Monday, June 23, 2014

Does social media help book marketing?

This is a tough one.  Social media can help, but it depends.  If you just start throwing your money at Facebook and hope it will get you what you want, you money will flee from you faster than a gazelle from a lion.  I happen to be in a decent position where I can and have tried social media to a great extent, spending lots of money to make sure of my results.  For the most part, it is not worth the money.  The amount of book sales you need to recover your cost for adds on Facebook is tough.  If you have just one book, you definitely are going to have a difficult time recovering your money.  If you have a series, like myself, you can promote the first and see much of it returned as the readers pick up your next books.  Now, where Facebook has made a difference is in my book signings.  Surprised?  This is a very powerful tool for your book signing.  We all dream of showing up to our book signing and seeing people lined up waiting for us.  However, to be honest, it is very rare.  I would even say its around 1%.  Unless you already make millions and have a publicist that gets you all over radio and TV, chances are you will walk up to a table with some of your books already there but no line.  IT'S OKAY.  You are there to meet people and have fun.  Make that your focus.  I will make another post about book signings next week that will help your book signing.

Okay, I am off track a little so lets focus.  Facebook.  What you do is make a post on your author page.  Let me stop for a second and ask a question that should have a positive answer.  You do have an author page on Facebook, right?  Yes?  Okay, good, you are taking being an author serious.  So, you make a post on Facebook about your book signing.  On the bottom, you will see where you can boost the post.  Do this BUT specify where you want this to show up.  If you don't, someone in Australia is going to wonder why they are seeing your post when you are in Detroit.  I suggest specifying a state or maybe even a city.  For roughly $30, you can expect to get 6000 views.  If you are in a small state, someone may enjoy traveling a short distance, but I would consider sticking to a city, if your city is large.  Most book signings are in cities that have a decent population.  If you have a book that is doing well on Amazon and other places, you can expect people to come in and say, "I saw you were having a book signing and wanted to come meet you."  What a great feeling.  It even makes you feel like a celebrity.  So, yes, using social media can be a benefit, as long as you use it wisely.

I hope this has been a help.  Please comment below if you have anything that can aid your fellow authors in making their dreams flourish.

Allen J Johnston
The Divine Apprentice
The Divine Path
The Divine Unleashed
Title To Be Announced and released Oct 27, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

How to market your book

Okay, so it is taking me longer and longer to get these darn blogs kept up to date.  I have a good reason; I am working on my forth book in the Divine Series almost every spare minute I have.  I have promised my readers to publish it Oct 27, 2014 and I mean to keep my promise.  Okay, now to focus on this post.

Marketing is easily as important as writing the book if not more so.  Most people search blogs, Google, Bing and everything else under the sun to figure out how to market their book.  You can have the most amazing manuscript, but if you can't get it in peoples hands, its not going to sell.  I cannot tell you how many times I have searched 'How to Market My Book'.  I get sites that give a small tidbit here and there but nothing like what I am going to list.  Well, after six months of intense research and trying different things, I am going to outline what I think are going to be your best options right off the bat.  There will always be more things you can do, but to really turbo charge things quickly, follow my suggestions.  In my opinion, you are going to spend some money or you are going to struggle to get attention.  I have spent $1,200 on advertising, book giveaways, press releases...etc.  I have taken in ten times that much and more.  I won't say exactly how much, but know that it was DEFINITELY worth it.  So, now onto some of what you need to do.

         *Create a business card.  I used VistaPrint.  I love them.  They always have discounts.  Always, always, ALWAYS keep cards on you.  Get an impressive looking case that gives a good impression when you take it out, and keep it on you at all times.  I did my card case shopping on ebay. This link will take you directly to card cases.  I had so much fun with this, I bought eight.  My favorite is a shiny chrome case with "Author Allen J Johnston" engraved on it. When you tell people you are an author, their eyes light up.  When you pull out that fancy looking card case, they will notice.  Then you can tell them that they can take a look at your books as you hand them a card.  Trust me, you WILL feel like a celebrity.  This part alone makes writing books fun!  Use both sides of the card.  Put a picture of your books on the back and your author information on the front.  Have your website and email info on the card.  Do what you can to make your card stand out but don't make it too busy.  I would suggest not pinching pennys here.  Do the card right.  You want people to be impressed when they feel the card along with see it.  By the way, you do have a website or blog, right?

        *Create a web site or blog (Didn't see that coming, did ya?).  A blog (Like the one you are reading) is a great way to get your name out there.  If you are reading this, then it means it is doing its job.  As a self published author (I am assuming here) you can use all the help you can get.  Even if you are published by a big house, you should follow these tips.  It makes a difference.  The more web presence you have, the more your chances are of being taken serious and the more books you will sell.

