Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Authors' Newsletters: What Makes You Sign Up?

I'm not sure how it is in other industries, but nowadays, most authors - especially independent authors - will tell you that their biggest asset is their e-mail list.

We cannot rely on Amazon (or Google Play, or Smashwords) to e-mail our readers when we have new books out. Rather, when a reader's finished reading one of our books, we need to grab their e-mail address as soon as possible, so we can send them e-mails about our new books, and make sure that they know about our promotions. Not only that, but readers tend to love reading about an author's life, so sending them regular newsletters can only be a good idea.

There's another problem - we're all so inundated with information these days that we tend to forget. So a reader who's never heard of me before sees a Tweet or something from me, clicks through to my website, and thinks Oh, this is interesting. I'll check him out later.

The problem is, that reader gets busy with other things going on in their life and forgets all about me. Then they see a Tweet from a different author, and the cycle repeats.

The solution, of course, is to get an e-mail address out of them the very first time they visit my website. But that's easier said than done. Again, because we're so inundated with messages nowadays, that reader may already be on more than a few mailing lists. And e-mail overload is real, which makes an e-mail address a very valuable (and closely guarded) thing.

Why should the reader give me theirs?

It's a big dilemma for authors like me, trying to get noticed. You may be interested in me, but if I don't do something to keep myself on the top of your mind, I'm going to lose your interest very quickly. How do I convince you to give me your e-mail address?

Most independent authors opt to give away something for free - "If you sign up to my e-mail list, I'll give you...." That seems to be the most effective way at the moment.

Some of those authors even give away whole books for free. That's the strategy I've adopted myself, but since I'm a multi-genre author, I have four different books to chose from: if you sign up to my e-mail newsletter, you can pick one of those four books to get as a free download.

It's still difficult, though. Even at the prospect of a free read, so many people are still reluctant to give up that precious e-mail address. Perhaps they don't trust us enough not to abuse it, or maybe for some people, nothing can ever be enough for them to tolerate yet another intrusion into their already overflowing Inboxes.

So what about you? Do you, as a reader, subscribe to the e-mail lists of any authors? If so, what was it that made you sign up? Did you give them your e-mail address freely, or did they have to woo you with something?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Transport: Premium Children's Colouring Books


With all the hype about Adult Colouring Books these days, do you sometimes feel that the children are being left out?So did my wife and I. A few months ago, we embarked on a project to produce a really professional, premium line of colouring books for children.

The first instalment of that series was Animals: Premium Children's Colouring Books:



That one sold so well in its first few weeks, that we very quickly decided to do another one. This one's called Transport, and as the name implies, the pictures are all about people involved in various forms of transportation - fictional and otherwise.

We put it together in the beginning of October, threw it up on Lulu, and ordered some proofs. The proofs finally arrived this past weekend (from Europe to South Africa, via regular post).

I hope you'll agree that it was worth the wait. Aren't they beautiful?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Book Review: Write Your Way Out of Depression, by Rayne Hall



Last week, I posted about receiving an advance review copy of Rayne Hall's Write Your Way Out of Depression, and I shared some of my own thoughts for why many artists suffer from some sort of depression or anxiety.

Well, I'm pleased to announce that my review is now done, and I thought I'd share it with you:


About the Book


Use your writing talent and your skill with words heal yourself. Author Rayne Hall and psychologist Alexander Draghici show fourteen practical strategies for self-therapy.

Do you feel like you’re trapped in a dark hole of morass, sinking deeper and deeper, the mud rising to your hips, your chest, your throat? Is despair smothering you like a heavy blanket? Is your own life moving past you like a train, and you are forced to watch and cannot board? Has crippling lethargy wrapped its tentacles around you so tightly that you cannot move, sucking from you all energy and the will to live?

If you want to get better, to feel alive again, if you want to step out of this darkness and take control of your recovery, this book can help.

My Review (5 / 5 stars)


This was a difficult book to read, and is proving to be a difficult book to review as well. Mostly, because it's so intense, and sometimes reading it can be depressing in itself.

Let me explain: I do believe most artists suffer from some or other form of depression or anxiety, and writers are no different. I definitely think I do, although I've never been officially diagnosed. I can identify with many of the issues described in this book - which is good, because it assures me that I'm not alone. On the other hand, I obviously don't have depression nearly as bad as some of my writer colleagues from around the world, because many of the issues described in this book were so over-the-top that I had trouble believing some people have it as bad.

I do believe it, though, and that's where the depression came in.

In Write Your Way Out of Depression, Rayne Hall confesses her own struggle with the disorder, and how she found healing by writing. And that's what this book is actually about. It's full of practical, no-nonsense advice, and tricks that you can try at home to help ease your pain... and become a better writer in the process.

The writing advice in this book is presented in a way typical of the rest of the Writer's Craft series, which I'm no stranger to, and I've always found extremely helpful. For this particular instalment, Ms Hall decided to recruit clinical psychologist Alexander Draghici. He gives credence to her words, but also, after each tip, he gives a bit of an explanation about what aspect of the disorder the advice is actually trying to address, and how and why it works. I thought that was a nice touch!

I'd recommend this book to any creative types (not just writers) who suffer, or think they might suffer from depression. You can pick and choose which advice you want to follow, based on what you have the energy for on any given day, and what you think might help for you. If you've tried everything else, try this - it might help!

Buy the Book


Click here to see where you can buy the book.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

On Artists and Depression



Last week, prominent author coach Rayne Hall sent me an advance review copy of her new book, Write Your Way Out Of Depression. This after we had a conversation on Twitter about a month ago, about famous writers from history who suffered from depression.

