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!

Advertisements

Last-chance: PATHOGENS sneak peek

Editing COMPLETE

Last month after I finished the first draft of PATHOGENS, I sent out a call for Beta Readers.

Well, my edits are complete and the book is ready for feedback! If you already volunteered, your character is waiting for you in your inbox.

Want to get in on the action? It’s not too late! Hit me up on my contact form. All you have to do is send me your top three preferences for which character you’d like to read. You’ll find a short description of each character in PATHOGENS below.

PS — If you’re not into feedback, here’s your update: PATHOGENS should be in your hands sometime in August or September!

Sims

Technical Sergeant Robert Sims, National Guardsman and electrician in the greatest Air Force in the goddamned world. Divorced, no kids, fourteen years of service given to your nation thus far. You’re a “Prepper” (a dedicated survivalist), and you’ve been looking forward to the zombie apocalypse for as long as you can remember. Your unit was mobilized and now you find yourself at the tip of the spear.  When it comes to idioms you’re not the smartest crayon in the box, but you’re an electrical genius.

Cooper

Kaeden Cooper, known as “Kay” to your friends. Daughter of a NASCAR driver who turned to the bottle and lost his shot at stardom. You’ve since done your fair share of racing on the motorbike circuit, but it’s still very much a man’s world, and no one wanted to give you sponsorship unless you posed by the bike in a bikini. Instead, you turn wrenches for a living, working for the weekend until you can ride again. Little do you know that this shift under the hood will be your last. Soon the world will learn it’s those who know how to change their own oil that will survive.

Tyberius

Work nights at the call center, days at the bank. Sleep? Yeah, right. It’s all you can do to provide for you and Mama, who lost her own job in the recession. She still hopes you’ll find a nice girl and settle down, but you’d settle for an apartment in the better part of town. So you use any spare moment; while eating, even while shitting, to take online courses on a smartphone, angling for a promotion at the bank. But all that effort is about to be in vain when the global economy tanks in 3, 2, 1…

Rosie

Smart, cute, spunky redhead. 17-year-old high school student. Your father is a combat-veteran Marine and you work weekends at the family-owned shooting range. Sarah is your real name and truth be told, you’re more interested in boys and music than you are bug-out-bags and MREs, but you play along for dad’s sake. Ever since mom died he’s had a hard time and he’s not the type to get a pedicure so for quality time you learn about pyrotechnics. Unfortunately, Sarah’s world is about to end and you’ll have to fully embrace his training to become the “Rosie the Riveter” of the apocalyptic wasteland.

Lucas

Lucas Tesshu, middle aged man who handles crisis with the same serenity a stone handles the river. As a child of Japanese immigrants, you’ve lived much of your life as an outsider, making solitude a revered mentor and friend. As a Kendo instructor and master of swordplay, you’re more than capable of defending yourself, but as a disciple of Bushido, you are committed to helping those in need. So the question becomes: Can a man unable to leave someone for dead still survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

Hefty

Poor as dirt, good ole southern boy. Thin as a rail, and yeah, the nickname is ironic. Known to the State as inmate #: 080620-06. They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but you can cook some up in your kitchen using a few household ingredients as fertilizer. Like literal fertilizer, for one. But you’re over that now, clean, back on the straight and narrow, and ready to be a productive member of society once you get released from the Big House. Which is about to come early, courtesy of the Apocalypse.


Thanks for reading! Excited? Ready to start reading?

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

On Having a Thick Skin

“Have a thick skin.” If you’re a writer, whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro, you’re probably given this piece of advice dozens of times throughout your creative lifetime. The gist of the sentiment is: “Don’t take criticism too personally.” And while this is a lovely aphorism, it’s also easier said than done.

“Get tough, writer!” Image courtesy derausdo.

To follow the metaphor, having a thick skin makes my professional persona armored like an elephant or a rhinoceros. But here’s the thing–those noble beasts are born thick-skinned, whereas a creative person is nearly always the opposite.

We wouldn’t need a battlecry to “toughen up” if it came naturally. We’re told to desensitize ourselves to criticism because it’s the opposite of our instinctual reaction. When someone judges a writer’s work harshly, this tends to feel like a judgement of the author on a personal level. How can it not? You pour yourself onto the page, whether it be genre writing or memoir, and dedicate months or years to perfecting the product.

Okay, so what inspired this newest bout of self-reflection (and/or pity)? A negative review, of course.

A thoughtful, honest, and thorough skewering of MURDERED appeared on Amazon yesterday in the form of a 3-star review and it’s been eating at me (read the review here). And before you say, “3-stars isn’t negative,” allow me to direct your attention here:

Exhibit A: See the titles? "Most Helpful Critical Review". The defense rests its case.
Exhibit A: See the titles? “Most Helpful Critical Review.” The defense rests its case.

