The No Fly Zone (Except Exodus)

We are in the midst of that rare holiday season when Christmas and New Years both land on a Wednesday. People are enjoying vacations throughout the two weeks, forcing many non-retail businesses into a no fly zone. Little can be done until the new year begins and folks return to work.

Like most entrepreneurs, my business will be coasting through these weeks with one exception. I’ll be giving Exodus away for free on the Kindle from December 24 through the 28th.

Last year I gave away Twitter header images as a holiday giveaway. This year, it’s the novel.

If you haven’t picked up Exodus yet, this is your last chance to do so for free. If you bought Exodus on Kindle prior to this giveaway, you can get your money refunded, too! I hope you enjoy the book!

Downtime is Hobby Time

During the slow period, I will attend to year-end accounting, xPotomac and basic business needs, but there’s plenty of down time. So I will work on some novel promotion, and continue drafting the next novel in The Fundamentalists, The War to Persevere.

It’s funny, writing novels is definitely a hobby. They don’t pay the bills, and they certainly aren’t related to my marketing consultancy. I find myself treating my novels as a noncritical task.

Yet, they are creative fuel. I thoroughly enjoy working on them, so this is a bit of a treat to have time to work on the next one. A bit of a present, if you would.

Perhaps this is a time to count stars instead of making dollars.

During this time, I will blog on a reduced schedule (I doubled posted today, see Marketing Automation is Anything but the Machine). Expect another post on the 30th and again on the 3rd. Until then, have a Merry Christmas!

Will you be working during the holidays?

Photo by Defence Images.

The War Begins

When November began, I stated my intent to use the #NaNoWriMo writeathon as A method to start writing my next novel, The War to Persevere: Book 2 of the Fundamentalists. One month later I have written 15,000 words or just under a third of what qualifies as a novel.

Generally, I met my goal for #NanoWriMo,, and wrote most days, 21 out of the 28 days, and 13 of the last 14. Six of those missed days were in the first half of the month, so I picked up momentum as time progressed.

At the same time, I got lapped by many, many writers who delivered full novels this month. It was amazing to watch these tenacious writers complete their drafts. It was surely a grind for them as I could see by their daily updates.

Meanwhile, I felt like a jogger slowly starting the marathon. By the time I completed one quarter of the race, people were close to finishing. Oh well. Life running a business and fathering a toddler precludes writing a novel in a month. We’ll have to settle for the slow slog, and finish at some point this winter.

It does feel like the book may come in a little short, perhaps at 40,000 words, give or take, which makes it either a novella or a short novel. We’ll see.

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The 5.56x45mm NATO round plays a prominent role in The War to Persevere.

It might be fun to reveal why the book is called The War to Persevere. Like Exodus (just $.99 on the Kindle for all of you Black Friday shoppers), which begins with a quote, War also begins with a quote:

We thought about it for a long time, ‘Endeavor to persevere.’ And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.” – Lone Watie, Cherokee survivor in The Outlaw Josey Wales

Not quite as noble as Exodus‘s Emerson quote, but absolutely as defining for what is to come. A great struggle begins, one that will demand changes for our heroes if they are to survive.

It’s quite fun writing the book! I’m glad I had the opportunity to work on it just as the holidays were arriving. We’ll see where we end up as the year ends.

Image by Mike Miller.

Brutal Economic Reality of Fiction and Those Reviews

People don’t make money from writing novels. Some bestsellers generate just a little north of $10,000. That’s why writers find jobs working as marketers, teachers, lawyers or journalists.

Some can make a living on fiction. They are the few and the lucky.

Don’t kid yourself. If you commit to writing novels do it because writing is your art. And if you need to make a living for family or lifestyle reasons, don’t quit your day job.

I don’t think Amazon and its $0.99 cent independent author world has helped anything. You are basically encouraged to price a book at $0.99 or $1.99 if you want to sell anything as a first time novelist. Guess what the royalties are on that? $.33 a pop, boys and girls.

The Book Hustle

They tell you to market better. Go blog, and build a social media following to sell books. Yeah.

Really, you sell books en masse via speaking engagements, direct marketing, media relations, virtual and live blogging tours, and third party reviews. So the social aspect is really out of your hands. The other people in your network have to rally behind the book. Even then, you are looking at only a few books that go 100% bananas. By the way you can buy some peanut butter and jelly afterwards with the royalties. Or if you also have a day job, you can use the money for a massage to relieve you of sleep deprivation induced stress.

Coincidentally, to be included in many blog-driven social email lists that refer independently authored books, you must 1) pay and 2) have a minimum level of reviews to be included (on Amazon, of course). That in turn creates another need for reviews.

