Saving time with your website

I revamped my website a few months back, and I’ve been pleased with the new look. The main reason I decided to make the change was that the new site is WordPress based. Not only is WordPress the most-popular platform out there, I wanted to use certain plug-ins that aren’t available for non-Wordpress sites. Also, because the new site is WordPress based, I was able to integrate a history blog that I maintain. Previously, I could only offer a link on my website to the blog.

I found a writer who had put together a great template designed for writers. Check out her site here. She made the transitioning from my former website to the new one painless.

Her template also made creating a website store so easy. It was a pain to do on my old site, but the new template makes it a breeze. In fact, it makes maintaining the site a breeze.

When you are a one-man show, you want to be efficient and make the most of your time. This new template is one way I do that. Check out my new site here.

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The festival ripple effect

I’ve been increasing the number of book festivals and other festivals I’ve been taking part in for book signings. Some are very successful for me. Some I just barely break even at, and others, are complete flops.

The flops can be soul-crushing, but I have realized something as I’ve increased my appearances. The number of page views of my books and online sales increase after a festival, even a festival that’s been a failure. That doesn’t mean that I’ll go back to the flop festivals. However, it makes attending break-even festivals more attractive to continue attending.

Another benefit that I’ve found in attending these festivals is that I get leads and offers for speaking engagements. These speaking engagements are always successful. Even if I don’t get paid a stipend for speaking, I sell my books afterward.

The third benefit of these festivals is that I sometimes get leads for future story ideas.

On the flip side, festivals take up a lot of time and cost money to attend. This summer, I have a festival every other weekend, on average. The costs definitely add up as I do more festivals.

Overall, I think writers should definitely put themselves out there in the public and doing book signings at festivals where your potential readers attend. Just remember that sometimes the best festivals aren’t book festivals. You may find a craft or street fair that draws in many people who like your books.

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Writing serial fiction

UntitledAlthough it’s not a popular form of writing any longer, I’ve had the opportunity in recent months to write a serial. It has been a fun experience that I hope will continue because I’ve come up with a few more ideas for serials while working on the six-part story called “The Anger of Innocence.”

The serial is a horror story running in The Catoctin Banner Newspaper in Frederick County, Md. I write and edit stories for the paper on a freelance basis. When the paper went through a major redesign earlier this year, I convinced the publisher to try out the serial in the Arts & Entertainment section. I write a few local history columns for newspapers, and I have noticed in my research many of the old newspapers used to run serial fiction. I saw it as a way to entertain readers and give them a more-rounded newspaper-reading experience.

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While a serial can run for any number of parts, you should keep a few things in mind when planning to write a serial. Here’s what I learned:

  • Make sure your story has enough hooks. While I like to have my story parts end with a cliffhanger, I can’t always do that. However, you still need to keep the reader coming back whether it’s with a cliffhanger, unanswered questions, or a fascinating situation. I tend to use the old movie serials as my inspiration.
  • Serials work with all genres. While the serial I’m working on is horror, the other ideas have are a romance, a coming-of-age story, and a historical thriller. Since I write primarily in the history and historical fiction genre, I find it interesting that my serial ideas are from outside of my area of familiarity.
  • Find a way to recap each story. You can’t count on everyone reading your serial from the first part so you need to recap just enough to familiarize new readers with the situation, the characters, and what has come before without boring or turning off existing readers. You also need to consider how long the recap will be. Each of the story parts I’m writing for “The Anger of Innocence” is around 1,300 words. If I spend too much time summarizing what has happened, I won’t have time to move the story forward.
  • Each story should be complete. Even if I use a cliffhanger ending, the story part still feels complete. A situation happened and concluded. While I will use a cliffhanger to entice a reader back because they want to find out what happens, I don’t want readers to feel unsatisfied with the current part they are finishing.
  • Write the entire story before it starts running. Certainly, you can publish your story parts as you go. It definitely makes writing a serial more challenging that way but is it better for the reader? I started publishing “The Anger of Innocence” with two parts left unwritten and the last part not even planned. As I’ve written the last two parts, I have found things that I could change in previous parts before they were published. I have also found a few other things (luckily, nothing major) that were already set in stone because they were published. I’ve had to work around them. I’m all for challenging yourself to write better but only if those improvements make the reading experience better for your readers. Don’t give yourself an unnecessary headache because you find you have written yourself into a corner because you didn’t plan out how your serial would progress.

When this serial finishes, I’ll talk with my publisher to see if she wants me to do another one (I hope so). I will also look into bringing this story into print, most likely as an ebook.

