Indie Authors – What is your toughest challenge? Part I of an ongoing series

As an author, there are significant challenges. Finding original ideas and turning them into something interesting is a significant challenge. If you are a traditionally published author, you have to not only find an idea that interests you, but it has to interest your publisher as something marketable and viable so that they can make money. You also have to please your agent so that they will push your work on a publisher.

As an independent author, coming up with ideas, in my opinion, is the smallest hurdle to be faced. Because we are independent, we are free to publish whatever interests us and then take that work directly to the readers. One thing that indie authors discover quickly through social media, there are niche reader markets for just about every genre you can think of. If you like to right paranormal zombie western romance erotica, there will be a group that will read it.

My own genre, private investigator mysteries, seems to appeal to readers of a certain ‘seasoned’ age. That’s fine with me. I will join that demographic in the next ten years or so and these retiring baby boomers have time to read and money to buy books.

I deviated from this genre for my terrorism thriller, Blood Orange, and found that, indeed, the demographics of the readers that favored this book changed. This is something that, as an independent author, I believe you can get away with by searching out the appropriate niche for your writing.

After landing on what genre you want to write in, there are many other challenges that the independent author faces. Becoming known is a significant challenge. When I first started out, I put my first book on Amazon and hoped for the best. My friends and family bought some and posted some reviews.

At this early stage, I got some help from a self-proclaimed expert promoter of independent authors. I did get some traction from some of the things that this person helped me with. Interviews and reviews appeared on various blogs. I was interviewed on a podcast, and slowly but surely, my exposure grew a bit.

I soon found that the techniques that this person was using to help me gain exposure were easily achievable on my own. I gradually started to take these things on and found that my reader base continued to grow steadily.

Getting good, constructive reviews on Amazon and other platforms is a great start. It can be a slow process, however, building up a collection of reviews. One technique that helps is offering your book for free over a weekend. During my first giveaway, I had over 1,000 copies of my first book downloaded and I saw the reviews begin to grow. With the reviews came additional readers.

I want to make this blog post the first in a series that deals with the challenges that we face as indie authors. What I need are your ideas and feedback regarding the challenges that you’ve faced. One thing I learned early on is that I am not competing with my fellow indie authors. We are all in this together and can learn from each other.

So, let’s help each other. Let’s share challenges and ideas so we can grow as a community.

I look forward to your comments and feedback.

 

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A Special Gift for My Readers and Those Yet to Become My Readers

As I started my writing career, I began as many writers do, writing short stories. About a year ago, I looked back on the short stories that I had written and decided that they might be fun to put in a collection.

I know short story books aren’t as popular to read as full-blown novels, but they do have value as quick escapes for the reader. As a writer, they’re a way to get readers familiar with your writing style and maybe encourage reading of longer works as they are published.

Since writing my first short story, I have published four fiction and two non-fiction books. I published my short story collection, Random Tales, nearly a year ago. I really haven’t aggressively promoted it and I haven’t really been sure what to do with it other than let it flounder on the Amazon virtual shelves…until now.

For a very limited time, during the weekend of January 22nd – 24th, I will be giving my short story collection away for free on Amazon. After that, I will be pricing it permanently at 99 cents. In anticipation of my free promotion of this collection, I will tell you a little bit about how each story emerged over the next four days leading up to the Friday start of the free download.

There are four stories in the collection. They are all very different. Here is a summary of each:

  • Heal Thyself – A man who is in a terrible accident wakes up to find that his life has changed forever in a very unexpected way.
  • August 1963 – A story that was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I have a dream’ speech about a young boy transplanted to the South in the early 1960’s.
  • Play It Again Des – A young piano player realizes his dream of being one of the greats, but at what cost?
  • Lucy’s Christmas Miracle – A dog saves the day and makes Christmas memorable.

As I mentioned earlier, I will be telling you a bit about the inspiration for each story in the days leading up to the free book giveaway. I hope you enjoy reading the stories as much as I enjoyed writing them. If you absolutely can’t wait for the book to be free or priced at $.99 after 1/24/16, you can get a copy here.

As always, your comments, questions, and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

Behind the Story of Blood Orange

I remember reading an interview with Stephen King where he said that the single most hated question that he receives from fans and critics is, “where do you get your ideas?” His snarky answer, after being asked the question countless times was, “I have a big box in the basement labeled ‘ideas’ that I go to every time I write a book or a story.”

Blood Orange is my fourth book. My previous three books were detective novels. The ideas for those books mostly came from my imagination with specific real life people forming composites that became each character. With Blood Orange, the story came to me from a different source. A good friend of mine from high school who may or may not admit to being in the marching band with me, but would definitely admit to a long and distinguished career in the US Navy, reached out to me after reading one of my books. He had a story idea rattling around in his head for a while. He went as far as contact Clive Cussler to see if he was interested. He received a handwritten note back from Mr. Cussler telling him that the story idea was a good one, but he did not take unsolicited story ideas and was quite busy with many works in progress.

