An Update on my Current Writing Projects

Current eBook Project
I'm in the middle of writing a Tyler Cunningham eBook set in the summer of 2002, which takes a look at his first case (and the evolution of Tyler into a consulting detective). 

I haven't come up with a title for the work yet, which also explores his intentional homelessness a bit.  I anticipate this eBook coming in at between 15K and 20K words (a bit longer than "Mickey Slips") in its final form.

Podiobook Project
I've written the rough draft of the story that the SmartPig Creative Team decided would be well suited to our proposed audiobook/podiobook project, and need to find the time to go back through and break the story, tentatively titled "240 Minutes" into the desired four segments.
Second Novel Project, Summer 2013
I'm adding everyday to my collection of notes and ideas and web-links to information for the upcoming second novel project this summer. 

The novel will be set in the Adirondacks (of course), and delves more deeply than "Here Be Monsters" did into the history of the Park, especially the Great Camps (and the relationships between the Great Camp owners and staff and other 'year-rounders'). 

Another writing challenge that I'm excited about is that I will be writing chapters in alternating perspectives (two parts of the same story told by different people on a course designed to intersect near the end of the novel).  The majority of the story will be told from Tyler's perspective, but it will be interspersed with this other voice.

Sales Update
 Sales of "Here Be Monsters" and "Mickey Slips" continue to move along nicely, with fits and starts (and the occasional stop), and by the end of April, my math put the combined totals for my books at roughly 1,100 copies in the hands of readers. 

Excellent reviews continue to come in for both books at Amazon and GoodReads, and this blog now routinely enjoys over 100 visitors per day, with some days near 400 visitors.

I am hoping that the addition of another eBook, the podiobook, and eventually the second full-length novel, will continue to grow the SmartPig/Sheffield/Cunningham brand over time.

Thanks for all of your help and interest and for reading!



5 Deadly Traps, and How Self-Publishers Can Avoid Them!

Self-publishing your own book is easier than it has ever been before, but that doesn't mean that the process is easy ... or risk-free.

Traditional publishers and publishing houses did/do lots of things for authors ... all of those things still need to get done, and thinking or acting otherwise can lead to non-existent (or slow) sales, poverty, boredom, reduced numbers of groupies, angst, depression, lack of exposure, and shuffling around your house in sweatpants and bunny-slippers for days/weeks at a stretch.
 {Note: traditional publishing can lead to all of these things also, but read on for ideas on how to avoid them}

Please think of this article as a very basic introduction to the facts of life that an indie-author has to learn if they want to avoid becoming angry and crazy and bitter ... there is a wealth of information about each of the traps discussed below, but awareness is the key to avoiding them, and this article should at the least help with that issue.

Trap #1 - Readers, Editors, Proofers
Your book ends up being both personal and familiar to you by the time you are done writing it ... don't try to content-read, edit, and proof your own writing ... it just doesn't work.

You have to bring in outside eyes to read it through (at least) three different kinds of reading.  Content reading is a first look at your writing, to see how the story flows, and get a feel for the characters, the arc, and conflict/resolution.  Editing involves reading the essentially finished story for grammar and spelling and such. Proof-reading is a final look at the finished product, prior to sending it off to be published.  

Each reading of your book is different, and each is vital.  You cannot do these read-throughs of your book on your own, and expect a quality final product.

Trap #2 - Cover Design & Layout
The cover is the first (and sometimes only) thing that people will use to make a judgment about your book ...despite the old saying, people judge books by their covers all the time.

This is also true of the layout and look of your book inside the covers; if the book layout and design is unappealing, people may put yours back and grab another.

It's worth researching covers and inside layouts to find out what is standard and/or eye-grabbing in your genre.  It may be that you're able to produce a nice looking cover and to format the interior, but if you're not sure, seek help.  It's not worth compromising the look (and sales) of your book by producing a crappy looking cover and inside to save a few bucks.

A sub-set of trap #2 is the front-matter and back-matter of your book.  Do some research online.  Go to a bookstore and see how books that you like manage these things.  Ask other indie-authors what they include, and how they prefer to do it.  This is an easy to avoid trap, but you have to put in the time.

