Friday, February 3, 2023

Lack of Newsletter Love

 I'm going to let you in on a dirty little secret. I hate newsletters. Hates 'em, my precious. Don't read them. Don't write them. Don't send them. I subscribe to exactly three and they are all people I know and care about. Do I open them and read them? No. I get what I need from the subject line and I move on.

Time is a commodity. It has value - possibly the only value - because it is the measure of your finite life. I begrudge no one reading a newsletter, if that's their thing, but in a world that competes for time and attention, the newsletter feels -- I don't know -- not my cup of happy juice.

This is a long way of saying I am absolutely the wrong person to talk to about how to increase newsletter subscribers. I am so bad at sending newsletters that MailChimp fired me as a customer. Seriously. I hadn't served a newsletter in so long, they deleted my database of subscribers. All 60 of them. S'okay. I know all of them. If they want to know what I'm up to, they call or text to ask.

Still. We want to reach readers. We want to let readers know how to find out what we're doing and what's coming up. For some genres, I feel like newsletters are totally appropriate. For scifi, I wonder. I'm actually thinking that I might be better served to leverage a Tik Tok format for a pseudo newsletter-y type of thing. Or Discord. Or some other place where my fellow geeks hang out. This could all be rationalization for the fact that I'm bad at newsletters.

Suppose, though, that I *did* start some 'contact readers' push. How would I draw people to consume my content? Cross pollenization. It has to be done carefully, but you can leverage one platform's content on other social media platforms. Link them all back to a single landing page with you pertinent info - new release, find me at this place at this time! Whatever you want readers to know. The key to success is the same as it in newsletters - offer value. Something silly. Something charming. Something that makes readers feel. Control that and ask for responses. Engagement equals reach. Reach means more eyes. Does it work? Don't know yet. It would have to be tried and tested. The level of effort has to be weighed against the return.

And that's on each author.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Gaining Newsletter Subscribers

This week's topic: How to Grow Your Newsletter (Subscriber Numbers)

Direct marketing to readers who are actively interested in your works is one of the top ways to sell books.  Finding those readers, getting through email delivery systems' spam blockers, and encouraging readers to not only open your email but also click through from your email to purchase your book is...a challenge for many small and midlist authors.  

Heck, it's a challenge across all industries. Take a look at your email inbox. Now, look at your trash box.  How many messages are from a sheet company, shoe company, pet toy company, grocery store, big box store, etc? See? Not just a you problem. So, don't be daunted by the marketing-must-do task of growing and maintaining your newsletter subscribers. 

The good news: for the media and publishing industry, the average unsubscribe rate was 0.12% That's one of the lowest by industry (according to Mailchimp). Our bounce rates are ~5% (according to SmartInsights). Our open rates are ~23% (according to CampaignMonitor) and our Click-Through Rate (CTR) is ~4%; yea though SmartInsights has Indie Artists with a 1.8 CTR (ouch).

According to topline metrics, once we get readers subscribed to our lists, they tend to stay with us. Yay! So, what can we do to attract more subscribers? My one piece of advice: 

Go Where You're Not Normally Seen.

On the assumption that your newsletter subscription links are obvious on your website, in the back matter of your books, and linked in your socials' profiles (if they're not, quick, get on that, that's the bare minimum); it's safe to say those readers who are looking for you have found you. Those who are interested have already subscribed to your newsletter. What you need to grow your list is to appear in spaces where readers may not know of you. So, where and how? And how to avoid being a buttinski? One suggestion:

Newsletter Swaps -- You promote a fellow author of your sub-genre and their works to your audience via your newsletter, they in turn promote you to theirs. There are pros and cons and issues of equitable exchange, so read up on expectations before approaching another author. 

Yes, there are more ways to attract new subscribers, so come back each day this week for more tips from our other bloggers! 

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Not So Beginner's Guide to Getting Better at What You Do

In acting school, I heard it posited that learning is divided into three stages. Learning the thing for the first time, gaining some facility, and finally assimilation. Stage one is self-conscious. We lurch around trying out the newness, trying to make it work as well for us as it did for whoever taught it to us. In stage two, we've worn in the skill a little and it no longer pinches. We're still aware of it and we use it like a tool, but maybe now, we're not hurting ourselves with it. Once we move into assimilation, we lose conscious awareness of the skill. It becomes a part of us and we can't remember not having had the skill in the first place.