        *List your book with GoodReads and BookDaily.  These two sites alone have driven so many people to my books, it's amazing.  Let's talk about GoodReads first.  On this site, people can rate your book.  You can also do book giveaways.  I cannot begin to express what a fantastic idea this is. If you have a series, giving away the first book through this site is an absolute MUST!  I believe Amazon owns GoodReads.  Just a little factoid.  Back to my tips.  If you sign up for a book giveaway, your book will receive extra advertising on the site.  I would suggest giving away ten books over a month period.  Put a personal note in the book asking them to write you a review.  When people see a personal, handwritten note from the author, their eyes light up. They may be buying it for a retaliative so be cautious when personalizing it.  I would suggest just signing it and say something short.  I write "Enjoy the book and let me know what your favorite scene is."  Readers find me on facebook and email all the time telling me what they liked.  It makes my ego inflate way too much, but it is fun. You will thank me for this.  Also, the people who run this site are amazing.  If you have any questions, they will respond very quickly.

       *BookDaily:  This site is an advertising site.  If you pay to promote your book, they will feature your book once a month on their site and another popular site.  At this time, it costs me $49 per month.  I believe it is well worth it.  My book sales spike dramatically on the day my book is featured.  I EASILY make my money back and then enough to cover the rest of the year!  Another out there is bookbub.  I must say, I am not that impressed with them.  I would put my time and resources into other avenues.

       *I would also suggest doing a Press Release.  The site I used  is PieceOfCakePR.  I was incredibly impressed with this service.  I wanted to see if they were as good as they claim to be so I sent them a press release I had created myself.  They took what I did and improved it so dramatically that I almost ran out and bought ten of my own books.  These people know how to write a press release.  They also send out that very press release to thousands of sites.  Two weeks later, they send it out again...if you get the higher package.  I think it was $159.  Now, I can't attest to any actual sales based on this, but it is an avenue for advertising.  You need to decide for yourself.  If asked would I do it again, I would say yes.

       *Out of all the companies I used to distribute my books, Amazon won hands down.  I did sell on Apple, Kobo and Barnes and Noble, but Amazon really knows what they are doing.  They are clever and devious at the same time.  They want your book listed with them and them ONLY.  To encourage you to list with just them, they offer higher royalties and a few extra promotional tools.  I have to say, if these other sites want authors to list with them, they better understand capitalism real quick or they are going to dwindle and Amazon is going to continue to grow.  As much as I want my book in all those places, they do not hold a candle to Amazon.  In the end, you must go where the sales are.  Amazon knows how to make those sales happen.  I sell 500 books on Amazon for every 10 I sell somewhere else.  The math here is easy.  Now, I am not saying that you have to chose either Amazon or these other sites.  You can be on all of them, but if you want to use Kindles promotional tools, you must be on just Amazon/Kindle.  Do your research and decide if you want to try their tools. I have decided to try their tools, so for me, it is just Amazon for a short time.  I will know in a little over two weeks if it was worth it.  Send me an email if you would like to know my results.

       *There are a lot of book distributors, but I like Lightningsource/Ingramsparks.  EVERY bookstore knows these people.  This company will take returns so all the bookstores are able to buy from them.  I love the service, but they do have ways of nickle and diming you to death.  Before you submit your book to this company, I would suggest waiting a month.  You do not want to have to make changes to your content or it could cost you extra.  Amazon does not charge for content changes.  It is almost inevitable that you will want to change something.  When you are certain you have the cover and content the way you want it, then submit it to Ingramsparks.  I believe it is $49.  That does seem to be a popular amount, doesn't it?  IMPORTANT:  When you contact bookstores to ask them to carry your book, it will show as POD (Print on Demand).  You MUST tell them that the books are returnable.  For some reason, when bookstores see POD, they assume they cannot return them and won't order them.  Enough about this.

       *If you want to promote your books like the book publishing houses, the secret is thinking like them.  I cannot begin to suggest strongly enough that you contact the major bookstores in your state and ask to talk to their PR person or the store manager.  Tell them you want to send them a book at no cost for their staff to review.  They will put it on their break room table for their employees to read.  If they like it, they will even order it for their store.  It works.  Trust me.  Every Barnes and Noble I have sent my book to has wanted my book in the store and has asked me to do a book signing.  As a matter of fact, I have one tomorrow in Saginaw, Michigan.  At this time, I am selective which stores I put my books in.  Dealing with bookstores can be tricky.  If they decide that they only sold 10 books in three months instead of the 5000 they wanted, they could return your books.  Think about all 600 Barnes and Nobles doing this.  Makes ya think a little, doesn't it.  I would suggest sticking with your home state.  Stores love to work with authors from their home state.  As long as you are on line with Ingramsparks, any store can order your book when a customer comes in and asks for it.

Okay, for now, I have definitely given you enough to think about.  If you have ideas that you believe would be useful for marketing, please respond below.  Although I have definitely hit on some of the most successful, I have by no means covered everything.  These suggestions in this blog for book marketing are the most powerful and successful for someone who wants to jump start their book writing/selling career.

