Self-Publishing: Where To Start

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

This question has come up among my friends and my writing groups – when you want to self-publish where do you start. It’s overwhelming – not because there’s not advice, there’s too much.

There’s advice on what to do. When to publish. What format to use. How to market. Everyone has advice, and there’s so much of it, for many people it’s overwhelming.

So I’d like to talk how to start with self-publishing. I’ll probably improve this over time and re-publish it.

The Split

So first of all, there’s really two sides to writing. First there’s creating the book and all that entails, then there’s marketing it. One of the biggest problems is how this all gets so overwhelming – because marketing is way different than writing the book.

So my first advice? Get to writing. You can’t market without a product, without something to sell. You want to be able to get something done, after all – otherwise there’s no reason to do all the marketing and such.

For a first timer, I would get your work to a first draft (or even a zeroth draft) if it’s a book. If you want to do smaller works like serial fiction, get 2-3 smaller pieces done.

Remember it’s not done. it’s ready for edit. It’s proof you can get something to sell.

Plus you can focus.

While You Write

While you write, take time to do research on marketing – websites, ads, etc. Don’t do anything with it. Just record ideas, get them into your head.

To make it easy on you, set aside a timeframe. Read one article a week. Finish one book a month. Make it paced, relaxed, and with no other goal than knowledge – not things to do, ideas of what you can do.

Also remember a lot of the advice is survivorship bias, repetition, 101 stuff, and so on. That’s fine, we’ll sort it out later.

Editing – And Formatting

So next up is editing your book. This is probably less pressure than writing the damn thing. Set yourself a timeframe for editing to get it done and get it off to an editor. Yes, you want an editor.

At this time, focus about 70% of your time on the first edit or two and the other 30% on learning how you’ll do your cover and how to use publishing tools like Jutoh. Learn enough that you can make a temporary eBook copy in your chosen formats.

By the way if you plan to hire someone else to format, great, less stress for you.

Also figure out how you’ll get a cover. I strongly recommend you hire someone or go with premade covers like you find at GoOnWrite. If you want to do your own, then make sure you can. I do a lot of my own, or do them partially, but I learned some hard lessons.

You don’t have to have it ready, just know how you’ll do it.

Why do this? Again, by the time you got through an edit and are sure you can publish, you’ll know there’s something ready. Then you can focus on marketing.

Off To Edit – Off To Market (ing)

Somewhere when you’re sure a book is about to get published, when you’re ready to do it, it’s time to market.

For your first book (or books if you have smaller stories), when you send things to final pre-readers or editors (depending how confident you feel), start working on actual marketing plans. I recommend planning marketing during the editing phase of a large book, and the prereader phase of small works.

So what do you do? Take inventory.

  • Write down all the different distinct things you want to do in marketing.
  • Next, rank them in order of importance as far as you know.
  • Now rerank them by how able you are to do them and how well you can handle them. It’s OK if that violates whats important or what people tell you – you have to evaluate what you’re capable of.
  • Decide the minimum you have to do out of these.
  • Figure out the minimum you need to do for each.

How are you going to use this list? Simple. Start at the top while you wait for feedback, and do one after the other. If that’s setting up a Twitter account, fine. If that’s getting a website, well that may be a little longer. Either way focus on one item at a time.

By the way, it’s fine to outsource or ask for help. In fact if you can do that and have the friends, money, etc. do it. Again, reduce stress.

What Do I Recommend?

So what’s my minimal recommendation for self-promotion? Here you go, in “least stressful order.”

  • Register a domain for yourself. If it’s a one attached to your real name, just point it at your Twitter or LinkedIn Profile.
  • Set up an author twitter if you don’t have one already. If you’re using a pen name, now’s the time to direct your new domain at it. Figure out a Tweeting plan.
  • Set up a website if needed. You can use something like Wix if you’re in a hurry, but I do recommend a blog, so you can go with wordpress.com or a good host like Dreamhost. Start with one page.
  • Look at how to use Amazon ads and Google ads to see if they’ll help (if you want to blow the money, they can be low-stress).
  • Consider a newsletter like MailChimp. This may not be something to start, but you will want one anyway.
  • Consider promotional sites like Prolific Works for giveaways.

There’s a good starting point. You can do all the other stuff you need later. Heck, three of these are maybes.

Back At It

So at some point you get the book back from pre-readers/editors and are getting it into shape ready to go. At this point, you probably need to start engaging your audience.

This could be as complex as setting up a Twitter feed and starting to post on a blog and blog tour. This could just be setting aside money for online ads.

But at the same time don’t you have to edit and prepare for publishing? Yes. So you may need to split your time.

I do this by setting aside goals and blocks of time. So maybe you edit for X hours a week and once a week take an hour to blog. If anything gets too stressful, re-adjust.

One important thing – do not announce any dates until you’re quite sure. At best, do general announcements.

Publishing

When you publish, if its your first time, my advice is to focus as much on the publishing as you can. If you have some regular newsletter, website updates, etc. be sure not to take on anything you can’t handle.

I usually line everything up then just spend all my time on publishing- which even at my best is still probably 5-15 hours of work on ensuring files work, getting things published, putting it on my website, etc.

Now, once that’s done and the book (or first of your smaller pieces) is out . . .