Trap #3 - Printing and Binding and Distribution
This is one of the biggies, for a variety of reasons.  In days of yore, many self-publishers paid thousands of dollars to have a few hundred copies of their books printed, only to spend the next 40 years with boxes of poorly printed books sitting in their garage (having sold 30 copies to some friends and family ... and then nobody else), with no way for bookstores beyond shouting distance to know about the existence of your book

The problems with that model were/are:
  • Print On Demand (POD) technology has come so far that it's both quick and economically feasible to print one copy of my book.  This means that I don't have to warehouse hundreds or thousands of copies of my book, waiting/hoping for sales to catch up with my out-of pocket printing costs.
  • Being able to see exactly what your finished product will look like means never having to open a box of books from your underemployed (for a reason) printer and gawking (and/or crying) at a weird font or odd layout or crappy cover colors.
  • Some of the POD publishers (I'm thinking most especially of Amazon's CreateSpace) can connect my book with booksellers anywhere on the planet ... this was not the case with a cottage industry printer who shipped my finished product straight to me, and was done.
There are lots of different companies out there involved in printing/binding/distribution, and your job is to do some googling, some reading, some outreach to other indie-authors, and find the one that has the right mix for you.

Trap #4 - Marketing and Promotion
This is the biggest trap of all for most authors, especially those of us who self-publish.  The best book in the world will never sell (except by accident) without a detailed and ongoing marketing and promotion plan.

"If you build it, they will come." - not true.

This may have worked for Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams", but in a market literally flooded with self-published books, it doesn't stand up to a reality check.

Your first job as an author is to write the best book that you can (avoiding trap #1 is a big help).  After that is done, you need to produce a book that looks and feels great, to you and your readers, and could theoretically get into the hands of every person who might be interested in reading it (an awareness of trap #2 and #3 helps make this work).  The final piece in making sure that your book finds an audience is to help your audience find your book.

This will involve a mixture of local and regional and worldwide outreach and activity.

At the local level, you should bring copies of your book to all booksellers that connect with your target audience within an hour or two. Make sure that they know that you're willing to come in for signings or talks.

At the regional level, you should send a press release to every newspaper, radio station, and magazine that caters to your book's intended audience.  Read and research the best ways to produce this press release for your market.

Your global information and outreach efforts will center on your author blog or website; explore the blogs and websites of authors that you admire, and try to provide the same information and level of service (in much the same vein, you should also take advantage of the Amazon Author's Page program, if possible).  In addition, you should connect with readers (and other writers) online, though such social networks as Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, GoodReads, and YouTube.  Another possible means of exposure for your writing worth considering can be the blogs or websites of other writers.

Thoughtful pricing of your books, and taking careful advantage of opportunities to give ebook copies away on targeted days or in contests are good ways to get your books into the hands of people who can read and enjoy and positively review them.

When in doubt, read and research more about marketing and promotion ... remember, it's not what writers do, so there's nothing wrong with not knowing anything in the beginning.  The corollary to that is that you need to keep your research and efforts in marketing and promotion under control because doing too much can be it's own kind of trap, and drive you nuts.

Trap #5 - Tiger Traps
The fifth, and final, trap I'll be discussing in this article is far and away the most dangerous ... actual tiger traps!

Where the other traps can leave a you frustrated and impoverished, tiger traps can leave self-published authors unlucky enough to fall into them bleeding at the bottom of a filthy hole in the ground (with the real possibility that an actual tiger may fall on top of you at some point, and either crush you or attack in a frenzy of pain and fear).

Fortunately, as with the other traps discussed above, tiger traps can be avoided by following a few simple rules:
  1. Avoid traveling the backcountry in places likely to be filled with tigers (or tiger hunters).
  2. Failing that, continuously hurl heavy objects (think watermelons or cinder-blocks) in front of you to expose tiger traps before you fall into them.
  3. If that proves difficult, study the picture above, and look for rectangular patches of ground-cover with growth patterns different from the surrounding ground, indicative of tiger traps ... avoid these.
  4. As a backup to the above measures, consider wearing gigantic snowshoe-like baskets on your feet to prevent your falling into traps you cannot otherwise avoid.

These measures should help you avoid the most common pitfalls of self-publishing, as well as dying in a tiger-trap.

Good Luck!




17 Ways that Creative Writing is Way Better than Marketing!

I'm writing again.

I stopped writing for a couple of weeks for perfectly good and valid reasons, but I missed it and now I'm writing again.

I published an eBook three weeks ago, and haven't written much since then ... except for blogging and marketing and such.  Blogging and marketing and such are part of the gig when you self-publish, but they're not why we self-publish ... the writing is....

I started on the next book in my ongoing series yesterday, and had a ball getting through some planning and research and a bit more than 1,000 words.  I'm hoping to get in a couple of hours of writing this afternoon, and every day until I finish a first draft.

The happy glow that I brought to the dinner table last night was due to my writing, and it made me reflect on why I love writing (and dislike marketing) so much ... I'm going to share some of the reasons with you now.

