Writing Influences – Who are Yours?

I am passionate about writing mostly because, throughout my life, I have been passionate about reading.  When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood that had very few children. I lived in a house on a busy road that served as the main access road to a hospital emergency road. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was about 13.

I realized early on that my only escape was reading. I read everything I could get my hands on. Luckily, I lived in a house that had collected a lot of books over the years. My brother is 13 years older, so there were many books that he read as a child hanging around.

somerville-two-familyThe house I lived in was over 100 years old and the full-sized walk-in attic had a finished room that was once a laboratory for a scientist that lived in the house. There were bookshelves with all kinds of very old books and encyclopedias.

wwiI knew that the encyclopedias were old when they listed an event called ‘The Great War’. It hadn’t earned the label ‘World War I’ yet because the books were published before World War II. I also found another book that had a clipped newspaper article wedged in the pages that covered the funeral of President George Washington. It was a fascinating place full of discoveries and fertilizer for the imagination.

bobbseyThe first books I can remember reading that were ‘chapter books’, as the kids call them today, was the Bobbsey Twins series written under the pen name, Laura Lee Hope. The books, published first in 1904 and followed the adventures of two sets of fraternal twins. These books were predecessors to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books (which I also read). Since my brother was so much older and was married and out of the house when I was seven, these books taught me about families with multiple siblings and made me wish I had a twin or even another sibling closer in age that I could play with.

Around this time, I started writing my own stories. I remember writing a series of illustrated stories based on the character “Tiny the Giant” when I was about eight or nine. Tiny experienced all manner of adventures with special attention paid to his enormous size in relation to his friends. It was sort of a Clifford the Big Red Dog kind of scenario.

godfatherI remember the first adult-oriented book that I read. It was The Godfather. My parents went off with the rest of the adult members of my Italian family to see the movie in 1972. My mom had read the book and then put it on our bookshelves telling me not to read it. Of course, I did, and I was transported by the style of writing. I’m sure there were parts of it that I didn’t understand, but the sense of family among the brutal events of an organized crime syndicate resonated with me.

jawsI also read Jaws after sneaking it out of the library a few years later. I had seen the movie and was amazed at how different the book and movie turned out to be. That was the first of many such experiences.

Flashing forward to my senior year of high school, I had a great English teacher that introduced the class to a number of classics that I still reflect on today. Among them were To Kill A Mockingbird (one of my all time favorites), Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, The Fixer, and many others. It was a refreshing change from books like Ethan Fromme and The Heart of Darkness that I suffered through in my junior year.

Around that same time, I was introduced to Stephen King’s works. I immediately took to these books as I experienced feelings I had never felt before as I read books like Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Stand. These books shed the conventional constraints on back story, character development and length as King transported his readers with rich, complex sagas that scared the bejeepers out of them. It was the first book I ever read that literally scared me enough to keep me awake.

Around this time, I also read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time. That was another series of books that transported the reader to a totally fabricated world with rich, complex characters.

In my adult life, I’ve added other authors that have influenced my reading and writing life. Jonathan Kellerman, Harlan Coben and, to some extent, Dean Koontz and James Patterson have influenced the types of fiction I enjoy. I’ve also gone back to red classic books from authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens and have enjoyed them thoroughly while learning a lot about writing.

frankly_speakingThe pivotal moment in my writing career began about four years ago when I was sitting on a plane waiting to fly from Jacksonville, Florida to Chicago for a project related to my ‘day job’. We were delayed because of weather and I had nothing with me to read. After flipping through the airline magazine, I pulled a notebook and a pen out of my computer bag and began to write a short story based on a news headline I had seen. By the time I landed in Chicago, I had about 3,500 words written and had completed a story that I didn’t think was half-bad. After typing it out, I decided to start working on something more ambitious. My first novel, Frankly Speaking, was born and filled two and a half notebooks with barely legible longhand. I then began sharing bits and pieces of it on a writing group web site where I received some very constructive criticism. The bottom line was, I had a pretty good story and my writing didn’t suck too badly.

The next step was to let my biggest supporter and toughest critic read it. That would be my wife. She is not an enthusiastic reader, but my book captivated her and she encouraged me to publish it.

