Book Marketing and the Indie Author

I know what I know…and I know what I don’t know.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

A few days ago, I and a fellow author sat down with someone who wanted to make a living writing. Our listener was a young aspiring author, soon to graduate with her degree in journalism. After talking and answering her questions about our experiences and the industry as a whole, I realized that without meaning to, I’ve become something of an expert in the realm of indie publishing. The two hours we spent together simply flew by and our captive pupil left with far more information than she ever wanted to know.

I know what I know, but I also know there is so much left to know about how to be successful in this changing industry.

I can, and did speak for hours on the importance of writing that first flawed draft. Don’t stop to edit it. Just write it. Get the story out. There’s plenty of time later to edit and rewrite. I know that it’s the act of writing that makes you a better writer and that your first book is only the beginning of your education. Writing a full-length book teaches you how to craft a story with a clear beginning, middle, and an end. It teaches you pacing and form. It also teaches you that every word on the page isn’t golden or even necessary.

Editing, proofreading, and formating play a huge roll in the success of your book. It’s worth the time and effort to find a support network of readers, editors, and proofreaders that will help you polish your manuscript. It still might make it to publication with an error or two, but that often happens to traditionally published books as well. I know that your cover design and title are crucial in catching the eye of a potential reader. Your indie book must be indistinguishable from other traditionally published works so that the stigma of being an indie author doesn’t have the chance to work against you. Because, let’s face facts, the stigma arose and persists for a reason.

And then, there are the marketing plan choices that must be made. Here’s where I sound like an expert but I realize that I have yet to crack the code to this all-important and mysterious step.

It’s not that I don’t know what to do. I’ve read every article on the web about book marketing. What to do. What not to do. Articles that might be entitled; the five fatal mistakes every new author makes, what you should be doing before you hit the publish button, the importance of author branding and networking, establishing your email list early, the correct marketing strategy for each social media platform, and how do you choose a price for your ebook…along with so many more. The point is, I’m overflowing with information and established methods for reaching readers. And yet, I still don’t know how to rise above the general marketing noise of millions of books flooding the marketplace on a daily bases.

And I know I don’t know.

I blog. I do book reviews for fellow indie authors. I have a social media presence. I share marketing resources with other authors. My books are professional looking and well-edited. I have even managed to garner a few awards. I write in a very popular genre. I give books away and discount my ebooks on occasion. I have a mailing list. I beg for reviews. I have paid for promotions, ads, and joined Facebook groups. The point is, I have followed the advice of all those articles and yet I haven’t hit on that combination of methods to boost my sales into the stratosphere.

I’m not here to complain. I love what I do. I love my author-life. I realize that my books might never be bestsellers. I would like them to be, but that might not be in the cards for me. I love my books and characters. The fact that those that follow my writing love them too is perhaps success enough.

This leads me to the most important advice I gave my young audience..and it didn’t have anything to do with the nuts and bolts of writing or marketing.

And that is…

You have to love what you write because that manuscript will forever be apart of you. You will be talking about that book for years to come. You have to love it because this industry is hard on dreamers. You have to love your work, your story, your book, because others will dismiss it, reject it, and overlook it. You have to love the work because you will read it over and over again during the editing process. No one will read your words more than yourself. No one will talk about your book more than you. You have to have the faith of a true believer.

I love my books and characters. They are forever apart of me. I love what I do though I am not a bestselling author. And, if I ever figure out the secret marketing combination to make me one, I promise to post it here.

Until then, I’ll keep writing.

A Quick Review, No Chaser

An Unwilling Bride: A Medieval Highland Romance is the first book in a series by Avery Maitland. It’s sold only in ebook format and strickly through Amazon. It has a cliffhanger ending. I know some readers hate cliffhanger endings, but if you know there’s one when you begin reading, it’s far less jarring.

This book was a quick read, a single afternoon, and exactly what one would expect in a highland romance. Managing expectations is key when reaching for this type of book. Never does the author attempt to elevate the story to something more than a trade book romance. And sometimes, that is exactly what a reader wants. Entertainment for entertainment’s sake. And that is why these types of romances have always been popular.

This book has just enough of dinnae, lass, aye, and ye in the dialogue to allow a reader to imagine the Scottish brogue without it overpowering the story. If you are an Outlander fan, then An Unwilling Bride will help satisfy your craving for all things Scottish.

The characters are predictable but well-drawn. The writing is solid and the story fast-paced. I wished the book had been longer, more detail given about the time and world. But again, that’s not the sort of book this is.

