Sunday, April 10, 2016

Where did it all start?

 Recently I was asked a question I'm sure many writers have faced in the past.

How did I become a writer and where did I find my inspiration to write?

The spark of being a writer found me as a child growing up in the turbulent sixties. At that time America was in midst of the Viet Nam War, the Cold War, the Space Race, and the Hippie counterculture. I was a skinny little kid addicted to television and movies. I was also a voracious reader. Comic books, Creepy magazines, Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein were all devoured in equal measure. Add in a mixture of late night monster movies and the writing spark found dry tinder in my overabundant imagination where it caught flame. A homework assignment in the Fifth grade is the earliest story I remember penciling. It was about a boy who had a pet Tyrannosaurus Rex which he rode to school to the amazement of his fellow classmates. Mind you dinosaurs weren't as cool then as they are today. I don't remember the grade I got, but I do remember the story.

Fast forward a few years and now I'm a skinny junior high kid with a school binder crammed to the brim with pieces of writing penciled on notebook paper. James Bond was the craze back then so I wrote about my own spy named Chuck Carter, agent of D.R.O.N.E. (Defense Reserves of National Enforcement)-a kind of mash up character of Nick Fury and James Bond. He saved the world from all sorts of evil masterminds and world threatening plots, but looking back, I don't remember any females in the stories. In my naivete at thirteen, I didn't fantasize about the beautiful femme fatale for my macho spy. In retrospect, I suspect the character Chuck Carter was a stand-in for a father I never knew.

After high school my writing matured. I read a lot more mainstream novels. I also discovered Bruce Lee in my senior year and became very interested in martial arts. To reflect this I wrote action filled stories of kung fu heroes, one especially named Chane, my version of Kwai Chang Caine from the television series Kung Fu. I studied martial arts at the same time. After years of bullying for being a skinny nerd kid through school, I learned how to defend myself. I also discovered Stephen King and a few other horror writers like Lovecraft. I read The Stand, The Dead Zone, It, The Shining, etc.and turned my attention to writing full blown novels in the same fashion. On a small typewriter I plunked out twenty-four chapters of a post-apocalyptic novel called The Aftermath, a tale of survivors after a nuclear war. I still have the yellowed type written papers stored away in a filing box. One of these days I might pull the pages out and rewrite it for a future project.

In 1980 everything changed. I met my future wife and writing took a backseat to getting married and raising a family. Thirty years passed while I worked two jobs. I still carried the stories and plots inmy head waiting one day to be reborn. During that time the world changed. Technology and the internet made writing much easier. In 2007 I discovered an online site called FanStory where you could post your stories for others to review. I decided to try my hand at writing fantasy and posted several chapters on my novel Oathbearer. Due to feedback from readers I soon learned what passive and active writing meant and how to spot it in my own text, an invaluable lesson that improved my narrative style.

FanStory regularly scheduled writing contests you could enter and win cash. The horror short story contests intrigued me so I wrote a couple of entries. I won the 2007 Halloween story contest up against about five hundred authors. I placed high in several other horror story challenges. I decided to shift my focus and start writing horror. Probably due to my involvement with FanStory, a self publishing company called iUniverse contacted me. They laid out their services they provided for putting out my own book. The idea of self-publishing fascinated me. I could release my own collection of stories to see if people would actually read my writing. If I got the same positive feedback as I did with FanStory, I would know to continue. Thus my first book 13 Nightmares was born.

I was elated to see it finally in print and scheduled my first book signing of 13 Nightmares at the local Hastings on Friday 13 in March of 2009. As is always seems the case with me, I arrived a few minutes late. Much to my surprise the bookstore lobby was filled with people ready to buy the book. I signed 29 copies that night and it is still one of the best nights of my life. I have since produced three books with three more on the way. Besides raising my family, being an author is the greatest joy in my life and it all started with a little spark in an over imaginative young boy.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Underground Monster Carnival 5

An incredible event happens early every March in Oklahoma City called the Underground Monster Carnival-a one day gathering of fandom and horror geeks. Hosted by Art and Stephanie Sunday, this year marks the fifth anniversary of the event and it just keeps getting bigger and better. Packing an entire building at the OKC fairgrounds, it is a gathering of local vendors, artists, authors, and cos players who's interest lies in horror/fantasy/sci-fi and all things fandom.


 It is a place where you can meet legendary horror host Count Gregore and spend the day visiting all the vendor booths with crafts and art to sell. The atmosphere is very casual making it more like a social gathering than a crowded crush of humanity at other events. You get to spend the time to talk with other fans and artists.that share your interest.  


