Rocky Mountain Writer #36

Colorado Gold Contest Prep

 

This episode is a live recording from workshop held Saturday, March 12 in Denver at the Ross Cherry Creek Branch Library.

The workshop was designed as a primer for the annual Colorado Gold Contest, which opens April 1.

The workshop was hosted by contest co-chair Pam Nowak and veteran contest winner Kevin Wolf.

This live recording runs just about an hour. As Pam makes clear, many questions about the contest and how it’s run are easily found under the "contest" tab elsewhere on website. On this recording, Pam and Kevin emphasize some key tips that should help you get your manuscript in contest-ready shape.

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis

Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Hook Your Book at the Colorado Gold Conference

RMFWConference_Chalkboard_hookyourbookWriting a good book summary for a cover, online bookstore, or query letter is both challenging and frustrating. After all, summarizing your book in 150-200 words seems like an impossible feat. We all spend countless hours perfecting our book summaries because first impressions count, and you can easily lose a reader or agent in just two short sentences. Without a hook, a reader will pass your book by.

That’s why we’ve added a new event to this year’s conference. Hook Your Book is a free thirty-minute opportunity to run your book summary by two experts in your genre.

How does Hook Your Book work? During conference registration, you’ll have the option to sign up for both a Free Pitch and a Hook Your Book session. When you check in at conference, your envelope will contain appointments for the free events you chose.

Show up at your scheduled time with your already-prepared book summary on paper, a mobile device, or off the tip of your tongue. This is where Hook Your Book is a little like speed-dating for your book. You’ll have approximately 12 minutes with each of the two experts in your genre to discuss the description for your book (or story portion of your query letter). When you’re done, you’ll leave with valuable tips to perfect your book summary.

Get ready! There’s six months before conference to revisit the description of one of your books and get it ready for this new event. In case you need a few tips, we asked RMFW PAL and IPAL members for advice on writing book descriptions. Here’s some valuable advice to get you started:

Get a punchy log line. Just a few words to attract the reader.

Tell what the story is about. Your goal is to hook the reader into grabbing a sample. Use present tense and lay out just enough bait to convince them.

Let the sample sell the story.

Nathan Lowell
Quarter Share
nathanlowell.com

__________

Just the facts comes to mind when I think of blurb writing. Not in the strict sense for that would be one boring blurb, but keeping to the main problem your book solves, whether that’s a relationship between two people, man against wild, or how to get blood stains out of murder weapons. Then, of course, make sure the blurb keeps to the voice of the book. Otherwise, as a reader, I am disappointed when I start reading the book that doesn’t live up to the blurb voice or saddened that I missed out because the blurb didn’t do it justice.

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer
The Lady in Pink
Jakazimer.com

__________

I’m fairly formulaic and specific in my queries, and it must work okay because the approach has sold three novellas and five novels. I start with the protagonist’s name and position in their world before the precipitating crisis. This is the most important sentence because it also sets motivation, gives a taste of the world, and introduces a bit of voice. Then comes the “But when” statement that describes the event that Changes Everything and introduces the antagonist. After that things get a little looser, but I use specific plot events that I think are particularly interesting and powerful rather than giving an overarching explanation. The rest of the paragraph includes the protagonist’s reaction, which includes some motivation; how the antagonist makes it worse; another reaction; and I wrap on how the antagonist makes things much, much worse. In other words, I end on a cliffhanger. I love writing queries!

Betsy Dornbusch
Books of the Seven Eyes Trilogy
betsydornbusch.com

__________

The book blurb and the query letter each serve as an introduction to your writing. They are your first and best opportunities to whet the appetite. Brevity, a well-turned phrase, and a soupcon of humor all signal to the reader that more of the same awaits her. A bread basket is nice, but serve the reader caviar and she'll stick around for the main course.

C. Joseph Greaves
Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury)
chuckgreaves.com

In addition, one of the best ways to learn to write an irresistible book description is to browse online bookstores. Look for stories in your genre. What attracts your attention? What makes you cringe? Don’t start with a brag about book sales and bestseller status right off the bat.

Remember that some mobile devices show four or five lines of an abbreviated description. Readers only want insight into your story. They won’t tap to reveal the remainder of the summary unless you capture their attention at a glance.

It is our hope that this new event will help you improve your book summary, agent response rate, and book sales. No matter who your audience, your goal is to get your book noticed, and a reader or agent won’t read your description twice.

