Category Archives: Professional Behavior

Getting Noticed

A guest post by Sean Golden.

WarriorYou’ve done it. You’ve finally finished your first novel. After months or years of tears, sweat and blood, your baby is about to meet the world. But if you are self-publishing, or have an Indie publisher, you may find yourself not only the author, but also your book’s primary marketer and promoter. So what do you do?

No matter how brilliant your novel is, if nobody sees it, nobody will buy it. How do you break out of the gray mass of obscurity and catch the attention of potential buyers? My first novel didn’t break any sales records, but if a couple thousand sales in the first four months sounds interesting to you, here’s the approach I took, broken into three main areas:

  • Proper presentation (cover, blurb, categories, etc.)
  • Social media
  • Reviews


Proper Presentation:

Presentation starts with the categories and keywords you associate with your book. Categories and keywords determine the genre lists and search results in which your book will ultimately appear. There are few decisions you will make that will ultimately impact your sales more than which categories and keywords you choose to associate with your book.  Paradoxically, the more you sell, the more important this is due to the algorithms online book sellers use to present readers with purchasing options. Choosing the wrong categories and keywords is like presenting a selection of shoes to a shopper looking for hats. provides this excellent guide to categories and keywords.

Once you have your book appearing in the appropriate lists and search results, the next thing a reader will see is your cover. A good cover is more than nice artwork and title text. To get your cover to stand out, I suggest that it accomplish three specific things:

  • Be readable in the most common online thumbnail sizes
  • Match genre expectations
  • Have dynamic, eye-catching artwork

The purpose of your cover is to encourage a reader to click on it. Nothing screams “self-published” like an amateurish cover. If you can’t create professional quality art yourself, find someone else to do it for you. Keep in mind that your art will be scaled down in the thumbnails. Once a reader clicks on the thumbnail, they will be presented with your book’s summary page, which is where they will (hopefully) read your blurb. If the blurb catches their imagination, there’s a chance they’ll click “Buy.”  It’s beyond the scope of this post to explain how to write a good blurb, but here’s one article with excellent advice.

Your book’s presentation should be viewed as the bedrock of your strategy. Everything else you do will drive people to the page with your book cover and blurb. Even if you can tease them with an online ad, if they get to your book summary page and the cover is lackluster, not genre specific, or the blurb doesn’t sell them, they won’t click “buy.”

Social Media:

Let’s assume that you have that foundation in place. The next goal is to get people to land on that summary page. This is where social media comes in. And social media means more than just Facebook and Twitter. My daughter, Sarah Golden, is my social media guru. When I first self-published Warrior, I did a short post on Facebook letting my friends and family know that I had a book out. I dragged my Twitter account out of mothballs and started Tweeting. But that only gave me a small boost in sales for about a week.

Then Sarah jumped in. She either created, or had me create, accounts on multiple social media platforms including an author page on Facebook. Here’s the page she created for my novel on Pinterest. I also joined Goodreads and created an author and a book page there. Then I joined other reader or author blogs, such as KBoards. The results of Sarah’s social media campaign were striking. My sales went from a few per day, to twenty per day and higher. Pinterest allows me to give my readers content that lets them see a lot more about the story than I can squeeze into a Facebook post. It also allows others to post their own content.

The real value of social media is that it allows readers to get to know the author. I try hard not to use my author blog as merely another way to ask people to buy my books. I try to give them an idea of who I am, what I enjoy, what I’m doing and how I write. The more human and approachable I am to readers, the more likely they are to be interested in what I write. I also try to interact in the reading/writing community, attending conventions, writing blurbs for other authors, etc. Kevin James Anderson gives a lot of great advice, but perhaps the best advice he has given me is “Don’t be a jerk.” And that means online as well as in person.


While reviews don’t immediately get you noticed, they are part of your book’s presentation whether you like it or not. Self-published books have a reputation for poor grammar, plot holes and other ills that traditional publishers work hard to avoid. If your book has reviews warning about those things, savvy readers will shy away even if you have a great presentation. Reviews that are critical of your plot or story are painful, but readers expect that. What will kill your sales are reviews saying the book is difficult to read due to poor writing or editing. If you get such reviews, revise and re-publish your book.