  1. creative writing is telling stories
  2. marketing is selling stories
  3. creative writing lets my brain out to play, running past the "Don't walk on the Grass" signs
  4. marketing forces my brain to wait in lines and march in step
  5. creative writing allows me to explore different worlds and people and endless possibilities
  6. marketing asks me to focus on the numbers and the reach of my words/efforts
  7. creative writing makes the people who read my stuff ... happy
  8. marketing makes the people who read my stuff ... buy my stuff
  9.  creative writing makes me smarter and happier and hopefuller and creativer (see, I made up those last two awesome words!)
I skipped numbers ten through seventeen because I was getting bored, and am certain that if you've read this far down, that you can supply your own author/reader-specific answers.

I love the creative writing process, but can appreciate the need for the marketing side of my self-publishing efforts.  Without crap on my boots, I might not appreciate watching (and interpreting) the clouds and stars so much.

Having spent a couple of weeks away from the process of daily writing sharpened my focus, whet my appetite, and allowed my back-brain to toss around and sort and polish ideas while I busied myself with other things (like the rock tumbler that chugged along for weeks in my closet when I was a kid).

It's possible that if I didn't spend my time on other, not-creative-writing stuff, that I would be less ready now to start, work on, and finish my current project.

Morning meditations, with coffee and dogs ....





Today's blog entry has almost nothing to do with my writing (that being said, Puck does help me write and edit my work...although he is overly fond of simple sentences)...I simply felt like writing a short piece to go along with some pictures of our new rescue-dog, Puck.

Puck on the day that we brought him home...not entirely trusting us

Puck came to live with us shortly after our beagle Cedar died.

He had been waiting at the Tri-Lakes Humane Society fror a new home for a while because he has a checkered past.  He was arrested, along with the dog he was living with, for menacing and biting someone.  He has lots of scarring on his body, some of which look like they're from shotgun pellets; he's terrified beyond reason (literally) by loud noises (gunshots, champagne corks, doors slamming, thunder).

Puck (far left) posing with us for our Xmas picture...still not fully sure
When we took him to the vet for his first visit, we were in for a number of surprises.  They knew him from his previous life, when he had come to them in grave condition from having his back end run over and crushed in a dog v. vehicle interaction.  He started shaking and crying before we got in the door, and growled and snapped at the vet-techs who wanted to take his temp and clip his nails and give him a shot...he had to be knocked out before they could touch him.

He's a sweet boy, but a bit broken.  He loves us, is cuddly and affectionate with everyone in our family, but there's always fear at the edge of his consciousness...fear of being hurt, hit, harassed and hurled back into a tiny cage if we decide he's not worth it (we won't, but how can he know that?).

Easter harassment that he put up with...because he loves us
He gets scared and/or lonely and/or bored in the middle of the night, most nights, and will come into our bedroom to wake me up with a pat or a kiss or a whine.  He doesn't need food or water or a chance to pee (although he will always take the opportunity to eat and run outside for a minute)...he just wants to talk.

 So I've gotten into the habit of getting up in the dark to cuddle with him on the couch for a bit (those who know me know that I'm a mostly useless zombie between the hours of 10pm and 3am) and then either go back to bed or spend the rest of the night on the couch with Puck.  I'm not sleeping as well as I'd like, but he needs me.

Puck working on his tan on our deck
Puck's settled into our home about as well as he's going to, and we're used to him and his foibles.  He's not perfect by any means, but none of us in this house in the woods are in any position to throw stones; we're hiding (and hidden) from the rest of the world on purpose.

The UPS-guy has a relationship with Miles (our other lab rescue, who loves Puck) involving some barking and some cookies and sometimes Miles climbs into the back of the truck to help Craig in finding the right box...Puck doesn't understand the rules of this social contract...he barks and cowers and suspects poisoned cookies and thinks that UPS is going to steal Miles.

Miles (left) and Puck (right) napping on the couch
He's ours, we're his, none of us perfect (or even close).  We know the sore spots on his back and butt from earlier injuries, and avoid them.  He loves us (which at the end of the day is his only defined duty) and trusts us the best he can...his particular needs and damage are a part of what endear him to us.

Puck will never be easy, but he will always be ours!




Get My Next eBook Free & Before Everyone Else!

I first published "Here Be Monsters" a bit less than 5 months ago.  "Mickey Slips" came out about 3 weeks ago.

In that time, my books have been bought in print form or downloaded more than 1000 times!  I find this both incredible and amazing and humbling.

A less impressive statistic has to do with the number of reviews my books have gotten.  While the reviews have been great, there just haven't been enough of them (about 45 between Amazon and GoodReads for both books combined, which works out to roughly 4%).

