Story Worms: Biting the Bullet

Despite being a huge horror fan, I’m scared of a lot of things. The dark, spiders, flying, food with a face. In fact, simply leaving the house each day can feel like a test of courage. There’s just all sort of things that can go wrong, or cause a moment of awkwardness, and I can’t prepare for them all.

But when you’re a self-publishing author, you’re also running a business, and businesses require scary things like marketing and networking. We’re a funny lot, us writers. We hide away in darkened rooms, or basements, or under the eaves, sometimes in quiet corners of coffee shops and libraries if we’re particularly brave, and we spend much of our time talking to fictional characters, and living in fictional worlds. And that’s just how we like it, right? So it’s hardly surprising that social awkwardness tends to be rather prevalent among our numbers.

Last Saturday I attended a local speculative fiction literary convention. I’ve been going for a few years now, and I know a lot of people who go, and I spend the day hugging and chatting and catching up with everyone I’ve not seen for a year. But I remember my first time there. Not only did I have the anxiety of going somewhere new, with people I didn’t know, but I was set to read an excerpt from one of my short stories. The convention hosts several book launches, and the anthology the story was published in was being launched that weekend. It was absolutely terrifying. But I did it, and I’m so glad that I did.

That book launch got me recognition in that community, it made me friends in it, and it led me to what has happened today.

The one thing I always leave the convention with is ideas. Loads of them. Story ideas, project ideas, character ideas, and business ideas. Ways to push my self-publishing business forward.

I approached the event’s organiser (it actually took me 3 days to pluck up the courage to email him!) and pitched an idea I had for a workshop I wanted to run next year. And when he responded, it took me a while to pluck up the courage to open his email. Because this meant so much to me. But, with one eye squinted shut, I read his reply. Not only did he love my idea, but he asked me to bring it forward to the winter event, and he asked me to sit on one of the panel discussions.

Being on a panel discussion scares the absolute bejeezers out of me. I practically grew up on the stage, but I always had a script, a costume, a character to hide behind. This will be me. Unscripted. With a whole audience of people expecting me to say something clever and insightful. So I said yes. I bit the bullet. Because sometimes we have to do the thing that terrifies us the most.

And not just because it’s good for business. But because it’s good for us.

 

Story Worms: What’s the Worth of Permafree?

However counter-intuitive it may seem, making the first ebook in a series free is becoming an increasingly popular strategy for indie writers. Of course, as with any equally controversial tactic, there is a very strong divide and a lot of heated debate between the yays and the nays.

I can understand the arguments on both sides; after all, why would you give away something you’ve slaved over for months, maybe even years? Surely your blood, sweat, and tears are worth some compensation. And I completely agree. I stopped submitting to non-paying and exposure only markets a long time ago, and even Horror Tree itself no longer lists them.

There’s also the argument that authors giving away their books devalue the work of all authors, with readers expecting to get ebooks for free. It’s a fair point. We’re living in a culture where people expect to get ever more for less and less. Where hard work, talent, and particularly creativity are hugely undervalued. It’s not a culture we should be perpetuating.

Others feel it encourages low-quality ebooks; rushed, unedited, with poor DIY covers. The indie market has fought hard to shake itself of its low-quality reputation, and it’s a reputation that, even now, it’s only partially rid itself of. There are still many readers refusing to read self-published books.

But the permafree model is one with a proven track record. It’s also one that focuses on the long game. It requires patience and a strong nerve. It’s not about making a quick buck (obviously), it’s about gaining loyal readers and nurturing a relationship with them over time. Why? Because a loyal reader will buy your future books, they’ll review them, and they’ll recommend them to family and friends. And I’m sure I don’t have to explain the value of that.

Like it or not, we live in a society where the consumer is king. And the king likes to try before he buys. This is hardly a new thing, nor is giving away free trials to get future sales (and, hopefully, brand loyalty). We see it with free tasters offered in supermarkets, or at farmer’s markets. We see it with the free sample packets of cosmetics in magazines. It’s been a marketing model for years, and if it wasn’t successful, no one would be doing it anymore. Mind you, a small free sample hasn’t cost these companies months and months of hard work.

So it does remain a controversial approach, and there will always be those that speak out against it. After all, should we be encouraging readers to expect books for free? But on the other hand, we’re struggling for visibility in a saturated market, and against those with much bigger marketing budgets than we have. We have to do something if we want to sell our books beyond a few copies to friends and family.

In my next Story Worms post, I’ll show how I made my book permafree, and reveal the results from the first few weeks.

In the meantime, let me know what you think about the permafree approach.

Ongoing Submissions: Ink Stains

Payment: $5 for stories 4,999 words and under, $10 for stories 5,000-9,999 words, $15 for stories 10,000-15,000 and $20 for 15,001-20,000 words

We are proud to announce that coming soon is the new Ink Stains Anthology –  a literary journal filled with dark tales of fiction from Dark Alley Press.