Final Thoughts:

If there is one thing that you take away from reading this, I hope it is the importance of presentation: cover, blurb, category, and keywords. All the effort and money spent on driving readers to your book’s landing page will be wasted if the reader gets there and isn’t convinced the product is worth their money. Good luck!

Sean Golden Bio: Sean Golden
I’ve had a long and varied career outside of writing, starting as a construction worker putting glass in high-rise office buildings while I was working my way through college seeking a degree in physics. After graduation I ended up writing Macintosh programs and creating a Mac software product for a software company. Eventually I took over as Publisher of all of the software products before leaving to become a project manager of software development in a Fortune 500 company. That led to a 20 year career in corporate software development that ended in December of 2014 when I decided it was time to retire from the corporate rat race.During all of those years I wrote and published technical articles and stories for the local newspaper. But I never published my first novel until January 2015. Now I am writing full time and intend for this to be my last career. I have had stories half-written or outlined in my desk for decades, and now it is time to get them on paper and out to the public.I am happily married, and have been for almost 30 years now, and have raised two kids. My literary interests are varied, but I primarily read and write science fiction or epic fantasy.

Convention Selling Tips

Let me start off with the caveat that I am not an expert merchandiser. Everything I’m going to talk about below comes from a few years of hand-selling my books at conventions. I know people who can do this immensely better than I can. I’ve seen them selling scores of books like veritable sales machines. For me, however… well, one can only push a natural introvert so far.

Nevertheless, my aim here is to offer a few basic building blocks for those who are just starting out. Hopefully these tips will let you meet people and sell books at conventions without coming across Joe Obnoxio, Desperate N00B.

I’ve been selling books actively at conventions for about the last six years, starting with the release of Heart of the Ronin in 2009. Since then, three more novels have come out from various publishers. I’ve also landed short stories in a number of anthologies, which I also I sell at tables and in booths in the exhibitor halls. I’ve sold at cons of every size, from a scant couple hundred to massive mega-cons like Dragon Con and Denver Comic Con. The point is not to give you a writing resume, but to say that hand-selling at conventions gets easier not only with experience, but also with more titles on your table, offering opportunities to appeal to different tastes.

Get on programming. The most efficient way to reach the greatest number of potential readers is to participate in programming. Target some conventions that you plan to attend. Their websites always have contact information for the programming organizer(s). Unless the convention is DragonCon or GenCon, which are both overwhelmed by programming requests, they are actively looking for professionals to sit on panels.

Did you see that keyword I slipped in there? Professionals. Behaving as a professional at all times goes a long way. Even if you don’t feel like one with only one novel or a couple of short stories, you can behave like one. Fake it till you make it. For more information on this, check out Million Dollar Professionalism for Writers, by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta.

When you’re on the panel:

  • Be prepared.
  • Be erudite.
  • Be engaging.
  • Talk more about the other authors’ books. Writers who talk incessantly about their own stuff risk coming across as an egotistical jackass.

If you pull this off, the audience will recognize it, and some of them will seek you out after the panel to ask questions, which is the perfect time to tell them you have a booth/table where you’re selling your books.

Cooperate with other authors. Buying booths or tables at the massive conventions like DragonCon is cost-prohibitive, where costs for a booth run into the thousands of dollars. When you split those costs with fellow authors, however, the fees become much more reasonable.

The cost of a $3,000 booth split ten ways is a bargain when you consider that 80,000 fans with red-hot money in their pockets will filter past over the course of a four-day weekend.

So round up some of your author friends, form some sort of collective, and take a convention by storm.

Engage the potential readers one at a time. So when you have a potential new reader in front of you, what is an effective way to sell books? It is not to shove the book in her hand and say, “Buy this.”

  • Talk about the reader first. Engage them in conversation about the convention. Is she enjoying herself? The longer you talk to someone, the more likely he/she is to walk away with one of your books.
  • Ask if he/she is a reader. If it’s obvious she is, then skip this and ask what kind of books she likes. Nearly always, the response is so general that it’s not useful. “Science fiction and fantasy.” Your job then is to help her narrow it down. Urban fantasy? Military SF? Literary? Who has she been reading? What are her favorites?
  • The aim here is to steer her toward a book of yours that is aligned with her tastes. She’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness. And if there’s no chance of connection at all—she reads romance and you write horror—you’ll both know sooner, and she can go on her way, further appreciating that you didn’t waste her time.
  • In advance, create a one- or two-sentence sales pitch for each of your books, something that summarizes it in a nutshell. Make it as snappy as possible. When you have identified which of your books the potential reader might enjoy, give her your sales pitch.
  • If you’re selling in a booth with other authors, this could be also a chance to talk up your companions’ books. Maybe you lost a sale for yourself, but your friend will certainly appreciate it.

If you really want to build your sales skills, read a book or two on the subject of how to steer people into giving you their money. There is a tried and true structure to it, honed over decades of snake oil salesmen.

Once you’ve learned the method, the next thing you need is practice. Get out there and do it. Sometimes you’ll succeed and both the reader and you will walk away with that rosy glow of success. Often they will walk away, and your only choice is to wait for the next one to come along. Take what you learned from previous miss, adjust, and then do it all over again.

Don’t be a dick. Be gracious. Be friendly. Be humble. Just listen to the horror stories about how William Shatner or Harlan Ellison behaved on a bad day toward a fan for lessons in what not to do. If you’re reading this, you probably have not yet reached the literary stature of Harlan Ellison, so you cannot afford many social faux pas. A single, disgruntled fan in the age of the internet can truly hurt a budding career.

Final thoughts. The thing to remember is that competitiveness in this business is the chief signpost on the road to Crazy Land. You’ll make yourself miserable if you worry about how much you’re selling/not selling, comparing yourself to others. There are too many other opportunities for writers to make themselves miserable without jumping onto this one.

It is highly unlikely that you will sell enough books at a convention to cover your costs, so don’t get too caught up in that. Aside from the mental health aspect of meeting/hanging out with fellow writers, the main benefit is that you’ve made some personal connections with new readers, who are then more likely to become the kind of fans who will sustain your career in the long-term. They’ll come back next year to see if your next book is out.

And when you see the joy in their faces that they have, in fact, found this cool author they met last year, that expression is worth the cost of any convention to a writer’s soul.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Travis Heermann’s novel Spirit of the Ronin, will be published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind, The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the science fiction MMORPG, EVE Online.

In 2015, he’s moving to New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and a burning desire to claim Hobbiton as his own.

You can find him on…


All About Attitude

A guest post by John D. Payne

John Payne cover (1)

I was single for a long time, and not by choice. I was sick of dating by the time I was 21, but wasn’t married until 36. It took me 15 years to get noticed at a party by a beautiful, funny woman who shares my love of Firefly and tolerates my love of that greatest of all Canadian contributions to the culinary arts: poutine.

What had I done to catch the eye of my own personal Princess of Power?  Well, aside from riding a sweet tiger to the party and looking great in furry briefs, I had managed to figure out two important truths. First, finding a partner isn’t about trying to figure out what someone else can offer me (such as an escape from the meat market singles scene), but about becoming the kind of person that has something to offer to someone else. Second, a smile is sexier than a mope. (Sorry, Team Edward.)

A lot of getting noticed as an author is about these same changes in attitude.

Consider conventions, like the recent Dallas Fan Expo. I go to these shows to sell books. But if I get focused on the numbers, then I don’t sell well. My smile becomes strained and I start to look as desperate as I feel. If people notice me when I’m in that frame of mind, they’re going to do everything they can to avoid my gaze and escape before I can even open my mouth. That kind of treatment makes anybody feel lousy, so pretty soon I’m viciously cycling. No good.

For me, the cure is to remember that I really do love sharing great stories. Whether they’re mine or not, I really enjoy introducing someone to a book they’re going to love. So instead of pushing my book to every single person I talk to, I actually listen to what they say when I ask them what they like to read, and then try to make a recommendation that will really knock their socks off. In no time flat, I’m enjoying myself again. And my book usually end up flying off the table along with all the others I’m recommending.

