The Pros and Cons of Branching Out

This is a blog post that I originally wrote for the website Serious Reading as part of promoting PATHOGENS. Side note/plug: PATHOGENS just received a coveted 5/5 from Awesome Indies reviewers, so if you haven’t checked out my latest book, do that too.

Without further ado:

The Pros and Cons of Branching Out

“Know Thyself” was the command inscribed at Delphi by the ancient Greeks, who arguably invented the drama and the tragedy.

“Pigeonhole Thyself” is the advice given to today’s dramatic writers, words which some would argue are a tragedy.

The idea is to pick a genre, find a niche, and build yourself a lovely summer home there. But is this advice for good or for ill? Let’s flesh out the pros and cons and find out.

branchingout
“Branching Out” by ATWhim on Etsy.

PROS

Marketability. Far and away the biggest tally mark in the “pro” category, setting your writing within the confines of a single genre can help make lifelong fans. After all, readers who loved your heartwarming WWII love story might not enjoy your vampire detective novel. But if you’ve got a Civil War love story waiting in the wings? It’s that much easier for them to click the “buy” button on Amazon. It’s the same logic behind the advice, “write a series, not multiple stand-alone novels.” Brands sell. Agents think this way, publishers think this way, so why not writers? You’ll need to wear all three hats if you’re going to make it in the era of self-publishing.

Honing Your Craft. Writing and reading, that’s what will make you a better writer. Lather, rinse, repeat. And guess what? If you write, read, sleep, eat, and excrete RomComs, you’re going to get better and better at that genre.

Be memorable. Stephen King is a name that can give people goosebumps. Why? He’s a master of horror. That’s what he does, and he does it well and consistently. If you want to make a name for yourself, it might be worth doing the same.  

kyle_-_branching_out
“Branching Out” via Martian Chronicles blog.

CONS

Marketability. Yes, it can be marketable both to stick to one genre or to diversify your portfolio. The market is fickle like that. If you write only Sci-Fi novels, a thriller fan might never discover your books. But if you wow him/her with your murder mystery, they might fall in love with your writing style and seek out your other books, regardless of the genre. By casting a wider net, you open up new possibilities. You want readers to fall in love with your writing, not simply to take advantage of the love they already hold for the genre.

Passion. If you love reading children’s books, slasher fiction, and comedies, why can’t you write all three? Although, to avoid angry parents, you might want to do a nom de plume for one of the first two, lest the kiddos accidentally cross over. But the point is—writing should be fun! That’s why we all do it, or at least why we started. Write what you love and love what you write.

Conclusion

I’m bringing it back full circle here. The right answer? “Know Thyself.” Weigh the pros and cons, discover your own motivations, and pick what’s right for you. What motivates you to put butt to chair and fingers to keyboard? The prospect of sales? If so, you might want to take the hardline marketability approach. Or if you have a story that needs to emerge, but it’s not in your usual genre, write the damn thing. A book written with passion is so much more enjoyable to read than a book written out of duty. Your readers will notice the difference.

As for this author? I’ve tried to do a little of both. My Click Your Poison series hops from genre to genre, yet each book “feels” like it’s part of the same series. My goal is to have fans/readers pining to read what I want to write, not to be a writer who tries to write what I think readers might like. I love writing my books. That’s the first step in finding fans who love to read them.



Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? On the money of off-base?

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Writer Discovers 5 Weird Tricks. You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

Or, 5 Tips to Market Your
Book Online

Note: This post originally appeared on the Creatrix Marketing blog.

As hinted in my tongue-in-cheek clickbait alternate title, anyone who tells you there’s a guaranteed path to publishing success is probably selling something. Usually in ebook form. As the old joke goes, if you purchase, “Learn how to be a bestseller, just buy this book!” the only thing you’ll find written inside is, “Write a how-to book; tell people to buy it.” 

While there’s nothing you can do to guarantee success, there are steps you can take to increase your chances. Many authors compare publishing success (whether self-pubbed, small press, or traditional) to being struck by lightning. Think of these tips as your lightning rods.


Write a marketable book. I’m going to catch a lot of flak for this one, but the easiest way to market a book is to make sure it’s easy to pitch. In Hollywood, they call this High Concept—your story should be clear enough that you can describe it in one to two sentences, and have someone hooked if you only have an elevator ride to pitch your story. I know, you’re an artist, you write what the muse speaks and not what sells. But you really can have it both ways: Perfect your elevator pitch for marketing success, and perfect your prose for artistic fulfillment. No one will read your genius if you can’t convince them to crack open the cover.