While the reviewer has some lovely things to say about the book and its author (he said in third-person), there’s quite a bit in there that I can only describe as “scathing.”

But I digress. The point of this blog post is for me to expand on how it is that I’m able to have a thick skin. How I “take a licking and keep on ticking.” Sure, I allow myself a moment of self-pity (and by “allow” I mean I accept the fact that I will experience these emotions and resign myself to it). But then I move on. What’s my secret?

My thick skin doesn’t come naturally, it’s formed from callouses.

That is to say, it’s built up as a defense against injury and assault. Each affront, no matter how small, toughens me up. Now, I’m able to look past the surface review and ask myself, “Okay, what did the reviewer really not like?”

The reviewer in my personal example compares MURDERED to a Rubik’s Cube, in a negative way. Their impression is that the book is nothing more than a simple curiosity; fun for a few minutes until the novelty wears off. And yet when I was writing the book, I actually told several friends I felt like I was creating a “literary Rubik’s Cube!” I naturally meant this as a positive–as a challenge. As a game that is fun to pick up and play with from time to time, but actually difficult and time-consuming to solve in full.

Not everyone loves a Rubik’s Cube. Then again, there are whole clubs and competitions formed by those who do. Not everyone will love my books, and some of those people will review them, but there are others who enjoy what I do and I’ll keep writing for that audience. The negative reviews still sting, but with my callouses I’m able to move past them more quickly.

Soon, I’ll be charging forward and there’ll be no stopping me.

James Schannep
9 June 2014

Artwork by Judith Powers, Ragged Edge Studio.

 

INFECTED Promo Results (Day Three)

Continued from Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

One of the many promo pics I made to entice readers.
One of the many promo pics I made to entice readers.

January 10th
Today starts the final day of my free promotion, and it is with some apprehension that I begin. I’ve read that the “magic number” is 20k downloads. If you get less than that, your promotion was not worth it. You also need to make it into the Top 20 free books (overall) on Amazon’s best sellers list. Bearing those stats in mind, let’s see how we’ll start off the day:

NOTE: CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Downloads as of 0600, January 10th.
5640 Downloads as of 0600, January 10th.
Somethin'
No change (save for category updates).

Woof. No update in the ranking and a measly 300 downloads overnight. Fear is sinking in… Am I doing this for nothing? Have I spent all this money advertising only to fail? But I can’t think that way. Today is my BookBub day, they’re supposed to be the best of the best, and that announcement hasn’t gone out yet. Holding out faith for “BookBub the Almighty” I’m still worried. I’m listed in the horror category which is one of their smaller lists. As you can see in the pricing chart below, the average downloads for a free horror book are 6,700 with a historical maximum of 10k over the entire promotion.

I really need to get MURDERED on a promotion... possibly to coincide with the launch of book 3?
I really need to get MURDERED on a promotion… possibly to coincide with the launch of book 3?

Seeing as how I’m only using a single day of BookBub, I’m thinking I’ll be lucky to get 6k. Which means <12k downloads. Which means… failure. Well, at this point what’s done is done. Best to let it play out and hope for the best (along with continued plugs on social media). Yesterday’s lesson was to be patient and not to panic, so I’ll try to keep that in mind as the day progresses.

Here’s a mid-day update, after BookBub has gone out:

14090 Downloads as of 1400, January 10th.
14090 Downloads as of 1400, January 10th.
Holy Crepe! Look at those numbers...
Holy Crepe! Look at those numbers…

Whoa! Now that the BookBub announcement has gone out, the downloads are gushing forth like spray from a firehose. I can literally refresh the page every few seconds and see more and more downloads. #26 overall! Maybe I’ll make the Top 20 before the day is through?

LESSON LEARNED: BookBub rocks. Until something changes, don’t do a free book promotion without them. This is my honest advice.

With numbers like this, I’m very very hopeful again. Though I’ll only be “On top of the world!” for a fleeting instant, it’s nice to bask in that accomplishment. When you do your own promotion, don’t forget to do so as well.

LESSON LEARNED: Enjoy yourself.

Topping the combined SciFi & Fantasy chart as of 1800.
Topping the combined SciFi & Fantasy chart as of 1800.
Best in horror as of 1800.
Best in horror as of 1800.

Everything’s going my way! This is amazing! I’m climbing the chart, I’m absolutely killing it, I —- just got a 1-start review. What? Ugh. Hours before my promo ends, someone shows up and says “Do not buy.”

Surprise! Kinda changes the experience, doesn’t it?

