Blog Archives

The old ways suck.

Sadly, she can't read.One of the few times I buy paper books is when I do a signing at a bookstore. I figure it’s the least I can do. That’s how I wound up with the hardback version of At Home, by Bill Bryson. It’s a great whacking lump of a book, so good that I bought my parents the Kindle version on our shared account.

Yesterday I was reading while eating, which is when I do 90% of my reading, and this monster book wouldn’t stay open on the table unless I held it with one hand. So tedious. So although the paper version was RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I went upstairs, got my Kindle, downloaded the ebook version, and read that.

To tell the truth, I don’t even like to go into bookstores anymore. Looking at all that paper that has to be stored on your shelf, knowing that many of those books will be returned to the publisher and pulped… Honestly, it makes me all twitchy. What would I take with me on a desert island? My phone and some sort of magic cell connection. I don’t want to travel by horseback (ooh, the smell and feel of horses!), I don’t want to churn my own butter, and I don’t want a paper book.

Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books.

Your most loyal readers are invested in you, the author.

Pre-internet, “you” consisted of your writing voice, an author photo, and the occasional interview. Now we have the option of engaging our readers with stories of our lives, our writing process, and the interesting things we learn during book research — all of it augmented with pictures, videos, and the opportunity for readers to have a conversation through comments. 

This is where short stories have a serious promotional advantage over free books. 

I want you to imagine two scenarios of reader engagement.

1) Free Book Offer

You give away your book for a certain period of time. The word goes out over FB, Twitter, through your blog, and if you’re lucky, an aggregator of free book offers. Readers looking for free books click the link to your book. The best of these people first read the description of your book and only acquire if it fits their preferred genre. The worst will read anything, and if it’s not to their taste, they may leave a crappy review on Amazon or B&N (this happens). Because they went directly to the book’s purchase page, there is no need for them to visit your website or learn more about you. If your ebook is being given away through a print publisher, there may not even be a hotlink to your website at the end of the ebook. If there is, it’s often unhandy to surf the Web on a dedicated ebook device.

2) Free Short Story Offer

You give away a short story, set in your series’ universe and with your characters, on your website. The word goes out as before, ideally with a photo that is larger than the average book-cover thumbnail. The reader goes to your website, sees a photo of you, sees the covers and titles of your other books in the sidebar or banner. Ideally, they begin reading the story immediately, because it doesn’t require a big time requirement. You include photos in the text that evoke the location, any featured animals, something that sets a mood. At the bottom, within the text, you include a personal note that says you hope they enjoyed it. They should feel free to pass it on. You encourage them to sign up for your email list, so they know when more free stories come out. Look, the email sign up box is right there on the right, see? And of course, if they liked the story universe, here are links to the first few chapters of your books, with links to buy at the end.

Unlike a temporary free book offer, your short story will always be free.

That blog post will work for you ad infinitum, not for a limited time. Along with other items on your website, that story is searchable, and contains key words that bring readers to your site through Google searches. If you want, you can put your books on sale when you promote a new short story, to sweeten the deal. 

I want you to imagine that instead of selling books, we’re selling food.

Let’s say there were as many manufacturers of food products as there are authors, and they came out with new items as often as we come out with new books, and they gave them away for a week at grocery stores. What would happen?

People would never have to buy food again.

When you go to a grocery story, those food demo people aren’t giving away free dinners. No, they give away samples, and often a coupon to buy the full item at a discount. 

We should stop giving whole dinners away. Get your readers to your website and give them a free sample. Engage them with photos, stories of your life, and links to free chapters of your other books. Give them the opportunity to buy a book on sale, if you want.

When enough authors give away books, people never have to buy books again.

This blog post is a follow up to My Plea to Self-Published Authors, which talks about ways short stories are better for readers as well as authors, and one author’s success with short stories. I hope you’ll consider passing these articles along, or writing your own post on the benefits of giving away short stories rather than whole books. If you do, send me a link to your post through my Contact Page, so I can pass it around.

Next time, I’ll talk about what Amazon could do to help us sell more books.  

My Plea to Self-Published Authors

Don’t give your ebooks away.

Why?

Even one day of pricing your ebook at $0.00, multiplied by countless authors, means readers never have to buy a book again. 

Hey, I’ve given away books in the past. But then I discovered that, as a reader, I could find enough free ebooks on one Facebook page, in one genre, in one week, to meet my reading needs for the next year. Sure, some of them are dreck, but there are enough enjoyable books to keep my entire family happily reading for free. And this is not a good thing. 

There has never been a better time to be an author, if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. 

The ebook is a revolution right up there with the printing press. For the first time, authors can market and sell directly to consumers. Now, I understand that we don’t have any control over whether Amazon gives our books away. But Amazon provides only a fraction of the freebies out there, and they do a lot of promoting of those authors, so that compensates. Let’s take Amazon off the table and discuss what we can control.  

How can new self-published authors promote their work, if not with free stuff?

  • Write short stories set in your books’ universe, and give those away.

A good author friend of mine, Lynda Hilburn, has had tremendous success with this strategy. Every time she put out a free short story and notified the Kindle boards, all of her books got a bump in sales. She was making serious money on her self-published books – enough that a big-name agent took notice and got her a print offer she couldn’t refuse.

Free short stories instead of books benefit readers, too.

  • You can judge an author’s voice in the first couple of pages of a book, but you can’t judge their ability to tell a story until you read the whole thing — and readers often wish they had that time back. A short story lets readers know if they like an author in a fraction of the time. 
  • Short stories can be placed outside the time frame of the author’s fictional universe. Let’s say I’m offered a free book, but it’s third in the series. That’s not an ideal situation. I’d prefer to sample the author without any spoilers for books one and two. 