Be active on social media. There a thousands of people, right this second, looking for their next book to read, and they’re doing so online. Social media is where you give your elevator pitch, but don’t use the internet solely as a sales tool. Be yourself. When others see that you like the same shows, or they admire your viewpoint on an issue, or fall for your under-140-character wit, they’ll pay more attention the few times you announce a promotion. Which leads us to…

Use available marketing tools. No need to reinvent the wheel, all that groundwork has been laid out for you. If you’re self-pubbed, you should consider running free or discounted promotions of your title. You can also get your publisher to run some of these promotions for you. Then advertise your promotion on the many websites/mailing lists targeted to eager bargain hungry readers. This will drastically expand your reach, increase sales, and gain you reviews. 

moneyreviews

Market off-line too. Don’t forget to reach out to the real world. You don’t have to be a bestseller to set up a book signing at your local store, or an interview on your local radio station. Tell friends at parties. Always carry business cards! By rubbing elbows with potential fans out in the real world, you’ll increase your visibility online too. Many of those new connections will reach out to find you in cyberspace, or tell their friends. Each new fan is like planting a seed to help you grow as an author. 

Think outside the box. There are far, far more reading options than ever before. From the growing list of classics, to the self-publishing movement, it’s hard to stand out. You’ve got to try something different. For me, that’s been book trailers. You can turn that elevator pitch into a short film, and spread it out across the series-of-tubes just like a movie trailer. If done well, it’s an entertaining piece in its own right and most viewers don’t feel like they’re directly being advertised at. Book trailers are a growing trend, but what will be the next tool? Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one to discover it.


Are you a writer or marketer? A reader/customer with thoughts on being pitched to? Add your opinion in the comments below. And don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe!

New Author Bio, And It’s a Weird One

Now that I’m prepping for my third book, I thought it time to update my bio. The old one was a little outdated anyway; it still had me living in California and talked about achievements prior to 2011. But I also wanted to shake it up. Write something a little…different…from your standard Amazon author page.

Here’s what I came up with:

One February day, when Hephaestus was hitting on The Muses, they began a playful argument: Is it possible for a mortal man to be *too* creative? What would happen to his primitive brain if it were to suddenly overflow with ideas? Zeus, never one to leave an argument to the fate of mere words, sent a lightning bolt to earth where it struck upon a hapless young man–your author, James Schannep.

Thus Click Your Poison books were created as a repository to store the overabundant brain fruit. Each of Schannep’s books split into three unique storylines and contain over 50 possible endings. But the fate of each book; nay, of mankind, rests with YOU, dear reader. For it is your choices that will shape the story in these books.

So dive in and find out:

Will You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? (INFECTED)
Could You Solve a Murder? (MURDERED)
What if You Had Superpowers? (SUPERPOWERED – Coming soon!)”

How’d I do? Is it sufficiently odd enough to attract your attention without adding the fervent desire sit far away if we were on the subway together? Let me know in the comments below.

And as long as we’re talking about bios, there’s a rumor going around that Amazon’s promotion algorithms take into account how many “likes” an author page has. I’m sure some of you didn’t even know you could “like” an author on Amazon, but if you fee like hopping over to my author page and clicking LIKE, I’d be much obliged.

Penny for Your Thoughts

Why YOU Should Care About Amazon Book Reviews

Please, leave me an Amazon review! It’s the best way you can help a writer succeed!”

See that? It’s the new battle cry of many an author, myself included. Amazon keeps its internal marketing algorithms a closely guarded secret, and thus many authors have tried cracking the code over the years. Somewhat of a ‘no-brainer’ has always been “The More Reviews The Better.” Well, there’s more to it than that, and I think I may have just figured part of it out.

And the primary beneficiary of this new knowledge is you, the reader.

What’s the breakthrough? What do you get by leaving Amazon reviews? Cheaper books. I believe that the more reviews a book has, the more Amazon discounts the price. And–this next part is huge–they’re only diluting their own cut. As in, the author keeps the same royalty and the savings are directly passed onto the reader.

Where’s the proof?

Here’s my book, which Amazon offers at a 10% cut. They only started doing so somewhere around the 30 review mark.

ICYP

Here’s another self-published book written by a friend. You can see, more reviews, bigger discount.

CoA

This is a traditionally published book, but you can see that it follows the same pattern.

SIWbI

And lastly, a mega-hit book. Tons of reviews, tons of savings.

WWZ

Note: This is merely a trend I have noticed. I do not have an inside connection at Amazon. But if you love books, leave a review.

Second Note: For whatever reason, this only applies to paperback editions.

So, how about it, penny for your thoughts? If you haven’t left a review yet, please do! It will discount the book for other buyers without hurting the author’s cut. It should go without saying, but I want nothing less than your honest opinion. If you thought the book was a 3-star book, tell me why. If you think it’s 5-stars, I’d love to hear what you loved about it too!

Click Here to leave a review for INFECTED and then go spread the word! More reviews; cheaper books.

My Reddit Experiment and the Troll Who Ended It

In case you’re not one of my usual readers, I recently self-published a book and I’m looking for ways to promote my work and spread the word. A couple of friends suggested I check out reddit.com and put up a few posts there to try and garner more interest. I’d never used reddit before, but I had heard stories such as the guy who got a screenwriting gig from reddit, so I thought it could be worth a try. After all, my book is a solely electronic experience and reddit is easily one of the largest online communities out there.

So I gave it a shot, starting out with an AMA (Ask Me Anything) detailing my recent life.

Looks so innocent, doesn’t it?

It was a fun experiment, but ultimately a failure from a book promotion standpoint as people were far more interested in picking the brain of a former nuclear missile officer than they were in talking about anything I’d written. Still, my blog got 25% of its page views for the year… in one day. So I figured I should give it another try.

My next time around, I decided to post specifically about the book. I posted an announcement in the zombie forum, put my book cover in their pics section, and asked a question in the writing sub-reddit. This is where my troll was lurking.

I asked if my self-published book looked professionally done or if there were any aspects that screamed, “Amateur!” and the answers started trickling in. I won’t give you a link to this post, and (hopefully) you can’t find it, because I’ve since deleted it.

Allow me to explain why.

One commenter praised my blurb, saying it seemed to keep in tone with the book. Another said the cover looked professional, but the fact that I have only five-star reviews on amazon made him suspicious. This latter point is what the troll jumped on. She/he immediately threw out accusations that I’d written all the reviews myself, even going so far as to create multiple reddit accounts to have a conversation with myself online. The troll then submitted their own accusations to the “worst of” reddit under the title “User schannepj submits own post to r/bestof, uses same shell account [“Brian”] to post fake amazon reviews of his book and sell it on r/writing.” Luckily, a moderator quashed this flagrant lie of a post.

In the light of recent sock puppetry scandals, I’d like to take a moment to address my glowing amazon reviews. INFECTED has only been out for two weeks, hardly enough time for the independent reviewers and bloggers I’ve contacted to have a chance to weigh in. As of right now, most of the reviews are written by friends, but of their own volition. I never asked anyone to post five-star reviews. And I certainly never wrote any reviews for myself.

Even after I explained this, the troll did not relent. One of the friends who suggested the reddit campaign even tried coming to my aid:

I’ll self-identify as one of the author’s friends, and FWIW, I’ll vouch that Brian is a very real perosn(SIC) and a very ardent promoter of James’ work. James debuted his book to our group by passing an iPad around a circle with a bottle of Jamison(SIC) in the middle. It’s no surprise that the participants of that drinking game wrote several of the rave reviews you see the very next day.

I’m gritting my teeth and trying to be polite here because, even though you insulted my friend, there are some truthful observations in your comment–even if you misinterpreted the information. You seem concerned with preserving the credibility of self-publishing. What would you have a fledgling author do? Ask his friends NOT to help?

The troll stopped claiming sock puppetry, but did not apologize. Instead, she/he shrugged it off with an, “[It’s] all the same to me because it has the same end result: game the system.”

Okay, so let’s drop the whole troll issue for a moment and discuss the core issue here: Is it wrong for friends to post online reviews without some sort of “I know the author” caveat upfront? Should I have said, “If you know me, please don’t review my book”? I don’t think so, I think I should tell everyone I meet to review the book, but I’d certainly love to hear some other opinions. These are only my *first* reviews and I hope to see many more from people I don’t know, like this one on Goodreads. It’s an interesting scandal-filled world out there, where reviews are of the utmost importance, and self-published authors will do anything to succeed.

I know my integrity’s intact, and I stand by my product. I’ll just be staying off reddit for a while. But the troll did bring up a good point, albeit in a roundabout and vindictive way: I need more reviews.

So… calling all reviewers–anyone care to give me an honest read?