Tag Archives: self-marketing

‘The End’ is not the end

road displaying "start" and "finish" signs

Last week I finished proofing the third and final draft of If Dreams Can Die.

Which brings me to a whole new beginning.

Because I’m an indie publisher, the end of a manuscript just means it’s time to take off my author hat and try on a few others for the production and marketing phases.

With a handful of other books under my belt, I’ve learned how to streamline the process for publishing paperbacks and e-books. Some of it requires a creativity all its own, while other tasks are more tedious than tricky.

In case you’ve ever wondered how a story gets from my laptop to your hands, here’s an overview of what happens after “The End.”

Front and back matter

While the story itself makes up most of the pages, there is plenty of other text needed to transform a manuscript into professional-looking book. Here are a few examples of what I typically include before the prologue and after the epilogue:

  • Copyright page: Largely comprised of legalese and other details average readers don’t care about, the copyright page is nevertheless required for books sold at Amazon.com and other online retailers.
  • Other works by the authors: It would be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t list my other books, both ones that are from the same series as well as earlier works.
  • Cropped out book blurb from the back cover of If Sin Dwells DeepEpigraph: Although this is by no means mandatory, all three of The Soul Sleep Cycle installments include a relevant definition and quote prior to the prologue.
  • Title page: This is by far the easiest page to write, since it displays the book title, author name, and publisher only.
  • Dedication page: The dedication is a short page that calls attention to a person or group who helped with the creation of the book. Minimal though the content may be, I nevertheless put a lot of thought into this each time.
  • Acknowledgements: This section near the back goes into more details than the dedication page, listing individual thankyous. In The Renegade Chronicles, I published the same acknowledgements in all three volumes. For The Soul Sleep Cycle, I included this section in Book One only.
  • About the author: Although the length and format of these mini bios vary from author to author and publisher to publisher, they are nonetheless an expected back-matter element. I always use the same portrait and few paragraphs, making minor alterations as needed.
  • Teaser: If there is to be another book in a series, I always put the prologue or first chapter of what comes next. The hope, of course, is that the reader will get hooked and buy the book to keep reading.
  • Everything else: There are no hard and fast rules about what other sections should be included. Largely, it depends on the book. For example, I included a map of Capricon in The Renegade Chronicles as well as an appendix that serves as a quick-reference glossary of important people, places, and magical items. I’m toying with the idea of creating a timeline and an afterword for If Dreams Can Die. We’ll see.

And then there’s the back-cover blurb, which has to be some of the most agonizing text an author ever has to write. I dedicated a lot of time to this for If Sin Dwells Deep (as described here), and I expect the experience for If Dreams Can Die will prove equally challenging.

The cover

A book’s cover is arguably the most important marketing tool an author has. If the cover misses the mark, well, that’s a really difficult obstacle to overcome.

Fortunately, I’ve known and worked with a lot of talented graphic designers for my day job as a marketing specialist. I’m absolutely in love with all of my book covers. The process has been different for each endeavor, but for The Soul Sleep Cycle, I’ve starting using a planning document that conveys the following information to the designer:

  • Ideas for tone
  • Thoughts on the color palette
  • Possible concepts for main art
  • Ideas for background imagery
  • Suggested typefaces
  • Specifications for paperback cover (e.g. dimensions, resolution, file type, file size)
  • Specifications for e-book cover (e.g. dimensions, resolution, file type, file size)
  • Production timeline

Even though my contributors tend to be friends, I nevertheless insist on keeping the acquisition of cover art as professional as possible, using work agreements/contracts to keep ownership and rights clear. I also compensate them for their excellent work.

I recently met with Mary Christopherson, the graphic artist who kicked butt on the covers for If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep. I shared my thoughts on If Dreams Can Die’s cover, and—because it is a true collaboration—she shared hers. Together, we came up with a plan and will touch base often throughout the project in order to come up with a final product we can both be proud of.

Proofing

As an indie publisher, I try to keep as much of a project in-house (read: DIY) as possible. The cover is one exception to this, and proofing is another.

Manuscript with many editor flagsDon’t get me wrong. I always proof my work. In fact, I create a style guide for each series so that I am consistent in how I represent things like dates, titles, song names, and so forth.

