Being a Better Writer: Having an Online Presence

Good afternoon, readers! Welcome back on to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got an interesting topic to discuss today, which will probably go by pretty quick (that’s okay, it’s a holiday) but before we do, it’s time for a little news. Emphasis on little, so you can read through it without getting too bogged down.

First up, Shadow of an Empire‘s print proof will be in my hands this week. Yes, you read that right. I am excited to be holding it at last. I don’t anticipate many issues between the proof and the final copy either, since Shadow of an Empire, unlike Axtara, has been out digitally for a few years already and seen a few cleanings already. With the paperback release it’s going to be checking it to make sure that the formatting is good and nothing unexpected happened. After which paperback sales can be approved!

Speaking of which, based on the poll I put up last week (Side note: the WordPress base poll tool isn’t very good, as I have to vote to see the results) has been overwhelmingly in favor of the option I wanted to go with: Expanded distribution. Which means that yes, Shadow of an Empire will be available to libraries, bookstores, and the like. However, since most of those places want their cut, it does mean the book is going to cost a bit more.

$21.99 in total, to be precise. Before some of you blanch, this is for a 600+ page trade-sized paperback (same size, in height, as Axtara). By comparison, the non-trade paperback for Dune (releasing because the movie is coming out) which is a smaller, cheaper to manufacture paperback, is 500 pages and sells for $17.99. The math does work out: This is just a big book.

Which amuses me personally, because a few friends who’ve heard about this have already dropped the comment of “But isn’t Shadow of an Empire one of your shorter books?” To which I have to say “Well, yes?” It’s more in the middle, really. But Colony and Jungle are certainly larger, plus Starforge

Anyway, that’s the update on Shadow of an Empire: The print proof will be in my hands this week, with paperback sales opening shortly thereafter.

One final question before we dive into today’s topic, though: Axtara does well as a paperback, but how would you readers feel about a hardcover release?

Right, I promised short news, so that’s it. Instead let us turn our minds to the act of writing. Well, sort of. Today’s topic is one of the rare BaBW topics that’s less on the “nuts-and-bolts” side of things and more on the side of authorial things that don’t quite involve sitting down at a keyboard to work out your latest story. That said however, today’s topic is incredibly valuable. Quite simply put, if you ignore today’s topic, you’re unlikely to ever see more than a few book sales without someone else doing it for you. It’s that critical.

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Managing Marketing

Hello readers! Max here with a short news post. Nothing big. Mostly just updates, starting with the big one on everyone’s mind: What’s going on with Starforge?

Work, actually! Joking aside, progress on Starforge continues forward. Returning from my vacation, I’ve taken some time to tighten up (read: rewrite) the last quarter that I was working on, and progress over the last few days has been in the high-quota range. If things continue at their current pace, I could see the first draft being done by the end of this month.

About time, too, I know. Speaking of which, I really want to get back to it (things are happening) so this is going to be a short post.


What else is up? Well, I spent a good chunk of today rebuilding and restructuring a lot of my advertising. Advertising for Axtara has done really well, so I spent some additional time working on that and adding a keyword search set to it to see how that performs, as well as going back and building a new advertising campaign for Colony based on its most successful keywords, plus a few new ones.

Hopefully, this will be part of the process that tips me over the knife edge I’ve been balanced on over the twenty and eighty percent. For those who are not in the know, about eighty percent of authors never make enough off of their writing to live, and therefor have a second job. A number which is thankfully up due to indie publishing.

Anyway, I’m on the edge of being able to move from that eighty percent into the twenty percent. Have been for a while, and have just been looking/working for the push that puts me there. Maybe this advertising refinement will do the trick?


Let me see, what other news do I have to drop! Oh, I was interviewed by my hometown radio news station during my vacation (yes, my hometown has a public radio station still, a unique boon that most of the US no longer has, and I can wax on the societal implications/advantages of that for a while), talking about publishing, writing, and where Sci-Fi may go from here, among a few other things. I’ll be sure to let you all know as soon as the story goes live! I myself will be curious to see what gets cut from the 40-odd minutes we talked compared to what airs.


And in other news … I got nothing, actually. There’s some cut content from Starforge that’ll probably be coming to Patreon soon, Axtara got a few more five-star reviews, along with Jungle, and summer’s here, so I’m loving having my biking season back. And being back at work with Starforge‘s draft whizzing along.

Speaking of which, I’m going to get back to that now. These battles aren’t going to write themselves! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Starforge is One Massive Step Closer to Completion (And Other News)

Readers, I have good news: Yesterday, I finished Part Three (out of four total) of Starforge. Finishing out a colossal 56,000 words across three chapters, I laid down the final words of that portion of the draft, and started the section heading for “Interlude 3.”

Which means … Okay, will it actually means a bunch of things. First of all, it means that Starforge‘s draft progress on the “Current Projects” tab is now at 80%, and the total wordcount at 377,000. Now 50k more than Colony, but still almost 79k less than Jungle (which was an absolute unit of a story, and yet at the same time flew by for many).

Second, it means that I need a small break. Today I’ll work on Interlude 3 a little bit, but since I’ve almost hit my monthly quota (I’m just a few hundred words away) I don’t feel the need to stress out about it.

Which is good. The last few months have been very stressful, and Starforge is part of that. Though in fairness, I started working on it officially last July off-and-on between editing on Axtara, and then fully in October. which mean much of its 377,000 word current length has been written in just seven-months. On par for the same speed with Colony, I might note (which was written in six, but was also 50k shorter).

The end is coming, readers. All that’s left is that last 20%. And with that, let’s talk about some other news since we’re all here anyway!

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Being a Better Writer: What to do While Waiting for Feedback

Welcome back readers! I hope you had an enjoyable weekend! It was (mostly) a quiet one for me, though I did have family over to make enchiladas on Sunday (so nice and hot) which was an absolute blast.

So, what’s new with the news real quick? Well, we had the sale last week, and that went pretty well. Hopefully those of you who wanted to fill out your collections took the chance! Other news? Well, the first draft of Starforge is almost at 100,000 words, and once the latest chapter is done, I’ll be taking a day or two to blitz through the Beta 1 of Axtara – Banking and Finance and get that one step closer to publication. As well as take care of a few other things … But I’ll hold on news about those bit and bobs until they arrive.

So then, that’s the news and—wait, I almost forgot something. This post? It’s the last topic from Topic List #15. I’ve noted for a few weeks now that we’re running up to the end of this list, and that one should make ready their topic suggestions for list #16. That post will drop Wednesday, so definitely be ready!

Okay, that’s it! No more news! It’s time to talk writing! Or rather, what to do when you’ve stopped writing for a brief moment. Because today, readers, we’re tackling a long-requested reader topic and talking about what too do while waiting for that fickle beast of fickle beasts.

Feedback.

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Being a Better Writer: Selling the Vision

Today’s post is going to be more about editing. Sort of. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So first, welcome back readers! I hope you all had a good weekend! Especially with Episode 12 of Fireteam Freelance having dropped on Saturday. Was that a ride or what?

Now, I’d like to say there’s more news, but at the moment … not yet. There have been some interesting developments on my side of things, but at the moment they’re still in the formulative stage, so I’m going to hold off talking about it as of yet. There’s still time for things to go one way or the other.

Which means we’re going to dive right into today’s Being a Better Writer topic. Also, the quicker we dive in, the quicker I can get to work today on Starforge, which is WHOA. Patreon supporters know what I’m talking about.

So then, let’s talk about selling the vision.

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Another Project Complete! The News Rolls in Again

Most of you can probably guess what this post is about. Yesterday, I put my fingers to the keys one final time, and wrote the last line of Fireteam Freelance.

That’s right. The whole thing is now complete. All episodes.

Do I have thoughts on it? Oh yes. I’ve noted from the beginning that an episodic story like this was definitely an experiment. I won’t say what those thoughts are at this juncture, because you readers haven’t finished the story, and I don’t want to inadvertently color your expectations. Though I will say some of the episodes coming up have some of my favorite scenes I worked on through this series, and I don’t feel at all that my time was misspent.

Naturally, of course, this means that there will be another episode this Saturday. Episode 9, Apatos, will be live at 8 AM mountain time, and after the events of the last episode, you absolutely will not want to miss it.

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Updates, Queries, Facebook, and More

Hey folks! Who’s ready for a weekend?

I certainly am. This week has been, no mistake, all over the place. I’m looking forward to some relaxation when the weekend hits, that’s for sure! Not too much, though. I’ve still got work on Stranded to think about. Slowly but surely, that story grinds forward.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. Well, outside of reassuring some expectant readers that it’s still coming. No, today’s post is a bit of a grab bag post, talking about everything that’s been going on. Such as Fireteam Freelance.


Last night I put the finishing touch on episode #9 of Fireteam Freelance, and it was a good one. I’m not going to spoil how, or why, but I think it may be one of my personally favorites in the series to date.

You readers, of course, are still on episode #6 (Mandatory Takeout). So I think it’s safe to say the backlog is building up pretty well right now. Today I start episode #10, which marks a noted shift as, well, it’s near the end of the season. Again, no spoilers, but with a name like Swift Tilt, those of you invested in the universe can probably make some good estimates. And if you’ve been carefully hording your puzzle pieces so far, trying to piece together everything … get ready. That’s all I’ll say.

Granted, you’ve got some time yet. Tomorrow’s update will be another interview, the second-to-last, this time with the team’s close-combat specialist, Ursa. The Saturday after that will see the release of episode #7, Missing Persons, and you are not going to want to miss it. The week after that? You’ll have to see, but I think many of you will find it worth the wait.


Now, that’s not all the news I have on Fireteam Freelance. For those of you readers here that are familiar with the website SpaceBattles, I’ve begun considering posting episodes of Fireteam Freelance there on their fiction boards. Why? Well, I’ve noticed a few other posters of original fiction posting material that has come from their work elsewhere, and it could be good publicity. Those of you here who hail from SpaceBattles, what say ye? I know you’re here, since I see the link-trackbacks from time to time. And I am on SpaceBattles myself.

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Quarantine Chat: Finances, a MacMillan Backpedal, and April Apocalypse

Hey folks! This is a bit overdue, but quite honestly my plate has been full of other things, like getting episode three of Fireteam Freelance ready for this Saturday, which will then be followed by Alpha editing A Trial for a Dragon and the Beta. Plus the whole pandemic thing which …


Well, I’ll lead with finances. As most of you might expect, I’m one of the many people that’s been adversely affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic. So things right now financially aren’t the best.

I’m not losing my housing, thankfully. Not in the next week, anyway. But … things for the next few months are definitely going to be difficult. My part-time job furloughed myself and everyone else there until August at the earliest, and while we might get unemployment, that’s a maybe. Sands, my being an author may disqualify me from it entirely, despite the pandemic and the fact that it isn’t enough to be entirely a sole income yet (as for the why there, it’s because America hasn’t really been a good place for the small business for a few decades, slaved instead by “go big or go home” mentality).

Basically, things are looking rough for the next few months. The roughest they’ve ever been. The smooth waters of February vanished quickly with this latest storm.

That said, there are ways you can help, ways that don’t involve simply sending money via Patreon (I mean, you can do that, but I understand many are in a similar situation to my own). Quite simply: Talk about my stuff. Share.

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The Uncertain Future of Amazon (and Indie) Advertising

So this one’s been on my list to write about ever since Jungle launched. Things have been … pretty busy, which is why it’s taken this long to get to it. But no matter where I’ve been, or what I’ve been doing, this topic has weighed on the back of my mind (even when sick, lol).

Why? Well, because I think it may have a lot of impact on the publishing future going ahead.

Look, let’s all be on the same page here: Indie publishing is the juggernaut change that the book industry is dealing with right now. Traditional publishers are fast falling out of favor, doubling down on archaic models and methods that haven’t made financial sense in two decades, while authors jump ship to newer, smaller indie pubs or just go completely independent on their own. And right at the middle of this swirling maelstrom is … Amazon. The world’s largest bookstore. Who basically looked at publishing and said “Oh, how cute and quaint. Well, you keep doing that, but we’re offering the future.”

Okay, what they really did was throw their doors wide open, say “Hey, anyone can sell a book here, and here’s your 70% royalty,” and let logic do the rest. Because few authors were going to stick with a traditional publisher model where they owned nothing and worked for a royalty so small they’d need to sell a hundred books just to make $10 when they could instead keep all the rights and sell two books to make $10.

Anyway, that’s ancient history by now, and the market is well on its way through the reactionary shift to this change, with traditional publishers struggling to stay relevant through all sorts of questionable actions like cutting author royalties even further or attacking libraries.

But this isn’t about that. Well, sort of. That’s all background to bring us up to speed so I can get to the real meat of today’s topic: Amazon’s Advertising system.

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The Power of Word of Mouth

So before on this site, I’ve spoken about how studies have found that the most effective way to get people to check out a book (and buy it) is not reviews from websites (though those are some of the most effective, hence why so many sell reviews), and not advertising on web-pages and other places, but word of mouth.

Well, yesterday there was a chance to put that idea to the test. If you swung by the site yesterday, you saw a blog post asking readers to swing by a Reddit subreddit discussion looking for good indie Sci-Fi authors and books. I brought it to the site’s attention and asked readers who enjoyed my work to head on over and say something.

Some of you did, and all I can say is THANK YOU.

Okay, I can actually say more than that. Because I can also tell you how impactful that was. See, I can see sales in near real-time. Within an hour of a few of you dedicated, awesome fans posting recommending Colony, sales for the day quintupled.

That’s right, they went up by a factor of five.

That, readers, is the power of word of mouth. Of someone telling someone else about a book. Word of mouth is quite literally the most powerful way to get a book out there.

Advertising? It’s expensive, and worse, gauged so that the return is just barely worth it (look for a full post on that soon). If you want to make $100 in book sales, you’re going to need to spend at least $50, often closer to $90, ending with a net gain of $10. This isn’t an exaggeration, by the way.

Reviews? They might bring in viewers, but a lot of places charge for the privilege (despite it being against a lot of terms of service with booksellers) and people know that on some level. Reviews from big outlets help, but at the end of the day?

It’s people talking about a book that really make it work. We’re surrounded by advertising of all forms, and we’ve gotten really good at tuning it out. Paid commercial for something? We shrug and move on.

But someone else talking about something and how they liked it? That’s not a paid ad: That’s another person talking about something they enjoyed. The more casual the interaction is, the more weight we put behind their words. They’re not being paid to tell us about something. They’re telling us because they enjoyed it.

That’s the power of word of mouth. That’s why yesterday, when a few of you headed on over to the subreddit and posted (three that I could see), sales quintupled over their daily average for this week, and within hours.

That’s the power you readers have, simply by talking to people about books. On social media. On forums. In person.

Word of mouth is the most powerful advertising there is.

I (and any other author) can pay for advertising. And it’ll show a small but simple return. We can beg places to review our books, or buckle under and pay them for one (I still refuse to do that). But at the end of the day, what has the biggest impact on whether or not we succeed or fail is you. The readers. If an author cannot make a big enough impact on their reading base that their readers talk about their work … they’re very likely doomed to failure.

So again, thank you to those of you who headed over and recommended my works. As I said, quintupling. Five times the daily normal. Within a few hours.

Readers, you hold a lot of power in your hands. The books you talk about, the books you choose to tell others about … It plays a heavy part in determining whether or not an author sinks or swims.

Please use it well.