Self-Publishing – Your Fellow Authors are not Your Enemies – Let’s Help Each Other

If you are like me, you are aware of the thousands of other authors that are in the self-publishing universe on social media platforms. We all belong to groups on Facebook and we promote our books, blogs, giveaways, and events. We start to see the same names over and over relentlessly touting our work.

As I first entered the self-publishing world, I viewed all of these authors as people that were competing for my readers. I wanted to out-promote and out-sell all of them. Over the past year or so, however, my view has changed. Instead of viewing my fellow authors as competitors, I have come to think of them as fellow pioneers. I selected the word pioneer purposely. Early American pioneers didn’t compete against each other. The amount of land and natural resources available were abundant. Pioneers worked together to build houses and cultivate crops so that they could all survive. If they had competed against each other, it is likely that none would have survived.

Like these early settlers, I believe it is important for self-published authors to work together. Besides writing, I have made it my goal to help authors as much as possible. We are encumbered with a stigma from those in the traditionally published world who perpetuate the notion that our work is not up to the same standard as the work coming out of publishing houses. In many cases, this is not a valid assertion. In some cases, unfortunately, it is true.

So how can we, as self-published authors, help each other? Here are some of the things that I try to do in my quest to pay it forward.

1) Share the lessons I’ve learned – I’m about to publish my third book. The experience of publishing the first book was one that was very daunting. I had no idea how to format my book for the Kindle and paperback platforms. I knew nothing about marketing. I just wasn’t sure what to expect. I read some books (by self-published authors) on how to get started, but a lot of the things that I tried were done on a trial and error basis. I made note of what worked and what didn’t. When it came time to publish my second book, I used some of the techniques that I picked up publishing the first one and it was a much smoother process. I felt like I wanted to share this information with other authors. That is the reason I changed this blog into a weekly post that seeks to help others with their writing and publishing. Starting a blog like this is simple. I highly recommend that other authors do this and occasionally share tips so that we can all improve the craft that we obviously love.

2) Read each other’s work – It is important to read the work of other self-published authors. The first self-published author that I read was Hugh Howey. For those of you that have been under a rock in the self-publishing world, Hugh Howey is the extremely successful standard model for self-published authors. He has made millions with his self-published works and, now that he has gained fame and respect, has doggedly refused to go the traditionally published route. While Hugh Howey is the standard, I make it a point to read work from other self-published authors. I have been pleasantly surprised in some cases and have offered advice in others. On the whole, I think that the assertion that self-published work is of a lower standard is greatly exaggerated.

3) Share your resources – There are certain tasks, as self-published authors, that we should concentrate on. Editing, marketing, cover design, etc. are just a few of the common tasks that we all must undertake to ensure the quality of our work. Everyone has different approaches to these things. Some work very well, and others have mixed success. Let’s share our techniques and tools that we use to handle these tasks. We can all benefit. If you have a great cover designer, for instance, there is no benefit to you to keep their identity and talent a secret. Share their name with other authors. Your cover designer will appreciate the work and the growth in reputation and fellow authors will benefit through having nicely designed covers. This same principle is true for sharing editors, beta readers, and outsourced marketing. I now have all of these things that are traditionally provided by publishing houses in place, and I am more than happy to share with other authors.

4) Make friends with as many authors as possible – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are excellent forums for you to make friends with your fellow self-published authors. You should trade reviews with them, share tips, and promote their work and interviews through your own social media network. Your readers will thank you for introducing them to other work that they may enjoy and you will all benefit from the combined strength of your networks. There are those short-sighted individuals that will yield their limited power and seek to trash your work. It’s just part of human nature. Like bitter movie or restaurant critics, those who disparage your work are just reflecting their own failures in many cases. The trick is to parse their criticism looking for things that you can act on to improve your work. If you find nothing, then acknowledge the uselessness of their critique and move on. Never, ever respond to a negative critique publicly. All this will do is give validation to the negative review and will make you look defensive.

5) Help other authors one-on-one – I recently had the pleasure of returning to my hometown. I had the chance to meet with one of my fellow high-school graduates who is also a self-published author. We traded some tips and agreed to read each others books. It was very enjoyable for me to discuss the things I had gone through face-to-face with someone with common experiences. Additionally, I am participating in my first group author event in April. It will involve networking and book signing. I have received a great deal of help from other authors that have gone through these events before in terms of what I need and how I need to prepare.