But even if I think my text is pretty clean after proofing it, I will never be able to catch all of my mistakes. Common culprits are missing words, extra words, and homophones. Again, I’m blessed to know someone who combs through the entire book, including front and back matter, to mark up what I miss. (Thanks, Dusty!)

Once I get the edits back, it takes me a couple of hours to update the paperback and e-book files.

Layout

Professionals who excel in graphic design might use programs like Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Publisher. Since I’m more frugal—both with my money and the time it would take to master such software—I use Microsoft Word.

Suffice it so say this is not ideal. I’ve waged many a battle with Word to ensure page breaks behave and spacing remains consistent throughout the book. This step once took weeks to complete. Even though I still have the occasional skirmish with Word’s obtuse interface, I’m much faster these days.

Worse comes to worse, I just look at the files from my past books and reverse engineer the result.

Odds and ends

Then there are the mundane tasks scattered throughout every phase:

  • Assigning ISBNs (the unique identifying number) for paperback and e-book editions
  • Buying the barcode for the paperback
  • Ordering and reviewing a proof copy of the paperback
  • Registering for copyright
  • Following the many, many steps needed so that the book is ready to print on demand
  • Getting everything in order with Kindle Digital Publishing to make the e-book available

Screen shot of Kindle Digital Publishing dashboard

Marketing

I won’t go into too much detail here, since book marketing is a big topic all on its own. What I will say, however, is that there are myriad marketing channels—from big, expensive tactics to quick but important touchpoints—and I learn something new with every book I publish.

With If Dreams Can Die, my marketing plan will have to be modified since it’s the third book in a series. For instance, it probably doesn’t make sense to create an advanced reader copy (ARC) and pay to appear in NetGalley, since reviewers who didn’t read the first two books won’t gravitate to Book Three. I’m better of reaching out directly to reviewers who are already acquainted with the series.

Likewise, a Goodreads Giveaway might not be worth the investment.

Determining the best way to promote The Soul Sleep Cycle’s conclusion is just another to-do on a long list that will keep me busy from now until If Dreams Can Die launches in early May.

Then it really will be “The End”—at least until I decide to release the entire series as an e-book collection.

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Cover reveal: If Sin Dwells Deep

By auspicious happenstance, my 100th blog post coincides with another milestone: the completion of my next book’s cover.

Behold!

If Sin Dwells Deep will be published as a paperback and for Kindle on Oct. 2, 2018. The Kindle version will be available for preorder at the end of the month IS AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER NOW!

Here’s the back-cover text to tide you over until then:

Even good girls have secrets.

When straight-laced Allison sleeps, the rebellious goddess Syn wakes. Having a fling in the dreamscape may seem like harmless fun, but when a sadistic predator learns her true identity, the fantasy begins to bleed into real life.

If Sin Dwells Deep—a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep—exposes the hidden world of dream drifters and explores the war between gifted government agents and those who would use their abilities to corrupt life, death, and that which lies beyond.

Because I’m up to my elbows in pre-release book marketing tactics (which will likely include penning some guest posts), I’ve elected to use the rest of this article to highlight some of my favorite posts from this blog.

Without further ado, here’s my Top 10 blog posts…so far:

10. Celebrating a writing milestone? Listen up!

About three years ago, I created a soundtrack for a novel I was working on. The songs all—directly or indirectly—tie into the plot and characters of If Sin Dwells Deep. (Available soon!)

9. It’s a…business!

This short but significant post announced the birth of One Million Words LLC, my indie publishing company. The business, now 2½ years old, resembles a toddler today: lots of unexpected fun and requiring constant supervision.

8. How to make a person

No, this isn’t sex education. I once used this blog to share writing tips, and this post featured a series of interview questions to get to know your characters better and transform them from two-dimensional ideas to full-fledged human beings.

(Pro tip: I recently used these same questions to flesh out my new D&D character.)

7. Why sci-fi and fantasy?

I get asked this question a lot.

6. What every writer needs

Spoiler: it’s an audience. I followed this post up with three others related posts: What else a writer needs to succeed (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). While I think this series could be helpful to other writers, I’m including it here because it also gives readers a glimpse into a writer’s journey (and psyche).

5. The Good, The Bad, and The Ungrammatical

The odds are I’ll never make a video game about grammar, but what I love about this post is the reminder that writing doesn’t always have to be a serious and that writers should always have a dream or two in their back pockets.