I wonder, Jeffe, if that isn't the basis for those professors you mention wondering if writing can be taught. They're using skills they can no longer dissect into teachable tidbits.

I fully recognize that I am one of those people who has to always be learning something. I also need to mix it up - it can't always just be writing. But it needs to be a lot of writing. Honestly, I look for the classes and instructors I ran across as a beginner that I *knew* I wasn't ready for. The concepts and classes they were teaching were far beyond what I was able to process. Now that I have a few books out and I feel like I don't like how my writing is developing, I've searched out those classes and teachers. I can offer up a list of a few, but I feel like a caveat is in order first.

One of the prerequisites for being an -- I don't know -- advanced? intermediate? not beginner? writer is a firm commitment to go into a class, workshop, or instructional book you paid money for and question the premises that are presented to you. I'm reading a great book right now that promises to boost my productivity! Make it so I'm never lost in a book again! And so far, the information has been super useful. But we just got to a blanket statement made by the author. "Story comes first. Then character." This is me. Making that face Chris Hemsworth makes in Thor Love and Thunder. "Story comes first. Then character." Does it though?? (The correct answer is yes - it does. For her. The correct answer for me is no - it does not. Character comes first and story flows naturally from character for me.  Does this mean that what is being taught is invalid? No. I can still glean new ways of doing, thinking, and writing from this book. I'm trying to say that once you've got game, when you're trying to tweak your game to get more out of it, you must be more critical of the instruction you're given. Try things! Just don't swallow all the things hook, line, and sinker. If the mixed metaphors in this paragraph gives you a migraine, welcome to my day, and my apologies.

So the list of advanced for Marcella craft training ops:

Margie Lawson's writer's training - in my opinion you need a block of salt here. It's potent, great stuff, but it's also dated and little old fashioned in the market these days. Great skill sets. Deploy with caution.

Lisa Cron -  Lisa produces craft books oriented around how narrative structure comes together. Fascinating stuff. Chewy. Also needs a critical eye when being read.

Mary Buckham   - Mary has several different craft classes. Break into Fiction is the one that changed my life for the better.

I'm interested in what Jeffe comes up with, too! Listen. Learning new skills is never wasted. If you feel like a class is a waste it is either because it's too remedial - you already know the material, or it's too far ahead and you don't yet have the context for it yet.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Reading To Learn

nightstand with blue DNA water bottle and stack of books

Book conventions are filled with panels on marketing your book, genre themed tropes, the self publishing process, how to find an agent—you get the picture. All great and amazing stuff…for newer writers. What about when you’ve got experience, a series on the shelf, multiple series on the shelf? Where do you learn from there?

This week we’re talking about tips for writers who aren’t beginners. 

In all honesty, I consider myself a beginner writer. Not newbie-beginner, since I’ve been around the block and glimpsed behind the wizard’s curtain, but with one audiobook out I’m definitely still a beginner. But I do know the number one way I’ve learned, and grown, as a writer:

Read More Books

Some books I read for the purpose of observing, like how the plot was put together or how the characterizations mark the world. Some books I read for pure pleasure. But no matter how I intend to enjoy a book I always end up noting scenes that feel out of place, items that appear/disappear out of nowhere, plot sequences that would’ve been seamless with slight adjustments, or even characters that hamper the flow of the story. 

Then my brain starts churning on how things could’ve been edited differently which inevitably leads my train of thought to my own work in progress.Crafting a compelling story takes numerous technical aspects which are taught nearly anywhere you care to look. But a story also needs emotion and heart which I absorb from from what I read and watch.

Granted, it is easier to edit someone else’s work than it is your own. But the more I read the more I notice my own writing. Notice what, you may be thinking. Notice everything that works, doesn’t work, pops out of nowhere! So, I think that means my husband is going to continue to have his pick of shows to watch because I’ll be sitting beside him with a book! 

How about you? Where do you learn from?

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Becoming a Better Writer - How to Do It?


ROGUE FAMILIAR has a cover!! I've been loving the enthusiasm for it, too. It's a great inspiration to me as I write Selly's hunt for Jadren. 

This week at the SFF Seven we're talking tools for writers who aren’t beginners. I seem to be hearing a lot of interest in this topic lately. I've been contemplating setting up some online classes and not long ago I asked for input on what kinds of classes people would like to see from me. (Feel free to comment or message me if you have ideas or requests!) One of the suggestions that came up often was a desire for classes for more advanced writers, targeting those who’ve written several books but want to learn how to keep getting better at it.

So, I've been working up some lists of more advanced topics I could teach - and thinking back to where I learned the intermediate and higher stuff. Some of it is always going to be self-study. Reading other authors. Listening to other writers talk about their process. Re-reading favorites to study how those writers accomplished what they did. I think those are the best tools.

But I'd also like to see more craft-focused workshops, classes, and discussions out there. For quite a few years, it seems, the bulk of information offered to writers seems to focus on business. There are countless opportunities to learn Facebook ads, newsletter marketing, keywords, BookBub ads, Amazon ads, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Why? Because those are easy to teach. Teaching craft is a much more daunting prospect. In fact, I've heard debates among creative-writing professors about whether the craft of writing can be taught at all.

At any rate, this isn't a very informative post, I know. I'm not offering any good tools here (other than the above), but rather food for thought. Improving craft is something we all (well, most of us) want to do. I'm thinking up some ways to get at it. Suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Tips and Tools for Experienced Writers

 This week's topic: Tools for Experienced Writers

Uh...hmm.  This topic is harder than it seems because--regardless of how long you've been in the publishing business--when it comes to the writing side, you don't need anything fancy, but you do need something current. One-off the current release of your preferred word-processing app is as much as you can safely dally before you risk file corruption and loss of interoperability. Frankly, I recommend staying up-to-date with the release versions of your writing app (hell, make that all apps) because of security enhancements to protect you and your work from the persistent pernicious attacks of bad actors. 

Next, advice from anyone who's ever lost a file: cloud storage and external drive storage is recommended. Whether it's file corruption, accidental overwrites, or straight-up missing docs, when the poltergeists strike, we all become Captain Kirk screaming, "Khaaaaaaan" at the top of our lungs. We can breathe again once we find a "clean" copy of what went missing. Thus, two-point backups. While my files auto-save to my cloud storage, I do external backups once a year (I should do it quarterly, but...) Word docs don't take up that much data space, so it's not like you have to buy a pricey 4Tb drive. Get yourself a little 16GB flash drive for $10 and save yourself from bile-rising anxiety. Oh, and if your computer's OS has updated and/or your writing app has had a major update since your last external backup, take the 5-10mins now to do a backup. Planned obsolescence is the enemy of backward compatibility, and we live in a capitalist society. 

Now, from the business side of publishing, there's a lot of stuff you need to track in order to stay abreast of All The Things from Work(s) in Progress and Submissions, to Product Sales and Marketing Campaigns, to Costs and Revenue. For me, I'm still leaning on Excel. Spreadsheets abound, my people. Alas, I didn't keep up with the assorted releases of MS Access, so I'm no longer able to build databases that would've eased tracking and reporting.  Though, if anyone has recommendations for author/publishing-centric dBs, drop them in the comments, please!

If you're self-publishing and/or have earned enough revenue that you've incorporated (threshold varies by state), then make sure you're tracking all your expenses and earnings with accounting software like Quicken. When it comes to tax season, you and your accountant will be grateful you did.

Remember, all the extra apps and subscriptions you use for your business are tax deductible (verify specifics with your accountant as tax law changes year-to-year).

Friday, January 20, 2023

Stressing the Negative Reviews

Negative reviews. If we haven't yet gotten them, we soon will. All of us. Authors, singers, actors, painters, cooks, mechanics - every one who does anything ever will be subject to critique and criticism. The trick is to laugh it off and not let it bother you. If your palms sweat and your heart races at the words of someone who has consumed what you've created, if you read those words and feel your soul shrivel, don't read reviews. I'm not kidding. Reviews aren't for the creator of a thing, anyway. Let me attempt to impose order on my disorganized thinking:

The question as it was posed suggests that one of my peers struggles with a heightened stress response when a negative review comes in. I'll start by saying this is normal. This is expected. STOP READING YOUR REVIEWS. Not because you're having a stress response, though this advice will help lower your cortisol level, honest.

Reviews are coded messages that don't come with decoder rings. They're also not meant for the author. They're meant for other readers. I'll start with the last one first. Reviews by readers and official reviewers are meant to help readers find books. They're to help readers find your book in particular and let them know that you don't kill the dog that shows up on page 112. Reviews are to help readers decide if the trigger/content warnings in your book are something they can handle. Is it true you're going to get some snobby git who questions your intelligence, sneers at your story, and awards you a single star? Yes. Ask me how I know. But it's also true that the person who wrote that review already bought your book and paid you in money, time, and energy for the privilege of taking a swipe at you. If that stresses you out, work that stress off by walking that check to the bank. Seriously. Don't read your reviews. What's the point? The book is done. It's released. You've set it free into the world. It isn't yours any more. It belongs to the audience now. (Barring obvious glitches and techie errors, obviously - I have fixed things that changed a story based on realizing I'd made a pretty big narrative mistake.) If looking at reviews is a problem for you, get another author friend to read them before you see them and remove the snarkiest. What are author friends for?

The decoder ring comment. In my experience, rarely do negative reviews mean what they say. The one star review I got on an award-winning novel went something like: "I don't know why everyone is giving this book 5 stars. It's nothing new or interesting." Sounds like a negative review, doesn't it? Except there's a message hidden in that terse little slap at my wrist. That coded message is "I had a book like this in my head but not the courage to write it. How dare you." How do I know this? Well. Factually, I don't. But when I read the original comment, I can almost hear the dismissive sniff. Then that 'nothing new or interesting' jab suggests the reviewer does have an idea that's new and interesting along the lines of what I'd written and had published. Once you begin seeing the misery and recrimination underneath negative reviews, it's easier to laugh them off.

As a bonus, let's get tight on a definition of a negative review. What is a negative review? Too few stars? Someone pointing out problems in the story or hating on a character? I'd argue that if a reader writes a review that you can act on - someone says your heroine's eyes were green on page 3 and then they were blue on page 85 - you can find that in the text and fix it. If the critique is actionable like that, it's not a negative review. That reader helped you. Thank them and move on. You'll develop a loyal reader that way. If a review is vague and whiny 'the author can't write their way out of a wet  paper bag' - well that review is useless, isn't it? Any time you see insulting statements without any constructive critique attached, you know you're dealing with jealousy. Bright, blazing, bitter green jealousy. And if someone is jealous, they want what you have. Doesn't sound like they really think your writing is all that bad, does it?

So to manage the stress of negative reviews, simply don't engage. Your sanity and your muse will thank you.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Dealing with Negative Reviews

screenshot of an iPhone screen showing book apps: Libby, Audible, Goodreads, Storygraph, Hoopla, RBdigital
    Goodreads | StoryGraph | Audible

When you put a book out into the world it’s no longer yours and everyone that comes into contact with it will have an opinion. That’s right, we’re talking about the mentality of negative reviews this week!

The question was if we recognize our fight-or-flight response to negative reviews and do we do anything to stop it. Before you get to that point, I think it’s helpful to have a review plan. 

I know authors who read, some of them even respond, to every review. Some like to grab quotes from glowing reviews to use in promo. I chose the opposite direction and don’t read reviews of my own work. And there are countless variations between that might work for you, but having a plan of how you will handle/read reviews before they’re out there is important. 

There are a lot of reasons a reader may leave a negative review. KAK pointed out that some of the negative ones make her giggle with glee because their take on the book was exactly what she wanted. Sometimes readers misunderstand the point a book, it happens! Sometimes what hits one reader as off-putting is what will draw another reader to the book. That’s the whole there’s no bad review mentality. And yes, sometimes a review can make you question your ability to write. Sometimes it stings, and then you have to decide what to do about it. 

Which brings me back to having a plan before the reviews are posted. I guess that’s my lab background creeping in again, follow the process and things will turn out alright. 

If a review gets under your skin and you can’t shake it, go back to the reasons you wrote the book in the first place—what was your definition of success for that book before it was released and did you achieve it? If a reviewer points out some technical aspects that could be improved upon, be prepared to step back and examine them, you may want to take some time before really digging into it if it triggered anger, but there may be some useful points that could strengthen your next book. Maybe the reviewer can’t articulate what lead them to not like your book. In which case, don’t dwell on it as those have no merit. Sometimes a bad day makes for a bad read, nothing to be done about it. 

If all else fails, and the whole art is subjective thing makes you want to snap your laptop shut, check out reviews of a book you love. You’ll find good and bad reviews and it will remind you that not everyone likes the same thing. 

Do you have a method or plan for handling reviews? Has it changed over the years?