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Challenge_Future_New_Year_ResolutionsLast week I looked at how I did with my 2015 writing resolutions. Now it’s time to set some goals for 2016. I tend to set my goals at the high end of scale so that I really have to work for it. That way, if I fail, I will probably be better off than if I had simply set a goal that I knew I could achieve. Also, if I fail, I usually leave that goal in place until I do hit it. I also like measurable goals so that I can gauge my progress.

Publish four books this year.

Having just one book ready to come out (It’s the first in a young adult series), this could really be a stretch. However, I have been working on a biography that I really want to get out this year and I have two other books that are possibilities. So I’ll go for the gold and see if I can get them all out. The biography will be one that messes up this goal if any of them do.

Attend 78 festivals, book signing, talks or other events.

Last year my goal was 50 events and I managed 56. This year, I decided on 78. It’s an unusual number, but it works out to be 1.5 events a week. I had 29 events set up coming into the new year and was contacted about 5 more yesterday, which gives me more than I had for 2014 (32 events). There are still festivals and book signings that I expect to do. Plus, one of the things I like about festivals besides meeting readers is that I tend to have people bring me ideas for articles and ask me to speak at their organizations. Another reason that I think I’ll be able to meet this goal is that with the introduction of the YA book, I will start marketing myself to schools, which should add to the number of events that I’ll do.

Increase the percentage of my income that comes from books to 50 percent.

Last year, although I sold more books than I ever had, the percentage of my income from book sales decreased to 38 percent while my income from articles jumped to 60. While I enjoy writing articles, my ultimate goal not have to write articles because I’m earning enough from my books sales to support my family. I would still write articles, but only the ones that I really want to. This means I’ll have to do a lot better at my book marketing, which I started trying to concentrate on during the last quarter of 2015.

Increase book sales by 33 percent.

This is a big goal and the one I’m least likely to hit. If I do miss it, I am sure I’ll still have sold more books than I did in 2015, which means it will be another personal best year. I want to give myself a goal that will make me work my butt off (but that’s a goal on my personal list as I work to lose weight).

Get all of my eligible physical books converted into e-books.

E-books are nowhere near a major part of my income and it is an area that I could really grow in order to help my previous goal. Most of my books are available as e-books, but there are still a few that I need to convert. I also have one e-book that I would like to turn into a physical book. Eventually, I would like to be able to release e-books and physical books at the same time.

Based on how things went in 2015, if I can come even halfway to achieving these goals, I will have a very  successful 2016.


Do free books work as a marketing tool? This is a hotly debated issue among the indie authors that I know. Some are quite vehement that since they put in all that time writing the book, they want to get paid for that work.

I understand that. I want to get paid, too. I think the difference between those who use free e-books and those who don’t is their view of their career. Authors who use free books as part of their marketing plan believe that giving away a book now will help them further down the road in building readership and therefore, more sales.

I did some revamping of my own marketing plan this fall and decided to use free books as part of it. The first way I implemented this strategy was to offer three free e-books to anyone who signs up for my mailing list. (If you’re interested, visit my website at You’ll find a signup at the bottom of the home page.)

The results were good, but I still need to tweak things a bit to optimize it.

chart free vs paid series starter               Smashwords recently released an updated survey that supports the use of free books. With more and more authors using free book promotions, the effectiveness has dropped off some, but it still works. The 2015 survey found that free books are downloaded 41 times more than a priced book. That is up a bit from 2014, but down significantly from 2012 and 2013.

However, what it shows is that free books are a great way to get your books read. What happens from that point is up to the author. If the book is well written, the reader will want more so authors need to make sure that it is easy for the reader to find more books by the author and buy them.

“A free book allows a reader to try you risk free, and if you’re offering them a great full length book, that’s a lot of hours the reader has spent with your words in which you’re earning and deserving their continued readership.  Free works!,” Smashwords founder Mark Coker wrote in the survey.

Another item involving free books from the survey is that series that offer the first book free earn more money than those that don’t. Smashwords looked at 200 series with a first book free and 200 series that didn’t offer a free book. The survey looked at average earnings and the median earnings of the series. Both ways showed that series using free books earned 66 percent more.

I think this shows that free books should at least be given a try. I certainly will be. If you want to take a look at other findings in the survey, you can find out more here:

edgarallanpoeI am editing a book right now and thinking about how I would classify it. When I first wrote the book years ago, I considered it light horror, but now I’m not so sure.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the gist of the story is this: Because of how Lazarus of the Bible was resurrected, whenever he is about to die, his body steals the life force from the nearest person. During the early 19th century, Lazarus meets up with another resurrected being who was possessed by a demon at the time of his resurrection. The demon sets out to kill Lazarus and Edgar Allan Poe gets caught in the middle.

The bulk of the story is set during Poe’s lifetime, although there are modern-day scenes and scenes from Biblical times forward.

