On the anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s death, I happened to have the chance to watch the new HBO remake of Fahrenheit 451. I’ve been a Bradbury fan since I was a teen—I even have a 451 tattoo that I’ve been designing for some time now and hope to get inked soon.
And while I was not overly impressed with the new HBO remake—it fell flat for me and seemed like there were a lot of missed opportunities and felt too rushed—and didn’t use one of the best lines which just happens to be on my tattoo design 😉 it did get me to thinking about some things. My youth, my love of all things Bradbury. But mostly, my life since becoming a digital author and rethinking my stance on physical books—actual printed records of our words and why we NEED them.
When I was a teen, Bradbury’s books opened me up to a world that was so much bigger than the bubble I was forced to live in, something I’m eternally grateful for. I recall vividly on the day of his death, that only thirty minutes before it was broadcast that he’d passed, I’d named him as a personal hero and influence on my own writing path during an author event I was taking part in. And although during a meh HBO remake, Ray’s voice still rang through loudly and has opened up my mind again.
Of the books I sell, 99% are digital. My main focus these last few years has been almost entirely on my digital creations. Over the last year, as KDP print emerged and rumors abound that createspace would close, I even debated pretty hardcore about doing away with print altogether. Because one, I sell so few paper copies is it even worth it, and two, going digital saves trees and is eco-friendlier, and three, publishing only digital content is so much easier and it’s what the people want, right?
I’ve heard the argument so many times about how physical books will never really die because there is something visceral about holding a real book in your hands. And while I agree that there is something special about a real book, and I do still own, buy, and read physical books (three guesses which author has a permanent stack of books on my nightstand—his name rhymes with Bay Radbury), I have kept my professional focus on digital and moved a huge part of my personal life toward digital, and had come to see paper as an art form dying a slow, inevitable death. Something to be accepted and even embraced as an author in this digital age.
Until in the middle of watching 451 when a sickening feeling welled up inside me that suddenly had me shaking in my slippers as I pictured a world gone totally digital and all our precious words wiped out, without any permanent record. What an absolutely terrifying thought that was to imagine.
Digital = Impermanence.
Easy to erase.
Easy to become non-existent.
The quickest way to ban content, ever.
Our digital words can be taken away without notice. Whether by a group of people in charge, or an overnight fictional horror story come to life and our digital devices no longer work… or… think up your own nightmare—you’re an author 😉
In some ways, this is already happening with all the banhammers slamming down lately for content and whatnot, a bad enough scenario already. But I think it has become too easy to forget how fragile the digital world really is. It is this seemingly giant TOO BIG TO FAIL (we’ve heard that before) ecosystem.
We fear our words being stolen and freely and unfairly spread across the digital universe. But do our words even truly exist if they’re only living in this digital universe? And now we have a generation of young people growing up, unaware of this potential fragility. And if not completely so now, we’re not too many years away from this.
And while I still fully embrace the digital world, because I love it, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon, I fully intend to reinstate my efforts to keep paper alive. Not just for my own books, but for the good of human-freaking-kind. Perhaps, someday, I’ll even open my own bookstore.
I absolutely do not want to face a future where are voices are no longer recorded in some permanent way, or have our younger generations growing up without the knowledge of what it means to have this, or how easily their voices could be stripped away without it.
If we ever end up in a society where our words are silenced, I, at the least, want to have a physical book to fight back with as it’s harder to destroy something you can hold, versus something that only exists in the digital universe.
So, Paper—I’ve been absent from caring about you for too long, but I’m back now baby and full on in love again.
Thanks, Ray. Your lessons are timeless 😊 and have changed my life so many times now. The power of words and imagination is a beautiful fucking thing.
I’ve been publishing for several years now and had the chance to work with extremely amazing people. The stories have ranged from heartfelt successes to humorous failures. I’ve sat with million dollar earners as well as authors struggling to make a single sale. What I’ve noticed as a big difference between the two, the successful author is able to remove their ego, package it up, set it on the shelf, and shush it when necessary. I admit there is an artistry to the craft we’ve undertaken, but great art does not equate to sales and often times this ego rearing its ugly head is the author’s biggest dilemma. I’m here to drop a truth bomb, your ego, it’s got to go.
Let me amend where I’m going with this statement. This is targeted to the author looking to make a career from writing (which means making $$$.) This is not targeted to the authors who write as a passion project. However, if you hope to have your passion project seen by the world, or at least more than your family, this is very much directed toward you. I wrote for passion for many years (and still do at times) so I never want to discredit or tell an author how their journey should be directed. But herein lies the conflict, when authors, even passion project authors, want their work read by many, but refuse to see their authorship as a career. So let’s start with major mistakes.
