Author Archives: Kevin Ikenberry

Writing for Academia – Guest Post: Amanda Faith

Writing for Academia is Writing

Amanda Faith

There is something about starting a new year with goals and expectations. Although I have never really been one to set a “new-year resolution,” I find myself at least looking ahead to what I want to accomplish for the upcoming year. I like making lists, so I start planning and developing ideas. I research to see what markets are available to submit my works. Somehow, life has a sense of humor and decides it wants to play its own games. This year has proven to be no exception.

After being in the classroom for over 21 years, I decided to make a career change. I wanted to be a librarian. This required me to go back to school, a decision that took a lot of soul searching. I already had four degrees. Did I really want a fifth? Did I really want to be a student again taking graduate-level classes? I took the plunge and started January 2016.

My days of writing creatively dwindled away as my time was overtaken with homework, projects, and papers. It didn’t help any that I was working two jobs; I taught both high school and college English. I graded a lot of essays and other homework, tests, quizzes, and projects. Some days I thought my head would explode.

I would guest blog here and there. I would create and send out a short story or two. I would start outlines or jot down story ideas, but never quite finished them. As the days wore on, I was becoming depressed. How could I find more time to write? I wanted to finish a book or complete more short stories…anything to be writing again. It seemed that I would never find the time or energy to get it done.

Then I had an epiphany sometime this summer. I was writing. It’s just in a different format.

I started looking over all of the essays, journal entries, discussion boards, and projects I had been creating. They were products that took a lot of work that I was proud of. I reread the feedback I received. Feedbacks are a lot like reviews. So many of my “reviews” were along the lines of “what great insight I had” or “I never thought of it quite like that.” Some of my classmates could tell that I was a published author. Some of them even commented that they thoroughly enjoyed my postings as they told a tale of the antics of high school happenings. Even though my postings were true tales, they still told a story. I made them entertaining. Some were funny. Some were heartfelt. All of the entries had a style that reflected a part of “me.”

That lifted my spirits. I was writing. Granted, it wasn’t creative writing or writing for pay. It was writing for a reward, for progress, and for completion of my goal of graduating. It was getting those words down, planning and revising, and submitting that final draft. There was still the anxiety of waiting on the “publisher” (aka, my professor), to determine how well I had done. It was still the same process as writing and submitting a fantasy or mystery. It was academic, which is just as rewarding.

The year is almost over, and I have accomplished a lot. I will graduate in December this year with my new degree. I just passed the state test to become a Media Specialist. I will achieve my dream and start my new adventure. All because I am a writer.

Writing for academia is writing.

 

Amanda’s Bio:

Award-winning author Amanda Faith may have been raised in Dayton, but her heart and home is in the South. With a lifelong love of teaching and writing, she had plenty of encouragement from teachers and friends along the way. Loving a good puzzle has always been a fascination, and writing gives her the outlet to put all the pieces together.

Being adventurous and loving to try new things, it wasn’t long before her characters found themselves in unusual situations. She loves to put people from two different worlds into new situations and to see how they interact, taking them on journeys they would never have normally experienced.

Teaching high school English by day, college English by night, writing, and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at www.amandafaith.net.

 

Guest Post: J.A. Sutherland

My 2016 Year in Review

In putting together notes for this post, I’m actually pretty glad I decided to do it. In many ways, 2016 was a horrible year – but for my writing career, I find it was pretty good, and writing this gave me some very positive things to reflect on.

One of the positive things is that I wound up with some interesting data on presales – as a data-driven guy, I like that.

Presale periods are a surprisingly divisive issue for authors, with some swearing by them and others … well, there’s some swearing involved there, as well.

One of the arguments against them is that, at least on Amazon, sales from the prerelease period don’t “count” toward rank on release day, thus not driving a new release as high in the charts as it might otherwise go.

I think that’s short-sighted. Marketing is all about eyeballs – getting more eyeballs on a product, repeatedly, so that it becomes more familiar and more likely to be purchased. Given this, it would seem that sustained, longer-term visibility is more beneficial than a shorter period, even if the shorter period, even if the shorter period gets more individual eyeballs.

A presale period does this by staying on the new release charts longer, exposing the book to eyeballs more often, and my personal dataset seems to bear this out.

First by happenstance, then by design, I released three of my four books following the same pattern and at the same time of year. In addition, I do very little marketing, so my sales charts are largely unaffected by ads and are driven almost exclusively by visibility on Amazon.

My first, third, and fourth books were all made available for prerelease in August, starting in 2014, with a release date in November, the maximum prerelease period available on Amazon to a self-published author.