I would love to get more reviews on these website from the people who have read my books, and I have a couple of ways that I hope to accomplish this feat.  I recently wrote a blog entry offering to give signed copies of "Here Be Monsters" to a few randomly selected people who rate/review either of my books, but I want to do more for the people who are willing to help me out by posting a review and rating on Amazon and/or GoodReads.

I want to give each of them an advance copy of my next eBook...each person who writes a review for either book, and sends me an email (jsheffield@gmail.com) will get a FREE copy of my next ebooka week before it is available for sale.

I need your email so that I can send the eBook to you in mobi/epub/pdf format; I won't use your email address for anything else, and won't give or sell it to anyone else.

So...there it is...write a review for either of my books, and I'll give you a copy of the next ebook a week before anyone else on Earth gets a chance to see it.




4 Ways to Win a Signed Copy of My Novel

I want to run a contest and giveaway a few copies of "Here Be Monsters"...sound good?

If you would like a copy for yourself (or as a present), then you can pick one of the following simple ways to get one (if you do more than one, your odds of winning a book increase):
  1. Write and post a review for either "Here Be Monsters" or "Mickey Slips" on Amazon and/or GoodReads
  2. Post a link to your review (new or pre-existing, on Amazon or GoodReads) on Facebook or G+ or Twitter or your blog
  3. Share a favorite quote or scene from either "Here Be Monsters" or "Mickey Slips"(along with a link to the book mentioned) on Facebook or G+ or Twitter or your blog
  4. Share this blog entry with friends on Facebook or G+ or Twitter or your blog to spread the word about the giveaway 

I'll see the reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, so you'll get credit for those ones easily.  If you post about your review or a quote/scene or this blog entry, tag me, and I'll see it that way. 

For each of the four from the above list that you do between now and May 5 (Cinco de Mayo!), I'll put your name in a hat.  If lots of people participate in this giveaway program, I'll give away as many as five books.

I'll get in touch with the winner(s) and ask what they would like their book inscribed with, and where I should send it.




The 3 Golden Rules to Perfectly Pricing Your Ebook!

When the first eReader came out of its box, I bet there were two guys in the back of the room arguing about eBook pricing ... one yelling that they should be free, and the other shouting back that they should cost the same as print copies.

It's a sticky situation that is near and dear to my heart (as this year I've published a novel in both print and eBook formats, and a novelette solely as an eBook), so I have been doing some research.  There are dozens of articles available online, and more in print magazines and books, all of them with contradictory advice and guidelines and rules.

My research and subsequent meditations brought me to:

The Three Golden Rules of eBook Pricing
  1. Free eBooks make sense because they are downloaded by more people
  2. Cheap eBooks make sense because they cost less (per unit) to produce
  3. eBooks priced like their printed counterparts make sense because the value of a book is not in the paper

Yes, these three rules are contradictory ... deal with it!

The rules apply to every author and eBook differently at different times, depending on lots of different factors.

There is no one pricing structure for every eBook, but a thoughtful application of the Three Golden Rules (TGRs) will guide you in coming up with the right price for your eBook at every stage in your (or your eBook's) career.

All of this presupposes a pair important details that many writers skip over in their rush to fame and glory and wealth ...  in order to fully explore and exploit the TGRs, writers need two things first:
  • a number of eBooks to offer their readers
  • eBooks of a quality sufficient to bring readers back for more
 Quality and quantity of writing makes all things possible ... with it and the TGRs, a huge readership and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice is possible ...without it, even with the best possible application of the TGRs an author will likely languish in obscurity and poverty forever.

Golden Rule #1: Free eBooks
make sense because they are downloaded by more people

There are gazillions of eBooks available on the internet, without a readership and proven track-record, getting people to take a chance on paying for yours is difficult.  Building and/or expanding your readership is important to all but a few dozen of the most successful writers on the planet (and if you're reading this, you're not one of them ... they have minions to read for them).  Giving away your eBook is a great way to increase the number of eyes that read your writing, and also to bump you up the free-ebooks bestsellers lists.

I gave away my newest eBook for 2-days, before bringing it back to its regular price, and was happy with the number of downloads that I was able to get in that time.  I would certainly consider doing it again with my next eBook.

If you are giving your eBook away, you should be driving satisfied readers towards something when they finish reading your work ... another book (this one not for free), your website or blog, your fanpage on Facebook or GoodReads, ... something.

I think that even as your readership grows, it's still worth your while to give some eBooks away for free to keep finding new readers.

Golden Rule #2: Cheap eBooks
make sense because eBooks cost less (per unit) to produce
 Printing a book costs money, every time, for every copy.  The same is not true of eBooks. 