Allen J Johnston
The Divine Apprentice
The Divine Path
The Divine Unleashed

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Self publishing tips for the beginner

Sorry for the delay in getting this out.  I have been very busy working on my fourth book.


Okay, back to getting you published.  So, we are assuming you are going the self publishing route.  In my opinion, your absolutely best course of action now is using Createspace from Amazon.  They are incredible.  They make it easy with a step-by-step process, walking you through what you need to do.  There is no out-of-pocket money spent like other vanity presses.  And, they have the least expensive cost when you need to order copies for yourself.  They will even put together a virtual book for you to closely examine before you publish.  After setting up your book, they easily segue you into the Kindle section where you can transfer files over without having to start all over.  For eReaders, you must be on Kindle.  The other outlets are good to be listed with, but you will get over 90% of your sales from Kindle.  Now, the good thing about Createspace is that you can always go back and correct any issues that you find in the book.  You WILL find mistakes unless you write a one word book.

Okay, so you are getting set up on Amazon with Createspace.  Let me make one suggestion, if it is not too late.  Create an account with a name you would be proud for people to see.  While you might love as a cool name for gaming, when you respond to reviews and it shows "Slayerofthenight says".... it will raise eyebrows.  Create something that has your name or something that will not make people think you are the next serial killer.  Why might you want a name that you use to reply?  Because you may want to comment on a review.  If your book is not as polished as it should be, you will irritate readers and they will make it known that they are irritated with the reviews they leave, thus, ending your writing career quickly.

People can be heartless when leaving reviews.  They forget (or don't care) that authors are people too.  Your chances of getting negative reviews is very high.  It is part of it.  You can't please everyone.  It's tough to deal with a negative review.  It can ruin your day.  Just focus on what the majority of your reviews are saying.  If you are over four stars, you are fine.  I got my first two star review after getting fourteen five star reviews.  It happens.  He was looking for Stephen King.  While Mr. King may be a great writer, I don't personally care his style of writing so I don't write like him.  It only matters if you start to pile up a lot of them.  As much as this hurts, it might be what tells you that your family members were not being honest when they said your story was better than Lord of the Rings.

Okay, if you get a negative review, for god's sake do not race to respond.  You are going to want to defend your work.  STOP!  You must take some time to think this through.  Trying to convince someone that they are wrong is a tough thing to do.  Your best option is taking the high road and being diplomatic.  I have read what some writers say in their responses, and it ends up inflaming the situation.  Personally, I say let it go and move on.  But, since so many will be itching to have their say, I suggest researching negative reviews on line and see what suggestions are out there.  A great idea would be to go to my book on Amazon, The Divine Apprentice, and see how I responded.  Keep it polite, profession and do not insult the reviewer.  I thanked my review for taking the time to read my book and for leaving a thoughtful review.

Now, you may be wondering why you had to read this whole post before publishing.  Because how you distribute your books decides whether book stores can order your book for customers who come in and ask for it, or even to put on their shelves.  If you set up distribution correctly, book stores can order.  As you are choosing what channels you want to use, consider not selecting the "Expanded distribution".  Here is why.  For bookstores like Barnes and Noble, or any other large book seller, to purchase your book for their store the books have to be returnable and bookstores can't return to Createspace.  What I suggest is doing what I did; set up an account with Ingram Sparks (Lightning Source) and let them take care of your expanded distribution.  If you select "Expanded Distribution" through Createspace, you will not be able to use Lightning Source/Ingram Sparks.

If you talk with a bookstore and ask them to carry your books, they will find that your book is, indeed, listed with Lightning Source (Even if you list with Ingram Sparks, as you will) but it is POD (Print on Demand).  You need to make sure they understand that even though it is POD, it is returnable, and then they will purchase.

Normally, I add my saga to the end of this, but I am going to save that for next time as it covers marketing and there is a fair amount of stuff to share.  Trust me when I say you don't want to miss my next blog.  With over 5000 books now sold, I think I have a very firm handle on it.  5000 is not a record breaker by far, but for a self published book, it is a huge success as 90% of books published sell 50 copies and then die.

Allen J Johnston
The Divine Apprentice
The Divine Path
The Divine Unleashed
Next release, Oct 27, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Should I Publish My Book Myself

You may be reading this post because you have run into a brick wall with agents or big publishing houses. Never fear. You have not hit the end of the road until you decide to give up. Everyday that goes by gives us less and less reason to use a big publisher. Fifty years ago, we were considered authentic and the real deal when and only when a publishing house agreed to publish our book. Today, that is not the case. As I have said in many past blogs, what really matters is that your book gets out there and into peoples hands for them to read. So, by now, you should realize that big publishing houses are no more than middle men. Yes, they may just cut you a nice size check for the rights to your story, but in my opinion, that is not success anymore. You want to be respected as an author, right? So, get your book out there and get it read. Before I go on, I want to point out a few areas where publishing houses do excel. They edit and then they edit more. They also pass on manuscripts that truly are not worth publishing. It's harsh, but it is the honest truth. I have been asked to read manuscripts that cause me to scowl as though I had just swallowed a bug. It was painful to read. But, that is beside the point.