There were relatively few presales with the first book, but what I observed with the third and fourth was striking.

Now, all of the expected YMMV caveats apply – this is data for a series, in the space opera genre, and may not apply elsewhere, especially to stand alone novels. Also, I’m tracking dollars-earned, not number of copies, because, frankly, that’s what I care about.

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  1. I put my first book on presale in August 2014 for a November release. It had a trickle of presales over that time, and more sales when it finally released.
  2. Book 2 went on presale in November 2014 for a February release, which, I think, helped Book 1’s sales after a bit.
  3. After which, sales fell steadily through the new in the last 30-, 60-, and 90-day lists.
  4. Until Book 3 went on presale in August 2015. Now, it’s important to remember that the dollars for presales don’t register until the book’s actually released, so this jump in sales (of 10x the previous months) is entirely sales of the existing books, not the new one. I did virtually no advertising or promotion during this time, so the effect is entirely attributable to the visibility of Book 3 on the Hot New Release charts, which are significantly easier to get on than a category’s Best Seller chart.
  5. So I got 90-days of that visibility, then all the revenue from presales, and still had 30-days of “new release” status going into November.
  6. The question I started asking as Book 3 lost that status was: Is that repeatable? Not just the spike of new release sales and initial visibility, but the sustained sales of the previous books while the next is in prerelease? It seemed logical, but so many authors were swearing that the Day One spike was essential.
  7. Well, sure enough, it did repeat, with slightly different pattern because Book 4 went on prerelease a bit later in August this time.
  8. All of which resulted in, again, more presales of the next book, making November 2016 my best month ever.
  9. And projecting December to be better than last year as well, though not as much as it could be because the audiobook of the new release is a bit delayed (Book 3’s audiobook released in December 2015, increasing that month’s revenue.

It could be argued that the higher rank of a Day One, no-prerelease spike might make more money, but given what I know about marketing, I don’t think so. Amazon’s algorithms favor stability of rank over spikes, so I don’t think a higher spike would last as long in its effect. I know that it would take a huge number of sales in 30-days of visibility from no prerelease to make up for the revenue I see in 120-days with one – it doesn’t seem feasible.

Marketing is about eyeballs and while some people will buy your book the first time they see it, others will think “maybe” – the longer it’s visible, the more opportunities there are to both get the initial buyers and convert the “maybes” to yeses.

I know I plan to repeat this with my next release and hope 2017 will be better still.

untitled ..Bio:

Bio:
J.A. Sutherland spends his time sailing the Bahamas on a 43′ 1925 John G. Alden sailboat called

Yeah … no. In his dreams.

Reality is a townhouse in Orlando with a 90 pound huskie-wolf mix who won’t let him take naps.

When not reading or writing, he spends his time on roadtrips around the Southeast US searching for good barbeque.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jasutherlandbooks/
Twitter: @JASutherlandBks
Website: www.alexiscarew.com

My Year In Review: Guest Post by Doug Dandridge

My Year In Review

I had planned for 2016 to be my best year yet, moving forward with all my writing projects, and doing the ground work to build a larger readership. As some of you may know, I do this writing gig fulltime, it is my job. As this year closes out, I have sold about 200,000 books, eBooks, paperbacks and audiobooks. I was hoping to pass the half million dollar gross income level as an independent for the four years I had been doing it. I was planning on releasing seven books, as well as finishing off an effort I was hoping to interest Baen books in. Unfortunately, things don’t always work as planned.

As the year dawned, I had just returned from a workshop cruise in December (Sail To Success), and had taken a belt test for Kempo Karate. I had been feeling my best in years, and I was planning on putting out five thousand words a day, which would put me at almost two million words. I really didn’t think I would do that, but a million seemed like a possibility. Then, in January, I started losing energy. Every morning I woke up feeling like I had fought a battle the night before. I kept on writing, but not at the level I wanted, and the workouts went out the window. In March my primary care physician told me she thought I had sleep apnea. Now, since I go to the VA, this didn’t mean I would get immediate treatment. It took two months to get the sleep study, followed by another sleep study, and four months after my primary told me her thoughts I finally got my CPAP. It has made a world of difference, and I started working out again. Still not at one hundred percent, but I can see it coming.

