Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WOOL & Brilliant Marketing

As most of you know, I've decided to dive head first into the indie pool. Eek! Since making that decision, I've been obsessively absorbing information about the process. My obsession has made me a lurker at Susan Kaye Quinn's blog. It's totally packed with valuable information about indie publishing.

One of the areas I'm curious about is marketing and free books. I mean, I don't want to be totally annoying and scream to every uninterested passerby, "MY BOOK! MY BOOK!" Like those creepy guys in Las Vegas who pass out fliers about strip clubs, even to moms and dads who are walking hand in hand with their little boys (I swear, it happened to us). I'd rather be the happy sign twirler who's jammin' to Madonna's Vogue while doing those really cool dance moves (strike a pose!). I'm not a seller.

Susan's post Pricing Your Ebook caught my attention. She mentioned the book WOOL, by Hugh Howey, and how it's permanently free on Amazon (download it here). I'd heard about Hugh Howey's amazing journey, and was curious about his book. (Read the Wall Street Journal story here. It's crazy cool)

Using Susan's link, I downloaded Wool. It's free, so what did I have to lose? Nothing. I read Book One. I was riveted. After finishing, I immediately downloaded the Wool Omnibus Edition. My son downloaded Book One. He was riveted. He immediately downloaded Book Two. Howey now has two loyal fans in our household...all because Wool was free.

Brilliant marketing.

It seems to me that pricing Book One in a series low or free is a great idea (upon subsequent releases). Same with pricing a book low or free when we have other books for sale. It invites readers to give us a try. At least that's what I'm learning.

I'm still figuring all of this stuff out, but here are the main points I keep seeing over and over again:
  1. Story matters most. When we tell a great story, and people genuinely love it, we won't need to pester people to buy the book. They'll want to. 
  2. Get the word out. If no one knows about our book, they can't buy it. If we honestly believe it's worthy, we should feel comfortable telling others about it. I'm still going to be shy about this, but I'll work on it :)
  3. Free works best when there are other books to lead buyers to. For instance, Susan has made Open Minds, book 1 of her Mindjack Trilogy, permanently free. As she points out, it's 24/7 marketing for her work. I can see the logic in this.
Have you heard the Wool story? Not only the story story, but the author's story? Have you downloaded free books, then returned to buy books from that author? Have you downloaded free books, then realized that author's style isn't what you like? Do you have other ideas for how to make free books work for you? Please share! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How to Choose Between Shiny New Ideas

I marinate on ideas for a while. I'll jot down notes about characters, plot points, settings, etc. For months now I've been collecting notes for my next project, which I'll probably draft before the end of the year. Everything was running like clockwork until another shiny idea pushed its way into my brain.

It was innocent enough. I was watching a news story on television when BAM! The news story connected with me and I began furiously taking notes. What if? What if? What if? I write contemporary YA, so I look at news events through a story lens.

Other Story Idea was like, Hey, Lady! What about me? I've patiently waited for your attention. I've withstood the weight of layer upon layer of notes as your mind worked through the details. You aren't giving up on me, are you? 

No, I'm not giving up on Other Story Idea. I just need to decide which book I want to write first. After all, novels take us a long time to write and revise. How can we trust our gut instinct when deciding which idea to pursue first? Here are some points to consider:

Which idea are you the most passionate about? Does one idea keep you up late at night or wake you early in the morning? Does one idea cause you to scribble notes in an effort to keep up with the idea? We should aim for passion when choosing which story to write.

Who are your readers? Adult women? Men? Teens? Our three sons are teens and I write for teens. Lucky me! I witness first hand what regular teens worry about. I hear about the nuances of friendship and coupledom. When considering what project to pursue next, we should think of future readers. What would they like to read about?

Does one story idea tug at your heart more than the other? This can be coupled with passion, because usually we're passionate about what tugs at our hearts. Family, friendship, first love, space aliens who lost their parents. Half-hearted ideas can grow up to become half-hearted stories. Whatever reaches into your heart will likely reach the hearts of others.

The End
Can you imagine one of the ideas all the way through to the end? Do you have the perfect twist? Organic conflict? I'm a plotter by nature. Although I don't always know exactly what will happen between A and Z, I like to know what A and Z are.

We definitely should not write to a trend, that much we know for sure. But does one of your story ideas seem like it would fit the market better? Is it an idea that hasn't been tackled with fiction, and you see an opening? Has it been written from the adult POV but not yet a teen's? Is it a new concern that modern times has created?

Another option is to combine ideas into one story. I doubt this will work in my case this time around, but it's definitely something to consider. Maybe one could be the main plot thread and the other a sub plot. Maybe one character can lead the story while the other is a wingman.

For now, I have two stacks of notes going. I'm not pressuring myself to decide which project I'll write next. I'm tossing ideas around and gauging my own heart.

Do you ever have more than one idea demanding attention? How do you decide which book to write next?

photo credit

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writing lessons learned from THE MAZE RUNNER

All three of our sons have read and loved THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner. One of my 13-year-olds pestered me about reading this book until I finally relented. I'll admit, it took me a few chapters to get into the story. But once I did? I blew through it.

This author did so many things right, but I'll focus on my favorite writing lessons. (Alert! Read no further if you haven't read this book yet and don't want to know any plot points)
  • Reader and main character question the story world together: Thomas, the main character, had no idea where he was or why he was sent there. He didn't know how old he was. He questioned everything because he was curious. I was curious, too.
  • If you're using story slang, keep it to a minimum: this story had a few unique words--Greenie, shank, shuck-face, klunk. The author did a good job of repeating these few words without overwhelming the reader.
  • Groundhog Day: Thomas' memory had been wiped, yet he kept feeling as if he'd been in the maze before. Most of his new life was new and unfamiliar, but then he saw or felt something and knew it wasn't the first time. I was intrigued, and wondered what the backstory was.
  • Mysteries within mysteries: Another kid accused Thomas of being a traitor...of being responsible for their predicament. Was it possible Thomas was a bad guy in disguise? A mystery within a mystery. I wanted to know more!
  • Avoid confusion: a girl arrived in "the box," with a note saying she's the last one. At first I thought it meant she was the last girl, but then learned otherwise. A couple of words would've clarified that point.
  • Necessary world: with a grand story like this, I'd imagine the author could've gotten carried away with world details. But Dashner did a great job of only sprinkling in necessary details when they were important. By spoon feeding world to the reader, it wasn't overwhelming. It was a great blend of action, world, and dialog.
  • End book one with something new: without giving too much away, I know that Book 2 will be in an entirely new setting. It'll include some of the characters I'd come to know, but it'll be infused with new characters who showed up at the end of Book 1. Really smart. 
My son was glad to know I'd be moving on to Book Two of the series. I'm sure I'll learn from that book as well! Side benefit: chatting about books with my boys. #win

Have you read this book or the series? What do you think of these writing lessons? And if you write fantasy, dystopian or paranormal, do you sometimes get bogged down in world details? How do you avoid that?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Play it Safe or Take Risks? #IWSG

Welcome, Insecure Writer's Support Group peeps!

Recently, I was with my sixteen-year-old son and two of his friends. We were breaking a teeny tiny little rule. I swear it was small. But still, breaking this little rule made me very nervous. One of my son's friends asked, "Mrs. Musil, did you ever get in trouble in high school?"

My honest answer? No. There were plenty of things I did wrong--I even broke some minor rules--but trouble? Definitely not.

I realized then that I've always played it safe and stayed out of trouble. I have a strong aversion to risk. I'll never be a Steve Jobs, who took huge risks with big failures and grand successes. I've taken small risks with small failures and successes.

In the publishing world, aversion to risk can hurt a writer. And different choices carry different risks: traditional, small pub, indie. Are play-it-safe writers destined to fail?


Here's the way I see it: even if you're not taking gravity-defying leaps, you're likely taking huge risks for you.
  • Do you write and let other people see your words? HUGE leap. 
  • Are you creating new material and revising previous manuscripts, despite setbacks and rejections? HUGE leap. 
  • Do you send work out, despite the stomach-clenching fear? HUGE leap.
Each time we step outside our comfort zones, we're making progress. And as long as we're making progress, success will come. It might just take play-it-safe writers longer. As Frederick B. Wilcox said, "Progress always involves risks. You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first."

If you're like me--afraid to take risks--do it anyway. Even if the risks are small. Need inspiration? Check out these cool quotes I came across while writing this post.

"When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap." -- Cynthia Heimel, Lower Manhattan Survival Tactics

"Many great ideas have been lost because the people who had them could not stand being laughed at." -- Author Unknown

"Yes, risk taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing-taking." -- Tim McMahon

"I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I'm not afraid of falling into my inkpot." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?" -- Frank Scully

Do you boldly take risks, or do you play it safe? If you've taken publishing risks, was it difficult to step out of your comfort zone?

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