I first sent out queries to literary agents and received a good number of rejections. I had no idea what I was doing. I then heard about publishing through Amazon and was hooked. I’m not sure I would have ever pursued writing as far as I have without this option. I’m in my fifties and I only have so much time for rejection.

So, here I am, almost four years in and I have five novels in the Frank Rozzani Detective Series complete. Another standalone thriller novel, Blood Orange has seen some success and is now my first book offered in audio book form. I also have a book of short stories, Random Tales, that includes that first story I wrote on the plane to Chicago called Heal Thyself. I have two more books that I’ll likely release this year.

I’ve exceeded my goal of publishing a single book in my lifetime and I’m busy establishing new goals.

That leads me to ask the authors out there, what kind of experiences led you to become an author? What/who influenced you and has the writing experience fulfilled you?

Indie authors, do you read work by other indie authors?

Over the past two years, I have done book reviews sporadically on my blog. Mostly the reviews were for detective/mystery novels by well-known authors. As an indie author, I avoided reading work by other indie authors. I made some exceptions early on reading books by Nicholas Rossis and my good high school friend Nick Davis. Both of those reading experiences were positive.

Lately, I read works by John Howell, an author and blogger well known to many of you. I enjoyed reading his work and I believe the reviews I posted resulted in some positive exposure for John.

This led me to approaching the reading of work by indie authors in a different light. I’m going to continue to read and review work by indie authors as another outlet for helping the community. I am going to lay out some ground rules, however:

  1. I will not have a set schedule for reviewing indie works
  2. I will not accept requests to review books. I want it to be spontaneous and something I continue to enjoy
  3. If a book is not at a a certain level of quality in terms of formatting, story telling, grammar, etc., I will likely not finish it and will not post a review.

I really want to continue to help indie authors and I think posting negative reviews will defeat that purpose.

Anyway, I’m already in the process of reading an indie author’s book and will be posting a review sometime this week. Hopefully some of you who do not generally post reviews will emulate this process and pick up one of my books or another indie author that needs some exposure.

If you have thoughts on this, please let me know.

Hugh Howey – Hero of the Indie Author

hugh howeyIf you are an independent author and you don’t know who Hugh Howey is, you should. He recently gave an interview to Digital Book World and he doesn’t back down on his opinions about independent publishing. I hope you enjoy this interview:



What Steps Do You Follow Leading Up To A Book Launch? – Part 1

I’m about to launch my eighth book in a month or so. As I start laying the ground work to get to that goal, I’ve been looking back on the steps that I’ve taken with each one. I want to look at what’s been successful and what hasn’t. Trial and error has been my method and I’ve tried to hang on to the things that work and that fit in to my schedule.  I’ve tried to look at where to spend some money and where I can do things on my own.

In laying these steps out for you, I’m going to separate things into what worked, what didn’t, what you should pay for, what you shouldn’t, and what order you should do these things in.

Disclaimer: These steps assume that you are an independent author (I prefer this term to self published since we are not physically printing and binding books). If you are a traditionally published author, congratulations to you. I was too old when I jumped into the writing pool and I’ve already had enough rejection to last me a lifetime, so indie-publishing was the ticket for me.

The First Draft

What do you do first? This question may not be as easily answered as you think. You’re probably thinking write the book. That may indeed be the first step. For my first book, it definitely was. I started writing it and soon began to question my sanity. Why was I spending my free time while on glamorous (not) business trips writing a book while all of my co-workers were out having fun. There were many reasons, but above all, it felt like something I should do.

The first draft was written completely longhand in notebooks. Although I would not do that again (my writing is hard to read), it was like taking a first draft and editing it when I typed it in. In this first effort, to my editor’s horror, I punctuated every bit of dialog incorrectly. I could have sworn that the period went outside of the quote.

At any rate, I turned this first manuscript over to my wife first. After 30 years of marriage, I knew she wouldn’t spare my feelings if the book sucked. To my delight, she loved it. This gave me the courage to turn the book over to a generous friend of mine who is a talented editor. She agreed to edit this first book for free (with the promise of later riches).

I highly recommend getting an editor you are comfortable with. My editor’s process is to read the manuscript as a book first and give me her impressions of things that do and don’t work. She then goes through it in iterations for punctuation, grammar and usage. These latter things have gotten better on the first pass with each book. Luckily, I have not run into any insurmountable story elements that have required a massive rewrite.

