Anatomy of a Book Sale

This blog is dedicated to the marketing process for books.

Blogs dedicated to the horror genre in keeping with Halloween. Prizes available!

At different writing conferences, the speakers have said that multiple mentions of your book will make it more likely that people will buy. For example, an ad that runs several days instead of one. The marketing experts call this “effective frequency.” I used to consider it bunk because in most cases, I bought a book if I liked the blurb and that was that, but now I’m starting to reconsider.

So I put myself in the reader’s shoes, and the following scenario happened at a writer’s workshop. An author entered, placed his book on the table, and said he hoped everyone would buy his book when it went live. Like other readers, I have a budget. Expenses like food, balloons, doctor visits, house expenses, and more balloons take priority, and the home improvements I’m trying to make cost lots of dimes, too. So I wasn’t buying.

The book went around the room. I opened it and started reading, and continued reading until our speaker called the workshop to order. The author had written a compelling tale about two teenagers who happened upon an injured dog. I enjoy stories involving dogs, and one of the characters in my work, When Blood Reigns, are dogs, too. So the plot wooed me, and by the time our meeting started, I decided to buy the book.

After the meeting, I asked the author when I could find the book. He gave me a postcard and directed me to his website where I could order a pre-release paperback copy. So now you’re probably wondering if I rushed home and ordered a copy. Nope. You see, life got in the way. My balloons needed a refill; it was time to cook dinner. I had a pile of emails, and some of them included bills. Then I had to check my phone to see if my Scrabble partners had made any plays. By the time I’d gotten through all that, I plumb forgot about the book.

Next two days, I had my day job and my Night to Dawn chores at night. Come Wednesday, I had a leisurely day off, and I started thinking about ordering the book. Except that I couldn’t find the postcard. I couldn’t remember where I put it, but the title stayed with me … Taming Chaos. I looked up the title on Google, which was interesting because I didn’t recall the author’s name either.  I finally located the book on Amazon, which announced a Kindle version ready for release. So I ordered a Kindle copy, and I’m reading it now.

Now all of that could have gone more smoothly if I’d seen serial ads about the story.

The article that explains effective frequency is a couple of years old, but it describes how a typical shopper will react to seeing the same ad again and again.  Having walked in the reader’s balloon-shoes, I have to endorse it. So I will be looking at advertising with a new pair of eyes.

Your thoughts?

I’m awarding prizes to random commenters. First prize is a $10 Starbucks gift card. Second prize is a comp copy of Night to Dawn Magazine.

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Clarissa Johal

And … There’s Grammarly!

Mylar balloons and zombie fiction is Barbara's chief loves.I first heard about Grammarly a couple of years ago. It sounded like a great editing tool, but I couldn’t afford the fee required to use it. Let’s face it: I like Mylar balloons, and that fee might cut into my balloon fund; I couldn’t have that. I was using Internet Explorer, you see, which means that you can’t use any of Grammarly’s perks unless you’re willing to pay. My siblings use IE and warned me to steer clear of Chrome & Firefox several years ago after my laptop crashed, necessitating repairs over $500.

Trouble is, Night to Dawn requires me to edit, and I need to be able to do it well. Punctuation errors are the hardest things to find, and to be honest, I tend to be generous with commas. Spelling compound words have been an issue for me, too, as folks who’ve edited my manuscripts can attest. Then a few months ago, I read that Grammarly’s services were free if you used Firefox and Chrome. I really needed to use something, but I had tried Chrome and didn’t care for it. So I contacted my writer buddies at Caliburn Press, and no one there used Internet Explorer because it was too slow. The consensus was that Firefox had improved its security, and Chrome was ideal. After speaking with the tech that fixed my computer I went ahead and downloaded Firefox.

Grammarly came next. First up, Firefox is indeed faster than IE, and what’s more, I’m able to open legit attachments and photos easier. Heretofore, I used to complain that I had trouble opening attachments on IE. Sure enough, I was able to use Grammarly for basic editing on my Night to Dawn documents. There’s an add-in that you can download for Word. I couldn’t figure out how to load this add-in into Word, so I copied the contents of my document onto Grammarly directly, and this did the job. As for my online correspondence, Grammarly went ahead and cleaned up my posts afterward, including the ones on Facebook.

Up until now, I’ve been sloppy with my grammar on Facebook. On Facebook and other social media, I’m relaxed. I might daydream about my recent balloon purchase, planning my next, or admiring the Mylar butterflies in my living room. In any case, grammar goes by the wayside. But now Grammarly calls me on these lapses with the offending phrases underlined in red. Caveat: sometimes the grammar you set up is legit when you’re stressing a certain point, or if your story characters speak in dialect. In that case, you do have the option to select “ignore” when Grammarly red-lines you.

