The Descent: an Innovative Contest Where the Indies Win

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Kobo fanboy. Kobo was my introduction to e-books, and I’ve never tried another platform (beyond installing other companies’ apps on my Kobo), and I don’t really care to. I’ve found a nice home there, and that works for me.

One thing I really like about Kobo as a company is that they truly support their Indie Writers. Kobo Writing Life is a great program, as many Indies can attest. But for the most part (and this is just my opinion), Indie books are still somewhat underground–someone has to point them out to you. Fortunately, that’s changing quickly–and Kobo has an innovative way to help bring about that change.

J.F. Penn is well known enough in the Indie world that she doesn’t need an introduction. Suffice it to say that the author of the Arcane series is at the forefront of our industry, and an incredible representative of the Indie Community. She’s a powerhouse, to be sure, and a concrete example of how writers like us can make this work.  Now, Penn is working with Kobo to present a truly unique contest: The Decent.

The short of it is this: for three weeks, Kobo will release a short story written by Penn. Within those stories is a series of clues which the reader has to ferret out and assemble. This will lead the reader to a secret web page where they can enter to win a grand prize of $5000. Sounds like fun, right? Well, here’s the best part: all of this is part of a promotion for Dan brown’s coming novel, Inferno.

Okay, hear me out before you browse away from me. I can hear you now: this blog is about the Indie community, why are you writing about a contest for a Dan Brown book? Believe me, I had my own reservations at first. I enjoy Brown’s novels, but let’s be honest–they’re not the pinnacle of English Literature. And he’s about the furthest thing away from an Indie writer you could imagine. So why write about it here?

The reason is that this puts Indie writers squarely in the spotlight. Well, one writer in particular, but this is important: J.F. Penn, a voice of the Indie Community, is being advertised alongside Dan Brown. People who are lusting after Brown’s book will learn about Penn–and when they learn about Penn and her self-publishing success, they may explore more Indie writers. Even better, it validates our industry; if Dan Brown is in the big leagues and Penn is playing ball with him, it reflects very well on the rest of us.

Now, to be honest, there are those who will read Penn’s stories, click through to the contest without realizing who she is in the Community, and never give Indies a second thought. But there will be those who are intrigued enough by her work to explore her other books; they’ll see that she operates under her own imprint, The Creative Penn, and isn’t attached to a large publishing house; they’ll visit her webpage and see that she offers marketing advice for people wanting to publish their own books. And that is a direct open door to the Indie Community. And besides all that, the very fact that Kobo is associating Brown with an Indie writer in this way is very telling: it shows that they have a stake in the Indie community, and are willing to invest in us in a real way. This contest might be going out to the world, but really, I think the Indie Community has already won.

I thought about reviewing Sins of Temptation, the first of Penn’s three stories, but have decided against it. I wouldn’t want to inadvertently give spoilers that turn out to be clues. If someone wants to enter this contest, they should run the gamut themselves. I will say this about it: it’s decent, and left me wanting more. It’s rather short, though it’s intended to be. And it has a distinct flavour to it that is more than reminiscent of Brown’s novels. Which, I should add, I think is a good thing.

But don’t take my word for it. You can find the first entry here, and it’s free! The second entry was supposed to be released today, but was available online Wednesday–you can find Sins of Violence here. The third and final story will be released next week. This contest is exclusive to Kobo, however, so if you don’t have an account you’ll have to make one. The account is free too, and Kobo has a great store, so you won’t be disappointed.  Finally, if you don’t have a Kobo, keep in mind that they have several apps that can be run on different devices, or even on your computer.

So go out, pick up the books (supporting a fellow Indie) and spread the word–the more people who see this, the better it is for all of us. Happy sleuthing!

This contest is run and operated by Kobo Inc. You can find the full rules and conditions here.

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How to be (in)Visible

Social, by JD Hancock c/o Flikr.

One of the greatest challenges facing an indie author is visibility. Simply put, if nobody out there knows you’re writing, nobody our there will be reading. So how do you become visible?

This is something I’ve been struggling with since I started this journey. I’m by nature a shy person, and I’m not comfortable asking people to buy or try my stuff. I tell myself that I don’t like “imposing myself on others.” This is something I’m slowly getting over, but it’s been a challenge to say the least.

When I started self-publishing, I figured that a few good words and some solid stories would sell themselves; I didn’t care if it took a bit longer, I just thought that it would eventually steamroll under its own power. This, I’ve since learned, is one of the cardinal sins of self-publishing: never assume that your work will sell itself. The biggest reason for this, again, is that nobody knows you’re out there. Even with a lot of concentrated networking and shilling, it can be a challenge to get a large audience; why would they appear out of thin air? This is the best way to become invisible to your market: hope it takes care of itself.

But there are some relatively simple actions you can take to increase your visibility. Here’s three, and they don’t take that much more effort than doing nothing:

Twitter

Social Media is the big one. You should at least have a twitter account: here’s mine. When I started publishing, I had about 40 followers, because nobody except friends and family knew I was on twitter. I still have less than 100, but it’s growing; I’ve hovered around 85 for about a month. I want to grow my twitter audience, because they’re an easy way to distribute information–but the trick is being relevant. Use hashtags, talk about things other writers talk about, and be active. And by active, i don’t just mean tweeting a lot; I mean starting and participating in conversations on twitter. If people know you’re putting some effort into it, they’ll listen.

A few weeks ago, I found myself without a lot of time to catch up on twitter. I’d go a full day before checking twitter or tweeting myself. And I noticed a steady drop off on followers. People were checking their own twitter streams, realizing I wasn’t saying much, and taking me off their lists to make room for others. But as soon as i tweeted a couple useful links or started a conversation, my followers grew. And the more you have, the larger your audience and the more potential for further growth. Ryan Casey has a great post on how to properly use twitter.

Networking

Which leads into the next point: networking. I used to be very bad at this–like I said, shy guy. But in my new job, networking is essential, and I’m learning how to make effective and useful connections. Networking in the indie community is no different–and actually a bit easier.

The thing about networking is that people want to share their experience. They want to help you out, and they want you to help them in return. In the indie writing community especially, people out there are chomping at the bit to make you the best writer you can be–and it’s only fair to give back.

The first thing any indie writer should do is start creating a network of friends–fellow writers–who can help. You shouldn’t actively ask them to promote your work or teach you how to edit; that will come naturally if you cultivate the relationship. But even just a few people will help you immensely. They’ll give you writing advice. They’ll re-tweet your tweets. They’ll link to your blog. And in all likelihood, they’ve got a larger platform than you right now: everything they share of yours is going directly to their audience. And that audience, properly cultivated, can also become yours.

That’s the great thing about the indie community: there’s no finite market. Writers aren’t competing with each other as much as they seem to in the “professional” world. My readers can be yours as well, and that overlap is far from harmful (as thought in some capitalistic ventures); it’s actually helpful. Because it all helps spread the word of what the indie writer’s community is doing: revolutionizing the publishing industry.

How do you get a network? I started by following people on twitter whose work I enjoyed reading. Get in touch with the author, tell them you like their book. Ask them questions. Talk to them about things other than writing. My own network is small so far–I’m only just cluing into all these tips–but it’s growing. And the larger the network, the more people who are out there to help you when you need support, encouragement, or advice.

Outside Promotion

This one was scary for me. Not to beat a dead horse, but I don’t like asking people for things. It makes me uncomfortable to thing I’m requesting a favor, or asking them to do something they may not want to do. But you know what? It’s not that hard. And most people in this community are not only willing to help promote your work, they’re eager to do it.

That’s not to say you should spam indie writers with requests until someone complies. That’ll get you blacklisted. But there are a few simple places to start.

One I’d recommend is The Book Designer, by Joel Friedlander. He’s a designer, but has tons of useful information about self publishing. He also runs two monthly features that help writers promote: the eBook Cover Awards and the Carnival of the Indies. There’s no cash prizes or anything like that–this is much more valuable. Joel has over 17,000 followers on twitter, and I can imagine there’s many more who frequently read his blog; and when you’re in one of these features, your name (and blog) are sent out to all of them. I’ve been featured in both this month, and have experienced a significant amount of traffic because of it. Definitely check it out.

There’s also a Round of Words in 80 Days. I talk about them often, so I won’t go into length here: just follow the link if you’re interested. Suffice it to say, it’s your own community within the writer’s community, which helps people set and achieve writing goals. If you sign up, you’ll be invited to post a link to your check in blogs twice a week, and these links are promoted to others in the collective. It’s win-win.

The last thing I’ll mention about outside promotion is that if you give, people will give back. I’ve noticed that when I re-tweet someone’s book link or blog post, they’ll often re-tweet that to their followers–which means that all their followers can now see me. Share and share alike; that’s how this community works. It feeds upon itself, but isn’t diminished by that–it’s made stronger.

Now, of course, the next step for me is to translate this growth into sales. I haven’t had the chance to update my site to include links to my books–which is really a glaring oversight. I’ll get on that soon. In the meantime, my platform is growing, and now that I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve, it’ll keep growing at a decent pace. And really, it wasn’t that difficult to start.

Do you have any tips and tricks about increasing your visibility? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

 

Indie Review: Something in the Cellar by Ryan Casey

We’re going to try something different today.

Something in the Cellar

Something in the Cellar by Ryan Casey

As a burgeoning indie writer, one of the first things I learned is that the community is awesome. There are a lot of people in the same position as me–or those who’ve been there before–and they’re willing to help out. So I’m going to start a new segment on this blog to do my part: reviewing works by indie writers. This will be ongoing, but I can’t promise a regular weekly column (I don’t have that much time to read!). I’ll try to do at least one review every couple weeks.

For our first review, we have Ryan Casey’s Something in the Cellar, which you can find on Amazon here. This is a collection of two horror/suspense stories and an except from What We Saw, Casey’s upcoming novel.

Something in the Cellar opens the book, and it’s got a great premise: a woman has killed her husband and locked the body in the cellar. She spends the story wracked with guilt, rationalizing her actions–all while trying to keep her dog and young son from discovering the crime.

This story could have gone a lot of different ways. After I read the first paragraphs, I expected the protagonist to be a hands-rubbing-together villain, and the story to centre on her vile crime. Thankfully, that’s not the case; Sandra ends up being a layered figure, and nothing is as it seems. The reader quickly gets on her side, not because of her motives (which are revealed gradually) but out of empathy. She’s a genuinely likeable character, despite what she’s done.

Likewise, I expected something different from the tension and its resolution. I don’t want to spoil the story, so suffice it to say that what you think is causing the tension is resolved, only to reveal a new source in the last pages. The end of the story comes at the reader very quickly, and Casey’s use of short sentences and tense language creates a creepy atmosphere. This is one of those stories where, after reading the last sentence, you set it down just to catch your breath. I honestly didn’t see it coming, and wanted to read more–but the “hang” is perfectly effective as it is, and resolving it would have lessened the work.

Next is The Runaway. It opens at breakneck speed, and the reader is left feeling like they’re chasing the protagonist. All the while, questions are being asked; the protagonist doesn’t know who or where she is, or even why she’s running. But she knows she must keep going.

This story is tense for a different reason than the first. It’s not frightening, really, but there’s an underlying ‘creepiness’ to it. Because the reader knows just as little as the protagonist, they are left in the dark, grasping every clue in an attempt to figure it out. Casey is good at giving those clues bit by bit, just slowly enough to keep you interested without being vague. This means a loss of power for the reader; when we read a story, we want to be in control, to be able to figure things out at our own pace and revel in the deduction. Casey takes that away from the reader, and the result is unsettling, in a good way.

However, I felt that the resolution for this story wasn’t as satisfying as Something in the Cellar. I was a bit confused by the end; although I got the gist of what Casey was saying, certain details were lacking. Instead of creating subtle questions for the reader that they could answer on their own–which I think was the writer’s intent–it left me wondering about the motives of the characters. I still think it’s a great story, but it could have used some clarification in the final pages.
All in all, this is a great collection, and it’s a steal at $0.99. In my short time as an indie writer, I’ve read a good amount of other indie fiction, and Casey definitely stands apart from the crowd. He has a talent for creating tension, and seems to understand that true horror writing isn’t about scaring your readers–it’s about leaving them unsettled enough that they scare themselves.

Ryan Casey has another short story–Silhouette–which is also available at Amazon here. His first full length novel, What We Saw–is set for release in January 2013. You can find Ryan online at ryancaseybooks.com.

And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where we’ll be talking to the man himself!

Writer’s Resources

I’ve already made a short post today–see below for my re-blog of David Hewson’s nice post about Scrivener and Screenshots–but I wanted to add a little something of my own too.

As I’ve embarked on this self-publishing journey, my biggest impression has been of just how much there is to think about–and how much help is available to writers in the same position. Publishing an eBook isn’t as simple as writing something, converting it, and sending it to a store. There’s a ton of work involved, from many aspect that aren’t even really connected with writing (like marketing, social networking, graphic design, and HTML coding/formatting of the product). The amount of work that goes into it is impressive–and intimidating.

Fortunately, the indie writer’s community online is terrific. People like Yesenia Vargas, Ryan Casey, and Joanna Penn are great resources, centering on different aspects of the game, and there are hundreds more.

So, as someone who’s just beginning to take the first steps along this path, I’ve decided to collect links that I’ve found helpful or interesting, and provide them to anyone else reading this blog. At the top of this page, you’ll note that I’ve added a page called Writer’s Resources, where you can find these collected links. My intent is to keep adding to the list whenever I find something I feel the need to refer back to, but I’m inviting input from everyone. If you have a link you’ve found helpful, send it my way and I’ll add it to the page. (The caveat here is that this isn’t intended for advertising or self-promotion; if that’s your angle, I won’t post it.)

Take a look at the page–I hope you find it helpful!

Editor’s Appreciation and an Interview

from Generationbass.com

So as I’ve been saying on this blog, my first publication–The Astrologers and Other Stories–will be published soon, and has been sent to an editor in preparation. That editor is Yesenia Vargas, who can be found here. Yesenia just started offering editing services, and I jumped at the chance to be a client for two big reasons: she’s a fellow indie writer with aspirations toward self-publishing, and her rates are great.

In fact, she’s got a special rate for a limited time–50% off! That’s an amazing $2 a page for copyediting–you will not find a better deal. Go here for details, and don’t dawdle–the discount is only for the next four clients!

Yesenia mentioned to me that September is Editor’s Appreciation Month–which is timely, given her venture and my first experience with professional editing.  I also thought that this confluence made for a great opportunity for an interview. Below is the first half of our exchange–enjoy! My questions in bold, her answers in regular typeface.

You’ve been blogging and writing for a while–what made you want to also offer editing services?

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve always been pretty good at grammar, punctuation, and those kinds of things. It’s something I enjoy and do even when I’m not thinking about it. In school, I was the one my peers went to when they weren’t sure about how to spell a word or use a comma. My friends would also regularly give me their English papers to edit or proofread before submitting them.

I never thought I could be a professional editor, though, until I read a writing friend’s book and pointed out a few typos and grammar mistakes I had found. She said I should be a copyeditor since I seemed to have a knack for it. Her comment really stuck with me, and I started researching what it took to be a great copyeditor and how to start my own business.

What are some of your experiences with editors?

To be honest, I’ve never worked with one as a writer since I’m not published yet. However, I do read some editors’ blogs and websites because there’s a lot I can learn from their experiences. In addition, I’ve chatted with a couple of editors via social media who seem like nice, hard-working people. I mentioned to one that I was going into copyediting, and she was actually really supportive.

How do you think editing differs between self e-publishing and so-called “traditional” publishing?

Well for one thing, the publishing house is the one that hires (and pays for) the editors, although the writer will most likely also communicate with them. In e-publishing (or self-publishing) the writer is completely in charge of finding and hiring an editor. In e-publishing, I would also say there’s a higher risk of getting scammed or having an editor who doesn’t really know what he or she is doing because the publishing house has access to people who regularly work for them and do a great job.

Either way, a writer shouldn’t think that just because a book is traditionally published that the editing will be 100% perfect or mistake-free. Editors are human. You’ll always have at least a couple of typos no matter who edits the manuscript. Nonetheless, it’s smart to make sure any editor has references and that you check them.

On Wednesday I’ll post the second half of our interview, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you’ve had some experience with editors you’d like to share, post in the comments! We both want to hear from you.