Now that that’s out of the way, what did I do with my year? To start off I put out a book I had on my hard drive for five years, just so I could get something out. The first of the second trilogy of The Deep Dark Well series, it did well enough. I also put out a collection of short stories set in the Exodus Universe, a little under 70,000 words, and sold about five thousand copies in the first three months, about what the first, shorter volume had done. The production company that does my audiobooks put out Exodus: Empires at War: Book 5: Ranger, which did okay, though I’m not sure if sales were enough to convince them to do book 6. Time will tell. In May I put out Exodus: Empires at War: Book 10: Search and Destroy. While the book sold well, it was probably my weakest reviewed novel since the first of the series, many people thinking it was just a placeholder novel, which it kind of was. That taught me something about series, something I will avoid in future efforts. In August I put out Book 11: Day of Infamy, which met with much better reviews. I had planned to have that book out by the end of June, but the sleep apnea interfered. I started to work on Exodus: Machine War: Book 3 and finally got it out the door on November 20th. I have also put out some short stories for anthologies, and did some of the planning on future series. Not my most productive year, but still enough to make more than twice what I made in a year at my old day job.

I attended three conventions this year, starting with Pensacon, where I was merely a visitor and spent some time with my Superstar Friends. In July I went to Libertycon in Chattanooga, where I sat on two panels and moderated a third. Good practice. Dragoncon in September, and this year I was able to get two panels, one on the writer’s track, and a really fun one in the scifi lit track called starship showdown. I have been told I will get even more next year, and I am planning on putting in an application as a Dragoncon guest. We can always dream. And I was invited back to Sail To Success this year as a Student/Instructor, at a hefty discount, so I can give my take on Indie Publishing on two panels. Add to that, I have been invited to next year’s Florida Writer’s Association con as a faculty member.

The year didn’t go as planned, but I still was able to work my dream job and make a good living at it. Hopefully I will do better this next year, and if I don’t? No problem, I will still be happy.

 

Doug’s Bio:

Bio – Doug Dandridge

Doug had been writing since 1997, and had garnered almost three hundred rejections from publishers and magazines before trying his hand at self-publishing on December 31, 2011. A little over a year later he quit his day job with the State of Florida, and has been a full-time author ever since. Doug has published thirty-one books on Amazon, and has sold over two hundred thousand copies of his work. His Exodus books, with eleven volumes in the main series, plus five in the two spinoff series, have sold over a hundred and seventy thousand books. They have consistently hit the top five in Space Opera in the UK, as well as top ten status in the US. Doug likes to say that he does not write great literature, but entertainment, and his fans agree enough to keep buying his work. He has well over three thousand reviews on both Amazon (4.6 star average) and Goodreads (4.12 star average).

Doug attended Florida State University (BS, Psychology) and the University of Alabama (MA, Clinical Psychology). He served four years in the Army as an Infantryman and Senior Custodial Agent, followed up with two years in the National Guard. A lifelong reader of the fantastic, he had an early love for the classics of science fiction and fantasy, including HG Wells, Jules Verne and the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He writes fast moving, technically complex novels which appeal to a hardcore fan base. He has plans for several future series, including several space operas, a couple of classic fantasies, some alternate history, and even a post-apocalyptic tale. He puts out about five books a year, and still has time to attend several conventions, including Dragon Con and Liberty Con. This year he added board member of Tallahassee Writers Association to his resume’.

Learning To Market My Book – Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

 

Learning To Market My Book

Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

I signed my book contract in March 2016. Since then, my professional life has been a crash course in marketing, a mix of constant research and the ongoing leap of faith that I knew how to reach my audience.

*A Marketing Primer

Marketing is how you tell your audience about your book. Because it’s a message, it can have creativity and artistry to it. Marketing is always a business act, however. It connects you with your audience so your audience wants to buy and share your book.

The huge changes brought by ebooks, independent publishing, social media, fan conventions, and giant corporate media mergers have completely upended the publishing business. Whatever business structure helps you get your work out to the world, you are your best marketer, and you will be for years to come.

*A Marketing Plan

When WordFire Press asked for the manuscript of The Demon in Business Class, they also asked for a marketing plan. I took it very seriously, examining my market, publisher, and novel, with an honest if enthusiastic eye. Never hide from the truth of your book. All lemons are potential lemonade.

Demon is a hybrid novel with corporate thriller and romance elements and a literary style. It has a forward-looking, niche audience, not in the mainstream of the fantasy genre, and aimed at mature readers. It’s also an outlier in the WordFire Press stable, which tends to more adventure and to an all-ages audience.

This gives a granular answer for where I find my audience: eager for novelty, happy with a relaxed approach to genre, wants good writing but also a plot. Comfortable with mature content, even pleased to have it. Interested in travel. It suggests their likes, their touchstones, how to reach them and with what kind of attitude. It’s clearly a market my publisher has yet to tap.