Rocky Mountain Writer #35

Marc Graham & Of Ashes and Dust

 

The guest this time is Marc Graham--an actor, singer, bard, engineer, Freemason, and whisky aficionado. And writer. Graham just sold Of Ashes and Dust, his first historical novel, to Five Star. Graham talks about the long journey to publication, his approach to researching historical fiction, his writing process and the chance meeting that led to a publication contract.

This podcast includes Marc reading the prologue to Of Ashes and Dust.

Marc Graham

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis

Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Tips and Tricks to Surprise and Delight … by Suzanne Young

2016_Suzanne YoungDo you ever sit down to a blank page and hope an idea will flow from your brain to your fingertips like magic? Then do you simply stare at all that white space as your mind shuts down? I am currently working on the sixth book of my Edna Davies mystery series (Murder by Decay) and I have yet to run out of ideas, not because I’m a natural storyteller, but because I’ve learned a few tricks over years of taking classes and reading how-to books.

Why don’t I dread that blank page? Perhaps it’s because I don’t force myself to write every day—at least, I don’t always work on my story. I let a scene or chapter roll through my mind like a movie or a play, making my characters leave the stage and reenter, if I don’t like the way they’ve performed. When I’m satisfied with what they’ve done enough to capture the performance, I write it down. My rendition usually doesn’t do justice to their acting, but it often suffices for a first draft.

When I reach one of the many “What should happen next?” points in my story, one exercise I use to answer this question comes from a course I was taking while working on my first novel-length manuscript (Murder by Yew). Put your protagonist into ten good situations and turn them bad. Then put your protagonist into ten bad situations and turn them good.

2016_Suzanne Young_Arrangement cover sMerging these two tasks made more sense to me than dealing with them separately. So, I had Edna take a walk along the streets of Providence on a bright, sunny April morning. As she passed the house of a long-time friend, she spotted something shining in newly turned soil on the other side of a tall, wrought-iron fence (good). Wishing to get a closer view of what appeared to be a piece of jewelry, she removed her hat and stuck her head through the bars of the fence (uh oh). Once she verified that it was indeed a valuable pin, she tried to remove her head and found she was stuck (bad). Her friend happened along and, with the help of a gardener, freed Edna (good). When Edna pointed out the brooch, her friend identified it as one believed stolen years ago that had caused the ruin of a poor woman’s reputation (bad). This assignment actually sparked a story idea that developed into my third murder mystery (Murder by Mishap). I’m sure if you take this exercise far enough, you could end up with the outline for a story of your own.

Another reason I practice this particular exercise religiously is to pace my stories. When the tension begins to build (bad situation), I pull back and allow my readers to breathe a bit (good situation) before dunking the characters back into hot water (bad situation). If you’ve ever read an author who kept piling wood on the fire without allowing you to step away from the heat, you know the importance of pacing your story. The good-to-bad-to-good scenario is also useful when I need to develop enough action to fill up the vast desert (known as “the middle”) between “the beginning” and “the end” of my book.

If you want to kick start your imagination, you might try the “Rule of 20.” Applied to writing (as opposed to stock prices or bridge bidding), this is a mental workout that will help you deliver the unexpected to your readers. The “Rule” goes like this: Given a situation in your story, make a list of 20 things that could happen next. Let’s take Edna on that walk again and imagine 20 things that might occur (good or bad, whatever fits the plot at that particular juncture). I’ll suggest just a few, so you get the idea … Maybe the weather changes suddenly and she’s forced to take shelter on a nearby porch (Does she then overhear something to please or horrify her?). Perhaps a car comes careening down the street, jumps the curb and crashes into the wrought-iron fence directly in front of her (Who’s at the wheel? Dead or alive? Sick or injured?). Maybe she’s mugged by a couple of kids (One of whom she recognizes before she loses consciousness?).

Whatever the stage in your plot, list as many possibilities as you can. Stretch your imagination and try for 20, at least. When you’ve completed the list, toss out the first six items. These are the ideas that came most readily to your mind, so they’re probably what your readers might expect. Choose one of the remaining scenarios. If you wish to surprise and delight your fans, write something extraordinary.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Suzanne Young is the best-selling author of the Edna Davies mystery series which put her on Amazon’s list of “top 100 authors of mystery” for five consecutive months. She is a member of RMFW’s PAL and iPAL groups as well as a graduate of the Arvada Citizens Police Academy. After earning a degree in English and U.S. History from the University of Rhode Island, Suzanne moved to Colorado and worked as a computer programmer and business analyst for most of her career. She retired in 2010 to write fiction full-time.

