Sunday, September 26, 2010


There are a lot of long-held beliefs about artists that get in our way.  For me, one of the worst of them is the idea of the artist as an anti-social lone voice in the wilderness.

We see the genius, hard at his or her work, despised by all others, fighting against all odds to eventually triumph over the forces of "normality" and ignorance--many times after their tragic death.  It's lonely.  It's a battle.  It's epic.

It's kinda silly.

I've used Shakespeare before as an example.  I'm going to do so again, humbly begging your pardon while doing so.  Yes, I think Shakespeare was a genius.  No, I don't think you need to in order to understand what I'm talking about.

Whether or not you enjoy Shakespeare's works, he gives us a model we can look to.  He was a writer.  He was very successful during his own lifetime (in spite of what you may have heard).  He collaborated.

Shakespeare collaborated with other great writers of his day, most notably Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Fletcher.  My guess is that he learned something from each person he worked with, and I'm certain they learned something from him.

Our process doesn't have to be lonely or in the dark.  Working with someone else can elevate our writing, but it can also help us to identify our weaknesses, bringing them into stark relief.  Once we see them (usually one of the biggest problems artists have while viewing their own work), we can do something about fixing them.

The other thing it can do is to double our audience.  You bring yours and I'll bring mine, and together we can put on quite a party.

@IndieBookIBC is taking that kind of thinking to the next level.  It's a marketing collective for all you writers out there.  If you haven't done it already, you need to check that stream out.  In addition, the work we (Zero to Sold) do for writers, filmmakers and screenwriters...creating trailers, cover/poster art and press another type of collaboration that is truly a win-win.  Go take a look at to see some examples of how we can work together to really get your work out in the public eye.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Indie Book Collective

So, you're a writer.  You have written, or are writing, or are about to write a novel.  You have now, or are seeking, or hope to one day obtain a publishing deal.  You are in the process of, or are preparing for, or are thinking about selling many many many copies of your book.

In other words, you need the Indie Book Collective.

Let's be honest with each other.  Unless you're a name author (and as flattering as it would be to think a name author is following my blog, I like to keep it real), selling your novel is tough.  You may be able to get it polished, packaged and ready to go with a fair amount of work and a fairly steep learning curve.  But selling lots of copies?  You're going to need some help.

Even if you have a traditional publishing deal, the house simply is not going to pony up the marketing budget for a beginning writer.  You need to make it happen yourself.  That's where the Collective comes in.

The Indie Book Collective had a wonderfully successful launch last Monday (9/13), but we're trying to get the word out to every writer that's serious about promoting.

The IBC is a group of writers, from both traditional publishing house and indie digital markets.  We promote our novels through a combination of social media platforms and brick-and-mortar bookstores.  We're getting our stuff out there!

How are we doing it?  Well, it's too involved to give you all the details here, but you can go to the website to get the whole picture.  Also, if you're on Twitter (and if you aren't, you should be), follow @IndieBookIBC.  But the snapshot is this:  cross-promotion.

The essence of cross-promotion is that if people like your book they may like well as the reverse.  Add in a bunch of other writers, and all of the sudden we're reaching a vastly greater number of potential readers.

The core members of the Collective are all successful indie writers themselves that have already stumbled through the process on their own.  Now, they're sharing information with you, so that your process can be much smoother.

So go to the website.  Follow the stream.  Get on board the Collective train.

'Cuz, baby, this engine's going somewhere fast, and you'll want to be along for the ride!

Oh, and just to get a little idea of what the Collective can help do for you...check out Plain Jane here at Smashwords.  Watch the trailer, listen to the excerpt and read 50 pages for free before you purchase!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Going out on a Limb...or Maybe Not

At some point, it seems that many artists get to a crossroads.  It seems painful or traumatic...usually somewhat epic, but it feels like life asks us to make a decision about whether or not we're going to live by our art.

It usually takes the form of having to choose between keeping our full-time job and continuing our creative work (that in these moments normally doesn't pay well enough for us to quit our full-time jobs).  We feel stuck.  Our focus is more and more on our art and less and less on our paying gig.  Our boss notices.  Things reach a head.

So, first things first.  If you're not there, you don't have to get there.  I truly believe that a good portion of this is our subconscious trying to scuttle the whole "living by our art" thing.  Most of us have some pretty negative voices in our heads about that whole deal, and success isn't really part of it.

In other words, focusing on our art is not an excuse for checking out of our "real" jobs.  They're paying the bills.  Writing or filming or painting or acting or whatever it is that you're doing is MUCH easier with the bills paid.  Period.

Now, if you do find yourself in this position, don't panic.  Stop.  Breathe.  Life isn't necessarily asking you to make a choice between these two things.  Before you storm out in a huff, yelling back over your shoulder that you'll succeed or starve, remember that starving does strange things to the creative process...not many of them good.

Find the third option.  It's not a compromise.  It's not trying to reconcile the two seemingly opposing choices.  It's finding a way forward that honors our need to survive but also recognizes our desire to create.

