indie publishing

January = Delays

January is the toughest month of the year for me. The last few years it’s brought a new financial picture (in a good way) as well as (inevitably it seems) unexpected expenses. I mention this because financial changes have disrupted the publishing schedule for my next indie short. It will probably be toward the end February before I get cover art purchased and the copy edited.

I’m still looking forward to the project. It’s a horror piece that blends Lovecraft, math and finance in (what I hope) is a frightening and unexpected way. At the very least it was a blast to write.

In other news, my serialization of The Bazaar on this blog is just about wrapping up. It’s an exciting place to be. Not least because I will be putting an ebook version of this novella together over the coming year.

I hope to put more indie work out there in 2015, as well as get short pieces published in markets with a bit more visibility. I’ve already got ideas for a couple shorts kicking around in my head, and am eager to get them down on paper.

Or rather, hard drive.

How to get indie books reviewed

booksSo your masterpiece is finally for sale on Amazon or Smashwords. Congratulations! Now the real work begins. You need to start spreading the word about your novel/short story, and one of the best ways to do that is through reviews. Unfortunately this process can be downright torturous — particularly if you’re learning as you go. If you are an indie writer looking for help landing your first reviews, here is my tried-and-true strategy in five simple steps:

1. Write a great book. Easier said than done, of course. Reader tastes will vary, but no matter what you write you absolutely must put out a high-quality product. That means professional looking cover art, formatting and copy editing. Going the indie route is no excuse for shoddy presentation.

2. Research the best markets for your work. Depending on what you’ve written and how big a following you have, sites billing themselves as general book review sites may or may not be the best fit. My short, “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!“, is a pulp sci-fi story. It appeals to a niche audience. Due to both length and subject matter, I’ve avoided more “mainstream” reviewers in favor of sites like The Extremis Review and The Cult Den. These reviewers and I share the same target audience. You will need to find venues that fit with what you’ve written. Otherwise you’ll end up spinning your wheels.

3. Keep your review request short and sweet. Business writing should be brief and to the point. Here is a sample review request:

Dear Reviewer,

I am writing to ask if you would be interested in reviewing my sci-fi short, “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!” (http://www.amazon.com/Vampire-Brides-Planet-Malcolm-Chandler-ebook/dp/B00ITC89XG), on your site.

I can provide a free review copy in .pdf, MOBI or EPUB format.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Chandler

Don’t get complicated. If you’ve put out a professional product with an eye-catching cover and a compelling blurb, your work will speak for itself. Don’t be afraid to let your buy link do the talking. The longer your review request, the weaker its impact (and the more likely it will end up in someone’s junk folder).

4. Be patient. Reviews don’t get posted overnight. Reviewers are busy people. Many of them are juggling several projects of their own. My rule of thumb is to allow 4-8 weeks before sending a brief, polite follow-up.

5. Be professional. Under no circumstances should you take any part of this process personally. Some reviewers will ignore you, some will decline politely and others will be considerably more blunt. Don’t get snippy in reply, and definitely don’t get into any kind of blog/Facebook/Twitter war. Like it or not you are a business person. Your actions will reflect on your business. The best thing to do when faced with negativity is ignore it.

Hopefully you find these tips helpful. Please share any questions, advice or success stories.

“Fang-tastic!”

New review of “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!” is online, courtesy of Reece Morris-Jones at The Cult Den. A very positive review. Reece gave it eight out of ten. I’ve posted the full text of the review below. If you prefer you can read the original here (it’s quite a bit prettier):

A short pulp story from an author who seems well versed in it, Vampire Brides from the Planet Hell is short but sweet. Our protagonist is sent to rescue a princess from a planet where the remaining inhabitants are vampires, upon pain of death if he fails.

That’s all we’re given- just enough information about the protagonist and his world to propel the story forwards and no more. Not that much more is needed. Brides is the best kind of pulp, trashy but aware of it and determined to make sure you come away with a smile on your face anyway.

Be it the way the protagonist comments on the implausibility of the female vampires bust on their frame, or the rough, slightly camp act of the head vampire, its a story that plays with the normal vampire conventions with a wink and a grim.

The only problem I suppose is its short length, being over and read in under a half hour easily. Not that I would want more mind, lest it retroactively diminish this story.

