reached a point when my fingers would shake and my heart would race whenever I sat down to check my email, and when I attempted to write, my eyes would just roll back in my head and I'd doze off (even if it was midmorning). I had been running on an empty battery for too long and I was exhausted. It took some good sober reassessment (and plenty of paperbacks and yarn) to help me recover.

Next, ask yourself some questions:

1. Have I chosen the right genre? Of course, when it comes to book genres, there is no right or wrong, but some genres are more niche than others. I don't suggest that you write something which does not inspire you, because that won't work, but maybe you have a way to tweak your writing to match a more popular genre.

For example, when I began promoting my Viking era novel, The Greenlanders, I discovered that had I included more romance in the plot, I could have gotten into the historical romance category, which has more voracious readers than just historical fiction.

2. Have I delivered the best product I possibly can? I realize this is a tricky one, because the perfect is the enemy of the good. There's literally no end to the amount of money you can pour into a book, including editing, cover design, formatting, and marketing. So set a reasonable budget and work within it.

You can also publish on no budget at all, despite what some literary snobs would have you believe. It will just take more time because you'll likely have to swap services with other people and/or do a lot yourself. I know of an author who doesn't even read their first draft - it just goes straight to the editor, but that's an exception. Most of us don't have enough money to pay an editor for taking care of a messy early draft.

3. Have I chosen the right publishing strategy? If you have been querying, consider the responses you got so far. If you only get form rejections, it might be time to tweak your query letter. If you get feedback along the lines of "I like it, but this will never sell" consider that traditional publishing is a conservative world, and also that many rejected authors have gone on to succeed as indies.

If you are an indie, consider whether you are locked onto ways and means that don't work, or don't work as well as you'd like. Do you try and try to get a BookBub ad, and get frustrated when you fail? Do you expend a lot of energy on blog tours that don't really help you get sales? Do you leave your books in KDP Select by default because exploring the possibilities of wide distribution seems daunting, or because it's easier than logging in and opting to check out of the program?

4. Am I still enjoying this? Writers are very often introverted people, which doesn't work to our advantage when it comes to marketing and PR, but there must still be some solid kernel of enjoyment left in this whole thing, or you won't be able to go on.

It must still be, at the core, about the writing, telling your story, creating your world. So make mental space for that. Read some really good books, put on some inspiring music. Exercise your creativity in other ways - plant a garden, cook, do crafts. Take walks. Connect with nature. Throw expectations out of the window - if someone is telling you it's no use if you don't manage to bang out two full-length novels each year, tell them to get lost. Guard that inner core of joy and creativity in your writing, because that's your biggest long-term asset.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Reaching new readers in the Asian market

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Have you ever asked yourself, "How on earth will I reach readers with so many indie authors out there?"

It's true that the indie book market is so vast that trying to stand out seems almost impossible, with literally millions of titles being published each year. You might find yourself getting desperate, envying those folks who had jumped on the bandwagon earlier, when competition was less aggressive and Amazon's algorithms were easier to game.

Here's the good news, though: there might be a lot more authors to compete with these days, but there are also more readers - and not all of them on Amazon.

At the beginning of the indie author boom, it was obvious that the target audience is English speaking and Western, primarily in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and, to a lesser extent, Europe.

These days, however, many countries in Asia and the Far East are going through a rapid process of globalization, technological advancement, and economical development. They are avid consumers of online content, primarily on mobile, and many of them speak and read English fluently. This means the pie is growing apace - there's a whole new market of potential readers for us. Hurray!

There are now over 800 million Internet users in China and over 500 million in India. You can bet some of these people, like everywhere in the world, can appreciate a good story. Can you imagine how fantastic it would be to reach even a fraction of them and have your books before such a huge fresh audience?

A popular reading medium is book serialization through platforms on which users pay a small fee to unlock subsequent chapters or the whole novel. The system is made sustainable thanks to sheer numbers of users, and popular authors can find a very nice income stream there. If this reminds you of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, it's because there's definitely some similarity - but the beauty of it is that this is an audience largely unreached by Amazon.

I first became aware of this market through my collaboration with Nyoibo Studio, an imprint of Jianlai Global - an international digital publisher based in China and, more recently, the US. They have started out by bringing translated Chinese novels (usually extra long ones) to an English-speaking audience, which I thought was pretty exciting.