Cover Design

Traditionally, when I turn that first draft over to my editor, it’s time to get the cover design nailed down. For my first book, I designed my own cover and it looked like garbage. Check it out below: FS Book Cover

For one thing, I am not a big fan of the color yellow, and for another it doesn’t say anything about the story. When I published on Amazon with this cover, the sales didn’t exactly jump through the roof.

I decided to try out one of the freelance sites. I used Fiverr.com. This site offers all kinds of services. Of particular interest to indie authors are the book cover design, editing, and book trailer services. I was particularly lucky that I picked a cover designer for the Frank Rozzani series that really nailed it. For $50 he provided a fully editable, multi-layer .PSD cover for the print book and a front cover for the eBook.

The book is about a young girl that is kidnapped. Behind the scenes, the main character, Detective Frank Rozzani, has mob figures from his past haunting him. From this brief description, I ended up with this cover instead:

Newcover - Small

I was very pleased with it and have used this designer on every cover up until my most recent two books. He was from Pakistan and has disappeared from Fiverr. I was fairly happy with the cover of my last book, which was not one in the Frank Rozzani series. My upcoming book is, however, and I had a great deal of back and forth getting it finalized with the designer.

That’s enough for this post. In my next post on this topic, I’ll be talking about getting a book trailer completed along with getting your social media platforms ready for a new book.

Upcoming posts will talk about press releases and tricks for getting newspaper and television interviews.

Writing Your First Book – Where Do You Start?

Every time I attend an author event, there is always the attempt to separate authors into the two camps of those who meticulously outline and those that write completely by the seat-of-the-pants, affectionately known as ‘pantsers’.

I sat and listened to the virtues of these two camps and decided that I am firmly planted in a third camp. I don’t outline every chapter, but I do like a road map. I consider my method more visual and less rigid than outlining, but, to continue the road map analogy, I don’t like to just get in the car and go in whatever direction the road takes me.

I do let my characters and their personalities drive within the conscripts of my loose road map, but I don’t confine them to one road. If they want to take the scenic route, I’m open to that.

So, how does this process work, I’ll try to lay it out for you the best that I can. I’m gearing this toward the writing of fiction. Non-fiction, in my opinion, works a bit differently.

Step 1 – Come Up With an Idea

Sounds easy, right. It’s not really. A good story has to have a great beginning. In this world of instant gratification and short attention spans, you’ve got to grab your reader from the beginning. I think we’d all agree that you need a good ending. Nothing is more of a letdown than investing your time in a book only to have an ending that disappoints. (Have you read The Firm).

The thing that writers struggle with the most is the middle (often called ‘the muddle’). If your book meanders off into dark corners and doesn’t recover well, you’ll lose your readers.

Make sure your idea is strong and has a strong second act.

Step 2 – The Mind Map

The mind map is a technique I’ve used in my consulting career to storyboard presentations, but it translates well to writing. It is a visual representation of your book that starts with the book title in a cloud in the middle of the picture and connected rectangles surrounding it. Each rectangle represents an idea which could be a chapter. I use one or two sentences in each rectangle to represent the main idea of the chapter. Here is a mind map that I used for my second book, Let Me Be Frank.

Mind Map - Frank 2

When I created this mind map, I left the chapter numbers off so that I would have the latitude to re-order them if needed. This mind map allows me to move into the next phase of building the novel seamlessly.

Step 3 – Set Up Your Tool of Choice

My tool of choice for writing is Scrivener. It’s an industry-standard tool and has some built in utilities that are very useful. The thing I like about it is that it emulates the old corkboard and index card method of writing about as closely as an electronic word processing tool can.

When I open up a new project in Scivener, I go right to the corkboard view and lay out my chapters just as they are in my mind map. Here is what it looks like from the same book.


You’ll notice that none of my chapters have numbers. Scrivener will automatically number them based on the order that I put them in on the cork board. In this view, you can drag and drop to your hear’s content.

I usually set up my entire book before I write. Then I can drill down into the next step.

