Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Guest Post by Dale T. Phillips and Vlad V.

Giving Our Way to Success- by Dale T. Phillips and Vlad V.

Giving comes back around. Tess Gerritsen sparked the giving circle with so much of her time, energy, and money to aid Alzheimer's research – so it's nice that I got to thank her in person at Bouchercon, the world mystery conference.

On this site, Joe upped the ante with his guest post offer, raising even more funds – while helping writers at the same time – so we’d like to say “thank you” for this opportunity. We've been reading this blog and others like it for years, and a big part of our going Indie is due to pioneers like Joe – many of which you'll see mentioned on this blog from time to time. People like Dean Wesley SmithKristine Kathryn RuschDavid GaughranLaura ResnickBob MayerJoanna PennVincent ZandriJude Hardin and Russell Blake have shared their journeys and experiences, and it's helped us to find our own paths in the new world of publishing. These folks and others, like Jane Friedman and The Passive Guy, offer incredibly useful advice to Indies for free. It's a lovely cooperative world.

Vlad V. and I are serious about our long-term writing careers, and we’ve found outstanding value in cooperation. For us, giving is the new way to achieve success.

As writers, we all give our stories to the world. We have to – without the sharing, we're nothing. Sure, we hope for some sort of return, some acknowledgment that what we present has value to others, and though we aspire to take care of our families while writing full-time, many of us would keep telling and sharing stories if we never saw another dime from it.

But the Indie writing life can be isolating and sometimes depressing, especially when you’re struggling with sales, or when your manuscript just isn’t turning out the way you’d like it to. Collaborating can be the solution to keeping your Indie fire stoked and white-hot. By working together for mutual advantage, we’ve made more traction in the last two years than we did in all the time of going solo and through traditional avenues. We had heard time and again about the value of collaboration, but it wasn’t until a few of us began our own informal group that the advantages really started to emerge.

Sharing With Others Can Save You Money
Indies should be frugal, and many (like us) are striving for success on shoestring budgets. Collaborating can help you avoid financial mistakes, such as overpaying for cover design. One author at a show was brandishing his “great” book cover that he'd paid “only” $2000 for (think Barry Eisler’s infamous “Green Garage Door” cover). Had he used one of our cover artists, he'd have got his cover – or a better one – at a quarter of the price.

Another big expense is editing. Working with other writers allows us to reduce the number of for-pay editing rounds we go through before a manuscript is publication-ready. While we still use professional editors in the final stages, we weed out many of the weaknesses in our early drafts, and thus minimize our financial outlay later on.

There are caveats here, however. First, be willing to give. When a collaborator sends you a manuscript, do your absolute best to find ways to improve it, because when another writer sees how much you care about theirsuccess, they care more about your success. It’s a two-way street.

Second, work with writers who are equal or more advanced than you are in some aspect(s) of the craft, because that’s how you get better. For example, Vlad is great at writing dialogue, while Dale’s pacing is meteoric, and we’ve both learned from one another in a variety of other ways. Your local writing group might be a good place to start, but only if they're up to par. That’s a subjective decision you’ll have to make for yourself – but you can always start your own group and be picky about who you choose to work with. Maybe only the cream of the crop in your local (or online) writer’s group would be interested in joining a more serious collaborative. There is often a correlation between a writer’s knowledge of the craft and how seriously you should take their opinion, so surround yourself with the best writers you can find who want it just as badly as you do, and who are passionate about their work. Their skills are likely to rub off on you, and vice-versa.

Third, be honest. Many writing groups are too soft, and mere flattery doesn’t help a professionally-oriented writer. This is a tough business that requires a thick skin, so don’t be afraid to take off the gloves, provided your insights are constructive and will improve the work. In our group, we tend to give short summations of what we like about a piece in 2-3 sentences, followed by an in-depth analysis of its weaknesses, which may go on for many pages. Blunt honesty is abundant, and while it might be hard to accept, we try not to take it too personally, because the feedback invariably improves the work.

Diversification helps, too, so collaborate with a variety of writers. Don’t limit your group to one genre. Vlad has a pair of horror publications out, and his latest, The Button, is Science Fiction. Later this year, he'll release his books for kids. Dale has a mystery series, a horror thriller, and story collections in a number of different genres. Exposure to other genres expands the skill sets and techniques available to you as an artist. For example, can your Action-Thriller featuring John Q. Mightystrong be given more depth with an intricate backstory, not unlike what you found in My Lesbian Breasts, Jane’s character-based women’s novel about two lovers suffocated by the social stigmas of the Deep South in the 1820s? Perhaps John Q. Mightystrong will be strengthened as a character.

Hemingway once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master,” so it behooves all writers to expose themselves to as many skill sets as they can, as often as they can.

Cross-promotion
We’ve found that cross-promotion can help build more buzz for author events. Are readers going to flock to a local bookstore to meet a single author they might not have heard of? Probably not, but they may come for half a dozen or more. Collaboration can extend your reach to readers and other industry players that you might not have had access to when you’re doing all this solo.

When we find a new opportunity, we let the others know about it, too. Many have scored new interviews, bookstore appearances, reviewers, and signing opportunities we may not have heard about otherwise.

Want to work with groups of people who will help get the word out about your works? Use libraries, who are having a tough time in the modern book world. Joe's developing a program to get quality self-pub and Indie e-books into more libraries, a great thing. Dale connected with librarians while signing books at the Boston Book Fair, and was told how big publishers are screwing libraries with higher fees and more restrictions. So he offered his e-books to them for free, and 8 of his releases are now in a statewide pilot program, available in over 50 libraries. That's over 400 more chances for someone to find his work! And because of a comment on this blog, Dale contacted the Douglas County Library System, part of Joe's program, and has been accepted there as well. And where he gets in, he helps others of quality to do the same…

A great way to cross-promote is to write for charity. Dale gave a story to Nightfalls, a charity anthology edited by Katherine Tomlinson, which got him more connections and exposure. Using that idea, we're working with a local charity to produce a book of stories from a handful of local writers, of which all proceeds will benefit the charity. They'll promote us through a mailing list of 10,000+, as well as through their website and at live fundraising events, and we'll get people checking out our work, while supporting a great cause. Win-win, through collaboration!

We'll try anything to see if it helps. Giveaway bags are something we've done at a couple of big signings. Instead of simple flyers and business cards that end up in the recycling bin, we up the ante. Interested readers who stop by and chat get a bag of various goodies: candy, a free book or two, an inexpensive booklight, whatever. Hey, they do it at trade shows. We've had a number of delighted recipients, who tell others, and since our marketing info is built right in, it’s led to repeat readers. Get a few writers each tossing in a treat, and you can get folks at a big show buzzing about your table. Not something you'll want to do every time, but a fun way of getting people to know your name and check you out.

Big publishers pay a lot of money to distribute ARCs in the hope of reviews, but as Indies, we do giveaways of e-books. The small press that published Dale's first mystery novel put it up as a giveaway e-book for a few months, long after its debut. With almost no promotion, over 3400 new people downloaded it, and even though many are Kindle-stuffing, he’s bound to get some new readers from those, who will go on to buy his other works... But imagine the horror from a big publisher if you were to give away thousands of copies!

Even print can cost so little now for short works that it can be used for giveaways as well. By combining efforts with other authors, you can extend your promotional reach to a wider variety of readers.

Cross-selling
We’ve also found that cross-promotion naturally leads to cross-selling, which has been a boon for us at live events. When a reader approaches us, and we don’t have what they’re looking for, we send them on to someone who does. We’ve seen more than one author push their book on a customer based on what the customer said they liked … even though that book had nothing to do with the customer's preference. It makes us cringe, because at the end of the day, it’s better to give readers what they want, rather than deceiving them into a sale. At best, they’ll never come back to your brand, and at worst, they’ll bad-mouth your work to others.

Our host Joe does few public events anymore, but we’ve found that these live events have been more productive for us than online ventures, at least so far, because our fan base is still growing. We prefer the personal connections and have enjoyed the book shows and signings, where we can talk to new readers and get more people interested in our work. We’ve been building our fan base and list of email contacts one person at a time.

Forced Improvement
There are few things as satisfying to a writer as seeing his or her book in print after working so hard to bring a story from idea to publication, and the urge to hit the ‘publish’ button can be overwhelming. Collaboration can keep you from pulling the trigger too early.

After you’ve found your circle of collaborators and have begun to trust their judgment, hear them out. Both A Shadow on the Wall by Dale and The Button by Vlad were delayed by several months, because they needed concentrated work to make them much more than just good enough. But try telling a major publishing house you're not delivering on schedule, because you've got to kick the quality up a few more notches. They'd rather have the next-quarter profits, not the long-term book quality.

Baby Steps
Self-publishing isn’t a sprint, or even a marathon. It’s a long, lonely, cross-country journey (think Lord of the Rings) with fifty pounds of gear on your back, and perils all around. Collaboration makes the highs and lows of such a long journey bearable, and yes, even enjoyable. Writing is, after all, a manic endeavor, so when you can see the mountaintop, but all you’re able to do is go another few feet up the slope, know that it's okay, because you’re making progress.

Collaboration helps us understand what works and what doesn’t work for other writers, so we can refine our own methods. Some writers can write 2,000 words a day, every day, 365 days a year. The rest of us have busy lives with day jobs, family, school, and whatever else might pop up. There’s a ton of writing advice out there, the Do’s and Don'ts from the greats, right down to your dear Aunt Betty. Writing every day is a big one. Can you write every day? Maybe not, but what you can do is further your career right now by taking baby steps that will help you eventually reach the mountaintop. Instead of berating yourself for missing a deadline, or feeling overwhelmed because you’re falling behind on your blog, focus on what you can do to further your career at this very moment.

Reading, keeping tabs on the industry, writing, tweeting your brand, scribbling notes, editing – they are all necessary to get you where you want to go. Yes, by all means, familiarize yourself with the “rules” of writing, but don’t be afraid to tailor them to your lifestyle, and discard the ones that are impractical for you.

Wrapup and Pitch

We're the pilots, not the passengers, in this new world of publishing, and we get to say where the plane is going. By continuing to write, publish and collaborate, someday we'll move up to Abundant Airlines. Joe has talked about mastering your fate in his collaboration with Barry Eisler, Be the Monkey. We're following their lead. Work with others, folks. Big publishing is about competition, but self-publishing is about cooperation and collaboration.

So you want to know what we're offering to share with you, right?

Check out Dale's horror thriller, Shadow of the Wendigo,


or the story collections listed on his website: www.daletphillips.com.

Drop him an email (daletphillips@comcast.net), tell him which book you want, and he'll send you a code for a free copy on any e-book platform (via Smashwords.com).

Or if you'd rather have a good action mystery, try his first one, A Memory of Grief, dropped to 1.99 on Kindle.

Vlad is offering The Button, his brand-new Sci-fi/Thriller, free to readers here for the entire month of April on any e-book platform.


Visit this Smashwords page: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/425039
and purchase The Button using coupon code: GS83H

Thank you for reading!

Sincerely,
Dale T. Phillips – www.daletphillips.com
Vlad V. - www.TheVlad.net