So when I heard of their new project of signing up novels originally written in English, I decided to enroll at once. I had a few books which I had sitting in Kindle Unlimited for a couple of years, without any significant benefit. I had decided to pull them out of KDP Select and go wide. And what could be wider than a whole new market?

Here's what made this a very easy decision for me:

1. There is zero risk. That's the most important thing for me - there is literally nothing to lose and everything to gain. The authors do not pay any fees to enroll and are not required to give up any book rights. You remain free to publish your work elsewhere, and your only limitation is the inability to partake in the KDP Select program (but, as I said, I had already decided to go wide anyway).

2. The absolute straightforwardness and transparency of the process. Authors who choose to enroll sign a clear, no-nonsense contract that covers their share of the royalties, payment thresholds, any legal liabilities, copyright issues, etc. The company takes book rights very seriously and will never distribute any content without the author's permission.

3. My inner knowledge of how the company works - I knew that it is honest, legitimate, and makes money off readers, not authors (so you won't have to dodge all sorts of offers of author services, promotion packages, etc).

4. The possibility of being translated into Chinese if your book is especially popular. For me, this is really the cherry on top. I'd love to reach such an enormous audience in its native language.

The English language novel project is launching now, and I am sharing this knowledge with you because I genuinely want to see my fellow indie authors succeed. Nothing will make me happier than getting a message from some of you a little down the road, saying "Hey, I signed up for that project you mentioned and have tapped into a new crowd of overseas fans."

To read more about the project and find out if your work is eligible for participation, visit Jianlai Global's website here, or contact me directly. I would be happy to chat and answer any questions you might have.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Of Mad Queens, plot arcs, and audience expectations

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Disclaimer: this post is less about writing and more about pandering to my obsession with Game of Thrones.

This week, after eight heart-rending, nail-biting, roller-coasting seasons, we saw the ugliest barbed iron chair in the world go the way of scrap metal by one dragon's wrath - not before Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name, The Unburned, etc, was stabbed to death by her lover right in front of the throne she had always fought for but never got to sit on.

A lot of people expressed their disappointment with the way the show handled Daenerys's arc, but to me it made perfect sense. Daenerys wanted that throne so badly, and was ready to do so much to occupy it, that it kind of seemed to me it would never happen (because it's George Martin, you know). She was probably the most epic character in the series; moreover, she was a Targaryen, and that line isn't known for their mental stability. It is only fitting that her end should be tragic, culminating in the loss of friends, sanity, goals and, ultimately, life.

It is also very fitting, in my opinion, that the one who thwarted the madness of the Dragon Queen should be no other than Jon Snow, a.k.a Aegon Targaryen, the ultimate embodiment of A Song of Ice (Lyanna) and Fire (Rhaegar). 

Was Dany's descent into madness rushed? Uncharacteristic? Crudely handled? In my opinion, the seed had been planted a long time ago. The lovely queen was never averse to spilling a few gallons of blood for the supposed greater good, and again, she is a volatile Targaryen. A few provocations, the hint of disloyalty from those close to her, a threat to her claim to the throne, and things naturally go downhill really fast. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, this plot twist follows the principle of Killing Your Darlings. Everyone loved Daenerys (except those people who hated her). Everyone admired her (even those who hated her). Her death leaves us shocked, indignant, bereaved. That's the genius of both the books and the show. There are no promises. No guarantees. No character is safe. 

I'm off, my friends. I'm going with Jon Snow and Tormund into the vast wilderness beyond the Wall (which apparently had been rebuilt in record time). I hope Tyrion joins us soon. If you ask me, he has paid his debts to humanity ten times over.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Blood Heir again: the victory of sanity

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the insane blow-up of PC culture around the soon-to-be released fantasy novel Blood Heir, in which some precious snowflake allegedly found some gross insensitivity to offend their delicate feelings. This resulted in an online shaming and bullying campaign which ultimately caused the poor overwhelmed author, Amelie Zhao, to pull the book and write an apology letter.