Step 4 – Set Up Scenes Within Uour Chapters

Just like the chapter view, Scrivener gives me a scene view. As I write each chapter, I set up scenes within it. The scenes usually correspond with a change in the setting. They can be long or short. A chapter can contain a single scene or many. In my view, each chapter is a self contained story, or episode, within the book. A corkboard view for a single chapter is shown below.


I don’t want this post to be a commercial for Scrivener, but it’s the tool I use and if you’re wanting something that organizes your writing better than just a straight word processor, it’s worth checking out. Like the full book view, you can rearrange the cards on the corkboard to change the order of scenes.

Step 5 – Other Visualization Methods

As I complete each chapter in the book, I like to use other tools to see if I’m on track. One tool that I have talked about in the past that is a popular social media trending tool is generating a word cloud. Word clouds count how many times a word is used in a certain context and generates a graphic with the most used words in a larger size, more prominent color, or both. I did this with one of my detective books and was pleased with the result shown below:

Frank 2 - Chapter 2

In another example, I wrote a short story about a boy named Desmond that sells his soul to an evil character named Lou to become a great jazz pianist. The result is below:

Des Cloud

There are several free Internet tools that will do this.

As for the steps that are left, they include things like:

  • Finish writing your book
  • Enlist the help of an editor
  • Fix the things the editor finds
  • Design a cover
  • Market it
  • Sell it
  • Spend your riches

Of course, I will expand on many of these in future posts. Also, I have a book with many of these tips spelled out in more detail that is available on Amazon that you can get by clicking the cover below.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00054]

I look forward to hearing from fellow authors on the steps you use. Please comment as you see fit.

Author Talk – Featuring Nicholas T. (Nick) Davis

Nick MugshotThis is the inaugural interview for my blog. I wanted to start out with a special author. Nick Davis is a friend of mine. We have known each other since we were students at East Syracuse-Minoa High School (Class of 1980). We had lost touch until a couple of years ago when we realized we had some things in common. We both write books and we both are musicians.

We had a chance to connect last year when I was back in my hometown of Syracuse, New York. We’ve been in touch ever since bouncing ideas off of each other. When I decided to start interviewing authors as a new feature on my Blog, I thought Nick would be the best person to start off with.

His latest book, Dimension Lapse II: Return to Doomsday, is a great read and the second in a series. I posed some questions to Nick about his writing and the book and here they are.

DM: Nick, what’s the title and genre of the book you want to tell us about?

ND: Dimension Lapse II: Return to Doomsday, science fiction

DM: Can you summarize your book in one short sentence?

ND: The story is about a young woman who travels into the future, and into another universe through a wormhole to find out what happened to her father.

DM: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?

ND: I like to think my audience might be young men in their twenties. It’s a fast paced science fiction adventure full of action and suspense.

DM: Well I read it and enjoyed it and I’m in my twenties (plus another thirty). Anyway, how did you come up with the title?

ND: Back in my twenties, I used to watch the Twilight Zone a lot, and when Rod Serling (a Syracuse University grad) spoke about other dimensions of space and time, it gave me the idea. I also was a big fan of Star Trek and other space shows and books of the sixties era.

DM: Tell me about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

ND: I’m not sure who designed the artwork, I imported it from a free site. I designed the cover using the Adobe Lightroom program. I picked this particular cover because it best represented the story I was trying to tell.

DM: What are your biggest writing influences (another author, another book, a movie, etc.)

ND: I was first influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, but I also loved to read Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein.

DM: Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

ND: Balta, because of his sly and clever nature and quest for power. I designed him after all of the most villainous characters I could think of from literary works and film.

DM: How about your least favorite character?  What makes them less appealing to you?

ND: That would have to be Malone. He is a miserable human being at best, and is always trying to find the easy way out of things.

DM: If you could change ONE thing about your novel, what would it be?

ND: I would have gone further into the Zacharian’s history.

DM: Give me a fun fact or a few about your book or series:

ND: Jeff and Rollings had met before on Mars, but it was so brief they didn’t remember each other the second time around.

DM: What other books are similar to your own?  What makes them alike?

ND: A wrinkle In Time, Dr. Who series, The Time Machine. They all deal with alternate realities and universes.

DM: I know the answer to this, but do you have any unique talents or hobbies?

ND: I also oil paint, write music and play keyboards.

