Archive for month: May, 2011

There’s writing and then there’s writing

29 May
05/29/2011

I’m a lucky guy. No, really I am. I get to do what I almost love, every day.

I already write for a living; as a freelance commercial copywriter and reporter (I don’t do much of the latter, these days) I get to knock out a couple of thousand words daily. But, you may have noticed that I said “almost” love — let me explain.

Since I was a kid I’ve been driven to write. I’ve had short stories published, I’ve had articles published, I was working as a freelance reporter for a sports magazine when I was in my late teens. I was almost always the one singled out in my English class to read their work aloud.I love to write. It runs dark and thick through my veins.

But deep inside, I’ve always wanted – needed, really – to write fiction … to be an author. I need to entertain, and to share the weird, and often frightening worlds that inhabit the inside of my skull. I already know that I can write, people pay me to do that on a daily basis, but to write a work of fiction you have to be something more than just a writer: you have to be a storyteller. I think that fact gets by a lot of would-be authors these days, they are so concerned with their writing skills (which, of course, they should be, to an extent) that they forget they also need to be able to weave a good yarn, that their ability to put a bunch of words down on paper is just a tool for their inner storyteller being able to arrange those words in the right order, to create the myth we all want to read.

Phillip Pullman, the author of the wonderful “His Dark Materials”  sums up for me the essence of story: “‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.”

Once upon a time … those four words are the first step for every good fiction writer, whether they know it or not. They may have their own version of that sentence, of course, but in the end it always comes back to “once upon a time …” Any writer who doesn’t start out with that initial “what if …” is going about his craft all wrong. Why? Because they are forgetting that it’s their job to entertain the reader; to take them on a journey, truthful or imagined, and to help them see all the sights along the way. And when the journey is over, the reader needs to feel like they received something more precious than the couple of dollars that they paid out for your story. Forget that and you are doomed to forever be your only fan.

I strive to be a good writer, I know I am a decent one. The nagging question for me is, Am I a good storyteller? I believe I am.

So, why the “almost love” statement? Because the only time that I feel that I am achieving my true potential, that I am firmly in the groove my life was created to run in, is when I am writing fiction. When I can let my thoughts wander to the deepest most colorful places in my mind, the places where strange folk and stranger encounters wait for this explorer to find them and show them to the world, sharing them with my readers. That is the only time that I truly love to write. To do that on a daily basis AND be paid for it, now that would be true love.

I’ve come to realize that, in the end,there is writing and then, there is writing.

 

Authors note: If you have read my  science fiction novel Towards Yesterday, I’d encourage you to share what you think of it by leaving a review at either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

 

A novel reaction to a bad review

23 May
05/23/2011

A different take on dealing with a bad review by author Christine Rice

That’s the “Big Al’s Books & Pals” effect

23 May
05/23/2011

If you follow indie publishing even slightly, the chances are that you will  have heard of the blog  BigAl’s Books and Pals. Run by the blog’s namesake, it’s dedicated to reviewing indie authors that publish their books on Amazon’s Kindle. I would hazard a guess that if you only recently heard about BigAl, it was because of the recent Internet kerfuffle that occurred after a seemingly simple disagreement over a negative review, escalated into the indie-author’s equivalent of all-out global thermonuclear war.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “bigal Greek seaman” and have a read.

The back and forth between BigAl and the author of The Greek Seaman drew a lot of attention to both the author’s book and BigAl. Judging by the number of 1-star rating’s The Greek Seaman now has on its Amazon page, I think it is safe to say that the author lost that particular scuffle. However,  BigAl was suddenly thrust into the limelight and his site now seems to be the place to get your indie book reviewed.

But the battle that ensued between BigAl and the upset author is not the point of this blog entry. What I’m more interested in is the effect that a positive review from BigAl might have on an indie publication. Would it be beneficial? Would there be any noticeable increase in sales? I decided to try a little (mostly scientific) experiment to find out.

I subscribe to the Books And Pals Twitter feed, and this past Friday (May 20th) I spotted a review candidate that I thought was worth using as my test subject.