Night to Dawn authors reading this might wonder if this means more red ink on their manuscripts. Not necessarily. For one thing, Grammarly won’t work if you’re doing track changes. Too, sometimes I’ll ask for mini-rewrites if I think a scene won’t work. My thinking is that it’s best to use Grammarly for polishing after the author turns in edits. The charge for Grammarly’s still applies for the premium version, in which you get plagiarism detection, tweaking of vocabulary, and other goodies. I may consider using the premium version of Grammarly for editing the next NTD novel, but I have other resources I can use. There is that Mylar balloon fund to think about.

Your thoughts?

Sandy DeLuca's Lupo Mannaro features werewolves and dark fantasy.

Parkinson’s Scorched Earth: The Conclusion

Mike was living a real life horror tale with his disease.

You grab the good days when you can.

The conclusion happened January 29th at about 2:00 p.m. The scorched earth warfare waged by Parkinson’s and dementia against Mike prohibited his ability to swallow, and that was when he died. I should have seen it coming; he’d been losing weight and getting frequent infections. My Mylar balloons tried to warn me. Every time I browsed Amazon to order him fresh supplies, the balloons stayed my hand. “Wait,” they advised me quietly. “He’s not going to need those. Save your money.”

Speaking of balloons, it was Mike who introduced me to them. He brought me some when we got engaged, and after his hospital stay in 1996, he thanked me for his care with several Mylar balloon bouquets. He loved my cheesecake, and I told myself that as long as this continued, no worries. Denial can be a comforting place.

He often regaled people with tales of his years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Later on, he added that the Navy gave him the happiest years of his life, and now I can see why. Time spent around other people enabled him to escape the reality of Viet Cong capturing people and Parkinson’s disease invading his body.

“Scorched earth” comes from the military strategy the US used to fight the Viet Cong. This strategy involved the destruction of crops, homes, and resources vital to the enemy. I don’t recall exactly when Michel’s war with Parkinson’s disease got ugly, but I know that dementia had imprisoned his talents. It whispered “scorched earth,” with gardening, driving, and activities of daily living becoming the first casualties. His frequent falls echoed “scorched earth,” necessitating admission to the Veterans home. The ability to swallow became dementia’s final target; yes, dementia can affect swallowing in its late stages. The patient’s cognitive function worsens until finally, his brain forgets how to swallow and sustain life. After his admission to the home, I learned that deep brain stimulation, when done in the subthalamic nucleus where Mike had it done can cause cognitive changes, including dementia.

I can sum up Michael’s fight with Parkinson’s by using an analogy about life. When I was ten, my mom sent me to a summer camp for three weeks. Other kids spent the summer; some stayed a week.  Some preferred sports; others leaned toward arts and crafts. One kid remained a loner and avoided most activities.

In many ways, life is like camp. God drops us off to “stay” for a while; some of us will remain here longer than others. Some people become writers or artists. Others go for medicine or law. Mike came to the camp of life with many talents, but as the years passed, he reminded me of the little girl who didn’t fit in.

His problems became apparent when his doctor attempted different medicines that resulted in intolerable side effects. At work, customers complained about his softening voice, accusing him of drinking (he was a teetotaler). Although surgery contained the tremor, it aggravated his cognitive changes and speech difficulties.

After Mike went on disability, he joined the neighborhood’s beautification committee. He had his horticulture skills behind him, and this seemed to give him purpose. Instead, after a few months, he came home, reporting that he’d been “ousted.” One of the other members who happened to be a nurse explained that Mike was exhibiting personality changes and none of them pleasant. Toward the end, he became a lone wolf like that little girl at camp.

Thankfully, the Veterans home nurses treated him like family. They appreciated the sense of humor and kindness still lingering under the dementia. He’d been supportive of my writing, and this continued on his good days. Up until a month ago, he giggled at my balloon adventures. I suspect that his relatives in Heaven will welcome him with love, balloons, and flowers. Whatever Mike saw upon passing must have been beautiful, for he had a look of awe on his face. His suffering is behind him, and I’d like to think that he’s filling up on cheesecake, picking balloons, and thinking of me. Heaven has surely gained an angel.

Balloons and Branding

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and horror tales.Jonathan Maberry, a wise author and mentor, once told me that the best way to get readers is not by pushing your book but by “branding” yourself. Perhaps you have a favorite shirt you might wear to signings. Perhaps everything you live and breathe resonates with Star Trek. I’ve been doing mine via Mylar balloons. Why balloons? I can’t say why, but I find it impossible to shop at most supermarkets without being waylaid by the balloons at the floral aisle. How many balloons do I have? A lot. If you’d like to guess how many, there’s a giveaway involved.

