Thursday, July 20, 2017
So what can a self-published author do? Be aggressive and talk up your book in as many places as you can online, at conventions, among friends and colleagues, and any other social situation you can think of. Paying for a vendor table at a convention is sometimes expensive, and you'll have the added travel and hotel costs to deal with if the convention isn't local, but a presence at a convention goes a long way towards keeping your name viable in the community. Personal contact with an author is much more memorable than a picture of your book cover on twitter with a short advertising blurb. I'm not naturally a social person—and I'd guess a lot of authors are similarly reclusive introvert types that prefer to write all day without human interaction—but I've learned how to be outgoing, because it's an important part of sharing what you're passionate about. There's a reason that a lot of publishers want to know that you, the author, will be willing to attend book-signings: people are much more likely to consider reading your book when they can talk with you and sense your genuine passion and enthusiasm for the story you've written. Simply put, as a self-published author, you'll need to do a lot of the same things the publishers would do for you--or require of you--in their marketing strategies, but you'll have to foot the bill and the time for it all.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
I'm talking about marketing. My naïve, 2012-self figured that putting up a website, putting my product on sale through a reputable digital storefront (RPGnow.com), and talking about it on social media would be what I needed to get the word out. Five years later, I have only 100 followers on my product's Facebook page, around 630 followers on Twitter, and my product is buried among the thousands of other sci-fi RPG's on sale at RPGnow.com. That's not to say that I'm not making sales—the last time I sent out an email notification of a new product, I had over 700 emails on my list of people that have purchased my products on RPGnow. Don't just take my example, though, there are plenty of self-published authors selling their books online, often through Amazon, and I typically see around 4 or 5 reviews total on a book that is ranked somewhere in the millions in the Amazon best-seller rankings. This can be true of books online sold through a reputable publisher, too. The difference, though, is that the self-published author is doing all of the marketing himself. On Twitter, I've followed a lot of authors, and I'm constantly seeing announcements and ads for their books. These authors are working hard, using social media to spread the word. Although I don't have actual statistical numbers on this, my guess is that a lot of these authors aren't investing much money, if any, into paid advertising. There is a line we all must face where you ask yourself how much more money are you willing to pump into a project that is seeing a limited return?
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Publishers can utilize their contacts and marketing savvy to really push a novel forward in ways that a self-published author is usually incapable of doing. However, the success of a novel is really hard to pin down to one thing. Even if it's truly great, it's empty idealism to think merit alone will generate a huge following. You need people to know about your book to appreciate it. I'll admit, I entered self-publishing as a bit of an idealist. I really believed in my product, Solar Echoes, and thought that it would sell itself. I still believe in it very strongly, and I've enjoyed a lot of positive response from those who have bought the books. But in the end, self-publishing sales statistics are as dismal as they are because anyone can do it, which means that you're very likely to quickly become lost in the crowd.
You have to start somewhere, and petitioning agents and publishers often takes years before seeing any results, if they happen at all. Self-publishing your own work does “get it out there,” and you won't be wasting time going through the process—you'll learn a lot. You'll also gain some visibility, and possibly generate a following. You might even be lucky enough for your work to go viral, and then you'll praise the virtues of self-publishing and thank yourself for never signing with a publisher. Yes, all this can happen, but understand that success—whether self-published or officially published—is like a random bolt of lightning. It's impossible to know when or if it will strike, and that lightning is just as likely to strike a published author as it is to strike a self-published one. If there was a way to guarantee success in this industry, everyone would be doing it. So the real question to ask yourself is not whether you'll have a better chance at success by working through a publisher or by being self-published, but instead, you should be asking yourself which one fits within your goals and resources the best. Getting a publisher requires a lot of time and patience, and there is no guarantee you'll ever get one. It could mean years wasted when people could have been enjoying your book, generating at least a small profit. Self-publishing is a better fit for those that don't want to wait—they know exactly what they want, have the time and money to invest in the process, and are prepared to push it for the long haul. Self-publishing means you have to do everything yourself, and some of you might prefer it that way. However, you will also have to reckon with situations that you may not be skilled or experienced enough in to make a difference...
