Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gearing up for Amazon KDP Select Giveaway

When I first published Battle Axe and Ring of Fire simultaneously last year, I enrolled Ring of Fire in Amazon's KDP Select program on the promise that it offered more exposure via its lending library and ability for Amazon Prime members to download such titles for free. The downside? It's a 90-day arrangement that makes your digital (not print) title exclusive to Amazon, so I was forbidden to make it available anywhere else. The upside? None, at least that time around. I saw no discernible difference between the purchase/borrow activity of Ring of Fire vs. Battle Axe.

The other (and potentially huge) alleged asset of the program is that it offers up to five "giveaway" days where you can offer your title for free and they'll promote it as such. I had read that doing so before you had a reasonable number of good reviews was a waste of the days, so I devoted the rest of the year to amassing said reviews. I relied some on family, friends and my writer's group members, but largely my reviews came from strangers whom I approached via Goodreads. Since I deem my writing style to be in the same vein as Carl Hiaasen, I blindly contacted readers who had reviewed his most recent book (favorably, of course), and offered them one or both of my books in exchange for a review. If they liked it, of course.

Much later, Goodreads told me to stop this, as it violated their self-promotion policy. I honestly thought if I was approaching people with something for free, it wouldn't be considered self-promotion, but I complied. In the end, I must have contacted hundreds of readers. I'd say half replied, and a fraction of those actually read and reviewed one or more books. Oddly, most of the Goodreads readers posted their  reviews only on Goodreads, so I ended up with a few dozen reviews on that site, but only 16 and 12 on Amazon, for Ring of Fire and Battle Axe respectively.

So, a year later it seems like I have enough decent reviews to give the KDP thing another try, including the giveaway days. As I've read the best times to do this are over holiday weekends, I'm doing a two non-consecutive day giveaway on March 30 and April 1, then again over Memorial Day weekend, using up all five days. I'm going with Battle Axe this time, for no particular reason, but I've also heard that having more than one book in the Kindle store makes the giveaway more successful, because once someone reads your free book, there's another one available for them...to purchase.

We shall see and I shall update. In the meantime, if you're in the market for a free humorous suspense novel on March 30 or April 1, 2013, just click here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top 3 Reasons You Need to Do Character Sheets

I initially resisted. In fact, I'm resisting right now, and am only writing this blog post to avoid writing another character sheet. But I'm here to tell you they are as invaluable as they are tedious.

I've been using Scrivener, which is an amazingly robust writing program that allows you to consolidate nearly ALL of your miscellaneous data (research, photos, maps and yes, character sheets) into one document. In fact, it comes with a template built in (see inset below).

While this is a great start, I'm recommending something far more involved. If printed out, the character sheet I use would take up five pages. I can't remember where I got the version I'm using, but here's a current link to it.

Detailed, huh? And yes, it's daunting, but like writing itself, once you get into it, you get more into it. Here's why they're a great training ground before you type those ominous words, "Chapter One."

1. They help you catch your breath. I've been thinking about this novel, its characters, its setting and its plot for literally years now. Have I written anything down? Not much. So these character sheets ease me into the story by way of introducing ME to all my own characters. Like stretching before a marathon, or having your salad before your meal, it's just good solid preparation.

2. They give you ideas. You may think you know what the plot is, and how you're going to get from Point A to Point B, but once these characters start taking shape, they may surprise you. You may invent details about them that lead you down whole new paths--also a good thing. Don't think of it as a diversion or something that's "keeping you from writing," because it IS writing. Plot points, motivations and epiphanies might emerge during this process, so keep an open mind and notepad.

3. They start to write themselves. As you move into pages 2, 3 and beyond on these things, you'll find yourself thinking "what is my character's favorite movie? really?" And then you'll wonder what IS their favorite movie--and why? And that leads to another character trait, maybe due to some family history, and maybe that leads to a bit about their unhappy childhood, and having one parent, and...well, you get the picture. These are your characters, so own them. They deserve to live and breathe, and the more qualities you imbue them with (and make sure it's a mix of good and bad, just to keep it real), the better they'll serve you. I think you'll find they start serving you before you're even done creating them.

I know they're not for everyone (and hell, I didn't even do them for my first two novels, but there's a lot I didn't do for my first two novels that I wish I could have done differently), especially for "pansters," but I say give one a shot. Start with a secondary character--you'll feel you're getting way too deep into their past, their social circle, their wants and dreams, etc. You'll be writing about things you don't think secondary characters even deserve. And that's a good thing--by doing so, even a secondary character becomes more three dimensional and less likely to end up a plot device or stereotype.