Getting Some Strange

The Challenge of Convincing Complete Strangers to Buy Your Novel

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Getting Some Strange

The Challenge of Convincing Complete Strangers to Buy Your Novel

 

Over 1,000,000 authors published a book this year; 300,000+  were released in the United States. My dystopian novel, Realms of Glory, was one of these new novels.

I spent the weekend of my novel’s release eagerly refreshing my Internet browser, and examining my sales rank on Amazon Author Central. I got encouraging feedback from my friends on Facebook. I felt warm and happy. I imagined my novel ascending the bestseller charts, overcoming its small publisher label, and becoming an overnight success. I theorized about which actors would play which characters when I inevitably sold the movie rights to a major studio. I was on Cloud Nine, which should be renamed Cloud Delusion.

Shortly after its release on Amazon, sales dissipated. To be more accurate, they flatlined. Enter darkness. Enter despair. I’m the worst author ever. My novel sucks.

(Hits refresh on sales figures on Author Central).

My novel still sucks. I suck. I’ll never be a writer.

About a month later, the cheaper e-book was released on Amazon, and I saw a brief bump in sales. Those also flatlined. I came to a sobering realization.

Writing is hard. Selling might be harder.

With so many options out there, visibility is minimal. The general public didn’t care about my book. Millions of potential readers were out there, but they didn’t even know my book existed. How could they? Even if they narrowed down their browsing by genre, there are still tens of thousands of books to scroll through in the United States alone.

So here we are. Six months later. It’s winter, but my sales have picked up a little bit. Not through any marketing miracles. Not through a random tweet with a link going viral. No. To sell a book, an author has to grind it out the hard way through old-fashioned work and a lot of patience.

The Facebook Well Will Run Dry

The first thing that happened between Point A and Point B was annoying my Facebook friends with numerous posts about my novel. I was advised by my author friends to keep my book posts to under 10% of my total posts.

The problem is-that’s still a lot of posts. You’re also advised as an author to stay active, engage with others on social media, post a lot of thoughts, and talk about your life. If you’re posting multiple times a day, 1/10 posts will still add up. I’ve likely been muted by a lot of my friends, and rightly so.

I created a new author profile, and an author FB page. I did my best to push most of my book stuff to those locations. But I still would sneak in an occasional share to my main personal page. That’s the one with over 800 people that I’ve friended since I first created a profile as a college sophomore in 2004. I don’t know how Facebook’s algorithms work. Maybe a girl I went on a few dates with a decade ago would see my book, and buy it out of curiosity. Maybe some random bro I met at a random party during graduate school is a huge fan of dystopian fiction, and after clicking the link and reading the book preview, would immediately rush-order a copy on Amazon Prime.

Those were daydreams. The facts are these. Most family, friends, and friends of friends who will buy your book will buy it during the first month or so that it’s on the market. I was annoying everyone else.

I’m also really sorry about that. Many authors are shy people. I’ve grown more introverted over recent years. Authors are self-conscious about their work and hate trying to promote it. I also really would like to do this for a living, so that leaves me in a Catch-22. If I want to do this for a living, I have to increase the visibility of my book. To increase the visibility of my book, I have to engage with people online and post about my book. Which means I have to talk about my book and overcome my self-conscious doubts about the strength of my writing.

In short, sorry to anyone who’s been annoyed by those posts. That well is dry. I realize even that recommended 10% mark on book posts is too high. To increase visibility, the pathway isn’t bombarding your Facebook friends. Within a month or so, they’re well aware you’ve published a book.

The pathway is getting some strange.

Getting Some Strange (Readers/Potential buyers)

I am still very much a novice in this department. But I’ve been getting some slow, steady sales using a few methods that will hopefully give my poor Facebook friends a break.

 

A.) Face-to-Face on the Road

I made a hundred business cards. When I travel, and hit up local bars/restaurants, I have one handy. If I talk to someone, and mention my book, I can give them a card and tell them to check it out. People are more likely to buy a book if they have a personal contact with the author. I’ve made a few sales (and a few friends!) by stepping out of my shell and talking to people directly.