Barbara Custer wrote Close Liaisons, a science fiction book featuring aliens and Mylar balloons.Any time you blog or go to a writing venue you’re “on,” meaning that the way you carry yourself will become part of your brand. So whenever you blog, you’ll want to keep it positive. If you had a quarrel at home, leave it there. Give yourself plenty of time to get to an event because if you show up late, people might associate lateness with your brand. “Oh, yeah, that’s Barbara of the Balloons – she takes her time,” and so forth. When I’m with writer buddies, doing the editor letter for Night to Dawn, or blogging, I usually open the top with my latest balloon escapade at the Giant, Acme, or other market. And I find that balloon analogies have a way of getting the point across.

Michael DeStefano wrote this coming of age novel.Sometimes your brand can creep into your books. NTD author Michael De Stefano, for one, loves baseball, and you’ll find a lot of scenes involving baseball in In the Times of Their Restlessness and his other two books. Tom Johnson’s bouquet of balloons is his life in the military, and his experiences and love of science fiction creep into his Jur novels. Rod Marsden brands himself with his love of history in Ghost Dance, among his other books.

So … I guess you’re wondering if Mylar balloons have crept into my books. Well, let me put it to you this way. Did God make little green apples? Does it snow in Pennsylvania during the wintertime?  Heroine Alexis of Steel Rose kept a squadron of Mylar balloons in her hospital room because she felt that the helium in them, being especially poisonous for Kryszka aliens, might protect her from the renegades. You will also meet balloon queens in Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

The most important part of branding though is having fun. Why is it so important? Because the branding tool enables people to get to know you in a good way. When that happens, good reviews, if not sales, are likely to follow.

So … how do you go about branding yourself and your work? Do you have a special interest in something that works? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop. And if you can guess how many Mylar balloons I have, the person with the closest guess will get an eBook copy of Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.

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Class in Session – Formatting an eBook

Discarded Treasures contains zombie fiction tales by Harold Kempka.At the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference and meetings, several folks asked me about how to format an eBook and make it look good. After all, eBook formatting services cost up to several hundred dollars. Mind you, the Smashwords Style Guide is the ultimate guru on preparing your Word document for eBook formatting. My first attempts at eBook formatting looked as if I’d been daydreaming about my balloons, and Smashwords Style Guide helped me improve. Lately, I haven’t needed to refer to them unless I’ve got to include pictures with the eBook. Formatting illustrations is something that still makes me uncomfortable.

Most people start by ditching their headings, page numbers, and space between chapters, but I use Smashwords Style Guide’s nuclear method. Before I’m ready to send my book through Kindle, Nook, or anywhere else, that text has gone through several computers—the author’s, mine, and if there’s an outside editor, their text, too. Maybe some passages in the text came from a reprint, too. This results in a conflict of styles that result in AutoVetter errors on Smashwords. You won’t get such messages from Kindle or Nook, but when you open your new eBook, the print looks uneven. The nuclear method will clear all the previous formatting from your file, including the headers and page numbers.

You can do the nuclear method by highlighting your entire manuscript and hitting “copy.” Open WordPad and paste the manuscript onto that. Then open a new file that will be your eBook file, copy the manuscript off WordPad, and paste it onto your new file. You’re now ready to work with a clean manuscript.

For starters, you don’t want your title larger than 16 point font. Stick with a font like Times New Roman, Garamond, Book Antiqua, or Bookman Old Style, and keep the same font throughout the book. All the letters should be black. No colorful letters, curlicues, or other designs. You shouldn’t have more than four returns between chapters. I only use one between each paragraph/chapter. I start out with my title in bold, using 24 point spacing below it via the Paragraph function. This way, I avoid the carriage returns. I move onto the author’s name, the name of the person or company publishing it, and basically the same items you’d see on the masthead of any novel. This would also include your ISBN. I prefer 12 point font for the masthead information.  This is where I’d put my disclaimer information, too.

The dedication comes next, and I allow 30 point (arbitrary amount) spacing between the masthead and dedication. Another 30 points and I have my table of contents. You need a table of contents for the eBook even if you didn’t use one for the paperback version. Why? Because readers like to skim and skip through chapters sometimes, so each chapter should get hyperlinked to the respective section in your book. You can’t use page numbers in an eBook. People need different print sizes to read, so assigning page numbers won’t work. More on the hyperlinking as we go along.

I type each chapter header in bold, usually a 12 or 14 point font. The chapters start 30 points under the Table of Contents. The nuclear method should have made all the indents go bye-bye – nothing wrong with them; they just haven’t worked for me. Instead, I maintain six point spacing between each paragraph, and then 30 points before the next chapter. This may not look good on your file, but on a computer, the spacing always comes out nice and even.