DM: How can we find out more about you and your books?

ND: You can visit my blog at https://ntdavis18dotcom.wordpress.com or my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NTDAVISDIMENSIONLAPSE/.

My novels are available on Amazon, Smashwords, or Lulu, and are in paperback, hardcover, and on kindle and Nook.

DM: What can we expect from you in the future?

ND: I’m working on the third book of my series, and can see at least three more editions added to it. I’m also working on another children’s book.

DM: What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?

ND: After reading it, posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads, and spreading the word of the tales of Jeff Walker, Angelica Avery, and others of the Dimension Lapse universe.

DM: Do you have any advice for other writers trying to get published?

ND: Find an editor early in the game, to avoid the frustration self editing can be, and even if sales are slow, write because you love it and it’s in your blood.

DM: Can you give us an excerpt from your book to intrigue and tantalize us?

Angelica could feel a rush of cold air from the open section of the ceiling that was torn apart by an explosion. Frozen nitrogen covered part of the walls and floor at the far end of the complex. She entered, shocked and unable to believe what she saw. There was destroyed machinery and rubble, and it didn’t look like any of the computers could ever be operational again. Walking through, she could see human bones scattered amongst the rubble, decayed and charred. There was also something else, something alien. Some of the skulls looked like some form of primate, but with only one eye socket, and then there was some kind of insect exoskeleton, which had six limbs, but obviously walked as a biped. There were also decayed pieces of some kind of humanoid, but not quite human.

It was obvious to her there was some kind of battle here, and an explosion as well. The walls were burned from extreme heat, and ash was everywhere. To the right, there was what appeared to be a landing deck for spaceships of some kind, but most of them were shattered or unusable. Angelica now assumed whatever happened, her father was in the middle of it somehow. She started to cry, but stopped, knowing that it would only use her oxygen supply quicker. She was curious to find out if the air was breathable, so she pulled out a small sensor from her suit pocket and activated the button that checked the air quality. Seeing it was Oxygen, but more Nitrous Oxide, and extremely cold, she felt it would be safer to keep her helmet on for now, and keep her suit temperature control at 68°.

Putting the sensor back, she pulled out her pistol again, and walked in the direction of where the catwalk was. The catwalk ladder was wobbly, but she weighed lighter here due to the gravity, and she felt it would hold her. She climbed it carefully, holding tight to her weapon. She still felt the need for a little added protection; there were no guarantees she was totally alone here.

About Nick Davis

Nicholas Davis is a first time science fiction writer who lives in East Syracuse, NY and has been writing off and on since he was 12 years old. Inspired to write by his seventh grade English teacher, and reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings motivated him to write his own stories.

He has a daughter Kelly from a previous marriage, and a wife named Nancy. He has also worked days at a mental institution as a cleaner for 26 years. He is also a solo musician, and plays social functions occasionally, and likes oil painting as well.

His current books, Dimension Lapse II: RETURN TO DOOMSDAY  and Tobias Meets A Friend are available online on Smashwords.com.,Barnes & Noble and Amazonbooks.com.

Nick’s Books

Dimension Lapse

Dimension Lapse II

Tobias Meets a Friend

Amazon’s New Bookstore – Why? What? How?

There has been a lot of media coverage over Amazon’s opening of brick and mortar bookstores. If you’re expecting Barnes and Noble on steroids or Books a Billion, you might want to check out this article. I was expecting a possible venue that would feature indie authors. Silly me. With words like ‘heavily curated’ and ‘surplus stock’ you might want to check out this Forbes article for yourself. Check it out here.

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:


Top 10 Tips For Formatting Your Book – Saving Trees/Bytes vs. Making it Look Good

This blog is a continuation of my crusade to help my fellow independently published authors improve the quality of their work, but most of the tips here apply to the formatting of any book. I’m speaking of the formatting of books for the consumption of readers, not formatting your manuscript to send off to an agent or publisher.  There are a whole other set of rules for that exercise.

I’ve put together a list of ten tips that you should consider when putting your book together. They are not in any priority order, but together, they can make your work stand out from the millions of others that are available through your favorite sales channel.