B.) Providing Samples to Indie Bookstores & Libraries

This one will sting a little, because it costs money. But it’s vital to get books on shelves. I’m mailing out free signed samples to small bookstores across the country. Included in the package is an order form for them to buy more copies if those books sell. I’m also providing books to libraries, to get them in the hands of new readers. Trips to the library were a treat for me as a teenager. I’d like to spark some of that same excitement by getting my book on the library shelves. While most of my business has been via the Internet (especially Amazon), growth opportunities for me (which will hopefully boomerang into more online sales) are physical copies on bookshelves.

C.) Pushing all my Book Posts onto my Facebook Author Page, and Creating Sponsored Ads

A former student helped me set up my author website, and showed me how to create posts and sponsored/boosted posts. I’m still learning how to narrow my targeting to get my book in front of the readers who are likely to click/buy, but this is a cheap way to increase the visibility of the book. Much cheaper than buying physical copies and mailing them to bookstores/libraries.

I’ve seen my page visits go from a few dozen people (my loyal friends/family who actually enjoy my annoying posts enough to like my page), to over 5,000 a week. That’s still not where it needs to be for any tangible sales, but it’s resulted in a few. I noticed a small sales spike after two old Canadian ladies made snarky comments about my sponsored post, calling it “nonsense”.

Any publicity is good publicity. When they called my book link “nonsense”, they put it in front of the eyes of all their Facebook friends. Maybe they have a grandson who wants to piss Grandma Crankypants off by reading my nonsense novel. Either way, I increase the visibility of the book, avoid annoying my beleaguered friends and family, and reach new readers. It’s actually really fun as well to select the exact metropolitan areas/target demographics to put my book in front of. It turns an annoying task (marketing) into a game.

The game is simple. If 1-500 people will click, and of those people, 1-25 will buy, I need to get it in front of several thousand people every week to get those sales. I’m still figuring it out, but I don’t hate it. This part is fun.

D.) Twitter

Twitter isn’t an effective way to actually sell books. Authors who buy followers and create profiles that blast their books 24/7 are muted quickly. Or straight-up unfollowed.

What it’s given me is a community. By engaging with other authors, I learn about the industry, marketing, writing, and even get to talk with a few literary agents, who could provide the ticket to mainstream success.

Writing is lonely. Selling is lonely, and also makes me feel slightly dirty. Talking to other writers provides humor, encouragement, and education about this field. While I’d prefer a community in my town, and the ability to talk about books over coffee/pints of beer, Twitter erases state and national borders. My community is everywhere my phone is. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable that’s been to me.

E.) Time

Patience is necessary. For my book to reach commercial success, I need strangers to buy my book, talk about it with other strangers, engage with me on my social media sites to reach more strangers, and create enough interest for bookstores to make orders. That’s the path for me to eventually get signed by a literary agent and secure a contract with a mainstream publisher.

I’ve already sold more copies than most indie/small press first time authors, despite all my bumbling and mistakes. That tells me that I have a good story, in spite of my self-conscious doubts.

I have control over A-D on this list, but E is the variable that will provide the most impact.

In conclusion, writing this book was a personal journey, and attempting to sell it has been an educating and humbling process. I really hope to get some strange (sales) soon, and get my book in the hands of new readers. If any of you older, wiser authors (or younger and wiser authors!) have any tips, I’d be happy to hear them. For any of my fans out there who are looking for advice, I hope that this post has been helpful to you.

To all of you out there reading this, have a joyful holiday season. My cat is crawling all over me and meowing, and might soon eat this computer, so I’m going to publish this post and sign off now.

Happy Writing!

 

[RWL}

 

 

The Errors & Omissions of a Former Grammar Pharisee

My Road to Damascus Moment

Errors & Omissions

Learning to Accept Imperfection

I graduated from the University of Florida. I earned two degrees. My B.A. is in History and German. My M.Ed. is in Secondary Education. I defended my dissertation in Administrative & Policy Studies at the University of Pittsburgh in April. I’ll soon graduate with a doctorate, the highest degree in my field. I teach both English and German. I help college students with essays and research papers. I’m considered an expert. In short, I’m no stranger to the written word.

My father-in-law found three errors in my published novel. My entire identity as a writer and scholar was destroyed by a single text message.