I hit this wall last week when I tried to get Exodus into a few of these lists and didn’t have enough reviews. It really turned my stomach having to basically beg for reviews. My brand of blogger ego comes in the form of self reliance, but in the end I needed your help. I asked my community for help, and you delivered. For that I am grateful. It’s moments like this request over the weekend that I learn real humility, and an appreciation for others.

I used to poo-poo authors who asked for reviews. If there is anything I have learned over the past three years with the Fifth Estate, Marketing in the Round, and now Exodus, it is how necessary reviews are. Books must be discussed publicly and frequently, good or bad, if they are to succeed.

I have been rejected by two of the four blog/email sevices already, one based on the number of reviews, the other on subject matter, but at least I am in the game. And if I breakthrough and have a big social email? I might make a few hundred bucks.

More importantly, I will be read by more folks. For me, the book is my art. And that’s what I care about.

You Can Make Money as an Author

Now look, you can make a living as an author. Thousands already do so in the United States.

By the way, more than ten thousand people make a living as pro sports athletes in the United States. That includes the minor leagues, and some minor league players only earn $1100 a month.

To succeed, you have to build a repertoire of books, more often than not a series, which creates a back catalogue. Each new work helps sell the older works. Movie rights and big breakthrough moments create a macro effect on an author’s entire catalogue. Prolific successful authors make money.

The rest of us, well, it’s what we do. Until (or if) our time comes.

We live to be read, make a few extra bucks, and most importantly to have our art read and seen by the world. The currency to get there is word of mouth conversation and reviews.

For those of you who have helped me this past week, thank you. I am so grateful, you have no idea. It’s what this business is all about, and to have so many folks who have read Exodus come out of the woodwork and drop a review, well, it overwhelmed me. Thank you!

What do you think about the fiction ecosystem?

Featured image by sbluerock

Get Your Writing Groove on with #NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month, or #NaNoWriMo, began last Friday. NaNoWriMo is an annual exercise where writers perform a mental marathon and write at least 50,000 words in a 30 day period. I decided to participate to help get The War to Persevere: Book 2 of the Fundamentalists underway.

First of all, let me just say that I think writing a novel in a month is a crazy idea. A fun noteworthy achievement for sure, but still a bit intense. Yet thousands do it every year! Amazing!

For me, #NaNoWriMo would take an incredible amount of preparation in advance of the actual writing to succeed, specifically outlines, research, character development, etc,. In fact, I don’t have an expectation of finishing. That’s in spite of having much of the book already sketched out and portions drafted.

The issue is quality. While I think this may be great for drafting, I wouldn’t consider anything I write in 30 days to be publishable. For example, with consulting and fatherhood, I tend to only write 500-1000 words a day. By its very definition, that would leave me short of the 50,000 word minimum.

But, others are faster and work more diligently than me, and may have more time to write. That’s a cool thing. In fact, some decent novels have been written in six weeks or less.

Instead, I am using the exercise and group momentum to get me back into writing shape. Here are some of the things I expect #NaNaWriMo will help me accomplish:

1) Everyday Writing: This is an essential part of writing a book. I really believe you can’t get it done unless you discipline yourself for a long writing marathon. For, given my business duties, I have to accept 500 words a day… So long as I actually write every day.

2) Expose Weaknesses: Until the draft is written, you can’t see where the holes are.So, in particular, I will be looking to expose missing gaps in the narrative, as well as where I need to strenghten the characters. It’s also an opportunity to take feedback from Exodus, and better myself with my sophomore novel.

3) Research Needed: Another core component of this phase will be identifiying areas that need research to make sure the manuscript is technically sound. War will feature quite a bit of steam technology so that means I have to beef up my knowledge of arms and engines. My intent is to draft, then go back and correct or rewrite chapters for accuracy’s sake.

Perhaps the best part of #NaNoWriMo is all of the dialogue from authors. There has been quite a bit of chatter in the Google+ Writer’s Discussion Group. Of course, the #NaNoWriMo site has tons of support forums. And finally, several friends have dialogued about it. This is a cool thing to work through with them.

What do you think of #NaNoWriMo?

Breathe, then Think

Four weeks ago I blogged that I was pressing pause, and then took a two week vacation. I let everything hit the floor, and stayed offline and out of business for the most part. Heck, I didn’t even write until the end of the vacation.

Finally, after a few days I was able to breathe.

When you let yourself breathe several things happen. You relax, develop perspective, and can make a few decisions.

Here’s where I wound up.

Getting Ready to Scale

For the past two years, I have served as an uber consultant taking on long-term in-depth contracts that often brought me on site working with clients. This was good from a business and life perspective allowing me to be home more often with the kid. Plus I needed a break after the last start-up.

But Soleil is older, and I am getting hungry again. Plus, I have become the sole bread-winner for my house, putting more weight on my shoulders. Being dependent on one client presents uncomfortable economic weaknesses, plus you end up fulfilling the work 50 hours a week, all while marketing and hopefully getting the next client in the pipe.

It’s time to scale and build a company again.

My role as interim head of communications at Vocus is winding down with a permanent director on board. I am fortunate to contuue working with Vocus on content. Meanwhile, I have picked up five additional clients, including a couple of Fortune 500 companies.

ladysoleil

Look for Lady Soleil the brand to evolve beyond a shell company created for tax and legal purposes. In some ways this has already begun, a necessary step if a business is to be built beyond a singular personality. A logo and web site is in the works. Consultants are already working with me. The first hire will come soon.

Prepared for a Long Book March

Exodus was downloaded more than 1000 times during my initial launch. A good start for my first novel, but I didn’t market Exodus in September. I wanted to see how the book was received, and I needed to rest.

One thing I have learned about book marketing is it ends when the author stops pushing. Now I plan on a long entrenched marketing effort that focuses on building out the world unveiled in the text, and expanding the reach of the book into more traditional literary and science fiction circles.

Most of it will not be on this blog, though what you see will be an expansion of thinking behind the book, and more free content. In the short term, I have three quick updates for you:

  • I published a new story called “Steam” from The Fundamentalists online this weekend. Steam offers some clues about one of the primary plot themes in the next book.
  • Several folks have asked, so I set up a Google Hangout to answer questions, chat, and discuss future books in the trilogy. The hangout is scheduled for Friday, October 25 at 2 p.m. Join us if you can!
  • Finally, publishing industry magazine Kirkus Reviews just published their thoughts on Exodus. It was a very positive take on the book, check it out.

Distance Is Good

I have intentionally removed myself from most of the day-to-day scrums within the online marketing conversation. I like and follow lots of people, but find the cliques and anti-clique cliques to be tiresome.

When I got back, someone showed me a “who are your favorite marketing speakers” post. All the cool kids were referring themselves as usual. Most of us know that there were much more negative conversations in private online groups and conversations.

This is human nature, and happens offline, too. At the same time, these types of conversations can be a big distraction, and matter very little to clients. Plus deep participation creates homogenous thinking, and a scary return to high-school like politicking.

I feel better when I focus on more productive activities. My only private online group participation are two baseball groups, and a writer’s group. Everything I have to say professionally about marketing remains said publicly, and otherwise it’s heads down.

Stay the course, and remain in the wide open blue ocean rather than at harbor with the rest of the crew.

So these were my big three takeaways from vacation. Clarity helps.

How to Write an Addictive First Chapter

One of the best compliments people have given to Exodus is that the first chapter grabs them, and launching them right into the text. So I decided to share how this chapter was crafted.

First of all, before I begin let me say not everyone likes the book. I’m not painting Exodus out to be the second coming of the Lord of the Rings or anything. There has been some constructive feedback that I will apply to future books. In other cases, I have been absolutely shredded by those outraged by the book’s position on religion (no surprise there).

But most of those that say anything seem to like it. Some call it a compulsive read right out of the gate, with nods to the first chapter. And that’s funny to me because I actually deleted the original first chapter ten years ago.

Seriously.

I deleted the whole damn thing.

The original first chapter was overburdened with backfill, the story of how we got to this moment kind of thing. “And through the centuries after the the Great Sickness.” It sucked, and was totally boring.

I read somewhere that every author should lop the first chapter off their text. It’s always important to the author, but rarely to the reader.

The current first chapter was rewritten at least a dozen times. My head tells me more than 20, but I don’t want to exaggerate.

I wanted to create that moment in time when everything gets turned on its head! Novels are usually about something or someone remarkable. Stories always start somewhere, the day in the life kind of thing. Begin when the remarkable events change characters’ lives, and let the book provide the context.

The wounded man crawling down the path toward the the village was rewritten to be that moment. It had to be active. Creating tight sentence structure was critical. I recall repositioning this numerous times. Even this past winter I paired down the chapter to tighten it. And then Jennifer Goode Stevens edited it even further.

The framing was intentionally unusual and menacing, in large part because I wanted to set the tone for the grave danger that forms the premise of the novel (trying not to spoil the plot here). Setting the tone for a book has to occur in first chapter. It needs to convey the general direction of the novel. In the case of Exodus, alarm had to drip off the page, and hopefully it does.

Finally it needs to end with the hook. In Exodus, the danger is revealed and you are left hanging right there. If I couldn’t get you to chapter two and beyond on that opening salvo then I suck as a writer. Straight up.

To me the first paragraph of a novel is the most important one, as is the first chapter. If the novel fails to captivate readers from the get go, it’s highly likely that it will be put down like a bad tasting sandwich. I know I put down books within the first 20 pages if they don’t grab me, and I do that no matter how good the reviews are.

Resonate or collect dust (or ether dust bunnies). What do you think?