The lure of free is too strong. 

When Amazon made their free Kindle reading app available, my purchases of books skyrocketed. But when everyone started giving books away in promtions, my purchases plummeted to the few authors I was determined to support. The lure of free books is too strong for most of us. We wind up reading books out of order, moving on to the next free thing instead of buying an author’s other books, and spending a lot of time half-heartedly reading full-length books, trying to decide if we like the story enough to keep going. 

So that’s my plea. Give away a sample of your talent, then price the ebook such that readers don’t hesitate to buy — the cost of a nice cup of coffee seems to work well. And of course, giving one book away in a contest, or for charity, is a different thing. 

Please spread the word.

The internet is huge. If even a fraction of authors continues to give their books away, we’re screwed. I hope you’ll share this post or write your own. Get the word out. 

Don’t give your ebooks away.

Feel free to read my follow-up post, Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books, which explains how to use short stories to increase reader engagement and bring more people to your website.

.99 Two-Day Sale: Jokers & Fools

Two publishing contracts ago, this book, originally titled Telling Lies, won the Mainstream category of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers contest. Jennifer Unter, my agent, took me on as a result of it. Publishers read it and loved it, but didn’t know how to sell it unless they labeled it Chick Lit, which was considered dead at the time. So we got a lot of rejection letters like this one,

Dear Jennifer:

TELLING LIES was utterly clever and fun and often startling truthful. And you’ve really got a wild ride of a writer on your hands.  But I think this is just a bit too far on the other side of chick lit for me—the voice wasn’t exactly hitting my chords and I think the tone, overall, falls outside of Harcourt’s best range.

Thanks, though, for the read—which was completely unforgettable.

and this one,

Dear Jennifer:

Thanks so much for sending me TELLING LIES. I had great fun reading it.

This is a really charming novel and I think Esri is a promising talent. I especially enjoyed Julio because my neighborhood is full of Chihuahuas with attitude, so he made me laugh. I’m afraid my gut sense was that this isn’t a big commercial hardcover, so it’s not right for me. If I were still buying paperback, it might be a different scenario. I do think that you’ll find a publisher for this, though, and I wish you the best of luck with it. It was by far the most entertaining novel I’ve read all week!

Finally Kensington/Zebra asked if I had any other books for sale. I did, and we left this book behind. And that’s why, six years later, I can offer you what is possibly the best book I’ve ever written – for a buck. At least, for two days it’ll be a buck. After that, it’ll be three bucks.

I believe that with the vast audience of the internet, books can be sold inexpensively. That’s why I’ve turned down a second hardback contract with St. Martin’s and plan on self-publishing my books in ebook and print-on-demand from now on. Here’s your chance to validate that decision. Buy it. Read it. If you like it, review it and recommend it.

I’m working on making Jokers & Fools available on Smashwords and also in print form, through CreateSpace. For now, it’s on Kindle, but you don’t actually need a Kindle to read it. There are free Kindle apps you can download to your PC, Mac, phone or whathaveyou. Here’s a link for those.

Mystery Writer joke

It occurred to me that I’ve never heard a mystery-writer joke, so I made this one up.

_______________

During a publishing conference, a mystery writer, a romance author, and a thriller writer get to talking and decide to have a drink together at the hotel bar.

The romance writer orders a Sex on the Beach.

The thriller writer asks for a Bloody Mary.

The bartender makes those drinks and then asks the mystery writer what she wants.

The mystery writer looks the bartender in the eye and says, “Muddle a slice each of lime, lemon and orange with one clove. Add a shot of British gin, a dash of French absinthe, and crushed ice. Shake well, and strain everything into a martini glass. Stab a cherry with a toothpick and plop that on top.”

The romance writer makes a face. “That doesn’t sound very tasty. What do you call it?”

I’ll tell you what,” the mystery writer says, smiling. “If either of you can guess the name of this cocktail before the bartender finishes making it, I’ll buy all your drinks tonight.”

“We can do this,” the thriller writer says confidently.

So they try to guess the name of the bizarre drink while watching the bartender make it.

“It has British gin and French absinthe,” the romance writer says. “I’d call it the International Lover.”

“Nope,” says the mystery writer.

“Think about how she described it,” the thriller writer says. “Crushed ice, a stabbed cherry… It’s probably something like Death in the Glass or Murder by Booze.”

“Wrong track entirely,” says the mystery writer. “Keep guessing.”

So they keep throwing out names until the drink is finished and the bartender drops in the stabbed cherry.

The thriller writer shakes his head. “I give up. What’s it called?” He turns to find that the mystery writer has vanished.

The romance writer looks at the bartender, “Hey, where’d she go?”

The bartender puts the weird cocktail on the bar. “I don’t know, but she finished both your drinks while you were guessing, and somebody owes me twenty-five bucks.”

Crime-Fiction Blogs

Here are three crime-fiction blogs I found through Twitter. You find one that you like, and then follow the “similar to” links.

Do Some Damage

In Reference to Murder

Mystery Scene (magazine) blog

Oh, and my paper.li Mystery Books Digest is out, if you didn’t see that elsewhere. It’s a once a week thing. You can subscribe, and everything  (Zero Effect reference).

And if anyone is wondering why I disappeared for about three weeks, it’s because I was on a chorus trip to Costa Rica, and now I’m racing to my deadline. Wrote 23 pages yesterday. Boo-yah.