EVERY author feels his/her stuff is the best. We are going to assume yours is the next best thing. So you want to overcome the handicap of not having a big publishing house take on your book? Do these two things: Have other people read your manuscript and give you honest feedback. Edit, edit, edit!!! Friends and family will want to tell you what you want to hear. Even after telling them to be brutal, they won't. Find someone, anyone you trust to read it. One of my editors reads my entire manuscript backwards, line by line, so she can catch grammar mistakes along with incorrect word use. I would suggest getting in contact with a college professor. It's what I did. I found a university professor and a teacher. The university professor was brutal. But, it helped me publish a manuscript that has gotten me amazing reviews and over 4000 book sales in three months. A community college is most likely best as class sizes are smaller and the teacher may be more open to other projects other than her students. Feel free to stop in the local elementary school and check there. You should find a teacher that wants to help. Especially in the summer months. Get with book clubs or other authors. This last option is most likely the best option for convenience. When you have edited and gotten HONEST feedback, then you are ready. Check in with my blog next week to start down that road to getting the book published...self published, that is.

My saga continues:

So, last I mentioned, I had gotten a glowing email from an agent who had decided against my book. I had actually received about three or four interactions with agents asking for more. I can't recall if it was three or four. Time does that to me. Anyway, that's besides the point. After some serious soul searching for a week, I decide I am no longer going to pursue an agent or a big publishing house. Why? you might ask. Because I believe I now have what it takes to be a respected author. I have good material or I would not have gotten so much positive attention so quickly. However, the main and real reason for going alone? I just won't give up control of my story to a stranger. I put too much time into it to do that. At this point, it's not about money for me. It's about making sure my story develops the way I want.

Now, here is where you need to try to follow in my footsteps. I became close with the manage of the Barns and Nobel in my home town at the start of my project. I got him involved with my books years before I published. He was supportive and very nice. I must say, I got very lucky there. When I actually put my book in his hand, he was shocked at the quality of a self published book and instantly ordered twenty of the first three books for his store. See how easy that appeared? My books were on the shelf just like that. I did not need a big publishing house. Each independent store can order your books. Now, don't go rushing out thinking that you are going to get your books in the stores. You might not want them in the stores. WHAT??? BUT, BUT, BUT.... you say? That is correct. For now, just get them on the shelf in your home town store. Be happy with that. There are reasons for this but I don't have time yet to explain or this blog will get too long. I have five Barnes and Nobles looking to put my books on the shelves. Those are just the few I contacted. Let me just say, if you don't have a big marketing plan, don't pursue the stores, yet. I will talk about marketing later. It's CRUCIAL!!! Getting them into the stores at the wrong time is a disaster waiting to happen.

I am way out of sequence here so let me back up. How did I put a book in Mike's hands(That is the store manager's name)? After a considerable amount of research, I chose to go with Amazon. They are, without a doubt, hands down, the cheapest for the quality. Their program really does a great job walking you through how to get your book set up with them. You can learn it in a day. I did. It's called createspace. Go take a look so you can feel some of the excitement build at the thought of becoming familiar with how you are going to finally publish your books. Createspace .

So, I figured this all out and then stated work on the cover. I own a photography studio by the name of Amber J Photography here in Lansing, MI, so I had a huge advantage. Amber was going to do my covers. If you want to succeed, you must, must MUST have a professional cover made. If you don't have the talent yourself, HIRE SOMEONE!!! If you don't, then you are selling yourself short and cutting the chances of success in half. Almost everyone, myself included, shops by the cover. The front, back and start of the book are what will sell. Go take a look at my covers. There is a lot of research that went into that, also. If you want to be a success, this is what it takes. Be meticulous.

Check out Createspace, figure out an amazing cover that really gets peoples attention. You want something that draws your attention. Go to your local big book store and peruse the books that are facing out so you can see the cover. See what gets your attention.

Okay, I have given you enough to think about. If anyone wants me to read any of their stuff for an honest opinion, feel free to contact me.

Allen J Johnston

The Divine Apprentice

The Divine Path

The Divine Unleashed

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Find an Agent or Go It Alone

Okay, again, you are here looking to glean what knowledge you can to make that book a success.  Good.  I believe everyone has a chance at being published.  Not everyone is going to have that next best seller, but everyone can try.