In the past few days, I have found out, to my delight, that the book is going to be published after all, and is due to be released in November of this year. I can't express how immensely pleased I am. I don't know the author and haven't read the book, but no one deserves to be ganged upon that way because of some stupid hyped-up charge.

"When the controversy over “Blood Heir” erupted, battle lines were quickly drawn within the close-knit children’s publishing community. A small but influential group of authors argued that the novel dealt insensitively with race and the legacy of slavery, and was an affront to nonwhite communities."

Is it only me, or does it sound like someone was looking for a reason to be offended?

I only hope that the author and editing team did not decide to make any major changes in the text, pandering to the violent righteousness of our Thought Police.

So let's just take a moment to celebrate the victory of sanity, creativity, and artistic freedom, over a PC crazy, hypersensitive cultural movement obsessed with #ownvoices, 'representation', cultural appropriation, and trying to shut people up because #notyourstory.

I hate racism, oppression, and bigotry with a passion, and I firmly believe that so do 99% of the thinking, feeling, writing human beings the author community consists of. One would be hard pressed to find a single expression of real racism, sexism, fascism, or any other infamous 'ism' in mainstream modern fiction. It appears that this is no longer enough, though. Nope, these days one can be punished for not expressing enough loyalty to a certain agenda.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Working from home: can you pull it off?

D.C. McNaughton offers some solid no-nonsense advice on time management and productivity when working from home, and you should definitely read it if you're straddling the fence between an office job and switching to working remotely - or if you've been working from home for a while and feel like somehow, you just aren't getting anything done.

Writing is no different from any other freelancing in that sense, except perhaps in having even less interaction with people and upfront payments.

There are many different reasons for wanting a flexible remote position, and mine pretty much guarantee that I will be interrupted often and in very challenging ways.

As the readers of my blog know, I am a homeschooling mother of four young children, and I have no hired childcare or household help. I have to be extremely disciplined in order to accomplish anything at all, and when I compare myself to other writers, I remind myself that I shouldn't measure my productivity up against anyone who doesn't have little people tugging at their leg and whining "mom.... MOM... Momomomom" all day long.

But anyhow, there are those people. Those who think that if you don't commute to work, it means you don't work. Those who disrespect your time because you don't have anyone but you dictating your work hours, and who feel that they can drop in on you at all hours because you're always home. Those who get offended when you get off a lengthy phone call because you actually have stuff to do.

Things get more challenging when you live with "those people". You can shout yourself hoarse saying you're working, but it's unlikely to make much difference in someone else's attitude.

You had better just make sure you have the right one - keep going on with a balance of flexibility and self-discipline - you got this!

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Writer's block vs. burnout, and how to get over it

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You know I'm big on writing discipline and scoff at writer's block, usually wishing I had the luxury to complain about it (rather than do the impossible feat of trying to cram a few hundred words while the kids are messing up the living room).

However, even though writer's block per se can be overcome, if its source is actually burnout, there's only so long you can keep yourself going on a mix of determination, coffee, and chocolate. 

So how do you tell between writer's block and burnout? With block, you're often avoiding a difficult plot twist or the saggy (but necessary) middle section of a book. Or maybe you are trying to force yourself to write something that doesn't really inspire you anymore. You still find creative joy and energy in writing other things, maybe nonfiction, poetry or short fiction completely unrelated to your big WIP. 

With burnout, you feel like your brain has turned into banana mush, and you start wishing you would never need to write a single damn thing again, including emails, holiday greetings, and shopping lists. 

Sounds familiar? 

Whether it's block or burnout, it's useful to step back and recharge your creative batteries. This isn't laziness or procrastination - as writers, we don't create in a vacuum. We need the right ambiance to fuel our imagination.

Inspiration sources include:

Books - in your genre or not, classic or contemporary, choose really good books you love (and not those in your TBR pile you have promised to beta read or review six months ago).

Movies - sometimes reading takes more energy than you currently have. Movies in your genre can really help you visualize similar settings in your own book (plus, if you write historical fiction or epic fantasy, it's a great excuse to watch Game of Thrones). 

Music - I used to write to epic playlists of Lord of the Rings or ambient Saami music. At some point I stopped, figuring it's more productive to write offline without the distraction of YouTube. It turned out to be a mistake, because music really helps me to get into that deep concentration zone that's like oxygen for really inspired writing. 