Plus, this audience spans genres. Romance readers, thriller readers, and people who care what the New Yorker reviews all have a subset with these same tastes. With a scenario that depends on magic, fantasy is my natural starting point, but modern shopping makes genre labels less prominent. You don’t browse Amazon aisles the way you browse bookstore aisles.

For all these reasons, it was clear Demon would depend even more than most books on word-of-mouth – a long process, but one where an author can help.

*Learning to Con

It took eight months from when I signed my contract to when my book could be bought by the greater public – on the most aggressive timetable possible, to get to fall conventions before shopping season. The WordFire Press staff pushed tremendously hard to make a stylish, bold product in double-time. I needed to be ready to be its author!

One major outlet where an author can make a personal impact is at fan conventions. If you don’t think your niche has them, you haven’t looked hard enough! It’s a good idea to attend them before you have a book to sell, to see what works for you as a con-goer and what you need to do to make being a con-guest worth your while.

In the science-fiction and fantasy genres, cons differ widely. Festival cons, or comic cons, have tens of thousands of fans celebrating all fantastic genres, but emphasizing the visual. Though these cons have discussion panels and interviews with artists, they are foremost a huge marketplace, with the added draw of the costumed shoppers themselves. You can find readers there – if you’re eye-catching and fast. They are budget-conscious and overwhelmed by sights, but they are eager for some new thing. If you have that thing, it’s a positive connection.

This inspired a banner and marketing materials narrowly tailored for my audience’s sensibility, with edge, wit, and maturity all quickly established. It helped to have an amazing cover!

dobranski-banner

 

So far it’s working. I see my title or cover or banner catch eyes and draw smiles, long enough at least for me to engage people. Readers with different tastes walk on by, which is just as good – better no sale than an angry bad review!

Literary cons are smaller, scholarly events, with a pronounced emphasis on readers and writers. Though the membership is only in the hundreds, these fans are deeply connected in the word-of-mouth fan communities, and eager to discuss their genre with creators and with other enthusiastic fans. The high writer-to-reader ratio makes for engaging discussions in hallways and at bars and suite parties. New writers will find both fellowship and validation.

You may get a reading slot or autograph table, but new writers get noticed on panels. Be courteous, especially when you disagree, and knowledgeable. Engage questions creatively, and as positively as you can. You and the other panelists are together an event for the audience. Look for creative ways to turn questions around.

Involve the crowd. Remember – in each audience are likely readers of your book.

*Social Media

Curated corners of social media still feature long-form writing, but blogs are passing. If you look at social media as a marketing channel, you’re competing with many other voices – sometimes, your own friends! Make your posts image-driven, eye-catching and quick to read.

For a book release, YA paranormal writer Shannon A Thompson makes single image “book teasers” with a character’s backstory and a clipart image. https://shannonathompson.com/2016/06/15/ww-how-to-create-book-teasers-on-a-small-budget/ I saw them as a great way to create interest in the story. Not only were they vastly less expensive than a video trailer, each one could be shared on its own.

Keeping in mind my core audience, I wanted to share my style and my hybrid setting. One night, while drifting off to sleep, I remembered my old Star Wars trading cards. Perhaps it was my dreamy state, but I imagined them as a kind of shattered and reassembled movie trailer, with important moments in random order, something familiar yet offbeat. Perhaps I could make the offbeat a path to the familiar.

I developed my own trading cards, online images with sly quotes from the book, and clip-art lookalikes of my characters that I made more expressive using the online Prisma app:

dobranski-cards

I made fifty-six, to release daily on social media in the two months spanning my release, my first readings and my four fall cons.

They were popular, and easier to share across multiple platforms. People told me the quotes and visuals gave a much better sense of my book than the title alone. You can still see them on my Instagram! www.instagram.com/adobranski

People crave original content, even if it’s commercial. If you can express your sensibility in small, steady streams of content, social media can send it far and wide.

* Check Your Tech

Tablets and smartphones are tough for long-form writing, but they are essential for social media. Remember the Prisma app for modifying stock photos to use on Instagram? Prisma is ONLY made for iOS and Android, not for computer desktops. While you can view an Instagram feed on a computer, you can’t post to it – handhelds only.

I hope my approaches inspire you to take a fresh look at how you can find your audience, creatively and entertainingly. Each book has a different main and secondary audience, and a different publication path – giving a unique set of marketing opportunities. Maybe next year will be your year of marketing!