When you read a book or watch a scripted TV show, you are often looking for entertainment and escapism. A touch of educational value or morality can add depth as long as it doesn’t take over the story. Recently, we watched a couple of episodes in a TV series we like. Or at least, we had liked it up until now. But it devolved from a fantasy action hero show into a reminder of all the social issues in the news. In these two episodes alone, at least five hot topics were addressed.
These important issues shouldn’t overwhelm the tale and thrust us out of the fantasy. This TV show is supposed to be about a female hero with martial arts abilities and the search for a set of mythical swords. The original Star Trek, for example, was a perfect blend of science fiction and morality. Despite the lessons, it was always highly entertaining.
Somewhere along the way of this new show, the fantasy element took second place. In the most recent episode, the heroine’s boyfriend asked a shady contact for information on the swords, and this person immediately found where one was located. Where’s the fun in that? Our heroes had one adventure of breaking and entering and did research in the library. Otherwise, the answer was handed to them. There was no quest, no riddles to solve, no puzzle. And no escapism. It was like watching the news with the focus on social issues instead of pure entertainment. It that’s what you prefer, go for it.
The mythical element was the main reason I started watching the show. But then they added a fight scene in one of these two episodes on a flimsy excuse. “Fight me,” the heroine told a collector of artifacts. “If I win, you keep the box and the key, and I’ll keep the contents.” That’s a paraphrase of the conversation. But all she had to do was negotiate. Instead, the writers used it as an excuse to show off her martial arts skills. The ploy was so obvious as to be laughable.
This show has forgotten its audience and has turned into a family drama filled with social commentary. As writers, we are always taught to meet reader expectations. The same goes for TV viewers. Explore one issue per episode if you like but don’t hammer us with several together at once. Then the show loses focus unless this was its purpose from the start.
I’ll give it one more chance. If it doesn’t get back on track with the fantasy elements in the next episode, I’m done. And that would be sad, because I like the characters and the premise and the cast.
I stopped watching the current incarnation of Nancy Drew for this same reason. Instead of a fun, light series of Nancy and her friends solving mysteries, it is a dark, supernatural story with monsters. If you like horror rather than cozy mysteries, it would have appeal, but the genres couldn’t be farther apart.
How about you? Are you disappointed when a favorite show steers off course?
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Have you been wanting to self-publish your book, but you don’t know where to begin? Or does the prospective task seem so daunting that it paralyzes you into doing nothing? Is this even something you can do for yourself, or will you need a “village” to help you along the way? Maybe you’re afraid of the costs involved. Is it worth the risk to become an indie author?
I tackled this topic initially in a nine-part blog series called Self-Publishing Made Simple. These same questions keep popping up in writer groups, such as “Do I need an ISBN number?” and “How do I get my book in print?”
So let’s take a fresh look at the answers. First decide why you’d like to indie publish your novel and then we’ll move on later to show how to go about it. Here are some common reasons:
You have backlist titles and the rights reverted.
You want to publish work in between your traditionally-published novels.
Your book doesn’t fit into a particular genre category.
You have a nonfiction book or personal project you want to publish on your own.
You want to direct the publishing process.
Pricing and discounts
Input on cover and interior design
Back cover copy, book descriptions, metatags
Loss of prestige
Difficulty getting reviews
Limited booksigning and speaker opportunities
Tougher standards to join professional organizations
Bookstores and Libraries may not stock your work
Pressure to Produce
Now that we’re clear why you want to self-publish your work, we’ll talk next about how to prepare your manuscript. In the meantime, please feel free to share why you are interested in becoming a self-published author.
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Each year, I set goals for my career as a published author. In December, I’ll examine these writing goals and take stock of what I’ve accomplished. January is the time to set new goals for the year. It’s important to perform these tasks so you have a path to follow. I divide my writing objectives into two sets – Creative and Business. We have to work on both of these in our careers as professional authors. So let’s see what I’ve gotten done. I hold myself accountable to you, my readers.
Reissue remaining backlist titles – PARTIALLY DONE
The following Author’s Editions were released this year. Each one takes a couple of months to complete with manuscript preparation, proofreading, formatting and cover design.
Died Blonde – March 5, 2019
Dead Roots – March 26, 2019
Perish by Pedicure – April 23, 2019
Killer Knots – May 21, 2019
Write and publish A Bad Hair Day Cookbook – DONE; released on Nov. 19, 2019
Any new book release requires a lot of work, from launch parties to blog tours to social media to reviews. A couple of weeks at least should be reserved for the prep work. The blog tour carries on for a couple of weeks past the release date and involves guest posts, interviews, articles and excerpts. These have to be written as part of the launch sequence. Reviews have to be recorded, reviewers thanked, and quotes added to online sites. Once all this is done, social media posts need to continue even as you turn your attention to the next book.
Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries – IN PROGRESS
I wrote the book, revised it, did the edits, and sent it to beta readers. My cover artist almost has the cover done. This release is slated for March 10, 2020. Meanwhile, I’ve written the posts for a virtual book tour. Final proofreading and formatting come next before the book will be ready for pre-orders.
Publicize Large Print edition of Trimmed to Death from Wheeler Publishing – DONE; released on August 7, 2019
Enter latest releases in writing contests – DONE
Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media – DONE
Update website – DONE
This year, we converted my site to Managed WordPress, updated the theme, switched over my blog to my website, and added Office 365 email. These are things that hopefully don’t have to be done too often!
Bundle books into box sets – NOT DONE
This has turned into a bigger project as I have my cover designer updating all of my earlier mystery covers to be compatible with the later ones. At a glance, the covers need to have the same overall appearance in terms of font, text placement, color palette and series logo. Plus, there was an unexpected development with Five Star announcing they’ll be returning rights at the end of this year. That means we’ll have four more books to do. So this project has to be carried over to next year.
As you see, some things got done and others are incomplete. These will be added to my goals for 2020. And that’s the subject for another post in the new year. How did you do with your goals in 2019?
Setting goals is critical if you want to get things done. For a writer, making a list of what you want to accomplish each year will put you on the right path. In an earlier blog post, I reviewed my goals for 2018. We discussed what got done and what didn’t. Authors can break down their goals into creative and business oriented tasks.
So now let’s take a look at 2019. This might seem less ambitious than last year, but revising and reissuing my backlist titles is my main goal. That project could take the entire year, because I go through each book to tighten the writing and then do a full read-through once for any further changes and again to check for conversion errors after formatting. It takes time, because I want each book to be the best possible version. So I am not going to set myself too many tasks beyond this one.
Reissue remaining backlist titles (6 romances + 4 mysteries)
Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries
Write and publish a Bad Hair Day recipe book
Enter latest releases in writing contests
Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media
Update website in terms of hosting and other behind-the-scenes decisions
Bundle books into box sets
Consider wider distribution for audiobooks
Learn how to use various book production tools as new opportunities arise
Learn how to plan and promote book sales after all my backlist titles are under my control
Five years ago, I wrote a list of long-term, five-year goals. I am pleased to say that I am on target with most of these items. Once this year’s goals are met, it will be time for a career reassessment. Only by resetting our overall goals periodically can we gain clarity on the best path to take next.
What is the main item you want to get done this year?
Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN Gift Card at Booklovers Bench.
Do you set New Year’s Resolutions for your writing career? I divide mine into creative and business goals and also decide what I need to learn next. At the end of the year, I review my accomplishments and see what has to be carried over to the next term. Here are my objectives for 2018. Any additions or suggestions? What are your goals for the new year?
Reissue revised ebook edition of Silver Serenade
Publish revised Author’s Edition of Died Blonde
Publish Writing the Cozy Mystery: Expanded Second Edition
Produce Body Wave Audiobook
Finish and Launch Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries
If there’s time left, start on these projects:
Plot Bad Hair Day mystery novella
Revise Keeper of the Rings
Revise Dead Roots
Continue backlist title reissues and audiobooks
Prepare PowerPoint lectures and handouts for upcoming events
Enter Hair Brained in writing contests
Keep up with newsletter, blogs and social media
Learn how to do Facebook Ads
Learn how to put books on sale across various vendors
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What is a blog? And how do you start one? This past weekend, I gave a talk to a group of aspiring writers on “The Writer’s Life.” During the Q&A session, one person referred to my section on book marketing. “I don’t understand about blogs. Can you explain more about them?”
So I thought this would be a good time for a review of the principles. I’ve been blogging for over ten years. I regard it as a live journal that includes glimpses into your life such as travels, hobbies, other fun activities or musings on life in general. Plus, as a writer, you can offer tips on writing craft and marketing and share the creative process. So here are some items to consider.
Define Your Purpose.
Are you aiming to build an author platform? Do you want to be recognized as an expert in your field? To engage with readers? Or to have other writers look to you for advice? Ask yourself why you want to start a blog.
Determine Your Goals.
Do you mean to increase book sales? Gain a substantial number of followers? Attract comments on each blog? Receive requests for guest posts? What’s your benchmark of success?
How often do you intend to post? What days of the week are best? What time during the day will more people likely read your post? How long should each post be? Check your analytics as time goes on and make adjustments accordingly.
While you are writing a book, jot down blog topics related to your theme, research, and writing process. These will be useful either to show your story in progress or to provide fodder for blog tours when your new release comes out. Meanwhile, determine how your content can add value to people’s lives. In what way can your personal anecdotes inspire others? Some authors set certain days for specific blog topics. For example, one day they might post recipes. Another day they might bring in a guest blogger. Or perhaps they do author interviews. Excerpts, book reviews, or trivia related to a particular hobby or personal interest might fill in other slots. I like to do conference workshop recaps. Or you can write posts as they come to you.
Acquire a Site.
When you’re ready to start, register at WordPress.com or Blogger for a free site. Or add a blog to your website. Become familiar with the features and start posting.
Link the Blog to Your Social Media Sites.
Not only should visitors be able to tweet and share each particular article, but your posts can be linked to your Twitter and Facebook pages. Check your Settings for how to enable these features or ask your Web designer to add the proper Plug-In.
What Pages Should Your Blog Site Contain?
Keep in mind that visitors to your blog, if separate from your website, might not visit you elsewhere. So consider what Pages you’ll want to have. Here are some suggestions: Welcome or Home Page; About (Bio); Appearances; Book Trailers; Books List (with series books in order); Contact (your email); Giveaways. In the sidebar, you can show your book covers, a Blog Roll with links to other authors’ sites, a Search box, a Subscribe button, Social Networking Icons, and an RSS feed button.
Include Photos in your Posts.
Photos will draw more hits, but be careful of copyright issues. Upload your own photos. Obtain photos at royalty-free sites or at least make sure you provide attribution.
Use tags with keywords and put keywords in your text to drive traffic to your site.
How to Gain Followers
- Post often. Some people set themes, like “Recipe Monday” or “Guest Blogger Wednesday” or “Photo Friday.” Be consistent in your approach and keep your material current.
- Have a clear and catchy headline for each post.
- End your posts with a question to stimulate discussion.
- Don’t use your blog solely to promote your books. You’re building a community of readers who want to get to know you, or else you are establishing yourself as an expert by offering useful material. Share new release info, reviews, and contests sparingly.
- Comment on other people’s blogs.
- Invite guests who have a following.
- Always respond to comments and respect other people’s opinions.
- On occasion, offer a prize drawing from commenters.
- If you get a lot of comments on certain types of posts, steer your blog in that direction. Be responsive to readers. Note what engenders interest and what does not.
- Be careful what you put out there. This is a public post. Avoid politics, religion, and any mention of personal business or issues you don’t want to share.
- Always be respectful of other industry professionals.
- Include links and images in your posts to raise visibility.
Index Your Blog
When your blog is a few years old, you might want to reissue an updated article. Keeping records of the topics, categories, and dates will help you retrieve these files. I suggest you write your blog in Word and save the posts by month and year. It’s imperative to keep your own blogs on your computer so you don’t lose them if there’s an online snafu. Then keep a separate file that’s an index so you can quickly search topics.
Goodreads Giveaway, July 6 – 20
Enter Here to win a signed ARC of Hair Brained (Bad Hair Day Mystery #14). Hairstylist Marla Vail determines to learn the truth when her best friend is hurt in a suspicious auto accident.
Booklovers Bench, July 1 – 18
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Occasionally, I’ll get requests from authors to review their books. Some of these I’ve accepted, but mostly I send a polite refusal. Here are some examples of what not to do when approaching an author, especially when you don’t know her personally. This also applies to guest blog posts.
Dear Nancy J. Cohen,
I noticed your review on Amazon for “Murder at the Seaside.” My book is a suspense novel set in Phoenix. It’s a bit outside the cozy genre, but the language is clean and amusing. Would you be willing to read my book and give an honest review?
[When they start with my full name like this, I know they are unfamiliar to me. This book is outside my genre, and the author is an unknown who got my name off Amazon. No deal.]
Dear Ms. Cohen,
I would love to have you interview me on your blog for my upcoming romantic comedy due for release from XYZ Publishing. See back cover blurb below. Please let me know what other information you need to consider reviewing it.
[Is this person requesting a review or a guest blog spot? Either way, her book isn’t my genre, and the author is unknown to me. I’m not interested.]
I’ve finished my first medical thriller and would be honored if I can get a blurb from you. I love your romantic suspense novels. They keep me at the edge of my seat. I’ve really enjoyed reading Hair Raiser and hope to read more of your work.
[This would be a polite, No Thanks. I write mysteries, not romantic suspense. And this person says “they” keep her on the edge of her seat, but she’s only read one. Thrillers are outside my genre, and while occasionally I do read them, I’d rather not be obligated here.]
Hello Nancy J. Cohen,
I saw that you reviewed“The Stolen Queen.” My book has similar elements but more romance and intrigue. [Story Blurb follows]. This romantic adventure is so thrilling and unlike anything you’ve ever read, you’ll be hooked until the last page. My novel is a spine-tingling adventure with exciting twists & turns.
[Bragging about how your book is a bestseller or how it’ll hook my interest is a turnoff.]
I saw that you reviewed the Alex Rider story, “Stormbreaker.” I am author of a middle grade fantasy titled “The Secret of the Oracle.” In this time-travel adventure, Eddie must overcome his fears and battle evil forces in ancient Greece to discover the identity of a sorcerer. Would you like to receive a complimentary digital copy of my book?
[I accepted this one. YA Fantasy is a genre I like to read, and the story line intrigued me. The author didn’t make any braggart claims about how his story will blow me away. He was polite and concise in his request. I enjoyed this book and gave it an honest review.]
I have a new release coming out titled “Murder in the Garden,” and I am organizing a book tour. I will provide excerpts and interviews. I’ll be running a Rafflecopter contest, and if you’d like to participate, I’ll include your social media links. (Story blurb follows)
[I accepted this one and was happy to help a fellow mystery author. Why? Not much to do on my part except schedule a blog post on the set day. It’s the appropriate cozy genre. And I’d get social media links in her Rafflecopter. She sounds savvy and will likely show up on the blog to answer comments. This person made things easy.]
· Request a review from an author who writes in the same genre or who clearly enjoys reading the type of book you’ve written.
· Mention a deadline if you have one for the review.
· Be gracious and accepting that the author might not have the time or interest.
· If you’re proposing a blog post, study the type of posts on the host’s blog and then suggest several relevant topics. Also note, while on her site, if she even hosts guests or has a submission policy.
· Be modest. Don’t make braggart claims about how your book is a bestseller, will keep readers riveted until the end, or is a laugh-out-loud funny story. Readers can judge these things for themselves.
· Mention your website or the Amazon page for your book so the author can find more information there.
· If the author declines your offer, thank her politely for her consideration.
Note that a book review request differs from an endorsement request. What else would you add to this list?
Halfway through the year, we should evaluate our status regarding the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Back in January, I listed these objectives for the year. I divided them into Writing Goals and Career Goals. Think about doing this if you’re an author. Let’s see how I’ve done in this progress report. If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing with my time, this will update you on my current projects.
Finish and Submit Hair Brained, #14 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
Ongoing. I finished this story at 85,000 words and submitted it to a freelance editor. I am working on these edits. This title will be published by Orange Grove Press in 2017.
Publish Author’s Edition of Permed to Death, #1 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
Done and published in March.
Commence audio book process via ACX, starting with Permed to Death audiobook.
Done. This title is in production.
Revise backlist mystery titles Highlights to Heaven, Died Blonde and Dead Roots.
Ongoing. I’ve completed revisions on Highlights to Heaven and need one more read-through.
Learn how to write short fiction.
Done. I wrote “Haunted Hair Nights,” a Bad Hair Day mystery novella, which will appear in the Happy Homicides 4: Fall into Murder Anthology. Release date is Sept. 2016. I plan to issue this novella separately in a print edition, hopefully in October.
Enter Peril by Ponytail in writing contests.
Learn about box sets. Consider bundling books 1-3 as a special offer.
Hold Facebook launch parties for each backlist Author’s Edition and audiobooks.
Ongoing. Next party will be to celebrate my first audiobook release.
Plan a promo campaign for Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day #13) to be released by Five Star in Feb. 2017.
I have put together the book trailer except for special effects and music. Waiting for cover art and ARCs.
Keep up with quarterly newsletter, blogs and social media.
I edited and published Florida Escape by Harry I. Heller. This is my father’s account of his 1935 true-life adventures in South Florida, where he encountered dismal swamps, sneaky skunks, black panthers, isolated beaches, and hidden chests buried in sand.
Revise book one in a new mystery series. This book is written but needs polishing.
Learn how to put my lectures on Power Point.
Learn how to put books on sale across various vendors.
So there you have it. Readers, what would you have me work on next? Writers, have you reassessed your goals lately?
Last 2 Days! Enter June 1-18 to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench, where readers are winners. http://bookloversbench.com/contest/
Romance the Summer Contest
Enter June 7-21 to win a gemstone necklace from Effy plus a signed copy of Shear Murder, my wedding mystery. Two runners-up prizes of signed proof copies Permed to Death Author’s Edition.. https://nancyjcohen.com/contest/