Scenery - a nature walk is always great on so many levels, but if it's out of reach, it may be helpful to look at albums or slideshows of beautiful nature scenery, gorgeous mansions, epic castles, and anything that might help you get into your book's atmosphere. With my Frozen World series, nowadays it's usually documentaries about Antarctica for me. 

Recharging activities and digital detox - get away from social media, set your phone aside, and you'll see that the world doesn't tumble down. Roll up your sleeves and work in the garden, exercise, knit, bake, or play with your children. 

Longhand - for many years, I would be intoxicated by that delightful feeling of holding a brand new notebook, feeling its weight, and envisioning the words that would fill it. Sadly, it is no longer sustainable for me to write whole novels in longhand and then type them down, but it's still a great way to get back to that mindful and passionate space in writing. 

Above all, don't let writing become a chore you just want to leave behind as soon as you can. My wake-up call (literally) was the realization that I slump and nod off after writing a paragraph or two of my WIP. If my book has this soporific effect on me, what would it do to my readers? So I'm extra careful to keep writing what it has always been for me - a creative outlet and something I can't imagine my life without. 

Friday, 5 April 2019

Image layering in Canva: a basic tutorial

You all know I'm a big fan of Canva, a great online tool that allows those authors who are not Photoshop pros to create decent-looking book covers for free.

Disclaimer: if you have any budget at all for a book cover, buy or commission the best you can afford. After actually having a decent book, a good cover may make the difference between succeeding and failing. It is one of the best investments you can make. If, however, you do need to design your own covers, Canva can be a lifesaver. I don't believe you need to wait until you make enough money to publish a book. You can publish with a decent cover, make some sales, and then funnel your earnings into a re-launch with an awesome cover that will take your marketing to a whole new level.

So let's begin. For me, it usually starts with Pixabay, the safest and least confusing image source. You can freely use any image there for commercial purposes. Of course, someone else might have used it in a book cover already, but that's the case with all stock photography, even if you pay for it.

Let's say I'm making a cover for a historical fiction novel titled "Lady of the Fire". I find this image, which is fantastic:

... But I also want a fiery theme, with a background such as this:

It appears that my best option in this case is to make the woman's image semi-transparent and layer it over the fiery background. To do that, I go to Canva, choose the book cover design option, and upload both images. As I adjust the sizes and placing, I select the lady's image, press "Position" and choose "Forward". This means that the fire remains in the background.

Then there is the fading checkers image. These are the transparency settings. I play around with them until I'm satisfied and adjust both images over each other until they merge perfectly. 

Add the title and pronto:

The semi-transparency of the front image adds a touch I really like. I could play with the fonts some more, but this will do for now.

I hope you found this tutorial useful! Please feel free to share.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Paths of the Shadow now permafree!

After considering the pros and cons of this for a while, I finally pulled Quest of the Messenger from KDP Select to wide distribution and made the first book of the trilogy, Paths of the Shadow, permafree.

Some authors firmly believe in the principle of "zero price = zero value", and are offended by the mere idea of giving their book away for free, but I disagree. As a matter of fact, this ability to make a book permafree and not worry about setting up free promotional days once a quarter, was part of what swayed me in the direction of going wide.

The concept of taking something you have poured blood, sweat and time into, and just offer it for download, may rankle when you only have a book or two out, but the more books you publish, the more it makes sense. There's nothing like offering the first in a series (or a stand-alone book that is one of several in a similar setting) for free to funnel new readers to buy the rest.

This tactic is successfully used by those people who promote new products in supermarket stalls, as well as by dope dealers - give a free sample to get people hooked so that they will pay for the rest.

Naysayers will claim that people who download free books are only looking for freebies and don't often bother to read what they grabbed anyway. But if a series has been sitting on a shelf for years and doesn't get much traction, the chance of getting some readers - even without getting paid - is better than nothing.

If you get a 1,000 people to download your book, 100 of them might read it, 10 might like it, and one might love it so much that they become your diehard fan and buy all of your books, give you a bunch of glowing, genuine reviews and recommend your book to others. It's all about numbers - the more pebbles you throw into a pond, the more ripples you create.

So if you like epic fantasy, medieval settings, dark magic and lots of intrigue, go ahead and grab your copy of Paths of the Shadow.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

How to survive with no support network: for authors

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You know those heart-warming statements by successful authors who say, "I would never have been able to get to this point without my spouse/family/significant other. Their support meant everything to me along the way"? 

This is great, it really is. I'm always happy for authors who had that support from their nearest and dearest while they were clawing their way up the rocky, lonely path from first draft to publishing success (whatever success means to them - a trad publishing deal, critical acclaim, a significant income stream). But what you don't often hear, despite how common it is, are experiences such as, "My wife would pull faces and come up with random to-do lists every time I sat down to write, and just couldn't stand me 'wasting my time' like that. Whatever I have achieved, I have achieved despite her lack of support and appreciation."

A fellow author once told me, "My husband and kids complained constantly that I never paid attention to them. I was always writing, they said. Cooked dinners, housecleaning, and the full time paycheck I made went unnoticed. What mattered was the fact that not every single second of my day was focused on them or serving their needs."

It's hard not to grow resentful. It does chafe and grate when your husband looks up from his phone, on which he's been busy browsing AliExpress, and asks, "are you sure you can afford to waste so much time on this?" - which brings me to my first point of advice:

Don't hate them. As popular as it is to say that our spouses/family are supposed to stand 100% behind our every venture and give unconditional support, the fact is that writing, like any entrepreneurial venture really, is a steep, uphill climb with a very uncertain outcome. Your family/spouse may be genuinely concerned that you are investing your all into something that is unlikely to ever pay off. It really is easy to neglect our own needs and the needs of our families, and to pour money into something that may yield no return, which brings me to point number two:

Balance, balance, balance. When you're on your own, it means you're also the one responsible for taking care of yourself. If you find yourself hovering over the keyboard with your fingers shaking, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and faint with hunger; if you find yourself resenting  your bladder for demanding relief and your kids for asking, at 3 PM, whether lunch will be happening anytime today, you should probably slow down, or you risk going the fast track to burnout. Few writers at the start of their road can afford to write full-time. I know I'm not even part-way there.

But don't give up, either. Carve out every possible moment to write. Make use of those little pockets of time that inevitably occur each day. We all have them; on the train, waiting in line to the doctor's office, or when you catch yourself goofing around on Pinterest. Don't worry about efficiency. Just write a few paragraphs, even on your phone or in longhand. Don't wait for that perfect moment when you're on your computer with a cup of tea at hand, the house quiet and you're at leisure. For more advice on how to find time for writing, check out my free e-book, Writing Tips for Busy People.


Make sure you aren't all alone. The online writing community is amazing. It can make the difference between giving up and plunging onward. There are so many people out there just like you, just like me - or people who had been in the same place until not too long ago. A supportive network is worth its weight in gold, and I'm so thankful for it.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Writing to market: why and how

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It is popular to say, "write what you love", "don't short-sell your art" and "money won't buy happiness", and... yeah, money might not be the most important thing in the world. 

Until, you know, it is. 

Because money might not make you happy, but lack of it can surely make you extremely miserable. Money might not buy health, but it will sure buy good health insurance; money won't buy love, but the day-to-day battle for financial survival saps out energy and joy of life. 

As someone who has been through major financial straits with my family, I can definitely tell you that, hypothetically, if someone offered me lifelong financial competence (paid off house, new car every few years, college savings for all the kids) under the condition that I won't write another word ever again, I'd accept in a heartbeat. 

No such cheeky little fairy is likely to come my way, however, so I'm free to go on writing while I try to figure out how to also make a living of it and have balanced family time.

I came to writing as a career from a point of financial crisis and major strain, which is probably not the best place to start with, as you do preferably want some funds you would invest in your books, like in any other business, but it did help me focus. 

One of the reasons why I'm not no longer looking for an agent is that, even if someone could guarantee that I will land a good one, I can't afford the long-term haul of chasing a book deal. I'm not interested in literary recognition or winning contests for its own sake, either. Please give me the money, preferably soon so I can pay the electric bill. 