LESSON LEARNED: Shrug off the haters. As much as it sucks getting negative reviews or bad press (someone also posted in the comments of an INFECTED blog review how much they hated it…), if you manage to give out 20k copies, you’re bound to have some readers that don’t like what you’ve done. There’s no pleasing everyone.

Okay, time for one last check as the promo ends…

Over 20k downloads!
Over 20k downloads!
Agh! So close...
Agh! So close…

The best INFECTED was rated during the promotion was #22 Free in Kindle Store, so I didn’t quite make the Top 20, but I did (barely) make 20k downloads. Will it be enough? Time will tell…

Up next — Two Week After a Free Promo!

INFECTED Promo Results (Day Two)

Continued from Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

January 9th
PhotoFunia-16f3d2b_smallGood morning, again! Today Book Blast is set to go out and, with (fingers’ crossed) the continued buzz from yesterday’s promotion, this should make for an exciting day. I don’t know about you, but I could hardly sleep a wink. Whattdya say we see how much action happened overnight?

NOTE: CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE

2686 Downloads as of 0600, January 9th.
2686 Downloads as of 0600, January 9th.
Woo-hoo! Made it into the coveted Top 100.
Woo-hoo! Made it into the coveted Top 100.

Two interesting points of order based on these stats. First, is that I’m still listed in Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure (an old category) as well as Science Fiction > Post-Apocalyptic (new category). Could this be because my update is still “processing”? I’m not sure. I’ll have to watch carefully as this develops. Second, even though my rank has surpassed the Top 100 free books in the kindle store, I only gave away 450 copies over the course of the entire night. Which leads to…

LESSON LEARNED: Be patient/don’t panic. Within the first two hours of the day, my rank got worse and shot up to #99. If this is a race to #1, that means I’m not doing well… or does it? Amazon’s best seller ranking is elastically flexible and doesn’t necessarily correspond to current downloads. Maybe someone else’s rank simply processed before mine? I could just need some time to catch up. Tough to say. Amazon keeps their ranking algorithm a closely-guarded secret, but it pays to go with the flow. Just keep doing what you know you should be doing, and let the ranking system do its thing.

Here’s a mid-day update, after Book Blast has gone out:

4113 Downloads as of 1400, January 9th.
4113 Downloads as of 1400, January 9th.
Back to "increasing!" Slow and steady wins the race today.
Back to “increasing!” Slow and steady wins the race today.

Interesting to note that the categories are still switching. Could this be a good thing? It’s putting me on several different categories throughout the day (the maximum allowed is two), so I can’t see how it would hurt… Hmm. But the main point is that it’s getting better. From all I’ve heard and read, Book Bub is the behemoth service that’ll push any promotion over the edge. So if I can just keep climbing the charts, no matter how slowly, I should be in for a treat tomorrow.

The snowball is your book promotion. The more people you get to help push it along, the bigger it’ll get until it eventually starts feeding itself.

The afternoon was spent doing more promoting and marketing, of course, which leads to another…

LESSON LEARNED: Set up everything beforehand. I started contacting book sites a month out, but I found a great list of resources I was planning to contact during the promotion. Big mistake. Just going through with everything I’d had planned, to include continued social media marketing, took up all my time. You should have everything ready to go before you promotion starts, so the most work you have to do during the event involves the copy/paste function.

It’s getting late. Let’s do one last look at the stats before bed:

5358 Downloads as of 2200, January 9th.
5358 Downloads as of 2200, January 9th.
Still increasing and -- BONUS -- now it's topping 3 categories!
Still increasing and — BONUS — now it’s topping 3 categories!

It’s getting significantly more difficult for INFECTED to climb the ranks, but at least it still is. And with tomorrow set to be my “anchor day” I’m hopeful. You might also notice 3 more sales of MURDERED in 24 hours. Not exactly the boost I was hoping for, but it’s still early (and I’m thankful for each sale I get). Time to try and sleep and prepare for the exciting conclusion tomorrow…

Continue to INFECTED Promo Results (Day Three) 

INFECTED Promo Results (Day One)

As promised, here are my results and Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?” — Count Rugen, The Princess Bride

January 7th
With everything set up to go the night before, one last stat-check. Below you can see my pre-giveaway sales numbers and the ranking for INFECTED. In the spirit of honesty, I’m sharing my less than stellar numbers. Hopefully that means you won’t mind my bragging after the promotion, right?!

NOTE: CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Sales numbers as of 1730, January 7th.
Sales numbers as of 1730, January 7th.