Last I wrote, we were working on doing that submission to an agent.  Are you keeping track of who you want to submit to?  Stay organized.  So now you know you need a completely polished manuscript (or as perfect as possible) and you need a very creative query that is going to make the agent want to read more.  Is that all?  Nope.  You need a summery, also.  This is a tough one.  A summery is your entire book summarized into just a few pages.  This is where it can be frustrating.  Depending on the agent, the summery may need to be anywhere from one page to several pages.  Stick to the guidelines of how to format this.  Most agents are good with 1.5 line spacing with a font of 12 and Times Roman.

I have seen people reduce the font size and get rid of margins just so they can squeeze in more information on that one or two pages.  I know it is tough.  It really is.  You want to hit all those great scenes and give the agent more to draw them in.  You want them to really get the feel for your story.  As tough as it sounds, you can and will do it.  They want to see a clear plot.  If you can find a way to make the summery into a story that will elicit emotions, GREAT!  Don't keep anything back in hopes of making them curious.  Make sure to include the conclusion or how the conflict is resolved, if it is resolved.  Make sure there are no mistakes.  Go over it and go over it another ten times.  Have others read it and give their input.  Your query and summery must be as flawless as possible.  It sounds daunting but when you get started, your creative side will wake up and you will start to have something to work with.

Try not to repeat what you put in your query.  The query is a sales pitch while the summery is your book crammed into a few pages.  Once you have this done, you will really be ready.  But, take some time to get feedback from others.  I am going to ask one more time for you to put everything away for just a day or two before hitting that send button.  Your head will be spinning and this is when you can make a simple mistake.  We all get like this.  As we get ready to send off our carefully crafted query, our perfect summery and the first five pages of our manuscript, our adrenalin gets flowing.  Oh, I forgot to mention that you will need to send your first five pages of your manuscript.  The agent wants to get a feel for how your story flows.  They want to be enticed into reading more.  Make sure your story has a way of grabbing the reader quickly.  Okay, after one more time of carefully checking everything over, you are ready.  Send it off!!!!!  If your query and summery are well done, and you have a great manuscript, the agent will contact you and ask for more.  This is the start.  Even if they do not offer to represent you, it means you got their attention and you could not do that if your work was not up to par.  Keep at it.  You MUST contact me and let me know what happens.

Continuation of my saga:

So, I have sent off my ten queries with my carefully crafted summery.  I have worked it and worked it.  I get a few rejection letters in the first week.  They appear to be form rejections.  Not very impressive but I was warned that this is how it goes.  Every writer gets these.  Even writers that have published a slew of books successfully get these.  On my third query, the agent wants more.  My heart is pounding like mad.  An agent wants to see more of MY manuscript.  I can remember the day like it was yesterday.  I send off the first two chapters as requested.  I have my smart phone glued to my side in the event that the call comes in or an email is sent to me.  Every time my phone buzzes, I eagerly grab it, hoping beyond hope that it is THAT call.  I have to keep in mind that I have seven other queries out there begging for attention.  I get another agent respond asking for more.  This is GREAT news!!!  It tells me I am on track and doing something right.  I am grateful I was careful not to dash off with my first submission.  It is starting to pay off.

Typically, they will either not respond or they will send a very polite form letter.  If you get an agent that takes the time to respond with a personal email, you have done well.  Even if it is a rejection, a personal response means they took the time and you got their attention.  They may give you advice or they may just encourage you to keep trying.  If they tell you that you need to polish the manuscript, DO IT!  Do not send out anymore submissions.  You only have a finite number of agents and you do not want to use them up on something that has errors.

Okay, lucky for me, I don't have that problem.  Days are going by and I am still waiting.  Some agents will take up to four months to respond.  This is torturous.  Uggg.  But, it is part of the process.  After a month, I get an agent that asks for three chapters.  She says she is very interested and my head starts spinning with excitement.  I can tell this is the chance I was hoping for.  I send her the manuscript and wait...and wait...and wait.  Keep in mind that this is the forth submission so I am extremely pleased.  She writes back and sends me a very lengthy email detailing what she did with the manuscript.  She liked it so much that she took it to a board meeting to see if the firm wanted to take it on.  The agent liked it and wanted it.  Now she had to convince the firm.  The firm declined.  I know.  Darn.  But, not really.  I was elated.  "Why in the world are you excited about a rejection???" you ask.  Because now I know my work is good enough to get published.  It is my first favorite rejection I have ever gotten in my life.  I have a second and I will tell you about it in later posts.  Out of 2000 submissions she had gotten that month, she liked mine.  Even though her company decided not to pursue it, I got something incredible out of it.

Time to end this post.  Don't want to take you away from your writing for too long.  Check in next week where I focus more on my story so you can see what I did to make my books a success.

Allen J Johnston
The Divine Apprentice
The Divine Path
The Divine Unleashed
Next release: Oct 27,2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Do I need a book agent?