I'm not saying you should never give up that day job.  I'm just saying to stop and breathe before you make a rash decision.  We should never make a decision based on fear.  Giving up our art so that we can survive is a fear-based decision.  Storming out of the day-job so we can "suffer for our art" is too.  Art doesn't demand our suffering.  It may ask for us to be more creative in how we manage our lives, but it doesn't want us to be in pain.

So, maybe instead of going out on that limb, we can climb back down the tree, go inside and fix ourselves a nice cup of hot we sit down to begin creating again.  'Cause that day job starts early, and we do need our beauty sleep. :)

Sunday, August 29, 2010


What makes

We spend a lot of time as creatives trying to improve our craft, seeking to sell our product, looking to live by our art.  But do we know what actually makes it art?

There are so many different (many times seemingly opposing) views of what makes good art.  Two people can watch the exact same film, read the same novel, stare at the same painting and walk away with two completely different opinions of what they've just experienced.

And that's how it's supposed to be, right?

Because, for me, art is the ultimate in individual expression.  I think that's what art ultimately is.  It's an extension of who we really are on the inside.

That extension can be touching, shocking, revolting, empowering or even titillating to us, but when it's honest and connected, it will move us in one way or another.  That's what good art does.  It's one person reaching out and touching another.

And when we experience it, we can't help but be changed by it.

So how do we create art?  I think part of the process is simply doing it.  Over and over again.

When we start, our work is usually pretty derivative.  We're mimicking what we've seen others do.  We liked it and want to repeat it.

Eventually that doesn't satisfy, so we start digging deeper.  We start delving into the "how" of our craft.  What do I have to do to make a story compelling?  What can I do to make a character more believable?  How can I craft a film to engage an audience?

We immerse ourselves in the nuts and bolts of what we're doing.  We spend time with it, we make mistakes with it, we occasionally obsess about it.  And it gets into our bones.

And then, at some point, we realize we're stuck in the minutiae.  We're bogged down by craft.  We've lost our joy.

Really, we've lost ourselves.

And so, hopefully, we rediscover who we are.  We develop our "voice" (which we've actually been developing all along).  We let go of the tediousness of the craft and just trust that it'll be there for us.  Sure, we check in during moments of trouble, but we relax and allow ourselves to come through.

And brilliance starts to happen.

Now, I can't say that this is everyone's process.  I can only say that it's been mine so far.  I imagine there are lots more stages along the way, and I think that's exciting.

Because that's another thing about art--it's ever-evolving, just as I hope to be.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Well, we've gone through, at least briefly, all the steps of self-publishing our novel over the last few weeks.  Fun.  Good times.  Right.

Now then.  What have we actually done about it?

If the answer is, "I have followed all your advice except for the parts where I had an idea about how to do it better," then you're doing just fine.

If the answer is somewhat less than that, the question is, "Why?"  We want to sell our novel, right?

Well, therein lies the problem.  It's one that I've talked about before.  I've even addressed it in the blogs leading up to this one.


It's the big bugaboo.  It's the boogeyman under the bed.  It's the opposite of true connected creativity.

It's what will stop us if we let it.

Fear comes up in many ways and has many, many guises.  Sometimes it's even difficult to identify it as fear.  But it always comes with certain markers.

If we're looking in instead of out, we're afraid.  That means arrogance as well as insecurity.  Both are a direct result of fear.

If we're comparing ourselves to others, either to berate ourselves or build ourselves up, we're afraid.  Informing ourselves about what others are doing is one thing, determining our talent based on what someone else has done is just silly.

If we're defensive or dismissive when others give us critiques, we're afraid.  Either they have a point, or they may not, but getting angry or ignoring them is letting go of what may be a brilliant fix for a problem we haven't yet identified.

If we find ourselves stiff, using a lot of declarative sentences, running over past conversations in our heads in front of an imaginary jury... guess what?... we're afraid.

And that fear does nothing for us but hold us back from the artists we want to be.  We will not ever be as successful as we could be at promoting our own work.  Our future creative work will suffer.  Our personal lives will have more strife that we would like.

Basically, fear sucks.

So what can we do about it?

The things that I've found help invariably have to do with getting out of my own head and connecting with others.  Mentor a troubled teen.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter.  Read to the elderly.

Basically, do something kind for someone else.

It's not that hard.  It will make us feel good.  Oh, and one more thing.  Our creative work will improve.

Not so bad, right? :)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Selling Our Books

Well, we've written, polished and prepared our novel (and hopefully ourselves) for sale.

Now we have to...guess what?...actually sell it.

This is where we bring everything together.  This is also where we typically have a beast that likes to rear up its ugly head.  That beast has a name.  It's called "Discouragement".

See, selling our self-published book takes time.  There's a build to the process.  We're building our readership (especially since, for most of us, this is our first book); we're building our reputations as writers; we're building our word-of-mouth.

That doesn't happen overnight.

So, once we've realized that fame and fortune won't slap us in the face the second we launch our book, now we get down to the nitty-gritty.  This is where all of the tools we've acquired and the social media followings we've built come in handy.  At this point, we begin to advertise.