Market It

Now that you have a work out, you can tear into marketing. Set aside time in your post-publishing schedule to do the marketing, set up ads, whatever. It may be you got such a good schedule and a good plan that it’ll be surprisingly unstressful.

A note if you’re putting out smaller works, you may interlace their release with publishing. That’s fine. In this case alternate – spend time to publish, then market. Break things up.

Develop Your Rythm

Finally, with works out, with you doing the marketing that you can handle, find a rhythm for the future. Do you put out regular tweets? Blog once a week? Write three times a week and market one?

Find what works for you. And it’ll take time. Experiment. Learn.

In Conclusion

Everyone is going to tell you the right way to self publish. The right way to market. The right way to do all of this.

But you need to find your way. And the first thing you do when you start is to find a way that won’t drive you crazy.

Your way.

Steven Savage

Method Second

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I love productivity methods. “Getting Things Done” inspired me to become more organized, and I developed my time-management methods using Agile. I strongly encourage people to find productivity systems and build their owns.

I also recommend you change them up when they don’t work.

This is something people forget a lot when talking about personal productivity. There’s always advice about what to do, how to do it, but never when to stop doing it. When in all that creative advice is that gentle talk and metaphorical hand on the shoulder where someone says “by the way, here’s where you stop listening to me.”

I’ve encountered this in my own life – obviously. Lately, I’ve had to resort my priorities, change my methods, and adapt to new plans and new challenges. I’ve had to reshuffle how I work, from my regular cadence to how I prioritize and track work. As it’s in progress, I’ll discuss this once my methods settle.

But what I do want to discuss is why you should look at your methods and planning techniques, at all your charts and reviews, and learn when to stop doing them.

And when do you stop doing them and try something else? Simple. You change up whatever your productive methods are when following the methods gets in the way of getting things done. The goal of your processes is to get your projects completed, and when however you do that work gets in the way, then throw it out.

Here’s how your current seemingly-brilliant methods can get in the way.

  • They don’t fit your lifestyle. Maybe your lifestyle requires more adaptability, and you need less strict methods. Perhaps your life is more orderly, so less stringent methods aren’t as optimal.
  • You’ve internalized your methods. I’ve found this happens a lot in Agile methods – you internalize so many principles and ways to do things, planning them out may get in the way.
  • Your priorities have changed. That nicely organized system you had to get things done was for a different you. Now you’re focusing on different issues, and your old methods don’t apply. Sticking with your earlier priorities will interfere with your current needs.
  • Your psychological needs changed. Productive methods provide us comfort, leverage our advantages, and make up for our flaws. Those change and evolve, and your processes will need to as well – if they don’t, there’s going to be a lot of internal stress.
  • You’ve learned new tools. There are productivity tools out there, software to methods of using notecards, and so on. Once you find a new one out, why not try to use it?

Productivity methods are essential to getting things done. But there are times to switch them up because your needs changed, you changed, and because there are better methods. Let yourself do it.

The methods don’t matter – what matters is getting things done. When there are reasons to change, do it. The methods are just a way to get where you want to go.

Steven Savage

Creative Resources 7/9/2019

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I haven’t posted one of these in a few months, so here’s the latest roundup of creative resources! I’ve added a few here and there, plus some game development tools.

Art Sources

Free

  • Pixabay – A source for art that is free as well as royalty-free. There’s a lot here, and much of it is professional.
  • Unsplash – A source for photos that are free as well as royalty-free. The quality is very high.

Royalty Free

  • Canstockphoto – A great source for royalty-free art, photos, and more. Has a subscription system and a pay-more-get-more credit system.
  • Shutterstock – The classic source for royalty-free art, photos, and more. Has both monthly and specific purchases available.
  • The Noun Project – A fee or membership-based site for downloading a huge selection of royalty free icons! Once you pay for it or download it, it’s royalty-free! Useful for all sorts of projects

Book Covers

Premade

  • Go On Write – Premade covers for books – pick one that looks right and the artist will change the title and author appropriately. A great bargain, and even has series of covers at discount! Will do custom work to.

Services

  • Paper and Sage – A reliable source of both premade and custom book covers.

Tools

  • 3D Book Cover Design – Makes 3D Mockups of book covers.
  • Canva – Book cover creator, though you will want to provide your own art if you don’t want to pay for rights to their stock photo. Also has other services.

Book Reviewers

Review Sources

  • Midwest book review – Will review books for free, but it’s a matter of choice.
  • Self Publishing Review – A classic paid review service (where a pool of reviewers is available) for books. Not always a guarantee of the best reviews of course, so you take your risks . .
  • The Indie Review – A large, constantly-updated list of indie book reviewers.

Color Tools

Collections

  • Color Tools – Plenty of useful online color tools.
  • HTML Color Codes – Useful color tools, with a focus on web-focused colors.
  • Material Palette – Useful tools for desginging palettes, finding icons, and locating specific colors

Color Schemes

  • Color At Adobe – A color theme creator that lets you create schemes, or even get one from a picture, and has a powerful interface.
  • Color Calculator – A color scheme creator that also has useful advice and guides.
  • Colormind – A color theme creator that creates schemes with simple clicking, or get one from a photo.
  • Colors at Halfpixel – A simple palette creator (with a mobile option) with intuitive controls.
  • Coolors – A useful and powerful color palette creator that’s easy to use and powerful.
  • Huesnap – A palette repository and creation tool

Contact Management

Mailing Lists

  • Mailchimp – Mailchimp may have some restrictions, but it’s the go-to for easy mailing list management, which is perfect for authors and artists. It also integrates well with other tools.

