Tag: self publishing

Her name is Allison Janda, and she’s a blogaholic.

Bestselling mystery writer Allison Janda, author of the food and photography-themed Marian Moyer cozies, debates the existence of writers block, talks about sexy food photography, and confesses to her blogging addiction.  

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): I love your protagonist’s profession–food and crime scene photographer–partly because it’s plausible that she would actually have access to information about murders. It drives me nuts when, say, a glassblower or a pastry chef or a friggin’ housecat ends up stumbling across piles of dead bodies everywhere she goes! How important is it to you that your stories are realistic?

Allison Janda (AJ): Originally, Marian was just going to be owner and photographer for Food Porn, but I felt like it wasn’t enough. As you said, it just wasn’t realistic for her to start suddenly getting wrapped up in these crazy crime dramas as the head of a magazine. My leading lady needed to be intelligent and savvy when solving crimes, but she needed room to grow as a character, and room to make mistakes.

That’s when my idea for a late 20-something crime scene photographer came about. I felt the age and profession would give Marian some basic insights to her work, but with room to come into her own as she continued to get better and climb the ladder.

MFM: Your heroine has often been compared to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum character. Is that a fair comparison?

AJ: First of all, that’s just a flattering statement because Janet Evanovich is a ridiculously talented writer. That being said, if readers think Marian Moyer is funny, quirky and bad-ass in a similar way as Stephanie Plum, well, that’s pretty flattering, too.

MFM: You are a blogger extraordinaire. Has that been an effective way for you to connect with readers? Or is it more of a creative outlet? Or are you just some kind of out-of-control blogaholic in need of a 12-step intervention?

AJ: My name is Allison, and I am a blogaholic. I didn’t start out that way – I had one blog, Journey Versus Destination, for personal whimsy and motivational posts and all of that. It was my way to connect with other bloggers. Then, I got the idea for a 365 project, but to involve the story element, I needed a platform where I could keep tabs on my ideas for future stories. So was born 365 With A Twist. THEN I realized that over the past few months, I’d been doling out requested advice that has worked for me when battling my writer’s block and I figured – why not just post it for everyone to see and use? Out of that brilliant brain child came Writer’s Block is Real. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite blog – I can’t. They’re like children.

MFM: One of your blogs is entitled Writer’s Block is Real. I’ve gone on the record saying that it isn’t. Do you and I need to meet down by the bleachers and duke this out?

AJ: Ha! With my luck, I’d trip halfway up/down the bleachers and you’d win by default.

In your blog, you’d said “You may or may not have a natural talent, but either way, if you don’t put in the work, you’re gonna end up with nothing or with junk.” True. However, consider this: I believe my writing ability is a natural talent. The only one I have, by the way, so please don’t ask me to dance, swim or climb things (like bleachers or rocks).

I make sure to write daily. To improve. To try new ways of going about my words. But I can’t tell you how many times a week my words just totally fail me. It’s not even that they’re crummy – they just aren’t there. I write junk all the time. But for me, writing junk and not being able to form words into words at all, are different scenarios. The later is writer’s block as far as I’m concerned. I’m not anxious or worried or skipping my daily practice – I just don’t have anything.

Plus, I think you’ll find, many exercises in that blog are for practice. I too believe that honing your talent is part of the process – sometimes we just need a little help figuring out how to do so. What someone may think is “writer’s block” could be nothing more than “I have no idea what I’m doing.” That’s cool. The blog is for anyone who just needs a little insight into a new way to write. The title is just to stir the pot a bit.

MFM: As a best-selling author, can you share your number one, super secret, oh-so-effective marketing tip for newbie writers? I promise I won’t tell anyone (who doesn’t have the internet or speak English).

AJ: Oh my gosh. There’s a secret?! I wish someone had told me so that I didn’t have to work so hard! But seriously, the secret is to just keep working. Nope, work harder than that.

Also, build relationships. I don’t know if that’s much of a secret, but the bottom line is, people don’t have to read my stuff. If someone chooses my book – be it through a free giveaway or if they pay $2.99 on Amazon – that’s just humbling.

Readers deserve to know you appreciate that out of all the books in all the world, they took time out of their busy day to read yours. Thank them. If they e-mail you, even to say something disheartening, respond quickly and kindly. Simple, courteous stuff.

MFM: How did you make the decision to self-publish? Feel free to make up some crazy story about how you were pressganged by a Burmese drug syndicate who chained you up Princess Leia-style and forced you to churn out cozy mysteries. Or you can tell the truth.

AJ: In actuality, I WAS p- wait, can they see this?

Here’s the thing: I’d submitted my manuscript multiple times and just never heard back. That’s so disheartening. Ultimately, there was a lot of time and work and money put into creating a product I was proud of. Rather than be Cinderella waiting for my prince, hoping my luck would change, I decided to simply take charge. My SO knew quite a bit about self-publishing and with his help and the help of an amazing graphic designer, a real book was born. If you’d like a fuller explanation, you can read my blog about this very topic.

MFM: If you could go back and give your former self a bit of advice when you were just starting your first novel, what would it be?

Stop doubting yourself because fear is a yawn-fest. Just write. Love the process. Enjoy the product. Publish it. Rip it up. Stuff it in a drawer. Who cares? It’s art, not brain surgery. Quit worrying about it so much – and write.


ALLISON JANDA BIO

Writer, creative and owner of Curly Q Media, Allison Janda has dreams of writing a New York Times Bestseller and believes that most life challenges should be faced while one is holding a glass of wine and a Reese’s. She began writing in third grade and simply never stopped.

After attending Marquette University, Allison made a few pit stops on her way to becoming a full-time writer but never lost sight of the dream. She began a project entitled 365 With A Twist wherein she would write short stories along with a photograph she’d taken that day. When Allison couldn’t get one of the shorts out of her head, she just knew that this was to be her first novel. The short turned into book one of the Marian Moyer Series: Sex, Murder and Killer Cupcakes.

To learn more about Allison or to purchase her books, please visit www.AllisonJanda.com.

BookBub is my new husband.

Screenshot 2014-08-09 09.27.42Who, you ask, is that fancy person sitting on Amazon’s bestseller charts at Number 12 alongside Janet Evanovich and J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith)? Why it’s lil’ old me, with my BESTSELLING novel A Murder in Mount MoriahAnd how did a lowly self-published author reach these heady heights? Just ask my new husband, BookBub

With apologies to my actual husband, BookBub pleases me in ways that my actual husband never could, namely by selling a bub-load of my books. My husband has a lot of excellent qualities, but he has never sold 1,300 copies of my book in a single day the way that BookBub did.

For the uninitiated, BookBub is a company that sends daily email alerts about bargain books to their enormous subscriber list. In their own words:

BookBub features ebooks ranging from top-tier publishers to critically acclaimed independent authors. Our team of experts makes sure that we’re only featuring great deals on quality books that you’ll love. 

Note the section I’ve marked in bold. BookBub differs from other marketing avenues in that they feature indy/self-published books alongside traditionally published books. Although it is a paid service (and a very expensive one at that), there are no guarantees that they’ll allow you the privilege of forking over your cold, hard cash to them. I’ve heard of several instances where they reject books that aren’t well reviewed or that they don’t think will please their readership. They curate their offerings so that readers can be fairly certain of getting a book that is interesting, well-written and well-edited.

I realize that I’m gushing, and I don’t want to come across as a BookBub schill. But there is simply no other single marketing service that can deliver the kind of sales boost that I and some of my indy publishing friends experienced after our books were featured.

Here are my tips for deploying the B-Bomb:

  1. Make sure your book is in good shape before submitting it. It should have a fair number of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. If you’re having trouble getting anyone to post reviews, try sending out free copies to people on Goodreads or Library Thing who read a lot of books in your genre (i.e. private message them to see if they’re interested in reading/reviewing). Or you can do what I did and run a free giveaway through Kindle Select. My book was downloaded about 10,000 times and I netted about 10 reviews that way. The rest just trickled in over time.
  2. Have more than one book. I always planned to try BookBub at some point, but I wanted to wait until my second novel, A Death in Duck was released. I figured that if people read and liked A Murder in Mount Moriah, they might go on to buy the next book. I’d get double bang for my (many) bucks. So far, my hunch has proven to be true. In the weeks before the BB promo, I’d sold about 40 copies of A Death in Duck–I suspect mainly to my friends and relatives. Since the promotion, I’ve seen a steady uptick in sales. I’ve sold between 3-10 copies per day of that title.
  3. Enjoy the surge, but gird your writerly loins for the inevitable slide. On the day of the promotion, I sold 1,300 copies of my book. The next day, around 250. It’s been downhill from there. Now, one month post-promo, I’m selling about 6-12 books per day. Part of the reason is undoubtedly because my 99 cent sale ended. People like cheap e-books. But another part of it is that once you leave the Amazon bestseller lists, your book becomes unfindable once again. No one sees it unless they seek it out. So, all in all, I’m heartened that 6-12 people are seeking out my titles each day. I think it can only be word-of-mouth at this point, because I’m not in the charts or doing any active marketing at present.
  4. Accept that BookBub will not make you a zillionaire. I paid $650 for my slot on BookBub (mystery is the most expensive category, because it has the widest subscriber base). I reckon that $1,200 in sales over the past month are attributable directly to the promotion (i.e. that’s how many more books I sold compared to previous months). So, my profit was about $550. I’ve heard of cases where authors didn’t break even after paying for their promotions, but I’ve heard of cases where people make even more money than I did. It’s fun to sit alongside J.K. Rowling in the charts, but a one-day (or one-week) sales spike does not a literary zillionaire make. Yet.

Amazon, 650. Traditional Publishing, 0.

Since the beginning of January, I’ve made about $650 in royalties from my novel, A Murder in Mount Moriah. That’s a little over $100/month, on average, for the arithmetically challenged. While that’s not exactly “quit your day job” money, I’m proud of it. It represented hundreds of sales (at $2.99 or .99 cents each for the Kindle title, which represents the vast majority of purchases). This doesn’t, of course, include the many thousands (10,000+) of free downloads via Amazon marketing schemes. I’m hopeful that once I have two or three more titles in the Reverend Lindsay Harding series, my writing income stream will grow considerably and provide a little contribution toward my daughter’s college fund/bail money.

In addition to deriving satisfaction from gaining an audience from my book, I feel that this income bolsters my belief that I made the right choice by aligning myself with Little Spot for Stories. Little Spot is essentially a platform for self-publishing. The editor, Nicole Loughan, is herself a successful indie author whose “Saints” series became an Amazon bestseller. Nicole vets the books she publishes under her imprint and provides marketing advice. What she does not do is play the dysfunctional game that most literary agents and book publishers do.

Why do I call it a dysfunctional game? The best-selling indie writer Hillary Rettig explained this beautifully in her recent article about the current Amazon vs. Hachette standoff. She explains how, for her, me, and many others, there is no contest between Amazon and traditional publishing. Amazon has giving writers all the tools they need to reach audiences, and they compensate writers at a reasonable rate for their efforts. Writers have control of the quality of their work, and control over marketing decisions. Meanwhile, traditional publishing is, for a writer, frequently fraught with peril and disappointment.

Here’s my experience with the world of traditional publishing, as an illustration. I finished writing A Murder in Mount Moriah about three years ago. Hopeful little author that I was, I duly submitted query letters, using the wonderful website Query Tracker, to the major agents representing my genre (cozy mystery).  I was overjoyed when my very first letter, to a BIG TIME AGENT, yielded an immediate request for a full manuscript and a period of exclusivity. After months of nervous waiting, the BIG TIME AGENT came back with a “thanks, but no thanks.” My next round of letters (and I sent multiple this time, because that whole exclusivity thing is a load of bullocks), scored me my very own BIG TIME AGENT, someone with several titles on bestseller lists and an impressive client list. Now, this agent knows her stuff and has all the right (write?) connections. She was excited about my manuscript, and I was over the moon.

Then began another round of waiting. She sent the book to the Big 5 publishers (e.g. Penguin, Kensington, Minotaur, etc.). The responses, when they eventually came after many, many months, were positive, but no one wanted to take on the series. Here’s a snippet from one:

“I thought the writing was very strong and I greatly enjoyed Lindsay’s character-she has a wonderful voice for a protagonist-funny, down to earth, and instantly endearing. I had a few second reads and the overall feeling was that the hospital setting was just too difficult to make work for our line.”

I also had editors say it wasn’t “cute” enough, wasn’t “crafty” enough (lots of cozies involve baking, knitting, etc.), or that their marketing team couldn’t figure out how to “visually convey” hospital chaplaincy.

Ultimately, my agent strongly encouraged me to give up on the hospital chaplain book and write something grittier and more hard-boiled. I don’t blame her for giving up. Publishing is a business, and the sooner a writer understands that, the better. The problem is, though, that I don’t want to write about some latter-day Josef Mengele psycho killer who spends his days stroking a cruel-eyed Persian cat while plotting out the details of his next gruesome rape or murder. (He is, obviously, laughing maniacally all the while). I don’t want to describe how this killer then wove a macramé owl out of the intestines of his unfortunate victim and fed the victim’s toes, one by one, to the cat (who is also laughing maniacally all the while).

Self-publishing has given me the freedom to tell the stories that I want to tell, and to try to find an audience that wants to hear them.

All of this is not to say that I wouldn’t consider traditional publishing. I’d still love to do that. But self publishing on Amazon has given me a basis for negotiation. I don’t have to take any old offer that I get. If traditional publishing can score me better than $100/month, I’m all ears.

 

What does it take to make it as an indie author? Interview with Kindle bestselling author Nicole Loughan, Part 3

Read part 1 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan
Read part 2 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan

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Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): I’ve heard it said that to be a successful writer nowadays, you need a PR person more than you need an agent. Do you think that’s true?

Nicole Loughan (NL): I have a friend who is a social media representative at a big company and acts as my PR consultant. She has been essential in teaching me about twitter and Facebook marketing, shout out to her Alyson Komyanek. Though in the beginning I recommend writers do their own marketing, especially when you don’t know how well your book will be received. You can spend a fortune on all the little doodads out there like PR and ads and the return on investment might never come. You have to be a pioneer and do a lot yourself. If I hadn’t known Alyson I probably would have spent another 100 hours learning about social media and marketing. Anybody just starting out can learn basic marketing from the already established advice of J.A. Konrath and David Gaughran. I read Konrath’s blog and Gaughran’s book “Let’s Get Visible.”

MFM: There are so many websites and services catering to indie authors. Many offer to make you a best-seller…often for a hefty fee. What has your experience of these services been? Which ones work and which would you steer clear of?

NL: I did not use any web services, eek, no. If you could see me you would know that I am holding up my hands like the sign of the cross trying to fight off a vampire. It’s not a good idea to use an online publishing service or most services catering to indie authors. The websites do not deliver enough to warrant the cost. I did not spend a dime on advertising for the first six months and still sold like hotcakes. I spent all of my money on editing and graphic design in the beginning, great investments. When I finally did decide to try an ad I did so after careful research. I learned there were essentially two places worth the money to advertise your indie book, Bookbub and Ereadernewstoday. I have now used both. Both times my books hit the bestseller lists. BookBub was the big time I hit the top of all of my categories with Bookbub and I am still feeling residual effects. It was pricey, around $180 but it was more than worth it. Here is the caveat; you have to already be very successful to advertise with either of these places. By very successful I mean you have to have a large number of reviews, which are favorable. To get a lot of reviews you have to have a lot of sales.

MFM: Thanks for these great tips, Nicole!

What does it take to make it as an indie author? Interview with Kindle bestselling author Nicole Loughan, Part 2

Read part 1 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan

Minty Fresh Mysteries: What three qualities do you think it takes to become a successful indie writer?

Nicole Loughan: 1. Honesty – Publishing on your own means that nobody has yet put their stamp of approval on your work. You have to do that for yourself. You have to be honest with yourself about your writing and how good it is. I have been writing fiction for about ten years, a lot of it sits in a drawer collecting dust. Some of it I sent to my sister or friends. The response to other stories was typically, “it was good but I just don’t have time to finish it.” Clue: If your friends didn’t like it enough to finish it, chances are it wasn’t good enough. If the people who like you personally don’t have time to finish your book you will be hard pressed to sell it to strangers for $2.99.

2. Be willing to learn – I can’t stress that enough. In the beginning I learned how to do everything myself. I created my website www.littlespotforstories.com. I learned to write code, insert widgets that were functional. I learned basic design and html. I learned interior book formatting and mobi pocket conversions. I have probably banked more than 100 hours of reading time about how to self-publish.

3. Have a thick skin – Negative reviews and negative reactions are all part of the game. There are people who look down on self-publishing and they will make themselves known at dinner parties. My plan of attack is to have a plate of olives nearby to eat when they start talking about it. Then there is the negative book reviews. I got my first one within 10 days of publication. It hurt at the time, but I later realized how lucky I was to have a genuine review so quickly. A friend of mine gave me great advice that I will share here. She said never respond to a review. Even if a reviewer says “I don’t like Times New Roman Font and your book is in Times New Roman” perhaps another person will come along who doesn’t like Times New Roman and say “Thank you for the review. I can’t read another book with that terrible font,” and that review will have been a help to them.

MFM: Amen, sister. I look forward to hearing more from you next week in the third and final part of our interview!

What does it take to make it as an indie author? Interview with Kindle bestselling author Nicole Loughan, Part 1

Do you have what it takes to make it as an indie author? Kindle best-selling author of the Saints Mystery series, Nicole Loughan, shares details about her journey to indie author success.

Image of Nicole LoughanAuthor Interview, Part 1: The Road to Indie Authordom

Nicole Loughan has written two murder mysteries she swears are magic. Not that they have any mystical properties written within the pages, but the success has been close to supernatural. Her first mystery, To Murder a Saint became the #70 best-selling book on Amazon in January, topping the best-selling Mystery and Women’s Sleuth charts. The book has sold thousands of copies since publication in May of last year. She realized what an astronomical feat that was when she learned that most self-published books only ever sell 100 copies. Nicole has not left her day job. Instead she continues to write as the humor columnist “The Starter Mom” and food and features for two Philadelphia daily newspapers. 

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): I know you write a syndicated humor column, “The Starter Mom.” How did you make the transition from breezy humor to the darker themes you explore in your Amazon best-selling Saints’ Mysteries?

Nicole Loughan (NL): The humor column is harder for me than writing mysteries. I started as a “real” journalist 15 years ago. I covered community, politics and crime. Occasionally, in those early days I would write features and fun stuff like the column. I evolved overtime and became strictly a features writer, but I still had to follow the rules of journalism: a catchy lead, using inverted pyramid style, heavy on facts and telling the story with quotes. I was looking for a challenge when the opportunity to become “The Starter Mom” came along and boy did I get it. I did not realize I was so used to journalism that I would have a hard time putting myself into the story and adding opinion. It was hard to not follow the structure of a news story. I think the first starter mom was 700 words and took me about six days to write it.

MFM: How did you get started in indie publishing?

NL: I am not against the traditional publishing establishment. In fact I am represented as a newspaper and magazine writer. I like having representation. They take care of the cash, tax forms and technical problems. When I wrote “To Murder a Saint” I did not know where to start. It was a novella and I could not find any agents who were looking for novellas. After exhaustive searching I found three publishers taking novella submissions. One was Random House. I got a personal and very encouraging rejection from their Alibi division. The two other places I sent the story to took more than four months to give me a response. I am not very patient so I was constantly googling things like, “how long do queries take” and “is it a good or bad sign that my query has been out for half a year?” Eventually this googling led me to the site of J.A. Konrath and I learned about the new way to self-publish, digitally. Konrath talked about the importance of a good story, a good editor and a good graphic designer. I had a good editor I had been working with on other projects, Erin McNelis and a fabulous graphic designer friend, Geneveive LaVO. These were people that already had good industry reputations and were hired by large organizations for their skills. I pulled my queries from the other two publishing houses and hired my friends. I feel fortunate in a way. I have only ever queried three places and had one query rejection. I can say my manuscript was only rejected once prior to publication.

Read part 2 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan
Read part 3 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan