Friday, February 13, 2015

Promotions, or Why Self-Pubbing is Such a Slog

So I'm finishing my Disciple series (yay! woohoo!) after two years of hard work and I want to make some noise about it. Like most other self-publishers, I've arranged many a blog tour myself over the years and this time I thought you know, I've got a little cash and it would be nice if someone else could do the work and get me into some new blogs.

Because let's face it: if we're all just posting on each other's blogs all the time that makes for an incestuous little neighborhood. How many fresh eyeballs really get in here?

So I Googled. I found a list of "book blog tours that accept self-publishers". Bearing in mind how unimpressed I was by the blog tour I purchased waaaaay back when I published Disciple, Part I, I set about vetting some blog tour services.

How do you "vet" a tour service?
Step 1: Get a fresh drink, this is going to take a while.


Sample blog tour page
Step 2: Tour services will list current and past tours on their websites. Click on some and try to find a book that's similar to yours in some way. Scroll down to the list of tour stops and start opening the hosts in new tabs.

Step 3: Try to answer these basic questions about the host site

  • How long has this site been active? (does it have a substantial archive?) 
  • How active is it? (how old is the top post, how many posts per month?)
  • Does it have followers? (check sidebar for listings) 
  • You'll probably see blog awards -- a lot of these are given by friends to friends and don't mean anything. You may also see a list of tour services that this blog is a host for. Those are worth noting.

Step 4: More advanced questions

  • Click on their Twitter and see how many followers they have. This is a judgement call, but I consider anything under 500 to be useless. 
  • Do they tweet about books? Sounds like a no-brainer, but some of these are spam mills.
  • Likewise for Facebook. How many friends? What do they post there?
  • Do they post reviews to Goodreads? Amazon? 

Work your way through six or eight blog stops and see how many of them look genuinely worthwhile vs. just another dark corner of the internet.

You're being mean!
What right to I have to dismiss small blogs, given how tiny my own blog is? Look, I've been doing this for years and I know how tough it is to run a blog. I know that real people live in small blogs and they work hard and love books too. But we're talking about advertising here and advertising is a numbers game.

I want to maximize my chances to get eyeballs per dollar spent -- because no, there's no guarantee that any dollar spent will get me any eyeballs (let alone a purchase.) The hard truth of advertising, especially when you're a small fish, is that there's no guarantee it will get you results.

But that doesn't mean I'm just going to throw my money away. I'm going to choose my gambles as wisely as I can.

Does this page offer promotions on its own?
Some of them do. See if there's a tab for reviews, promotions, or running ads on the blog. If there is, more questions:

  • What size ads? How much per month? Where exactly will it be posted? (I ask this because so many people browse from phones now. You don't see sidebars on phone browsers -- but they might see a banner.)
  • This is important: do they give any site statistics? Most importantly, how many unique visitors per day/week/month? (FB friends, Twitter followers, etc., don't matter here. Your ad isn't going to appear there.) 
  • Can you buy a review? If you've been doing this long, you know how risky that is.
  • Are they spammers? One site I saw bragged that my book would be promoted every 2 hours through all social networking channels. No thanks! 

Overall, you could save some money and target your advertising more precisely by promoting at individual sites rather than buying a blog tour.

What's the verdict? 
Jury is still out. I've gleaned out a couple sites that I might target individually, but so far the overall tours are still only looking marginally useful. Better than nothing? Maybe. We'll see.

What's your experience with blog tours been?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must"

Feel free to grab this image and use it 

I don't particularly like Salman Rushdie. I haven't been a fan of crude, crass satire since I outgrew MAD magazine. But there's tremendous danger in keeping silent just because you aren't the immediate target.

Censorship is one of those things that can creep in on little cat feet. The nasty, rude, and badly written stuff on the fringes is easy to object to. It offends just about everybody. So it's easy to tell them to shut up, go away, you're just cluttering up the landscape.

Then the questions start about whether the better written satires are in poor taste. Whether offending anybody, or the chance of offending anybody, is a bad idea. Whether those offended people have guns and might kick in your door.

Jihadists? Maybe. Or maybe it will be governmentally sanctioned door-kickers.

Censorship is alive and well in the United States, of course. I first became aware of it as a comic book fan through the work of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund -- why does such a thing even need to exist? Because the fringe stuff in the comic book world is nasty, rude, badly written, and offends just about everybody.

Does it have a right to exist? Absolutely. Should the creators be called out on their rudeness, use of awful stereotypes, misogyny, and bad writing? Absolutely.

And on a more personal note, I've been mildly censored myself. Self-publishers may remember the purge of incest, under-age, and other fringe pornography from the ebook shelves a year or two ago. In the midst of all that, Kobo.com quietly threw my Disciple, Part II out of their store and blocked it. They never said why. I can guess, but why bother? I took all of Disciple out of Kobo and I won't do any further business with them.

Fortunately, I can do business elsewhere. But as I said, censorship can creep in quietly. It doesn't take masked thugs with guns.

Just some thoughts. What have the Charlie Hebdo shootings made you think about?

ETA: the CBLDF is brave enough to post the images -- bless them.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The case of elusive mojo

And so this is the closing of 2014. It's been a good year for me on the whole, but there are parts I'm not wanting to repeat.

It's said many times, many ways: a writer must write. I've blogged about how important a writing habit is, whether daily or weekly. 2014 reinforced the truth of that for me.

My daily word counts get tweeted and I track my progress in the sidebar of my blog. Down at the bottom you can see word counts from previous years. My peak year was 2012. I blamed the drop-off in 2013 on time lost to self-publishing and promotions.

This year I simply fell off the bandwagon. Yeah, I can blame personal drama and late editors but it comes down to: I didn't write. As a result, I didn't even break 100,000 words this year.

(ducks thrown tomatoes)

Everybody's different. I wrote 95,800 words in 2014 and for me that's discouraging. A project that felt like a major undertaking was stillborn. I spent too much time waiting for things.

On the up side, I self-published two volumes of Disciple and sold Hawks & Rams. I did finish the story I was writing at the beginning of 2014 -- Callisto's Ghost -- and my current WIP has surprised me.

Will 2015 be better? worse? I have to wonder whether I am in a slump or if the years that I was writing Disciple were unnaturally fertile. That sort of question does not have an answer, since I will never be the person I was in 2012 again (if I have anything to say about it.) Whoever I am now, I need to work on my writing discipline as much as I ever did.

My old word counts still stand as proof to how much you can get done plugging away with less than a thousand words a day. That's right, even at my best the daily average works out to less than you'd think. Less than it takes to win NaNoWriMo.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Update

My novella Hawks & Rams will be available starting the 31st from Dreamspinner Press (their pageAmazon) and I will be having a posting party at their blog on January 1st. Once I wake up from the New Year's Eve celebrations, of course. I will also be chatting on their FB page on the 4th.

I will be posting the map and character index for H&R over at my book blog.

If you're on my mailing list, look for an announcement about Disciple, Part VI's release date. :)

I've been keeping my head down and writing all month. After what a bad year for writing it has been, it seemed risky to divide my focus... though if you've been following my daily word count at Twitter or watching my sidebar here at the blog you can see the progress starting to pile up. I hit 35k on my WIP the other day and it felt good.

Keep writing, friends. Slow and steady can win the race.
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