That's also why, after casting my net far and wide with several genres I love, I am currently focusing on my Frozen World Antarctic sci-fi series, which is garnering me the best and steadiest reader response I have ever experienced. More established authors would probably see this as small potatoes, but for me it really is a cause for celebration when I get unsolicited sales and reviews. 

Some authors are laboring under the misconception that "writing to market" means picking up the most popular genre of the moment and starting to work in that genre even if you absolutely hate it. Actually, writing to market means picking the one genre of those YOU love which is doing best commercially, and focusing on it. 

This makes sense on more levels than just money. We writers, the cultural heirs of those storytellers gathering an eager audience around the cave fire, don't create in a vacuum. We thrive on the love, interest and engagement of our readers, and can only keep so long at something no one seems to want to read. 

This doesn't mean that you should lower your standards with the reasoning of, "fans of the genre will swallow anything". Nor do you have to follow tropes, as is explained in this excellent post: "Formula writing means that by chapter two this has to happen and by the midpoint this other thing has to happen. Or, there has to be a rival for the heroine’s affections, or the dreaded misunderstanding. There are perhaps writers who write to formula, but that isn’t what’s meant by writing to market."

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Are you a good boss?

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Once upon a time, I used to work for a real douchebag. If there were a competition for the title of World's Worst Boss, that stinker would take it. I mean it.

I was fresh out of high school, and this was my first "real" job. It was the post of a secretary which entailed some simple administrative tasks like filing, answering phone calls, and making coffee.

It didn't take me long to figure out that my boss was a crook. I was besieged with phone calls from angry people to whom he owed money. I was instructed to say he's abroad every time. When an important client came for a visit, I was requested to put on a show to make them believe that more people than the three or four of us worked in the office. I was made to "dress-up" empty desks like active work spaces, with landline phones and masses of papers.

This propensity of cheating people was not limited to outsiders. The salary we settled on was ridiculous in proportion to the number of hours I put it, but somehow, at the end of the month the paycheck showed an even lower number, and he "had no idea how it happened".

If that isn't enough, my boss was an arrogant, presumptuous, ill-tempered bully. He drank twenty cups of coffee a day, and was particular about always wanting to drink from the same cup, which I likewise had to wash twenty times a day. He yelled at me when I dared to serve him coffee in a different cup. He yelled at me when I didn't answer the phone fast enough. He didn't have the basic decency to maintain a tidy working space. He was a chain smoker and his ashtray was always overflowing.

To top it off, this disgusting blown-up fart refused to step into the elevator together with the cleaning lady, claiming that "she stinks". He stank himself - like a million week-old stale cigarettes. By the way, the cleaning lady came to ask about her payment again and again, too. He swindled that poor woman who was working for a minimum wage and had a family to feed.

You will be glad to know that I left his office at the end of two months, never to see or hear from this ugly swine again. He had given me a lifelong acute aversion to dishonest crooks who abuse their authority.

While my former boss was a humongous cowpie, however, I sometimes have to stop and wonder if I'm being a much better employer to myself. As a freelancer, and thus my own boss, am I giving myself fair working conditions, a fair wage, and fair prospects? With no one to breathe down our necks, it's easy to loaf on Pinterest... but equally easy to succumb to burnout.

So fellow indie authors, just a reminder: put in the work, but don't burn yourself out. Take that walk. Have that cup of tea. Unplug from social media. Catch the moment when you are just spinning your wheels, and take a break. Cuddle your cat. Do some knitting.

This is a marathon. Be good to yourself to keep your productivity for the long term.

Monday, 11 February 2019

The man who would be Moses

The Ethiopian Jews (the Beta Israel) are a living, breathing miracle. It simply doesn't seem natural that a Jewish community could exist for thousands of years in complete isolation from the rest of their brethren, without the support network that every other Jewish community has had, and still adhere to the traditions of their ancestors. They strictly kept the laws of ritual purity as described in Leviticus, and made animal sacrifices, long after these two practices were cast aside by rabbinical Judaism as obsolete without the existence of a Temple. Their religious practice ran along a parallel line, developing its own customs and beautiful liturgy.

If it sounds like I love these people, it's because I do. I can't find a more perfect example of the resilience of the Jewish people, who had preserved their identity despite many generations of hardship, privation and apparent hopelessness, and who remained one nation despite being scattered worldwide for so long. The fascinating cultural mosaic of modern Israel can bear evidence to that.