Learn more about Suzanne and her mystery series at her website. She can also be found on Facebook.

It’s All About the Blog, ’bout the Blog…

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog is a labor of love for those volunteers who spend a year or two here as regular monthly contributors and those who write guestposts  from time to time. The goal is to provide an extra source of information about programs; to educate, motivate, and inspire; and to offer opportunities for RMFW members to share their specialized knowledge.

The blog would also be a good way to introduce more of our members to each other. The organization is growing every year, and there are way too many new members we don't get a chance to meet unless we run into them at a workshop or at Colorado Gold.

Co-editor Julie Kazimer and I have discussed doing a monthly (or twice monthly when we have enough open spots) RMFW member Q&A series, similar to what we do now with our Spotlight series on board members. At the most, however, we would only introduce 24 members in a year. That's not a huge percentage of our membership. Still, there are ways to increase member participation. Perhaps a "Three Members, Three Questions" series? Other ideas are welcome.

I'm going to get things rolling with a simpler series inviting members to share the link to one of their social media sites.

Today it's all about the blog.

Your blog, that is. Do you have one?

If yes, please leave your name and/or pseudonym and your blog's url in the comments below. Also tell us what you write about on your blog (your writing life, writing tips, writing instruction, book reviews, guest authors, etc.).

And then I encourage all readers to drop by and visit your fellow members' blogs. Read a post (or two, if you have time). If possible, leave a comment. Comments make a blogger's day so much better.

 

Returning to the Horror of it All … by F. P. Dorchak

After I released Voice last year, my thoughts once again turned to something I’d been considering for a while...

Short stories.

Now, I’m not an award-winning anything (I’d always wanted to be some kind of a William F. Nolan— who at one point claimed to have published everything he’d ever written—but I’m not...), rarely known (in fact some of my writer friends still greet me as “Heeey, youuu...”), and I’m no longer agented (five years, three novels, no takers, parted amicably). I’m an Indie author and for good or ill I’ve been writing since I was...well...very young. To be honest (and not unlike all of you), I love making shit up. Love messing around with the imagination. And I did a lot of that through short stories, most of them unpublished. Arguably, these stories weren’t doing anyone any good where they were (in cold, dark, computer files...), so why didn’t I take a look at them and see if any were worthy of non-traditional publication?

So, I dove in and now have nearly 20 of them out there on one of my blog sites; in fact, I’m currently scheduled out through the beginning of July with them and have (plenty?) more still to be released. Some are not as good as others, but the ones I am releasing are the better of my repertoire (to use a cool word). They’re not released in a particular order, and I release a new one every Friday.

But there was another reason I’d gone back to all my old short work: I’d wanted to revisit the roots of my writing.

2016_Dorchak_VoiceI’d cut my teeth (and other body parts—not all of which were mine...) on horror fiction. I wrote about blood and gore and creepiness. I’ve since largely departed the horror scene for what I call “paranormal fiction,” where I write about the weird and the metaphysical and supernatural...but I’m not above throwing in a little grit now and then. It is quite eye-opening to see where my head was at as a younger guy. Some of my work was quite nasty—and not all of it is meant to see the light of day—but it’s interesting to see “The Possession of Frank,” as he was driven to write all this early stuff. Since we’re talking 30 years, I’d actually forgotten about many of these stories! So, it was (and is, since I’m still doing this) quite enlightening! I’d experimented with different kinds of stories, done some prose and those other “rhyme-y kind” of poems, and for a period of time even tried to write as short a story as possible...and this was before anything called “flash fiction.”

I believe, above all else, story is King (or Queen, if you prefer). To me, I’m inspired by the story...and again perhaps like many of you, I don’t sit around and intentionally think this stuff up. It just comes to me and I feel compelled to write it down...effect the incorporeal corporeal. None of them are perfect, but that’s another cool part about them...their imperfections...the imperfection of a twenty-something-or-younger trying to find his way...his voice...his story...and do his best in bringing all of it to liiife!

Yes, some of my older work is, indeed, horrific—and not in a genre-kind-of-way—but, still, it’s fascinating to me. Future-Me is unearthing Past-Me, and I’m uncovering all kinds of passion and art in these archaeological digs. I willingly gave (and still do, though not to the same zealous extent anymore) much of my life to sitting down behind a typewriter-and-later-computer to create and work these things at the expense of a lot of other things. It has rekindled the passion of Past-Me into Future-Me. I am going to publish the better of these short stories under my Indie imprint, Wailing Loon in the next year or so. In fact, I’m soon-to-be releasing one of them, “Clowns,” as an e-short story on Amazon’s KDP Select. It’s one of those “short-shorts” I’d mentioned. Two pages. A fun, creepy tale of good clowns gone bad. And knives are involved.

I hope all writers (and artists) out there will have a time in their lives where they, too, can afford to revisit the roots of their writing. When I was younger I was still propagating my roots; when I was done with one piece, I literally was on to the next. Not much looking back. I was constantly blasting forward...sending things out, out, and out. Writing, writing, writing! Constantly starting new stuff, so much so, that after thirty-some years (I started treating writing as a business in the mid-eighties), I’d forgotten about all the stuff I had written...but now I’m rediscovering them.

Rediscover your roots.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

F. P. Dorchak has written many short stories, forgotten most of them, and is the author of Voice, Psychic, ERO, The Uninvited, and Sleepwalkers. Hopefully these are not forgettable. His short story, “Tail Gunner” is in The You Belong Collection – Writings and Illustrations by Longmont Area Residents regional anthology, and his latest release, the very short story, “Clowns,” is soon-to-be-available through Amazon’s KDP Select, once the cover is complete. As far as he can recall, he blogs at Runnin Off at the Mouth and Reality Check. His recently remembered website is www.fpdorchak.com, and as far as he can tell, his Twitter handle is https://twitter.com/fpdorchak. He vaguely recalls other forms of social media...all of which are on his website. He’s forgotten more than he ever knew.

The ‘Real’ Cost of Traditional Publishing: How to Budget for a New Release

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the budgeted cost for my next project, which happens to be a self-published project. I also have an upcoming book release, The Assassin’s Kiss, coming out on August 15, 2016, from a traditional publisher, a smaller one. Trust me when I say, a big five release would carry a bigger budget sThe Assassin's Kissince I’d likely have an advance to work with rather than my own pathetic lottery winnings and the spare change from under my couch.

I also found a stash of sharpened doggie bones. I suspect my pups are plotting against me.

Anyway, here’s a look at my budget for The Assassin’s Kiss. This budget doesn’t have to be yours. Pick the line items you are interested in and ignore the rest. Also, feel free to add some. I’d love to have your feedback on what you plan, whether it’s new things or subtracting some of mine. The more we share, the better for all of us. Especially when talking money. I had no clue what I was getting into when I started. Who knew I'd need a full-time job to afford my full-time job?

Budget for The Assassin’s Kiss.
      Total  
Marketing          
Print Copies $10.00 (estimate, likely less) per book 50 $500.00 Buy from publisher after contracted copies (return on investment after selling at book launch/consignment)
Book launch $250 Food, drink, venue   $0 I’ve decided to forgo a physical book launch in favor of an online one. The only cost is my time.
Advertising (Banners) $300     $300 Fresh Fiction/RT (I'm not sure I'll do this, but I'm looking to branch out)
Newsletter $0     $0 Mailchimp free up to 2k
Conferences $1,600     $1,600 Estimate 2 Cons, plus hotel and travel, more if not a speaker
Publicist $2,000     $0 Use of in-house
BookBub $365 free promo   $365 If accepted for 1st book in series
Swag/Business cards       $500  I like to use swag as a tool, but not general swag like postcards, but theme swag for an example I’ve done fortune cookies in the past with witty fortunes or teeth related items for my tooth fairy releases.
Meme/Digital Postcard Design $100     $100 Do it myself. Price to purchase stock photos though.
Blog Tours 50     $0 Haven't found it worthwhile to hire tour companies. Set up own tour, smaller but targeted
Professional Marketer $45 per hour 10 $450 Check into fivver for multiple sources
Other promo sites $300     $300  
TOTAL       $4,115 Depending on your financial picture, all of this can be done for much less. I choose to budget to my dreams and spend to my reality, however sad and bleak it might be….