If you haven’t heard of  William Vitka, he’s a talented writer and journalist with several well reviewed short-stories available to buy on Amazon’s site. I’m guessing he probably heard about BigAl the same way I did (namely the Greek Seaman review) and had submitted his latest short-story The Dangers of Field Work for review. Well, his story was accepted and it received 4 out of 5 stars. Not bad for a 2,000 word short.

I decided to monitor the sales of William’s story using the  Amazon’s Best Seller ranking info available for every book Amazon sells. The info is updated hourly, and basically shows where the book ranks against the estimated 750,000 or so other ebooks available on Amazon’s site. I decided that I would not only monitor the review’s effect on The Danger of Field Work, but also watch whether there was any noticeable effect on William’s other two publications, The Boneyard and Bodily Harm.

These are the positions of each of William’s books when I first began monitoring their ranking around 8:00 am Friday:

The Danger’s of Field Work      #140,915
The Boneyard                                #120,118
Bodily Harm                                   #198,596

For the next 12 hours I monitored the ranking figures for each of his books. Each hour I dutifully reloaded the relevant pages and noted the sales ranking. Each book gradually lost position in ranking, which is normal (a book’s sales position is calculated using a whole host of variables that I won’t go into). At 4:00 pm each book had dropped to the following positions:

The Danger’s of Field Work       #145,503
The Boneyard                                #124,774
Bodily Harm                                    #200,993

But then, at 5:00 pm, something amazing happened — The Danger’s of Field Work had suddenly shot up to position 42,245; an increase of over 103,000 places on the sales ranking list. A seemingly incredible leap. Now, needless to say, I haven’t been monitoring William’s work other than for that one day, so I didn’t know whether this was the kind of thing that happened to him on a regular basis, but I was willing to make a bet that it was a direct result of BigAl’s review, because both of William’s other books continued their slow slide down the ranking’s.

The only way to confirm that the review had had any kind of an impact  was to contact the author directly. I spoke with Will and showed him my carefully collected info, and he explained that the sudden spike was indeed due to his BigAl review, but it was the number of sales Will reported that took me by surprise. That massive leap from #145,503 to 42,245 place was the result of … drum roll please … one sale. That’s 1 with no zeros after it.

Will  was quick to point out that he thought the problem was probably due to the fact that he was selling a 2,000 word story at the same price as other author’s choose to sell their novel’s, but still … 1 sale!

Whether the review will have any longterm impact on Will’s sales  is unclear at the moment.  After all, the canny author  knows that publishing a book is a marathon not a sprint. Yet, one thing seems to be perfectly apparent – getting a positive review by a reputable and respected reviewer is going to have some impact on your career. How much? Well only time will tell. However, getting a negative review (especially if you decide to argue with the reviewer) can just as quickly put an end to it, too.

A final note: I’ve decided that I’ll try and conduct this little experiment again with the next full length novel that get’s reviewed over at BigAl. I’ll let you know as soon as a suitable candidate shows up.

 

 

 

 

An interesting post by Steven Konkoly, author of The Jakarta Pandemic

22 May
05/22/2011

Well worth reading …

MARKETING: an update on how Towards Yesterday is doing

22 May
05/22/2011

Earlier this month I tried a little experiment over at Reddit.com (you can read about it here). Briefly; I made a couple of posts about my novel Towards Yesterday in their Science Fiction and Self Publishing sub-reddits. The response was actually a lot better than I imagined it would be. In the two weeks since I posted, Ive sold 50 copies of my book (averaging about 3 a day), received 3 unsolicited positive reviews, and promises of more reviews to come.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: 50 sales is not a lot, and I agree, BUT that’s 50 people who now know who I am, 50 people who will potentially recommend my book to their friends, and 3 reviews that I did not have before. All in all, it’s a pretty good result for what amounted to 20 minutes worth of marketing. And of course, this is all of the marketing that I have been able to do to date. That was enough to push my book from an obscure Amazon ebook sales-ranking of somewhere in the 350,000 range to keeping my book in the ballpark of 20,000 for the past 10 days or so.

So, what have I learned – simply that even a minimum of effort can have a very positive effect on your marketing campaign.

Stay tuned for news of  my next big marketing push which is just getting off the ground.