The bottom line is, we are all in this together. To use a sports analogy, when Michael Jordan played basketball, his presence on the team raised the game of all of his teammates. He wasn’t selfish in using his talent to help others improve their game. We have people like Hugh Howey who can be compared to the Michael Jordan of self-publishing. He is very willing to share his information and help us all raise our game. We should also seek to share our good information. There are plenty of readers willing to consume our work, so we should seek to provide them with the best quality product possible by working together.

As always, your comments and questions 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 what will be 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.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Keeping Track of Your Characters – Who is Who and What Have They Done?

This week’s blog is another opportunity for me to share a technique that works very well for me during my writing process.  Throughout my personal and professional life, I have been horrible remembering names. I can remember phone numbers, addresses, and useless facts that make me desirable on any trivia team. The writing process has revealed my one memory flaw to be a challenge for me as well when it comes to remembering character names, physical descriptions, life events, and ages.

When I hand wrote my first novel in a series of notebooks, I found myself having to write character names and characteristics in the back of one of the notebooks so that I could flip back and forth whenever I needed to figure out who did what and where they came from.

When I switched to using Scrivener along with my laptop, desktop, and tablet (depending on where I was doing my writing), I tried to come up with a better way to organize my characters and their back story. Let me first say that I don’t like to plot out every detail of my characters’ back stories. I would rather have details revealed to me as they occur or are needed during the story. That being said, failing to keep key details about your characters could come back to bite you. You’ll want to keep track of their marriages, children, illnesses, education, and other things that might end up feed plot elements down the road.

So, how do I do this? I actually have two techniques that have helped me keep things straight. The first is a picture. I create charts, or what I call ‘character maps‘ that are like mini organizational charts for my characters showing who they are and how they relate to each other.

I’ve included one of these charts that I used for my second book as the cover image for this blog. The chart shows groups within some of the key families within the book and how the members relate to each other. In the view of the chart that I included, there are members of three families shown. One of the characters happens to be the murder victim within the book and her designated box is x’ed out to show that she is dead.

I keep the charts related to my current project along with the mind map (see last week’s blog) on a bulletin board near my desk at home. I also have an electronic version of each that I can bring up as needed when I’m writing on my computer while traveling.

Another tool that I use if I need more information on my characters is a matrix showing deeper details about the characters.  I use a row for each character and the columns are used for such details as the character name, what books they’ve appeared in, their physical appearance, etc.

Shown below is an example of the matrix for some of my characters in my Frank Rozzani detective series books:

Character Table

This matrix gives me a quick view of who the characters are, when they first appeared in my work, what their personality traits are, and what significant events shaped who they are. It has been extremely helpful to me and helps me to overcome my memory gaps. It also helps to cut down on inaccuracies that can plague authors when they are writing a series of books featuring the same characters . It may seem like a lot of work, but it can be helpful and actually save time in the long run.

I have seen other suggestions around organizing characters. There are those that espouse writing complete and detailed biographies for your characters. This may work for some authors. I have always been a person that prefers to work smarter and not harder. The information in the character map and the character matrix that I have shared have been enough for me to provide continuity to my work without locking me in to biographical details that might change the characters’ evolution.

I hope that this has been helpful to you as authors.  I believe that as an independent author, with some measure of success, sharing tips with you is the right thing to do. There are plenty of readers out there and if these tips help you to create a better product so that you can entice readers to your work, then I welcome you to use them.

I also wanted to thank those of you that have been reading my blog. Last week, I doubled my best  ‘viewership’ of this blog. As I continue to drum up ideas for a weekly blog, your suggestions are welcome. If there are questions that you have about writing or suggestions for some aspect of writing for which you’d like to see a blog, please let me know and I’ll be happy to entertain them.

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 what will be 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.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

To Outline or Not to Outline – Or is There a Third Choice?

