Category Archives: Dave Heyman

You’ve got Mailing Lists

This month’s topic comes at a really fortunate time for me, as I am just in the process of building my brand right now. I have my first release coming up in about four weeks, with three other releases coming in 2018.

I’ve done most of the things the majority of books and blogs will tell you to do:

  • I have a website
  • I have social media pages devoted to my books
  • I have started a mailing list
  • I have a marketing plan ready
  • I have beta readers going through the first book

Most importantly, I have exciting books with engaging covers, professional editing and well-crafted sales copy.

So I’ve done it all, right?

Well, no. Certainly what I have above is only some of the most common suggestions. There’s plenty more you can do, the primary gates being time, money, and comfort level.

The other issue though is that I’ve built a house no one lives in. Without an actual launched title, there’s little reason for anyone to visit my website, subscribe to my mailing lists, care about my Twitter posts, and so on.

Discoverability is a huge challenge for someone just starting out, so I wanted to focus on just one thing I’ve done that has shown me some benefits. I wrote a mailing list magnet story, and I’m giving it away for free.

YOUR MAILING LIST

Let me cover why I’m focused on my mailing list. There are certainly a lot of other ways to get visibility including any number of advertisement options. I like the mailing list because of how much control I have over it and how personal a connection it would be with my fans.

Also, ‘focus on your mailing list’ might be the most consistent piece of marketing advice I see, right up there with ‘nothing will market your current book better than your next book’.

Of course, that doesn’t help me when I don’t have a book out yet. So a good writer friend of mine turned me on to the idea of a mailing list magnet. The idea being that you write a story set in the world of your novel and give that away in return for a sign-up to your mailing list.

So I wrote ‘Cracks and Crevasses’, a little 6k word short story that tells of the first meeting between the two main characters of my fantasy series. If you go to my website, you’ll see the option to sign up for my mailing list in return for a free story.

I worked with my cover artist to get a nice low-cost cover done that was still consistent with my branding. I had the story edited as well, since the whole point of the story was to introduce me to people new to my work. I wanted to make a good first impression!

I then plugged the story on my social media feeds and was happy to see many of my family, friends and writing associates go snap it up. My mailing list grew into the mid-teens, and there it stayed. Because no one goes to my website to begin with. I don’t have a book out, I’m not yet paying for any adds.

So what was the point, right?

ENTER INSTAFREEBIE

Instafreebie is a site that lets you give your story away in return for a mailing list sign up. You can run your own giveaway, or you can join dozens of other authors in targeted giveaways that can be focused on any number of themes. Each author then takes the links to that giveaway and tells their audiences about it – which is a much farther reach than a new author like myself could have!

I chose an optional opt-in method, which allows people who are downloading my story to decide if they want to sign up for my list rather than requiring it. I joined a few group giveaways along with my own, and in the process made a few new author friends who got excited about my story and plan to promote it to their lists.

My giveaways have only been running about 48 hours. As I write this, ‘Cracks and Crevasses’ has been downloaded about 100 times, and my mailing list size has doubled. Even the folks who downloaded but didn’t opt in to sign up for the list may sign up later – I made sure to include links to my mailing list and my novel pre-order on the back page of the story.

So as I said in the open, there are a lot of ways you can work on increasing your audience and building your fanbase. This is just one, and I’ve just started – but so far I’m happy with how its working out.

(A final note: The whole concept of the author mailing list and how addresses are collected and used is a currently evolving situation in light of the recent European GPDR rules. I highly recommend searching those rules out and finding a good advisory source to ensure you are compliant.)

The Accidental Series

Writing a series wasn’t really the plan.

After several years of writing stories mostly intended to help me level up in my abilities, two years ago I felt I had reached the point where I was writing publishable work. After some debate, I decided to self-publish and began to plan writing my debut novel. I had a few different ideas that were good starting points, but I decided on a fantasy adventure novel focused on a magical portal found on Mount Everest.

I chose this idea for a few reasons:

  1. I loved the idea. It combined three of my favorite things: fantasy, adventure and the Himalayas. I didn’t want to spend time working on something that didn’t excite me.
  2. I felt it would be the easiest to market of my available ideas. Everest was a known quantity that I hoped would help me in discoverability, and I felt the setting and concept was something that would stand out.
  3. The idea had long-term potential. If the Everest book was successful, there were many options for other books that could be written in the same universe.