Another cool aspect of UMC is the incredible cosplay. Each year it gets better.

 
For me, Underground Monster Carnival is one of my favorite annual events and I go to a lot of conventions. I love selling books to fans, old and new, and the personal time I get to spend with my readers and fellow authors. Thanks Art and Stephanie for putting on such a great show. See you next year.
























 


Saturday, December 12, 2015

How I Sell Books at Conventions


Knowing I am a regular vendor at conventions, a fellow author friend of mine asked me some tips on how I sell my books at these events. It's no secret that I love cons. My Facebook page is filled literally with hundreds of pics of people buying my books. I don't know the exact count but I estimate I've sold over a thousand books at cons over the years. Conventions give me the chance to speak face to face with readers, exhibit my books, and to promote myself as an author. In fact, besides selling on Amazon, conventions make up the bulk of my book marketing techniques. So how do I do it? What's the process for new authors wanting to promote themselves to the eager buyers on the convention floor. What advice can I give? Continue reading below to find out.

Picking the Convention

This is pretty fundamental but is so important. In my experience there are many types of conventions from which to choose. When you are a vendor every convention is a crap shoot. You take a gamble to make the money back on your investment. In my opinion, if you go to a con and can pay for your table and hotel room through sales it is a success. Making a profit at one is a resounding success! Below is a list of the types of conventions and and what you can expect at each:

Writers Con: Lots of authors and networking. Very little sales. Maybe in a big metropolis of the there a tons of eager readers who show up for these, but I haven't experienced them yet. Most of the sales you are going to have is to other authors who are there, just like you, to sell books. That doesn't mean these are bad conventions, however. It's a great place to network, meet publishers, and get information about publishing through author panels. They are also a lot fun. I personally try to go to at least one of these a year. Estimated book sales: 10

Local Convention: The local sci-fi/horror/fantasy convention is my favorite. It is a great place to hobnob with fans and friends and there are room parties, panels, concerts, etc. that make it a lot of fun.The table costs are low and many offer author tables at a reduced price. I try to keep travel time to this type of con less than three hours. Sales are limited because they don't garner the huge crowds of the big time conventions. Estimated book sales: 20

Specialty Convention: These are those cons that deal specifically with the type of subject matter that relate to your genre of writing. For me it is the horror con. I tend to do well at these with sales, the trick is getting a table at one. A lot of these conventions have you apply for a table and then you don't know if you get one or not. I've been turned down at two so far. Still sales are worth it if you don't have to travel far and can afford the expense. It's also filled with customers who are interested in what you have to sell. Estimated book sales: 40

Corporate Convention: These are the large corporate run events that are held in big cities all over the country. They attract big name celebrities for autographs and large crowds. Wizard World is one of these type of conventions. For book sales these are the best. I've not lost any significant money at one of these events and tend to at least break even. It's worth traveling some distance especially now with the gas prices so low. Estimated books sales: 50+

Mega-Conventions: These are the big ones with 60,000+ attendees. I've only been to a couple but never done well at them. There are just too many vendors with too much items to sale. They tend to stick authors in a back section of the floor and you spend much of the weekend watching droves of people walking by your booth with bags of stuff they didn't buy from you. Another thing I don't like they have things like Half Price books with a huge display underselling your books all con long. These work well for vendors who have a lot of merchandise to sell, not for authors who have a few books. Estimated sales: 15

Your convention table

You've bought a table and got the hotel room reserved for your upcoming convention. Now what about the table itself? The space you purchased is the point of sale for your books at the con so make it interesting to those potential buyers. Put up a banner which is the first thing most con goers look at when walking past your table. The banner should be representative of you as an author. Make it professional looking. You can purchase one online at places like Vista Print, etc. The style of it is up to you. Display your books for the customer to see. Give the table some eye-catching props that will attract interest. Remember your table is competing with all the other tables at the convention. Give it an edge with some interesting visual appeal.


Selling the book
So your table is set up and your books are displayed. The con opens, and if your lucky, buyers approach your book. How do you make a sale? I'm going to list some pointers below that may help:

Be engaged with the crowd: Smile. Say hello. Greet people as they walk past your table. Don't set there looking at your phone playing Candy Crush as throngs of people go filing past you. Be alert to what is going on and look open to talk about your books.

Don't hawk your book: Don't be a carnival barker begging people to come look at your books. This works for some authors who shout out to the people shuffling past. Not for me. I want to be the seller that I would want to talk to if I was a customer. If they don't show interest in what you have displayed, that's fine, let them walk by. This is why you have a display to catch people's interest.