With the help of a strong community, and a lot of introspection, I’ve rebuilt my identity and self-worth. It’s stronger than it was before. Like the rest of my colleagues, I’m a flawed writer doing his best to tell a story. I will no longer demand perfection of myself or fellow authors with a misguided sense of douchy intellectual arrogance.

The How & Why

I was a smug douche for the first 34 years of my life. I sneered at CNN, Wall Street Journal, and other publications whenever I saw typos in their published copy.

“Fire that bum,” I’d say. “Automatic F”.

How could I commit such a cardinal sin? Should my novel also receive an automatic F from my readers?

In my shame, I thought it should. I was reluctant to even write this post. Why should I call attention to my flaws and write that F on the cover of my novel myself? Maybe no one else would notice it.

I talked to other authors. To my relief, I discovered I was not alone. Since I’m not alone, I felt obliged to start a dialogue on this important topic.

Indie authors and bestselling superstars alike suffer the occasional lapse in their published works. Jared Yates Sexton, author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage, spelled “wavered” as “waivered” and refers to Rupert Murdoch as “Rupert Murdock”. Sexton is a national political voice and a NYT bestselling author. I’ve found minor typos in the published work of some of my favorite writers of fiction. It happens.

But it shouldn’t. The questions remain. Why does it happen? How does it happen?

My publisher is a small press. Much of their editing is reliant on mechanical formatting software. Such programs won’t always catch omissions like a missing word.

But my editor should. Right?

Yeah. My editor is a saint. She caught 99.9% of the errors and omissions in a 472-page novel. However, she’s an academic like I am. We’re trained to read quickly, often scanning entire sentences and paragraphs with a single glance. When there’s a missing word, our brains fill it in for us. Many voracious readers of novels read books with similar strategies. Perhaps that’s why just one of my readers has noticed my novel’s flaws. On the other hand, perhaps everyone else is just being polite.

In short, both technology and the human eye are imperfect. Despite layers of protection, an error sometimes sneaks into the published draft.

Coping

I once took an urban planning course at the University of Florida. During one long lecture, our professor discussed all the measures different cities used to ameliorate traffic congestion. At its conclusion, the professor opined that city leaders should do their best to minimize traffic issues, but most accept the fact that some congestion is the price of prosperity and growth.

Like these mayors, we authors strive to ensure clean copies for our readers. Rest assured, I edit and revise until my contact lenses pop out of my eyes from staring at the computer screen too long. I hired an editor to do the same.

But it still happens.

When it does, we shouldn’t assume it’s a result of carelessness or stupidity. I’ve made both of those haughty judgments in the past.

It happens because writers, like everyone else on this planet, are imperfect. We should support and love our fellow writers when we discover errors and omissions in their drafts, blogs, and published novels.

As a former Grammar Pharisee, I’ve had my “Road to Damascus” moment. Having realized that I live in a house of glass, I’ll refrain from throwing stones. I hope that my readers will judge my work on the strength of my story, and forgive the occasional sin of syntax.

When the criticism of other Grammar Pharisees arrives, I will smile in resignation and accept it as fair recompense for the numerous times I’ve been an arrogant douche in my lifetime. After building a deficit of negative karma in this field, I must now hope for grace. There are probably typos in this blog post. Since I’m on a bumpy Amtrak train to New York, just putting a word together is difficult.

Feel free to share your own personal stories of error & judgment. As imperfect writers, we’re all in this together!

 

{RL}

The Terror of Judgment

Why write?

 

A mentor of mine at the University of Pittsburgh called writing a battle against “the tyranny of the empty page”. On many mornings, I lost that battle. The causes were numerous. Procrastination, random videos on Facebook, Playstation4, self-doubt, doing all the chores in the house…these are just a few of the reasons for past defeats.

Lately, I’ve experienced a few minor victories. I finally published my first novel, and I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation.

That should be cause for celebration. Instead, I’m experiencing anxiety. If the act of putting pen to paper is a battle against the tyranny of the empty page, waiting for sales reports and literary reviews consists of anxiety-fueled trepidation. After victory against doubt, a writer experiences the terror of judgment.