As I’m editing this, though, I realize just how much historical information is in the book, particularly about Edgar Allan Poe and his life. I did a lot of research and worked to weave my story around actual events in Poe’s life.

So I’m wondering if this could be considered historical fiction. It certainly isn’t what I consider historical fiction. It has a lot of fantastical elements in it. Something similar might be Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. My story is not as heavy on the fantastical, though.

What are your thoughts? Would historical fiction readers be turned off by this story because it is too fantastic? Would horror readers be turned off because it has too much history? I’m trying to figure out how to market the book, but first, I need to be able to explain it to a potential reader.

12079184_10207596187324611_4890560574893852992_nI attended Colorfest in Thurmont, Md., this past weekend. It was my first time there as a vendor. The weather was great and the crowds large. It’s billed as the largest craft show in Maryland, attracting an estimated 60,000 people over the weekend.

I had heard stories from other vendors about how good a show it is and so I had overpacked for the show. At least I thought I did.

I was selling books even before the show officially opened. I like to talk to the people who stop my booth, but from around 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days, it was so busy that I barely had time to sign the books and run the charges. At times, I had lines of people waiting to get my books.

That really made my writer’s ego feel great, and it was fun. However, one of the problems with being a writer at a festival that runs all day is that you need to be at your booth for your readers. They buy books wanting to get the author’s signature. That means I can’t look around at other booths and I can’t leave to get lunch. I also have to make sure my booth is close to the bathrooms because when nature calls, I have to run to the bathroom, be quick about it, and hurry back.

Anyway, by the end of the weekend, I had sold out of a third of my titles and another third had just a copy of two left. That made it easy to pack up Sunday evening. I had gotten to talk to hundreds of readers and potential readers, which was great. It’s something that I always enjoy.

If you’re a writer, don’t overlook craft festivals as a marketing venue. I find that for me, I sell more books there than when I attend a book festival.

The weekend did exhaust me, but it also left me energized to get back to my writing.


BooksAlive-LinkedInI attended the Books Alive! Washington Writers Conference the other week as a panelist, but I also listened to different panels and picked up some good information. The panel that I enjoyed the most was the agents panel. Three agents spoke about what they want to see in a submission or hear in a pitch that can be made in about five minutes. Here are some of the things that I gleaned.

  • Start you pitch with a hook. Give them one or two sentences that will entice the agent to want to know more about the project (this works equally well for articles and books).
  • Move into a short description of the project. Again, keep it short. Imagine you are writing the jacket copy for your book.
  • A short bio about yourself. Why are you the person who should be writing this?
  • What’s your platform? Do you use Twitter and Facebook? Do you have a web site? Maybe you are a columnist or magazine editor who has a following? What are the ways that your name is already getting out to the public.
  • Where does your book fit into the market and how large is the market? What shelf in a bookstore would someone find your book?
  • What’s your next project? You can’t rest on your laurels. Build on the success of your previous projects.
  • What are some comparable titles to your book? Be realistic here. Don’t just go for the big name books. List books that have similar content and scope. If you try to pass yourself off as the next J. K. Rowling or James Patterson, it will come across as hype.

So that’s what I took away from that panel. Someone else might have gotten something different from it. I’ve heard a lot of these things before so it is a pretty good bet that it’s what most agents want to see, but you should always check the agent’s web site just to be sure that you are sending what that person wants.

I read Allen Taylor’s E-book Publishing: Create Your Own Brand of Digital Books as an Advance Reading Copy. I have published a number of e-books and thought I pretty much had the process down pat, but I still found information and tips in here that I will use on my next e-book project.

If you haven’t published an e-book yet, then this book is a great primer to get your first book up and for sale. It has plenty of step by step information to walk you through the publishing procedures for various platforms. Hopefully, Taylor will keep the book updated as changes are made with the different publishing platforms so that the book’s information stays current.

That was a concern I had about some of the data about e-publishing I read early in the book. The most recent seemed to be 2013. If the 2013 trends continued, I wouldn’t be so concerned, but I saw stories last year showing that e-publishing might be leveling off. So the rosy picture, Taylor paints, may not be so rosy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a great market to get into and this book does a great job of doing it.

Taylor has a relaxed writing style so you don’t feel like you are reading an instruction manual as he walks you through the process. You just do what he says and before you know it, you have a book electronically published. I’ve read some manuals where the steps get so technical that I felt overwhelmed, but Taylor makes you feel like he’s a friend talking you through the process.

What novice and veteran e-publisher alike will find useful are the chapters on marketing, pricing, and running a digital press. Publishing your e-book is really just the first step in a very long process of getting it into the hands of readers. Taylor covers a lot of strategies to accomplish this. Try them out and see what works for you.