Display the price: It's easier to make a sale if the customer can see the price up front. A lot of times they assume the book is more expensive then it is. Have your prices displayed so they know how much they will be paying if they decide to buy.

To swag or not to swag: I'm not a big believer in author swag, though many swear by it. There's nothing wrong with business cards or book marks, but remember all that swag comes out of your bottom line when you profit on the book sale. If it produces a lot of peripheral sales I've yet to see it. Most of those free buttons, stickers, ribbons, etc. just get tossed in the trash. I'm not against business cards, though. Have them available on your table for a customer to pick up. You give your bookmarks to the person after they bought the book.

Your book selling spiel: Have your sales pitch ready to go. Make it informative and to the point about the book when the customer asks. Find your own selling style. I also let the potential customer to read the back of the book if they ask about it. When they are reading the back blurb, be quiet until they finish. Don't interrupt their focus on reading about the book. The back blurb is there to help sell your book so use it. 

This wraps up my information on how I sell my books at conventions. I hope that it was helpful to any potential authors who are planning to sell at these events. The most important thing is to find your selling style, make money, and have fun.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How I Sell Books on Amazon


 How do I make money on Amazon selling books?

The million dollar question that many ask me. All of 2014 I have enjoyed some success on Amazon with my four books listed on the site. I sell over 250 Kindle e-books along with a few paperbacks each month. Consequently, several authors have asked me how I do it. Let me say I was a bit na├»ve by this and thought my sales were typical for authors on the site. I’ve since learned that this is not the case. Most authors make next to nothing in sales, which surprised me. I don’t know any magic formula to give you, but I can tell you what works for me and hopefully pass on some important info.

Amazon is my friend.

Amazon is designed for you to sell books. Three of my titles are on something called Amazon Select, and, as a result, are my best-sellers. My zombie novel Undead Flesh had a great run on Amazon, but when the sales started to dip, I naturally thought it was time to take it off Amazon Select and release it to other sites. Big Mistake. I've sold 14 books in one year on other sites. Because it is not longer exclusively on Amazon, it doesn't qualify for the Select heading, and it is reflected in the sales. I sell about 10 a month now. The other three books are on Amazon Select and do earn the most royalties. Plus the service offers marketing options you can use to promote your book. I can keep track of how many and where my books sell on a daily basis, and they pay my royalties in my bank account each month.

I took control of my books.

First, I’m a self-published writer and can’t speak about those published through small or large publishers. Being self-published gives me complete control over my books from the cover, description, text, marketing, etc.  It’s all on my shoulders, and the royalties are mine to collect. Amazon offers 70% royalties back on most books, and I currently make around 500 dollars a month. I know that’s not making me rich, but it is a nice supplemental income.  It wasn’t always this way. I put out my first two books through a POD (print on demand) publisher. As a result, they gave me crappy covers and jacked up the price to where no one would buy them. I was lucky if I sold ten a month. When it came time to release my third book, a zombie novel titled Undead Flesh, I had learned enough to try publishing it through CreateSpace. The result was an immediate spike in sales as reflected on the chart below:




In one month, I sold over 450 copies and made almost a thousand dollars in royalties. After a few months, sales started to dip for my zombie novel, so I decided to take control of my other two books, 13 Nightmares and Ebon Moon. I pulled those titles from the POD publisher and rereleased them with better covers. It was a smart move. The chart above shows the steady monthly sales I’ve enjoyed from that point on.

I try to write something somebody wants to read.

A no-brainer, but oh so true. Amazon is awash with terribly written books. I want my book to rise above the morass. If you don’t have a good story, there are no marketing tricks or cover art that will save your book. Books sell by word of mouth, especially in these times of rampant social media. I’m a firm believer in the cream rising to the top. My book that has the best sales is 13 Nightmares, a collection of horror shorts. I sell over a hundred Kindle copies each month. Why? It fills a need for the reader, and everyone loves a good creepy story. Find a niche for your book and fill it with something people want to read. Hook your reader from the start. Sweep them into the story and have them hang on like ticket holders on a wild roller-coaster ride.

I try to know my readers.

Many writers are more concerned with publishers, agents, editors, etc., and that's all good, but what about the actual people who are going to buy their books?  I reverse the paradigm. I write for the readers first. Why? Because it is they who will plunk down their hard-earned money and give up hours of their time to read my latest book. When I write a book, I have one person in mind that reflects my market.  This person doesn't even have to have a name. It could be someone I met at a convention, or at a book signing, but he or she is indicative of the demographic I'm trying to reach. I write for that one person in my head and imagine this person reading the story as I type each paragraph. You might say they are my invisible muse.

Expose yourself.

I'm not talking about getting yourself arrested. What I mean is get out there and let readers know you're a writer. It took me a little while to reach this concept: I'm not just selling books, I'm also selling myself as an author. Writers are introverts as a rule. It comes with the territory. Too many sit at home and hope the eager reader will come knocking on their door and introduce themselves. The truth is readers want to connect to a favorite author, but can't if you aren't willing to connect with them. How do you do this? Social media, of course, is an excellent way, but be smart about it. Instead of constantly posting a link to your book and begging people to buy it on Facebook, Twitter, etc. will get you nowhere. Try to talk about you as a writer, your progress on current projects, events, book signings, etc. Admittedly, I’m not the best at social media and maintaining an author platform, but I have another way I connect to the reader. I’m a convention junkie. I go to many sci-fi and horror conventions. I love talking to people who drop by my vendor table. The face-to-face interaction helps sells my books and in turn me as an author. Even if I don’t make great sales at the convention, I always have a bump in online sales after it is over. Plus I can write it off on my taxes.

There it is. My secret to making sales on Amazon in a nutshell. I hope this answers some of your questions or inspires you to not give up and keep writing. I know it's idealistic to say, but I want everyone to succeed as a writer.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Underground Monster Carnival 3

The Zombie Pope is hungry!
Halloween may happen on Oct. 31, but it's revisited again on the first Saturday of March. That's when something amazing happens in Oklahoma City. It's the Underground Monster Carnival hosted by Art and Stephenie Sunday! This single day event is not your regular horror convention with fans standing in lines to get autographs from movie and television celebrities. It's more of an arts and crafts show for the horror freak. The large building is packed full of vendors carrying everything from spooky-themed clothing, paintings, jewelry, books etc.

My table at the event.









Happy to pick up the entire Trilogy of Terror.

It's a place where the fan can come and hobnob with independent artists, authors, performers, and craft makers. Even with the threat of a winter storm looming, the they lined up to get inside the show. Each year it get's bigger with more people showing up. UMC is also a great time for me to connect with fans of my books and to meet new readers as well.. I spent all day talking to people and informing them about my books and upcoming projects.
The lovely Anjanette Clewis
completes her collection of my books.




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The most amazing thing about this year's show was the costumes. They were simply wonderful.  Definitely more cos players this year than any show before. Here is only a small sampling of what was at the event.

Do you need any better reason to attend UMC?




 What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon then with incredible fans? Kudos to Art and Stephenie and all those who helped put on a great show. They are keeping horror alive and well in Oklahoma.  Can't wait till next year.







Thursday, February 27, 2014

Self Publishing: the Do's and Don'ts

I recently saw a front-page newspaper article in my hometown about a sixteen-year-old girl who had her first book published. When I read more of the story I came to realize her book was self-published. Don't get me wrong. It's quite a feat for a teenage girl to finish writing a book, or anyone for that matter. It took me until I was over 50 years old to finish writing one. But being published is not an incredible feat anymore. Anyone can publish a book. If your reading this blog you can write something and have it up on Amazon for sale within a week. It's that easy. But there's a catch. Just because you wrote it, doesn't mean you can sell it. That's where so many authors sail their ships into the murky waters of  self-publishing and break apart on the reefs of disappointment when it comes to their hopes for their books. I've had writers contact me and ask how do you do it? How do you get readers to buy your books or write a review? I wish I had a magic formula I could give them, but I don't. I do know through experience three things your book is going to need to survive in the piranha-infested waters of the publishing world. These I will list below:

STORY: It sounds stupid to say this, but if you don't have a good story, you've shot yourself in the foot before you even enter the race as an author. Rightfully so, I might add. Your a writer so write something that someone wants to read. Hook the reader from the first paragraph.We live in an age with more distractions than ever to keep someone from reading your story. Netflix, Facebook, X Box, etc. they are all competing for your reader's time. Know your audience and give them something they want. Make them want to give up hours of their time to curl up with your book or sit in the glow of their electronic reader. How do you do that? I can't tell you. That's something your going to have to learn through experience and writing. However, I can suggest that you clearly define the genre your book falls under. If your novel is about ghosts, then make sure it is defined as such in its search keywords. It can be a radical new take on a ghost story and have very little to do with a haunting, but when the potential reader types "ghost story" in his search menu you want your book to come up. Wallah! A potential sale!

EDITING: This is where a lot of self-pub authors stub their toes and fall. You can't edit your work. Sorry. This is one thing that the Traditional publishing get's right. You got to have your work edited by a professional. Yes, it's expensive, but you are investing in yourself as a writer. If your not willing to make the investment then don't expect the reader to invest in you. If your work is riddled with typos you are going to hear it from your readers in the form a bad reviews and 1 Star ratings. This is the death-knell for self-published work. Kindle has a refund policy for their books. A reader can refund it up to one week after purchasing it. If your work is amateurish or poorly written it's going to reflect in your refunds. If you can't afford at least basic Copy Editing then send your book to a traditional publisher and try your luck. Too many self-published authors post their unedited crap online. It gives us all a bad name. Get your work edited. You'll love what a professional will do to make your prose shine. So will your readers.

COVER: This is another area where a lot of self-published authors fall short. They wrap their great story in a crappy cover. Nothing speaks amateur writer more then a poor cover. You can't judge a book by its cover, but readers do when searching for something to read. A good cover gets your foot in the door when convincing a reader to purchase your book.  Find you a professional to do your cover. It may run you a couple hundred dollars, but it is worth it. Again it is an investment in you as a book publisher, because that is what you are if you self publish. Make the cover rock!

You follow these three rules and you got a step up on all the floundering self-published authors drowning in a morass of poor sales and low readership. I hope this article helps you in your quest to be a better writer. It's a brave new world out there. The door is open for you to become a selling author like never before in history. The internet changed everything and there is unparallelled freedom for you to succeed. Now get out there and write something. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Floating on the Amazon

I'm a self published author. There I said it. Five years ago when I published my first book 13 Nightmares it was akin to saying I'm a talentless hack. First of all this is not my first go around at self-publishing. In the early 90's I published my own role playing game system and marketed myself. I wasn't interested in letting anyone else publish my game. It was mine and I had control over it. Still do. When I jumped into publishing my first book I realized that self-publishing was the bastard stepchild of the publishing world. I heard nothing good about it. Published writers said I would be destroying my writing career. or that no one would buy my books. I've been to writer conferences where they didn't take self published authors seriously. There are sci-fi conventions where they refuse self published authors on panels and writing websites where they don't allow self-pubs into their little clique. The list goes on and on. Some of it is quite laughable. I've heard traditional publishers say we are the "maggots" of the written word or that self-pub is "literary masturbation". Things have changed in five years. That change can be summed up in one word: 

Amazon. 

Not only is Amazon by far the largest seller of books in the world, it is totally geared for self published authors. They charge nothing for you to format and upload your books on their website. The process is easy and quick. You get 70% royalty for your sales, which is unheard of in the traditional publishing world. You are in control over everything from marketing, pricing, and content. You know exactly how your books are selling and you get paid royalties straight into your bank account each month. I decided to skip my POD publisher and upload my zombie novel Undead Flesh straight to Kindle and CreateSpace. It was a smart decision. In one month I made almost a $1000 dollars in royalties while my other two books through the POD publisher did nothing. It was an eye opener for me. I've since taken control of 13 Nightmares and Ebon Moon and re-released under my imprint. Another smart move. Now all three books are working for me. I figured that my average royalty over the last six months is $281 per month and looks good for that number increasing at the end of this month now that I've added the other two books.  It's not bestseller money, but it is very nice supplemental income. I plan on having two more books on the site in the next few months and have them bringing in money as well. Books are money earners on Amazon and the more you have, the more you make in sales.

All this talk of money earned makes it sound like it is the reason why I write. It's not. But it is nice to have some funds coming in to fuel the cost of publishing and life as a part-time writer. I haven't quit my day job which provides me all the needed benefits of retirement, health coverage, dental, etc. The stigma of being a self-published writer isn't over, but its diminished greatly over the last five years. Fortunately, that stigma doesn't apply to readers. I never had one reader who cared if the book was self-published or not. Readers are mostly interested in what the story is about then who is the publisher or editor. I think that's where traditional publishers miss the mark. Traditional publishers are more focused on distribution and shelf-life of a book than who reads it. Self-pub authors appeal directly to the reader and build their readership over time.

Self publishing works for me, but that doesn't mean its for everyone. If you can find someone to publish your work by all means go for it. It's a sweet gig if you can get it. I never really tried.  To me it makes more sense for the Traditional publishing houses to look at authors who prove that they can write and sell books on their own. I think that times are changing and it may very well be a requisite for an author in the future. For me I'm going to continue to float down the Amazon river. I've painted a rosy picture for self-publishing with this blog post, but In my next post I'm going to talk about the problems and pitfalls of self-publishing. Talk to you then.