Saturday, August 31, 2013

Confessions of a Self-Publishing Addict

Okay. I'll admit it. My name is Alasdair Grant, and I'm a recovering self-publishing addict. You know the type. I'm the kind who checks his Kindle Direct Publishing account 15,000 times a day to see how many people have been downloading his free ebook.

Did I mention I'll be giving out freebies next weekend? Download a copy. And tell all your friends to do it. If you do, I promise you the warm feeling of helping a recovering KDP addict move into one of Amazon's Top 100 lists for a day or two.

I started self-publishing one fateful summer while seeking ways to escape the depression of endless rejections from heartless publishers. It began with one self-published book a year. Then it escalated to two. Soon I started uploading titles under three different aliases to escape the shame and ignominy of what I was doing.

For anyone at risk for this addiction, here are a few things I learned while traveling down this troubled path. Hopefully, you can avoid hitting rock bottom like I did.

1. The Cover Means EVERYTHING! 

I recently changed the cover of an older book to make it look more like everything else in its category. You would think different would stand out. You would think it would grab attention, gain some interest, and boost sales. Guess again! Readers like covers that visually tell them they're getting something similar to what they already like to read. Like it or not, we all judge books by their covers.

My agent, Marlene, tactfully clued me into this when I asked for her opinion on a title I wanted to try out on Amazon. I changed that cover. I went back to another novel and changed its cover, too. Using the second cover change as my guinea pig, I scheduled a promotion. I went from a measly 13 downloads with the original to over 1,000 with the new.

This isn't helpful when you're trying to overcome an addiction. You become temporarily intoxicated with a false sense of success. Then you start selling copies and... Well, you're intelligent enough to see where this is going.

Some self-published authors are shameless when it comes to cover matching. Last night I spotted a cover that looked suspiciously identical to one for a different author in the same genre. When I found the original book, my suspicions were confirmed. Same girl on the front, similar color scheme, image resized and flipped.

2. Some Days Are Better Than Others

Amazon's top days for sales (not really a surprise) are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Ideally, a promo ending just before the weekend should bring you some sales. Realistically, unless your book is already high enough on Amazon's bestseller list, not a lot of readers will find it Monday through Thursday. To get my books into more readers' hands, I've found better success running a first-time promotion over the weekend. (Or on a holiday like Labor Day!) Then, with any luck, a few reviews will roll in and readers will start adding your novel on Goodreads.

3. Advertise!

Here's another confession. I'm a cheapskate and don't like to risk money on something I'm giving away for FREE. I recently made a wonderful discovery. It's called The Free Kindle Book Submission Tool, and it's available at

After pulling out fistfuls of hair searching for inexpensive places to advertise, imagine my joy at finding all those meticulously searched out sites congregated on a single web page. Author Marketing Club allows you, with one click, to jump to each site's author submission page. It's quick, it's easy, and it will allow you to step away from your addiction much sooner.

4. Use Social Media

I know little about using social media. I'm still not sure how to use Twitter other than for giving stalkers vital information about my whereabouts. (11 minutes ago: Going to Starbucks for coffee. 5 minutes ago: Leaving town for the weekend. House keys are under the doormat.) Fortunately, my children are web-extroverts. They have about nine million 'friends' they've never met. A year after they put a promo pitch on their Facebook pages, I'm still getting sales for that book from the seventeen to thirty-something crowd.

5. Bigger Is Not Always Better

I like my portions super-sized just as much as the next middle-aged man, but thinking too big in self-publishing can be dangerous. What I'm referring to is targeting an ebook for the biggest, most popular Amazon category. This is an excellent tactic for losing your ebook in a vast, faceless crowd.

Here's what I'm talking about: If your novel can be categorized as either paranormal or fairy tales, myths, and legends, you'll have a much shorter ladder to the top with myths and legends than you will with paranormal. Narrow your audience down. Be as specific as possible.

I've made my confessions, and I'm putting this behind me now. I will not check my KDP account today. I won't do it! I'm stronger than this addiction!

And, then again, maybe I'm not...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Perils of Writing Historical Fiction

Somewhere in my past, I made the masochistic decision to try my hand at historical fiction. I've been paying for it ever since.

A few years ago in a conversation with an aspiring writer, I was informed that writing historical fiction is much easier than writing science fiction or fantasy. "Sci-fi / fantasy writers have to build their entire world from scratch," he said. "A historical fiction writer's world already exists."

Apparently he's never experienced the joy of endless research and fact checking.

I won't make the mistake of claiming sci-fi and fantasy are easier than historical fiction. A good fantasy writer -- a REALLY good one -- does plenty of research of his or her own. My appreciation for skilled fantasy writers increases every time I find something about medieval alchemy, ancient history, botany, science, etc. embedded in their worlds. What I will say is anyone who thinks historical fiction is a piece of cake has absolutely no idea what he's talking about.

Let's take word choice for example. A certain word might sound good in dialogue. It might even seem 'historical.'  But if it didn't exist in 1814, your character would need to be a time traveler to use it. (Trust me, there are informed readers out there who will spot these anachronisms. If you're serious about your writing, you should strive to get it right.)

Recently I needed a 15th Century word for a Medieval outbuilding where a carriage could be kept. I wanted to use 'coach house,' but carriages weren't called 'coaches' until a decade or two after my setting. In fact, the terms 'coach house' (and 'carriage house') weren't used until two hundred years after that. Even the word 'shed' wasn't used until the latter part of the 15th Century.

I ran into a similar problem with the word 'prank.' It works fine for my father's old-time "outhouse tipping" activities, but Medieval children didn't pull 'pranks' until the 16th Century. (Children were better behaved in the good old days.)

And word choice is the least of a historical writer's worries. You really run into trouble with historically inaccurate events. It isn't uncommon (at least for me) to think I've gotten things right and then dig up more information that sends me back to rewrite, revise, and pull out a handful or two of hair.

There's also the joy of expert readers who know more about your time period than you do. Some of them really do know more, and you owe it to them to be as accurate as possible. (If you've written a scene where Hannibal and his men are going up against the Romans with sticks of dynamite and Gatling guns, you really need to put a little more effort into your research.)

To write about history you have to love it and be willing to immerse yourself in source materials. You have to visualize past events you probably weren't alive to experience and describe them so vividly your readers almost feel like they're living the events with your characters. It isn't easy, but isn't that what makes it fun?

For an excellent four-part series on the pitfalls and perils of writing historical fiction, I highly recommend Stephanie Thornton's guest blog at 49 She shares some insightful things most writers don't stop to think about.