Bookshelves are a thing of the past.
There is this romantic image of an author casually browsing a bookstore and stumbling upon their work. They may ask to sign it, the store rewards them in free lattes and by some bit of magic, throngs of fans arrive demanding story time. Let’s be frank here, this is not the case. Angela Lansbury and Castle are fictional. The romantic image of the writer is 99.9% myth. And I’m not sure about you, but I don’t build a career on the possibility of winning the lottery (which has nearly identical odds.)
Consumers are steadily growing, but they’re not growing in the bookstore sector. We can see this with the demise of Borders and the frequent profit loss reports of Barnes & Noble (which is kicking and screaming to its grave.) If you do out the math of what is selling in bookstores, you’ll find most often it’s only the .1% that is making sales worth it. I’ve met multiple authors who have gone to bookstores and set up sales channels only to find the books do not fly on the shelves like they imagined. I write superhero novels, and I thought putting them in comic shops would be a great market plan. After countless hours, I managed to get them into several stores where almost none sell. If I did the sales and divided by the time spent, I probably made about $.10 an hour.
Remove the romance of writing from your business model. Push to where the market is strongest, and for many, this is online. This goes with the determination of selling physical books in online stores. Do not ignore them by any means, but also realize an ebook sale is often easier, faster, and selling in bulk can be more profitable in the long run. Don’t let your ego get in the way of letting go of outdated mentalities.
Book signing events
This is where I admit my ego often rears its ugly head. I’m an introvert by choice, but every now and then, I want to go out and bask in the glow of my admiring fans. I set up a book signing event and expect the line down the street, where people will let me sign their chests (it’s happened!) and kiss their babies. To my amazement I’m sitting alone gabbing with employees basking in the smell of fresh books. Poor.
We all have our vices, this one is mine. The reality of the matter is, unless you’re well-known, you’re not going to have people showing up to your signings. Or if you do, it’s people who would have bought your books without needing a hand sale.Most bookstores do not have the budget to advertise more than a social media post or a sandwich sign out front. The four hours I spend at a bookstore, is time lost doing something else, like selling books or writing. When I factor in the payout at the end of my last couple author events, I probably made nearly $.25 an hour and maybe met six people, five of who just know me and want to hang out. My ego is burning money, creating anxiety, and ultimately, disappointing me. But let’s be honest, this is where my vice will probably never let up.
Libraries can be a time suck.
I am the son of a librarian. I support libraries. Librarians are some of the most underrated superheroes in the universe and should be sung about. With that being said, getting your book onto library shelves can be tedious, a waste of time if you over invest, and ultimately, not reward anything other than your ego. I have sent mailer cards to every library in the state (multiple states even.) My sales from this? Of over six hundred libraries, I sold three books. That didn’t cover the shipment or hours wasted sending release notices to librarians.
Do not discount libraries as part of your marketing plan, just make sure you’re investing a reasonable amount of time and money. My new strategy to help myself and still reach these golden bastions of information is to reach out to my newsletter and ask my fans to inquire about my book at their libraries. It takes a few minutes of my time, my fans do the leg work, the library sees interest in my title, and ultimately, I’m helping support libraries. This level of time commitment, it’s a smart business decision. Losing hundreds of dollars pushing your books onto librarians, not so much.
Industry reviews are not reader reviews.
So you’ve decided your ego needs a huge boost or a huge slam. You’re ready to go for one of those fabled, massive, professional recognized reviews. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg, and you’re hoping they like your book and give it a positive review. You’re gambling. You’re gambling your reputation and your money. Your ego has reared its ugly head and it demands that you be recognized for your hard work. But when was the last time, a reader went to read these reviews? Sure you can add it to your Amazon product description that you received the golden star of the BigCompanyReview.
Honestly, when was the last time you, as a reader paid attention to that? I go to book pages because I either like the author and buy everything they write, or I browse and look at people reviews. I don’t care what some big company said about your book, I want to know what fans, people like me, have to say about your book. I want social proof that I won’t be let down.
These big review sites, they’re for professional ego stroking. Would I like to have BigCompanyReview tell me how much they love my work? Sure. But not for the money it requires and not at the risk of a bad review. The worst part, of the people I know who have received glowing recommendations, nearly all of them agree, the reviews have not made them sales. So then why get them? The determination for peer acceptance? Or is it our ugly friend again, the ego?
Books alone are not always viable.