4. ‘Who is your book about?’

I composed a “Meet the Renegades” blurb as far back as fall 1997, when I was drafting the first chapters of what would eventually become Rebels and Fools. That guide was meant for the English instructor reviewing my chapters for an independent study class. It was with great excitement that I introduced the rest of the world to Klye Tristan and the gang.

3. Friends and family of writers, beware

Another common question from readers: where do you get your ideas from? The answer: just about everywhere, including the people closest to us.

2. Why writers groups still matter

I wrote this treatise on the importance of writers groups more than five years ago, and I still believe strongly in the message. In fact, a fellow Allied Authors member and I tackled this very topic on the Read.Write.Repeat. podcast, which will air later this month.

1. Storytelling can take many forms

Predating my life as a writer, I told my stories by other means. Before the cast of The Renegade Chronicles made it to the page, they were LEGO minifigs. As a nod to my humble roots, I transcribed the characters from If Souls Can Sleep into the same medium, bringing my fiction full circle.

I’d like to thank all of my readers over the years. I hope you’ll enjoy not only my next book, but also many more blog posts to come.

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Exhibit will feature If Souls Can Sleep cover art

When it comes to event marketing, the more, the merrier!

In that spirit, I’m delighted to announce that my books will be featured alongside the artwork of some of incredibly talented individuals: my coworkers.

Among them is the cover artist for both the forthcoming “Ghost Mode” short story and my next novel. In fact, those who attend the artist reception Dec. 15 will get a sneak peek at the If Souls Can Sleep cover art.

Here’s more information about the event from the press release I crafted yesterday:

Four employees holding their works in front of a BrownBoots Interactive sign

From left: David Michael Williams, Samantha Nelson, Mary Christopherson, and Alan Hathaway.

BrownBoots colleagues will showcase their off-the-clock creativity at Tour the Town

Pottery, digital art, illustration and fiction will come together to create an eclectic exhibit at the next Fond du Lac art walk.

Four employees of BrownBoots Interactive, a full-service marketing and website development agency located in downtown Fond du Lac, will share their artistic endeavors and passion projects at the next Tour the Town Art Walk, 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15. The artists, along with their diverse display, will appear at the Riverwalk Art Center, 33 W. 2nd St.

“While providing our clients with stellar creativity is a big part of the day-to-day at BrownBoots, many of us also extend our talents to endeavors outside of the agency,” Alan Hathaway, president and owner of BrownBoots, said. “This exhibit is a testament not only to the team’s impressive scope of abilities, but also their aptitude as individual artists.”

Hathaway will display and sell his wheel-thrown pottery featuring an assortment of custom-formulated glazes. His works range from cups to vases to decorative bowls, all of which he formed and fired at his home studio in Eden, Wis.

Samantha Nelson, a web developer at the agency, will show and sell her illustrations, which cover several narrative ideas, notably wildlife and concept artwork. Her works span the gamut of pen and ink, watercolor and digital painting.

Graphic designer and photographer Mary Christopherson will contribute samples of her digital art that prominently feature photo manipulation, a technique that uses Photoshop to seamlessly combine multiple photographs to create a new image.

David Michael Williams, content specialist, will sign and sell copies of his sword-and-sorcery novels, The Renegade Chronicles, as well as present a sneak peek at the cover of his next book, “If Souls Can Sleep,” designed by Christopherson.

Riverwalk Art Center will host the Artists of BrownBoots exhibit through Jan. 19, 2018.

I’ll have more information about the release of If Souls Can Sleep—including links for preorders—in the days ahead. Sign up for my monthly newsletter to ensure you don’t miss out.

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Cancer: one hell of a plot twist

I wish I could say my intentions were altruistic, but that would be a lie.

When I first caught wind of the One Million Project—a charitable organization determined to raise £1,000,000 for cancer research by selling short story anthologies—my first thought was how the One Million Project and One Million Words, my publishing company, might work together.

After all, our brands sound awfully similar, and we both deal with fiction. If I could donate one of my short stories to help secure money for cancer research while gaining some exposure as an author—international exposure—that’s win-win, right?

Besides, I hated cancer.

Cover of the first One Million Project short story anthology

Proceeds from One Million Project anthologies are donated to great causes, including cancer research.

Or, at least, I disliked it in the same abstract way most Midwesterners lament hurricanes and earthquakes. They don’t happen to us, but we don’t like them on principle. I really didn’t have anything against cancer personally because cancer hadn’t affected me personally.

The fact is there is no shortage of causes in the world, no dearth of diseases that kill people or otherwise make their lives intolerable. I gave to the American Cancer Society a while back because a friend who knew someone suffering from cancer asked me to. I donated once and have deleted every follow-up email from the American Cancer Society since then.

Come to think of it, I delete a lot of emails and ignore many social media posts that advocate for activism. Can you imagine if you shared, liked, donated to, and genuinely cared about every injustice in the world? But, honestly, that’s what cancer research was to me when I told the editor of the One Million Project he could publish my short story, “Ghost Mode,” for free: one good cause is as good as another.

Maybe I was more aware of cancer than some of the other sicknesses and social issues sweeping our planet. Certainly, cancer has been around awhile, its presence ubiquitous in all manner of media. As it happens, I chose brain cancer as the instrument of one of my character’s death. I also remember pondering the possibility that cellular sabotage might be a side-effect of our species trying to evolve. Natural selection at work and all that. The premise of a sci-fi story I’ll probably never write.

However, cancer went from being an intellectual concept to a tangible presence when my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in March.

I won’t go into the ugly details. Anyone who has ever come into contact with any disorder under the umbrella category of cancer knows it’s never pretty. Struggles seldom are. That’s why we use phrases like “the fight against cancer” and talk about sufferers as though they are warriors. Because they are—soldiers in an insidious civil war where their bodies are battlefields and the rebels will never negotiate, let alone surrender.

It’s tempting to portray cancer as a villain if you’ve endured the chaos it sows, especially if it robs a loved one of his or her life. Perhaps that’s why we personify natural disasters. When the enemy has a name, it’s easier to band together to battle against him.

I see cancer more as a plot twist. It can happen at the beginning, middle, or end of a narrative. For the patient, everything changes in an instant. Time splits into two eras: Before Cancer and After Diagnosis. And yet good can bubble up from the bad. Friends and family come together, gaining clarity of what is truly important in life. Individuals overcome.

Hope prevails.

I’m delighted (and blessed!) to report that my father’s prognosis is optimistic. I write this from his living room as he watches a TV show about fishing. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be doing some fishing of his own next spring.

Tuesday used to be a day of isolation for me—a pocket of time in which I could be creative and productive on my own terms. Life intervened with one hell of a plot twist. But all in all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to help my family. For me, this has been a reminder that fiction is fine, but the real world takes precedence.

Of course, I’m still writing as much as I can, when I can…hence, this blog post.

One Million Project’s fantasy anthology is slated for November or December. When it comes out, I’ll still be excited for “Ghost Mode” to reach an international audience, but the release will be much more meaningful than that. And even though he’s not a sci-fi kind of guy, I’m dedicated the story to my dad.

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My book marketing marathon continues

More than a year after I published three books in one day, I’m still working on getting the word out.

In between Goodreads giveaways and soft-touch marketing for The Renegade Chronicles, I’ve been focusing on a new sci-fi series, The Soul Sleep Cycle, which may or may not debut in early 2018. But even though I’m excited to share new stories, my search for sword-and-sorcery fans is far from over

And so I’m delighted to announce a couple of upcoming book marketing events:

Speculative Fiction Cantina

Friday, May 26, 2017
5 p.m. CST
http://tobtr.com/10020673

I’ve been interviewed for author profiles on blogs here and there, but I’m tackling my first live podcast next week.

The Speculative Fiction Cantina covers sci-fi, fantasy, horror, alternate history, steampunk, cyberpunk, and “things weird and wonderful in the world of books and writers.” Author Aram Keledjian and I are tag-teaming for the May 26 episode.

In addition to the interview, I plan to do a reading from Rebels and Fools.

—Editor’s note: an archived recording of the program is available here.

Downtown Fond du Lac Wine Walk promotional image

Tour the Town Art Walk / Wine Walk

Friday, June 16, 2017
4 to 8 p.m.
Macy Place Art and Tea Shoppe, 82 S. Macy Street, Fond du Lac, Wis.

I’ll be one of two featured artists at Macy Place for Tour the Town Art Walk, and I’m delighted to announce that my partner in crime will be none other than Jake Weiss, the talented designer who created the covers for all three Renegade Chronicles novels as well as the free ebook compendium. The art walk is free.