Fascinated as I am with Ethiopian Israelite history, I had long inner debates on whether I dare to venture into it as an author. The vocal pitch of #ownvoices and #notyourstory demands that the ethnicity of the author should match that of their protagonists, which is ridiculous and limiting to a degree I can hardly describe. Finally, I said, Hang it all! I'm Jewish! If someone is part of my people, their story is, in a way, my story too. Thus Land of the Lost Tribe was born.

I am currently working on another novel set in Ethiopia of over a thousand years ago, but in the meantime, I let my creative bunnies run wild and produced this complementary short story, Mahari, which fast-forwards a few centuries all the way to 1862. At that time, the condition of the Beta Israel was probably at an all-time low. The glory of their independent kingdom, which at one point ruled over extensive regions of Ethiopia, was long past. Contact with the rest of the Jewish world was nonexistent. Oppression, isolation, hopelessness, and missionaries took a heavy toll, and many of the Beta Israel converted to Christianity, much in the same way as the Marranos of Spain. 

Abba Mahari, an Ethiopian Jewish monk, was a charismatic religious leader who, in the year 1862, organized and led a desperate but inspiring exodus from Ethiopia in the hopes of reaching Jerusalem. Abba Mahari failed, but his heroic journey helped to keep the dream alive and paved the road to the eventual repatriation of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. 

You can download Mahari for free in epub format here, and in PDF here.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Blood Heir: the book totalitarian police reaches new levels

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The Blood Heir controversy is a predictable climax to all the #ownvoices, cultural appropriation police and PC culture craze that has been raging in the writing world unrestrained these past couple of years. It's like we can no longer put our fingers to the keyboard without fear of offending someone. 

For those who haven't heard of this outrage yet, here's a recap: debut author Amelie Zhao was bullied into pulling her soon-to-be-published fantasy novel because some ARC readers decided it was "racist" and started an online shaming campaign.

I haven't read the book, but I do know this: it's impossible to create when you have to keep walking on eggshells for fear of hurting the feelings of some precious snowflake. It's like some people are just waiting to spot anything related to race/culture and latch upon it, charging with burning torches and screaming "racism! Insensitivity! Cultural appropriation!"

You can't please everyone. It's kind of useless to try. 

Here's the deal: belonging to a historically oppressed group doesn't give you a carte blanche to make unreasonable demands of ownership over historical narratives. I'm Jewish; I'm not offended when non-Jewish people write about Jews. I'm a woman; I don't get my feathers all ruffled when male authors write female characters. 

Some of my fiction is set in Ethiopia, and I suppose I'm only spared the accusations of cultural appropriation thanks to the fact that my books aren't popular enough to draw fire. I will keep writing whatever the heck I want. I will do my best to be sensitive and thorough in my research, but I won't ask anyone's permission to write. I was drawn to writing for the FREEDOM to create. No one will take this away from me. No one will tell me that a subject is off limits because I belong to the wrong gender/ethnicity. 

Another issue is the infamous 'representation' thing. Apparently, you can get a red flag not just for what you write, but for what you fail to include in your book. Newsflash: authors don't owe anyone anything. I refuse to make a character black, white, tall, short, gay, straight, or whatever, to 'represent' a group. I write my characters the way they work with my vision for my particular story. I hate racism and oppression of any kind - and that's why I won't let anyone oppress me as an author. 

I have long been saying that this whole PC obsession in literature is blown way out of proportion. We, as authors, should have the freedom to focus on what the readers want - a darn good story - without dodging rotten tomatoes for failing to support militant agendas. 

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Dragon Diplomacy: the birth of a book

Dragon Diplomacymy first Middle Grade fantasy novel, is now available in print and on Kindle. It was the last project I had tried to query, and I kept at it a long time, because children's books are notoriously difficult to promote without having the validation and resources trad pub gives. I eventually gave up on finding an agent, which is actually liberating. I can now focus on writing and getting my books to readers.

Dragon Diplomacy was written with my children's active contribution, and the reading aloud of each chapter was beautiful family time I can fondly look back on. We also drew the characters and made maps (not included in the book) and thought of ideas for sequels (working on that now).
The most important lessons I learned from writing this book are probably, 1) Kid love dragons, and 2) Kids are a brutally honest audience. My daughters had no qualms to say, "this is boring" or "change the ending". I followed their advice, of course. What choice did I have? 

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Canva 2.0 - the magic tool for designer dummies

Beginner̢۪s challenge

Are you an artistically challenged author with low to no budget? This post is for you.

With us authors, the strong side is usually the written, not the visual. Yet we all need graphics, and I'm not just talking book covers, but also book banners, Facebook and Twitter headers, post graphics, and more. We need plenty of these, we need them regularly, and outsourcing each and every one is not just expensive, but also inconvenient. It is highly useful to be able to log into a clean, simple design tool, and produce a decent-looking banner or header in 5 minutes. 

That's why I love Canva so much. No other tool can compare with the ease of use and target price (free - not just a few free templates to lure you, but you can actually get by very decently with just the unpaid options). I actually went from wanting to bury my head in the sand every time I looked at my covers and graphics, to having fun designing my own banners, post graphics and, eventually, even covers. Yes, you should absolutely buy a professionally designed cover for your book if at all possible, but if you are on a very low budget and produce several books each year, costs may quickly add up, and you may never make your investment back. I do not believe authors should delay publishing their work and sit around in frustration while they wait to save up for an editor and cover designer, either. There are options.

These are happy days as Canva launches its 2.0 version, complete with nifty options I look forward to fully exploring, and a design school for people with no background (like me!), presenting information in a straightforward, accessible way. There are videos on fonts, alignment, and templates, more advanced series on things like branding, and interactive tutorials, too - and it's all free. Count me in!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Free books: a mark of no value or a useful marketing tool?

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Once in a while, I'll come across an article or post along the lines of this one, titled Indie Authors: Stop Giving Away Free Books

The point is always the same: no price = no value, so don't imply your work is worth zero by giving it away for free. If people want to read your book, they will purchase it. 

To each their own, of course, but the question is... why would people want to read your book? I'm not being cynical, I promise. It's just that, when people point out that in the Olden Days, we would hear about a book, go into a bookstore and buy it without any incentive in the form of freebies, they disregard the fact that back then, readers did not have as many distractions or as many things competing for their attention as they have now. 

Even if you have a great cover, an enticing blurb, and glowing reviews, the book market is swamped, and the lure of other entertainment, such as social media and video content, is ever-present. Even I, an avid reader for most of my life, have been recently sucked into hopping from one YouTube video to the next, and forgetting all about the pile of books on my Kindle. Thankfully, I caught this in time and am now making a conscious effort to turn my phone to Flight mode when I read in bed at night, and also to read more paperbacks. 

What I'm driving at is, if you grab a stranger by their arm and say, "here, I wrote a great book, buy it!", they are unlikely to do so. But if you say, "here, I wrote something entertaining you can try out for free and see how you like it", you have a better chance of catching that stranger's attention and turning them into a reader and, hopefully, a fan of your work. 

The 10% or 20% preview won't do the trick. Readers want a complete arc, or they won't bother.

This marketing strategy is successfully used by many thriving indie authors, by those people who give away free samples in supermarkets, and by dope dealers. The idea is the same each time: use a free sample to get a consumer hooked so that they get addicted to your stuff and buy it. 

Check out this article,Why I’m Giving My Book Away For Free For the First Five DaysTypically, someone doesn’t become your true fan overnight. Reading a really good blog post of yours might get them some of the way there, but reading a good book that you wrote will really move the needle.
The more copies of my book that I can give away, the more true fans I have a chance of creating. I miss one potential sale now in exchange for the opportunity to make many sales in the future.

Free books are a great way to funnel new readers into a series. I have a short story, The Frozen Shore, that I wrote as a prequel to my Antarctic sci-fi series. It was always meant as a freebie, and is serving its purpose well: I have seen a spike in sales and page reads since releasing it. I also intend to make Paths of the Shadow free on Smashwords once I get all my books into wide distribution. 

Bottom line: free is a strategy that works and, in many cases, works well. Try it and you might be surprised.