This is aimed at the authors looking to make writing their full-time career. It’s a hard pill to swallow. My personal dream is to live in a remote cabin, write manuscript after manuscript and roll around in my money. Truth is, my writing alone isn’t going to cut it. I’m doing well, and reaching my personal goals, but the big goal is to be a career author. I’m finding my revenue is starting to shift from writing of books and now includes audio and boxsets. It’s still my writing, but it’s not solely books.
You may find that a combination of writing and patreon is your solution. It could be speaking engagements and writing are your thing. You as an author may write books, but that is not your only marketable skill. Diversifying your revenue streams to include a little here and there will eventually add up. I’ll keep praying that I land a movie deal, but I can’t put all my chips on a long shot.
A business requires goals.
The idea that you are a writer is a glamorous life filled with Starbucks, late night inspirations, and falling in love with fictional people. It is also a job, and at times, your boss will be the biggest pain in the ass. But that boss is pushing your business toward a goal. These goals do not need to be large and mighty. Most often the best business plan has small steps. These small achievable goals push us toward the greater goal, no matter where you define success.
I’m going to give you a small exercise, and I think it’s important, so be a trooper and join me.
Take a sheet of paper and at the top, write and finish the statement: My goal as an author is… Make it a single overarching goal. Perhaps look at it as your ten-year goal.
Make three columns
In the left column, take ten minutes and write down every thing you do as a writer. Include your writing habits, your marketing, your events. Literally try to write as many things as you can think that you’ve done in your author career journey. For me, it might be: attend cons, ams ads, facebook ads, writer conference X, attend author expo, manage NESW, boxset promotion, audio books….
In the center column, this is where it gets a bit difficult. You need to write how each item in the left column achieves your greater goal. You need to be honest here. No inflating the purpose. Some of these you might not know if you haven’t done them yet. This is where you can ask people who have. Never attended a convention to sell books, ask veteran sellers, they’ll be honest about their goals. Never done a book signing event and not sure how it might achieve your goal, ask.
Now here’s the part I find authors have the most difficulty doing. Tape that paper somewhere in your office. Each time you execute one of the items on the left column, write the result in the right column. If it does not achieve that goal in the center, kill it. If it does, then make notes. If it did something unexpected, it’s time to rewrite how it’s achieving your greater goal.
Stick with it. You’ve just unknowingly created a business plan. It might be loose, it might be incomplete, but you’ve started. This works for authors seeking a career, hobbyist, and even the causal, “I do it for the love.”
I will bluntly say, all the above advice should be taken with a grain of salt, a lot of scrutiny, and raked over with your personal and business goals in mind. No person’s career is identical to another and there are numerous paths to be taken. But the one thing I stand by, and I urge people to conquer for the sake of sound decision-making to advance your goals, your ego.
If you want to know why it’s important to copyright your artistic creation, just ask George A. Romero.
(Not literally, of course. The guy’s dead.)
(Or IS HE?)
Romero’s classic horror film Night of the Living Dead is and always has been a public domain creation because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, forgot to put a copyright notice on the film. According to copyright laws in 1968, that meant Romero had no legal claim to his own creation, which meant anyone could show, sell, or reimagine the movie without having to receive permission from Romero and without having to pay for the privilege.
That also happens to be why you should consider going through the formal process of copyrighting your work.
While the inherent copyright that comes with creating a work and the addition of a copyright notice have legal standing, they don’t have strong legal standing. Without a formal copyright from the US Copyright Office (https://www.copyright.gov/) you cannot sue for copyright infringement in the US, nor can you receive statutory damages for copyright infringement if said infringement occurred before the work was registered (or within three months of post-publication registration).
That doesn’t mean you have no recourse if you find someone using your work without your permission. You have the right to send cease-and-desist (C&D) or Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices, and that’s often enough to make an offender back down, but if you have to go to the next step of litigation, you’re not going to get far without that formal copyright.
To obtain a formal copyright, you register your work with the US Copyright Office, which does cost money — $105 for “a document of any length including no more than one title,” i.e., your novel. You can file electronically, but you will still need to provide a hard copy for the Library of Congress, so there will be mailing expenses as well.
FYI the first: there are any number of outfits that claim they will help you file for a copyright. A few are complete scams that are actually trying to steal your copyright out from under you, but more likely they’re just trying to make money by doing the work for you. The process really isn’t that complicated. You figured out how to write and publish a novel. Figuring out the copyrighting process is a comparative cakewalk.
Posting a work online does not automatically make it public domain. You have to explicitly declare that your work is public domain before anyone else can use it legally.
Anyone who uses your copyrighted material without your permission, even if they do not realize financial gain from its use, is in violation of your copyright. That includes fanfic writers using your stories as inspiration for their own (or fanfic you write yourself and post online).