 Paper, ink, printing, storage, shipping are all ongoing costs of printed books that are essentially zero for eBooks (it costs something to store and ship eBook files, but so little as to effectively make my point for me).  A logical argument can be made that since the per unit costs of production are so much lower for eBooks, there should be a similar reduction in price for them as opposed to printed books.

This argument carries some weight with me (and many other writers who publish their work in both print and eBook formats).  A reduction in price seems logical on the face of things.  A lower priced eBook can encourage more people to buy your writing, and still make you the same amount of money as your printed books.  My novel is less expensive in eBook format than the print version; working out the price-point that seems most equitable to my readers and me is still a difficult question though (for me).

I do, however, question selling my novel in eBook form for substantially less than the print version for a couple of reasons ... it feels less than (or on sale, or remaindered), and unfair to print owners (who have to support the printers and Amazon and me).  The truth is however, that print version owners can sell their copies to someone else, and access it regardless of the state of their technology or wifi-access or the powergrid, so it probably works out to be fair (or better) for them.

There are lots of eBooks available for 99 cents, a price which on Amazon will make the author about 30 cents per copy.  This feels like a half-step up from giving the book away for free, but without the convenience of it being free.  I find myself suspicious of a 99 cent eBook (I understand giving eBooks away for free, but 99 cents seems more cheap than inexpensive, if I can be allowed the distinction), and as such I choose not to place my eBooks at this price-point.  

Some short eBooks of mine may end up for sale at $1.99, an in-between price that doesn't make the KDP minimum ($2.99) for the 70% royalty, but is enough above 99 cents to shake free of the stigma of the bargain-basement book.

I'm a big fan of pricing eBooks in the $2.99 to $7.99 range, and the industry number crunchers tend to bear me out.  This price range is cheap enough to maximize sales without seeming too-low for quality eBooks.  I very much like the idea of buying a book for the price of a coffee at Starbucks or a cheap lunch at Subway.  

I've currently got an eBook for sale at $2.99, which is a price I'm comfortable with for a shorter eBook, although I (along with other eBook sages) think that $4.99 to $7.99 is more appropriate for full-length novels (which is where my novel is priced).

Golden Rule #3: eBooks priced like their printed counterparts make sense because the value of a book is not in the paper

 Books are magic, and the magic comes from words not paper and ink and backlit e-ink.  A fantastic book is just as fantastic whether your picked it up at a local bookstore or downloaded it, so why should one cost less than the other? I don't buy this argument the majority of the time, but an exception could be in the case of a Stephen King or Lawrence Block, who are masters of their markets; they can set their prices wherever they want, and people will pay it.

Another reason for charging the same (or even more?) for an eBook as compared to a comparable print version would be convenience:
  • I can carry hundreds of eBooks with me in my backpack, no longer needing a wheelbarrow of SmartCar to accomplish this task, as I did in the days when print books ruled the Earth.
  • I can get an eBook sequel to a book I love within seconds (not days) of finishing the first book (I've done this while away on vacation, and it felt like magic).
  • I can search the text of the eBook for specific words and passages, and check the definitions of words while reading.
  • I can loan my eBooks (some of them anyway) to a friend, and never suffer the anguish of  having the eBooks not returned, or returned covered in grape jelly.
There is a pervasive belief (feeling?) in the book-world that eBooks are somehow inferior to print books; I don't believe this to be true ... they are simply different.

That being said, for the time being, all of my eBooks will be priced lower than print versions of the same books.

I hope that this exploration of the TGRs of eBook pricing is useful in highlighting current thought and the reasoning behind the pricing of eBooks as of April 2013.  

The rules are all useful, but contradict each other ... and that's OK.  

It's perfectly acceptable to pick your price-point anywhere along the continuum discussed above, so long as you're aware of the background and have a reason for making your pricing decision.

I will likely stick with free giveaways through the KDP Select program with my new eBooks, to give them (and my readership numbers) a bump, accompanied by longterm pricing in the range supported by market data (until such time as I'm bigger than The Beatles, can pick whimsical prices, and take daily money-baths).

I'd love to hear back from readers and writers with your experiences in the world of eBook pricing.



3 Good Articles for Background & Reference & Further Reading


What's next? Reading and writing...lots of both!

Spring comes slowly to the Adirondacks, but eventually it comes. 

We still have frosts every night, but sometimes we can see the sun. 

I'm still burning wood to heat my home, but daylight lasts until after seven in the evening, and I don't have to drive to and from work in the dark.

I've been reading a lot lately...homework.  Parker books, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block.  I've also been trying out some location-specific fiction writers, trying to get a feel for how good writers make a sense of place pervade their story (in the hope that I can do the same in my work).  In addition, as a result of lurking in the Amazon bestsellers lists watching an eBook of mine climb the charts during a KDP giveaway, I've downloaded and have been reading a lot of what might be called 'the competition'...lots of good crime and mystery writing out there in the self-pub world.

