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5 things about writing you don't know but maybe should

Once upon a time you thought of a story that involved a character, setting, and plot. You went into your writing cave and you wrote said story. Emerging months or even years later, you copied said story onto a floppy disc, took it to a printer and got them to print the manuscript for you, then you posted said story to an agent or a publisher. After which you went back into your writing cave to write another story while your first story sat on a publisher's desk for six months.

When I started out writing, it was very much like this. The internet was only new and no way would a publisher let a piece of technology dictate how it ran it's business. Every manuscript had to be posted. And I had to send a return stamped envelope if I wanted the manuscript back! Sometimes I had to send a standard stamped envelope if I wanted a reply. Some agents wanted a phone call first so you could pitch your premise to them and if they were interested they'd invite you send in a query. It was all very exclusive and at times rather pompous. No wonder it took me so long to learn about publishing when I had to wait six months for every manuscript to come back. It was a long, drawn out process and the publishers liked it that way.

But things have changed. And whether or not we think this change is for the better, we must learn to embrace change if we are to succeed in the future.

Where has this change come from? Well, not so much from the art of writing. Writing a novel hasn't changed so much over the decades, but everything after the novel is written has. For a start, most homes have their own printer and for a few hundred dollars an author can and should have a laser printer capable of printing good quality query letters and manuscripts. However, it is becoming more and more prevalent that agents and publishers are only accepting emailed queries and manuscripts which is negating the need for a printer once more. And with the world wide web, authors can submit to agents and publishers anywhere on the planet.

I thought I'd take a look at my top 5 tips that I think every writer maybe needs to know to help them write into the future.

1. It's a numbers game

How many books have you written? How many books have you published?  How many followers do you have? How many stars do your reviews get? How many? How Many? How many?

It seems that whenever I tell people I'm a writer I'm asked many questions around quantity. How many books signings have you done? How many rejections letters have you received? How many years have you been writing? How many? How many?

Human beings have an insatiable appetite for numbers which is understandable considering we live in a consumable world. Even I consider numbers when it comes to writing a guest post for a blog or doing a giveaway. How many followers does that blog have? How many visitors to the site do they get? How many people will my post reach? How many? How Many?

The day I released my third novel Little Red Gem, I was asked if I was writing another book. It's hard not to give that incredulous look and scream at someone that they haven't bought any of my other books, why are they so bloody concerned whether I'm writing another one or not. But the truth is, it's a numbers game. Readers don't want to invest in a writer that has a short life span. That's why it takes 3 to 4 books for an author to really start to gain some traction.

So how do you get numbers? Here's what works for me on my top 4 social media platforms.

Twitter - I follow fans and authors and then they follow me back. I've read that it's considered taboo to follow more people than you have followers, but who gives a toss? It's rude not to follow people who follow you. I'm still getting up to speed with how Twitter works so it's not my biggest fan reach but the simple follow them and they'll follow back seems to work.

Facebook - Ads work. For as little as $1 a day I can get around 20 Likes per week. If I increase the dollar commitment of course I'll increase the number of Likes. But I have a budget. Anyway, over a year those 20 Likes a week will add up to 1,040 followers. And because it's a numbers game I target my ads to countries that have a high population. You can pause the advertising at any stage and you can also boost any post. For example, if I have something important to tell my fans, I boost the post. I still limit this to $5 because it can get be a bit like playing with imaginary money and the bill can rack up.

Blog - The tip to getting people to your blog is to write articles people want to read. You're reading this, aren't you? What brought to this site? Most likely the title. Top 5... How To... 5 things... You need to think in terms of what people will type into a search engine and title your posts accordingly. Another tip is to write articles in a style featured in newspapers and magazines. Think about your intros. Think about your transitions from paragraph to paragraph. Look back over the stats of your posts and analyse what reached the highest number of readers and what didn't.

Newsletters - Every time I do a giveaway, even for something as simple as a bookmark, I collect emails so I can create a database. I make certain to put in any giveaway terms that I will be collecting emails. People have the option to opt out or unsubscribe, but the point is that newsletters are a great way of generating repeat business.

2. You can have your digital cake and eat it too

Too often I hear the cry that ebooks will replace print books. Quick print books, take up arms against your digital cousins and claim the throne that is rightfully yours. What nonsense to think that only one format will rule them all.

To state that a new format will replace the old is not only ludicrous, it's narrow sighted. The bath was not replaced by the shower. The stair was not replaced by the escalator. The pencil was not replaced by the pen. I have a microwave and a standard oven in my home. I have an acoustic and an electric guitar. I have a car and a bicycle. I have a radio and a CD player.

Remember what I said above that human beings have an insatiable appetite for numbers. They have an insatiable appetite for technology too. Take a look around any home and you'll find android tablets, smart phones, landline phones, laptops, PCs, iPods, digital clocks, watches, DVD players, CD players... the list goes on. Ask anyone these days to choose between two items and you wouldn't be surprised to hear them ask, why can't I have both? I'm not condoning this hunger humanity has for collecting things, I'm just pointing out that it's there.

An author can use this insatiable appetite to their advantage. Package the ebook and print book together by offering an ebook for free with the purchase of a print book. Incentive local schools or bookstores with a free ebook as consideration for purchasing the print book for their library or store. There were quite a few takers for The Bird With The Broken Wing and Feedback, my first two novels. Note that these 'free' ebooks form part of a strategy which I'll discuss later on. 

Ebooks might eventually replace print books, and that's not likely for another few decades yet, but the digital cake has changed, and will continue to change the way people purchase their cakes. 

3. Pumping your own gas

20-30 years ago, you drove your car into a service station (gas/fuel/petrol/service whatever you call it), and an attendant came out to you. He topped up the car with fuel. He checked your tyre pressure, cleaned the windows, topped up the window wiper tank with water, checked the oil level. When the tank was full he took your cash, dashed inside and returned with your change. 

Today, you drive into the service station, get out of the car, pay up front by swiping a credit card machine at some places, pump your own gas, spill it on your favourite leather boots, wait in a long line, all the while your shoes reek of fuel, and the person in front takes forever to choose a chocolate bar. Then, you go outside, clean your own windshield and wave apologetically when someone pulls up behind you and sits on their horn to tell you to move so they can get to the pump.
Writers totally are equally, if not solely, responsible for pumping their own gas, or in non-analogy terms, marketing their own books. Writers are now web masters/mistressess, bloggers, and market researchers. We stay up on our computer long into the night sending query emails to other people who stay up on their computer long into the night, so that someone out there may review our book. Or maybe they’ll want to interview us. Maybe they’ll do anything, anything, anything in the hope that someone out there notices all our hard work and says “gee, I wanna buy that book”.

Editors from publishing houses have openly admitted that the writer who is not willing to self promote, is not going to sell any books. A writer needs to learn, not only how to write their book, but how to sell and promote their book. And with the competition increases tenfold daily, it's more important than ever that authors read marketing books as well as fiction.

4. Technology isn't going to go away

We'll do what it takes to get our books out there, right? Of course. Yet, secretly we hope that all this technology and social media and whatever goes away as soon as possible so we can get down to the business of writing. Remember the final scene in the movie 2012, the world has been destroyed and has to be rebuilt, and there is only one author on the surviving ship. Woo hoo, we're all thinking to ourselves. Oh, to be a sole author in the new world, to have a captive audience, to be rid of the competition, to be rid of the annoying presence of technology. The problem is that the annoying presence of technology isn't going away and neither is the need to come up with inventive ways to promote our books to newer audiences.

Book trailers are something new that authors are learning to put them together. Pinterest is something I don't get but it's popular. Social media sites come and go, but the concept of ever evolving technology will never go away. Humans have embraced it. And until the day where we have no electricity, we will have to suck it up and learn new things.

That's not to say that we need to invest time and money into learning every new piece of social media or software that is ever invented. We still have to be realistic and do what we can reasonably do. But we can't pretend it's going to go away and leave an opening for us to return back into our writing caves.

Get out of your comfort zone and if you need to learn it, learn it. Trust me, it won't hurt. Much.

5. You don't get something for nothing

It frustrates me to see so many authors just giving their hard work away for nothing. If it forms part of a marketing strategy, then for sure, give stuff away, but the point is that the recipient shouldn't just get something for nothing and the author shouldn't give something for nothing. Just throwing your hard work away is pointless and sets up an unrealistic expectation from readers that all authors should do this. And if all authors did this, then we'd all be in a sorry state in a few years time.

'Free' should be part of a marketing strategy, not something done out of desperation. I don't care what anyone thinks, I don't think it looks good or professional unless it forms part of a strategy.

If giving away your book forms part of your marketing strategy here are a few suggestions:

  • If you do a giveaway through a blog tour make sure that YOU do the giving away, not the blog host. That way YOU collect emails to add to your newsletter database. 
  • You should request an honest review from any reader who receives a free book. Period. Readers are fast becoming used to being asked to write reviews in return for free books to read.
  • You can use a 'free' book as a thank you to current followers. For example, I once invited all my newsletter subscribers to take up an offer of a free ebook as a thank you for signing up and staying on  my newsletter database. The point of this exercise was to make the 'free' offer exclusive so as to keep my readers from unsubscribing. It also makes them feel special because they are.
  • Give away a free ebook with every purchase of a print book. You can link do this easily with Amazon but you might need to use some creative means of capturing this data for other retailers.

If you simply must give away something for free without any type of rationale or marketing strategy to support it, please, please, please try give away something other than your novel. Here are few suggestions:

Short story anthology - dust off those short stories you've been writing for years and create an anthology. write a forward about your writing journey and what these short stories mean to you. Don't forget to put links to your books and website in the back pages.

Multi-author anthology - there are many other authors in the same boat as you, and if 10 authors each submit one 2,000 word short story, you have a 20,000 word anthology. That's about 70 pages and is a great 'free' tool that 10 authors can promote.

Novella - tying in a novella that relates to your novel is one way of giving your readers something free that isn't your hard work.

SWAG or promotional items - bookmarks, laminate passes, key chains, mugs, postcards, there are many items you can give to readers that will help promote your book. Readers like unique promotional items. I prefer postcards, bookmarks and things that can fit into a standard envelope to reduce postage costs. Make sure that you put your website address on whatever you give away.

I hope you enjoyed reading through this post. Agree? Disagree? What sort of tips do you think might be useful as writers go forth into the future. I'd love to hear your comments.

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D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.

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