Then, on the same day as receiving the ARC, local radio presenter Roxy Blows was talking to a musician on her Mix 93.8 FM Radio show here in Johannesburg. I can't remember what the artist's name was, but one of the things he mentioned was that most musicians suffer from depression.

I've often suspected that creative people of all sorts tend to have some form of depression or anxiety disorder - whether diagnosed or not. What's more, one of my Facebook friends is a painter, and she often posts about her depression.

The thing is, I don't know whether being an artist makes one depressed, or if it's just that depressed people tend to be more disposed to the creative pursuits.

I have heard before that emotional trauma can lead to depression, if your resilience isn't strong enough. Even if you are resilient enough to get through a particular trauma, multiple traumas in a short space of time can really wear you down. An example was losing your beloved pet. Okay, it's sad, but you can deal with that. A week later, one of your parents passes away, and a month after that, you have a big fight with your long-term girlfriend and end up breaking up with her.

All these things have a cumulative effect on your psyche, and eventually, you crack.

Although it feels silly to put what I'm about to say in the same league as the above, there are many different types of trauma. I think that rejection is a valid form, and as artists of all types, we're used to suffering rejection after rejection as we try to get our work noticed by the world.

Do you think that could be a cause? Or is it something else?

What came first - the depression or the artist?

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Physical Description for Characters



When you're reading a book, how do you feel about physical descriptions of characters?

Do you like to know exactly what a character looks like, from skin tone, to hair and eye colour, to height and weight? Or do you prefer to use your imagination?

For myself, I tend to be very light on my character descriptions. Unless it's plot-relevant, you probably won't know what colour my character's hair or eyes are, or his skin tone, or how big his biceps are (I know romance readers need all those details, but suck it up).

And there's a conscious reason for that: I feel that every reader's going to imagine a character based on his or her own cultural experience.

For example, in Stingers, my protagonist is a skinny thirteen-year-old boy. That's about all you get - although I might mention at some point (I can't remember) the fact that he wears a school uniform - which is relevant, because in South Africa, public school kids wear uniforms.

Who's to say that that character isn't black, or asian? In my mind he's a middle-class white kid from a middle class family, but I mean no disrespect or prejudice by that. If you want to make him a poor black kid from the township, I'm not going to tell you you're wrong, because it's simply not relevant to the plot - like Hermoine from Harry Potter: J.K. Rowling never said she was white. When they made the movies, they cast a white actress, but there have been stage performances in the US where she's been black.

Does it make a difference?

Worse, it could hamper certain readers' enjoyment of the story, I think, if I insisted that a character looked a certain way - unless I was specifically writing a book about hatred towards blond(e)s, for example. Then I might insist that a character had blond hair - then it would be relevant.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Readers, how do you find books?


I've been thinking a lot lately about how readers discover books.

To give you some background, for readers who may not know, all e-book retailers are basically search engines. The idea is when a reader is looking for a new book to read, she'll head over to her favourite e-book retailer (Amazon or Google Play Books or Kobo, or whatever) and punch something into the search box there. She will then browse through the results that the retailer returns, and select her next read.

Besides the title and product description, there are two things that cause a book to show up in these results. The first is the book's category, and the second is a list of keywords that the author or publisher enters to describe the book.

Amazon and Smashwords are both rather restrictive, and allow self-published authors to choose up to two categories for our books. Kobo allows up to three, and Google Play allows as many as you want. Which is great, because more often than not, a given book falls into more than two or three categories.

I've been struggling to come up with which categories are the best fit for my books. I think that stems from the fact that as authors, the way we search for books is drastically different from the way readers do.

I Need Your Help


Readers, I need your help! If you were searching for a book to read, what would you put into Amazon's (or Kobo's, or Google Play's) search box?

Let's Play a Game


In fact, let's play a game: Imagine you're on the lookout for a book to read. Take the keywords you would enter into your favourite retailer's search engine, and instead, enter them into the comments below.

You don't have to explain anything - just enter your search string into the comments.

It may sound rather silly, but it will help give me and other authors valuable insights into what readers are looking for - for example, does anybody ever actually type "Juvenile Fiction" into a search box?

I really appreciate your time. Don't forget, you can get a free e-book in exchange for signing up to my e-mail newsletter. Click here for more info.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King


About the Book


First came the days of the plague…

After the days of the plague came the dreams.

Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil.

His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms…

My Review (3 / 5 Stars)


This is probably the lowest rating I've ever given a Stephen King book. And I was really torn between three and four stars.

Allow me to explain:

First of all, I really enjoyed the story. It's incredibly well plotted and detailed, and the characters are all very fleshed out. The writing, in general, is exquisitely good, as it typical of "Uncle Stevie".

The thing is, this book is LONG. I bought it on Kindle, and I inadvertently bought the "unabridged version", which is supposed to contain over 400 extra pages, that weren't included in the original because of financial concerns at the publisher. Since I'd never read the story before, and knew next to nothing about it, I wasn't to know.

Having now read it over the course of just under a month and a half, I can say with confidence that it could've done without those extra 400 pages. And I could tell pretty easy which pages weren't in the original because they're mostly the ones that need some editing care. It's plain as day, actually, that certain scenes, certain chapters, in some cases whole characters, were simply "bolted on".

People tell me that The Stand is the scariest book they've ever written. Well, fear is very subjective, because I hardly found it scary at all. It was a bit creepy at times (most notably the ouija board scene), but nothing I would call "scary". It IS a very religious story, and maybe the reason why I wasn't particularly scared is because of my religious background, and the fact that I was able to separate the things that I KNOW could happen (and do happen) in real life, from the things that couldn't.

I will say that my first encounter with Randall Flagg was a good one. He may just be the best villain ever conceived. Which book featuring him should I read next?​

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