Even better, the June art walk coincides with downtown Fond du Lac’s annual wine walk, which means we’ll all be able to raise a glass to the literary arts. Sorry, that was just hokey. Anyway, you’ll be able to chat with Jake and me, see some of the concept art for the covers and buy a book (or three). I’ll sign copies and maybe do a short reading.

I’d love to see you or hear from you on the podcast. Of course,  if you’d rather bypass all of this marketing stuff and go right to the stories, feel free to buy The Renegade Chronicles in paperback or ebook formats at any time!

 

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Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

Related posts:

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Fun and games with book reviews

Sometimes book marketing seems like one big game.

Sometimes it feels like a joke.

In the spirit of positivity and productivity, I’ll eschew the plethora of ridiculous scenarios an author encounters while trying to promote his wares. But one paradox that made me smile (or, rather, roll my eyes) was when I was submitting information about my free Kindle promo and came across multiple paid services to spread the word.

That’s right: not only would I not make any profits on the book downloads during the promotion, but I’d actually be losing money in the process.

Any entrepreneur worth his home office knows you have to spend money to make money. It all comes down to ROI. But I personally believe there are better marketing avenues than pay-per-tweet networks.

OK, one more laugh: there are some online book reviewers who won’t read a novel until it has received a certain number of reviews on Amazon. I suppose professional/quasi-professional reviewers need everyday readers to make a decision before they deign it appropriate to crack the proverbial spine themselves. But from an author’s perspective, well, we need reviews on websites to gain exposure so that people buy, read, and, yes, rate the book on Amazon.com.

In an earlier blog post about the 5 ways to support the writer in your life, I brought up the importance of posting reviews. I’d like to revisit that topic today. Now. Because it turns out they are really, really important.

Also, I’m not too proud to beg for book reviews.

In case you need some convincing, here are a handful of reasons why book reviews can make a big difference in a novel’s success:

  • As mentioned above, some book review websites won’t bother with a novel unless it has at least five or ten or more reviews on Amazon.
  • Some book marketing services won’t include a book until it hits a certain quantity and rank of reviews on Amazon. For example: “Must have at least ten five-star reviews.”
  • Oftentimes, readers won’t take a book seriously if there are zero or very few customer reviews. Zero reviews just looks suspicious, and having less than ten is admittedly sad.
  • Amazon.com itself assesses the value of a book based on the number of reviews. Once a book hits fifty reviews, it makes an impact on Amazon’s search algorithm. In short, the more reviews (and the more positive the reviews), the more likely a potential buyer will be shown/recommended said book.
  • You’re also helping your fellow readers—which is why it’s important to be honest when posting a review.

So now you can see why those little yellow stars are so important—and why I’ve decided to make it as easy (and fun!) as possible for anyone who has read Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, or Martyrs and Monsters to compose a short yet oh-so valuable review.

Are you not entertained?

Mad Libs cover

Mad Libs: the epitome of fill-in-the-blank fun!

Just fill in the blanks, “Mad Libs style.” Then copy and paste copiously.

  • After reading (a previous book), I was looking forward to (expectations of this book).
  • If you like (adjective) characters and (adjective) plots, you’ll love this book.
  • This book reminds me (adverb) of (another book/series/author).
  • This book is at its best when (general example).
  • The pace of the story can be described as (adjective).
  • My favorite character is (proper noun) because (reason).
  • This book made me (verb phrase).
  • I can sum up this book in a single word: (adjective or noun).
  • I would (adverb) recommend this book to (noun).
  • I can’t wait to read more books by David Michael Williams (punctuation)

Party over here!

While Amazon is arguably the most important place to post book reviews due to its market share in the U.S. as well as other countries, there are many other places where folks buy books. Below are links to webpages where people can purchase The Renegade Chronicles, and they’re just waiting to be filled up with your brilliant comments:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

Note: you’ll only be able to leave a review at Smashwords if you purchased it via Smashwords.

CreateSpace

At CreateSpace, all you have to do is click the Facebook “like” button!

Goodreads

Are you a member of Goodreads? If so, use these links:

One more thing

If you’ve read any of my books, please, please, PLEASE post a review somewhere…anywhere!

(Told you I wasn’t too proud to beg.)

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