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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Networking, Marketing and Patience. Mistakes Were Made, a guest post by @JayHamlet




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Mistakes Were Made
By J. Hamlet

As a wise man once said, “I don't know what I expected.”

A year ago, I self-published my debut novel, Hand of Chaos. While it was an important moment of my life, I had no idea what kind of experience I was about to have. I knew some things, like that in terms of marketing I would be all on my own. That I had to figure out how to get my book to the right people, how to get reviews, how to generally get attention for this thing I'd toiled on for hundreds upon hundreds of hours. A year later, I can look back on what I did and see that I made a lot of mistakes along the way.

Part of it was because I walked into the whole thing without having any concrete plan. I decided to self-publish because I had gotten so tired of the query letter process after trying it out for six months and I wanted closure. I'd worked on my book on and off for about five years, through numerous rewrites and edits, and I wanted to free myself. I wanted to do something with it and move on. The act of publishing the book, of paying a small amount of money to get it out there, is seductive and easy compared to what will follow. Maybe that was my first mistake. Deciding to turn my novel loose in the wild was not well-conceived and planned. I wouldn't say I did it on a whim, but it certainly wasn't the careful business decision it should've been.

Here are some more of my greatest misses:

It might be a good idea to look at best practices. I saw so many articles and blog posts out there about author do's and don't's, even a lot that that contradicted one another. I didn't read any of them that thoroughly, or that deeply. I didn't look to successful authors or even anyone else to find out what worked and what didn't. I don't know whether I thought my novel was special or if it was just arrogance, but it was the same attitude that stops you from reading the instructions before you put together modular furniture. Not only did I ignore great advice, I didn't even really try to find it. Articles like this by Rachel Thompson opened my eyes to a lot of missteps I'd made and would've saved me a lot of wasted time and even money. A few times I'd been the a-hole she calls out in that piece. Do yourself a favor, and look to what has made other authors successful. Maybe it will work for you, maybe it won't, but you'll never succeed from a place of ignorance. I certainly didn't.

Network. I'm starting to sound like a consultant. Maybe it's because I was one in the not-so-distant past. Network! Read best practices! Benchmark! There's a reason this advice pops up everywhere, though, and that's because it can't hurt. A good way to see what options are out there are to follow and watch what other authors do and learn from their experiences and actions. Even better, you can read their books, help promote them, and pay it forward. People really respond to and appreciate that and will often return the favor. My early attempts at networking with other authors mostly consisted of following people on twitter (and I still follow way too many), but I seldom clicked links and really engaged with people. My feed became a bit of a trainwreck and I almost stopped using Twitter entirely. Twitter is an important tool in an author's social media, but it's only a small part of the picture and it can often turn into a major distraction.

It was through following other authors that I discovered groups like The Masquerade Crew and other collectives and networks of authors and book bloggers. Some of the best information I've found has also been on Goodreads, going into different groups of authors, book clubs, and such to see what they were reading, to see what interested them. I even attend a local writing meetup regularly and have started to attend local author events. You can learn by interacting virtually or personally, and it always helps to remember you're not alone. If you're out on social media just to amass followers, you can do that. Anyone can do that. It's just good to also remember that quality is better than quantity when it comes to your social media connections.

Think about a marketing strategy. No, a REAL marketing strategy. Inevitably, you're probably going to run some ads or do some types of targeted promotion to get your book out there in the aether. Whenever I was running even small ads, I went too wide. I pitched my book to people who like fantasy, being that it was a dark/urban fantasy. I threw way too many TV shows, other writers, and even more junk into it. Worse, I made the mistake of thinking that everyone who might be into my book would be into all the same stuff I like. All at once, I was advertising to people who weren't receptive and I wasn't advertising to people who might be receptive. A few months in, I thought of maybe just two or three things that matched with my novel well and focused my advertising and my outreach on those fandoms and groups of people. You'd be amazed how much my engagement spike when I sponsored a few tweets just to followers of Misha Collins. That was a tad on the micro-side, I admit, but it was a step in the right direction. Along those lines, you'll need to get some reviews to spark entrance.