What did I leave out? How do you select your own release budget?

Since my self-publishing budget topped out about 5k, are you surprised to see nearly as much for traditional? My main point is this, neither publishing option is cheap, especially without an advance to cover the majority of expenses. There are upfront costs a business plan must consider.

The RMFW Spotlight: Janet Fogg, Vice-President

Our monthly feature, The RMFW Spotlight, is intended to provide members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers with more information about our board members as well as featured volunteers. This month we're pleased to present our new vice-president, Janet Fogg. First comes the Q&A, but you'll find Janet's bio below with links to her social media sites.

2016_Janet Fogg1. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I'm currently Vice-President and in 2010 I was the Published Author Liaison. I'm on both the WOTY and I-WOTY nominating committees and am chairing a committee that's researching a possible Mentoring Program for RMFW. Over the years I've volunteered at the conference registration desk, with agent-editor appointments, taught a few panels, and moderated workshops.

Why am I involved? It's simple.

Back in the dark ages I attended a Life Long Learning class on how to get published, taught by Carol Caverly. In addition to teaching the ins and outs of the publishing world, Carol strongly suggested joining a critique group and also mentioned RMFW's writing contest.

I entered the contest, won 3rd place, and (nervously) attended my first conference. Everyone was so kind and welcoming that I joined, continued to learn (and learn, and learn!), made new friends, and landed my first agent at a much later conference.

RMFW is an all-volunteer organization, which I like, and we're fortunate that there are members who donate an extraordinary amount of time and talent to keep it strong and growing. Smart, committed writers. Who better to spend my time with?

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

2016_Fogg_AnnieI have two current WIPs rarin' to go: a YA novella with an April release date, and a BIG non-fiction that I hope will be published next year.

In Misfortune Annie and the Locomotive Reaper, co-written with Dave Jackson, you'll meet 16 year-old Annabelle Fortune, the fastest gunslinger in the wild west. She's called Misfortune Annie because of her knack for winding up in unlucky predicaments, and when she inadvertently stops a stranger from attacking a train—and he wears a suit that enables him to fly!—the government catches wind of it and believes she’s the only one to have witnessed the Locomotive Reaper and lived to tell the tale.

A Manifest Spirit, co-written with Charlotte Baldridge and Richard Fogg, is a 400+photo, 165,000 word military history about the 359th Fighter Group during World War II. Go on, ask me about P-51s.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

Of course I want to write more books, but to be specific, I'm excited to finish a SF manuscript that I started a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It always seems to end up on the back burner, though lately I have been day-dreaming about the sagging, middle-of-the-book plot line, so perhaps this fall...

And then there's dreaming of flying a helicopter.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

I always work on multiple projects at the same time, so I'm slower than The Blob.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

My alone time, when I can simply stare at the lake and think. The friends I've made, brainstorming plots, reading and (gasp!) editing. Yes, editing!

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Don't put so much pressure on yourself to get published. Enjoy writing your manuscript. Enjoy editing. Enjoy the research. Enjoy learning.

2016_Fogg_Worktable dragon7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

My worktable often has piles of paper or folders on it, though I prefer it to be completely empty, save for my computer, a small dragon, and the giant crystal she's guarding. Periodically, she'll turn her head and all the folders go up in flames, so the surface is clear for a few days.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I just finished Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey, and thoroughly enjoyed it. That man is a master of throwing rocks at his characters.

I'm currently reading sample chapters for RMFW's WOTY and I-WOTY nominees, and have been blown away by their stories and talent. So much fun! Many of these will go on my wish list.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ye olde bio by Janet Fogg:

My focus on writing began when I was CFO and Managing Principal of OZ Architecture, one of Colorado’s largest architectural firms. I now serve as an adviser to KGA Studio Architects, P.C., and on the Board of Directors of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Perhaps closer to my heart, fifteen writing awards after attending my first writing conference I resigned from OZ to follow the yellow brick road, and ten months after that signed a contract for Soliloquy, a HOLT Medallion Award of Merit winner.

My next book, Fogg in the Cockpit, a military history co-written with husband Richard, earned a coveted nomination by the Air Force Historical Society for best WWII book reviewed in Air Power History. Last year I was honored to be invited by Fighting High Publications to submit three of ten stories needed for a new Failed to Return anthology about USAAF fighter pilots during WWII, to be published in 2017 or 2018.