The first edition of Ink Stains Anthology will hit the presses in March 2016.

Submissions are now open for pieces 3,000-20,0000 words for all works that fit under the Dark Alley Press banner, including those in the following categories:

  • Dark fiction (including lit fic)
  • Gothic fiction
  • Supernatural/paranormal fiction
  • Horror
  • Steampunk
  • Black Comedy
  • Fantasy and Sci Fi

Authors of acquired pieces for Ink Stains Anthology will receive a flat fee payment of $5 for stories 4,999 words and under, $10 for stories 5,000-9,999 words, $15 for stories 10,000-15,000 and $20 for 15,001-20,000 words. Payment is made upon publication. Exclusive worldwide English print and digital rights for one year are required. Previously published work will not be accepted if it is still available for purchase or is accessible online.

Ink Stains will be printed three times per year: March, June, and September.

Please submit your work through Submittable. Be sure to include a synopsis and a short bio.

Via: Dark Alley Press.

Women in Horror Month Special: Behind the Veil

When people first meet me, they’re often surprised that I’m a horror writer. People who know me well, however, they’re not surprised at all.

Generally, what you see is what you get with me: a big grinning idiot, favourite colour yellow, loves kittens, laughs at fart jokes. And I’m scared of just about everything; spiders, the dark, cupboards under the stairs (if you want to know, check out Stephen Volk’s Ghostwatch). Probably not everyone’s typical idea of a horror writer.

But those people who know me well, who’ve known me a long time, they know. They know that behind the shiny happy me, there’s what I refer to as ‘horror-me’. Horror-me is an entirely different beast altogether. Horror-me is scarily sadistic, knows several different ways to kill a person, and has an internet search history that raises serious questions about her sanity.

But, it’s not a case of me hiding horror-me behind a facade. I’m proud of horror-me, I love her. You just need to get to know me well before you meet her.

Looking back, I suppose it was inevitable for me to end up like this. My parents met one another at a UFO meeting, my father read me bedtime stories by the likes of HG Wells and John Wyndham, and by my teenage years, me and my brother were watching our way through the back catalogue of 70s and 80s horror movies. All this coincided with a lot of heavy metal music and a phase of serious goth fashion. Yeah, it was inevitable.

But it’s not always easy being a woman in the horror world. I know many female horror authors who’ve been told many times that women “shouldn’t write horror”, or even that they “can’t”. (Although, why any man would risk upsetting a woman who spends her days torturing her characters, is anyone’s guess. After all, hell hath no fury, right?)

But on a serious note, throughout the history of publishing, women have been advised, or forced, to hide their gender. Whether using their initials, opting for an androgynous pen name, or even a male one, women can’t always stand open and proud as women. Unless their writing in the ‘acceptable’ genres for a woman (romance, chick-lit, paranormal romance, more increasingly crime), it can be really tough. I’ve come across so many men that simply do not read books written by women. Seriously, they simply don’t. Have never, will never. Have a look at your own bookshelf, and see what the gender ratio is.

The fact is, many women find that they can sell more books when they disguise their gender. It’s sad, and it’s something that’s never going to change as long as women continue to hide. But I don’t blame them, not at all, it’s savvy business sense.

Maybe it’s the countless portrayals of women as nothing more than helpless victims in horror, maybe it goes further back into our cultural psyche, to when asylums were crammed with ‘hysterical’ women, or even further back to the view that women can only be one of two things; the virgin or the whore, and no one wants to associate with the latter. I can only speculate.

But this is why we need movements like Women in Horror Month, why we need to specifically promote, celebrate and champion the work of women. Because, otherwise, they remain invisible, veiled. Because women can do horror, and they can be far scarier than you can possibly imagine.

Women in Horror Month Special: Interview with Eeva Lancaster

Eeva Lancaster is one heck of a busy woman. She’s a book designer, an editor, and non-fiction author with three books to her name. She owns the author community Alliance of Self Published Authors. and it was this community that gave her a glimpse of the issues faced by self published authors. The result of this insight was The Book Khaleesi; the site through which she offers a huge range of services for authors. When she’s not working, you can find her snorkeling, indulging in TV series marathons, or gardening.

Give us a little introduction to the services you offer, and what your background is.
The Book Khaleesi is a one-stop-shop for Authors. There are a lot of author services websites around, but I specifically tailored my site to cater to Indies. Meaning, the services are affordable, but high-quality.

I’m a top-rated freelancer on Upwork. Working with author clients there gave me the idea to venture into the self publishing industry. I began as a ghostwriter before I started publishing my own books. The need for a site like The Book Khaleesi became evident to me as I got to know more indie authors on my Google+ community, The Alliance of Self Published Authors. I realized that many awesome writers are totally clueless about what they need to do for their manuscript before they publish. The result is a great story with poor packaging. Totally understandable. They’re writers, not designers or marketers. And many seek help, but if you look at the cost of most services, they’re pretty steep. And those that are cheap are crappy. Enter The Book Khaleesi. It’s like Goldilock’s chair. Not too expensive and not too cheap to be low quality. Just right on an indie author’s budget.

I personally oversee every single project that lands on our plate. I have to say that I micro-manage my team and check their final ouput before I send it to clients. I take pride in my work, and share in an author’s joy when they publish a high quality book I helped create.

When creating a book cover for a specific genre, such as horror, what are the most important things to consider?
Covers should let the readers know at one glance what the book is about. You can put one symbol on the cover and it works, as long as it conveys the core of the story.

And what’s the most common mistake indie authors make with their covers?
Many authors make the mistake of cramming their cover with images, but that just confuses and makes the cover look too busy. Simplicity and a kick-ass Title Font is enough to hook a reader. And a lot more make the mistake of doing it themselves, even though they’re not designers. I’m all for DIY – but some genres, like fantasy and horror, needs to have a cover designed by a professional. Otherwise, it looks… awkward. And hurts the book.

How do you decide if an editing client is a good match for you, and how do you work with them throughout the process?
I love to work with authors who leave their manuscripts with me and trust that I’ll do the best I can for it. I know it’s hard. It’s their baby. But if you get an editor, there has to be trust. In the past, well, even today, editors charged a HUGE amount of money to tell authors what they did wrong. You did not write this correctly, change it. Rewrite it. Many authors are afraid of this, the criticism, the rewrites, the back and forth, the cost. So most of the time, they’ll just skip hiring an editor.

Nowadays, there are good freelance editors who are affordable, and they will rewrite themselves when needed. Rare, but they’re there. I personally edit this way. I’m not a writing coach. I will edit the manuscript directly on Word to make it tighter, better, while retaining the writer’s voice. The author can then approve or disapprove my edits. I don’t believe in telling an author to rewrite. If they have a certain writing style, it will just come out the same way. If they’re wordy for example, or too descriptive. All they need is help in polishing the manuscript to make it tighter and more readable.

How can authors find the right editor for them?
The important thing is to find an editor who will care about the work. Cause it takes a lot of time to edit line by line. If an editor doesn’t care, what’s stopping them from just skimming and charging you for it? And my advise is to NOT rush the editor. Please. We’re self pubs. We determine the timelines. Let the editor work on the manuscript until it’s READY. The manuscript is everything.

And always credit your editor. Many authors don’t even give credit to the people who helped create their book. It’s not something to be ashamed of. Even Stephen King has an editor!

How can social media help authors, and what’s the biggest mistake to avoid?
Social media helps us reach our audience, our potential readers. It doesn’t guarantee sales but increases the chances of it. Many authors post on social media and watch their sales closely. When the needle doesn’t move, they get frustrated and stop promoting. Social media is just ONE part of the author platform, which all self pubs must build. eBook readers are online, and we need to be there and expose ourselves, promote ourselves and our work. Who will know about the book if we don’t promote? If we’re not searchable?

Sharing a link to the book is NOT promoting. It will just get buried, and is a waste of time. What we need is to establish presence and build a network. We need to be consistent and connect with people. 2 hours a day of consistent promotion is enough, and you should be saying more than just BUY MY BOOK. There are apps like Hootsuite which can help automate our campaigns so it doesn’t take up too much of our time. But sadly, a lot of authors can’t be bothered to learn these things. It’s just easier to say it doesn’t work. In the beginning, as you build your network, it will take up a lot of time. Just like any business.

Do you think women have a hard time in a genre like horror?
As a voracious reader, it never mattered to me if a writer is a man or a woman. I get how this concerns some writers, that’s why they use pen names with initials to hide their gender. But as a reader, has the gender of the writer ever been a factor when you chose books? In this context, in choosing a book, the writer’s gender is irrelevant. The story matters. The blurb matters. The cover matters. These are what convinces readers to buy.

What’s your advice to authors in the self publishing industry?
If you enter this industry, if you want your book to be read, you have to approach publishing as a business. Because that’s what it is. Self publishing allows us to release our work to the public easily, but it also means that we are personally accountable for the final product – the book. We have a responsibility to ensure that the book meets publishing standards. We are liable to our readers. Learn not only how to improve your craft, but also how to produce it and sell it. Study. Experiment. Stand out from the crowd. Writing a book is only the beginning.

Find out more at www.eevalancaster.com and www.thebookkhaleesi.com

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