“Fair use” allows for limited reproduction of copyrighted material, usually for purposes of commentary and critique — e.g., someone posting a copy of your book’s cover art along with short excerpts from the book, preferably with full attribution to the creator, as part of a book review.
Unlike trademarks, you do not have to actively defend your copyright in order to retain it.
There are plenty of plots being imagined and written furiously. When it comes to LGBTQI plots, there are a handful that writers find themselves relying on. Some of this reliance on the tropes is from fear of swimming in uncharted waters, or perhaps its even lazy investigation. I’m going to speak strictly as a gay male. There are plots, entire story arcs that I’m absolutely done reading. There are exceptions to every statement, but these handful, the moment I get a sniff of them, I believe the writer has phoned it in.
Coming Out. The age-old story about a gay person struggling with their sexual identity being the driving force of their character development. The truth? Many of us do not “come out” anymore. Even I, a young gay male in the rural reaches of Maine’s backwoods, I didn’t really have to come out. I told one person and POOF, the news spread like wildfire. I didn’t struggle with it. I had a moment of relief, and then I went back to my life. Did it change the world around me? A little, perhaps. But if somebody wrote a story about my coming out, I wouldn’t read it. Let’s talk about the dullest story known to man. For others, the process happens later in life after being married and having kids. For some they come out only to find out, it was indeed a phase. There is no hard fast rule, and the subtle nuances will most likely be lost in a B-plot. If your story is about a character coming out, prepare for boredom, unless you rely on the trope of overcoming bullying. Then I’m snoozing twice over.
Pro Tip: If you’re writing a coming out story, write about the character’s journey and realize it’s messy and rarely incomplete. It is not a gay character’s B-Plot.
Falling in Love. Unless you’re writing a novel where the characters are getting jiggy with it. Stop. Right now. Put down your pencil. Shut your laptop. I’m not saying gay characters don’t deserve love, but often times, this becomes their identity in a novel. If you’re writing a romance novel, I excuse you, that’s your bread and butter. If you’re not, then ask yourself, is your character content without this romance? Do they need this romance? Is the only way your gay person can be happy is to have a fulfilling romance? If that’s their burning passion, consider me bored. In gay culture there are many who believe in the monogamous happily ever after. But there are plenty of gay men (myself included) who believe in much looser definitions of the word relationship and have never believed in the idea of a singular soul mate.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to write about gay romances, you need to do some serious homework. Because if I see another cookie cutter romance, I might very well smash my face against my desk.
Overcoming adversity resulting from our sexual orientation. First and foremost, never use the phrase, “sexual preference.” Preferences are what I want to do to with my same-sex lover, the orientation itself. Second, many of us do not face day-to-day adversity. I’m an out gay teacher. My school had “Pride Day” and I wore my “Yes, I’m that GAY teacher.” Not once, not one single time did a student or co-worker comment on it. Have I been discriminated against? Of course I have. I got into fist fights as a kid, been chased out of a bar, and watched a friend get the shit kicked out of him for his “swishy” walk. But that’s not the norm, or at least not each person’s norm. Yes, gay kids get kicked out of their homes for their sexuality. Relationships end harshly as one comes out, or another realizes they are not gay. But creating drama based solely on our sexuality? Your story best talk about the nit and grit about being gay. You best delve into the psyche of your character and show me that internal struggle. You best tear at my heart and make me fear for your character and cheer at every victory.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to write about our struggles, understand much of our struggle isn’t visual. We question our worth, our identity, our need to belong. These aren’t easily visible. Even as adults, these exist, all rooted in a single roll of the dice making us different from the status quo. Capture it.
I hope you’re reading this thinking, “Well shit, what how the hell am I going to make this character gay?” Now that I’ve disarmed the standard tropes prevalent in literature, what do you have left? Well, you have a limitless plethora of concepts that can be applied to your gay character as easily as your straight character. Dig deep, be thorough, and be willing to push past the tropes that have become the lazy man’s go-to. 10% of the human population is believed to be gay (and as people begin to open up, the number could be as high as 20%.) Step out of ambiguity, give your character this added layer of complexity. But now, I’m asking you to take a step further. And when you’re reached a roadblock, ask questions.
When I started writing, I made the decision to write LGBTQ characters into mainstream science fiction books as a reaction to the massive gap I saw in science fiction television shows and movies growing up in the eighties and nineties. (Sadly, I didn’t read much back then.)