On a more rambunctious note, I once participated in a successful rattlesnake hunt, climbed two dozen of Colorado’s Fourteeners, was alternate on a winning trap-shooting team, and several years ago received my motorcycle license. Which reminds me, I've always wanted to learn to fly helicopters. Hmmm.

Social media:
Website: http://janetfogg.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janet.fogg
359th Fighter Group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/359th-Fighter-Group-1943-1945-120987634620533/
Sisters of the Quill blog: http://sistersofthequill.blogspot.com/
Fogg in the Cockpit blog: http://fogginthecockpit.blogspot.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in//janet-fogg-1926ab15?trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile/
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCr_VsnUy2kCSZJwUeYli5Sw

Rocky Mountain Writer #34

Wendy Terrien & The Rampart Guards

 

Wendy Terrien has been writing stories since she was in grade school. Her debut novel The Rampart Guards, which received a starred review from Kirkus, is the first in her urban fantasy series.

Inspired by an episode of the television show "Bones" that suspected a killer to be a fabled chupacabra, Wendy was fascinated and dove into research about cryptozoology - the study of animals that may or may not exist, or cryptids. Pouring over stories, videos and photographs of creatures others had seen all over the world, Wendy developed her own story to share with middle grade, young adult and grown-up readers.

This episode includes Wendy's reading of the first chapter of The Rampart Guards.

Wendy Terrien

Facebook page for Wicked Ink Books

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis

Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Rethinking Book Promotion…Again

Recently, the woman who was promoting my books through social media announced she is quitting the “virtual assistant” business. She just can’t make a go of it anymore. And no wonder. The results I get from her promotional efforts have dwindled each month, and I’m sure other authors who use her services have seen the same trend. We can no longer justify paying for promotion that doesn’t increase our sales, which means our promoter is out of a job.

I signed up for her virtual assistant services nearly a year ago, as a means of reducing my guilt over my own pathetic promotional efforts. In our arrangement, I would pick a couple of my books each month, and she would tweet about them and feature them in her e-newsletter. At first, I could see results. My sales for the books featured would increase. I also credit her for helping my most recently published book hover in the top 50 list in its sub-genre for several weeks last fall. But now, unless I do a 99 cent sale (which reduces my income on the books to a depressing level), I can’t see a difference between the books she’s promoting and sales of my other titles.

I’ve tried several other promotional services. I’ve spent relatively small amounts: $40 here, $20 there, and once, $99 for a promotion that was supposed to get me twenty-five reviews. (I ended up with about fifteen.) Most of the services were busts. Recently, I paid a company $40 to feature my 99 cent book in their newsletter for a week, and had zero sales of the book for the week.

Other authors I know are becoming similarly frustrated. Oh, there are promotions that work, like Bookbub, but they cost hundreds of dollars and they are very picky about the books they feature, especially those from indie-authors. Also, you have to make the featured book free or 99 cents, which means unless you sell thousands and thousands of books, and/or you have several books out and the promotion significantly increases sales of your other titles, it isn’t possible to earn back what you spent.

The most troubling aspect of recent developments is that a year ago a lot of these promotional tools/techniques worked. When I first indie-published my backlist four years ago, there were proven ways to promote your book and increase sales. Every year since then, fewer and fewer things seem to succeed. The industry and the promotional dynamics keep changing, always in a negative way.

In her letter to her clients, my virtual assistant pointed out that part of the problem, besides there being so many books available, is that there are now so many competing companies doing the same thing. Book promotion has become a whole industry in itself, attracting large numbers of social media savvy people looking for a way to make a living or to at least supplement their income.

Not every author is in my situation. Several authors I know have cracked bestseller lists and done very well. And done it without spending a fortune either. But in most cases, they write series and have been slowly building up their following to get to that “break-out” book. And/or they write in a genre that is particularly popular right now.

Those are the only proven things that seem to help sales:  writing a series and writing in a popular sub-genre. There is one other secret, and that is having a new book out every few months, the more often the better. Neither of my series have really caught on, and I refuse to write books in a particular genre simply because it’s popular. (My muse would mutiny, and I’d never get anything done.) So all I can do is keep plugging away and writing steadily, hoping that if I keep publishing I will eventually gain ground. Maybe if I completely give up dabbling in promotion, the time and energy I save will help me write a little faster and gets books out more often. It’s worth a shot.