 

You have to suffer for your art …

10 May
05/10/2011

We’ve all seen the photos of our favorite authors on their bio-page. You know, the one where they always look so comfortable and relaxed, or broodingly contemplative. Well, I decided I needed one of those for the blog (and my twitter account). After all, it works for other authors (and real estate agents) so it stands to reason that I should have one, too.  Let’s face it, you’re not a “real” author until everyone knows what you look like, right?

I mean, how hard can it be? You just throw on some cool looking clothes and settle back in your armchair, all while trying to look as nonchalant or mysterious as you can. Grab yourself a decent photographer and presto! You have yourself a portrait worthy of the back flap of a dust-jacket or the bio page of your website.

Turns out, there’s a little more involved to it than that.

You have to suffer for your art. At least, you do if you’re wife is also your photographer. Take a look at my photo on my bio page — I have to admit I look pretty good in it, especially as I’m not the most photogenic of individuals (there’s a reason I’m a writer and not an actor).

But there’s more to this photo than meets the eye … literally. See those eyebrows? My eyebrows did not look like that the evening before the photo was shot. No, my wife insisted that I had to have them “shaped”. And by “shaped” what she really meant was plucked. So she spent an hour or so with a pair of pliers … I mean tweezers … plucking away at the offending follicles. Eventually she resorted to an application of Nair.

“Just to get the right shape,” she said.

It took about 15 photos and numerous poses before we actually got one that we were both happy with. Between getting the right colored jacket to match the surrounding walls, making sure that I wasn’t blinking or one of the dogs hadn’t wandered into frame we ended up spending about two hours of our time.

Of course, a bio picture isn’t essential. I don’t know if knowing what I look like is going to help me sell more books (or less), because, in the end, it’s going to be the quality of my storytelling ability that will keep readers coming back. But think for a second; have you ever read a hardcover that didn’t have a photo of the author plastered on the back dustcover? No, me either.

So I guess it can’t hurt.

Marketing: My first attempt at marketing Towards Yesterday

07 May
05/07/2011

I’ve been a member of the social news site Reddit for over two years now. For those of you not familiar with Reddit, it’s a news aggregating website that allows members to post links to interesting stories on the web — other users can then comment and vote on the popularity of the post. There are many other sites like Reddit, but none of them come close to the insightful, intelligent users who are attracted to this particular website.

There are many sub-Reddit’s on the site (you can think of these as collections of like-minded individuals who share a particular interest, political opinion or have a common interest in a subject.) Sub-Reddit’s range from science to religion, suggested reading lists to UFO sightings, writing advice and job advice columns, and everything in between. The probability is that there is a sub-Reddit for anything you are interested in.

Two of my favorite are the Sci-fi and Self-Print sub-Reddits. These seemed like the perfect place to post about the release of my book, and a good way to test the waters with a group of likeminded individuals. You can view both of the posts and readers comments by clicking here and here.

I’ve had a great response from both of the Reddit threads and generated my first 20 sales. The feedback I have received has been priceless. Nothing but honest opinion and suggestions for improving the layout.

This is a good start.

Let’s start at the very beginning …

06 May
05/06/2011

... it’s a very good place to start. That’s what the song says, anyway.

Like any good story, it usually helps to begin by giving the reader some backstory to the characters they are about to meet. So,without further ado, here is a brief history of how my book, Towards Yesterday, came to be.

In February of 2003, my wife and I hit the roughest patch of our lives to date. We lost our home in LA, and faced losing what little we had left, including having to give-up our two dogs if we decided to stay in LA and move into an apartment. After a lot of discussion, we made a bold decision — rather than lose the animals and stay in LA, we would move to Nevada, close to Las Vegas, keep our animals and start afresh. It was the only choice we could make and hope to keep our animals with us.

By the time we had paid for the moving truck rental and a couple of guys to help us pack our belongings, we had enough money left over to make a first and last payments on our rental.  We were left with the grand sum of $1,000 in our bank account and worse, no jobs.

