Author Credibility in the Age of Alternative Facts

All authors face an uphill climb to credibility and none more than independent authors. In this digital era, the internet is like the wild west and author after author enters their book into the mix, hopeful as a gold miner looking to strike it big.

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Advertisements saturate our devices, turning choice into a chore. Netflix is nailing the streaming game, making it acceptable to binge entire seasons in a sitting. Individual time is eaten up quick as movie popcorn (handful after handful smashed into the mouth until life is chewing, butter, and previews). And that’s not including work to pay off the debt that floats the economy. Everyone has a side hustle these days. Hopefully your side hustle doubles a passion project.

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The best route to credibility as an independent author is likely to garner a multitude of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Having champions in various genre forums and subreddits to sing your praises is crucial. Getting on a powerhouse mailing list like Bookbub is also a solid boost to the reputation. Paid advertisements get the author’s name out there, but what is the point if no one knows the name? And then there are competitions.

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Many competitions exist for independent authors, some more legitimate than others, yet all offer potential glory. Note: these competitions tend to cost $50-150 USD to enter and usually require that the author mail multiple copies of the book, so factor extra postage into the expense.

After carefully researching the available competitions, I entered Daughter of Shadow into four this past summer. DoS was a finalist in two competitions and two were never to be heard from again. The 2017 IndieReader Discovery Awards gave this fine review, even though DoS didn’t end up placing.

“In DAUGHTER OF SHADOW, a must-read for all fantasy lovers, the world is splintered into light and dark and a young female warrior struggles to choose a side. Author Tyler Sehn takes great pains to lay out a richly detailed realm of magic, monstrous creatures, and political upheaval. ”

The Colorado Independent Publishers Association chose DoS as a finalist for the EVVY Awards. 2017 was the 23rd annual CIPA EVVY Awards, which in independent publishing is practically prehistoric.

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*Turns out illiteracy killed the dinosaurs*

DoS finished with Merit. Not #1, but not bad. Not bad at all. That’ll do book.

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Plus I got these neat stickers to slap on the cover for the next little while. And THAT is what makes the competition worthwhile. A literal seal of approval. A symbol of authenticity to instill trust. An image to catch the perusing eye and make the hand pick up the book.

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What say you, reader of blogs? Have a success story about entering a novel in a competition? A not so success story?

 

 

Finding the Spark

Writing is an amazing activity, as a few thoughts or concepts can spiral into a story that is grander and more beautiful than the writer ever intended.  Editing is crucial to the process because it cleans up mistakes and smooths out the instances when the writer got carried away.  Lately I’ve been doing much more editing than writing.  Important work, no doubt, but much more on the analytical side of things.  Not much in the way of free-flowing creativity.  Getting back into the groove of writing can be surprisingly difficult.

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Self-doubt creeps into the corners of the mind, whispering that your ideas are weak.  How did I even write this story in the first place?

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Distraction is everywhere.  For me that means the NBA and NHL are starting up.  Wooo sports!

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But I did it—I cranked out some new chapters.  And it felt great.  Momentum is a crazy thing, it wants to move.

Every writer knows about “the spark,” that lightbulb moment of inspiration that seems to provide limitless motivation.  The instance when those fingers dropped whatever they were doing in order to spin straw into gold and create a work of art.  The spark—initially bright as a beacon—dwindles, then goes out completely.  How to attain another spark?  Most people don’t know what they did to get the previous one in the first place.  Sitting around waiting for another spark simply doesn’t work because inspiration is a dynamic phenomenon.  Chances are that you actively found that other spark, perhaps unknowingly, so now it’s time to find the next one.  What sparks your imagination?

Everyone loves a good story, but writers may be guilty of being borderline obsessive.  Writers dig deep into the material by rooting out underlying themes, savoring nuances, and imparting themselves into the story.  This type of reading is an intimate act, providing the kindling for emotions, and has the ability to light the fuse of inspiration.  The same goes for TV and movies.  All are stories, the only difference is the mode of reception. 