He shows you how to publish your e-book in a variety of formats and also with a variety of publishers. My biggest concern is that the book has separate chapters on publishing your book in different electronic formats and also with different e-book distributors. Reading the book you get the feeling that you have to format your books a half a dozen different ways and then upload it a number of different web sites.

One thing I have discovered is that pretty much all I need to do is publish my book with Kindle and then Smashwords. I used to only do Smashwords because it formats your books to a variety of platforms including the ones that Taylor lists as separate chapters. Although Smashwords publishes a Kindle format (.mobi), I’ve found that nearly all Kindle users buy their e-books from Amazon.

So I format my book two ways and upload it to two sites, but then it is distributed to probably more than a dozen sites.

All in all, it’s a very handy reference book to have. I highlighted a number of different web sites and passages to study in more detail.

Challenge_Future_New_Year_ResolutionsSo it is New Year’s Eve and a time to evaluate 2014 and look forward to 2015 in terms of my writing and goals as a lot of other bloggers are doing.

I only had one new book come out this year, Lock Ready. It was the conclusion of a historical fiction trilogy that has been 10 years in the making. I had plenty of articles published, but as far as I can tell none of them were in any new publications.  I did get my “Looking Back” history column into another newspaper, though.

I did about 50 percent more speaking engagements and festivals this year, and I started teaching occasional writing classes at a new college.

For the past month, I’ve been working hard to write at least 1,000 words each day. I’ve been able to hit that goal, but I’ve found that it takes longer than I thought it would, particularly if I cut a lot from a project I’m editing (I subtract that amount from my totals). What seems to be suffering if my marketing, and that was never my strong area to start with.

So my output could have been better, and I’m seeing that reflected in my income for the year. However, I also laid a lot of groundwork that should start paying off in 2015.

I expect to be editing and writing for a new quarterly magazine coming out in the spring. I’ve already lined up about a dozen speaking engagements and festivals for next year with more on the way so I think I will probably see another 50 percent increase in that area.

I’ve got six books that I am actively working on. Three of them should be published next year. I was able to handle to increased book workload this year because two of the projects are being done with co-authors (something new for me) and one project is editing and adding some material to an unpublished memoir from the 1940’s (also new for me).

Since 2000, I’ve been writing history and historical fiction. I’ve dabbled in some other areas with e-book projects. Next year, I will publish a YA novel. My very first novel back in 1996 was a YA novel, but I was never able to get a second one published with that company and moved onto historical fiction.

The new project will be published under a pen name, J. R. Rada. I know it’s not very different than my real name. I’m not trying to hide who I am. I just want to develop this pen name as a brand for my future YA and fantasy fiction.

So what are my writing goals for 2015?

  1. Publish three new books.
  2. Ready three more books for publication.
  3. Get two new projects started.
  4. Get published in three new magazines.
  5. Attend at least 50 festivals, speaking events, or booksignings.

Anybody have any suggestions for anything else that I should include?

I know that a book needs to be marketed. Boy! Do I know that, but I’ve seen a trend among a lot books that are out there to help writers market. The author usually spends a chapter or so talking about how the author should do all these things to search out what books in what categories are selling and then target a book to those places.

To me, that seems like you’re simply writing to market. You’re willing to tailor your story to the winds of fate and say whatever needs to be said to sell your book. The author becomes a politician of words.

Is that what book marketing has come to?

I still hope that authors out there who are writing great stories that they love can publish those stories and find a market. So maybe their novel isn’t about zombies or vampires or whatever the current craze is and it won’t sell a million copies. Maybe it sells only a few thousand. If it does well in its market isn’t that saying more than writing a mediocre book in a larger market?

Sure writers want to be able to make a living off their books, but the think about good writing is that it sticks around and continues to sell as more and more people discover it. This gives the author a base on which to build with sales of future books. As the author continues to write, sales build upon each other and grow to a point where the author can make a living.

Mediocre writing tends to peak and then die off quickly.

So why the push to be a marketer first and an author second? Authors became writers to tell stories that were stuck inside their heads dying to come out. Do you tell you muse, “Sorry, you don’t fit the category that is selling well today. Try back next month?”

Tell the story. Tell it well. And then do what needs to be done to get it in the hands of readers.

I’ve been enjoying setting up my Author’s Central page at  It’s like having a second author’s web site.

Some of the things I’ve got on my page are an author’s bio, blog feeds and, of course, all of my books that are Amazon. Amazon also adds a list of other authors that my customers have bought from and discussions about my books.

It’s a good clearing house for me to keep track of all my books so that I can quickly get to the individual book pages to make edits.  I’ve also used it on a few occasions when I wanted to link to all of my books at once rather than having to list each title and link.

The biggest advantage is that it makes it easy for customers who find one of your books on Amazon to see what other books you have written and to follow your blogs.

If you’re an author, make sure you create your own Author Central page and help out your readers.

Take a look at my page here.

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