I just published a not-so-short story, "Mickey Slips" which throws Tyler Cunningham into a messy situation that he is uniquely qualified to handle.  I'm happy with the way that the story turned out, and am looking forward to the next writing projects (both literally and figuratively).

My editor took a first look at the next story, tentatively titled "240 Minutes", and we both have some shared reservations...it's a story designed around a time limit, and the pacing is a problem at the moment.  Yesterday afternoon, I had some ideas about how to move things around and streamline the narrative a bit, and I'm hoping to start that process this afternoon.

I've also been playing with the idea of a story that takes a look at Tyler's first 'case' .  I had the characters and setting and feel of the story worked out a month ago, but when I started writing, the conflict rang false to me, so I put it away, hoping it would fix itself somewhere in the backrooms of my brain; it did, last night.  I feel that once I can shuffle the parts of '240' around satisfactorily, I'll be able to write this introduction to Tyler as a detective/expeditor pretty quickly.

I've also been getting more and more of a feel for the novel that I'll be writing this summer.  I can picture the general shape of the story, and am getting to know some of the characters.  I've taken to carrying around a steno pad, which I use to jot notes and ideas about details that come to me during work or while driving or cooking.  Before starting "Here Be Monsters", I had a similar steno pad with 50-60 pages filled with scribbles, and each morning before I sat down to write, I'd enjoy a cup of coffee while reading through it to remind myself of things I'd liked enough to make note of...

Besides working on stories, I'm also interested in this kind of writing...working on my blog, and hopefully the blogs of other writers and artists.  I'm hoping in the next month or two to feature some interesting people on my blog, and in return to visit their blogs via interviews and guest posts and the like...we'll see how it works.




KDP Select Giveaway of "Mickey Slips" eBook

I published my eBook "Mickey Slips" less than two weeks ago, and it has already been downloaded more than 800 times.

That's the good news.  The other news (it's not bad news, but more on that later on) is that 98% of those downloads were for free (not the $2.99 that my new eBook normally costs).

Why on Earth would I want to give away nearly $2,500 worth of my writing?

Kindle Desktop Publishing (KDP) has a program that allows authors to schedule free giveaways of their books for promotional purposes, and that's what I did...the 'why' is a little trickier, and only time will tell if it was a sensible or foolish move on my part.

The idea behind the giveaway is that in the sea of self-published books, it's nearly impossible for any single new author to stand out.  Promoting your book by giving it away for free does (in theory) a number of things...all of them good for fledgling authors:
  • it gets your book in front of lots of readers' eyes, and if they like what they read they may buy the other books that you have for sale...within 4 hours of the giveaway ending, I had sold 3 additional copies of my novel "Here Be Monsters".
  • it pushes your book up the charts on Amazon...by the end of the sale, "Mickey Slips" was the #3 crime bestselling book on Amazon's free list, and the #30 mystery book.
  • it may end up yielding some reviews for "Mickey Slips" which would be good...although apparently people don't tend to write reviews for books they've gotten for free, I'm hoping that some of the 800+ will write a review if they liked the book...(I've already gotten a couple of nice new ones on GoodReads)
  • while $2,500 sounds like a lot of money to give away (and it is...don't get me wrong...I can picture myself taking a money-bath in the money from those missed sales) it was never in, and thus never came out of, my pocket...there are millions of people who read the kind of stuff that I write, so if giving my writing to a minute portion of them for free allows me to reach more of them in the end, it's worth it
  • an unanticipated bump came in the form of more traffic being driven to my blog and FB and Twitter pages, likely from the links on the Amazon page for "Mickey Slips"

Time will tell whether or not the strategy worked for me, but it seems to make sense, and I did enjoy seeing my eBook climbing the bestsellers charts on Amazon over the last few days.

My current plan is to run a similar giveaway on each of my future short works, and to leave the novels as a straight-up 'for-sale' item.




7 Great Reasons to Download My eBook for FREE!

I've been reading and thinking a lot about giving my work away for free (through the KDP Select program) since my first book went up for sale in January, and this blog post is the product of my research and thought.

 My new eBook "Mickey Slips" will be available as a FREE DOWNLOAD on Monday, April 15, 2013, and Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

You would have to be a muttonhead not to download it and/or tell all of your friends to do the same (and I'm going to tell you why in the next 838 words).