Yowza! Impressive, right?
Yowza! Impressive, right? [/sarcasm_font]
INFECTED has been oddly steady over the past year, garnering almost exactly 2 sales per day (+/- 1). Usually, it’ll jump to somewhere in the mid #40k rankings, then return to the #100k block until the next day’s sales. MURDERED, as you can see, is still building momentum. Hopefully, that should be one of the side-effects of this promotion. INFECTED has never gone lower (higher?) than #19k in the kindle store, while MURDERED made it to mid #12k. Goal is to crush those records in the coming days. Well, time for bed!

January 8th
Good morning! With Kindle Fire Department set to announce me today, as well as a whole slew of free resources (most of them ask for a giveaway window and there’s no garauntee that they will feature your book, let alone when they’ll do it. It is a free service, after all. I’ll assess which ones worked and which didn’t in my final thoughts), we’re ready to kick off the free promotion. Let’s check the overnight stats:

Downloads as of 0600, Jan 8th
82 Downloads as of 0600, January 8th.
Blah
Numbers are already higher than paid numbers, not that this means anything.

This is before any site announced the giveaway, as far as I know. Interesting that one person bought the book before it went on sale… Thanks, whoever you are! The goal of the promotion is to get your rank as high as possible — it’s a race to #1. If you can make it into the top #20 or #10, then people will start downloading your book just from browsing the top free ebooks on amazon, thus increasing the snowball effect.

In addition to the websites listed on my previous post, it’s also important to do your own marketing. As such, I blogged about the giveaway, tweeted the heck out of it (including a link in my “welcome DM” on @clickyourpoison), and created an event on goodreads and on facebook:

An event is a great tool because it sends a notification rather than risking being lost in the feed. Be careful not to hound your friends too much...
An event is a great tool because it sends a notification to those invited (rather than risking being lost in the feed). Be careful not to hound your friends too much though…

Let’s check the mid-day numbers, after the promotion has been announced:

dfdf
909 Downloads as of 1400, January 8th.
BOOM! Big jump. Off to a great start.
BOOM! Big jump. Off to a great start.

Okay, so from what I’ve researched, these are awesome numbers. Especially for an author with a small fan-base who has never done anything like this before. Which leads us to the first lesson learned. Yup, I’ve already made a mistake.

LESSON LEARNED: Categories. See how I’m already #6 in Horror > Occult? That’s actually not a good thing this early into the promotion. I originally chose this category as “low-hanging fruit” because it’s easy to climb the chart (there aren’t too many books competing for space). Which is a good thing when you’re trying to keep your paid ranking high, but when you’re doing a free promotion, you should shoot the moon. So, I looked up the bestselling books most similar to mine and mirrored their categories. I settled on Science Fiction > Post-Apocalyptic and Horror > United States. I called Amazon customer support to get them to quickly change my categories, so hopefully within 24 hours the rankings will be fixed. Lesson Learned? Update your “shoot the moon” categories before your promotion.

Okay, took a hike just to get away from the craziness, then spent the late afternoon/evening posting on facebook groups and tweeting. I had joined several “zombie fan” groups on facebook in the weeks prior, and now used the opportunity to spread the word. When you’re offering something free, most people don’t mind.

Let’s check the numbers once more before bed, shall we? Okay!

Downloads as of 2200, January 8th.
2236 Downloads as of 2200, January 8th.
Already updated the categories, nice!
Already updated the categories, nice!

In addition to all the free downloads, that’s also 4 sales of MURDERED in 24 hours. Great first day, see you tomorrow!

Continue to INFECTED Promo Results (Day Two)

A Writer’s Resolution

Image credit: Geoff Whaley

A week into the New Year, I’ve finally decided to write a post pertaining to my goals in 2014. I have personal resolutions for health and happiness, but I’d like to keep this post focused on my goals as an author and as the owner of this blog.

The first, as an author, is a fairly straightforward one: Complete the next book in my Click Your Poison series.

As far as a blogging resolution, I feel a bit hesitant. But… I think I should embrace being a “blogger” — and for me, that’s easier said than done. I have a voice in my head saying, “Why should you shout your opinion at the world? Why should anyone care?”

Well, in order to silence that voice, I pledge to post more often and more honestly about the two things that should draw you to this page: 1) My writing, and 2) My journey from unknown writer to self-published rock star (gotta dream big, right?)

This year, just like this kid, I'm resolving not to lose my sense of humor.
This year, just like this kid, I’m resolving not to lose my sense of humor.

Topic #1 will include include progress updates and samples (hooray, samples!), and will involve the community when and where I can. Maybe I’ll bounce story ideas off you, give polls, or even host contests for naming characters, businesses; that kind of thing. It should be light and fun.

Topic #2 will focus on what I’ve learned in this business from pitfalls and successes. This will primarily be of interest to other writers. In that vein, I’m introducing a new topic: Lessons Learned (to be populated gradually over the year)

Happy New Year and best wishes in 2014!

-JS