I was intrigued by my friend, Brian Fogarty’s idea. It appealed to me on two levels. First, we are from the same hometown, Syracuse, New York. Syracuse is known for two things, snow and college basketball. I moved from Syracuse to Florida 20 years ago and I miss one of those things, but the other, not so much. College basketball was a passion that got us through the long winters. We lived and died with our team. The premise in the book, from which I published an excerpt in my previous blog, describes the Syracuse basketball fan’s ultimate dream; Syracuse playing Duke in the championship game which miraculously takes place in the Carrier Dome, the iconic Syracuse Basketball arena. The book builds up this dream and then shatters it.

The second aspect of the story builds upon a factual historical event that took place in Syracuse nearly 100 years ago. At that time, World War I was nearing its end. The manufacture of munitions and gun powder in the U.S. was extremely important to the war effort. In July of 1918, a horrific tragedy took place at a munitions plant called Split Rock in what is now the Camillus area of Syracuse. Brian’s brilliant idea was to take that tragedy and turn it into something more sinister and conspiratorial. Without giving away the premise, we did this and then tied the original, factual tragedy to the modern day potential tragedy.

It involved taking something very positive that occurred in a community and turning it into an unspeakable tragedy. It was both an interesting and painful journey to take. While researching many of the terrorist aspects of the book, I waited to hear the knock on the door from the NSA looking to seize my computers. It was also concerning how much information is readily available on the Internet regarding terrorism tactics.

For all it’s worth, Blood Orange was a very personal journey that was rewarding because I got to collaborate with a distinguished veteran who also happens to be a friend. I also was able to write about my hometown and hopefully jinx any kind of tragedy from happening there by writing about it.

If you want to read an excerpt, just check out my previous blog for one of the early chapters.  If you want to read the reviews and check it out on Amazon, just click here.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

Welcome to 2016 – Now Let’s Talk

2016

Last night, as I struggled to stay awake, I watched Carson Daly try to control four intoxicated guests in the foreground of Times Square as they waited for midnight and the ball to drop signifying 2016. As they waited, they recapped the “top” stories of 2015. Most of the stories mentioned were the typical celebrity fluff. NBC and Daly seemed to strategically skirt the tragic terrorist attacks in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. I can’t say that I was looking for hard news in this setting, but at least a moment of silence or some form of acknowledgment for the victims of these attacks might have been appropriate.

Now that I’m sounding like an old man complaining about the younger generation, my actual point is quite different. I spent the better part of 2015 researching and writing a book called Blood Orange. The book centers on a devastating terrorist attack on a highly-visible soft target in the United States.

The book’s original date of publication was set for November 13, 2015, the night of the Paris attack. I promoted the book heavily leading up to the publishing date spending a good deal of money on social media advertising.

When the attacks in Paris happened, I was out to dinner with my wife and two daughters. We were watching the coverage on my cell phone and wondering who was behind it. Not long after we began watching the coverage, I received a text from my editor. She asked me if I thought I should pull the book promotion based on what happened in Paris. It didn’t take me long to make that decision. While I was disappointed because I believe in the story the book tells, I didn’t want to be insensitive or appear to be taking advantage of a horrible event for personal gain.

Now that time has passed, and like we always do, Americans have put the tragic events in Paris and Bakersfield behind them, I want to move forward with promoting this book. Blood Orange is important to me in that it shows how vulnerable we are in the United States. We live in a wonderful country with a great deal of freedom. Terrorism, whether foreign or domestic, cripples us in two ways. First, there is the grief for the victims and the disgust of the act. Second, when behavior is changed because of terrorism, the terrorists score a victory.

I am glad I made the decision to pull the promotion for my book, but, at the same time, I am angry that these soulless, misguided individuals that carried out the attacks made me change my behavior.

With that in mind, please indulge me as I begin to heavily promote this book. Those who have read it have been extremely positive in their reactions. Can the story the book tells happen in the United States? Absolutely. Will my writing this book prevent it from happening? Probably not. The story is meant to entertain. It’s not meant to scare or anger its readers.

I’ll be using this space in the next few weeks to tell you about the book and give you some excerpts. My goal is to entice you to buy it, of course, but I also want to take this book out of the shadows and promote it like I originally intended.

If you’d like to read the reviews or get a preview of the book, you can check it out here on Amazon.com.