I wrote "Mickey Slips" for all of the usual reasons that writers write:
  • I love letting stories out of my head
  • I wanted to explore a few of the characters from my novel "Here Be Monsters" a bit more closely
  • Short stories are fun to write (although "Mickey Slips" is a long-ish short story at 15K words)
  • I wanted another chance to get my writing in front of readers
 Amazon's Kindle Desktop Publishing Select (KDP Select) has a program that allows me to give my eBooks away for free, and I've been curious about it ever since signing up.

It seems counter-intuitive on the surface, to give away something that I would just as soon sell, but there are seven great reasons for both me and you that explain giving my book away to hundreds (or dare I hope...thousands!) of people.

ONE: It's FREE!!!
Admittedly, this is the biggie.  People like free stuff, and you are people, so you should like this free stuff.  "Mickey Slips" is a great short read of about 60 pages, and for free, it's maybe even a little better.  The "It's FREE!!!" reason is entirely for readers like you.

TWO: More readers is More Better!!!
I wrote my novel and this shorter piece (and the others like it that are on deck, or still in production) for people to read and enjoy.  I love hearing from people who had a good time reading the stories that I write...LOVE IT!

THREE: Getting a book for free on April 15th is like an ANTI-TAX!!!
I picked April 15th for a reason...because people all across America are most aware of taxation on this day.  I figured that getting something for nothing is a nice way to fight feelings of powerlessness and poverty than many people get on the day that US taxes come due.

FOUR: Reviews are Always Good!!!
I want people to read the stories that I write, and I want people to review/rate them.  If they thought the story was awesome, great...tell me what you loved.  If the story could have been better, great...tell me how I can make the next one better for you.

More people reading my stories means more people telling me how to improve my writing.

FIVE: Free Stuff Makes You Cool!!!
 Letting somebody (or lots of somebodies) know about an awesome free eBook is cool.  I'm cool for telling you about it, and you will be super-cool for telling your friends about it.

"Mickey Slips" is crime fiction that I would give a PG-13-ish rating, with a hint of violence, a pinch of sex, some fun tech-weenie stuff, a quirky protagonist who will stop at nothing to help his friends, and some interesting moral questions...if that sounds like something you would enjoy, please download it...and tell your friends to do the same...COOL!

SIX: People Might Like the Freebie and Read My Other Writing!!!
 There's a not-so-tricky trick hidden within the giveaway idea, but since I'm telling you about it, I ruined it (but maybe not).  The trick is my hope that people will like "Mickey Slips" enough to find out about my other stories, and maybe buy them.  Now that you have peeked behind the curtain, the trick may not work on you, but I hope that it still will.

My hope is that even knowing that I'm trying no-so-subtly to trick you, that you will like the story enough to remember it, find your way to my page on Amazon sometime when you need something to read, and buy something else of mine.

SEVEN: If Giving "Mickey Slips" Away Works, I'll do it again!!!
I'm excited about the idea of this giveaway.  Knowing that hundreds, or even thousands, of people will have an opportunity to read my book is awesome.  Everyone who downloads "Mickey Slips" provides me with feedback in one form or another:
  • in theory, I could become a "top-seller" for an hour, or even a day just from the number of downloads, and get broader exposure
  • people who might not otherwise hear about me, or be willing to take a chance on my writing, may read my story, with smiles or thoughtfulness ensuing
  • I could get some useful or beneficial reviews from people who read the story, and improve my writing in the future
  • readers could decide that they liked the free story enough to try some of my other writing, buying enough books to let me retire to the Amalfi Coast (or at least enough to stop eating PB&Js for lunch every day
  • Jeff Bezos and/or Bill Gates might read my FREE story and decide to gift me with a million dollars to support my writing
If any (or all) of the five things above happen, I will certainly be giving more of my writing away in the future.

After the giveaway, I'll report back with numbers and an explanation of how, and what, I did to manage the giveaway and (hopefully) maximize the impact.

"Mickey Slips" for FREE on 4/15 & 4/16




9 Marketing Tips From A Writer Who Hates Marketing!

You've labored to write and edit and self-publish your novel...now what?

There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought that getting the book in print (and formatted for ereaders) was the end... and that from there, I could move on to the next writing project. 

Of course I could do just that... my book, Here Be Monsters, sold a few hundred copies.  Why bother with marketing?  I hate selling stuff, especially my own work, my words.... I could leave well enough alone, and just move on to the next writing project.

To some degree that is exactly what I did do... my nascent marketing efforts are nothing compared to what many (most?) self-published authors go through to promote their work.

I decided, however, that I wanted more eyes to see my books, so I do a little marketing.  The things that I do are relatively simple, cheap, and have a minimal impact on my writing time.  I could do much more, and I could do significantly less; this balance works for me.