Gay characters in Star Trek? Not until Discovery aired in 2017-18; not until they retconned Sulu’s story in ST: Beyond in 2016;
Gay characters in Star Wars? Hmmm…only if you gay-ship Poe and Finn;
Gay characters in Dune? Oh wait, but he was old and evil, arguably like every Disney villain; Jafar, Ursula, Hades, Scar, Shere Khan;
The SyFy Battlestar Galactica reboot? Yes, but the producers tucked the gayness away. You’d only know Lt. Felix Gaeta was gay and in a relationship with Louis Hoshi if you searched the Internet or watched the BSG webisode series.
Gay Superheroes? Not in the movies, but slowly arising in the comics and daring television shows. Yay!
This points to the question that burned in my soul as kid who watched these and other amazing eighties reruns such as Knight Rider, Airwolf, Buck Rogers, The Wonder Years, Growing Pains, Full House, and Family Ties:
Where were the people like me?
Why don’t people like me exist in the things I love, or, why are people like me portrayed as evil?
Why did I only read about people like me in M/M romance or erotica novels?
Why did I have to sneak downstairs in the late nineties to watch MTV’s Undressed to catch a glimpse at LGBT characters living seemingly normal lives in college and other young adult situations?
However, all was/is not lost.
The recent Doctor Who series and its spin-off, Torchwood, saw fit to include bisexual Captain Jack Harkness and his same-sex romantic delights for fans to enjoy. I was ecstatic! When David Tenant’s Doctor brought Captain Jack and Alonso together moments before he regenerated, I was bouncing on the couch with excitement. Then, newer shows like MTV’s Teen Wolf flipped the script and shocked me by providing its characters with a next-level LGBTQ environment: not one straight bullied or cared a gay student; rather, all students were accepted with complete equality regardless of whom they loved. I was finally seeing myself in mainstream characters portrayed in recent television shows and in movies, like Love Simon.
I’m thrilled to see more and more shows (Shameless, Sense8, and more) include a plethora of LGBTQ characters, and I truly hope this trend continues—but some areas of have much catching up to.
Alas, this brings me to writing quality LGBTQ characters. If the mega-studios won’t give me what I want, then I decided to write it for them and the others like me who yearn(ed) to have an LGBTQ superhero, an LGBTQ space marine, or an LGBTQ captain of a massive starship who live in happy, healthy, and challenging worlds and relationships. Because I strongly believes the real world we live in should be a place—like Teen Wolf’s setting—where LGBTQ equality and respect are second nature and never questioned, I choose to write this into my stories.
I still think there are too few examples of LGBTQ superheroes in popular media today, and most of those are retconned or made LGBTQ with new storylines. It’s not that I want television to into all rainbows and sparkly (though wouldn’t that be fun?), but I want equal airtime for LGBTQ characters. They don’t even have to bang—but knowing this superhero is fluid or that male captain has a husband would be fantastic.
Putting aside what the rest of the world does or doesn’t do, I set out to write my own stories, and this year, I’m proud to start sharing them with the world. In 2014, I started world-building for a series I’ve titled TheNitraxian Galaxy Saga, a massive, groundbreaking LGBTQ science fiction space opera. I’ve spent a lot of time world building, outlining, and organizing the characters and plots into an amazing story. In reality, this significant undertaking is the LGBTQ lovechild of Star Trek/Wars and Game of Thrones, allowing for equal page time for the main characters regardless of their sexuality. I wrote book one in 2017 and then set it aside to work on a project that would not leave my imagination alone.
In early 2018, I started—and am still—writing an LGBTQ superhero story set in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The five-book Guardians Series is the story of gay student Quinn McAlester and his best friend Blake Hargreaves, high school classmates who acquire super powers through a freak accident. I didn’t set Guardians in a utopia of equality. Rather, using real-world situations, I flipped the script on acceptance and focused on Quinn’s coming out as a superhero to a town that refused to accept him and his gifts. I did this because there are still so many teens and adults who struggle with coming out despite the progress we’ve made as a country toward accepting LGBTQ equality and rights.
I encourage authors write well-developed LGBTQ characters because LGBTQ people enrich the world in so many ways and I want to see and read about amazing, wonderful, (and yes sometimes evil) people like me represented fairly in books. Though I am aware the wider audience still rejects LGBTQ characters (yep, I have one of those infamous 1-star reviews on a book) you can help enhance people’s perceptions and acceptance by writing wonderful and loving LGBTQ characters who show the world their true colors.
Many writers want to diversify their characters but find themselves hesitant or scared in jumping into a culture outside their norm. With complicated social structures and contradicting opinions, it can be difficult. However, the fact authors are fearful of not doing their readers justice shows a willingness to expand. Author Amelia Atwater-Rhodes joined me to answer author questions involving sexuality in their characters. We try to be clear, but it bears reminding, both of our views are “our” views and while we may have insight into the LGBTQI+ community, we are not the end all.
