Tag Archives: Savage Cinderella

Killer First Lines

PJ Sharon here, chatting today about “Killer First Lines”. So what constitutes a great first line? Is it action-packed? Does it evoke emotion or imply conflict? Maybe it sets the scene or reveals the tone of your story. Or does an awesome first line combine all of these elements and more in order to grab the reader and compel them to read on? Consider these first lines:

1)      It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

2)      It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

3)      I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

4)      You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

5)      If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

6)      Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. —Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)

These classic first lines might seem antiquated in terms of today’s genre fiction standards and rules, but they remain powerful examples of compelling prose. They say something about the author, expressing their unique voice, and setting the tone for what’s to come. They inherently ask a story question and open the eyes of the reader to a new world in which the author’s imagination comes to life on the page.

I spend a good deal of time contemplating first lines. I want my first line to pose a question to the reader—a question that compels them to read on and keep turning pages until that question is ultimately answered at the end of the story. In my current WIP, PIECES OF LOVE, the first line is, I’ve heard it said that it takes twenty-one days to make or break a habit. Hopefully that makes you wonder what habit our teen character must break. Maybe you’re asking what good habit she would like to adopt, and why she would be concerned about making or breaking a habit in the first place.

Here are a few more first lines. These are from more recent books and by authors some of you will recognize. Analyze each of them, not for what they say, but for what they tell you about the author and the story.

1)      The day Honor Grace Holland turned thirty-five, she did what she always did on her birthday. She got a pap smear. Kristan Higgins, The Perfect Match, 2013

2)      My fingers drum into the desktop, beating out the rhythm of my hammering thoughts. TL Costa, Playing Tyler, 2013

3)      The Garretts were forbidden from the start. Huntley Fitzpatrick, My Life Next Door, 2012.

4)     He lifted the limp body out of the trunk, wrapped the girl in a woolen blanket, and tossed her like a rag doll over his shoulder. PJ Sharon, Savage Cinderella, 2012

5)      I’m a liar. I know it. I hate it. And I can’t seem to help myself. PJ Sharon, On Thin Ice, 2011.

Yes, I realize those last two are mine, but they are, nonetheless, decent examples of first lines that hopefully compel readers to read on. Notice the tone in each of the above first lines. With Kristan Higgins books, you know you’re in for some laughs and you can bet that every reader who read that first line had an instant smile plastered on their face. TL Costa’s book, PLAYING TYLER, puts you squarely into the mind of a teenage boy with ADHD. You can hear the noise in his head as he struggles to find focus. And in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s contemporary YA romance, you can feel that you are in for heartache and conflict based on this enticing first line that immediately makes you want to know the Garretts.

Savage Cinderella FINAL 200x300

The opening line of SAVAGE CINDERELLA gives you a chilling look into the calculated actions of a serial killer and makes you instantly care for that little girl and wonder what happens to her next.

And in ON THIN ICE, teen readers are faced with a mirror into their own lives. What teenager can’t relate to the ever-tempting desire to lie?

on thin ice front cover jpg

Look at books you love. Analyze them for how that first line makes you feel. Does it propel the story forward? Does it grab you and pose a question that you have to know the answer to? In my opinion, as long as the first line makes the reader a) think, b) care about the story/character, and c) read on, the author has done their job.

Have you written any fabulous first lines you’d like to share? Can you think of any books you’ve read that had a killer first line?

Shameless Plug for your Vote! by Katy Lee

Hello Scribes’ Fans! Great news! Two Scribes have been nominated for a RONE Award through InD’Tale Magazine! That means, both PJ Sharon and I have novels that need your vote to push us into the next round of judging.

Voting is simple. You get one vote for each category. Mine is Real Virtue in the Inspirational Category.RealVirtue3_850

 

PJ Sharon’s novel, Savage Cinderella, is nominated in the Young Adult Category. (And deserves to be there, for sure!)Savage Cinderella FINAL 200x300

 

To cast your vote, click here: http://indtale.com/rone-awards/2012/week-6

The magazine does require you to register, so voting stays legit and people can’t vote repeatedly. Let’s keep things fair. The other option, if you don’t want to register, is to mail your vote in. But all votes must be in by June 1st.

Winners will be announced in August, so here’s hoping!