When it comes to marketing, I let frustration be my guide.  If I start to feel out of control and helpless, then I back away and do some writing for a while.  If one avenue/flavor/type of marketing has that effect on me repeatedly, then I cease my efforts in that vein, and find other ways to try and promote my book.

I have tried lots of different ways to market my writing, and am certain to have missed just as many (or more) viable ones.  More important than any particular method is to find the marketing approaches that you are comfortable with, and also to talk with other writers to find out what they are trying (and how it is working for them).

What Has Worked For Me...So Far

Before my book was done being edited, I had bought the domain www.JamieSheffield.com , and was using Blogger's software to build a website and a blog on which I regularly post.  Read the last sentence again, to make sure that you got the critical information contained within:
  • before the book was finished
  • domain with my name
  • simple website/blog software
  • regular posts
Those four factors are critical to the success of your blog and website (which certainly can be separate entities, I simply found it easier to have it all in one place).  Your blog and website should have information about you and your writing, samples, reviews, and links to online sellers.  You should post fairly regularly, but not more than daily.  I'm still exploring my use of the blog and website, but more on that later.... Your blog/website should link to, and be linked  to, by all of the social media outlets that you participate in and use.

Again, before the book is even finished, you can (and should) set up an author's page on Facebook.  It's easy and free, and has the potential to reach gazillions of people.  Ask your FB friends to join, and seek out writers and groups with similar writing profiles to yours, and 'like' their pages.  I have run a few right-column advertisements on FB, and feel that I've gotten reasonable bang for the buck from them.  Make sure to post regularly on your FB page as well, and to link it (either directly or in the 'about" section) to your twitter page.  HERE is a cheatsheet for using FB more effectively to communicate/promote.

I was leery of Twitter for a while because I doubted my ability to express myself in 140 characters or less.  The good news is that it just takes some getting used to, and then you'll be fine.  I have my FB author's page set to dump my posts from there into my Twitter account, and as such, try to limit myself to short posts for both.  Using hashtags is vital in effectively communicating with your followers (and those they may retweet you towards), HERE is a cheatsheet  to help you navigating the world of tweets.  I try to post on Twitter everyday, sometime multiple times per day (as your post can get buried more easily than on FB, it pays to target/plan your posting times... morning/evening).
Assuming that you are selling your book on Amazon, you should set up an author's page at Amazon Author Central, link it to the sites I've listed above, and keep your data current.  I have not explored everything available to authors on Author Central, but it's on my list... like it or not, Amazon is the 400 pound gorilla in the self-publishing and online sales world these days.

GoodReads has recently been acquired by Amazon, so there is no way of knowing what the future holds for this site, but they have millions of members, all of whom love to read.  You should become a member of their Author Program, and make sure that your book is listed with them, linked to your author page, and that all of the other connectivity options are in place.  I've joined a number of communities at GR, and have added my book to multiple lists/groups, but am not fully sure of how to fully immerse myself in their system profitably (to date it feels to me as though lots of people are talking, and nobody is listening).

I eagerly joined GooglePlus when it was first rolled out, and then left it alone when it was initially an empty warehouse space on the WWW.  I revisited it about a month ago, and have joined some communities (mostly for writing, some that cater to other interests of mine).  My experience has been very positive so far; although there is a learning curve involved in communicating between and among different levels of the public, friends, family, circles, hangouts, and communities.  I have added, and been added by, hundreds of people, and am continually amazed at the depth and breadth of useful information that comes my way every day.  I'm sure that there are "God is Great" posters and funny cat pictures on G+, but they don't seem to fill my screen with the rapidity that it happens on FB.

Things On My Radar To Try
I want to get a better handle on GoodReads and G+, but feel as though I have a solid (if simple) base with all of the site/services listed above.  In the "What's Next?" category for my marketing plan, I have three main areas of focus at present (again, more may surface later today, but for now... these three).

A virtual book tour seems like a natural and easy way to spread the word about my book and writing.  I know, and am in contact with lots of writers and readers with blogs and websites, and getting my name out into their circles of readers is a good way to promote my writing.  Giving interviews, writing articles and guest-posting on their blogs/websites seems a relatively easy thing to do (and in turn, I'll host them on mine if they would like).

A video teaser or commercial for my book or writing or website seems as though it is within my skill-set, and could have a different reach than other avenues of promotion that I have explored so far.

Again, this is a different approach, and as such could be useful in reaching a broader and/or new audience for my writing.  I have the materials needed to do this, it would seem to be just a matter of trial and error and practice and learning to get everything working as it should.

Please feel free to get in touch with me at jsheffield@gmail.com is you have any questions or comments about this article.