This week’s blog focuses on the topic of whether or not it is better to outline your book or short story before you dive in and write. When I wrote my first book, it was in the days before airplanes allowed tablet devices to be used during that down time before the flight took off. I fly through Atlanta from Jacksonville, FL every week and usually the time waiting to take off exceeds the actual flight time. During those dark ages when ALL electronic devices had to be off and stowed, I wrote my first novel completely in longhand in notebooks. It was an interesting exercise that was very time consuming. I not only had to type everything I wrote later on, but, being a left-handed refugee from Catholic school, my handwriting is pretty horrible and I often had to guess at what I had written.

Needless to say, I did not outline this first book. While it flowed fairly well, it did take a longer period of time to figure out what my characters would do next. I didn’t have an ending in mind and the middle of the book was a struggle.

When I sat down to write my second book, Let Me Be Frank, I had just read a book on how to outline novels. The book extolled the virtues of meticulously outlining the book and writing full character biographies. As I began to perform these tasks, I found that it felt to much like work. I wanted to write, not outline. It was slow going and eventually I abandoned the process and started to go back to my stream-of-consciousness ways.

One Saturday morning, however, a light bulb went on (it was the light in my office). After it was light enough to see my computer, I started pondering different ways to create a road map for my novel without the tedious and limiting exercise of outlining. Then it dawned on me. I had used a technique to lay out complex documents and presentations. I also used this technique to lay out my doctoral dissertation. It is called mind-mapping. Mind-mapping is a visual technique for laying out the things you want to include in your work and then sequence them.

Usually, when I lay out a work-related document or presentation, I know all of the components that need to be included, but I don’t always know the order. Mind-mapping works well for this. The issue in translating this technique to a novel is that you may not know all of the components at the beginning. What I found was that this technique allowed me to think through the story and set up those components at a high level. This helped me avoid the dreaded “muddle in the middle” syndrome where you have the beginning and end of the story set, but the journey to get from one to the other is not clear.

So, what is mind-mapping and how does it work?

It all starts with a white board or a piece of paper. The format is a hub and wheel type configuration. The hub is the title of the book, or if you don’t have one, some working title. You can put it in a circle or other shape right in the middle of whatever you’re drawing on. Then, if you know how your book is going to start, draw some shapes for those early chapters and put a one sentence description in each chapter. For instance, you might have someone getting kidnapped in your book. The first shape might say, “Chapter 1: Susie Gets Kidnapped.” The next shape might read, “Chapter 2: Susie’s Boyfriend Discovers Her Missing.” This continues as far as you can go. If you get stuck in the middle, go to shapes at the end of your map. Maybe the last shape will read “Chapter X: Susie is Found.” You don’t have to number these later chapters until you know how many you’re going to end up with.

Once you have set up the starting and ending chapters, think about how you are going to get from one to the other. It really pays off to take the time to think this through. Remember, you can always change your mind map easily if your characters take you off in a new direction.

This truly is a road map. I would compare your mind map to mapping out a route in an app like Google Maps. You know where you’re starting, you know where your destination is. You are presented with options for your route. You can pick the route that you think will work best, but, if you run into traffic or an accident along the way, you can change your route to get around it. Also, if you want to get off of your route to do some site seeing, you can do so easily and then rely on your app to get you back on your route. The process of mind mapping is just like this. You can change it along the way to suit your needs.

Mind mapping also translates easily into whatever tool you might be using to write your novel or short story. I use Scrivener, which is a very popular writing application. Scrivener actually has a cork board within the app where you can set up “index cards” with short descriptions of your chapters and scenes within those chapters. You can take the descriptions from the shapes in your mind map and put them directly into these index cards and you have a pseudo outline for your work that can easily be changed or rearranged.

Once you have your mind map created, keep it with you as you write so that you can move from chapter to chapter easily. Don’t be afraid, however, to make changes. Your writing should not be fenced in if new and exciting detours emerge during your creative process.

To see what a mind map looks like, I’ve set the image for this blog to be the mind map that I set up for my book, Let Me Be Frank. If you want more information on mind mapping, please be sure to post your questions or you can contact me through my web site and I’ll be glad to share what I have learned about them.

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 what will be 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.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Independent Authors, How Do You Market Your Book and Still Find Time to Write?