And whether you vote or not, know the Scribes appreciate your dedication to us and this blog and our work. Without you, we would just be talking to ourselves.

If you want a little more detail on our nominated stories, below are the back cover blurbs. We encourage you to read them if you haven’t had the chance yet.

REAL VIRTUE

In a virtual reality game where she can fly, someone is aiming to take her down. Mel Mesini is a New York City restaurateur and an avid virtual reality world traveler. She’s risen above her misfit life and now bears a striking resemblance to her glamorous gaming avatar. But her successful life-both online and in reality-takes a swerve the night her father is seriously injured in a hit-and-run. Mel is careened back to her judgmental hometown, where being the daughter of the town’s crazy lady had made her the outcast she was. To make matters worse, Officer Jeremy Stiles, the man whose harsh, rejecting words had cut her the deepest, is heading the investigation. Jeremy knows he hurt Mel and attempts to make amends by finding her father’s assailant. When he realizes she’s the actual target, his plan for reconciliation turns to one of protection-whether she wants his help or not. What he wants are answers, especially about this online game she plays. Is it a harmless pastime as she says? Or is she using it to cover something up? As a faceless predator destroys the things that matter to her, Jeremy knows he’s running out of time before she loses the one thing that matters most-her real life.

 

SAVAGE CINDERELLA
Eighteen year-old Brinn Hathaway has survived alone in an abandoned cabin in the High Country of North Georgia since she was a child. If her life is lonely and less than complete, at least she is safe from the man who kidnapped her, held her captive, and left her for dead in a shallow grave in the mountains. She believes that her parents are dead, the police are her enemy, and that if she returns to the world, her tormentor will find her. With the help of some unlikely friends, she has what she needs to survive, but is surviving enough? Life takes a turn when a young nature photographer, Justin Spencer—in pursuit of the fabled Wild Child—captures her on film. While chasing the story of a lifetime, Justin is injured and Brinn comes to his rescue. The two build a tentative friendship, but with his own violent past, an abusive alcoholic father, and a mother he couldn’t protect, he must decide if proving himself is worth betraying the trust of the girl he has vowed to help. Trust is a commodity that Brinn has been unable to afford. Can the kindness and gentle touch of a stranger break through the wall she has built around her heart? After half a lifetime of living in isolation and fear, Brinn must decide if leaving the safety of her remote cabin is worth the hope—and danger—that may await her.
(See? What did I tell ya? Well Deserved! Congratulations, PJ!)
For fans who are up for Tweeting or Sharing, we appreciate it, and to make it easy for you, here’s a Tweet:

 

2 RONE Award nominees need your vote. http://tinyurl.com/ppfshf3 @KatyLeeBooks & @PJSharon thank you for voting 4 REAL VIRTUE/SAVAGE CINDERELLA

A New Face for a New Year

PJ Sharon here wishing all you Scribe’s followers a Happy New Year! New_Years1

We are so thankful for your support over the past year and hope you’ll continue to join us for fun, informative, and entertaining posts about writing, publishing, and all things books. You’ll be treated to an occasional secret recipe, guest authors, interviews with industry professionals, reviews of our favorite books, and tips on everything from  craft to the everyday pitfalls of trying to manage this crazy writer’s life.

As the first Scribe to post in 2013, I’d like to talk about the most important selling point of a well-written book–aside from it being well-written, that is.

In this day of digital publishing, when as many as 350,000 new books a year are put in front of readers, the burning question is, what will help your book to stand out in the deluge? I can’t help but think the answer goes back to the basics. Most of us judge a book first by its cover, then by the blurb, and then by reading the first page or so. Most readers, many who are buying from their e-reading devices, only see a thumbnail version of a book cover and often decide to look closer only if something about that tiny image pulls them in. Having a breathtaking cover, a well-written and captivating blurb (back cover description), and a grabber of a first line can only up your chances at being noticed.