On the intellectual side of things: stories spark questions.  The same stories that are setting fire to your emotions are now starting to activate the grey-matter gears in your brain.  Ask questions.  Questions are a powerful tool for discovery.  Follow these questions down the rabbit hole.  And this part is vital: take notes of what you discover!  Documenting these musings, thoughts, queries, and ideas establishes a stockpile of material for the eventual story.  With enough building blocks, dependent on one’s own particular style, the construction can begin.  Time to write.

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What are some activities, TV shows, movies, books, etc that inspire you?  Please leave a comment.

The Next Book

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You’ve written a book but now what?  Where to go next?

The thought of beginning the process again can be a daunting task, particularly if the first book has yet to become a commercial success.  Marketing the finished product can be a grind on the creative spirit.  Then there’s the nagging voice of self-doubt whispering that maybe you only had one book in you.  But writer’s write.  If there’s one story in you then there will be more.  I’ve yet to meet a writer who was capable of putting the pen & paper/keyboard away indefinitely.

People need stories and stories need people.  A form of symbiosis where the writer and the story itself are capable of evolving.  By the time book two rolls around the writer should be more evolved, more skilled, and more prepared for what the writing process entails.  This personal and professional experience should hopefully lead to a better story.

I’ve been diligently chipping away at the sequel to Daughter of Shadow and recently completed the first draft.  This initial incarnation is now in the hands of some trusted beta readers.  I cannot overstate how important quality testers are to churning out the best possible story  (at least for me).  The different opinions allow me to see the material with new eyes, which stimulates new ideas about something I supposedly knew intimately.  A fresh burst of energy to go back and fix what needs fixin’.  The hope is that this book will require significantly less edits than the first.  My gut tells me this will be the case.

I felt more comfortable in the driver’s seat when writing the sequel—the ride was much smoother, the speed bumps smaller and the stalling moments less frequent.  This car analogy doing anything for you?  Traversing the mountain was more of an enjoyable hike rather than a climbing expedition.  How about one more?  Less work and more work.

The experience of writing the first book has been invaluable to establishing and improving my “voice.”  The style and delivery that is crucial to catching a reader’s attention.  I’m going to return to the first book with this awareness to give it another edit and really get the voice consistent.  The fact that I’m already excited about starting book three has to be a good sign (or an unconscious obsessive tendency).

What are your thoughts about writing the next book?  I’d love to hear from experienced writers as well as newbies.

 

Radio Interview

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By way of a serendipitous encounter I will be speaking with Gail Vaz-Oxlade on her podcast which airs on NewsTalk 1010.

Gail has written 13 books on personal finance, numerous financial articles, and hosts the television shows Princess and Til Debt Do Us Part.  She recently finished a lengthy Canadian promotional tour for her new book, Debt-Free Forever. Suffice to say, she is a powerful personality and I look forward to the interview.

I will be discussing my novel, Daughter of Shadow, as well as the self-publishing process and writing in general. The interview takes place Monday February 15 @ 11:10PM EST.

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Writer vs. Author

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You are a writer. Words are your friends. Stories move through you like the wind amongst the leaves of a trembling aspen.

You are an author. A high quality finished product is the culmination of your writing. Readers purchase your books (at least in theory).

A writer has their own style. An author has their own brand. Different hats worn by the same person.

A writer dabbles in creation. An author dabbles in marketing.

An author is, and always will be, a writer, but with the achievement of publication comes greater responsibility. The job title carries more weight. When I was on the college basketball team I was a basketball player, but now, I play basketball.  A slight shift in connotation drastically influences the mindset.

Historically, the realm of authordom was carefully guarded by the moats, walls, and soldiers. Only writers invited by inhabitants within the realm could enter. Self-publishing has changed all of that. An individual with a tenuous grasp on the written language and a rubbish story can upload to Amazon and let the novel sink into the e-book abyss. The walls are breached and the outsider is strolling through the palace gardens, claiming to be an author. But is the claim justified? I suppose this hypothetical individual would technically be an author but I would argue that they have missed the point on what an author truly is.

I think an author is a writer who has decided to go professional. The exact same decision made by an athlete who has signed a professional contract. Yes, you play basketball but now the how and the why have much more meaning. Yes, you are a writer, but now…

And this is where the schism occurs. Traditional publishing is outraged by the ever increasing amount of people who have taken it upon themselves to become “pros.” How can they be professionals? They aren’t even playing in the same league! But self-published authors are drawing from the same pool of readers so they are most definitely a threat to industry earnings.