For those fearful, I should also add just minutes before the interview, despite knowing Amelia for nearly seven years, I learned she identifies as queer and not lesbian. I firmly wedged my foot in my mouth. There was a discussion and I walked out a wiser person. So be open to being humbled and expanding as a human.
I am many things. I am a male. I am a teacher. I am a friend. I am a partner. I am a son and a brother. I wear each of these statements as a building block of who I am as a person. I am a writer. I am white. I am single. I am a professor. The list goes on. Each, a loosely constructed definition that create my identity. But as an author, only one terrified me to admit publicly. It took years overcome my fears and say it in a space where peers and fans alike would take note. My name is Jeremy Flagg, and I am gay.
I have been out since I was fifteen. For twenty-one years I have known myself to be unlike the majority of people. I have found myself isolated, ostracized, dehumanized, mocked, and even ridiculed by this twist of fate. While I am no stranger to being bullied, I have never lost sight of who I am, and in the face of adversity, that knowledge has served as a pillar of strength. Yet, as an author, I found myself firmly placed in a proverbial close of my own making. Fearful of what fans might say, or how it might affect my bottom-line, I kept tight-lipped. In Nighthawks, my first superhero novel, what I hope to be a long running series, I dance about the topic, leaving the protagonist ambiguous while I tested the waters. When Night Shadows, book two in the series was released, there was no more speculating. My characters stopped hiding.
I stopped hiding. My name is Jeremy Flagg, and I am gay.
I have never written a book without a gay lead. Whether it be the zombie apocalypse, dystopian superheroes, or a vengeful sword wielding woman, each of my leads is a homosexual. If each character is a reflection of our psyche, I bestowed this burden/gift upon my protagonists even if they do not realize it at the time. It has given me perspective into my own sexuality and allowed me to explore version of myself beyond my personal worldview. As these gay characters grew, so did I.
“Be the person you needed when you were younger.” ― Ayesha Siddiqi
Siddiqi wrote, “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” I found myself needing to write the characters I needed as a young closeted male in the boonies of Maine. The first time I stumbled across a gay character in Lynn Flewelling’s, “Luck in the Shadows,” I found a piece of myself. Following in Flewelling’s footprints, I am writing about people who are trying to challenge fate, change the world, save the day, and find happiness, all the while being gay. I write the characters so that gay youth can see a reflection of themselves in the world. With many of my early role models being fictitious characters, more of them needed to be something other than default straight.
My readers knew before they “knew.” They saw parts of me being scattered across the page. When I came out to them, they were less than shocked. I marveled at their acceptance and in my fan group, it has been a talking point that has let me bond with people I might not otherwise have talked to. It wasn’t the career ending statement I feared. And because of their response, I have been more comfortable to explore sexuality in my books. My first sex scene is between two men and my beta reader is a (presumably) straight male. The reaction remained positive and focused on my character relationships and the expression of those relationships. I found myself surprised that in our negative media environment a reader can accept a scenario that doesn’t directly reflect themselves.
It is without a doubt we as a community learned to hide in plain sight, sheltering from horrible possibilities. However, I think it is time we exit our closets and become visible role models. We shouldn’t have to compartmentalize, shy away, or even lie about who we are. Sitting at a convention table in Bangor Maine, two young men and their child approached my table. While talking to them, it dawned on me the men were a couple. I felt no need to announce our shared sexuality, instead, they purchased a book and I knew, they’d see some piece of themselves in my characters. Or perhaps they bought it for their child and he’d see a semblance of his fathers on the page. Either way, I found myself proud to have represented an underserved population.
When were young we scoured for role models to whom we could admire. We searched for it in the media we consumed. For me, comic books, cartoons and most of all, fantasy novels were my bastion of safety. The characters I identified with were few and far between. Now, this moment, this project, this story, it is time we stand up and be the people we needed when were younger. Somewhere there is a young person, tucked away in an environment forcing them to be something they are not. They are searching for somebody to relate with. Once upon a time, we came out for ourselves. Now, we need to come out for others.
In the digital age, every author needs an online presence. This can manifest in a multitude of ways from social media, to simple newsletter landing pages to full websites. While not many websites offer discoverability for an author, it does offer fans a one-stop-shop for all things related to the author. These digital business cards can also serve a multitude of other purposes such as blogs, online retail, or additional book related content. But what is most important? With nearly twenty years of web design experience and two degrees in graphic design, I decided to the website of several authors at different spots in their authoring journey.