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Selling direct to avoid bias

book-storesI enjoy watching videos on Youtube when I need a short break from my writing. The site offers something for everyone, but that may be changing. Some content creators have been talking about how Youtube is demonetizing their videos or changing the search algorithms so that their videos are only being seen by a fraction of the viewers their videos typically get. This is having a big effect on their bottom line.

What if that were to happen with the online bookstores? Amazon has banned some books from their sites while not applying that reason uniformly to the entire site.

This is the reason I have been trying to build my mailing list. It’s something that I wish I had done years ago. I don’t know who buys my books on Amazon, Kobo, or iBooks, so if those companies were to make a change that harms my sales, I wouldn’t be able to contact my readers to let them know about new releases. On the other hand, I can stay in contact with my mailing list readers to update them with news.

This works fine unless my book is one that an online bookseller doesn’t like and bans. In that instance, notifying readers that a new book is available won’t help me one bit if the book is not available. I need to sell my books directly from my website to combat this.

This means creating a store on my website. I already have this, and it allows me to sell physical books directly from my website. Readers can click on the book they want, pay via PayPal, and I ship the book out. The drawback is that I am involved more in the shipping and ordering process. The advantage is that I keep more of the purchase price, and I also have the buyer’s e-mail address for future contact.

I still haven’t created ebook files that I can sell directly from my website. I see this as trickier. One advantage of buying your ebook files from a particular retailer is ease. For instance, I have a Kindle. While it is easy for me to download my books to my Kindle reader and sync up my different devices, it is much more difficult to do if I buy a Kindle-compatible book. That inconvenience factor discourages sales from a different retailer other than the manufacturer of the ereader.

One reason I became an indie author was because I wanted to have more control over my books, such as deciding when to pull a particular book from sale. So why would I want to give that control to someone else and their biases and policies? I don’t.

I am an indie author, and I am working toward that goal. I don’t see that I will ever stop using other retailers to help sell my books, but being able to sell directly from my website is a protection for me and my work. It keeps me from allowing the distribution of my work to be in someone else’s control.

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Have you ever done a blog tour?

Have you ever done a blog tour?

I decided to hire someone to help me set up a blog tour and I’m nervously awaiting the start of it not knowing what to expect. However, although I maintain a blog, I have very little clue for how to set up a tour. It seemed like a lot of groundwork would need to be done and, quite frankly, with my crazy schedule, I was willing to hire someone to do it for me. Plus, I figure it will get me exposure with some new blogs.

I actually was surprised at the different types of tours available. You can get tours that focus on reviews, interviews, excerpts, giveaways, and articles. I selected one that is a mix so I can get my feet wet with everything.

I’m curious if any other writers have done a blog tour. How long did it last? Was it useful? What did it involve? This is all new to me so let me know your experiences.

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When your family doesn’t read

I saw a Facebook post this morning from an author asking how other authors feel when their family members don’t read their books. That started me thinking because I have that problem.

It is frustrating that my family doesn’t read. They used to. My wife used to read a lot, although she never read my books. My oldest son was never a reader. My youngest son read a lot until he discovered video games.

I’ve asked them to be beta readers to encourage them, but they never take me up on my offer. I dedicate some of my books to them, hoping they will want to read them. Nope.

I have a son who is in prison. It is a sad situation, but my non-reader son has taken up reading. He even read War and Peace! Once, I found this out, I started sending him books by some of my favorite authors to keep him interested in reading. When I talk to him, he tells me about some of the books he has read, what he likes, and what he doesn’t. It’s a nice connection to have with him in sad circumstances.

Now, if I could just get my youngest son and wife to read without something bad happening to them.

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Are you a marketing tortoise or hare?

blue-growth-chartWhen my book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, launched, I worked to promote it and get it into bookstores. It felt like an uphill battle at times. There’s a lot more bookstores than there are me and my co-author.

This leads me to an observation that I’ve found as an independent author. The difference between independent authors and traditionally published authors is like the story of the tortoise and the hare.

Traditionally published authors are looking for their books to take off with a quick start. They have to have strong sales right from the start in order to keep their book in stores and in print. Independent publishers certainly would love to have strong sales up front, but tend to see steady sales that stretch out over a much longer life for the book.

I’ve seen that with many of my titles. They may be 5 or 10 years old, but they still sell well.

I think this is because while I can’t put an army of sales reps and publicity people selling my book hard for a couple months before they move onto their next project, I can continually work on promoting my older titles along with my newer ones. The efforts build on themselves, expanding the books exposure and sales.

The key to promotion is to keep at it. Do something every day to market your book. It adds up in the end.

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  • Time to get busy!