Well, this is the real question that will decide how you spend the next year of your life.  "A year of my life?  Why on earth would it take that long???" you ask.  Because that is the way it is.  Now, you just might be one of the lucky ones that snags an agent in the first submission.  It could be as soon as two months or even sooner.  It is possible.  It's also possible to win the lottery.  However, if you are good at even simple math, you will see that those odds are extremely low.  Most agents get over 500 submissions a week.  Yes!  500 A WEEK!  When they take only one or two new titles a month, where does that leave you?  Many agents are months behind as they work their way through submissions.  Oh, let me mention the two forms of submission before I go much further.  Most agents will allow you to submit either electronically or by sending in your manuscript.  Some accept just written manuscripts while others are only electronic.  I believe everything is moving toward electronic.  It definitely has its pluses.

For this blog, I am going to assume you are being calculating and doing everything possible to increase your chances of success by using this site.  There are others out there but I really liked this one.  This is an incredibly useful tool.  It will help you stay organized and help increase your chances of becoming published.  After all, that is the goal.  I became a member and I believe it cost me $25.  It is free but to get the full use of all it has to offer, there is that small cost.  Not so bad if you end up with an agent.  Take some time and become very familiar with the tools.  You can narrow down the agents to those specific to your genre.  You can also submit to those that you feel give you the best chance based on their acceptance percentages.  I don't believe they are as accurate as they could be, but its something to work with.  Query tracker will list the websites of the agents.  Go to those websites and read all about them.   It takes time, but in the end, if you get an agent, it will be worth it.

Okay, I am going to assume that you have followed my advice and have had the manuscript read by at least a thousand people.  Okay just a few hundred will do.  Alright, alright, so you don't even know that many people.  I would hope at least 5-10.  I am also going to assume that you took their input to heart and fixed any flaws.  So, now you have a manuscript that practically glows.  It's perfect, right?  Now, put it away for two weeks and leave it alone.  NO, don't even look at it.  Trust me.  It will make sense when you do this.  Start writing something else or just go enjoy life but don't touch the manuscript.  You will be tempted but don't do it.  You need your mind to be away from it.  If you are following my blog, you must have at least some faith in me so continue to trust me.

Two weeks have passed and you are eager to get your manuscript back in your hands, or in front of your eyes if its on your computer.  Read it as a reader.  You may be shocked to realize that you did not quite convey what you where trying to convey.  You may find that your sentence just flat out does not make sense.  Trust me, all of us go through this.  Take notes or do what you must to ensure that every sentence, every word, every scene is as you meant it to be.  If you really want to check for mistakes in grammar, punctuation, spelling...etc, then read your manuscript backward line by line.  You will not get caught up in your story.  But, first read it the right way to ensure your story is saying what you want it to say.

"Now can I send it out to agents?" you ask.  Maybe.  OK LISTEN UP!!!  You would not believe how many people decide to send out ten letters and they use a copy and past approach.  I assure you, sending out ten letters all addressed to Pam will get them filed in the permanent file.  Out of those ten, Pam will be the only one to read.  Also, spell the name right.  DO NOT guess on an agents spelling of their name.  I would suggest sending out ten queries.  Stay organized and always know who you are going to send a query.  Query Tracker does an amazing job of keeping track of this.  You might not think you could become unorganized, but trust me, you can.  As I said before, I have no affiliation to this website beyond the fact that I used them and that they are truly a good source of information.

I have actually had a response within a week before.  It was a rejection, but it was fast.  It allowed me to send out the next query.  Now, if you are like over 99% of authors, even published authors, you can expect a slew of rejections.  It's part of the process while looking for an agent.  Just stay with it and keep sending out a query every time you receive a reply.  If you don't receive a reply in about two months, I would suggest querying again or send an email asking if they got you query.  Some agents are now posting that if they did not respond, it's a no.  I will not comment on my opinion of those agents.  Okay, enough of that for now.  You have plenty to think about and plan.

Now for more of my personal story:

Forgive me if a jump around a bit.  Things do come to mind as I write this week after week.  Let's see.  Where was I?  Oh, yes.  I had the most perfect copy of my manuscript I could ever hope for.  I had been meeting with my editors for six months, going over every detail, making sure everything was perfect.  If you want your book out there, want it to be well received and get great reviews, you will be meticulous every step of the way.  So I had my final copy in my hands and then put it away for two weeks.  Boy was that tough.  I was certain it was ready to land on an agents desk for them to run to their boss saying they had the next best thing.  But I know by now that I do need to put it away.  It was tough.  It really was, but after all my research, I knew this was best.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  Once you start getting reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, you cannot take them back.  I am a little off track so let me refocus.

Two weeks go by and I sit at my computer.  I am nervous.  I know I am closing in on that moment when I either hit send or drop that heavy box into the post office with a heavy thud.  So, I calm myself and start reading.  Wow.  An error on the first page?  After all the work I have done and all the work my editors have done?  Okay, it's a fluke.  I read on.  I don't think I am able to get more than four pages without finding something that did not make sense or finding that I had used "site" instead of "sight."  Oh, I clearly know the difference but obviously my fingers don't.  I come to the ugly realization that my manuscript is not done.  I am a little down but that two week break did what it was supposed to do. It helped me look at my manuscript critically and see if it was ready.  It was not.

