Sunday, August 29, 2010
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
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
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
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!
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Well, we've talked a bit about the creation piece of the self-publishing puzzle. Now it's time to talk about how to prepare. Specifically, how to prepare to sell.
I want to take a moment to say that most publishing houses take at least a year to prepare for the launch of a new hardback. There's a reason for that. There is a lot to get done.
Luckily, you only have one writer you need to worry about. You. Unless you've got some other personalities lurking in there that have their own manuscripts, in which case it's beyond the scope of this post to deal with anyway.
I'm going to talk about two different areas of preparation that are key for the self-published author. One is the area of promotional tools, which we'll talk about in this post. The other is the venue (or venues) for the distribution of those promotional tools, which we'll discuss next week. They are both important.
The promotional tools a writer would want would be excellent cover art (variations of which could be used for biz cards, press kits, etc.), an electronic press kit (EPK), and a book trailer.
The cover art is the face of your novel. It's what's going to grab a potential reader or turn them off. It needs to be polished, creative and most importantly...sell your book! If you've written a how-to, a fantasy-like cover will do nothing but confuse a potential buyer.
The EPK includes your one-sheet (brief description), three-sheet (more in-depth description), bio and press release, at a minimum. It can also include a longer bio, a 3-5 page synopsis and FAQ's. The EPK is essential for anyone that would like to option off the rights to the screenplay. Being able to send this EPK at a moment's notice can make the difference between you being taken seriously or simply forgotten.
Finally, the book trailer. This is an opportunity to SELL YOUR BOOK!!! The importance of a good book trailer cannot be overemphasized. Let's face it. Our society has gotten more and more visually oriented as the years have gone by. Having a visual medium that draws a potential buyer in is a MUST!
For some examples of some amazing cover art, slick EPK's and stunning book trailers, take a moment to go to our website: www.ztspromotions.com. You can also our work in action by going to my Smashwords page for Plain Jane. Not only will you see our amazing book trailer, you'll be able to listen to an audio excerpt and read up to 50 pages for free! Just so you can see that we practice what we preach.