Pros: All relevant information is available. Fast options for website conversions. Book content comes before author content for increased conversion.
Cons: Each page has too many call to actions. Colors could be jazzed up for more of a website identity.
The biggest question to ask when critiquing the website is “What is the purpose?” For many people, the ego is standing in the way of their website being an effective marketing tool. What is your traffic? Where are people clicking? Quickly it becomes apparent that blogs and reviews of other books which were once the bread and butter of interactivity on a website have gone by the wayside. Using the website as a marketing tool requires a call-to-action, either converting into sales or obtaining information such as an email for continued connection to your patrons. When examining, take off the creative hat, and put on the business hat, because ultimately it is a business tool.
One of the biggest challenges authors face is getting early feedback. Many of us belong to critique groups, writer groups, or even have a trusty developmental editor that help us navigate plot pitfalls. I personally find the most important feedback comes not from professionals, but from the readers themselves. Beta readers, with their perspective being that of the consumer is absolutely critical. Editors and critique groups may love your book, but will readers? At the end of the day, the consumer’s opinion is most important.
However, the world of beta readers is a difficult to navigate. Where do you find these betas and once you find them, how do you manage their interactions with your work? Authors have struggled with finding betas who quickly consume and respond versus those who say they’ll partake but never produce notes. It gets even more confusing when you find that a pivotal plot point is loved by some, hated by others and you are required to go back and ask a thousand questions to discover the underlying reasons.
For my latest book, Night Legions, I needed a new method to work with my beta readers. I contemplated creating a GoogleDoc where they could mark up, correct, and comment, while at the same time, seeing the notes made by other readers. While this solved one of my issues, the second issue of managing the readers themselves would not be solved. I hate sending the frequent, “So, how’s it going?” emails. I wanted an easier method that required less effort from myself while I started in on other projects.
I’m not going to gush, despite its gush worthiness. BetaBooks was singlehandedly the answer to all my beta reader needs. The website, is fairly straight forward. It allowed me to upload my novel chapter by chapter, and lets me keep track of reader feedback, reader progress, and interact with readers as they respond to the chapters. It’s reduced the hours necessary chasing feedback or the need to harp on beta readers to keep moving forward. It will be my go-to for all my beta reader needs from this point forward.
Easy Beta Signups. For the few readers, you can easily input their email addresses and have them added. For those with a large number of beta readers, you can input their addresses in bulk or even provide a link where they can sign up themselves. Easy peasy.
Chapter Notes. When I beta read for authors, I always want to know ahead, what should I be looking for in each chapter. Betabooks allows you to give “pre-chapter notes” and then ask questions at the end of the chapter. This preps the reader and reminds them what they should be looking for. I think this helps align the reader to each chapter.
Chapter Feedback. At the end of the chapter, the reader can leave notes. You can respond as necessary and follow-up with more questions. This forum style setting also allows your members to see fellow beta readers’ comments and respond. Conversation between beta readers will help prevent redundant comments.
Track Reader Progress. Some beta readers keep notes on their own computer until they’re done. While it’s appreciated that they keep notes, I find it more helpful to see the comments as they come in. With Betabooks, I can tell when they last logged in, how far they’ve read, and what chapters they’ve left comments on. What used to take me hours to track is summed up in a single page and can be seen in just a few seconds.
Automated Follow-ups. Ultimately, I hate harping on somebody for not working at the pace I need them to. Betareaders are a gift, gems even, and pushing them is a delicate balance of need versus scaring them off. You can set Betabooks to auto send every few days after readers have been inactive. This is great as it appears the service is reminding them, not you. It helps take a bit of the heat off.
Great Customer Service. The service is relatively new, and early on, I had questions about the product and how to get the best out of it. Not only did I receive help, it came straight from the creators themselves. They’ve been thorough, helpful, and more than willing to answer a gauntlet of questions ranging from current usage to future plans. I wish every product had this level of customer service.
When starting out, you can test Betabooks for free. However, to get some of the more intense features such as the automated responses, you’ll go up to the 34.99 per month level. For the month or two I will need it at the end of each book, the money is well spent. At this point, I’m willing to pay to increase my production and help manage some of my administrative duties. I highly recommend check it out to see how it can speed up your workflow.
I see this graphic posted quite frequently, or at least some variation. The image changes, as do the numbers that unlock the hidden wonders of Amazon. At least this one has a coherent theme and a sense of pizzazz. Unfortunately, it’s also hogwash.