Now, don't blame my editors.  It's not their fault they did not catch everything.  Rarely is there a book out there with no mistakes.  I don't think I have ever read a book without mistakes.  My first book has 118,000 words.  That is a daunting task to find everything.  We authors just have to strive for perfection even if we don't achieve it.  It's part of it.  I went through my manuscript until I could find no errors, no misspellings, no misused words.  Then I took it to my editors and they proceeded to really dissect it.  Yes, if you want to be respected as an author and you really want people to send you emails telling you how amazing your book(s) is/are, then this is part of the process.  I recently had someone who read my series send me an email telling me I was now one of their favorite authors right along with Raymon Feist, Michael Sullivan and David Dalglish.  That made my week.  That made it all worth it.  Again, I am off track.  I shall have to watch that.  Anyway, you will really, REALLY be happy you took the time to be thorough.

Alright, my editors go through the book very closely.  They find an additional fifty errors.  In 118,000 words, that's not too bad, but because I am a perfectionist, that was too many.  I am happy to say, after fixing those errors, I could find no more.  It was ready.  "For heavens sake, are you now ready to submit???" you ask.  YES!  I really am.  I get my list out and I get my top ten agents I am sure will love my work.  I research their submission criteria again and then I realize I don't have a query or synopsis.  I don't know if that bald spot was there before, but I am definitely a few hairs less after pulling them out.  The manuscript is ready but I need a convincing query and a synopsis.  Your query letting is a very quick intro that should entice the agent to want to read more.  I am going to post the first paragraph of my query.  This got me good attention.

Kade looks up at his executioner with no fear or hate, watching . . .waiting. At six months old, he could hardly do much more as his grandfather agonizes over the task of taking the life of his only grandson.

Does this elicit something in you that makes you want to know more? It did for many of the agents that I sent it to. They wanted to know why a man would want or need to take the life of someone he loves. Clearly he would not be agonizing if he did not care about the child. And what would drive him to the point where he is in this position? Right?

The first paragraph of your query is where you either hook them or they stop reading. Trust me, when I say most agents stop reading over 90% of the queries they get based on this one paragraph, I mean it. The next two paragraphs should really entice them into wanting to know more. It should raise more questions than answers. I would say to go to your local book store and read the back of books. See what makes you want to read more. I spent over a week perfecting my query. I ran it by my editors. When I thought I had a winner, they shrugged. If you want to be be a success, you must get input from others. Have I said that before? Hmmm. Are you seeing a pattern?

I continued to tweak it over and over. I think I had over twenty queries before all those that read my query said, "Wow. This makes me want to know more." I even ran it by complete strangers. Almost all said they wanted to know more about my story. What a big relief. So now I knew I had a good query. I save it and I save it. I had the query and my manuscript on four flash drives. Please follow these guidelines so you can give your manuscript the best chance for survival. You can have a New York Times best seller but it will not see the light of day if your query letter fails. Give it as much importance as you do your manuscript. Now, your book may have an error here or there, but your query must not! No exceptions! A missing comma won't tank you but misspelled words are the kiss of death. Misspelled words in your query translates into hundreds if not thousands of mistakes in your book. They will run from your manuscript faster than a gazelle being chased by lions. Put the time into this and you will be rewarded beyond what you could ever have hoped.

Okay, tune in next week when I continue my saga. Yes, to me, it definitely feels like a saga. It consumed years of my life where I did nothing but work on my writing. I have much more to tell to help you become a success. Stay tuned.

Allen J Johnston

The Divine Apprentice

The Divine Path

The Divine Unleashed

Friday, March 21, 2014

Submit to a publisher, get an agent or self publish

You want to hear more of my story?  You want to know what I did to get to where I am now selling over 1500 books a month?  First, let me address the title of my post and then I will get back to that.

So, you may be struggling with what to do with your cherished manuscript that you have poured your heart and soul into.  Yes, we all hold our manuscripts dear.  You have done all the hard work and now you are ready to let your beautiful little bird fly out into the world for all to read and see.  But, how do you do that?  It's there in your hand, ready to go, and sits.  So you automatically think that you need to get one of the big publishers.  No problem, right?  Okay, I am going to be brutally honest.  You NEED honesty right now, even if it stings.  I would estimate that publishers take on less than 1% of books sent to them and an even ridiculously dismally smaller amount than that for authors who send a publisher an unsolicited manuscript.  Even after reading my blog, many will still feel the urge to throw their manuscript at a publisher, hoping the publisher will hug the new found gem to their chest and pronounce to the world that they have found the next big thing to hit this world.  For those of you that just can't be swayed from this option, for the love of god, please, please, please follow the publishers guidelines of how to submit.  Get on their website and follow their submissions TO THE LETTER!  Do not be clever and send them your picture or your facebook page believing that when they see you, they won't be able to resist.  Don't get on photoshop and create a clever cover.  For them, it's all about the bottom line.  The bottom line is your writing.  If you stray outside their guidelines, you can expect your beautiful work of art to be filed in the circular file. Even if they don't toss your story aside right away, it will go into what they call the "Slush pile."  They will have a low level intern read it in about four months when the room fills up.  So, do I suggest sending to a publisher?  NO!