As you may know, I had moderate success with a FREE promotion last week and I think the results prove my point.  After having my cover redone by a professional cover artist, downloads for Heaven is for Heroes outnumbered my previous bestseller, On Thin Ice, 3 to 1. You can read about my results here.  Since the only thing I did differently to showcase Heaven is for Heroes was a $5 paid ad on Facebook, I’m betting that the new cover had something to do with the increased numbers. My results tell me two things. Facebook ads do work, and cover art matters. Either way, I took the hint and had a new cover made for Savage Cinderella. **Incidentally, I did see a small bump in sales this week after my FREE days, so IMO it’s still worth hopping on the KDP Select gravy train if you’re looking for a boost in sales and visibility.

Although I’d had lots of feedback from friends and fellow writers who liked the original cover, the black and white just didn’t stand out on the thumbnail version. The title and author name didn’t “pop,” and the image didn’t really give a clear impression of the genre or the story, at least not when competing against the cream of the crop with their photoshopped masterpieces.SC SW cover

One of the benefits of independent publishing is that we can easily adapt and change with the market. Young adult cover art has evolved over the past year or two, leaning toward “darker” images, bolder colors, haunted faces with intense expressions, and beautiful young men and women looking tormented but relatable on the covers. The tone of a book should be clearly expressed through the cover art, and there should be some hint as to what the story will entail via the title fonts, tone, and cover image. I’m hoping that my new cover does all of those things, perhaps even tapping into a new readership who previously may have overlooked the other cover simply because it didn’t stand out enough or they didn’t “get” a feel for the book.

There’s no doubt that I’ll run across those who would rather not see a face on the cover, preferring the character’s features be left to the imagination, but the idea is to make an impression–to grab a browsing reader and make them look twice. If you’ve read the book you’ll probably understand why this image is so powerful. If you haven’t read the book, you can find it on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, or you can read a chapter a week for FREE on Wattpad.

As always, I’d love your feedback.

Savage Cinderella WEBSITE USEThis cover is the work of Melody Simmons, who also did my Heaven is for Heroes and Waning Moon covers. She is super easy to work with and reasonably priced, not to mention, fast. She had this cover and my HIFH cover back to me in a day or two, offering me several options from which to choose, and working with my suggestions to get to the look I wanted.

I hope you’re looking forward to 2013 as much as I am. I have a feeling it’s going to be a stellar year for the Scribes and we’d love for you all to share the journey with us.

Blessings of good health, peace, prosperity, balance, and harmony to all,

PJ

Do you have any exciting plans for the coming year? What do you think about trends in cover art? Too many faces on YA covers, or do you like to see those smoldering and deperate looks?

 

Marketing Makeover

As the end of 2012 looms on the horizon, I’ve been working on my first quarter marketing plan for 2013. Being a relative newbie to indie-publishing with much more to learn, I’ve been studying the results of my first year efforts, and in retrospect, I can say I’ve definitively learned one thing. Well, I’ve learned a LOT actually, but one thing in particular stands out for me. I’ve learned that there are no constants in this business. What worked for one book didn’t work for others. What worked yesterday might not work today, and no matter how hard I work, there is an element of luck and timing that I have no control over. PJ Sharon here, welcoming you to the Writing Secrets of Seven Scribes. Today, I’ll be sharing what I think is a more focused approach than my previous “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” marketing plan.

Not that I haven’t had some moderate success with this approach, but like any business, the only way I can survive is if I trim the fat so to speak, and look for areas where I am wasting my time, effort, and resources. To that end, here is what I plan to do differently in 2013.

1) KDP Select-The exclusive 90 day enrollment that I did last spring with Amazon for Savage Cinderella was by far the most successful (at least in the short term) promotional tool I found. With 39,000 downloads, a temporary spot on the top 100 list, and a significant uptick in sales for several weeks after my FREE days, I felt like I was seeing some real progress forward. However, shortly after coming off the Select program, my sales declined in June, and the numbers tumbled every month after that for my first three books. I heard from industry veterans that the best way to rebound was to publish another book, which I did in September. Despite a month long blog tour and several group promotions, I have not seen much improvement in sales since then.

I resisted continuing with the KDP Select program because I didn’t like the idea of exclusivity, and I was hearing that results for the Select program had reportedly not been as good as they were last spring. That being said, I’ve decided to take the plunge again—for several reasons. I would be foolish not to tap into the Amazon pot that is set aside monthly to be divided amongst Select participants, paid out for “borrows” from the Kindle Lending Library. With 1.5 million dollars available for December (twice the norm), “borrows” should offer authors a nice Christmas bonus. Being able to offer my books for FREE for five days during that 90 day period without jumping through all the hoops of playing the “price matching” game is a simple and effective marketing tool. It also helps me to increase my reader base and my visibility, which are probably the greatest challenges that an author must focus on.

So I’ve revamped my cover for Heaven is for Heroes Heaven is for Heroes 72 dpi 600x900 WEBSITE USEand enrolled both it, and On Thin Ice, into the program for the next 90 days. That means Only Savage Cinderella and Waning Moon are available on all platforms. If all goes well, when my 90 days are up, HIFH and OTI will go back onto all distribution channels and I’ll put Waning Moon into the Select program for a few months prior to the release of Western Desert, book two in the trilogy. I hate feeding the Amazon “monster,” but until I see real sales on B&N et al. I can’t pass up the opportunity. I literally have made an average of $15 a month from B&N—and less through Smashwords–hardly worth giving up potentially hundreds of sales through Amazon.

This is where I was supposed to mention earlier that both Heaven is for Heroes and On Thin Ice will be available for FREE on Amazon this Friday and Saturday, December 22-23. If you haven’t read them, I’d love it if you would download them or tell anyone you know who might enjoy some YA romance drama. The more downloads I have, the closer I’ll get to that top 100 list so all those new Kindle owners can find me after Christmas. I appreciate it!

2) I’ll keep exploring available social media platforms-I now have almost 500 FB likes and nearly 1000 Twitter followers, which is where I have put my focus over the past year. I’m not sure how that translates directly to sales, but it sure helps me connect with some great authors, bloggers, readers, reviewers, industry professionals, and some all-around awesome people. Since word of mouth is still the best advertising, it’s clear that social media is here to stay and is a useful medium to help get the word out. I would like to try to focus on finding what works for me and best helps me connect with my target audience. That will include more time on sites like Good reads, Pinterest, Tumbler, Wattpad, and Kindle Boards.

3) Budget funds for paid advertisements and production costs. Short cuts are not the way to go in this business. It’s a very competitive industry and becoming more so every day. Hiring a cover artist, quality editors, and paying for advertising that has proven to be effective are worth budgeting funds for. My husband and I doing everything ourselves at first seemed like a way to save money and maintain control of my product, but in the long run, I can see I didn’t give my books their due.

The nice thing about Indie publishing is that I can make changes whenever I want. The books won’t be taken off the market if they don’t sell in a month or two. My backlist can become my front list if I want to start a new advertising campaign and change up the cover, try a new venue, or target specific groups of potential readers. The sky is the limit, but it all costs money, so I’ve realized that I have to budget money to give the books their best chance to succeed.

4) More than anything, though, I’d like to become more organized about my time management-This is a business. But without writing good books in a timely manner, I will have no business. That means that the writing has to come first. I’m not kidding myself into thinking I’ll be able to keep it all under perfect control, but I will budget my time differently, allowing for 50-60% of my time to go towards production of new material, with only 40% of my time spent on administrative details.

There have been times over the past year where I haven’t written a word on a WIP for weeks because of getting caught up in all the crazy business chores and responsibilities. I’m finally beginning to let go of all that, and bring my focus back to the writing. If it means less time building my network or promoting the books, then so be it. And if I only get one quality book out this year, then that’s okay with me, too–though I’m planning for two and possibly another short story.

Most importantly, staying healhy, sane, and having some fun along the way is much more important to me than sales figures these days. When I start stressing about all the “to-do’s,” I remind myself to relax and enjoy the ride. You never know what’s going to come over that next big hill.

What will you do differently this year?

Fur Friends in Fiction

In honor of my dog Zak, I wanted to write a post about adding animal characters to our stories. Zak was a handsome and faithful ten year-old lab/husky mix who I had to say goodbye to this weekend. The house has been all too quiet since and we will no doubt miss him terribly. When we invite an animal into our lives, we are taking on a partner of sorts. They don’t become our pets as much as we become their people. As authors of romance and love stories, it’s only right that we should include our furry soul mates in our stories. I don’t know about you and your first encounter with your fur friend, but I fell in love with Zak at first sight. We quickly became best friends, forging a bond that would last his lifetime. I love the idea of incorporating that kind of relationship into my books.

In SAVAGE CINDERELLA, my main character Brinn befriends a bear, rescuing it as a cub after its mother is killed. Since Brinn was still a child at the time, she named the bear cub Kitty, stole milk from a farmer’s goat, and cared for the bear until it was grown enough to fend for itself. From then on, the two were friends for life, Kitty coming to Brinn’s rescue just in the nick of time. (see book trailer here).

It was fun creating that relationship and showing the connection between humans and animals even under the most unusual of circumstances. Animals have a way of getting under our skin right from the start, reminding us that unconditional love is the truest form of love we can express or receive. The bond that we form with them goes beyond pet and master. There is a soul-deep affection and trust that is difficult to explain to someone who has never befriended an animal and spent years living with them side-by-side.

Adding an animal character to a story is challenging, which is why I don’t think we see it done often. You need to make them into a believable, continuous thread of the story.To do it well, in my opinion, you have to sprinkle in the personality traits of the animal and show how they impact the main character. Aren’t we always a perfect match for our pets? By sharing how animal characters interact with the hero and heroine, it can deepen character and connect the reader even more than the hero/heroine relationship itself.

I’ll use Kristan Higgins again as an example because she does this so well. Her fur friend characters are engaging and lively, and are just as quirky as her main characters. They are clearly just one more member of the family. I think Kristan’s success with this is that the dogs aren’t just thrown onto the page to add color. It would be easy to have them distract from the story, but instead they are real secondary characters who are present in the background at all times, affecting the emotions and actions of our main characters, just like our real companions. They also have unique personalities–always ready to express themselves through a bark, a pant, or a set of pathetic big brown eyes begging for some love and attention, or a treat.

In my upcoming YA Dystopian release, WANING MOON, genetically altered teen Lily Carmichael, is accompanied on her journey by a pair of grey timber wolves. Bo and Pappy are brothers, distinguishable only by the scar that Bo carries across his eye and snout from having fended off a polar bear to save Lily. (Don’t ask about polar bears in the Northeast. You’ll just have to read the book.) I had fun writing the wolves into the story and used a lot of Zak’s character traits in doing so. I’ll describe him and you tell me if you don’t see the heart of a wolf in him.

Zak was a fiercely protective dog who thought nothing of challenging a bear or moose if he thought his domain was being threatened. He was stubborn and loyal, and not always terribly bright (just ask the skunks and porcupines that he thought were cats).  But he was also totally goofy and handsome the way his ears perked up and shifted at the slightest sound, like two satellite dishes on his head. My biggest challenge after taking him in as a six month old pup was that he had been taken out of two other homes for neglect and he had major abandonment issues, did not get along with other animals, and would become aggressive if threatened or fearful. I tried socializing him, but he had his mind made up that he was going to be a loner. Eventually, we became his pack. He was friendly to children, neighbors and even strangers, but if you tried to do something he didn’t like, he let you know in no uncertain terms that if you didn’t have a tranquilizer gun, you ought to just back off.

Against the advice of vets, I didn’t put him down as a pup. Instead, I moved him out into the country. Here, he was surrounded by woods where he could run free. Amazingly, he never strayed from our property or even far from our sight. He was a great companion for me on our hikes on the vast trail system behind my house. If my husband traveled, Zak was on guard and would no doubt protect me with his life. His daily presence was a comfort to both my husband and me, always greeting us with a bark and a wagging tail. He lay by my side more than once when I was sick, ever watchful and responsive to my moods or energy shifts. Though he sometimes made it difficult to appreciate his quirks, we always loved him unconditionally and that love is what I believe made him the great dog he was. He had a happy life here, and I’m so glad we could give that to him. In return, he gave us his all. It seems fitting that I should have him immortalized in some way through my Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I’m sure you’ll get to know Zak a little better as you read about Bo and Pappy.

Until then, what do you think about animals in fiction? 

Back at the Beginning Again!

PJ Sharon, here. Actually, I’m at the beach today celebrating the completion of my first draft of WANING MOON with a few of my very best young friends (my twin nieces and my godson).

 After many months of clawing my way through that manuscript, I needed to take a day off and have some fun before diving totally into revisions. Admittedly, I’ve already begun the process, and have moved through the first ten chapters with relative ease. I was excited to get started, but felt I also needed to take a day and acknowledge my accomplishment—something that I often have trouble doing.

 Once I started back at the beginning, it wasn’t hard to see where the story went off track and needed to be trimmed–sections where delving deeper is necessary. I can clearly see some missed opportunities to address the lack of multidimensional depth of character. But the most important revision I will make will be with my opening.

 I believe it is Orson Scott Card, in his book THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, who says that how you open your story can make or break your chances at publication. If you don’t grab a reader/agent/editor in the first five pages—or dare I say, even the first paragraph—they may never get to page six waiting to find out what the story is about. One of the most common comments I’ve heard from being on both sides of the contest fence (both judge and entrant) is that the story often doesn’t begin until page seven or eight. That is a sure sign there is too much backstory. Of course, you have to ground your reader in a setting, but you can push them over the cliff with those first few paragraphs and they will enjoy the ride down as they figure out what’s happening along the way. It requires a delicate balance and some hard earned skill, I think.

My goals with those first five pages are to:

 1) Pull the reader in by connecting them emotionally to the main characters.

2) Introduce at least one or all of these: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

3) Set the scene by “showing” the environment in relation to the story and how it goes to show either the central conflict of the story, or what motivates the character to take action.

These are lofty goals for sure, but I’m willing to write and re-write until I meet those goals and create the strongest opening I can. Take my other works for instance. In HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, the story begins with Jordie attending the funeral of her brother, the point where her world changes forever. There, she sees her childhood crush wounded and blaming himself for her brother’s death and we show the underlying conflict that Jordie has with feeling so responsible for her mother as well as her brother. Lots of emotion/empathy for both Jordie and Alex, and the story question is posed at the end of the first chapter.

ON THIN ICE began a bit differently. I wanted to show Penny in her world, which included figure skating lessons at the rink, and how she viewed her life and her peers. I was able to quickly show why skating was so essential to who she was throughout the story. It set the scene for her goal, (to live up to her mother’s dreams for her), her motivation (intro to her mother’s cancer), and her conflict (knowing that her heart really wasn’t into competing). It might have been a bit slower opening, but I would argue that it gave the character more depth to do it that way.

In SAVAGE CINDERELLA, I chose to use a prologue. I don’t like or dislike prologues per se. If one is needed to show the passage of time or to set up a pertinent scene that sets the tone for the story, I say, go for it. My three page prologue in SC did several things. It gave us a compelling and creepy snapshot into the mind of our psycho villain. Since he was off page until almost halfway through the story, I needed to make him real, frightening, and believable right off the bat. It also gave an indication of the passage of time when chapter one begins eight years later and we see the world through Brinn’s eyes after overcoming and surviving. If I didn’t have that prologue, I don’t think we would connect or identify with Brinn as quickly.

Today’s unlocked secret: I think as long as you keep in mind those few goals I mentioned above, start your story with a compelling scene that quickly leads to the character’s call to action, and write the most powerfully engaging first five pages you can, your reader will gladly read on to page six.

 Good luck with polishing those pages! I’ll look forward to seeing how some of you did when we go to our CTRWA writers retreat in September. Until then, happy revising!

 

FREE FALLING

Tuesday’s Child, PJ Sharon, coming to you from the lovely Hills of Western MA. I trust you all had a memorable and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to everyone who helped me spread the word about my Heaven Is for Heroes FREE book offering over the weekend. I was able to gift dozens of e-books to military families and meet some new readers. I LOVE giving books away! But I’m a little concerned about the consequences of all this giving away of free books. How much is too much?

Ooops! Never too much! Ya’ll awake now?

Sigh…you can never get too much of my beau Alex, here…when digression is a good thing. Back to business. As I was saying…

When I published my first book last September, I was rightfully focused on recouping my investment, managing a budget, and making enough money to produce the next book three months later. By being diligent (that included making my family and friends buy my book) I was able to break even by January and start loosening the reins on my militent book selling. Fortunately, the third book, which came out in March, cost me much less to produce, allowing me to break even on my investment within the first month of it’s release.

It wasn’t until I entered Savage Cinderella into the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program that I saw the opportunity to make my book available for FREE. With KDP Select, a ninety day agreement to offer the book only through Amazon, I could put the book up for free for up to five days within that three months. I had been watching my Indie Romance Ink pals do very well with their free promotions. (I have to say here, I feel incredibly fortunate to belong to such supportive writing loops. I would not be able to do any of this without them. I’ve learned so much about the inner workings of publishing, marketing and promoting that would have taken years  to learn on my own.)

Several YA and Children’s authors in the group organized an event in April that ran for three days (see my experiment here). During those three days I had 28,000 downloads of SC in five countries. I was blown away by these results and noticed a consistent boost in sales of all three books for about the next three weeks.

Just when the numbers started to decline, I was approached to join another group of authors. This time with the WG2E (Writers Guide To E-publishing) in another give away. I still had two more FREE days to use up, so I jumped on board with the WG2E Street Team.  Sixteen authors worked together to promote an amazing Beach Book Blast event. There was a Twitter party, crazy cross-promotion through FB, a deluge of tweeting and retweeting, a Kindle Fire giveaway, and a constant sense that everyone was working in sync to move mountains.

 It was an awesome experience. During my two FREE days with the BBB promo, I had over 11,000 downloads and have sold 120 books in the past four days. I also reached the Amazon Top 100 Kindle Free book list, gaining the exposure that every author hopes for. My best ranking during that time was #30 in the Kindle Free Store, #3 in Love and Romance category, and #4 in Children’s e-books. Woohoo! I was thrilled, and I’m only sharing so you’ll know what’s possible.

 I love that I am reaching so many new readers who might potentially want to read other books I write. Every writer writes, if only in part, for the joy of stirring an emotional response from an audience. It’s an amazing feeling when someone tells you that they loved your story or that you touched their heart in some way. But there are also those who think your book is “unbelievable and stupid.”  I appease my bruised ego by counting my sales and waiting for those royalty checksJ A few negative reviews are well worth the pain for those short bursts of increased sales after a FREE promotion, and the momentum that gets generated in sales of your other books. If timed right, it can give you a pretty good payout over a few months.

On the downside—and yes, there is always a downside—for all of those downloads, a certain percentage of readers will never read the book because they have downloaded more FREE books than they will ever have time to read in this lifetime. It’s also a heck of a lot of work being a part of or running one of these promotional events and you are super lucky if you can hook up with some indiustrious people willing to collaborate. Otherwise, it’s tough to get these kind of results all on your own. 

Another possible side benefit of doing a FREE promo is that you can pretty much plan on getting a bunch of reviews, something that is generally a challenge for new authors. Great! Right? Um, no…Quantity seems to win over quality in this respect. I had 10 new reviews, some of which were very nice, others, not so much. With 25 reviews, SC has an average rating of four stars, for which I am very grateful, but there are some unhappy readers out there and that is always hard to take.

 I think many of the negative reviews come out of the fact that a cross section of people who download anything that is FREE may not be your target audience and may not be a fan of your genre. Don’t be surprised to see some returns. That’s right, for every ten books I sell or give away, there are at least one or two returns. That means that for every fifty books I sell, five to ten are returned. No idea why, but I hear other indie-authors say the same thing so I don’t worry about it. I don’t worry about negative reviews either. The majority of comments are wonderful, and I’m pretty comfy here in my thick skin.

But the biggest downside of going FREE is that the glut of free books on the e-book market are making things very tough for authors who need to charge $7, $8, or even $9 for their books to ensure that publishers, agents, and distributors get their cut. Being an indie, I can set my price, and most indie authors are fine with selling a 75,000 word novel for under $3.99. Why would anyone want to pay for books if they can get so many inexpensive or FREE books? Is it devaluing the work of authors? Will readers come to expect books to be free? Will people with e-readers fill them up with so many free books that they will just stop buying them? I’m sad to say I have more books on my Kindle than I will ever have time to read. This is a definite deterrent for me buying anything new or even downloading more free books.

 Don’t get me wrong. I’m very pleased and satisfied with my results, and I don’t think that people will ever stop buying books, I’m just pondering the future and wondering what’s next?

So how do you feel about FREE books? For, against, or neutral, and why?