Vampire Brides from the Planet Hell gets in, gets out and leaves you to simmer in the warm afterglow of an enjoyable tale told well. I look forward to reading more of Malcolm Chandlers work.

* Okay, the phrase “fang-tastic” didn’t actually appear in the review. But he tweeted it. I swear.

“Fast-paced sci-fi action”

The first of the three reviews of “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell” I mentioned recently is now online. This one is from Brigit at Escape Inside the Pages. Her review is on the short side (fitting for a short story!), but it really captures the essence of “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell:”

Vampire Brides from Planet Hell is definitely unlike anything you have encountered! It is a fast paced short story filled with scifi action and death at every turn. The storyline pulled me in from the start.

Drakken III provided for a thrilling setting that was equally paired with the narrator. You don’t even have to learn his name to appreciate and be thoroughly entertained by his point of view! The dialogue was witty with just the perfect amount of humor. And the ending line could not have been more perfect! Vampire Brides from Planet Hell was a quick fun read! Too bad it was a “short” because it would have been wonderful to see what happened next!

You can check out the original review here.

When it rains it pours (and sometimes that’s a good thing!)

smirking clown

(I simply couldn’t resist using this photo)

When it rains it pours. I guess that’s usually a bad thing. Can it pour instead of rain in a good way? Like if you’re living through a drought, maybe? I rather think it can. See, I logged into my email this evening to find that not one, not two, but THREE different websites are interested in reviewing “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!”

Not only is this a boost for my ongoing promotional efforts. It also validates the quality of the product I’ve put out  — at least where first impressions are concerned. I assume these reviewers took a cursory glance at my cover, sample pages and blurb available on Amazon. If so they found it all compelling enough to say yes to my request. I will post links to all three reviews on this blog (probably Twitter, too) once published, as I did with The Extremis Review’s piece on “Vampire Brides.”

Meanwhile, I’ll recap a couple valuable lessons I’ve learned about indie book story marketing.

Mainstream indie book review sites may not be the best places to take genre fiction — particularly when it comes to a niche like golden age pulp. I’ve had much more success narrowing my focus down to sites and reviewers who limit themselves to speculative fiction, science fiction and/or horror. A marketing guru would probably say, “duh! You ass. Obviously you’re got to get more granular.” But remember I’m learning as I go. And learning as you go has its own rewards.

A more general, but equally difficult, lesson I’ve learned over the last couple months is that platform building will be a long, hard slog. I think my initial expectations were for too much, too soon. I didn’t even come close to meeting my initial sales goal. Probably because only a miniscule number of readers have ever heard of me. With that in mind I am setting a new goal to sell 210 copies of “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!” by December 31, 2014.

If anyone else has any marketing success stories (or horror stories, for that matter) I would love to hear them in the comments.

A marketing mistake to laugh at

I couldn’t help but laugh at a mistake I made recently. You see I am still soliciting reviews for “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell.” In doing so I have developed a review request template. I copy, paste and customize it as necessary. Perhaps needless to say, the most important part of the customization process is changing the name at the top.

I sent in a review request the other day. Today I received a curt reply along the lines of “my name is Lisa, not Ted, and no, we’re not interested.”

I mention this for two reasons:

  1. If you’re going to use a review request template, REMEMBER TO CHANGE THE NAME! It could torpedo your chances of getting a review or guest post.
  2. If you DO forget to change the name, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.

Indie publishing can be an exhausting, dreadfully serious process. It’s important to keep things in perspective. I write because I love to write. In the end it doesn’t matter if I strike it rich or get famous. I will continue to write fiction whether or not I make  money doing it.

If you’re not enjoying writing you’ve got no business writing in the first place.

Moment of clarity

The absolute, hands-down, best part of any writing project is the moment when everything suddenly snaps into focus and falls into place, and the piece begins to write itself. For me, the longer the piece, the longer it takes for this moment to arrive.

I am happy to report that I got there today on my latest short story project. Recently I revisited an old horror story of mine that never went anywhere, “Sweet Home.” It was a case of right character, right premise but wrong plot.  Now I’ve finally dropped this character into a worthy story and everything clicked. This afternoon I banged out 1,500 words in under 2 hours.

Incidentally, “Sweet Home” now has the new working title of “Mirror, Mirror.” Yes, I know there is a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode with that title and no, the two don’t have anything to do with one another. The title will probably change again before I’m finished.