The main place to advertise, as far as social media is concerned, is Twitter.  This is where we need to be cautious.  We've built up our following by making sure we're putting out content that is informative, funny, entertaining, helpful, or possibly a beautiful combination of all four things.

Commercials are usually not any of those things.

So, we have one of two options.  We limit the number of "commercial" tweets we put out (no more than one commercial tweet to every "branded" tweet--in other words, the tweets that our followers like).  The downside to this is that those commercial tweets don't get out there as often as we'd like.

The other option?  Make sure our commercial tweets are informative, funny, entertaining or helpful.  In other words, work to make sure the commercial tweets fit inside our "brand".  If we can do this successfully, we can up the number of commercial tweets to pretty much one-to-one with the branded tweets.

These commercials can send people to our book trailer, our cover art, our website, our Facebook page.  Or, we could pretty much put most of those items up on Smashwords.  You remember this puppy from last week?  This is the site where you can format your novel (and it will take some work) to their specifications, so that it can be distributed in any e-book format that the reader would like.  You sell your novel for far cheaper than readers could get it anywhere else, and you make more than you would by selling a hardback through a traditional publisher.

You can go other routes (and you may want to pursue both at once, since there are those that just want the feel of a book in their hands), by going to the so-called "vanity" publishing sites.  There are sites where you retain all rights to the book, the books are printed as they are purchased, and you can sell through Amazon.  Cool.  You're still making a lot less off of each copy.

Plus, Smashwords allows for all kinds of coupon codes.  You want to provide a free copy of your novel to a reviewer (great idea for getting the word out there, by the way)?  Send them a 100% off coupon.  More important to you to build your readership than to make $?  Give your Twitter followers a 50% off coupon.  Want email addresses to be able to market your next book more successfully?  Trade the email for a coupon code with the percentage of your choice discounted.

One final note for this week's blog (although we haven't even come close to exhausting this topic):  too many of us view the selling process as something very similar to the picture above.  Furtive.  Shameful.  Hush-hush.

Guess what?  If we sell it that way, people will read it that way, and then will ultimately talk about it that way.  If we want people to shout out the name of our novel from the roof-tops, we probably want to sell the book in the same way.

Doesn't our novel deserve it?

Just to see exactly how this process works, go to our Smashwords page for Plain Jane.  Check out the cover art, the trailer, the audio excerpts and the excellent review.  Plus, you can read 50 pages of the book for FREE.  Test it out before you buy it.  Just a practical test-drive for you before you do the same for yours!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Preparation Part 2: Social Media

Well then.  Here we are.  We've written a book (and boy-howdy is it AWESOME!), we've developed cover art, we've gotten ourselves a book trailer and we've put together a kickin' press kit.  We even have an amazing website that we've created, with the help of our favorite tech geek buddy.

Now what?

It's not enough to have all those tools.  We actually have to use them.  I know.  Crazy, right?

This is where social media comes in super handy. 

I'm going to focus on two of the most helpful (and popular) sites:  facebook and Twitter.  I'll also talk about a couple of other sites that any self-publishing author is going to want to know about:  Smashwords and goodreads.

First, let's talk about what facebook and Twitter are (and are not).  Facebook acts a little bit like a billboard.  It's great for putting up content (cover art, book trailers, etc.) and then promoting.  You can advertise on facebook according to interests and locale, which means a very targeted group will be viewing it.  Problem is, they don't know you from Adam (or Eve, as the case may be).  It can be somewhat limited, and certainly isn't very dynamic.

Now let's talk Twitter.  Twitter is your best friend.  I know, you may not believe me, but I'm telling you, it is.  Twitter acts more like a television channel, with people choosing to "tune in" or follow your stream.  And, like a TV channel, you need to provide good content.  Interesting "tweets" or updates, that entertain, inspire, or give information.  A caveat:  it must be under 140 characters.  Er...

But what's great about Twitter is that once you have a loyal following, you can begin to introduce "commercials" into your stream.  Links to your website, your trailer's youtube, an e-event your hosting, whatever.  Once you are a trusted source, people will follow you...and click through.

This is where we talk about Smashwords and goodreads.  Smashwords is where you can sell e-books in just about any format imaginable.  And the commission you get off of a $2.99 sale of your e-book nets you more that bestsellers get per hardback copy sale.  You heard me right.  Worth checking out?  I think SO!

Goodreads is a place where people talk about the books they're reading.  This is a great place for an author to start to build up hype for his or her novel.  It works even better if you're working with a group (see my post on writers' collectives here).

So, I've given you a very brief overview of what social media can do for you and your book.  If you want to see this in action, check out my Smashwords page for Plain Jane.  You can watch our book trailer, listen to an audio excerpt (VoiceOver courtesy of @actingnodrama) and read up to 50 pages FREE.  You can also follow @writingnodrama, @cristynwest, @zerotosold and @craftycmc to see what we're doing with Twitter.  Then, once you're salivating, head over to our website to see it all in one place.  We look forward to hearing from you!