UNDER EVEREST was written during the next six months as a one-and-done story, with hooks that could lead to other novels in the future if I so chose. When I arrived to the point where I thought I had the book close to launch ready, I consulted my friends who were already self-publishing about how best to move forward.

Consistently they had two questions:

  1. Could this be a series?
  2. Could you afford to wait and write more in the series before releasing?

After much thought and consternation, I decided to delay the launch of UNDER EVEREST by a year and re-purpose the project as a trilogy. Since I had a book that was fairly self-contained and I didn’t want to re-write it from the ground up, I decided to mirror what I felt was the methodology of the original STAR WARS film series.

That is:

  • Opening story introduces characters and arcs that mostly resolve inside the same story, but with hints to larger problems and a bigger world.
  • Second and third stories are essentially one connected tale that ends on a cliffhanger at the conclusion of story two and significantly broadens the world and deepens the characters.

I decided I would outline Books 2 and 3 at the same time and write them in immediate succession, so to better ensure they felt like a connected element. Over a few weeks that outline produced the road map through SEAS OF EVEREST and DRAGONS OF EVEREST, and the rest of 2017 was spent writing those books and modifying UNDER EVEREST to better fit the new model.

Now that I am on the other side of that project and all three books are approaching release, I can look back on the challenges and advantages I discovered while writing an entire trilogy before releasing any of it.

CHALLENGES

Certainly the most immediate challenge to this decision was that I was putting off revenue, likely for a year or more. At the time I had no idea how long it would take me to write two more books in the series, but a release of UNDER EVEREST was now off the table until the other two books could be done. I was fortunate to be in a position where I could afford to wait.

Next I had to take those additional hooks I had left myself and see if there was a workable series there. I had left a lot of dangling threads there, but I didn’t have a solid plan as to where most of them would lead. Additionally I had left myself with a real story challenge in the ending to UNDER EVEREST, scattering my heroes to different locations. Any new story would have to have multiple narratives, which was a challenge I had never tackled before.

ADVANTAGES

The primary advantage should be sales, but I admit that will be hard to prove even after the books release. My hope is I will see more sales and a stronger brand building than if I had released UNDER EVEREST as a stand-alone, but there’s no real way to know that. 

As I pushed through this process though, I found myself finding some additional unexpected benefits. As the character’s voices began to grow deeper and stronger in later books, I had the ability to go back to the first book and add those voices from the beginning. I was able to craft themes and character arcs that progressed through all three novels. Most importantly, I could correct plot dead-ends and cul-de-sacs before they ever saw print, cutting or foreshadowing elements as needed.

In short, writing all three books in the series before releasing them allowed me to create a series with a level of cohesion I don’t think I could have achieved writing them one at a time.

IN CONCLUSION

So did it work? I suppose the final truth of that answer is still a few months away when I finally launch the series and get feedback from readers. It certainly meant doing a lot of writing without seeing any return on my investment of money and time. Yet from my perspective the advantages were well worth the tradeoffs. It allowed me more time to find the the true voice for my characters, to be less hamstrung by earlier plot decisions that became dead ends, and most importantly to help me build a cohesive series that I am very proud of.

This is now my new model going forward, and it is one I recommend as long as you can afford the wait between releases. 

Make me care – the two sides of Bioware storytelling

I am an avid gamer, as many folks are. Over the years I’ve come to focus primarily on strategy games and role playing games, with the draw of both being the story that unfolds out as you play.

This is especially true for the role playing games produced over the years by Bioware. Bioware has a knack for combining winning gaming systems with engrossing stories that has kept me involved in their products for more than twenty years now.

For the purposes of this post, I’d like to highlight two of their most famous game series and how the writing for those series helped me become a better writer myself. Ironically the big lesson for me lay in studying why Mass Effect, one of my favorite games of all time, failed to get me emotionally engaged with the main character.