The only real negative I have to share has to do with Catriona’s character. She’s presented to the reader as being fiery and headstrong, quite the opposite of her older sister, Morag. But at times, Cat’s actions and reactions to events puts me in the mind of Maureen O’Hare in The Quiet Man. She’s constantly over-acting her part. There’s no subtlety to her character at all. After a while, her stubbornness becomes annoying. And because she refuses to accept her situation as Lachlann’s wife through the majority of the book, when the pivot in the story happens, it feels rushed.

That in itself is probably too much criticism for this book, but I can’t help but feel like the author sprinted to end of Cat and Lechlann’s story in order to set up the beginning framework for what will occur in book 2.

Will I jump into the next in this series? Perhaps, but only to follow up with Morag’s character whom I found much more appealing.

So here’s my humble opinion…if you searching for a little Highland romance with tartans, raids, and muscled men brandishing swords then An Unwilling Bride is a nice way to spend a cold winter’s day.

Isn’t it Difficult Enough?

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I’m sitting here in front of my computer and trying to gather my thoughts so that today’s post doesn’t come off as a rant or a whinny bit of complaining. So bear with me as I debate whether the word I should use is bear or bare. And wonder overly long if I can I really begin a sentence with and or the occasional but.

Writing is hard. There are so many grammatical rules. Some of which are firm and unbreakable. Others feel more like guidelines because language and its usage is in a state of perpetual change. Lately, pronouns seem to me to be under attack. I often see one-word sentences and I no longer find page-length paragraphs in books or overly long Faulkner-like rambling prose. The preferred style of writing seems to be clipped, almost abrupt. Text-like.

As a lover of prose, I read with two minds. One as a writer… I would have said this if I had written it. I would have changed that. I can’t believe this got passed an editor. Is it past or passed? I know the author meant through but though is clearly on the page. This author loves commas. Or, where the hell are the commas!

But if the story is good and the characters are compelling, I read as an average reader might. Suddenly I don’t see the mistakes unless they’re glaring because their isn’t the same as they’re or there and it occurred in an important scene between the characters.

I usually don’t comment on errors in general when I write a book review for an author. I don’t because I know that the industry has changed. Many traditionally published books are full of errors. And no matter how they choose to publish, the authors are struggling with the same difficulties as I am. They’re human and have poured their imagination and heart into the writing of a book for the entire world to see and judge. And being so close to their own work, their mind simply can’t see the mistakes anymore.

Excellent writing doesn’t come naturally. It takes honing. It takes work and reworking. Writers agonize over word choice. Pacing. Sentence structure. Tense. Point of view. Should a story be told in first-person, second, or third. Only after the work has been edited and re-edited do writers begin to struggle with shaping their work into an accepted format for others to view. An editor has their preferred style of working through a manuscript. An agent or potential publisher will want to see the manuscript in a very specific format as well. And still later, the actual book’s format (ebook or print) will differ from both of these pre-published states. A lot can be overlooked during this process.

So when I begin reading a book and manage to get out of my writer-mind that knows too much into a reader-mind, I know it’s a good book.

I also feel a connection to an author who has published a book full of errors because I’ve already lived through that moment in my writing career. I have to admit the raking over the coals I received from a few less forgiving readers was absolutely brutal! I think at this point I’ve recovered, but the memory still stings.

Sometimes a book full of errors is because there was a rush to publish. Other times it’s because the editing, proofing, or formating was given over to an outside source that didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t care. Either way, it’s a painful learning lesson and my heart goes out to any other author who has or is dealing with such a thing.

It is hard enough creating the work, no matter the genre. That act of creating something from nothing takes courage. Even with the flaws, whether few or many, an author has given a piece of themselves to the world…to a reader. And that, my fellow book lovers, deserves to be celebrated and encouraged.

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” (Confucius)

A Quick Review; No Chaser

Purchase it HERE! (universal link)

The Water Princess Claiming of Earth is the first book in the Elemental Chronicles by Gina Manis and it was my first ever reverse harem book. Oh My!

So where to begin…

Firstly, Gina Manis weaves an engaging story. There are strong folklore and fantasy components to her world-building; beautiful princess cursed to appear as a hag to others, ogres, magic, and so much more.  In many ways, this book is an adventure first and a romance second. It’s also a story told in first-person. I should pause here and say that I’m not a huge fan of the first-person perspective. I find that choosing that method of storytelling sometimes results in a choppy and abrupt feel to the sentences. But, that is a purely subjective reaction on my part and Manis’s prose and ability as a writer manages to rise above my personal objections.  

