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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Hello Friends.

Today's post addresses some difficult decisions I have had to make lately to prioritize my writing and self-publishing time. Now that my books have been in distribution for a few months, and have received some positive reviews, I've started to receive some tempting requests.

Offers to participate in online writer's groups

I've received more than a dozen requests/invitations to participate in online writers groups. I want to network with other writers. So initially, I accepted almost every offer. Each certainly presented an opportunity to increase my platform as an author.

Gradually, I began to realize that I was unable to meet the demands and commitments of all these new organizations. I started receiving lots of emails from the web writer's groups I had joined. I found that I couldn't even remember joining some of them. And I certainly hadn't been an active participant.

I wondered if merely belonging to these organizations was doing me -- or them -- any good at all. If I wasn't able to be active. And I wasn't building relationships. What was the point in belonging?

I've come to the decision that I need to drop my membership in many of these groups because I am simply unable to do them justice. I don't like doing anything half-way. And I felt that was what was happening to my participation in these groups. So I have withdrawn my membership from many online writer's groups entirely -- electing to continue my involvement in only those in which I could truly remain involved.

Invitations to local writers' groups

And I have begun to decline (or at least postpone) invitations to join local and regional writer's groups as well.

I have been offered opportunities to speak to these organizations -- and even to be compensated for doing so. But since my major thrust at this point in my writing career is not becoming an expert among writers, but becoming a recognized writer myself, I have politely declined these invitations as well.

This has been very difficult for me. I want to network and exchange ideas with local and regional authors. I would love to share my self-publishing background with these folks, just as I do here on my blog. But if I were to accept these invitations, I wouldn't be able to spend the time I know I need to spend marketing my books, and working on new books.

I have come to the realization that I need to prioritize my time among opportunities. What a good problem to have! But still the source of many gut-wrenching choices.

When I make each choice I remember my short and long term goals in the writing/publishing business. I want to write and sell good books. And I want to give back to the writing community. But I must keep the two goals in balance. Right now, my give-back has to be limited to this blog and a few special exceptions. I cannot allow it to take over all of my time.

Offers to co-author

I have also received three offers (from reviewers who have read my books) to co-author new books with them. I am honored by their offers. And I would LOVE to do this. But accepting even one these offers right now would take a great deal of my own writing time from the Beck Series -- which I hope to build to a length of a dozen books or more -- and from finalizing another WIP that I have nearly ready for publication, and in which I believe deeply.

So again, I have to choose among great opportunities. And I have chosen to stay the course with my own writing -- though a collaboration with another author would undoubtedly help improve my writing skills and give me new insights into the publishing world.

I just can't do everything at once!

Keeping my focus

So I continue to struggle to keep my focus -- to keep my eye on the ball.

Right now, my priorities are:

1) to market my current books,
2) to keep writing to build my own series,
3) to undertake other writing projects only when they are of special importance to me.
4) to maintain this blog as my give-back.

(Did I mention a day job in there somewhere? My family likes to eat.)

I will do my best to cut back on other commitments to a manageable level, and stick to my program. I think it's the best decision for me right now.

I'd be interested in your thoughts as well. Please feel free to comment.

That's it for today. Thanks for stopping in.

John

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Twin Cities Rain Taxi Book Festival Report

Hello all.

I had the enlightening experience of attending my first large book fair when I exhibited my novels at the Twin Cities Rain Taxi Book Festival in downtown Minneapolis this last Saturday.

I'll give you the scoop from the beginning.

How I came to attend the festival

Back in July, I submitted a summary of my newest novel, The 19th Element, to Author Beth Solheim at her Reading Minnesota Blogspot. Following that submission, an email conversation between Beth and I ensued. She recommended that I exhibit at the Rain Taxi Festival because it would be good exposure for me as a new author.

Beth has been around the publishing business for awhile. You can find out more about her on her website. Anyway, when Beth suggested I attend Rain Taxi, I took her suggestion seriously, and promptly signed up.

The cost for an "author table" at the Festival was $60. I didn't think that sounded too expensive -- particularly if it might give me some exposure in my native Minnesota.

So early this past Saturday morning, I packed up my books, tablecloth, display materials and candy bowl and headed for Minneapolis (about a one hour drive from my home).

The festival at first blush

Everything at the Festival appeared very well-organized. I inquired at the Info Booth as to the location of my table and found it with no difficulties. I was rather pleased that Beth's table happened to be directly behind mine, so I would get to speak with her without vacating my book-selling station.

Beth arrived shortly after me and we exchanged pleasantries. She turned out to be very nice in-person, just as she had been in our emails exchanges.

The authors who were at the two tables right next to mine were both from Wisconsin and were also very nice folks. (I continue to meet more and more truly decent people in this writing business.) This was a "first" book festival for each of them as well.

The crowd arrives

When the book-buying crowds arrived around 10:30, the entire scene was a bit overwhelming. There were 112 author tables, all of which were four feet wide or wider. Some extended over thirty feet and offered scores of books for sale.

I greeted a steady stream of festival-goers as they passed my table. Many said they were just "getting the lay of the land" and weren't really shopping yet. This was completely understandable given the quantity of wares available.

As the day went on, I continued to engage would-be book buyers as they passed my table. A good number stopped and listened to my "elevator pitches" for my two novels. Most declined to buy, but nearly all took one of the bookmarks I had placed within their easy reach. The bookmarks look very professional and feature all of my book and website info. A few customers were willing to purchase one or both of my books.

Book sales?

I sold ten books over a period of seven hours at the Festival. Based on sales by the authors around me, that was pretty good. Each of the authors next to me sold less than I did. And I have read that typical sales at a book-signing event average four! So my sales were within expectations. But festival sales by themselves clearly did not justify the time and effort I had put into my presence there.

What I have yet to find out is whether some of the intangible benefits of meeting other authors and literary bloggers at the event will pay dividends in the long run. To be honest, I may never know for sure if my festival contacts will turn into book sales.

A note about candy at author tables

As an aside -- most authors had a candy dish of some variety or another on their tables. I had mints. One author next to me had snickers and small Reese's cups. I bet you can guess who gave out more candy.

But I didn't see the candy giveaway helping sales along. In fact, it seemed that the kids attending the festival with their parents (at least I hope they were with some adult) had the most fun of all. With free candy on every table, little hands repeatedly hit pay dirt -- whether an adult was paying attention to the books or not.

I noted one particularly happy, and somewhat chubby, young fellow as he passed by my table. His face was smeared amply with chocolate. As he followed his parent down the row between tables, I saw him stuffing a snickers bar into his mouth with one hand while getting an already-sticky Tootsie Pop tangled in his hair with the other.

So what's my take on attending a book festival?

I enjoyed this one and would recommend the experience to any author who hasn't tried one before. Even if you don't sell books, you can practice engaging strangers and discussing your book(s). You can rehearse and revise your elevator pitches, adjusting them to see what seems to work best. And you can meet others in the literary world. All good things.

That having been said . . . will I be back at the same festival next year? Probably not. I think I got most of the benefits I was going to get by attending once. I'll devote my $60 and day's-worth of time to other marketing efforts next year.

That's it for today.

All the best!

John

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why NaNoWriMo is Very Cool

I'm taking a break from my usual self-pub fare to bring you some info about NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month -- November, 2010.

I'm sure many of you are already aware of this novel-writing phenomenon. But please bear with me as I share with others.

According to its official webpage, NaNoWriMo is:

What
: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Where: You write wherever you’d like. On your computer, on your iPad, on a typewriter---anywhere is fine, just as long as you’re writing!

_______________________________

Your NaNoWriMo novel doesn't go anywhere other than to the contest sponsors for word count verification. Then they destroy their copy. So you can feel free to let your creative juices flow without fear that your reading public will see what a crummy piece of writing you have produced.

The first NaNoWriMo was held in 1999 with 21 participants and six winners. (You win by completing your novel within the month's time.) Since then, participation has sky-rocketed, as shown below:

Annual participant/winner totals
1999: 21 participants and six winners
2000: 140 participants and 29 winners
2001: 5000 participants and more than 700 winners
2002: 13,500 participants and around 2,100 winners
2003: 25,500 participants and about 3,500 winners
2004: 42,000 participants and just shy of 6,000 winners
2005: 59,000 participants and 9,769 winners
2006: 79,813 participants and 12,948 winners
2007: 101,510 participants and 15,333 winners
2008: 119,301participants and 21,683 winners
2009: 167,150 participants and 32,178 winners

Number of official NaNoWriMo chapters around the world: Over 500
Number of K-12 schools who participated in 2005: Over 100
Number of K-12 schools who participated in 2006: Over 300
Number of K-12 schools who participated in 2007: 366
Number of K-12 schools who participated in 2008: 600
Number of K-12 schools who participated in 2009: 1,295
Number of words officially logged by participants during the 2004 event: 428,164,975
Number of words officially logged by participants during the 2005 event: 714,227,354
Number of words officially logged by participants during the 2006 event: 982,564,701
Number of words officially logged by participants during the 2007 event: 1,187,931,929
Number of words officially logged during the 2008 event: 1,643,343,993
Number of words officially logged during the 2009 event: 2,427,190,537

Personally, I think NaNoWriMo is a great idea. I would participate myself except, this year, I have a November Virtual Blog Tour and two existing WIPs. I'll be writing my 50,000 words on those ventures for sure.

This is what's really cool about NaNoWriMo. It encourages creativity without fear of criticism.

Lot's of folks have been wanting to write a novel. NaNoWriMo gives them the support they need to get one started. And everyone knows that for normal humans, a novel written in a single month is going to be pretty bad. So all can feel free to join the party.

Check out the NaNoWriMo site for more details and related social activities.

If you need that push to start writing. . . here's your chance. Go for it!

That's it for today.

Cheers!

John

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blog Touring - What, Why and How

I apologize for the long time between posts here at Self-Publishing Central. I was out of town for a week. My "day job" has been busy. I've been doing a lot of editing on a new manuscript. AND I've been preparing for my very first Blog Tour.

Although my tour won't start until November, I've already learned a lot about blog touring, and I thought I'd share it here.

You can do it yourself for free.

If you are enterprising . . . and/or short of funds . . . you can set up your own blog tour. Here are some thoughts for your consideration.

The main objective of a blog tour is to promote yourself and your book to an audience that might not otherwise know you exist. To that end, your first job in setting up a tour is to identify blogs with followers who might be part of your target audience.

Be creative. Use Google. Check to see who the blogs have featured recently. Look for another author in your genre and see if they have a blog tour schedule posted. Maybe you can take a similar tour route. Quality of blogs is more important than quantity.

Once you've identified the blogs for your tour, you'll need to provide the bloggers with the information they want, in the form in which they want it. Some bloggers want a guest post. In that case, you write a blog post on a subject agreed between you and the host blogger.

Some bloggers like the Q&A format. They ask the questions and you try to answer them in a way that entertains the blog's audience, as well as promotes you and your book.

Some bloggers are willing to review your book. This is a great opportunity for you to pick up some cred with your audience. Send the blogger your book early so they have plenty of time to read it at their leisure. Make sure to sign the book before sending.

On each day of your blog stops, make sure to check in with that day's blog to respond to comments, answer questions or maybe post a comment of your own.

Hiring a Blog Tour Guide

You can do all of that stuff yourself. But believe me, it's a lot of work. And if you fail to reach the right blogs, a ton of time and effort could be wasted.

I examined the DIY option and decided to fork over the dough and get some help from a professional. I hired Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book to coordinate my tour. Booking the tour was the single largest expenditure I have incurred in writing, publishing and marketing my books. But I'm already convinced that the $499 I paid Dorothy for a six week tour was money well spent.

In the past two weeks she has identified at least 10 blog sites for the tour. Several blogs are syndicated to large newspapers as well. Since she's experienced, she doesn't have to fumble around to find the right bloggers. Some appearances are guest posts, some are Q&A and some are Book Reviews.

In addition to locating blogs for me, she has organized my author bio and book information, complete with relevant links to books, my website, Twitter, etc., so it is efficiently packed, and always complete, for every blog on the tour. That way I won't forget to mention any of those important links, sites or bio details when I am focusing on the material for each blog.

And Dorothy has already built me a blog tour website. The tour schedule is not up yet, since it isn't complete. But the site is ready and waiting when the tour dates are set. Check out this site. Dorothy did a really nice job!

I am very glad that Pump has been doing all of the above for my tour, because I have found that writing the guest blogs, answering the interview questions and shipping out the books has consumed more time than I would have guessed. Each blog appearance is a new audience. But you can't just say the same thing over and over.

I think of each blog as a brand new opportunity to show the world how well I can write, and why they want to get to know me and my book better. I write my materials as though I were sending them to an agent. I try to make them eloquent, personable, humorous and error-free. This takes longer than you might think.

Remember . . . whatever you put out on the internet is there forever and for all to see. Make it your best work possible.

I'll update you in future posts on how my blog tour is going. But with the help of Pump Up Your Book, I'm anticipating a fun ride.

That's it for today.

Cheers!

John