Monday, July 17, 2017
I recently talked about seeking a publisher, and there are some distinct advantages to having one. However, there are some reasons you might want to self-publish instead. For one thing, publishers take a sizable cut of your profits. It used to be a simple 50/50 royalty split between you and the publisher (it generally still is in the music industry, at least), but these days, I've been seeing 60/40 and even 70/30 with literary publishers, leaving the author with a lot less than he or she was hoping for. Publishers do a lot of overhead work, though, printing the physical copies and working with distributors, handling inventory and shipping, dealing with logistics for e-books and online sales, etc. The downside to a lot of publishers, though, is that they may print up, say, 500 copies of your book, but if those books just sit on shelves and don't sell, the publisher won't do another print—and they'll own the rights to printing your books until your contract with them ends, which could be years. This means that if you wanted to print up a bunch of books and sell them yourself, you can't—the publisher owns the printing rights. Some of this is circumvented through the Print-On-Demand publishing model, which some publishers are using now. They print only the number of books they get orders for, including any you want for yourself (you literally have to buy your own books from them if you wanted to have them printed for convention sales or book signings.) If you decide to self-publish, you'll be faced with the same situations a publisher would face: use POD, or go to a printer and print a run of copies. If you print copies, it's more cost-effective to do larger numbers, though you'll be looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars. My first print run was 150 books, and that cost me close to $1500. Once you do this, you'll have lots of unused inventory sitting around until you sell it. You'll have to store it all somewhere where the books won't be damaged over time, you'll have to transport and mail them out yourself, and you won't immediately recoup your initial printing costs. Traditional publishing requires a lot of patience and time. Self-publishing requires a lot of patience, time, and your own money.
Friday, July 14, 2017
There were a lot of other cool things going on at the ShoreLeave convention that I missed, since I was busy running games all weekend in the game room. At the convention, a lot of sci-fi actors and actresses from various TV shows and movies were signing and having pictures taken with convention attendees. One of the guys that gamed with me Saturday evening stopped by on Sunday to tell me about a cool experience he'd had. He showed me a sculpture he had crafted himself--years ago in 9th grade--of the Klingon, Lieutenant Worf, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He had built it himself with plaster and painted it to look like Worf. He brought it to the convention where the actor, Michael Dorn, was signing autographs, and he signed the sculpture of his Star Trek character. How cool is that? What a great experience!
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Meanwhile, two of the gang escaped in their cars while the Chiraktis and the Reln hopped into the car and sped after them. The team's Omul had spotted their target—a Reln arms dealer—hiding in the warehouse office, and she bluffed from the door about how he was surrounded. She stole over to the fallen Krissethi and healed him back to critically wounded, and the Krissethi blind-fired his pistol through the office window into the room to scare the Reln inside into submission. When the two finally broke into the office to find the unarmed Reln, he realized too late that the Krissethi had been faking his condition and that he was almost at death's door. Interrogations ensued, and the two finally broke the Reln's resistance. Meanwhile, the other half of the team took out one of the gang members in the car chase by using a vehicle-mounted rotary cannon to slow it down, finally finishing off the driver with a drive-by shot from a handgun. Unfortunately, though, the gang member in the other car dropped magnetic caltrops which worked their destruction enough on the team's anti-grav system to finally bring their car crashing down into the pavement. Their mission was a partial success and everyone survived, though barely!