Thinking about what I have to offer others is not just a great way to get noticed at conventions. My book was recently included in an ebook bundle.  Part of the reason I think they included me was that the curator has seen me promoting other people’s books on my Facebook page.

(By the way, if you haven’t checked this out, do yourself a favor. Fifteen bucks gets you thirteen books, including fantastic novels by Cat Rambo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Tobias Buckell, and many others.)

Another important shift in attitude for me has been switching from a default assumption of failure to one of success. In dating, I used to go into relationships with the thought that most of them fail. That’s true, statistically speaking.  But I was a lot happier once I started assuming that each new relationship would be the one that would last a lifetime. Looking for reasons to stay in, instead of a justification for bailing out, helped me see a lot more good not just in others but in myself. And eventually I was right.

I try to approach opportunities in my writing career the same way. Four years ago this summer I got an email from an old writing group buddy who made indie fantasy and scifi films. They wanted to release a book and a movie at the same time as an experiment and wondered if I would like to write the novel to go with the film.

It was an intriguing possibility, but I already had plans that summer to change jobs, move (twice), get married, finish writing my dissertation, defend it, and revise it. So I said… Sure! And then we talked about particulars and hammered out a schedule and a contract that we could all live with. In other words, I looked for ways to make it work instead of excuses to stay out.

When I start by assuming that failure is the likely result, I am nearly always right. But being part of a self-fulfilling prophecy is not as satisfying as it sounds. On the other hand, when I start by assuming that there’s a path to success, I am not always right. (Or at least I don’t always find that path.) But often great things happen. And every now and then, something truly miraculous happens. Like the day my wife noticed me at a party, and every day we’ve been together since then.

So, I offer my fellow writers just two bits of advice. Get outside yourself, and show the world what you have to offer. And embrace optimism. Believing that things will turn out for the best is so crazy it just might work.
John D. Payne Bio: John Payne (1)

John D. Payne grew up on the prairie, watching the lightning flash outside his window, imagining himself as everything from a leaf in the wind to the god of thunder. Today, he lives with his wife and family near Houston, where he imagines that the clouds of mosquitoes have achieved not just sentience but malicious intent.
His debut novel, The Crown and the Dragon, was published in 2013 by WordFire Press. The movie was released in 2014 and is currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon. John’s most recently published stories can be found in Black Denim Lit, The Leading Edge, Tides of Impossibility: A Fantasy Anthology from the Houston Writers Guild, and the upcoming Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology.

Getting Noticed

needle-in-a-haystackEver feel like a needle in a haystack? Perhaps more accurate, a needle in a huge pile of other needles. We write, we publish, we go to conventions and yet somehow reaching readers seems to become more and more difficult. Perhaps they feel inundated by the “buy me” media, they have their favorite authors and have difficulty branching out, or they just plain don’t realize how much they need our books. What can we possibly do to even have a chance at the love and authorly acceptance we so desperately crave…along with a few more book sales, please?

Those questions are the Fictorians’ June focus. We want to help you know how to get your books, stories, poetry, or whatever your creative work, into the hands of the people who can love them best. As much as I’ve looked for the perfect formula online, in bookstores, and in my supposedly creative brain, this seems to be the subject that stumps me the most. From my conversations with other authors, I think I’m not alone.

Last month we talked about the writing tools. Great month, by the way. So, we have everything in line to create a great book. Are we only writing for ourselves? If not, then how do we get these great masterpieces noticed?

This month we’ll be talking about the usefulness, pros and cons, and possible outcomes of activities such as:

  • Book Launches
  • Social media
  • Selling at conventions
  • Community contacts
  • Working with film makers
  • Targeting Indie Readers
  • And more…

So, let’s combine our collective needles of knowledge and I know that we can help eachother get to the top of the stack, the sun glinting off the spectacular surfaces of our books and catching the eyes of our potential readers.

I’m looking forward to this one, and I hope you are, too.