How does a writer determine success? What brings that writer back to the empty page?

I recently sat down at brunch with my wife and her cousin. I contemplated those questions while conversing with Cousin Robert, a published author and a kind soul. I told him and my wife that I was uncertain about whether I would write the next book in the trilogy. If few bought it, and everyone who bought it hated it, why keep writing? Wouldn’t that be a message to put the pen down and shut the hell up?

Personally, I don’t give a damn if people hate my dissertation. The opinions of four people mattered: the scholars on my committee. They said I passed.  If people hate it now, I don’t care. I’ll smile, forget their names, put my head on my pillow at night, and sleep like a baby. Additionally, academics are normally passive-aggressive with their hatred of work. They might give me an underhanded compliment at a conference presentation, or write a snarky message about my methodology on a comment card, but they are very unlikely to tell me I suck directly to my face.

Reviewers and Twitter’s Keyboard Warriors, on the other hand, can be vicious. My novel is also not an academic piece analyzing an aspect of public policy formation; it’s a part of my soul. It’s my own artistic expression and voice. If people think it sucks, then they think that I suck.

Finally, why would I write another book if no one buys the first one? Isn’t that the perfect example of Sisyphus-rolling my own writing boulder up the hill of futility? I might as well tell my story to the trees outside my window. At least there’s no chance that they’ll tell me I’m horrible.

Robert opined that I was looking at it all wrong. A writer should not look to others for verification about whether a book was a success or failure. Such conclusions should come only from the writer himself. Robert also advised me to avoid reading reviews. Neither ego boosts nor soul-crushing critiques were good for the spirit.

Likewise, sales reports are often an indication of an author’s visibility, rather than his ability. Indie and micro-press publications often only record around 75 sales, and debut authors can expect half of that. While my book is doing relatively well at the moment, I can’t expect to appear on any best-seller lists.

Robert’s advice and personal reflection have led me, I believe, to the most suitable approach to writing. I have to write for myself, and no one else. Sales and reviews are irrelevant. If I’m compelled to tell my story, I need to tell it.

In a way, the act of writing is simultaneously selfish and altruistic. It’s selfish in the fact that I will say what I have to say, even if the entire literary world tells me to be silent. It’s selfless, because I will bring the next chapter of my story to my readers no matter what, even if my audience is limited to just one excited fan waiting for Book 2 in her local library.

Charles Bukowski once wrote, “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it”. That short quote encompasses all of my feelings about writing. For better or worse, my story is bursting out. I await the world’s judgment of Realms of Glory. I will write its sequel. I am both anxious and excited about what lies ahead.

{RWL}

Origin Stories

There is Life after Death, but Heaven is no Paradise.

A Discussion of my First Novel, Realms of Glory

Origins

There is life after death, but Heaven is no paradise.

I developed that elevator pitch sitting at a bar with my brother, Erik.  With strangers, it’s wise to avoid subjects like religion and politics.  When Erik and I get together, both are regular discussion topics.

My brother insulted the traditional vision of the Christian afterlife. Floating on a cloud and singing hymns for eternity? He found the idea boring and wanted no part of it. I proposed a Heaven that was imperfect-perhaps even dangerous.  As an author and screenwriter, he thought any book on the topic was a waste of time. Erik might have thought that the Christian afterlife was tedious, but he also believed that the general public would like to imagine Heaven as a place of peace.  Who would want to buy a book about war and discord in eternity? And even if they did, how could people ‘die’ when they were already dead?

We argued.  Since I’m trying to sell this completed novel, five years after that bar discussion, I hope I’m right.

Regardless of religious belief (or lack thereof), people would like to imagine there’s life after death.  How many folks have friends and family members whose lives were cut short by tragedy? Novels often take us where reality can’t.  My novel illustrates the extra chapters of life stories that were truncated by death.

It is a coming of age story that occurs after the protagonists have died.

The afterlife is not a boring church service. It is an adventure where we can interact with family, friends, historical figures, and strangers while exploring a new and dangerous world.  The bar stool argument with Erik gave me the pitch for my novel, now I needed a plot.

Three teenagers arrive in Heaven, but instead of paradise, they find a land teetering on the brink of revolution.