1. Put Some Thought Into Your Cover

I have to admit, this was something I didn’t waste a lot of time on when I published my first book, Frankly Speaking. I just went ahead and used the Kindle cover creator and cranked out a generic cover. I’m not proud, but I’ll share with you what the original cover looked like:

FS Book Cover

Not too exciting is it? More importantly, what does it tell you about the story? Not much. If it wasn’t for the tag line, I don’t think anyone would even know it was a detective novel. It looks like it may be a book of poetry or something about the ocean.

Luckily, I came to my senses. In order to grab the reader’s attention as they peruse the Amazon Kindle store or the Barnes and Noble site, you need to have a compelling book cover. It should tell a bit of the story. Now, Frankly Speaking is about a crime involving a kidnapped girl and the search for her location. There is also the overarching evil from the main character’s past due to his run-in with the mob. Here is the cover as it exists today:

Newcover - Small

This cover tells a story. The young girl is represented by, well, the young girl in the photo. The evil presence in the main characters life is represented by the shadow of the ominous figure on the left side. The color scheme pushers toward a blue tint.

Because this book is a series, I wanted the subsequent covers to have some continuity and also tell a story. My covers for Let Me Be Frank and Frank Incensed achieve (I hope) that goal. In addition, I tried to establish a color scheme for each so they are unified but stand alone. Here are those covers:

LMBF FI Covers

These covers tell the story but also establish their own cover scheme. The shadowed figure and the font are carried through each cover.

So, now you’re probably thinking these covers were expensive and out of your budget as an indie author. That is where sites like fiverr.com come in. There are freelance sites where graphic designers from all over the world will make high-quality covers for your. Because I wanted my covers for both paperback and kindle use, which adds a back cover I paid about $20 each for these covers. I believe that they have more than paid for themselves.

2. Establish your Brand

I know that this one sounds very “marketing-like” and you may hate that. You need, however, to establish your brand. Now what does this mean? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. This does not mean locking yourself into one genre. Plenty of authors, even traditionally published ones, jump to different genres in the attempt to find new readers. What this does mean establishing your author persona as an entity. You can choose to crank out books and put them on Amazon or Smashwords and hope for the best, or you can build a brand by creating a newsletter/mailing list, a blog, a web site, and be active in writing and reader groups on social media. I have done this and have seen some success, even in my reviews. I have gained readers who have said they received my newsletter because they signed up for one of my non-book giveaways and they liked the cover of my book and decided to give one a try. Some of these readers have become the most loyal because I didn’t establish the relationship by beating them over the head with my book when I first made contact. These other things may not be fun and you may be a purist and not want to bother with them, but take a look at your book sales and see how that strategy is working for you.

3. Font – Don’t Make Me Get My Reading Glasses

As I get older, my eyesight is starting to deteriorate to the point where I got my first bi-focal  lenses about two years ago. That’s one of the reasons that I like my Kindle. I can blow up the font to ridiculous sizes and put the glasses aside. I don’t, however, recommend making your font ridiculously large, but you should consider an 11 or 12 point font in either Arial or Times Roman when you format your book. If you make your font any smaller, you may save paper for your print book, but you may also lose readers like me with old man eyesight.

4. Spacing – Make it Readable

This topic has a lot of varied opinions, but I will give you some key rules that I follow. My books follow the rule of inserting a blank line between each paragraph and between a paragraph of narrative and a block of dialog. Additionally, I like to use proportional spacing. What this does is line the right side of your writing up along an imaginary straight line by spacing the words on each line proportionally. This eliminates the jagged edges within a paragraph. The last thing is to consider 1.5 spaces between each line instead of single-line spacing. I have two examples below, kind of a before and after, of each technique:

Option 1: Spacing rules not applied


Option 2: Spacing rules applied


You may not agree with the formatting differences, but it’s all a matter of preference. I find option two more aesthetically pleasing and easier to read.

5. Chapter Length

Some very famous traditionally-published authors use a common-sense technique that I like to use as well, keeping chapters short. Harlan Coben and James Patterson are both known for this. As someone who reads when I go to bed, I get annoyed by long and ponderous chapters that keep me from going to sleep. I hate stopping in the middle of a chapter, but sometimes I have to. If it’s a good book with short chapters, I will try to squeeze in one or two more. The short chapter length keeps me turning the pages.  I usually try to keep the chapters at 1-2,000 words.