This week, I want to address and issue that is a difficult one for me and, I suspect, for many other independent authors. Let me first define what I mean by the term “independent author”. An independent author is one that is not using a literary agent, has not signed a deal with a traditional publisher, and is responsible for the editing, marketing, and promoting of their book.

If this sounds like you, then you fall into this category. Now, given the choice between writing, and the other peripheral activities I mentioned, I would prefer to only write and not worry about the other activities. The reality for most of us is, unless you have unlimited funds, is that some or all of these tasks fall on our shoulders.

The difficulty with this for me is that I hate self-promotion, self-marketing, and blowing my own horn. The fact that I have to promote something that I created (and may be insecure about) is counter-intuitive. I just want to sit in a room, come up with ideas, and write about them. I do want to share my work with readers, but I don’t want to do the dirty work.

When I wrote my first book, I did what a lot of you have done or will do. I sent out query letters to countless literary agents and publishing houses. After weeks of waiting, I received either negative or no replies. I read about other authors that struggled for years through rejection after rejection and finally signed a first book for a minimal advance and received minimal marketing. I had three problems with this. The first is that I was 51 years old and I didn’t have years and years to see if this venture was going to work out. Second, I’m not very patient. I had that burning desire to see my book in print and share it with others. Third, I had little respect for what agents and publishers thought of as marketable. I had read many traditionally published books that were of dubious quality. I didn’t want to put my future as a writer in the hands of a few ivory tower-based snobs that would look at a 51 year old first time author and turn away without reading my work.

This is when I began to look at the world of independent publishing. Outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have lent credibility and attention to self-publishing. As I researched this outlet, I read books about independent publishing. I also looked for other authors to model myself after. One of the most successful and forthcoming examples is the Author, Hugh Howey.  His Sand and Wool series of books went from short stories to New York Times Best Sellers. He is a strong advocate for self-publishing and independent authors and shares a great deal of his knowledge.

My first book was published in April. Like the books advised, I set up keywords on Amazon, I set up a Facebook page and a web site. I then began the arduous task of trying to get the word out. I started with friends and family. A few copies sold and then, one of the most powerful marketing tools, word of mouth, kicked in. I tried other tactics like free book days on Amazon, Facebook ads, and other advertising outlets. I then began to join as many book and author Facebook groups as possible. I also concentrated on Twitter by seeking out book groups and authors, following them, and tweeting them directly with news of my book. I sent out press releases to every newspaper that I could find. Over 100 press releases yielded a two sentence blurb in my hometown newspaper. I saw that as a success.

I soon found myself posting in Facebook groups and sending tweets for 2-3 hours per day when I could spare the time. Remember, I have a 50-60 hour per week day job, so the weekends, a time when I like to be with my family, started with posting to social media. Eventually, however, a light went off in my head regarding two aspects of the promotional predicament.

The first is, once your book is published, it is there for eternity or until you take it down. There is not an urgency to promote it within a certain period of time before it expires. You definitely want to build up as the release approaches and try to secure preorders, but once it’s there, it’s not going away and you can try new tactics periodically.

The second aspect is that there are ways to make the promotion tasks more efficient or outsource them altogether. I have found software packages that help me to post to social media in a semi-automated way that is more natural and will not land me in “Facebook Jail”, which I’m sure some of you are familiar with. I have also found a fantastic editor that I trust and that trusts me. I may not be able to pay her much at all right now, but she knows that if these books take off, she will be pulled along for the ride.

Additionally, I have found a promotion person with a proven track record working with independently published authors. He has taken many authors into the ranks of success and I am hoping that I join them. The best part about using these services is that they are cafeteria style. I can ramp up when I’m releasing a book. My judicious spending has resulted in podcast and radio interviews, reviews, and blog tours. There is also a sense of credibility in having my book promoted by a third party.

At this point, I still do a good bit of promotion on my own, but, as I mentioned in an earlier blog that centered on writing when you have a full-time day job, I organize my time spent on promotion. I dedicate blocks on certain days to post and do other promotional activities. The other designated time is reserved for writing and nothing else.

I hope this has been helpful to you. If you have any questions about the tools I use, my editor, or my promotion person, please reach out. I have no problem sharing their information. I’m sure they can help you as much as they have helped me and others.

As always, your comments and questions 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 what will be 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.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com