Find the right book bloggers ahead of time. I didn't even really start trying to find book bloggers until after I'd already published my book. Yeah, major blunder there. That, more than anything else, set me back. Once I did started trying to find book bloggers who might help me out, I deluged them without any sort of real substantive communication about why they would be interested in my book (see c) above). I know now I should've been communicating with them and giving advance copies out months ahead of time. I should've also known better how to pitch to book bloggers instead of basically repurposing a query letter to them like a form letter, and I needed to sell them on why they should spend hours of their precious time reading my book.

Do a blog tour! This post from Diantha Jones (reviewing a book on blog tours that is also helpful, actually) really says it all. My first blog tour was four months after my book release. If I'd timed it well, I could've given my book a huge boost out of the gate, but I didn't know about blog tours and I didn't understand how important they were in terms of getting lots of reviews and sparking lots of interest. Do a blog tour timed at your release (and your release on ALL formats if you can). Do more than one! They're some of the most efficient publicity mechanisms you can get. Also, when you're looking to do a tour, look at the tour services if you're having someone arrange it for you and see what types of books they typically tour. If your book isn't like that, maybe find another one that is. Do research. See which one looks right for you. Again, see c). Know your audience and know who will be receptive.

Patience. Sometimes a month or even two would pass where I didn't sell a single book. Instead of getting out there and doing the best I could to make more connections and promote my book, I felt defeated and would let my book languish for awhile. Easy enough, considering I have a day job already and promoting your book can be a second part-time job (or full-time job) on top of that. Nothing, even following all the best practices and doing all the promotion you can, will yield instant results. Knowing what I know now and understanding that you have to keep at it, that you have to keep writing and keep communicating, I would've more easily accepted that reality. 

There are a thousand more little missteps I made, but maybe that's the biggest mistake of all. I walked into the indie author world and thought it would be simple. Not easy, but that I'd be able to figure it out in no time flat. How wrong I was. Being independent means you're ultimately the one responsible for your own success, and you can bet that it is not going to be easily won. I still don't have it all figured out, but I certainly know a lot more than I did a year ago. Hopefully in another year, I'll know even more.

Everyone needs a hobby. And, like most people, I hope one day that my hobby will liberate me from my mind–­numbing day job. I chose writing. Not one of the easier ones. I chose it at the tender age of 14, churning out terrible science fiction novels that heaped on the cliches and barely hidden tropes of all space operas. Thankfully, those creations reside in the prison of an old Commodore 64 hard drive and several 3.5" disks (kids, ask your parents) in a landfill somewhere. And, let me be clear, the world is better for it.

Along the way, I kept writing. Through college. Through grad school. Through the beginning of my career, such as it is. I like to believe I picked up skills. I wanted to write novels that had things I wanted to see. Hand of Chaos, my debut novel, brings together elements of a spy thriller and a police procedural with dark and urban fantasy. I followed that with Scarred Earth, a serial alien invasion novel I'm releasing entirely through tumblr. I'm probably going about this all wrong, but I don't know any other way.

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Exhausted, cynical, and confused, Anna is always there to report for duty. She's part of a clandestine government team that defends the nation against supernatural terrorism—a job that understandably leaves her life in shambles and drives her to drink a little more than she should. Toss in a fear of intimacy with a desire to have friends and lovers like a normal person and, well, Anna is a troubled soul wrapped in a special agent with arcane, magical powers. Waking up hungover at five–­thirty in the morning with a zombie­–infested apartment building in the heart of DC to deal with, she knows she's got the makings of the worst morning possible.

Her team is its own challenge. A battle­–scarred Nigerian shaman, a bookish shape­shifter, an inept summoner, and a brilliant but cantankerous wizard round it all out. Her partner, an immortal and cursed Paladin, is the only person she knows more jaded than herself. Getting them all to work together is never easy, with Anna often caught in the cross fire.

Their target, Ethan Morgan, is one pissed off necromancer. His brother was KIA by his own government, the victim of an experimental magical weapon they decided to test on the battlefield. Now bent on revenge and sponsored by one of hell's most powerful demons, Ethan has a plan of his own to make us all pay. Anna and her team are fighting against the wake of destruction, but Ethan is always one step ahead. With the number of bodies he leaves and reanimates growing exponentially, Anna's wondering if they'll stop him before he engulfs everyone in an undead horde.




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