Professional

  • LinkedIn – The classic business networking site, and pretty unavoidable for most professionals.

Game Creation

General

  • Game Maker Studio – A powerful game creation tool, with free and paid options
  • Unity – A popular, well-supported game creation tool, not only popular, but one with many tutorials available.

Interactive Fiction – Graphics

  • Ren’py – A powerful game creation tool with an inclination to visual novels and life-sim, and capable of powerful customization.

Interactive Fiction – Text

  • Choicescript – A choice-based game system, both for fun and used commercially.
  • Twine – A web-based Interactive Fiction development tool with multiple options.

RPGs

  • RPG Maker – Game creation tools – the original was RPG focused, but the company has also expanded into Visual Novels.

Generators

Generator Sites

  • Chaotic Shiniy – A diverse source of generators in a variety of styles.
  • Darkest of Nights – Fantasy-oriented generators.
  • Donjon – Generators for a variety of genres and game systems, some of which provide graphics as well!
  • Dropping-the-form – Generators for various settings.
  • DunGen – A powerful dungeon generation tool!
  • Eposic – Generators – among other imaginative efforts.
  • Fantasy Name Generators – And there are a LOT of them here. About anything you could want, and a few you didn’t know you needed.
  • Feath – Generators of various types, conveniently categorized.
  • Generator Blog – Links out to many other generators.
  • Generatorland – Lots of generators and generator tools.
  • Mithril and mages – Generators for a variety of genres.
  • Name Pistol – Band name generators.
  • RanGen – Random generators, from fantasy to helpful writing tools.
  • Serendipity – A generator site with some setting and name generators.
  • Seventh Sanctum – A gigantic collection of generators founded in 1999, with a focus on writing and RPGs.
  • Springhole.net – A site of generators and other creative tools.
  • Squid.org – Home of a complex name generator with many, many options.
  • The Force – A powerful name generator with multiple options.

Graphics

Graphic Tools

  • Art Rage – A painting-oriented digital art program supporting many operating systems, tools, and formats.
  • Clip Studio – A comics, painting, and illustration tool with many options and features
  • Mediabang – A comic and painting application that’s free and multiplatform!
  • Paintstorm – A low-cost digital painting program with many advanced features.

Graphic Tools – Free

  • Gimp – Aka The GNU Image Manipulation Program. A free, open source graphic tool that will take care of almost all of your graphic needs (barring a few limits like CYMK conversion and the like).
  • Krita – A free graphic tool focused on professional workflows.
  • Made With Mischief – A quick, free sketching and brainstorming tool.
  • Sketchbook – A free sketching program.

Graphic Tools – Painting

  • BlackInk – A painting program, focusing on stylistic work as opposed to realistic

Mac

  • Pixemlator – A low-cost alternative to Photoshop for Mac, with lots of compatibility options

Helpful Tools

Relaxing Backgrounds

  • 4 Ever Transit Authority – Ride the bus through randomly generated art deco cities. A great program to run in the background or on your TV or monitor to relax you while you create.
  • Anomolies – A relaxing background display/artgame that creates surreal spacescapes, often with strange nebulas and sites that resembe anything from devices to lights to disturbing lifeforms.
  • Becalm – A relaxing journey via sailboat through surreal worlds with a relaxing soundtrack and audio. Can be run for a few minutes or in a loop and you can switch between multiple settings.
  • Panoramical – Available on Itch.io And Steam. Panoramical is an audio/visual remixer where you can tweak settings in multiple environments, turning them into audio/visual displays. Find your favorite setting, leave it on, and relax.
  • Station To Station – A simulated train ride through imaginary environments. Run it in the background or through your television while you create to help relax you

Portfolios

Services

  • Adobe Portfolio – The popular porftolio site – that comes with many Adobe subscriptions.
  • Artstation – Multimedia-focused portfolio and blog platform
  • Format – A portfolio site with store services as well.

RPG Resources

Random Charts

  • Chartopia – A site with a huge and expanding amount of charts for RPGs, easily sortable and classified.

Self-Publishing

Audiobooks

  • ACX – Amazon’s self-publishing audio platform
  • Audible – Another amazon audiobook publishing platform
  • Findaway – A wide-ranging audiobook distribution service.

Cards

  • Drive Thru Cards – Self-publishing for card games, both physical and downloads.

eBook

  • Itch.io – Itch.io doesn’t just do games – it also allows for people to publish books, and is very open-minded.
  • Kobo Writing Life – Distribute your eBook via Kobo
  • Nook Press – Distribute your eBook via Nook

eBook-Multiple

  • Draft2Digital – A service that distributes to multiple eBook platforms.
  • Smashwords – A wide-ranging ebook distribution service.

Physical And Ebook

  • Ingram Spark – Ingram’s eBook and physical book publishing platform. Wide reach, but may require some setup fees and has some limitations.
  • KDP – Amazon’s full-service print and Kindle publishing service. Warning, the eBook distribution is only through Amazon.
  • Lulu.com – A print and eBook creation and distribution service.

RPGs

  • Drive Thru RPG – Self-publishing for RPGs, both downloadable and in print. Also supports related merch like calendars.

Video Games

  • Itch.io – Itch.io is a supportive, indie-oriented game store site. It also has a lot of self-published resources for game development, as well as supporting books of all kind.

Website Creation

Services

  • Squarespace – The popular website creator with many options.
  • Weebly – Easy and simple to use website, blogs, and stores.
  • Wix – A simple And effective website source, though paid options are reccomended.
  • WordPress.com – The classic site, with free and paid options. Obviously blog-focused.

Writing Research

Maps

  • Old Maps Online – A way to find and view old maps of the world. Great for research and imagining.

Writing Tools

Ebook Creation

  • Calibre – A free ebook creation tool.
  • Jutoh – Not only converts your book to various ebook formats, it’s a powerful enough tool that you could even write books in it.

Word Processing

  • LibreOffice – A full, free, open source office suite. Beyond the free price, it’s fantastic ad using ODT format and creating PDFs.

Word Tools

  • Describing Words – Ideas for how to describe a given word.
  • Dictionary.com – The classic online dictionary.
  • Related Words – Helps find words similar to or related to one you’re using.
  • Rhyme Zone – A tool to help you find rhyming words.
  • Thesaurus.Com – The classic online thesaurus, with plenty of useful options and displays
  • Wordsworth – A tool to see if words you’re using fit the time period you’re writing

Writing

  • Scriviner – A writing tool that combines note taking, tracking, and writing into one application.

Writing Checking

  • Grammarly – A pricey but powerful service and software for checking grammar, spelling, and even plagarism if you need. There are free, limited options.
  • Hemmingway – A grammar checking tool with both web and desktop versions.
  • Pro Writing Aid – A subscription-based writing checker service/tool.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Update 7/8/2019

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Just a quick warning, I may switch up these updates. I’m changing my organizational process, and that changes my statuses and such.

So what have I done since last time?

  • Way With Worlds: The news book is progressing nicely.
  • Seventh Sanctum Book: I sent it off to prereaders. I hope to have it out end of November.
  • Sequel to “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet:” I’ve started plotting this, and it’s coming together very well.

What’s next?

  • Way With Worlds: Get back up to speed with the news book.
  • Seventh Sanctum Book: Really just waiting.
  • Sequel to “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet:” I should have a pretty good handle on the plot and character arcs. I hope to be entering final outline territory in a few weeks.

Steven Savage

So Much Help It’s Impossible

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I was at a recent meetup of current and future self-published authors, and we were discussing what people needed to learn. The discussion was fascinating, fun, and involved some great pastries. However, our dialogue also brought up something I hadn’t noticed.

Self-publishing is easier than ever, and there’s so much advice people get lost.

There are articles and advice everywhere, some of it quite good (some of it recycled). So where do you start?

There are books upon books on self-publishing. Many are 101-style books, many are money grabs, but many have good advice. So what do you read?

There are many ways to market. So where do you start? Website? AMS? Blog?

The funny thing about self-publishing is that it seems writing the book may be the least stressful part of it – you write the damn thing. Right now there are so many people offering help on everything ELSE that it’s overwhelming. It would be an embarrassment of riches if riches were specific blogging tips and advertising advice.

I now realize that self-publishing seems natural to me as I do it. I figure it’s easy as there are so much advice and guidance and software, more than I had “back in the day.” However, we’re now to the point where hopeful self-publishers are overwhelmed – and I missed it.

There are a few lessons to take away from this:

  • We experienced self-publishers CANNOT just tell people, “oh, it’s easy to find X.” Ten thousand people write on X – so where do they start?
  • New self-publishers are up against a far different environment than those of us that started years ago. They have too much to face
  • I used to wonder why people wanted me and my crew to speak on “Self Publishing 101.” I realize now that’s because people need a stripped-down clear guide.
  • Too much self-publishing advice is people trying to fill space or get a quick buck out of hopeful people. That clouds the market.

This has helped me focus my effort on advising future authors. 101 is needed. Vetted information is required. Never assuming the directions are clear is very important for we experienced authors.

Too much advice is its own problem.

Steven Savage

You’re Doing It Wrong

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I hurt my back recently – nothing big – but I did need some physical therapy. It’s been going great, but then the therapist told me something that blew my mind – I was walking wrong.

This news was a bit stunning, as I’ve been walking for decades and figured by now I was pretty good at it. But apparently, the way I was carrying myself wasn’t helping my back and made things worse. It was weird, but a few changes in how I held myself, and I had a noticeable difference in my discomfort.

On top of everything else I’d done to myself, I’d started – or had been – walking wrong. This gave me pause for thought – followed, of course, by a pause for blogging.

There’s a lot of things we do that we’re used to, skills that are habits. They’re instinctive and automatic, and we’re probably pretty good at them. Just like my walking – but it could be cooking, driving, writing, etc.

But just because we’re good at something doesn’t mean we can’t end up doing it wrong.

We could end up adopting bad habits over time, slowly corrupting our abilities with bad choices. We miss the point where our practices outweighed our skill – perhaps our attempts to cook quickly lead us to make poorer dishes.

A crisis or bad experience could lead us to bad choices. Perhaps we restrain ourselves, or overdo something, or avoid a challenge. My back injury seemed to result in my favoring my back the wrong way.

Perhaps we don’t practice our skills or avoid a challenge, and our abilities weaken. They can’t support our ambitions or our goals. We use them, but not enough, not in the right way, and they fade and become fragile.

Or maybe we become too strict in our practice, too linear. We’ve got checklists and outlines, policies and procedures. We become stiff and unyielding in our ideas, and even though we do things, somehow nothing gets done.

We can all become bad at things we are expert at doing. Even walking.

This is why it’s essential to practice and keep learning, no matter what we do. This is why it’s good to ask questions when you have a problem with something that’s normal or something you were once good at doesn’t seem to be going well. Those things we do well may change.

Here’s your assignment – what’s something you’re really good at, and how do you ensure you stay good at it? Think it over . . .

Steven Savage

Creating A Great Work

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Recently Serdar and I were discussing what made Great works of art, literature, and anime.  We quickly got to the point of realizing that the idea there’s some checklist to create the Great Works is an illusion.  There’s no roadmap for Greatness, despite many failed attempts to create one.

(We left the exact definition of Great ambiguous in our discussion.  I think of Greatness as influential, life-changing works that aim us upward – and persist one way or another).

What we did determine was that there’s no Greatness CHecklist, but there are traits that those that make Great Works have, and seem to increase the chance of creating a Great Work.  Passion for one’s work, persistence, clear vision, and so on.  We probably need to finish this list . . .

What we realized is that there are not techniques to Greatness per se.  There are things you can learn from those that made Great Works, principles, and sets of philosophies and goals, that if you hold them, increase the chance of doing something Great.  None of the people out there that made amazing things are the same, and none of them are the same as you, but there’s probably a rough set of principles and philosophies you can find that’s common among many people you admire.

Then there are techniques MAY help you achieve Great Works.  It could be the “list six things each evening to do the next day.”  It could be writing 1000 words a day.  There is no comprehensive list of techniques, just some out there that will help you after you find what works for you – and what embodies the various principles that those that make Great Works end up holding as important.

You hold the Principles and live them with Methods.

I realized quickly that this is a lot like Agile.  Much as Agile has two parts that help people achieve great things, I think general “making something Great” is similar.

Agile in best practice is about two things:

First, there’s general Principles, as embodied in the Agile Manifesto.  These are things to aspire to, values to hold, general guidelines. Stuff like “Leverage change” or “establish a firm technical foundation.”  They’re good ideas, but you have to figure out how to make them work – and internalize them.  Internalized, they make good productivity instinctive.

Secondly, there are Agile Methods – Scrum, Kanban, and whatever home-brew your office probably uses.  These are ways to embody the Principles in a way that works for you (or you and your team) and help you realize them, so your work is better.  These are techniques that in general help you achieve the Principles, but you have to find what works for you and your situation.  They’re ways to get to the destination of the Principles.

It’s the same with Greatness.  You can probably find similar, general philosophies and attitudes that people that made Great Works have had – but you have to adapt them and live them.  You can select methods that help you realize these principles – but you need to choose what works for you out of the near-endless advice you’ll get.  The two work together to increase the chance of making a Great Work.

The funny thing is – much like Agile – trying too hard will sabotage you.  Many people I know who I admire, who create and do a lot of good and great works, have this all internalized.  This makes it harder to understand, harder to get advice, and tempts you to try hard to do what is, to some effortless (even if it feels like an effort, it comes naturally).

Greatness is lived, not had.  Perhaps that’s why it’s so frustrating, even for those that achieve amazing things.  Greatness exists in two parts and flows out of us like water, and whenever we try to grasp it, we can’t get ahold of it.

Well, if we could get ahold of it, maybe it wouldn’t be so Great . . .

The great Tao flows everywhere.

All things are born from it, yet it doesn’t create them.

It pours itself into its work, yet it makes no claim.

It nourishes infinite worlds, yet it doesn’t hold on to them.

Since it is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts, it can be called humble.

Since all things vanish into it and it alone endures, it can be called great.

It isn’t aware of its greatness; thus it is truly great.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Update 6/25/2019

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Well this update is ALMOST on time, so good job me.

So what have I done since last time?

  • Way With Worlds: I’ve started the News book! This one is going to be interesting – but I have only just started it. Having trouble getting back into the rhythm, probably due to my office moving.
  • Seventh Sanctum Book: Made it through the first round of edits!
  • Other: Not too much else to report this time.

What’s next?

  • Way With Worlds: Get back up to speed with the news book.
  • Seventh Sanctum Book: Finish my editing run and get it to my prereaders.
  • Other: I will probably start plotting my next novel – but might mix it with or take a break to do a short work (probably on Agile or something else). I’m going to see how I feel and where my mojo takes me.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Marketing Advice June 2019

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

It’s the latest update of my Marketing Tips!  As always, I keep updating these every few months.

The Core Principle: The Web Of Connections

To promote yourself your various activities, giveaways, social media, and so on need to connect and reinforce each other.  If a new book comes out, promote it on your website and give away a few copies in your newsletter.  If you’re speaking on art, give out bookmarks with links to your website.  Everything ties together.

This does make finding what works a bit challenging, so I take these steps:

  • Do what is easy, like cross-posting sales and stuff among my social media.  Hey, it’s easy.  Then I monitor what seems to work.
  • Do what seems rational and looks like it’ll pay off.  Don’t try everything, try what will probably work.
  • Do what seems fun.  Why not enjoy this?
  • Advance marketing with incremental steps.  Usually that takes a month or two to show, so I tend to do my experiments every month or every other month.
  • Record what I find from above.  What do you think this post is?

Over time you’ll find what works for you, what doesn’t, and how elements interact.  It might help to keep a list like this!

Have A Website

Have a website, period. A website is a place you can send people to that acts as a “hub” for your marketing efforts. It doesn’t have to be complex (I’ve got some tips below), it has to be a place that acts as a hub for finding out more about you. The goal of a website is to have a one-stop-show for people to come to for information, and leave from to go to your various portfolios, books, social media, etc.

Follow these steps:

  1. Get a domain name (networksolutions.com, tierra.net are recommended). Make sure the name is unique, fits you, and can be re-purposed if your plans change (FrankDoesArt.com is a bit specific, but FrankGetsCreative.com is more general).
  2. Set up a website. Most people I know use www.dreamhost.com or www.wix.com. Just start with one page to make it easy – I’ve seen successful authors whose page is a blurb and a list of books.
  3. A fast way to do it is buy a domain and redirect it to one of your social media accounts or a portfolio setup (like Twitter or LinkedIn).  You can build the site later.
  4. Link to all your books, art, portfolio, and social media from here.
  5. This website should be mentioned in your books, social media, etc. so people get prompted to visit.
  6. Link to all your social media from the website – LinkedIn, Goodreads, whatever.  Well, whatever is appropriate, like maybe no one wants your photo collection of antique pots on that photo sharing site.

Other things to add:

  • A schedule of speaking engagement.
  • Reviews of your books.
  • Testimonials.
  • Helpful downloads – like character sheets, guides, etc.
  • Fun things not necessarily related to your writing like a cookbook or a link to pet pictures.

Have Appropriate Social Media

Social media is a troublesome subject. Yes, it can let you market – or be annoying. Yes it can let you meet people – or it can waste time.  It also changes in value over time.  However, done right it’s a great way to connect with people.

Your social media should always link back to your website and in many cases, your other social media. This helps create a “web” of connections, so people are able to go to one social media source, find your others, and of course buy your stuff.

My takes on social media in rough order are:

Twitter: Twitter, for it’s many flaws, has a lot of use, its simple, and with lists and filtering (and learning when to ignore it) you can meet authors, promote yourself, and be found. I’d determine what approach you want to use (from marketing to just goofing off) and do it.

LinkedIn: You should have a LinkedIn profile anyway, but how much of your “creative” life you want to share or link to depends on your goals and personal image.  If you do list your creative works, don’t forget the options like “publications.”  Also remember there are communities there you can join.

Instagram and other photo-sharing sites: Some people use this to promote their work, others use it as a sort of photoblog. I’m mixed on it myself.

Facebook: Facebook keeps having issues, but it helps to have a presence. I’d keep an author page on it at the very least and see how you engage.

Amazon Author Site: Set up your Amazon Author Site at Author Central.  This also can be a place to point your web domain.

Books2Read Author Site: I learned about this as Draft2Digital.com sets you up there if you use them.  Not sure it’s useful as I’ve just set one up, but its pretty nice.

By the way, a good way to manage social media in one go is www.Hootsuite.com.

Have A Newsletter

A newsletter is the way to engage with readers and keep people informed, as well as give them cool reviews, interesting updates, and more. In some ways it’s like a mailed blog, but I separate them as a newsletter is more focused and like an update, whereas blogs can be more freeform. If you don’t do a blog, do a newsletter, and if you only have time for one do the newsletter.

The ruler of newsletters is www.mailchimp.com, which has an amazing free service and reasonable paid services.

Make sure that your newsletter subscription form(s) are linked to from as much social media as possible and, of course, your website.

Some newsletter tips:

  • Don’t overdo it or underdo it – I do it every two weeks.
  • Find a “feel” for your newsletter – a roundup, personal, chatty, serious, etc. Judge what works.
  • Include any vital updates about your work. Link to your blog, new books, cool things.
  • Give away “Lead Magnets” – basically free stuff like samples, an occasional free book copy, downloadable cool stuff, etc.
  • Use it to promote other cool things – help folks out.
  • Remember that most newsletter software gives you all sorts of statistics and data – you can use this to improve reaching people!

Have A Blog

Blogs are ways to post thoughts, essays, and more, turning your web presence into a kind of personal magazine/announcement/discussion board. Most authors use them, though at various rates of usage, from constant posts to “occasional speaking updates.”

A blog is usually part of your author website, and thus is another reason to come there – and to go and check out your work and your other media. Most blog setups can act as your author page as well (which is what I do).

I use blogs to:

  • Give weekly updates on myself.
  • Post various essays and thoughts.
  • Review or promote interesting things.
  • In a few cases, blog posts then became other books, or I round them up to publish free “compendiums.”

You can set up blogs at the following sites, with various advantages and limits. Some allow you to use your own domain name, some don’t.

A few techniques:

  • You can get a domain and just point it at your blog or a similar site (like your Tumblr) and save time.
  • Some authors and artists do blog tours where they post across each other’s blogs.
  • If you have related social media accounts (LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc.) consider posting your blog entries to all of them when appropriate. Just make sure they redirect to your site.
  • Set up an RSS feed (or find it’s address in a standard setup) and put a link on your blog. I also recommend www.feedburner.com despite it being sort of static by now.
  • Mailchimp.com and some other mail software programs let people subscribe to a blog feed so they get email updates. You can also load those with helpful extras and information.

An important caveat – if you’re a prolific writer, you have to find the blogging/writing balance. It’s not an easy call because a few long blog posts can take as much time to set up as a small fiction piece. In some cases small books may be like blog posts so you have to ask “write a book or write a set of blog posts.”  I cover that more later.

Physical Media

Many authors and artists give away cards, bookmarks, etc.  I find these different giveaways vary in effectiveness, so I’m not sure how well they work for me or you.  However, it doesn’t stop me from doing them as they’re easy, and sometimes expected.  I also figure saturating the world with references to my work helps.

The one challenge is that this costs money, and you may not want to spend money on business cards, bookmarks, etc.  So you want to balance your choices.

Here’s what I try and what I find works:

Business Cards – These are a must if you’re serious, and the only physical media I can truly say that about.  Business Cards are cheap to get, easy to give out, and even expected.  Most print shops and office supply stores have quick options.

Bookmarks – This is popular among the book crowd for obvious reasons.  I’m not sure how well they work, but they do make it easy to set out information, give them away in panels, leave at interested shops, etc.  They can be a bit pricey depending on the deal you swing,

Mini-pictures – I’ve seen artists give away small cards with their art and contact information, sort of a sample/bookmark/business card fusion.  This may be worth trying.

For printed bookmarks and the like I recommend www.clubflyers.com.

I always have business cards with me, keep some bookmarks in my car, and take bookmarks to any events I speak at.

Giveaways And Promotionals (Mostly Authors)

A great way to get people’s attention is to give out stuff like free books, extras, samples, and more. With these properly done (and linked back to other works), its a great way to get attention, meet people, and of course get sales.

There’s two services I recommend for authors.  For artists you may have to look for other methods.

Prolificworks.com – having both free and subscription modes, it lets you give away work and join (or create) promotions. The paid version lets you tie giveaways into your mailing list as well. It does get a bit pricey beyond the Free level ($20 to $50 a month), so I recommend paid tiers for serious authors nly.

www.bookfunnel.com – Is a cheap ($20 a year to start) way to do book giveaways in a variety of formats, and higher tiers include features like Prolificworks.com. I’m fond of the starter tier as its a great way to make book giveaways easier (and if you don’t want to host your giveaways).

To make these work you have to obviously be dedicated to it and work out strategies. I use them to:

  • Give away free stuff and samples to my newsletter subscribers.
  • Give away a few copies of new books via Prolificworks.com
  • Have promotional giveaways (often samples) that people can sign up to my newsletter to get.
  • I join groups on Prolificworks.com to do team giveaways.
  • I use both – Instafreebie lets me set up easy giveaways, and Prolificworks gives me all sorts of options.

If you use KDP, there’s a KDP Exclusive you can use for eBooks. In exchange for making your work exclusive with Amazon, you get some tools to set up sales and giveaways.  It’s easy for starting authors.

Have A Portfolio

If you’re a visual artist of any kind, have a portfolio. Put it on your website, use a social media site like Deviantart.com, whatever. People want to see your work and maybe buy it, so make it easy to do. If you take commissions, it’s pretty much a way to market yourself.

Non-visual artists like authors may want a portfolio as well. This would contain:

  • Cover art.
  • Sample works.
  • Free giveaways.
  • Summaries of your work (with links to purchase it). For instance, I have a press website a lot like this.

Do Series

If you’re doing fiction, you probably already have a series in mind. If your books are non-fiction, you may want to group them into series, because various bookselling sites will remind people that “X book is part of Y” series.  If you’re an artist, this may help as well.

The advantage of the series are:

  • A series promotes the books within it.  When people seem a book is in a series, they may check out another.
  • A series creates cross-promotion as it sells.  When one book gets another book to sell, the various websites that sell them may refer books to other readers.
  • A series shows commitment.  When you’re doing a series it shows that you care and plan to stick around – or did stick around.

It takes time for a series to “take off.”  Once it starts getting attention and people buy other books, then they get more recommendations, more attention, etc.  On Amazon and other book distribution services, this results in more promotion over time.

A series can even act as a kind of low-profit loss-leader or self-promotional.  If someone buys small books in a series, or you write a series to focus on a popular subject, then it gets attention to your other works.

Do Multiple Formats

One of the challenges of selling media is that people want to consume it in different formats.  Unless you’re very sure that your target audience wants a certain format, try out different ways to sell things. 

If you write books, then consider ebooks, different ebook formats, and print.

If you do art, maybe your art can be in several sizes and formats.

For instance, I’ve found some of my physical books sell well around the holidays as people use them as gifts.  Others are the kind of thing people want in print for easy review or taking notes.  So over time I’ve branched out in my book formats.

Remember every sale helps – though some formats (like print) are hard and costly to set up, so evaluate their worth.

Calculated Distribution (Authors)

This part is pretty much only for authors – and for book distribution.

For print books, your usual choices are Amazon and IngramSpark (or IngramSpark via Lulu).  Amazon doesn’t charge, the other services do, but bookstores don’t always like to stock Amazon books as it’s a competitor.

For ebooks, your choices are:

  • Go with Amazon’s KDP Select, where you only go through Amazon but get marketing tools like sales.  Amazon is the majority of the market, so if you go Amazon its easier.
  • Distribute incredibly widely.  This takes time, and you don’t get Amazon’s marketing tools, but you get the chance to make more sales.  Some authors I know find they sell more books outside of Amazon, but I haven’t figured out any rules or principles to this.

If you go broad here’s my take

  • Draft2Digital is the easiest way to go broad, but only does eBooks.  I also recommend managing your Amazon account separately.  Draft2Digital doesn’t have the broadest range, but it’s free (taking a cut of your sales) and very, very well done.
  • Smashwords is also free, but takes a larger cut and doesn’t have the extras of Draft2Digital.  It does get into a few unusual areas of distribution.
  • Lulu.com will do full service, but partners with Ingrahm, and there are charges.
  • Ingrahm is full service as well, and charges.  It’s probably a better choice than Lulu these days.

Publish Lots Of Stuff

Like it or not your goal as a creator is to be noticed so people get ahold of your work and benefit from it.  This means that you may need to create lots of works to get attention – or use work that you aren’t making public to do the same.

For instance, I realized that a lot of my blog ideas were better off as books – or could be turned into books.  There was far more benefit to turning certain ideas into small books (or expanding existing work into books) than letting things sit.  Some things just work better as a book anyway, and I have more works that people can get their hands on.

(Plus, the polishing that goes into a book made them, honestly, higher quality.)

If you’re an artist it’s probably the same thing, depending on your market.  If you have lots of different things to sell and buy and do you increase your chance to get more sold. 

Remember that this ties into having series as well.  Don’t just publish lots of stuff, tie it together as series.

Advertising (Mostly for Authors)

I’ve used both Google ads and Amazon for books, though it’s been awhile since I’ve done Google (and I may want to try again).  I have done a lot with AMS, or Amazon Marketing Services.

AMS lets you set up promotional ads to appear during searches or on pages of specific projects, and you can set up keywords, targets, and even decide what to pay for a clickthrough.  It’s a pretty advanced tool, and though it obviously only targets Amazon, that’s a pretty big market!  The challenge is that you have to figure out the right words, monitor progress (to avoid overspending or waste), and tweak marketing for each book.

I’ve found it effective, but it takes a lot of work.  What I do is update AMS every month or so with new terms, shut off ones that aren’t working, and try to get an idea of what works.  You can download data from each ad you set up, and then make a new ad with just the data that worked.  You honestly need to start with 100-200 search terms to get it working.

Done right, I find AMS yields roughly $2 in sales or more for each $1 spent – as long as you tweak the advertising, cancel bad projects, and keep learning.

More To Come

That’s my latest!  I hope it helps you out!

Steven Savage



Make It So: Relocation Panels For Cons

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As I note in Fan To Pro, a convention is a great way to scout an area for relocation. You get to visit an area, see how it handles a crowd, meet people, and of course know if the geekery there is for you. A con is good research – among all the other benefits.

This got me thinking – and helped me revive my old Make It So columns.

We need relocation panels at Conventions. Not how to relocate or why, but how to relocate to the area the convention is being held in. Yes, I’m assuming that area is worth relocating to, so work with me here.

So let’s work on a format idea!

First, who would host it? Obviously people living in the area, at least some of them being being that relocated to wherever the con is being held. You want specific testimonies from people in the know and who went through the process of relocating.

Secondly, some of the panel has to be specific testimonies from the people above. You need people to discuss their experiences, challenges, and techniques from living in and/or moving to the area.

Third, subject matter. Here’s a few things that should be covered – interspaced with real stories:

  • Employment and employment options – and challenges.
  • Major employers of all kind – corporate, government, education.
  • Living expenses and what they’re like.
  • Best places to live. You may want to add a bit of what not to do if there’s anything to really avoid.
  • Walkability, public transportation, and other ways to get around.
  • Trends in employment, living, etc. For instance if some places are getting pricier, etc.
  • Social opportunities – cons (obviously), clubs, etc.
  • Cultural opportunities like museums, libraries, and so on.
  • Food, dining, cuisine.
  • Moving tips and advice.

Fourth, have a handout of some kind with all of the above or put it online. The convention might even host it on their website, especially if this becomes a permanent thing.

Done properly, a Relocation Panel would be an awesome addition to the right cons in the right areas. It’d help attendees out, help people share their knowledge, and these days we need all the help we can get living and job-wise.

Keep it in mind, and let me know if you try it . .

Steven Savage