If that doesn’t have high market appeal, I don’t know what does.

As I began writing my novel, I realized that I couldn’t make it explicitly Christian.  An omnipotent, all-powerful God would destroy any force that rebelled.  Boring.  What about an omniscient, all-knowing God who knew rebellion was coming, let it happen anyway, and destroyed it with omnipotent power? Also boring, along with sadistic.  Neither was a book people would want to read.

Therefore, my afterlife was based on Christian tropes, but more like Olympus.  Heaven’s king is powerful, but has the capacity to lose. Without the chance of defeat, there’s no dramatic conflict.  To keep the story from reading like a Homeric epic, it’s told from the perspective of teenagers.

Writing this novel kept me sane during my doctoral research at the University of Pittsburgh. It was my creative outlet after hours of policy analysis and dry, academic research.  I finished the novel before I finished my dissertation.  While I frustrated my advisor occasionally with my creative pursuits, I believe that crafting this book ultimately improved my academic writing as well.  I hope she’ll buy a copy.

If you are still interested in reading this novel, and don’t think I’m crazy, this post continues with a brief preview of the book.  Without spoilers, of course!

Short Preview

Devon Newcastle, Madison Camrose, and Patrick Varberg are three teenagers from Pittsburgh on their way to the mall to pick up tuxedos for their senior prom.  They perish in a car crash.  They arrive in Heaven, but instead of the promised paradise, they find a tumultuous land teetering on the brink of revolution.  Heaven is more like Olympus than the Christian gospels, with technology beyond their wildest dreams. But behind the perfect façade, a dark plot is brewing, one that threatens to plunge the realms of Heaven & Earth into the fire of war.

No one can remember the last two months of life.  The teens enter separately and meet new friends when they arrive in Eden, Heaven’s capital.  While solving the mysteries of their deaths, they find each other.

The teens take different paths in their exploration of Heaven.  Devon, a football star on Earth, joins Heaven’s Realm Defense Force, striving for the prestigious title of 1st Corporal.  Madison enrolls at university, while Patrick experiences his first heartbreak and struggles to find himself.

Madison and Eva, her university roommate, are recruited by Deborah and Matthew, high-ranking officers in the Realm Police Agency.  The girls work to unravel the plot to overthrow Olen, Heaven’s king.  They soon discover that the conspiracy reaches the king’s inner circle.  Madison, Eva, Deborah, and Matthew work feverishly to stop the scheme before it’s too late.

Following an embarrassing defeat at the beginning of his training, Devon redeems himself commanding troops during an important exercise, impresses his superiors, and is invited to the Academy. While learning from legendary instructors like Saladin and Joshua Chamberlain, Devon meets Stephanie, one of his rivals for the position of 1st Corporal.  Stephanie is a ‘lifer’, someone whose entire existence has been in Heaven. Because she died as an infant, she has no memory of Earth.  Lifers are a notoriously entitled and arrogant lot, and normally don’t associate with anyone with nostalgia for what they see as a fallen planet.

A mysterious leader is recruiting humans and angels assigned to serve Heaven’s residents.  Many are frustrated with Olen’s near-universal salvation policy, and the message of purging Heaven of miscreants and hedonists resonates with the rebels.

Devon, Madison, and Patrick discover there is life after death.  But a fate worse than death awaits them all if the forces of darkness turn their newly-won Heaven into a Hell beyond their worst nightmares.

Next Steps

The cover and back cover of the book have been approved. As soon as the print copy of the novel is cleared, we’ll set a release date and begin promotion of the book.  Information will be posted on my author Facebook page (Rudolph W. Lurz), along with my Twitter page (@RudolphLurz).  Once we have an exact launch time, I’ll let you all know where you can buy the book in person or online.  The present estimate for release is late July/early August, 2017.

I might be crazy, but writing keeps me sane.  Completing this book has been one of the major achievements of my lifetime, and I feel blessed to have friends and family members who have supported me along every stage of this journey.

I hope you enjoyed this discussion of the book and its origins, and I look forward to sharing more as we inch closer to the release date.  Feel free to contact me on Facebook or Twitter if you’d like to learn more!

 

[RWL]