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
A new group of players wanted to try Solar Echoes, so I prepared the demo, Operation: Flashstrike. The group tried to approach the warehouse stealthily, but the patrolling security drone eventually noticed the Reln in the group when he failed his stealth check. The robot gave him a verbal warning, and while he was retreating the rest of the group tried to distract the robot and then sneak past it. Unfortunately, the distraction didn't work and the robot resumed its patrol, spotting the group of characters hiding behind a crate. Combat began, and the robot was overwhelmed by the team's focused fire. The team did not have a hacker among them to crack electronic security, so three of them opted to enter the aluminum air ducts. It wasn't long before one of them failed a stealth check, and the gang below decided to fire at the air ducts for target practice. When the characters and tear gas grenades began jumping out of the air ducts, the gang ran for their cars, only to be surprised by the team's Chiraktis dropping down from above, right onto their car. The Krissethi character had already taken damage from failing his Athletics check when dropping down from the air duct, and was then unfortunately hit by a gangster with his automatic rifle. The Krissethi went down, surviving only because he stabilized himself with his hero point—he was no longer bleeding out, but still unconscious...
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
You know you're at a science-fiction convention when you walk up to the hotel and see a Cylon Raider sitting out front! I love these sci-fi cons, and someday I'd like to experience all the events they have to offer. But, back to our program: Our first Solar Echoes team finally decided to hire some Krissethi NPC hunters as guides into the forests of Sa'mesh, because they learned something about the coordinates they had for the location of the mysterious starship—the area was the hunting ground of an alien lifeform called a Green Jegu. If the rumors were correct, this giant reptilian creature was going to be far more than they could handle. Half of the group was convinced they could kill it, while the others—those that had done a little research and talked to a few locals—they believed their weapons would do little more than irritate the creature. The team ventured into the forest and fought off a variety of local denizens, including the spiny, whiptailed “Snapwhippers” and the blood-sucking, poisonous Mokaru. A few of them also encountered an adorable, furry little creature waddling around, and one of the characters failed her Discern Motive check against it, becoming convinced that it was someone's lost pet. She role-played the situation well and, long story short, let's just say that the fact that she had to leave the game for another convention event reflected why her character was no longer with the team. Note to all interstellar explorers: avoid cute fuzzy creatures on Sa'mesh!
Monday, July 10, 2017
This last weekend at the Shoreleave convention was a lot of fun, and I logged over 20 hours of Solar Echoes games! It was really great seeing some returning players from last year, and it was also a lot of fun meeting new players. The games were very dynamic and full of personality, and the first game I ran on Saturday was a large team of 8 players! It was a very interesting mix of alien races, too, including representatives from every race except the Krissethi. Ironically, they discovered that the mission I was running--the brand-new Operation: Void Hunter—takes place on a Krissethi planet, Sa'mesh. The mission includes a lot of role-playing, gambling opportunities, shopping, NPC interaction and investigation. The group spent about 3 hours on those activities alone, trying out the various gambling games to earn (and lose) some money, including a dice game I invented that involved sets of colored dice—the Krissethi NPC's didn't seem to care that the colorblind Reln and Omul races couldn't play their game. Some characters decided to visit a weapon-smith who was able to combine features of weapons. Players were borrowing money from each other to try to afford some of the options available, and then when it came time to venture into the deadly forests of planet Sa'mesh for their mission, they could barely afford to hire hunter guides to lead the way to their destination.
Friday, July 7, 2017
Thursday, July 6, 2017
The next portion of your query letter is about you. What is your background? Have you won any writing contests? Have you ever had anything published? What makes you qualified to write a book like this? If you've written a picture book for children, then you'll want to share supporting evidence--maybe you have kids of your own, you teach children, or you spend a lot of time with your niece or nephew. This section is a chance for the agent to get to know you a little and to see what motivated you to write your book. Only include relevant information, though--if you're a molecular biologist and are trying to sell yourself as a children's book writer, don't start listing your credentials in the scientific community.
After you've written your bio paragraph, you need to close with information about the agency's submission requirements, saying something like, “I have included a detailed synopsis and the first 30 pages of my novel. I would be happy to send my full manuscript if you are interested. Thanks for your consideration.” Then, make sure you follow ALL the instructions indicated by the agent or agency about the materials they want from you. Sometimes they are also extremely specific about the format your manuscript sample should be in: Times New Roman, 12 pt., double spaced, headers with your book title/author name/page number, 1-inch margins, etc. Each agency (and agent!) is different, so submitting to multiple agencies is a long haul and a lot of work.