Mass Effect is the story of Command Shepard, a player-created character who embarks on a mission to save the galaxy from the oncoming threat of the deadly Reapers. The story spans three games, each of which can take hundreds of hours to play through completely. Mass Effects world building is peerless in its industry, and to this day it is my favorite science fiction universe created in the past twenty years. From one corner of its galaxy to the other, the mythos and lore of Mass Effect pulled me in deep.

Yet as connected as I was to the world, I could never connect with Commander Shepard himself (or herself, as I did a second playthrough with a female Shepard). It took me a while to work out why this was, but over time I realized it was a lack of personal stakes for the main character of the story.

Shepard walks through the three Mass Effect games almost as a blank space with the whole world being colored around him. Shepard himself has no family, no background beyond a cursory few paragraphs and no real motivations beyond what the player might give him in their own head canon.

The game is more about the rich worlds Shepard visits and the amazing companions he meets along the way. Over the course of the games characters like Garrus, Liara and Mordin grew into friends to me and what happened to them became important. They grow and change, each going on story arcs that are deep and very impactful. Yet Shepard doesn’t change at all. He’s the same guy at the end of game three as he was at the end of game one. I guess this is why, while I love the Mass Effect series, the main character always left me cold. It was like watching a movie where they forgot to put in the main character.

For the most part, this is the modern Bioware model. The main character is a cipher by design to allow for player insertion. The plot and side characters flow around the MC, and while the player gets to impact the world in a very meaningful way, the game isn’t *about* him or her.

Bioware made an exception to this is the second game in the Dragon Age series, and this deviation is one of the main reasons this game is so divisive among the fanbase. Unlike all three Mass Effect games and the other two Dragon Age games, Dragon Age 2 is very much about its main character Hawke.

Right from the first scene we are given Hawke’s family, fleeing in terror from a horde of monsters destroying their home country. We meet his mother and siblings. Early in the story one of the siblings is killed and the rest of the family is reduced to refugees, begging for work in the streets of their new home of Kirkwall.

Through the course of Dragon Age 2, many of the standard Bioware tropes are still on display. Characters with deep and rich backstories come to your side, and Kirkwall gains depth as a setting as the game goes on. The plight of Hawke and his family never leaves center stage though. Hawke’s fortunes change for both better and worse through the story, and at the end of the tale he is a significantly different character than who he was at the beginning.

I connected deeply with Dragon Age 2’s Hawke in a way I never did with Shepard in the Mass Effect games. The story was about him, rather than just how he impacted the story. Hawke had personal stakes – he wasn’t just a hero trying to save people because that’s what heroes do. He had family in the thick of things, and he had to sacrifice and change as a character in order to try and save them.

The difference between Hawke and Shepard is subtle but important to me, and it’s one I’ve tried to remember as I am writing my own stories. I try to give my heroes personal skin in the game, to make them more than just ‘good guys’ who rode into town to right wrongs but to have something on the line that is personal to them and requires them to grow in order to see things set right.

To Quit or Not to Quit?

That wraps it up for us this month, and what a month it was! We dove into making goals, how to make better goals, when to amend your goals, and when to quit your goals. We hope our insights were helpful to you, and that you carry some of our hard-earned wisdom with you into your future work.

In case you missed a post this month, here they are:

The Stories that Just Don’t Sell by Mary Pletsch

We Always Need a Goal by Ace Jordan

Quitting by Nicholas Ruva

New Goal: Stop Making Goals by Kristin Luna (that’s me!)

A Gamer’s Guide to Quitting by Heidi Wilde

How Goals Can Destroy Your Writing Career by Gregory Little

Finish What You Start, or Not by Kevin Ikenberry

A Faster Book, or A Better Book? by Frank Morin

Quitting with Feeling by David Heyman

In Favor of Failure by Colton Hehr

The Goal Post by Sean Golden

Obstacles May Be Closer Than They Appear by Kim May

To Goal or Not to Goal, That Is The Question by Jo Schneider

Made to Be Broken by Hamilton Perez

2018 – Hello, Universe Calling, Is Scott There? by Scott Eder

When Chronic Illness Sabotages Goals by Ace Jordan

Setting Realistic, S.M.A.R.T. Goals by Shannon Fox

Resources on Goal Setting and Quitting Goals by Kristin Luna

 

What were some of your favorite posts this month? Did we leave anything out? Comment and let us know!