Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pen Names, Promotion and Productivity

A few months ago I branched out and started some new pen names.  Despite my normally calm and collected appearance, I inwardly brooded over this for a really long time before finally deciding to take the plunge.  I worried about having to divide my time writing and promoting.  I worried about losing my current audience.  I worried about why I was so worried.

Then I was like, who was I kidding?  What audience am I losing?  I've only been publishing (at the time) for a year and a half and I write wacky science fiction short stories.  Which means that my niche audience is probably 1 out of every 100 billion people that shop on Amazon.  I haven't been around long enough to have a cult following.

So I took a chance.  I waited a few months to see if any guilt has set in and it hasn't.  In fact, the opposite occurred.  I now feel totally liberated as a writer.  I don't feel the need to cater to a particular audience.  If I want to write something totally different, I do it.

What about promotion?  I actually spend less time promoting and more time writing.  Is this counter productive?  Not really.

If I am brutally honest with myself no promotional effort I have attempted in the past has really been worth my effort.  I write blogs because I enjoy it so I don't factor that into the equation.  But the money spent on Facebook Ads, the hours spent looking for people to review my short stories, the trying to spend time on half a dozen different social media outlets... it's not worth it.  Yes, I've had a few features that have led to a slight increase in sales for the day.  Which was nice.  But it didn't change the fact that two days later I was right back where I started.

So I cut back.  I hang out on the one writer's forum I enjoy, I blog, use Facebook and Tweet on my phone when I get the chance.  That's pretty much it.  I really don't care anymore if there's some place that authors HAVE to have a presence.  It's a waste of writing time.  The only thing that consistently bumps my sales is when I publish a new story.  Simple.

The new pen names allow me to target and write for a specific audience.  It also allows me to see what sells and what doesn't so I know how to focus my time.  In some genres standalones sell better.  In other genres series are the way to go.

In the end, the pen name will promote itself.  I think this is an important thing for "unknown" authors to keep in mind.  People are not going to be typing in your name on search engines.  They're going to be browsing by genre.  So if they find something of yours that they like they will want more of the same.  Eventually that more of the same becomes a brand name.

Just some ideas to chew on.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review of "Silver Elvis," a single story in a collection by Michael Ramberg

A compilation of four previously published stories from Minnesota writer Michael Ramberg. Ramberg's dark wit, combined with a strong compassion, creates memorable, oddball journeys through modern landscapes.

The Downstream Crossing:
A young man takes a woman on a riverboat cruise as an internet date; he jumps from the boat to save a girl, and ends up on a long, strange downriver odyssey.

Silver Elvis
Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol star in the tale of fame and jealousy in old New York City. Inspired by actual events!

First Avenue
Beige is approaching thirty, balding, lonely, and insecure. Can a night at the local dance institution save him, or just drive him over the edge?

A short short about a homeless man's discovery of the death of his mother.

This story was, unfortunately, a very poor reading experience.  To start, there was a lack of basic grammar and syntax.  This is a direct copy/paste of a portion of dialogue:

– Why we here? Bob said suddenly.
– I dunno, Bobby N. said. Someone knows someone who said something was happening somewhere, then said maybe here.

No quotation marks were used.  I am aware that in some languages (such as Spanish) dashes are used instead of quotations to indicate speech.  However, as seen in the above example, there was nothing to indicate when the talking ends.

If this was unintentional, I would recommend that this author has his work thoroughly edited.  If it was intentional, the artistic attempt got in the way of the reading experience.

The end result was an extremely confusing story.  The lack of correct punctuation made it difficult for me to separate description from speech.  The parts I did understand were somewhat disjointed.  There was no discernible point or driving force behind the story.  If it was meant to depict a tale of jealousy as the summary suggests it was completely lost on me as none of the characters had any personality whatsoever.

It seems like Ramberg has some good ideas.  However, some serious polish is needed in order for them to shine through.

1/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Share Your Web Fiction on Reddit!

This post is addressed to those of you that write/read web fiction.  And who are interested in Reddit.  The rest of you can just bugger off.

Ok, now that I've scared everyone away, I can continue this conversation with myself in peace.

I've been writing a serialized scifi blog for about a year now as a sort of for fun project.  Lately though I've been looking into different ways to tap the very niche audience that actually follows web fiction.  It's been kind of cool!  For example, there's a whole web serial branch of NaNoWriMo called WebSeWriMo (Web Serial Writing Month).  Whodathunk?!

Seeing as there was no Reddit category for web fiction, I decided to start my own:

For those of you unfamiliar with Reddit, it's basically a place to share links.  So you post a link, people can vote it up or down and then comment on it.  Think of it as a fast-paced hub for sharing the latest funny cat video.

If you're an author it's really not the best place to self-promote.  Any attempts to sell your own work are immediately voted down.  But blog posts that are fun/interesting are generally well-received.  For awhile I had been posting under the science fiction category but I thought it might be fun to try and start this little web fiction community.

So if you're interested, you should definitely check this out and subscribe to the group.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review of "Love in a Cafe," a single story in a collection by Ted Gross

Ancient Tales, Modern Legends, a short story collection by Ted William Gross presents the reader with engaging and thought-provoking stories spanning the ages. Covering subjects of love, loss, pain, desire, need, frustration and hope these stories are meant to entertain as well leave an indelible impression upon the reader. Ted Gross cleverly combines ancient lore in his "Tiny Slivers From A Silver Horn" weaving Unicorns, the story of Adam & Eve and the modern world into a tale of lost wisdom and gained hope. "Love In A Cafe" moves the reader within the soft aura of love until the surprise ending. "Elijah's Coins" leaves us wondering about the great "what if" of life and just how blessed or cursed it would make us to change the future. "Reverieing" is a glimpse of the slow descent of one individual into his own personal hell. "Addiction, Obsession, Love", "Tenuous Webs" & "And So They Danced" look upon love and loss from different perspectives. "A Tapestry Of War" is a real war story and the consequences of war upon the psyche of the soldier. "The Sunflower" portrays how hate can insidiously seep into the heart of man while "The Heretic" will leave you wondering who the real heretic actually is. "Kapparot" will let you delve into the mystical world of Hassidic philosophy while looking upon man's relation to God. "Jacob's Ladder" will introduce you to a world of angels and their mission of silence.

Much like a good cup of coffee, this is the type of story that makes you sit and savor the moment.  At first I was a little thrown off by the structure of "Love in a Cafe."  The author divides it up into chapters which is unusual for a story this length.

But nothing about the plot feels rushed or "wannabe-novel" (i.e. didn't feel like writing a whole novel so everything is crammed into low word count).  Yes, there are large gaps of elapsed time between chapters but Gross does an excellent job adding just enough details to make you feel like you're in the now.

The result was a beautiful love story with a perfectly bittersweet ending.  As with many short stories, this tale doesn't fall clearly into any one genre.  It's a romance but really it's more of a reading experience.  Highly recommended.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon or B&N.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Happy Publishing Birthday To Me!

Yes, that's right.  I just sang a birthday song TO ME.  Muahaha!  Now before you roll your eyes, I only do these basking in the glow of my own glory and personal growth posts once a year.  So you're just going to have to deal because I like them and it's a way for me to journal my uphill progress.

Moving on...

It's hard to believe another year has already gone by!  It seems like I was just writing my one year anniversary post.   For nostalgic purposes I went back and reread it and I thought, "Wow! A lot has happened since then!"

If I remember correctly, this time last year I was feeling like I was by no means achieving financial success but I at least had a handle on what it would take to make it in the self-publishing industry.  Yes, I could spend gobs of money and have better everything (covers, ads, writing, etc...) but at least I knew what it would take.  And then going, "Ok, this isn't so bad.  I can do this."

So while at one year I was staring at the hill of self-publishing, by this second year I feel like I've found a comfortable hiking pace. Yes, I come across obstacles but I just feel more... settled.  Like it's no longer a matter of if I reach the top it's more just when.  And by top I mean making a steady side income.  Not international public fame.

I have no idea where this gigantic hiking metaphor came from but it seems to be working so far.  Perhaps I've been playing too much disc golf?

As milestone markers,  I would say three big things happened to me in this past year:

1)  I started getting concept art done for my science fiction serial blog, Muzik Chronicles.  Yes, this costs me more money than it makes me right now but I don't care.  Call me an optimist, but I really do think that this blog will pay off in the long run.  For one thing, I love writing it.  It's just so much fun!  And for another thing, every time I get new art for it, it just makes me all excited all over again.  Who wouldn't be excited when you see the ideas floating around in your head turn to life in front of you?

Way to go, Andrew de Guzman.  Your artistic skills have single-handedly managed to take this blog to the next level.

2)  I diversified.  I made sure that all of my titles were in the Smashwords Premium Catalog.  I also branched out in genre and started several new pen names to help direct traffic to the specific genres.  I found this really helped with sales.

Making money with short stories takes both quality and quantity.  You're banking on the fact that one reader is going to buy all 100 stories not 100 different readers buying one story.  So I decided that it would make sense to try and cast my net as far as possible.

I know that some people are really anti-pen names.  But I do like them quite a bit.  I find that different pen names liberates me as a writer.  I'm no longer stressed about writing Annie Tuner western romances because I'm worried that the weird Alain Gomez scifi crowd will think it's cheesy.

Diversification also helped me to figure out what sells and what doesn't.  Not that this holds me back as a writer or that I'm forcing myself to write things I'm not interested in.  It's not that at all.  But since I am in the business of writing, trying to get my monthly earnings up to a respectable amount is not an unreasonable goal.  If nothing else, the income is needed to cover the costs of self-publishing. 

At this stage in the game I have literally dozens of story ideas that I want to write.  But my time is limited.  So lately I've been choosing writing the projects that will probably sell more consistently. 

Which actually leads me to...

3)  I turned my writing from a hobby into a business.  In reality, not much really changed.  But psychologically this was a big milestone for me.  All my book royalties are now being deposited into my business checking account.  So I am officially paying bills (ok, maybe it's like one bill, but hey!) with writing income.

I also streamlined my writing time.  I went from writing whenever I felt like it (read: whenever I was bored) to actually having scheduled writing times.  I love it!  I at first was worried that it would give me a permanent case of writer's block but actually the opposite happened.  It's now easier for me to get back into a story because I'm not taking a three week hiatus between writing bursts.

So not a bad year at all!  I'm still not making millions yet but the fact that I am getting consistent royalty payments every month makes me incredibly happy.  Sure, it's sometimes only $30 but it is making the whole thing seem real to me.  Like if I just keep doing what I'm doing the $30 could slowly turn into $300.

So here's to another year of writing, meeting even more new friends and having new experiences!