Authors should be paid for their writing, just like musicians should be paid for their songs, but it’s a crazy competitive market out there, and newbies need to get noticed. Musicians do it by playing crappy clubs for next to nothing, sending demos to record producers, and a few high-tech pioneers even build websites that allow free downloads.
Category archive: Promotion
It’s a weird thing because music and my writing are very closely bound. When I write a story, I need the music playing in my head, and when I’m done the story, I know because the two meld. With short stories, this wasn’t particularly challenging, but with novels and their huge scope, it’s intensely sweeping. With novels, I know I’m done when I’ve got the movie trailer in my head.
Authors are snobs. It’s about numbers and status. It’s about competition. There are so many of us at so many different points in our careers, which could totally tank on one poor-selling novel, and there are even thousands more people who feel they, “have a book in them.”
I was ahead of the curve and I blew it. Six months before Amanda Hocking and John Locke stunned the publishing world by selling millions of self-pubbed eBooks, I predicted this would happen. In fact, I’d hoped it would happen to me. I knew that there would be a small window when not too many authors would choose the less traditional route of indie-publishing. They would still be busy adding their manuscripts to the slush pile. I wanted to be one of the first through the indie-publishing gate. All those avid readers with their new Kindles would turn to my economically priced eBook and give it a try instead of paying ten bucks for a traditionally published book.
I have a confession to make. I don’t believe there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse. I do, however, believe in pandemics, floods, hurricanes, huge power blackouts and slow government responses.
A fellow writer once commented on my apocalyptic stories by saying, “It wouldn’t all fall apart so quickly. We have governments that would intervene.” After Katrina hit New Orleans, and the stories of a city in chaos from the flood hit the 24hr news cycle, he apologized. He was amazed that a huge country with an operating federal government couldn’t seem to come to grips with the disaster for weeks. It wasn’t just that stores were looted, it was that people weren’t being rescued, were totally left to fend for themselves.
I also remember the great blackout of 2003. The phones still worked, but I discovered I had no way to get news about the size and scope of the black out. I got lucky and managed to find eight batteries in my “dead” battery bin that had enough charge to power a radio. I had absolutely no other supplies. I was totally unprepared.
But not anymore. The Zombie Survival Crew tweet to me about having an escape route in case of attack, and I think it’s a good idea. Seriously, what if a bigger, longer blackout hit my city? How would I get my family out of the chaos? I’ve come up with a plan.
First, the highways will be blocked. Hey, they’re totally blocked during morning and afternoon rush hour now, why would the apocalypse be any different? So instead of trying to head north out of the city, I’d head south for the lake, which isn’t that far from my downtown Toronto home. No, I don’t own a boat, but if it is a true apocalypse and my family were in danger, I’d either negotiate with an owner, hitch a ride, or liberate a boat. I’ve already picked out a convenient marina. Then I’d head east, making for the coast of Lake Ontario near the Trenton Air Force Base. If there is any order left in the province, it will be there. Trenton also has a power dam and may actually have electricity. If not, there are two highways that head north from that area into very sparsely populated countryside, mostly through farmland at first, but after that rugged cottage country. Yes, remote empty cottages.
But is that enough? People send me stuff, and this one made me laugh. How to survive the zombie apocalypse from your pole barn. Yes, they’re trying to sell prefab barns, but at least they have a sense of humor about it. The best part is at the end, when they list one of their sources as “a coworker who has watched Shaun of the Dead too many times.” I also loved their comments on who you don’t want with you: “People in the entertainment industry (actors, singers, models, etc.), People in useless white collar trades like SEOs, marketing professionals, accountants, and salesmen.” I actually would take one salesman with me, but that’s because he’s family and he’s actually pretty savvy.
So prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse. Keep some water and canned food ready. Plan an escape route from your city. And if it actually turns out that I’m wrong and it is a zombie apocalypse, remember that your shed full of gardening tools like axes and shovels is your best source of anti-zombie devices. Have a great weekend.
The film industry is a great place for a writer who doesn’t want a full time job. I loved it because I spent a lot of time as a daily, going from show to show on a moment’s notice, working on everything from big feature films to YTV kids’ shows. One tradition I noticed was that when the day was over, the regular crew often said to me, “Thanks for a great day.” There was always a sense of relief and it was a sincere compliment. They were happy that I was the guy the union dregged up, and they wanted me to know they appreciated my work. Eventually I did succumb to the lure of money and worked full time on a bunch of shows, and I always continued that tradition when I had extra crew out to operate extra cameras. Thanks for a great day.
So hey, to all you wonderful people who downloaded Generation Apocalypse last Friday during my promotion day: Thanks for a great day! We reached 29 on the free bestseller list for Action/Adventure and 51 for Horror.
But I’ve been reading Cheryl Kaye Tardiff’s book on how she spiked her sales, and she warns that just doing one free day in a row is wasting momentum. She shows that from her experience, it’s best to break up the five free days granted by the KDP Select contract into two promotions-one for three days and one for two days. Full disclosure here: Tardiff was a fellow member of the Crime Writers of Canada, and while we’ve never met in person, I’ve communicated with her in years past via the CWC Yahoo group, and we’ve probably been in the same room a few times at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention.
I’ll learn from her success. My next promotional day will be two days long. I just have to pick the days and start promoting to ensure another great day.
I have a confession to make: I’m not as big a Pearl Jam fan as my wife, or at least I wasn’t until I went to Missoula, Montana. I liked their music before, and I thought they were talented, but I wasn’t a dedicated fan. I didn’t go looking on iTunes for their music.