Don't be discouraged by a rejection (some don't even bother to send you that, they just leave you hanging forever), and don't get over-excited if they request a “full” (the entire manuscript.) Even if they want a “full,” they still have to like the entire thing, and then they'll proceed to how they want you to edit and change things. After that, the agent has to start pitching your story to publishers, and it's basically the same process all over again. Finding a publisher can be difficult, and it's easy to see why so many people have chosen to self-publish. Self-publishing, though, is another topic for another day...if you'd like me to pursue that topic next week, let me know!
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
The query letter. This letter is your pitch, and it's literally your only chance with an agent. Once they've read it and decided you're "not the right fit," it's over. Don't ever write that agent again, unless it's for a completely different book. They receive thousands of submissions that they have to read through, so if you bug them at all, you're only hurting yourself; agents talk, and you don't want your name floating around on a blacklist. Some agencies don't even want you trying again with another one of their agents--a denial from one is a denial from the entire agency. Accept rejection, and move on. You may think your novel is the next "Harry Potter," but no amount of your insistent personal conviction is going to change the mind of an agent once they've decided against your book. So how do you write your query letter? Very carefully. There is no shortage of advice online about how to write a query letter, but it's safe to say that there are a few basics you'll need to include. First, you'll need an introduction. I've seen it done in a number of ways. Some people open with a single sentence summary of their book. That hook is either going to grab the agent and cause them to read further, or they'll trash it immediately if it's not right for them. Another way of opening is to give them some up-front info about your book--this info, if not in your intro, needs to be somewhere in the letter. Name the title of your book, the word count, the genre, and the target audience. Example; "I'm excited to share BUCKET OF ANGRY SNAILS, a 93,589 word fantasy novel for young adults." After your intro, you need a one-paragraph summary of your novel. This summary should read like the back cover of a book--it doesn't tell you every plot point, but it lets you know what the story is about and poses some intriguing questions the story will answer.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
The process of submitting to an agent would be an easy one if it was a standardized process; you could write one letter, then copy/paste it to an email and send it to every agent interested in your genre. Unfortunately, though, that is not the case, and I think this is by design to discourage the number of submissions. Each and every agent out there is particular in his or her preferences, and if you don't bother to find their profiles and read, you may be discarded before ever being considered, simply because you didn't follow instructions or pay attention. The most important thing to look for first is an agency that represents your genre--some agencies focus on a very narrow selection of genres, so submitting something in a genre they have no interest in is going to end up in the trash. Do your research! Even though I quickly rule out anyone that doesn't list sci-fi, I also need to try to figure what type of sci-fi a particular agent likes. Sometimes they'll be helpful and it will be indicated in their bio--I just read one that said “soft sci-fi and space operas only, no hard sci-fi!” But most of the time, you'll need to do a little detective work, and read beyond the agent's profile on the agency website. Do they have a blog? Are they active on Twitter or Facebook? Did the agent list some favorite sci-fi books, or can you find what type of sci-fi books that agent has represented before? Take note of these things, because this info will help when you write your query letter...
Monday, July 3, 2017
I've written a sci-fi novel based on the Solar Echoes universe, so now I'm looking for possible representation. I decided to try to find a publisher instead of self-publishing through Corefun Studios because I'm hoping to have a wider reach than I'd be able to achieve on my own. Statistics show that self-published books tend to reach only a couple hundred people. Publishers have established connections and marketing resources that I don't, and since my only means of spreading the word has been through social media and convention attendance, it is true that I've not been able to reach more than several hundred people. However, finding a publisher is not easy--very few publishers even allow for a direct approach these days. Most publishers work through agents, and because agents now have to sift through piles of submissions to find a solid prospect, appealing to an agent is even more challenging. What does it take to find an agent, send a submission, and eventually get published? It's a long series of steps. I'm not there yet, but since I have some experience at it, I'll share a few details of the process in case you've been hoping to get published, too.