Because this is a no-spoiler review, let me say that Celine’s character was likable, capable, and more than just a little naive in her expectations of bonding with her three male rescuers. Managing one man’s ego is difficult enough, but three? Tate turns out to be an old love and is an earth element. Lindon is charming and seductive, a wind element. Brier is the seasoned warrior whose water element is broken. Then there’s Brown. Fairly soon I realized that Brown wasn’t what he appeared and by the end of the book I was rewarded in my suspicions. After all, in the world of magic there are four elements not just three.

I easily read this book in a day. By the end I was ready to download the second in the series, The Stolen Princess Taken by Fire. However, according to Amazon it is still on pre-order until January 21st so I guess I’m stuck having to wait to find out what happens to Celine next.

If you like fantasy romance, you will enjoy The Water Princess.

A Quick Review; No Chaser

Purchase it Here!

Song of Smoke: A Dragon Shifter Romance is book 1 in Jillian James’s King’s Series.  It was independently published in August of 2018 both in paperback and Kindle formats and is a quick read for all you romance lovers out there. Honestly, I devoured this book. The characters were compelling, the writing was good, and I love dragon-shifter books. As for world-building, Jillian James does an excellent job of creating a universe that can sustain many more books.

This book’s beginning was dark and a little disturbing. Seda is living in an extremely abusive patriarchal society where women are property. Humans live most of their lives underground because of the war between humans and dragons but women find themselves thrown into the dungeon for the smallest offenses. Despite her circumstances, Seda comes across as a spunky, strong-willed heroine that I could immediately embrace.

Dederic is the insanely handsome and dangerous hero every dragon-shifter book should provide, and the chemistry between the two main characters was tangible in this slow-burn romance. There was one secondary character, Odin, that caught and held my attention. I hope James will return to him in a later book to give him a mate of his own.

There were the occasional spelling and typo errors but I’m beginning to accept this new reality in all published books whether self-published or traditionally published. Either way, the mistakes weren’t enough to slow down my reading or dampen my enjoyment.

All and all, I would highly recommend this series to any fantasy romance fan. Book 2 in this series, Whisper of Water, will be available January 19th according to her website and I am looking forward to reading it.

Going Wide in 2020

Photo by Alex Woods on Unsplash

For the past few months, I’ve been watching my Kindle Unlimited stats and I’m not thrilled. Despite my marketing efforts, the hours I spend agonizing over tags and descriptions, and the promised advantages of being enrolled in Amazon’s Select program, I’m not seeing enough bang for my buck. Amazon arguably has the biggest share of the ebook market, but after a while, exclusivity becomes limiting and expensive for authors with more than one or two books to promote.

So after publishing 3 books in 2019, I’m faced with a fork in the road. I either have to stick to the Amazon exclusive program or go wide.

Going wide means offering my books everywhere books are sold online. It seems like a no-brainer, no? Actually, it is a more time consuming and longer road to travel for authors. It’s simply easier to remain exclusively with Amazon. But having all your eggs in one basket has its own set of risks. Amazon can derail all your efforts if they decide to drop some of your hard-earned reviews. (That happened to me early in my publishing career.) Or, if they change your genre or tags without explanation….like moving a romance book into erotica. (That has also happened to me. I got it fixed but it took a herculean effort on my part to get two of the Darkly books back into the romance category where they belonged.)

A lot of an author’s success in going wide has a lot to do with name recognition as much as it has to do with the quality of their books. More markets mean more time on social media, more ad placements, and pretty much just more of everything before you see any results.

I tried going wide in 2010 and 2011 with Smashwords and it didn’t really help me. Their platform was okay back then, but it wasn’t slick or exactly easy to use. And because that experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I’m going with Draft2Digital this time. The interface is easy, the graphics are appealingly modern and fast loading, and the support staff is wonderfully responsive to issues that authors run into while trying to market their novels.

The ability to make universal links for my books is probably my most favorite feature. With a single click, readers are given a choice of online bookstores from which to purchase the ebooks. So if you like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or others…it’s all there in one place to find.

For example, here’s a list of my books with their universal links.

Enchanted Darkly
Bound Darkly
Kept Darkly
Surrendered Darkly
Resurrected Darkly

The Love of Gods
The Fate of Wolves

If you’ve clicked on any of them, you’ll notice that Resurrected Darkly is on preorder and that The Love of Gods and The Fate of Wolves is still available through Amazon only. That will change at the end of this month once my three-month exclusivity commitment to Amazon is fulfilled. You will also notice that Draft2Digital and Books2Read has provided a landing page for authors. Not only do you get the book cover and blurb, but you also get access to the author’s bio and shown other books by that author. I have to say, it impressed me. That level of simplicity and professional design should help me keep my social media ads clean-looking.

The next step in my 2020 marketing plan is to create and publish an ebook box set for the Darkly books through Draft2Digital so readers can download the entire series at a discounted price. I hope it will encourage readers to try out this fey romance-adventure and breathe new life into a series that I love.

I’ve also gotten a firm deadline from my editor for The Dreams of Demons, book 3 in the Legends of the Pale series. So now, I can confidently begin laying the groundwork for its June 1st release. And at this point in time, I’m committed to the “go wide” marketing plan. More and more I’m finding that not everyone likes Amazon.

I guess that’s all I have to report today. Thanks for checking in with me here at the Chalkboard. I’m just getting back into the swing of things after taking time off from writing to be with family over the holidays. In the coming days, I’ll be posting several book reviews from my holiday read pile. Otherwise, it’s back to work on book 4, 5, and 6 of the Pale series.

May your 2020 be the best year yet!

Fighting Preconceived Notions: Romance

For some reason this week I’ve been running into the same wall. It usually begins with an eye-roll from the other person after I explain that I write romance novels.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Ah, where to begin…

For some reason this week I’ve been running into the same wall. It usually begins with an eye-roll from the other person after I explain that I write romance novels. Somehow my being a romance author makes me less than in their eyes; less talented, less serious, less theme-based, less thought-provoking. Dismissable.

“Really? You don’t like things like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, Anna Karenina, The Notebook, Time Traveler’s Wife, Outlander…?”

Before I know it, I’m defending the entire genre and explaining that my books aren’t like the princess driven trade paperbacks they might have read in their youth. The entire genre is now woke, where consent and diversity are addressed, and strong female leads are the norm.

If the conversation manages to get past the first roadblock, I’m then justifying the sex scenes in my books and that of other authors.

“Why do they even have to be there in the first place?”

That question usually leads to my explaining the very big genre differences between romance and erotica. Sex as a plot device versus sex for sex sake. I might even launch into a diatribe on the lingering dislike of romance as another subtle form of slut-shaming. Luckily, that usually only happens after a glass of wine…or two.

The final nail in my conversational coffin occurs when I explain that I write paranormal romance.

“Yes, paranormal.”

“No, that doesn’t necessarily mean vampire. It could mean ancient gods, werewolves, shifters, demons, or any other supernatural being.”

“Yes, I realize vampires aren’t real.”

“Oh, I’m sorry you don’t enjoy fantasy. Shame really. Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland. They really were fantastic books.”

At that point, the conversation is over. There’s no reason to explain the difference between paranormal and fantasy. They don’t understand me, and I don’t understand them. How do you live in a world without a touch of magick?

Ick.

I’d like to say that these conversations only happen with individuals of a certain age or gender, but I can’t. This week it’s been weirdly random. The fact that I’m running into it more at Christmas time than earlier this year is even stranger since this is supposed to be the most magical time of the year.

Christmas is when we should celebrate love in all its forms. Real or fictional.

So yes, judge a book by its cover and quality of prose but don’t limit yourself by genre. Take a risk. Try something new this season. You just might encounter undiscovered worlds and characters that find a permanent home on your bookshelves.

The Holidays are Here!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I have to admit that 2019 has been especially good to me. I’ve published a total of three books this year and have been allowed to devote all my energy to writing. The new Legends of the Pale Series has been highly praised by readers and reviewers alike which is a wonderful gift for any author. And, the Darkly Series is now complete a series of five books I can be proud to have written.

Literary Titan has been especially exuberant with their kind words and with their acknowledgment of the Legends of the Pale and Darkly books this year by bestowing Gold and Silver awards to many of them.

I do have one more book signing this year at the Madison Artist Guild on Saturday the 14th, but then I’m taking a short break to be with family before attacking the new year and the first draft of book 5 in the Legends of the Pale series.

Next year, I plan on attending several book festivals between book signings… and of course, books 3 and 4 will be released in 2020. Soon the Legends of the Pale books will be available at the Southern Pen Bookshop, in Monroe, Georgia. Be sure to check back from time to time for the latest news on my progress.

Happy Holidays to you all!

Tarrant

Soon my books will be at the Southern Pen BookShop in Monroe, Ga.

Updates from an Author’s Life

Jackie was an early reader and supporter of my Darkly Series. It was so wonderful to see her at the signing.

Saturday turned out to be an impactful day for this indie author. I’m happy to report that sales at my book signing at In High Cotton were brisk. I love the opportunity to introduce new readers to my series and connect with past readers who already know and love the characters from previous books.

And if that weren’t enough to warm this author’s heart, I also had a review notice from Literary Titan hit my email box. I was pleased to discover that the reviewer had given The Fate of Wolves five stars. But it was what the reviewer wrote that stunned me. It also brought me to tears right there in the middle of my big day.

Here’s the passage that got the waterworks going:

The Fate of Wolves, by Tarrant Smith, is the second in The Legends of the Pale series. From cover to cover, Smith delivers insanely well-drawn characters and enough moments of levity to keep this paranormal romance moving along at a brisk pace. Never does Smith’s work lack. As the author bounces from one subplot to the next and back, she keeps readers on their toes and deeply involved with each of the main characters and their tragic lives.”

But that’s not all:

“I would be remiss if I didn’t address Smith’s opening lines. It’s not often that I rave about the beginning of a book, but in this case it’s a must. From the first sentence, Smith had me hooked.”

Wow. Just Wow. I know I’m not supposed to take any single review to heart. I actually try not to pay too much attention to my reviews because even a small flaw pointed out by a reader has the power to mess with my confidence as a writer. And honestly, reviews are for readers, not authors. They are subjective comments about a book that potential readers use while deciding whether to buy or invest there time.

But, this particular review might get a special place near my writing area just to remind myself that the hard work and effort to produce my best possible work is worth all the hours of writing, the self-doubt that no one will read it, and soul searching that goes into crafting what I hope will be the perfect story.

***

In other news, I have one more book signing coming up. December 14th at the Madison Artist Guild will be my last signing of the year. So please, mark your calendars. Details can be found on my Events page.

Also, I hope to announce very soon that the Legends of the Pale books will be carried by the Southern Pen Bookshop in Monroe, Ga. I’m meeting with the owner this week to work out the details.

Lastly, I’d like to report that I am hard at work on book four in my Legends of the Pale series. I’ve nearly completed the first draft of The Souls of Witches. So as we all march toward the holidays, I can say with all certainty that I will have two completed unpublished books in my stocking this Christmas. That means The Dreams of Demons and The Souls of Witches will be released in 2020. You can view their covers on my book pages.

Read with confidence, my friends. There is so much more coming in this series.

A Quick Review; No Chaser

Kulti

Kulti by Mariana Zapata wouldn’t have been a book I’d automatically pick up. Though it’s a contemporary romance, it’s also set in the world of women’s soccer which is something I don’t follow or have ever played as a kid. It’s a doorstop of a book. My copy was 560 pages long. I like long books, but in the romance genre it’s at least a hundred pages too long. The main character’s love interest is a retired legend of the sport, and he’s German. I’m sure there are plenty of friendly Germans in the world but I rode dressage for years. I’ve had several German coaches. They’re typically difficult as hell and demanding beyond words.

Mariana Zapata is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. This book has 1, 193 reviews on Amazon. The majority of readers like this book. So despite my very personal issues, I dug in and tackled my book club’s choice.

It wasn’t awful. As a matter of fact, mostly…it was quite nice. The writing was good; the internal dialogue funny.

The pacing of the romance was slow to the point of painful, which is a problem that I can’t ignore since this is supposed to be a romance first and a sports novel second. Two hundred pages in I couldn’t help but think, what the hell? Why didn’t her editor bother to rein in this author? I sighed, rolled my eyes, and then reminded myself that this is a bestselling author. That should mean something. Yes? There must be a big payoff coming. Hopefully. And then, I’d start reading again.

Sal, the main soccer-playing character, is in her late twenties. Despite being a leader, focused and driven to excel in her sport, and arguably the best player on her team, her reaction to Reiner Kulti is extraordinarily adolescent. I’m sure this might be endearing to some readers but not to me. I’ve been a tomboy all my life; horses, basketball, golf, cycling. I understand being competitive, giving your all, and hating to lose. Teenage crush or no crush, being a female athlete doesn’t automatically make you socially awkward.

What was far more endearing was her panic attacks around cameras. That sort of character flaw was palatable because it doesn’t play to stereotypes. Who doesn’t get nervous when a microphone is shoved in their face?

The very German Kulti, a David Beckham styled character, is not likable at the beginning of the book. As a matter of fact, he’s not all that likable for most of the book. That’s mainly because Zapata only sticks to Sal’s immature point of view. At the very end of this book, there’s a payoff of sorts. It’s not a huge payoff, but I can now understand why the single point of view was done.

Here are my final thoughts… If you like feel-good books or movies about sports, then Kulti is for you. If you are looking for your next steamy read-in-a-day romance, this book is a hard pass.

***

I plan to leave this review on Goodreads.com. For other book reviews scroll down the Chalkboard.