Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to Build Your Newsletter Using List Bait

Hi Folks,

Today I'm going to talk about the Heartstriker short, Mother of the Year. I'm going to go over what it is, why we made it, and why it's available as it is. I'm sure ya'll will find this educational as there's a lot going on here. So far this experiment has been a rousing success, so read on and we'll get into,

What We Did With Mother of the Year and Why

This post started when Tom Sweeney asked,
"My only question (you didn't think i was going to politely leave without a question, did you?) concerns the Mother of the Year gambit.
I know you are not selling it, just making it available for those on your list, and this likely resulted in a LOT of people signing up. I'm just wondering how effective it was for the end game goal, not building a list per se but selling books. I understand your data probably doesn't have enough granularity to determine how many of the new signups went ahead and bought one or more of the Heartstriker series books. You could have each sold lot of MotY copies at $.99, so do you think you came out ahead with enough Heartstriker books sold to cover the loss of revenue had you sold MotY?"

@Tom Thanks! Also, I love questions! Please feel free to ask away.

My reply was a wall of text and I realized that it'd be better as a blog post. So let's talk all about Mother of the Year.

First off, what is Mother of the Year?

MOTY, the short story you can download, is an interview with Besthesda, The Heartstriker about her 5th autobiography titled Mother of Year. It's about 4000 words long and is less of a story and more of a TV show transcript. The work is supplemental to the main series, meaning that you don't need to read it to appreciate Heartstrikers. So while it might make some parts cooler, it's not essential.

It is only available for people who sign up for the new release mailing list. This last bit is the most important part. You cannot buy MOTY. It is list exclusive content.

Why is it list exclusive and not [also] for sale?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Creating Settings Readers Can't Forget (And You Can't Mess Up)

What ho, loyal readers! Rachel back again from the word mines where I have been slaving under dragons (very nice ones, but dragons nonetheless) to talk about...settings!

{Insert Cool Stuff Here}
Settings are one of those writing necessities that too often gets overlooked. If you've done any writing research, you've already read dozens of articles about crafting characters and worldbuilding and plotting. But while these elements are all very important, surprisingly little ink, digital or otherwise, is spent on how to craft and imagine the actual physical space your characters, world, and plot inhabit.

This is especially weird when you consider how important set design is to other story telling mediums. Theatre, movies, television, and video games all have professionals who've made careers out of set design. Likewise, comics--both American and manga--spend an enormous amount of time on backgrounds.

In all of these, what the space where the action takes place looks (and sounds) like is clearly a huge part of the experience of the story. So why do we as authors, who have the entire reader imagination at our disposal, who spend months to years perfecting our characters and plots, so often delegate our setting to cliches like "dark forest" or "big stone castle"?

The obvious answer here is that, unlike all the things I mentioned above, writing is not a visual medium. Other than our covers and the very occasional illustrated edition, we don't deal in pictures. Quite the opposite. Saying accurately what something looks like is one of the hardest things to do in writing. "A picture is worth 1000 words" can be a literal statement when you're writing a book, and who wants to waste that kind of narrative space on what's basically a long, info-dumpy description? No one, which is why one of the most common pieces of writing advice I see in Fantasy circles is "don't stop to describe the scenery."

Make no mistake, this is good advice! We've all read (and most likely put down) books that stop the action completely to spend 5 paragraphs describing a castle on a bluff or the crowds in a city market. These are both setting-establishing elements that a movie director could establish in one camera pan, but would take us writers pages of tension-breaking description text to achieve the same effect, which is why you don't see them much in good fiction. They simply take way too long to do.

At the same time, though, creating an interesting, memorable, atmospheric world is a huge part of writing memorable fiction, especially in genre. However interesting your characters, plot, and world are, if you set them in a very generic Fantasy setting that relies on cliches to fill in your backgrounds, you are setting yourself up to be at least partially forgettable.

So how do you strike a balance? How do you create and then describe a setting that's unique enough to be memorable without spending a thousand extra words and killing your tension in the process?

It's a tricky balance, but there are definitely a few best practices I've learned over the years to make it easier. So, without further ado, let's talk about...

Writing Wednesday: Creating Settings Readers Can't Forget (And You Can't Mess Up)

"Sci-fi City" by JadrienC on DeviantArt
Unless you have a very strong image of a place or scene in your head already (or you're actively writing one right now), chances are you haven't given much thought to your settings yet. To be clear, I'm not talking about World Building. I've gone over that whole other kettle of fish in detail already. This post is all about actual, physical location. The places where your characters live and your action takes place.

If we were working on movies or video games or any of the visual mediums, we would call this set design, and it would be a huge freaking deal. How many movies have you watched where just looking at the set was enough to create strong expectations of what was coming before any characters spoke or any plot had been laid down?

Hobbiton, I'm looking at you.
Oh yeah, that's powerful mojo. Of course, we writers don't have these visual elements to work with, but that's no excuse not to have creative and interesting locations. We are still storytellers and entertainers. It is our job to be as interesting as possible, and creating really cool settings is a huge part of that, so let's talk about how to do it.

The Foolproof Guide to Settings #1: Matching Your Emotions

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Marketing Tactics Round-Up

Hi Folks,

I'm sure you are wondering what I'm doing here on a Wednesday post instead of Rachel. Well, after last week's blogging ate three of Rachel's mornings, we have come to the long-building conclusion that we're both blogging too much. Books aren't getting written and that means Things-Have-To-Change(TM) around here.

We're still going to update everywhere Wednesday with new advice and helpful posts, but Rachel and I will be alternating who's up each week.

Anyway, there's been a lot of requests for marketing posts and, as I'm always asking for post requests, I'm going to try my best. Marketing is a HUGE topic ya'll. People get degrees and spend lifetimes perfecting it as a skill. In a way, we're always talking about marketing here in some form or another.

Since "marketing books" is too big a topic, I'm instead going to list and talk about every single book marketing tactic that I know of. It's going to be a,

Book Marketing Tactics Round-Up

We all need some practical, effective, actionable information to sell books with. While there's loads of abstract marketing strategy we need to talk about, books still need to sell and we all have work to do. SO, let's focus on the pragmatic stuff today and I'll have more abstract strategy talk for ya'll on another day.

What, specifically, can you do to market a book?

I'm going to try to list things in the order of power/importance they will have on your book's sales.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Know Thy (Publishing) Self

The other day on Twitter, I posted

I originally wrote this as the second part of a response to someone replying to Trav's (awesome) business post about the mechanics of a commercially successful series. The commenter in question had mentioned that business posts were basically intimidating, and I absolutely agree. Big pages of numbers and math can be very intimidating if you're unfamiliar with them, but part of self publishing is getting familiar with stuff like this. This is the business part of the self-publishing business, and if you hate it, then maybe self publishing isn't for you, and that's cool. There's tons of other ways to get your book out there! No big deal.

That's all I was trying to stay. I didn't think it was anything special or incendiary, just the facts as I saw them, and yet this tweet got a lot more attention than I expected. At first, I wasn't sure why. It's hardly my most eloquent statement. But then I realized what I saying--that it's okay to choose not to self publish if that's not what works for you--was actually kind of radical in its own weird, publishing politics way.

So (since I didn't have anything else to talk about today) I thought I'd take a look at why that is, and what it means for all of us as individual writers. Onward!

Writing Wednesday: Know Thy (Publishing) Self

If you've spent any time (and I do mean any time) researching your publishing choices on the internet, you've probably seen someone telling you that there is only one smart way to go, and if you choose anything else, you're wasting your writing, your money, and your time. Sometimes this is said very politely with lots of excellent case studies showing exactly why one publishing path is better than the other. Other times you're flat out told you're a moron who's being swindled if you don't do as the author in question suggests.

No matter how it's said, though, there is always an opinion one way or the other. Pretty much every writer you ask, whether they're a multiply published veteran or someone who's only one chapter into their first book, has very definite ideas about which is better: trad or self.

Whenever you have a topic this divisive, there's going to be conflict. Even though most authors (with a few loud exceptions) are extremely polite, reasonable, and eloquent about their thoughts on the subject, picking a side for yourself can still feel like an emotional decision rather than one based in fact. This is especially true if one of your favorite authors is an outspoken supporter of one camp or another. When that happens, choosing anything else can feel like a betrayal. Even if the one choice makes sense for your situation, if someone you respect and like so much is constantly calling what you're considering stupid, it's only natural to think "am I being dumb? Am I actually throwing my writing future away if I do this?"

This is the part of the self pub vs. trad pub debate that I hate the most. Not the discussion--that's very good, very necessary, and a great tool for bringing to light the pros and cons of each path--but the absolute division. The constant refrain--sometimes boldly shouted, sometimes tacitly implied--that the other side isn't just wrong, they're dangerously, career wreckingly wrong. That if you sign with a traditional publisher, they'll hit you with an abusive contract to take all your money and keep your rights forever. Or if you self publish your first novel and it flops, no traditional publisher will ever look at you again.

To be clear, this isn't fear mongering. Both of the examples above can and do happen, but they're also both worst case scenarios, and that's what makes the question of what you should do with your novel so difficult. Because the truth is that both trad and self publishing have horrible pitfalls and incredible heights. Neither of them is easy and nothing is guaranteed. So how do you know which is right for you?

This is the point where pretty much every respectable publishing advice blog will say some version of "the right choice depends on you and what you want from your career." I've actually said that exact thing in my own post about self publishing and money. But what does that actually mean? If you've never published a book and never had a publishing contract and never worked with a publishing house, how do you know what's actually right for you? After all, whatever you choose, you're going to be locked into that decision for that title for years, maybe even forever.

That's not a choice to be made lightly! But while there are plenty of blogs that talk about the practical differences between the two (including mine! Click here for my Authors & Money posts on trad vs self), in my experience, the real difference between the two isn't actually in the business, but in what each one expects from you, the author.

That's what this blog post is really about. Every publishing blog under the sun (again, including this one) has posts about the practical, business differences between trad and self like royalty rates, contracts, marketing, and so forth. But while all that stuff is really important, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how great the numbers are if you, the author, are unhappy with your choice. You could succeed beyond your wildest dreams in either self publishing or trad, but if that path's version of success doesn't match yours, then it doesn't matter.

In the end, this isn't a really choice of which publishing road is better. It's about which one is better for YOU, and the only way to figure that out is to figure yourself out.

Again, no small feat! "Know thyself" is a life long journey. But as someone who's seen the ups and downs of both the self pub and traditional publishing paths, maybe I can help put this old, bitterly contested question into a more personal light.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Let's Talk Numbers: How Long Should Your Series Be?

Hi Folks,

Travis here. I've been talking about career planning and such lately, so I felt that today would be a good day to provide another tool for ya'll to use in that regard with an in-dept look at how the length of a series affects you commercially.

Obviously from an artistic standpoint your series should be as long as it needs to be, but there's a lot of wiggle room within that band. The idea here is to give you the information about how different novel lengths and series structure affect your bottom line as an author so that when that choice does come up, you have the tools to make the best one!

There's a lot of topics in this post that I've been dying to get onto the blog, so I'm really excited about this one. Let's go!

Let's Talk Numbers: How Long Should Your Series Be?

Are you ready for some graphs and charts?! Cause I am. It's been a while since I've dug into the nitty gritty behaviors of book sales. Today though, we are going to look at the economics and math that power our mainstay fiction series. 

We do so in the attempt to answer the question of, "how long should your series be?" Really, I hope to provide you with the tools to help answer that question for yourself.

Let's start with the most common genre fiction method of publishing: writing a sequential series of books. These are books that are meant to be read in order and they are published one after the other as they are written. (Since it's so common, this is going to be my assumed definition for the word "series" throughout this post.)

As I've talked about before, not everyone who reads book 1 in a series will go on to read book 2,3,4, etc. in the series. Since the books are sequential, this creates a funnel effect whereby 99% of people who read book 5 are people who've also read all the books before it. Same goes for any length of series be it three books or a hundred.

This creates a bit of mathematical tyranny for authors. Let's look at the theoretical earnings of a well written series that sells 1000 copies of its book 1.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Writing Wednesday: The Rule of Cool

I've been on a bit of a film critic kick lately. This isn't because I'm some kind of huge movie buff, but because I really enjoy listening to intelligent deconstruction of story, and movies are a lot simpler to deconstruct that novels. This is because movies and television--being vastly shorter and more limited in scope than novels, which are hemmed in only by the author's imagination--can't afford to waste story time.

Script writing is famously unforgiving. There is simply no room for anything but the most efficient and deft strokes of plot and character. Scripts are storytelling condensed down to its purest form, which means that when mistakes happen, and they happen a lot, the way the story fails tells us a lot about what is really important in narrative and why.

I just wanted an excuse to use this picture.

If you're interested, I highly recommend Every Frame a Painting for super insightful classic film criticism about why good movies are so good. Movie Bob for a funnier, more topical criticism on current releases, how they came to be, and why they succeed or fail. And finally DigiBro for an incredibly insightful and thoughtful look at the unique storytelling and directorial work that goes on in anime.

All of these channels are really good in their own areas, and while I have zero interest in ever writing a screen play or getting behind a camera, I've learned a lot from all of them. Writers have a bad habit of thinking our art form is unique, but at the end of the day, on screen or on the page, stories are still just stories. They have the same rules, same tricks, and same pitfalls regardless of medium. Tropes that appear in film and TV often appear in books. This is especially true as our modern generations grows up and starts writing stories that draw inspiration not just from our childhood novels, but also from the movies, TV, anime, comics, and video games we grew up with. My own stories are just as inspired by those shows as they are by the books I've read, and as I keep digging for new ways to become a better writer, it only make sense to turn to analysis of these other mediums to find my new tricks.

So now that I've written 200 words about how I got here, I'm going to get to the good stuff and talk about my latest favorite story concept I've gleaned from watching all these critic videos, and that is the Rule of Cool.

Writing Wednesday: The Rule of Cool

Monday, August 22, 2016

Author Career Planning

Hi Folks,

Sorry for the break in business posts, it's been a busy end of summer for me. Day camps stop 1 week short of school starting. Our son Nate also started 1st grade, which has come with a bright and earlier-than-ever schedule. I've just had my hands full parenting and keeping the house functional is all.

We're back on today though and I'd like to talk about career planning. In my opinion, the trad vs self publishing choice is just a microcosm of figuring out a real career path for yourself. There are many more and deeper choices to be made. By the end of this post, I hope to have helped guide you through some of them and that you will have a much better idea of where to go with your publishing future.

Rachel and I do this kind of exercise all the time cause we love looking forward and painting a bright future for ourselves. I hope you will too.

Author Career Planning

It starts with goal
A mentor I once had (Hi Greg!) always said, "start with the end in mind". This isn't just great advice for developing software, it's a good method for writing a book, and it's also the key for developing a career strategy and a plan.

For authors, there's a handy way of quickly finding a big goal for yourself,
Is there an author whose career you want?
This is my way of really asking you about what kind of authorial career you'd like to have should everything you try succeed reasonably well. It's a thought exercise that goes far deeper than the classic money vs fame decision of trad vs pub. I like asking people whose career they want because it's a lot easier to analyse (read: superficially judge) someone else's life than your own. 

Also, I bet that there are a surprising number of successful authors whose career you wouldn't want to have. Maybe you don't like their fans, or maybe you don't like how fast or slow they write, genre aside - maybe you don't like their books, or maybe they just travel too much. Pay attention to who you'd like to be but also who you don't want to be. I bet you'll learn something about yourself in the process.

Take a minute to think about it. Then we'll move on.

Good? Great!

Now, I'd like to ask you some questions then.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Keeping the Ball Rolling

First, the usual stuff! Heartstrikers 3 is still out and the reviews are great!! Thank you so so SO much if you've read and reviewed my book! Reviews, good or bad, are one of the best things you can give to an author. Thank you all for yours!

(And if you've read the book and haven't reviewed it yet, I'd love it if you'd leave your two cents on Amazon. Even a single sentence helps. Thank you a ton!)

Now, blog time!

Writing Wednesday: Keeping the Ball Rolling

I've talked a lot on this blog about what to do when the writing is going badly. I've talked about what to do when you think your writing sucks, how to pump yourself up when you're not writing as much as you think you should, how to shut up your inner editor, how to shut up everyone else and just write. Lots of troubleshooting! 

But what about the other side of the coin? What do you do when the writing is going really well? How do you keep that going?

The writing is never ending.

Good writing days can feel like perfect summer afternoons. They appear seemingly out of nowhere, are fantastically amazing, and then they're gone, and you're right back to normal. I always thought this was just part of the mercurial nature of writing. Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down, and sometimes you're in the middle, but no matter what happens, the writing has to get done.

This was my writing philosophy for years, and just from what I've read on other writing blogs, I'm pretty sure it's a lot of other writers' too. But after I discovered the incredible results that come from being more analytical about my writing, I've been a lot less accepting of the idea that things just "happen" in writing. After all, if bad writing days happen for a reason, like if your plot is broken or you're forcing yourself to write in the wrong direction, then good writing days must happen for a reason as well.

Sometimes it's really obvious. When I'm rolling on the climax of a book and everything that's going to happen is already right there in my head, that's pretty much a guaranteed good writing day streak. Or if I'm finally getting to write a scene I've been waiting to write FOREVER. That's a good day! 

Now, obviously, you can try to generate more of these situations by making sure you're always excited about what you're writing. I do this so much, it's one of the three tricks I used to go from 2,000 words a day to 10,000. But being while excited about what you're writing is pretty much the base for all good writing days, it's not the be-all-end-all one shot solution.

In a perfect world, just being excited about what you're writing would be enough to guarantee great, productive, happy writing days every time. But, no spoiler, this isn't a perfect world. You can be over the moon about what you're going to write today and still have a shitty writing day for a whole host of other reasons that have nothing to do with your story. 

This is grossly unfair. If I do the work of setting up a phenomenal story, I should be rewarded with words pouring from my fingertips, dammit! But, as we all know, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, that's because the planning wasn't actually as phenomenal as I thought, but just as often, the book itself is fine. I'm the one the one with the problem. Maybe I'm tired, maybe I'm hungry, maybe I'm in a bad mood over stuff that has nothing to do with writing. 

There's a whole world of reasons out there that can stomp on even the best writing days, and part of the challenge of writing professionally--which is to say, writing well every day--is learning to sail over these toughs and peaks with an even keel. We have to figure out how to keep the ball rolling on the good writing days even when we're not having great days ourselves, so (since no Rachel Aaron blog post would be complete without a list) let's talk about how to do that!

How to Get and Keep Good Writing Days

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Writing Wednesday: The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment (Part 2)

Now that Heartstrikers 3 is out in the wild, I can FINALLY get back to real blog posts! Today's is the long promised conclusion to The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment from two weeks ago.

Last time, we focused on creating characters people can't help but fall in love with and then making them climb impossible walls to keep your audience on the edge of their seat. This time we're going to look at the plotting side of how to make readers hopelessly addicted to your work.

But first, I was on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast hosted by the amazing SFF author Lindsay Buroker! We talked Heartstrikers, what kind of marketing/promo we did for the launch, and all sorts of fun writing business stuff. It was an absolute blast and the recording is already up for free on line, so I really hope you guys will give it a listen!

Now, on with the blogging!

Writing Wednesday: The Addictive Power of Emotional Investment (Part 2)

In part one , we talked about how to build reader addiction for your work by giving them characters they have to care about and then making those characters suffer. Why suffering? Because suffering, pain, crisis, and all those other tortures authors inflict on their characters is what creates the tension and conflict that make stories interesting.

This is nothing new. I actually wrote an entire post about how the formula for writing character driven stories is Motivation + Conflict + Setting = Plot. But while creating lovable people and then forcing them to lead lives of intense drama is a guaranteed winning formula for addictive books, forcing your people to climb impossible walls to reach their goals is just the first step.

If you want your books to be truly memorable, stay-up-all-night, force-my-friends-to-read experiences, you have to go a step further. Creating lovable characters and putting them in danger is quite frankly just a basics of good writing, one of those fundamentals you'll find in pretty much every book worth reading.

There's nothing wrong with that! Creating a book worth reading is a giant accomplishment for any writer, new or established. But this post is all about reaching beyond that. It's about finding what's necessary to hit that next level and turn a good book into a favorite book.

First though, a disclaimer.

What I'm about to say is just my opinion. You may very well disagree with, or even flat out hate, what I'm about to say, and that's fine. The best thing about writing books is that there's no one right way. Every author approaches their art differently. This is how I do it. Will it work for you? I certainly hope so, but if it doesn't resonate, that's okay. It doesn't mean one of us is wrong, it just means we're different writers, and that's great! The world takes all kinds.

My aim today isn't to dictate, but to illustrate. I hope that by explaining how I approach these problems, I can help you understand more about your own books. That's always my goal here at Pretentious Title: to shine whatever light I've made for myself into the murky, sometimes blind art we call fiction in the hopes of making the path easier on someone else.

So without further ado, let's dig into the specifics and talk about how, exactly, we can go from good characters in tough situations to great characters in terrifying situations.

Friday, August 5, 2016


The wait is over!

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished is finally here!

You can get it for your Kindle, cuddle it IRL as a print edition, or read it free via Kindle Unlimited. Or, if you'd rather have someone really talented read it to you (luxury!), the audio edition comes out September 13! There really is no downside, here.

If you've already preordered, thank you so much! The book should have been automatically added to your Kindle last night. If you don't see it, just click to sync and update your library in your Kindle options and it should pop right in. Again, thank you thank you THANK YOU for your support, and I really hope you enjoy the book!

And as a final bonus, if you didn't see Wednesday's blog post, we commissioned some art from the fantastic Gergana (she of the amazing illustrated Heartstriker book reviews) of my personal favorite chapter of book 3!

Click to see in glorious full resolution!

We commissioned this picture for you guys (well, also for me because OMG AMELIA) as a way of saying thank you for being my fans! Feel free to use it for whatever your heart desires, and thank you again for being my readers. None of this would be possible without you!

Well, that's enough out of me. I hope you all have a lovely weekend of reading, and thank you again for everything!

Yours always,