Caveat: the nuclear method also wipes out any italics you’ve used, so you’ll need to go through each paragraph on your file and italicize the appropriate words. It doesn’t take that long, just something I wanted to point out. You should review each paragraph anyway because the lettering can resemble symbols, or words hyphenated where they shouldn’t be.

I find the bookmarking easiest to do as I go along. On Chapter One, I’ll highlight the whole phrase and on the ribbon, select “insert.” Underneath “view,” you’ll see “hyperlink,” and below that, “bookmark.” Click on “bookmark” and you’ll be asked to type in a name. If it’s more than one word, Word won’t accept it, so I’ll type something like “ChapterOne and the name of chapter as one word. I usually bookmark several chapters, then hyperlink them.

For hyperlinking, go to the Table of Contents. Highlight the respective chapter title, choose “insert” on the ribbon and go for the “hyperlink” option this time. A dialogue box will come up with four boxes from the top. Click on the second box from the top, “place in this document.” A big window will open, and you’ll see a list of the chapters you bookmarked.  If you’re hyperlinking Chapter One, select the words “ChapterOne” on the list of bookmarks. Hit “okay,” and now you’ll see that chapter number in neon blue on the Table of Contents. If you place your mouse over the hyperlinked text, you’ll be told to hit “control” and click on the hyperlinked text. That takes you straight to the respective chapter.

Smashwords Style Guide doesn’t tell you what to do with HTML because it’s not required for Smashwords. But you’ll want to use it for Kindle and Nook, and it also works best for Calibre software, but saving in HTML is easy. Simply click on “save as,” and for file type, select “web page filtered.”

What I have here is just the basics, but Smashwords Style Guide will give you what you need to know so you can format the eBook yourself. After your project’s done, treat yourself to something nice. After all, you’ve saved a bundle of cash. My balloons would agree.

 

Which Compound Words Confound You?

Barbara Custer writes horror and science fiction tales. She collects Mylar balloons, too.During my NTD edits, I find that about fifty percent of them involve compound words. This doesn’t surprise me because I, too, struggle with the proper spelling of compound and hyphenated words. Sometimes I check Google’s dictionary to get the correct spelling. I got to thinking that other writers might have issues with this, so I decided to take a closer look.

Chicago of Manual Style has rules to guide you, but alas, exceptions, too. It’s the exceptions that cause the most problems with the English language. For example, you should hyphenate adjectival phrases used before a noun. Examples: The distance to the hospital is a six-mile drive. The doctors made last-ditch efforts to save the patient.

But we’ve got an exception: I’ve had a 10 percent increase in balloons. “Percent” should be spelled out and not hyphenated.

Hyphenate compounds using “all” when they follow or precede a noun, says Chicago’s Manual. Example: The balloons that watch over me are all-knowing. But compounds with the word “fold” get spelled as one word, as in: My balloon collection has increased threefold during the last five years.

Exception: If the adjective using “fold” involves a figure, hyphenate. Example: The business realized a 20-fold increase in sales.

Words with “like” can be spelled solid. No exceptions. Examples: He’s got a childlike innocence. The balloons are lifelike figures.

Words beginning with “self” get hyphenated at all times. Example: She’s self-sufficient. He’s a self-serving man.

Proper nouns with “wide” get hyphenated. Other nouns do not. Example: The zombie infection spread Hospital-wide. But: The zombie infection also spread citywide.

“Light-headed” and “lighthearted” will get you every time. The first refers to a physical sensation (dizziness) and the second pertains to an emotion. Most other words involving “light” are open, as in “light pen;” the exceptions are “light-headed” and “light-rail.” When the word “light” is the last element in a compound, it’s spelled solid. Examples: flashlight, candlelight, etc.

Certain compounds can be spelled open or closed depending on the meaning. “Long distance” as a noun makes two words, but as an adjective gets spelled with a hyphen. Example: The balloon soared a long distance during the long-distance flight. “Back up” as a verb is two words, as in: I look carefully before I back up my car. As a noun, it’s one word, as in: I called for backup before I saw my patient.

Other compounds words, having been used together for a long time, became spelled as one word, such as bloodstains, windowsill, fireman, postman, droplet, etc. I’m hoping one day that “balloon bed” will become a common enough term to be spelled as one word. Because there are so many exceptions, your best friends when it comes to spelling compound words are the Chicago of Manual Style and the dictionary.

So what compound words give you a challenge? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

This futuristic Science Fiction novella was written by Barbara Custer.The Prodigy of St. Pete's is Michael De Stefano's coming of age novel.

 

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