But excellent marketing changed all that. I’m a lousy marketer, but here’s what I learned in Missoula:
Lesson One: Love what you do. Pearl Jam loves to play music, especially when in the presence their fans. I know that sounds obvious, but friends still speak bitterly of an R.E.M. concert they attended during which the band made it plain that being up on stage was a nuisance that had to be gotten through as quickly as possible, like painting a bedroom or mowing a lawn. Perhaps they were just too exhausted from all the touring. I bet they lost fans at that concert.
Pearl Jam’s performance in Missoula was the opposite. They were having a blast, as if they had just made it to the big time, as if touring was a new adventure. They played their music excellently, better live than even their studio recorded songs. By the end I had changed from a lukewarm fan to a dedicated fan. I want to go to another concert to hear songs they didn’t play in Missoula. I want to buy more of their music.
Lesson Two: Be dedicated to your fans. Pearl Jam runs a fan club, the Ten Club, and those fans pay to be members and get perks, not freebies, but perks, like early access to ticket sales and discounted merch. In Susan’s case, they had a lottery for good seats in Missoula, and she was one of the lucky winners. We still had to pay for the seats, which weren’t expensive, and we had a great view of the stage. We felt special.
Lesson Three: Market to your fans. Pearl Jam marketed the Missoula concert first to their Ten Club members, and they sold the tickets in pairs. We needed I.D. to pick up these tickets at the Will Call, so the scalpers were totally knee-capped. I met people from all over America and Canada, and many were like Susan and I, one rabid fan, and one lukewarm–soon to be rabid–fan. Not only did this increase their fan base, but at the concert they were surrounded by an exceptionally receptive audience. The local newspaper, the Missoulian, described it as a 6000-voice-strong sing along. Dedicated fans know all the words.
But the band was also fair and reserved a block of seats that had to be purchased in person, so that people from Missoula could also attend the biggest event in town that weekend. Once in the Adams Center, which is on the University of Montana campus, they were very likely converted from curious onlookers to music purchasing fans, which explains why a band that just celebrated its twentieth anniversary has fans that weren’t born when Pearl Jam performed their first concert.
Lesson Four: Reward Your Fans: The lights came up and the band played on, rewarding us with several more songs. Eddie tossed tambourines into the crowd, but not randomly. He chose each recipient with care. One man in a wheelchair couldn’t possibly compete for one, so Eddie talked to a closer fan, tossed him the coveted tambourine, which he in turn tossed high up the seats to the man in the wheelchair. But Eddie wasn’t done. He called to the go-between fan and followed up with one for him, a reward for being cool and giving up the tambourine as requested even though he had briefly held it. I loved it. The crowd loved it.
How will I apply all these lessons to marketing my novels? I’m still working on that, and I’m open to suggestions, but the biggest lesson I take from that concert is to be genuine. None of this felt contrived or engineered. It just was. That’s what makes it great.
The launch of Generation Apocalypse has been a hectic and exciting time. While we aren’t even close to breaking Stephen King’s average sales for a single hour, it has been a personal best for me, and it was fun to see the novel quickly climb to 15,000 on the Amazon best seller rank. I admit that’s not record breaking for a lot of novels (No Easy Hope, a zombie novel I keep tabs on, has been around the 1500 mark for about a year) but it’s nice to see my sales improving with each launch.
Our bestseller rank has dropped over the last two days, but I still have great hope for this novel. I’m lousy at marketing, but I once heard a marketing guru state that anyone can be good at marketing if they truly believe in their product. I truly believe Generation Apocalypse is a great read. I can’t wait to get deeply into writing book three of the 1000 Souls, let alone book five.
But the fun is not over. We’re going to launch a website for the 1000 Souls where you’ll be able to take the Ericsians determination to find out what soul-portion you host. We’ll have Youtube videos of Bertrand Allan warning of the apocalypse. We’re going to make the books come alive for everyone, whether they’ve read them or not.
They next few months will be a great adventure.
But first, we’re going to fly 3000 kilometers this weekend to Montana to attend a Pearl Jam concert. What’s that got to do with anything? Nothing. That’s the point.
He had just turned ten when the world ended. At first it was fun, because some of the teachers stopped showing up at school. The principal, tall and angry, kept stuffing the students into the gym to watch movies, promising each day that next would be normal. Instead, fewer and fewer of Tevy’s friends came to school, and one day neither did the principal.
That is the opening of Generation Apocalypse, and I’m delighted to announce that it will launch on Friday September 21st. This Friday. Yup, only three months late, but I think you’ll discover that it was worth the wait.
Early reviews: one trusted reader described it as the best book I’ve ever written. Another raved about the opening and scattered complementary comments throughout the manuscript–something he rarely does. Even my wife, one of my toughest critics, thinks I’ve written a great book.
So here’s my shameless plan: If you’re a fan and you want to be part of the success of Generation Apocalypse, buy it on Friday September 21st, or Saturday the 22nd or Sunday the 23rd. That’s this weekend. Why these days? Because I’m trying to push the bestseller ranking on the book high and fast. Amazon helps those who helps themselves, and their system will automatically promote a book that’s selling.
Is this unfairly gaming the system? Absolutely not, because any author can do it. Indie authors can’t afford advertisements in the New York Times like the big six publishers, so we have to find other ways to get that sales bump at launch and create buzz.
If the book sucks it’ll sink anyway. I’ve tracked several authors through this process, and one thing I’ve discovered is that while an author can light the match, only readers can make the fire catch hold and burn brightly. If the sales taper off and Amazon’s promotions don’t help, their algorithm will drop a book from the most-favored status and it will die.
But I think we’ve got a winner. So buy early and buy often!
If you’re worried that you haven’t read book one of the series, Apocalypse Revolution, fear not. Generation Apocalypse can be read as a stand-alone novel. But I’m willing to bet you $2.99 that when you get to the end, you’ll want to read book one to find out how this all began.
Many thanks to all my fans for their e-mails of encouragement–and their gentle nudges to write faster–over the last three months. You inspire me.