So, what should you do?  Well, let me ask, as I have in previous posts, what is the most important thing for an author?  I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again.  It should be one of two things:  Seeing your book on the shelves of the most popular book stores in the world, or getting your writing on those neat little electronic devices that everyone is carrying around these days.  So, since you are still reading, you are clearly getting that you should look for a more calculated approach to getting your book published; an approach that has proven to be more successful, yes?  Good!  So for those of you that have decided not to waster your time going right for a publisher, you may be looking to hook up with an agent.  NOW you are thinking.  Keep in mind that this is still a traditional way of getting your book published.  So, onto talking about finding an agent.  There are several GREAT sites.  I will list my favorite for you.  I cannot say strongly enough that becoming a member on these sites is a huge benefit.  Let me make this clear.  I have no affiliation with these websites nor do they even know who I am.  However, I have used them and I want YOU to find the best path in life to get that beautiful work of art out in the world and read.  This is a site I highly recommend.  It has a lot of tools to help you.  Make sure you find an agent who reads your genre, or once again, you are just wasting everyone's times.  Okay, I think I have given you enough for the time being.  Check in next week to my new post about vanity presses and places that promise to get your book published for a price.  I know you want to hear about it now but, I can't put everything there is to know about publishing all in one post.  Now, onto my personal story.

Continued from last post...

So, I am all excited to get my book out into the world and on all those nifty little electronic devices.  By the way, did I mention that I threw my book at several publishers previously, hoping that they would proclaim to the world that they had found the next greatest thing in the world?  NO?  Hmmmm, well I did.  And it took six months for them to send me my manuscript back with not so much as a, "Thanks for submitting but this might be best used as kindling."  This is the truth of what it means to be an author.  Rejection is hard hitting and stings.  Are you still game?  Yes?  GOOD!  It is part of the process.  Let it go and move on.  Some of you reading this will have already tried this method and considered giving up.  DO NOT!  You only lose when you quit. It might be years but when that first book sale happens, it will all be worth it.  

Okay, so I decide to get a few well known doctors in my community, who I know, to read my first chapter and give me their brutal, honest opinion.  I don't think three days could have gone any slower.  Yes, that is how long it took for me to meet with them again.  My palms are clammy and I have to wipe them on my pants before I shake their hands the next time I see them.  I pretend to be casual, but inside, my stomach is in knots.  I am expecting hard core rejection.  Well, I want praise but I made it clear that I need them to be honest.  He is 70 and she is in her 50s.  They are not teenagers who might jump at the fantasy genre.  I was skeptical about them liking the fantasy genre, but as they sat down holding the first chapter to The Divine Apprentice, smiles lit up on both of their faces.  The first words out of their mouths were, "When do we get the next chapter."  OMG, did they really just say that? I think as my head spins.  Really?  Yup, they sure did.  Believe it or not, my future as a writer was hinging on their input.  But, they loved it and even called it brilliant.  This started a beautiful relationship that still exists today.  I officially cite them as my editors in my book.  

Now PAY CLOSE ATTENTION to what I am saying.  If you want to increase our chances of becoming a success, you must get other people to read your work and give you honest feedback.  They will help you see the strengths of your work and give you input on how to improve the weak areas.  We ALL have them.  Suck it up and take the honest feedback WITHOUT being defensive.  If you can't, give up right now.  Criticism is something we all get and when you make your self a public figure, as all authors are doing, you will get it.  If you find yourself explaining things too often to those that you are talking to about your manuscript, your writing needs tweaking.

So, I gave my editors one chapter at a time to read and encouraged them to write as much as they wanted while finding mistakes.  Then I would meet with them and we would discus the story.  It took me six months of doing this two or three times a week to finally get through my trilogy.  But, when it was done, I really felt like I had a winner.  They caught many mistakes that I did not see.  When you decide to start looking for an agent, you must have the most perfect copy of your writing possible.  Misspellings in the first few pages will bring up red flags.  Read critically and then read it again.  What you submit to an agent must be as flawless as possible and it must draw them in quickly.  Find a way to elicit an emotional response.  Find a way to make them care about your characters or the story.

Okay, check in to my blog next week to hear more of my story.  Thanks for reading and please contact me with any questions.  As I said previously, I will always make time to answer any questions.

Allen J Johnston
The Divine Apprentice
The Divine Path
The Divine Unleashed