6. eBook vs. Print – They Are Not The Same!

Although Amazon and other platforms make it very easy to set up eBook and Print Book formats, these two media types are not the same and your formatting should differ. This starts with the table of contents (to be talked about later). An eBook does not need page numbers in the TOC. It does, however, need hyperlinks. When I’m flying to some destination for my day job and we hit rough air and I touch some forbidden spot on my Kindle screen, I have booted myself out of books or have jumped to locations unknown. If I haven’t synced my book in a while, it can sometimes be difficult to remember where I left off. With hyperlinks, I can at least jump to the right chapter and not get too frustrated. For print books, page numbers are necessary in the TOC and in the book itself. I will talk about these elements in another tip, but you should at least recognize what is necessary in a print book that is not essential in an eBook.

7. Front Matter – Yes it Matters

Front matter is that stuff at the beginning of the book like a title page, dedication, acknowledgements, copyright notice, disclaimer, and a table of contents. To make your book look like a real big-boy or big-girl book, you should be including these things. Some of them are also essential to protect yourself and your book. Let’s start with the title page and what should be on it. I’m including an example for you to refer to:

Title Page Example


This title page contains the title (duh) the copyright notice, and the disclaimer. These last two elements are essential to protect your book from piracy and to protect you from being sued. You’ll also notice that the front matter is numbered with lower case Roman numerals in the print version of a book.

The dedication, acknowledgments, and table of contents also appear in this front-matter section and should have the same page numbering scheme. You shouldn’t start normal numbering until the first page of the actual book.

Something that I also do in my front- matter that you’ll see in a lot of books is the addition of reviews of either the current book or other books by the author. You can do this if you have enough reviews to fill a page or two.

8. Table of Contents, Page Numbers, Page Header

The table of contents should go in the front-matter. If you are using Word, the automatically generated TOC will work for both eBooks and print. You just have to suppress including the page numbers for the eBook TOC. For page numbers, they should be placed in the center at the bottom of each page in the footnote area. For a page header, I like to put it in the heading area, right-justified, and in the format Author’s Last Name/Title. An example of these elements is shown below:


9. Preview Chapters

Another technique that I borrow from traditionally published authors is the use of preview chapters. This is especially effective in a series of books. You can keep the reader’s interest up by putting the first chapter of your next book at the end of the current book. You may be thinking, “I haven’t written the next book yet, dummy.” And this may be true. As the release of your next book gets close, however, you can certainly change your existing book to have this preview chapter at the end. Your existing readers can usually re-download the eBook for free and your new readers will find it there and snap up your new book. I usually announce that I’m doing this and have gotten good traction, even from those that have already read the current book.

10. Write a Good Synopsis

A good 2-3 paragraph synopsis is something you can use over an over again. Most importantly, you can put it on the back over of your print book. If someone picks up a copy of your book, the natural tendency (after they marvel at your great cover) is to turn the book over and read the synopsis. You can also use it as the description of your book on your favorite eBook platform and as your “elevator speech” when someone asks you about your book in the hallway or…elevator. The synopsis should tell the reader enough of the story to entice them, but not give away key details or the ending. Think of movie trailers and television show teasers when you build your synopsis.

I hope these tips have helped you. This is a beefier blog than I usually put out each week, but it’s an important topic. 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 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. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series, Frank Incensed, is available for pre-order and will be released on April 24, 2015

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:


Independent Publishing Statistically Speaking – Measuring up Against Traditional Publishing

Last week’s blog regarding the “snobbishness” of those in traditional publishing toward independently-published authors generated a great deal of discussion and healthy debate. I believe there are valid points on both side and that the best solution is some type of merger of the the two camps in the future. I’m not sure what that will look like, but it will be interesting.

I don’t think that independent publishing is going anywhere anytime soon. With advocates like Hugh Howey and even traditional authors dabbling in the platform, it is here to stay. This blog will show how the numbers support this assertion. As I researched this article, certain encouraging, and some surprising, trends emerged.

For instance, from a July, 2014 article in Publishers Weekly, I discovered that the “Big Five” traditional publishers now account for only 16% of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists and independently-published books represent 31% of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store. This is an encouraging statistic. The article also reveals that independently-published authors are “dominating traditionally published authors” in sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and romance genres but and are also taking “significant market share in all genres.” Since my work is mostly in the mystery/thriller genre, I was encouraged to see this as well.

The article also had some interesting information around pricing. It said that $2.99 and $3.99 are currently the pricing sweet spots for most e-book bestsellers. Authors who price their books at these prices earn more than those whose average price is higher. Conversely, pricing books at 99 cents is not as popular as it used to be and does not result in higher sales as it once did.

Here are some other interesting items regarding pricing strategies. The article states that free books still work as a marketing tool, especially when an author offers the first book in a series for free. But, because so many of us are using this strategy, it has lost some effectiveness.

A strategy that Amazon has opened up for independently published authors is allowing pre-orders. PW states that this  gives authors a sales advantage. In fact, one contributor to the article states that pre-orders should be used in the same way that offering books for free was used in the past.

One thing that surprised me in the article is that Non-fiction books earn more at higher prices. In fact, it went on to say that non-fiction authors are likely under-pricing their work and should experiment with higher prices. This could be a result of the old adage, “you get what you pay for”.

This article, as well as others in my research, talked favorably about the earning potential for independently published authors. Publishers Weekly states that indie authors are earning nearly 40% of the e-book dollars going directly to authors. This is supported by an August, 2013 report in the Huffington Post which reveals that independently-published authors earn between 60-100% of the net profit (depending on who they choose to publish and sell through), compared to the 12-15% royalties they would earn through the traditional publishing business model. We know this to be true for publishing with Amazon which remits 70% of the selling price to authors whose books are priced at $2.99 or more (and 30% for those priced less than $2.99).

The growth in independently published books has been steady as well. An article published by Digital Book World in October, 2014 states that the number of  International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) assigned to independently published authors increased by 17% from 2012 to 2013.

An article by Bowker in October, 2013 states that the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007. It went on to say that Ebooks continue to gain on print, comprising 40 percent of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11 percent in 2007.

Perhaps the most telling statistics regarding come from The 7K Report written by Hugh Howey himself, arguably one of the most successful independently-published authors of all time. I’ve included some tables to illustrate some of the most important statistics. The first chart shows the percentage by source for books that are on the Amazon Bestseller List for the Mystery/Thriller, Science-Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance genres.

Graph 1

As you can see from this graph, 55% of the best sellers came from independently-published authors. The most telling fact is that only 28% came from the “Big Five” publishing houses.

The second graph shows a different picture. In this category, gross revenue among bestsellers, “Big Five” books actually dominate. This is likely due to the much higher average price for these books.

Graph 2

This graph shows that 52% of the revenue in these genres goes to the “Big Five” publishers with only 24% going to independently-published authors. It can also be said, however, that there is almost an even split between revenue to the “Big Five” and to everyone else.

This next graph, however, shows where the authors are earning the most money in terms of the percentage of revenue authors earn in each category.

Graph 3

This graph shows that only 32% of the revenue brought in by best sellers in these genres goes to authors with 47% of the overall revenue going to Indie authors. Again, this is an encouraging statistic.

So, what do all of these statistics mean for independently-published authors today, and what do they mean for the future? In all of the articles that I read as research for this blog, the trends for independently-published authors have pointed to an increase in market-share, readership, and revenue in the past six to seven years. Recognition for indie authors is increasing. Platforms such as Amazon, Smashwords, CreatSpace and others are making it easier to produce quality independently-published work.

Does this mean that everything is rainbows and unicorns for all of us? Not at all. As the spotlight swings toward independent publishing, like everything else that is recognized as successful, there will be those that seek to find the flaws. In my various blogs, I have talked about some of the flaws around the quality of independently-published work. I have made it my mission to work with other independently-published authors to help them raise the bar. There are plenty of readers out there for us, so let’s not compete. Let’s collaborate and succeed together.

I will continue to publish blogs on topics that I believe are helpful to indie authors. I learn something new every day as I try to become as successful as possible in this discipline that I love. Every sale of a book or comment that I receive on my blog is like a personal victory. It’s a great feeling and one that I want to share with fellow authors.

Your comments and criticism are welcome as always.

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 will be coming out in April, 2015 and is available for pre-order.

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: