Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jaguar Sees - Simon Writes!

My pal Ann Simon has published her paranormal international thriller Jaguar Sees and after reading (and loving) it, I asked her to talk about how having her book out there feels.  Like the novel, I found her story interesting.

We’d been living in Moscow for a year and a half for my husband’s work, and we had long established the custom of sipping on an after-dinner vodka.  One evening we were so engaged, chatting about this and that, when my husband pronounced, “I had an idea for a thriller.”

 “What is it?” I asked, amazed.  Steve is a scientist and his interest in creative writing was last demonstrated, well, never in the 35 years I’d known him.

“This guy goes to the craft market and buys a lacquer box. Part of the painting on the box is the key to a nuclear weapons smuggling operation.” 

Hold the horses!  “That’s a great idea!  What happens next?  How does the box lead to the smugglers?”

“Oh, I don’t know; that idea’s the only part I thought up.  You should write it.”

So I did.

It wasn’t that easy, of course, but Russian winter afternoons are as long and dark and cold as they are described in Russian novels.  That makes plenty of time for writing.  By the time we returned to the States six months later, I had the better portion of a completed manuscript.

The “guy” morphed into a young woman (Claire) living in Moscow with her scientist husband (Jack).  If this sounds familiar, I can only describe Jack and Claire as Steve and I but younger, prettier, and faster.  Claire innocently buys the lacquer box and subsequently gets herself and Jack into more trouble than any two people can handle.  I gave them help in the form of Claire’s Shamanic power animal, a spirit jaguar.  The fun for me became marrying the two worlds:  the most up-to-date technology of tactical nuclear weapons with the most ancient of spiritual belief, Shamanism.  (Shamanism is fitting in a Russian story as some of the earliest evidence of Shamanism has been found in the Altai Mountains of Siberia).  The enigmatic title of the book reflects its intertwining concepts:  a fast paced thriller about tactical nuclear weapons smuggling with a paranormal overlay in an exotic setting that jumps from Moscow to a pine forest in Siberia:   a little something for everyone.  Unsurprisingly, my book is a lot like me:   unique, fun, and maybe little weird.  I prefer to think of it as cutting edge.

The book is categorized as a cross-genre novel because it is neither a straight thriller nor conventional paranormal fantasy.  Additionally, while the spirit animals in the book are not of this world, paranormal fiction is generally about vampires, werewolves or other dark creatures.  Jaguar just isn’t that mundane, which meant that even the agents and publishers who praised my writing wouldn’t, in this economy, risk something that didn’t market as traditional genre. 

Jaguar wouldn’t leave me alone, however.  She sat reproaching me from my computer desktop.  She wanted out!  She wanted to prowl the light of day, and Claire and Jack were equally eager to roam.  Fortunately, we live in the magical world of the Internet.  E-publishing beckoned me. 

I hired a talented young woman to convert Jaguar to HTML format.  She created the cover from a photo I took from the window of our Moscow apartment.   I followed Kindle’s instructions and uploaded the novel.  There have been a few glitches (most notably with readers receiving the cover image), but the people at Kindle are very responsive and helpful.  So there it is, my OWN novel, actually selling with actual people buying it. 

Austin’s asked me, “How does it feel to have your book available for all to read?”  It feels great, not least of all because jaguar, in all her spirit animal glory isn’t growling anymore.  The only problem now is there’s a red hummingbird tapping at the screen, buzzing, “Sequel!  Sequel!”

Jaguar Sees:  The Lacquer Box by Ann Simon is available at the Amazon Kindle store - - for electronic readers, Windows 7 phone, i-pads and other i-products.  The Kindle app is currently free.   

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stand on a Solid Platform

Aside from “social media” I think the most popular buzz word in book marketing is “platform.”  Your platform does relate to social media because, beyond just selling books, it is the primary tool for expanding your business.  Growing your platform is essential.

A platform is how you make contact with others, but it’s not so much who you know as who knows you. It's your area of influence.  Your platform may be your business.  You have a business and your business is your platform. Your reach and your influence are through your customers.  Also, any speaking you do, whether paid or unpaid, is considered a platform.  It may also include:

Newsletter subscribers: these are people who want to know what you're doing; they are your tribe.

Existing fan bases: any connections, whether through speaking, your newsletter, or any other fan base you have.

Associations/groups: If you are a member, these people and this affiliation can also be part of your platform.  You’ll want to solidify these contacts and bring them into your funnel.

Past work: anything related to what you've written about is part of your platform. Teaching, classes you've taken, speaking, or just life experiences as it relates to your topic can be woven into your platform.

Identifying a platform is pretty easy for non-fiction authors.  For fiction authors it can be a bit more challenging.  For us, a platform is generally tied closely to the genre we write.

Every author, fiction or non-fiction, needs a reach.  Once you figure out where these people are and how to get to them, you'll begin to connect with today’s readers and those who can be your readers in the future.  These are the people who can help you to expand your tribe, so you need to define those readers.

So how does a fiction author expand his or her readership?  One idea is to find other, similar authors in your market and research them online.  Observing their platform can help you build yours.

For example, if you are a mystery writer, you could research the top 15 authors in your market. Now, the top sellers like Grisham and Patterson have built themselves into mega-platforms through years of publishing.  You can learn more practical stuff by looking at the midlist authors who are probably on their own like you, without a personal assistant or staff of a thousand. Check out where these authors turn up online. Are they on Twitter? Do they have Fan Pages on Facebook? What groups do they participate in?  Seeing what kind of presence they have, you'll start to get a sense of how a platform is built and what you need to do to grow yours.

I’ll spend some time on the steps necessary to grow a platform in a later blog… and hopefully some ambitious guest blogger will tell us about their platform and how they are growing it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Borders Wars

I watch the upheavals in the book selling industry with more than casual interest.  The success or failure of book sellers affects how many people will buy my books.  So news that Borders is about to declare bankruptcy - maybe this week – is chilling.

The Borders chain has been very good to me.  I’ve done book signings at all the Borders and Borders Express within an hour’s drive of me, which is maybe 25 stores.  Many of the managers of those stores are my friends now.  I hate the thought of them, and the 19,000 other Borders employees, suddenly being out of work.  More importantly, the Borders Express stores are THE local bookstore in some of these areas.  The people in those Mall stores recommend, promote and hand sell their favorite books.

Today’s headlines say that Borders Group Inc. is in the final stages of preparing to file bankruptcy.  Best guess is they they’ll go Chapter 11, which would be the first step toward closing hundreds of stores.  Some reports say one third of Borders stores will go.  They’ve given up on refinancing their debt which is bad news for a lot of small publishers too.

Of course, Borders isn’t in this fix by themselves.  It seems the public is losing interest in bookstores in general, at least of the bricks-and-mortar variety.  Borders may be suffering more because they never got their internet act together and their e-reader is just not as popular as the Kindle and Nook. 

Rival Barnes & Noble, whose local managers have not been nearly as open to my book signings, has had to swim in the same shark-infested waters as Borders, but has weathered the storms better.  Back when everyone thought B&N was going under they cut costs by firing many senior employees (including their national mystery buyer.)  They managed to eliminate their mountain of debt, and have done a much better job moving into the ebook business. 

The other giant in the book selling business, is thriving, claiming to have sold more books for the Kindle last year than paperbacks.  Their stranglehold on the ebook market and their lack of brick-and-mortar store costs makes them the leading contender for king of the book hill.

But Borders isn’t dead yet.  They can function in Chapter 11 status, cut back the number of stores continue to do business.  Can a leaner, trimmer Borders hope to compete with and Barnes & Noble?  Let’s hope they get a chance to find out. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Word on Smashwords

The number of publishing options available to authors has exploded in the last decade.  About three years ago, a company called Smashwords helped establish the ebook phenomenon we see today.

Smashwords publishes and distributes ebooks. Authors and publishers control how their works are published, sampled, priced and sold. Since 2008, Smashwords has grown to become a leading ebook publishing platforms for independent authors with more than 30,000 ebooks published.  More than 13,000 writers and hundreds of independent publishers have placed work with Smashwords. 

Readers can sample most Smashwords works for free, read several different formats, create digital libraries of purchased and sampled works, post reviews and mark their favorite authors or books as “favorites.”

Smashwords doesn’t charge writers to publish with them.  Authors get 85% or more of the net proceeds from the sale of their works at and 70.5% for sales at affiliate sites.  Smashwords distributes books through a number of outlets - the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, the Diesel eBook Store and probably a couple I missed.  They also offer free author pages with bios, headshots and lists of works, embedded YouTube videos for video book trailers and virtual author events, reader reviews, and some other promotional tools.  Of course, no matter what format you publish in, marketing is always going to be the author’s responsibility.

What drew my attention to
Smashwords was the success of one of their authors.  Brian S. Pratt earned more than $100,000 in 2011 from Smashwords sales.  This is in no way typical, but it proves that it is possible.

Pratt first published with Smashwords in early 2009.  Last quarter, he earned over $18,000 from Smashwords on sales of his fast-paced fantasy novels. In the ebook world it is popular to publish short serialized pieces.  Pratt chooses to publish full-length novels.  In the fantasy genre, that means hitting around 150,000 words, nearly twice the size of the average mystery novel.  And he is prolific, with 17 books in the Smashwords system.

Pratt has self-published in dead tree form as well, but his ebooks outsell his hard copy novels by a factor of more than 100:1.  His most popular work is his Morcyth Saga, a seven-book fantasy adventure series. 
Personally, I choose not to offer an opinion on Pratt’s work.  My point here is that if a single father with no writing training who happened to be a hard core fantasy fan can find this kind of success with Smashwords, it may be a publishing path worth looking into.

Learn more about Smashwords publishing at
Read about Brian S. Pratt’s success at the Official Blog for Smashwords -