My wife found a job quickly (thank goodness), I on the other hand was not so lucky; there wasn’t  much call for an out of work writer. Luckily, the money my wife was making at her new job was enough to keep us ticking over — after all the bills were paid we were left with less than $20 each month. To make matters worse, that September would be my wife’s 40th birthday, and I didn’t even have the money to buy her a card, let alone a present. So, being the resourceful kind of a man I am, I decided I’d spend my free time between job hunting and write her a present.

The result was  a 74,000 word sci-fi adventure called Towards Yesterday. The book follows the adventures of James Baston (and a cast of billions) after an experiment gone disastrously wrong throws humanity 25-years into the past. It’s all very exciting stuff, if I do say so myself. You can read the synopsis here or click on the link at the top of the page. I’ve also made the first five chapters available for free here. Of course, if you’re feeling really dangerous, you can buy the book for your Kindle by clicking here or your Nook by clicking here.

I’m pleased to say that my wife was very happy with her gift. So, mission accomplished, right?

Wrong! The story could end right there and I’d have the happy ending needed for closure, but it actually gets better.

A friend of ours back in LA read a copy of the book and decided  to send it to her brother (thank you Judy), a Pulitzer Prize wining writer, who in turn, sent it to his literary agent. I  thought nothing of it, but  late  one Sunday evening I received a call. It was the New York agent who, to make a long conversation short, told me that he loved the book and wanted to represent me … as long as I was willing to make some changes to the story.

I was stunned. Most writers have to wait for years to grab the attention of an agent, and I had managed to get one  without even trying. Now thats what you call luck!

And then, I got a job. It wasn’t a great job, but it took up all my time. Months passed and I was never able to quite find the time to make the changes that the agent needed. We exchanged a couple more phone calls until I finally just explained that I really didn’t think I was going to have the time to dedicate to doing the rewrites he needed.

And that, as they say, was that.

The book has languished on my computer’s hard drive for the past seven years, until  last month when I realized what a complete and utter idiot I had been. (I know, I’m slow to catch on sometimes).

My wife and my lives are immeasurably better now. We have a beautiful new home to call our own, my wife runs her own successful business and I have a pretty good copywriting business of my own. I finally have some time to call my own.

So, in April of 2011, I tracked down the Towards Yesterday manuscript and began making some changes, updating the story and editing the copy. The result is much like the Six Million Dollar Man – my book is now bigger, stronger, faster (paced) than before. I’m proud of it.

Rather than try and shop the book around to a new agent, I’ve decided to follow the ePublishing trail being blazed by indie authors such as John Locke and Joe Konrath by publishing Towards Yesterday myself. This blog will be my attempt to chart my progress from a nobody to literary superstar (one can but hope). I would be honored to take you along for the ride.

 

PAUL JONES
Author
Somewhere in the Nevada Desert
May 8th, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

Cool site, but what the heck’s going on?

06 May
05/06/2011

Welcome!

You’ve reached the blog of Paul Jones. Feel free to call me Paul, I won’t mind, honest. Over  the coming months (Who knows, maybe even years) I’m going to attempt a little experiment, and I hope to chronicle my experiences right here on this blog. I would love for you to tag along.

I’ve written a book — it’s a sci-fi-adventure end-of-the-world kind of a story. It’s fun and an easy read, and I have to say I am rather proud of it. I’ve decided to publish the book myself as an eBook through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble’s ePublishing websites. It’s already available through both those sites, check the right side of your screen for links.

The experiment is to see whether I can make this book a success; without the backing of an agent or publisher (or access to editors, proof readers, marketing departments, publicists and the myriad other professionals involved in bringing a book to market).   I have absolutely no experience in ePublishing (although I am a writer by profession), but then this industry is still in its infancy, so there really aren’t that  many people who do have any experience to speak of.

So, what will you get out of this? Well, maybe like me,  you’re a new author who’s trying to figure out the best way to market your book? Maybe you’re just interested in seeing whether I can pull this off? Whatever your reason for being here, hopefully we’ll both learn from the mistakes (and successes) I expect to encounter along the way.

As of today, I’ve managed to sell a grand total of  16 copies of my book Towards Yesterday. That’s about 50,000 copies shy of where I want to be in the next six months.

So, pull up a chair. Grab some popcorn and lets you and I see where we can take this thing.

 

PAUL JONES