Now, the importance of reviews can not be expressed or emphasized enough. Think to how you interact with products you’re about to buy on Amazon. Me personally, I read the 1 Star reviews instantly (even before the product description.) I want to know the worst of the product so I can do a personal risk assessment. Without reviews, we’d be buying blind. Let me repeat this: Reviews ARE important, but let’s dispel some common misconceptions.
Myth: After X number of reviews, Amazon includes your book in “also boughts”…
Reality: No. Wrong. Want proof? I have had books with zero reviews appear on multiple also boughts. The Also bought category is not influenced by reviews (or at least nothing I’ve seen quantified.) It is literally based on people’s purchasing decisions and common themes. Buy my book, then buy Twilight, if this happens enough times, I’ll show up in the also bought for Twilight. Reviews be damned. This is about purchasing history. The proof comes from how we can influence these. My fans buy books in both my series, so I see both series in my also boughts. Now that I’ve started using AMS ads targeting people like Robert Kirkman and Max Brooks with my zombie novels, I see them show up in mine and I even showed up in a Walking Dead also bought (short-lived victory, but I got there!)
Myth: After X number of reviews, Amazon highlights the book for spotlight positions…
Reality: No. Wrong. Amazon is not making marketing decisions based on the quantity of reviews. The almighty algorithm is looking at quantity of books being sold. Perhaps the review rating influences this, but it’s not the sole (or even key) decision. This is a case of fame begets fame. You sell 20,000 copies, Amazon will promote you. You have to sell to sell. Frustrating, I know. Amazon does however alert your followers on Amazon or purchasers of your previous books that you’ve released a new book. It’s erratic, not guaranteed, can be months after the release, so do not depend on this. It is nice however when my mom shoots me an email with a screen shot of my book being listed because she buys everything I write. She thinks I’m famous. I perpetuate this lie.
Myth: Reviews can be short, just say, “I liked it.”
Reality: Eh. Kinda false. When was the last time you bought a book because your friend said, “I liked this book.” If you’re going to be short, at least use better descriptors. “I absolutely loved this book.” Okay, now maybe I’ll look at it and leave it in my Amazon cart for three months. Think back to when you went to Amazon and read dozens of reviews with comments under ten words. I’ll give you a moment. You can’t, can you? Because nobody reads these types of reviews. They’re wasted space. Sure, it might lure somebody in to click on your book, “Wow, 200 reviews, this must be amazing.” You get there only to find dozens of one liners. This is starting to look like owed favors and family members trying to do you a solid. In the wake of numerous scams happening on Amazon with reviews, purchased ranks and even authors buying their way onto the USA Today Best Seller chart, appearances matter. Be persistent, but push readers to leave reactions, feedback, hell, I even promote leaving non-5 star reviews (once in a while) to keep things authentic and truthful. It pays off. Watching you what you pay attention to on products, the same goes for your books.
Myth: You don’t need to buy the book to leave a review…
Reality: True, but similar to short reviews. Yes, you can review anything on Amazon regardless of your purchasing. However, unverified reviews (reviews left by people who have not bought your product) are hidden. Their review shows in the total number of reviews, but the actual verbage is hidden unless the customer goes down, clicks on reviews, and then clicks on unverified. That’s a lot of work. To me, the customer, they didn’t buy the book and left a review. Why would I believe a review of a person who didn’t buy the product? I wouldn’t. Yes, again, it helps snag the attention of the customer, “Ohhh, look at all those reviews!” But when you get onto the product page to find almost no reviews are visible (cause how many people truthfully read unverified reviews?) it’s going to start looking shady.
This happens often at the start of a release. You have given out a thousand ARCs and one hundred people have reviewed it. Many have not bought it (some ARC readers are awesome and will also buy your book) so their reviews are not verified. There is a certain forgiveness during launch time that fades quickly. So make sure you continue to promote leaving reviews, but be honest about why they are needed.
Myth: You need X number of reviews for promotions…
Reality: There are many promotional tools out there and many authors utilize “Author Email Promotions.” These are services that will send out your book to their mailing lists. Bookbub is probably the most well-known and coveted. Some are very specific, you need 10 reviews to be eligible. Others are rather ambiguous at best. I only received my Bookbub after I received 40 reviews. Does that mean it’s the magic number? No, but well reviewed books stand a higher chance. Each promotion will state what their needs are. I believe the most I’ve seen is 10 required to promote your book. Of course, more is always better.
There you have it. The floating images with misinformation have been debunked. I think reviews are extremely important (even bad ones.) They are the digital equivalent of your friend recommending a device you need and they have tested. However, we need to have realistic expectations and not imagine that a magical number will open the doors to Nirvana.