I am looking forward to 2016. At a time when people are setting (and breaking) resolutions, my sole resolution is to go for it this year. This is my third year of writing and publishing novels. I hope to continue and increase the success I have had thus far. I feel like this is a pivotal year. I hope you come along with me on the journey.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

He has also published a well-received short story collection that is available on Amazon.com.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

How Doing Time in Facebook Jail Helped Me Rethink My Book Marketing

I haven’t posted a new blog in a couple of weeks. There are a couple of reasons for that. My new book, Frank Incensed, came out on April 24th and coincided with an author event in Jacksonville, FL. In addition to those events, I did a stint in ‘Facebook Jail’. For those of you that don’t know what ‘Facebook Jail’ (FBJ) is, it’s a term I may or may not have coined to designate the restrictions that Facebook can temporarily put on it’s users that aggressively try to market products or services through the various groups that are part of this social media giant. I was prohibited from joining or posting in groups until today, May 4th, 2015.

It’s my own fault that this happened. In previous blogs, I have talked about the automated software that I use to post to Facebook groups while I do other things (like work at my day job and write). The software, when used properly, posts to Facebook in a very natural way that doesn’t emulate the spamming behavior that other social media posting programs emulate. The software is great when used correctly. The behavior that landed me in FBJ was my exuberance over the release of my new book and my gradual pushing of the envelope using the posting software.  I belong to over 1,000 groups related to books and blogs. At the time I was put into FBJ, I was posting from two computers to over 800 groups on each. Bad idea. It caught up with me.

My first reaction was to get mad at Facebook and complain to them. Because they are a giant, multi-billion dollar company and have no semblance of living, breathing customer service, my complaints were basically just a venting exercise. I accused them of clamping down on small business just to drive entrepreneurs with limited budgets toward Facebook advertising. After several similar complaints from me, the parole board remained unmoved and my sentence remained in place until May 4th.

So, why should you care about this? Am I boycotting Facebook? Um…no. Am I going to lobby to have them change their policies? Not a chance. What I did do was take a long, hard look at my marketing strategy and I changed it. Before I talk about what I changed, let me tell you the results that I’ve had since the change:

  • My new book, Frank Incensed, came out on Amazon on the 24th of April with 19 four and five star reviews. This was six more than my previous book achieved over six months.
  • My giveaway on Good Reads of my previous book, Let Me Be Frank, resulted in nearly 1,000 entrants for the prize of 3 signed copies.
  • My two day free promotion of my first book in the Frank Rozzani Series, Frankly Speaking, that ran this past Friday and Saturday resulted in nearly 1,500 downloads.
  • My sales for the month of April are the highest of any month since I published my first book.
  • I’ve added a significant number of subscribers to my newsletter mailing list

These are very interesting results. At the time I thought my most vital marketing channel was unavailable, Then I read about an indie author from the UK named Mark Dawson. Mark is an author of thrillers and has published two series of books, the John Milton and Soho Noir books. Mark is an advocate of two broad strategies, cultivating a mailing list and using social media advertising.

You’re probably saying, “Whatever, I’ve tried those things and they don’t work.” Well, I thought so too until I saw that these strategies netted mark $400,000 in book revenue in one month. Based on that, I thought I would give some of his techniques a try. The results that I reported above show some measure of success…not quite at the Mark Dawson level, but stay tuned over the coming months.

I said these were broad strategies, so let me give you some insight into the specific things that I tried so that you can give them a try if you would like.

  • Targeted advertising for my book release: I ran ads on Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. I know this sounds costly, but I set maximum budgets of $10 per day on each platform and ran the ads for three days.

Note: I attempted to run an ad for my book on Amazon and it was rejected. When I inquired into the reason, it was due to my book cover having “blood spatter” on it. I found this surprising since both the Kindle and CreatSpace publishing platforms accepted my book cover, but Amazon ads rejected it. When I inquired, I was told that each of those entities make their own decisions. It was disappointing, but I’m not going to change the book cover.  Here is what it looks like. What do you think?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]

  • I leveraged my mailing list. I sent out an email to my subscribers asking if they would like an advanced reader copy (ARC) of my new book. About 15% of my list graciously agreed to read the book and of those that received a copy, more than 50% reviewed the book on Goodreads or Amazon on the day of it’s release helping my ranking a great deal.
  • I used inexpensive Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads ads to promote my two free days for Frankly Speaking. When I looked back at the results, I surpassed previous free book days that were promoted through posting to groups.
  • My Twitter ads have resulted in an acceleration in the number of quality followers that I have picked up.

I will be posting more about this marketing journey as I resume my weekly blogs. Interestingly enough, my blog will be the only portion of my brand that I will continue to post in Facebook groups. I have seen good results from this. I will, however, be more judicious with how aggressive I am in posting. I don’t want to be a repeat offender.

For now, I recognize the methods that I was using, while they made me feel like I was accomplishing something, they really weren’t that effective. If you are an indie author that is continuing to send your posts out to a large number of groups asking people to buy your books, you need to ask yourself some hard questions and reexamine what you are doing. Sponsored ads from social media do get traction. Posting your book to groups where the only audience is other authors, might not get you the results that you need.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

He has also published a well-received short story collection that is available on Amazon.com.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com