A similar event occurred in the 1960‘s & 70‘s when the ABA arrived to rival the NBA (another basketball reference, I know). The ABA was flashy and free-flowing, instituting the 3-point line as well as the Slam Dunk Competition. Tickets were inexpensive compared to that of the NBA. The ABA was a game for the people. A lack of big money television deals eventually sealed the fate of the ABA but it had been successful enough to force a merger between leagues. The longstanding NBA was forever altered by the upstart. Traditional publishing, like the NBA, never thought it could be challenged, but the rise of a legitimate rival is changing the game.

This thought brings me around once again to the concept an author being a professional. The successful self-published authors wear this responsibility, expanding on their skills and knowledge, putting in the work to be regarded as equals by the established regime. For many writers, myself included, it is a steep learning curve filled with trial and error, of how to be an “author” once the novel is finally finished. Completing the story was the goal for such a long time and then all of a sudden it’s there in your hands. Now what?

Numerous resources advise that an individual build an author platform by blogging/tweets/Facebook/etc, utilize online marketing, accumulate reviews, produce more stories, attend conferences, stay up to date with the state of the industry, and many other tricks of the trade. It’s a lot to cover. This is after you’ve done the grunt work of sending the novel to beta readers, having it professionally edited, having a professional cover made, and formatting for e-book & print. What does any of this have to do with writing? Well, you’ve graduated into authorship and there’s work to be done.

Do you want to be a professional? Do you have what it takes?

Fellow writers, I’d love hear your thoughts on this subject. Please leave a comment about how you approach being an author. If you have yet to publish, why not? What’s holding you back?

Marketing: So You’ve Written a Novel

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Marketing: the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

How does one use marketing to sell books? Theories and tools abound but none can legitimately lay claim to a surefire technique. The rapid ascension of self-publishing has thrown a kink into time tested models and everyone in the publishing industry is scrambling to adapt.

When listening to speakers at a writing/editing/publishing conference I attended there seemed to be a unanimous approach to modern marketing from independent, small, medium, and large publishers—the shotgun method. Splatter the wall and see what hits. Not the most efficient or eloquent of approaches but no one seems to be able to say for certain what will, and won’t, work.

The phrase, “Write the best story possible and the cream will rise to the top,” kept appearing at the conference as well. How then to explain massive successes like 50 Shades of Grey? Clever marketing obviously had a hand in making that poor-to-mediocre story a success. I think it all comes down to word of mouth. The more people talking about a product, or at least are aware of it, then the higher chances of potential sales.

The shotgun method is an attempt to connect with various streams in the hopes that one, or multiple, will raise awareness of the book and author. Sounds easy enough but when everyone is doing it then the “cream” has a lot more crap to rise through to get to the top.

The amount of available funds at a publishers disposal also plays a major role in marketing. Rarely can a self-published author match the concerted and widespread marketing effort of a Big 5 publisher. Not all shotgun blasts are created equal. Not everyone gets to reload.

But what about social media? It’s free and ubiquitous! There are many success stories of self-published authors using social media to raise awareness and even the big time authors with big time contracts have to be involved on social media. Yet I can’t help but get philosophical about the apparent advantages of social media—if a self-published author blogs does anyone hear it? Do all tweets come from songbirds or is it just a bunch of honking geese?

Whatever the case, I’m trying my own shotgun method with my novel, Daughter of Shadow. I have to admit that aspects of marketing are fun—it’s like jumping into a game that’s already in process and nobody fully understands the rules. The most frustrating part is the not knowing. What works? What doesn’t? Why?

It’s incredibly easy easy to drop a piece of yourself into the internet but most of the time that piece sinks away never to be seen or heard from again. Maybe message in a bottle method is more appropriate than shotgun, although the reference to a weapon conveys a sense of control and applied direction rather than casting out wishes and hoping for the best.

To close on a point of optimism—we’re all in this together. The big time authors and first time self-pubs are all caught up in the same game. I can read Rothfuss, King, Gladwell, and Le Guin all at the same time and everyone wins, because the beauty of writing is that it’s meant to be shared. Books are a very different product then say a blender; you can never have too many.