Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Short Story MEGA Giveaway



Who wants free short stories? Well, you've come to the right place. Welcome to the short story MEGA giveaway!

Simply click on one of these book covers, follow the instructions, and claim your free book. It's that simple.

These giveaways run from now until 7 July. Some of them may still be active after that date, but that's when this promotion "officially" ends. Also, some of them might require that you sign up for the authors' mailing lists, and others may not. It's a mixed bag. Take your chances. :-)


In case you can't make out the covers, these are the books that we're giving away:

  • A Petition to Magic, by Graham Downs
  • An African Soccer Story, by Evadeen Brickwood
  • Environmentally Friendly, by Elias Zanbaka
  • One Mississippi... Two Mississippi, by Duane Lindsay
  • Lassiter, by J.T. Dusky
  • Nefarious: Volume One, by Lucille Moncrief
  • Honor the Suffering, by Lucille Moncrief
  • Changeling Fog, by Nicola McDonagh
  • From Beyond Comics: Primer
  • The Seven O'Clock Man, by Kate Heartfield
  • No Option to Fail, by N. R. Hairston

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Buddy Ads - Support Your Local Communities



I discovered something over the weekend. Well, actually, I've known for some time, but I only bothered to take the time to investigate this weekend.

My church distributes a monthly "classifieds" pamphlet at all its services. The pamphlet is put together by an organisation called Buddy Adverts, and my church isn't the only church it gets distributed to.

I decided to go take a look at what it costs to advertise, because as a local author in the community, I thought it'd be a good fit.

It costs R50 ($3.91) a month for a text-only classified ad. The ad runs for the whole month, gets distributed to the congregants of all the participating churches, and is visible on the Buddy Adverts website. Plus, you never pay more than R400 (~$31), so if you book for a whole year, you basically get four months free.

I think that's a fantastic deal, plus, it makes me feel good to support the church and my community.

I took out an ad for July 2017. If it goes well, I'll be renewing it. Here's my ad:

Heading: Local Independent Author
Body Text: Independent author from Alberton. Colouring books and fiction in various genres. E-books and paperbacks available.
Contact Info: Visit www.grahamdowns.co.za or e-mail graham@grahamdowns.co.za

The churches they distribute to are:

  • Brackenhurst Methodist
  • Alberton Methodist
  • Brackendowns Baptist
  • St Paul's United
  • The Bush Church
Obviously, Buddy Adverts won't be suitable for everyone because you may not fall inside that community. But the point is that, as small business owners desperately looking to advertise, you shouldn't discount these local community-driven opportunities.

What about you? Do you have a small business, and if so, have you ever considered advertising in a community-driven publication?

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Instafreebie, anyone?



You may have gathered from last week's post that I'm on a mission to grow my mailing list subscriber base.

To that end, I've just discovered Instafreebie. It's pretty cool - as an author, I load my books, set up a giveaway, and share it with readers (Instafreebie does some of their own promotion, too).

Readers then enter their first name, last name, and e-mail address, and select their preferred book format - the site offers a choice between epub, mobi, or PDF. Instafreebie then sends them the book in the format they chose.

It seems really slick. I downloaded my own book, and now I'm on their mailing list, so every day they send me links to other giveaways I might be interested in.

When you set up your giveaway, you can choose whether or not readers are required to opt-in to your mailing list in order to get their free book. Then, they give you a list of the e-mail addresses of everyone who opted in, and you can also optionally integrate with Mailchimp.

But there's a catch... Isn't there always? You see, there free plan doesn't let you allow readers to opt-in, and therefore doesn't give you access to the e-mail addresses. For that, you have to pay at least $20 a month.

I signed up for a 30-day trial anyway, and added two of my books: Billy's Zombie and A Petition to Magic. Billy's Zombie doesn't require people to opt-in to my mailing list, but A Petition to Magic does.

I signed up on Friday, and I have to admit, I've been very impressed. Having done almost zero marketing of those giveaways so far, I've already picked up a few subscribers! What's more, some of those subscribers even came from Billy's Zombie, where you'll remember, readers don't even have to give me their e-mail addresses if they don't want to.

If it continues like this, with me getting a couple of sign-ups a day, I might even be tempted to continue with $20 a month after my trial expires.

Authors, Wanna Try?


If you're an author interested in growing your mailing list, are you on Instafreebie yet? If not, and you'd like to give it a try, click here.

That's an affiliate link, by the way. If you click through and sign up, and end up taking a paid plan, I get credit that I can use towards my own plans. So if you're considering it, please use that link instead of any other.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Shadows And Teeth: Ten Terrifying Tales Of Horror And Suspense (Book Review)

My Review


This is a wonderful collection of strange stories, with a variety of different themes, by a variety of different authors. While none of them scared me per se, some of them really freaked me out.

I particularly enjoyed the Pied Piper story, about a championship eater (of all things) with a chip on his shoulder. Spawn stuck with me as well, but only because it was just plain weird.

Other stories were less memorable, as is often the case with collections like this. I had to look back at the table of contents to remember what some of them were, so here's a really quick synopsis of each:

Water, Ice, And Vice by Antonio Simon Jr.: A geeky guy moves in with a jock, and discovers a magic wish-granting refrigerator in their new apartment. I never really got into this one.

The Dinner Party by Trevor Boelter: Interesting concept. It starts out with a woman preparing food in the kitchen while dinner guests get slowly sloshed in the lounge. There's a pretty cool twist that made me sit bolt upright and pay attention, but until the twist happened, I was pretty bored.

Routine by Mia Bravo: I actually really enjoyed this one, but forgot all about it by the time I reached the end. It's very weird, about a guy plagued by weird nightmarish creatures.

The Final Spell by Mark Meier: This story grabbed my attention early on, because of its uniqueness. The entire story is written in the second person, which is very rare, and very difficult to pull off. It's about a wizard relating the story of how he taught the reader magic. I liked the moral at the end.

Back Through The Mist by J.S. Watts: It was... okay, but battled to hold my attention. It's basically a British murder mystery with a paranormal twist and links to ancient Roman mythology. If you enjoy that type of thing, you'll probably like it, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

Spawn by Paige Reiring: Some people have emotions so strong that they're able to create magical creatures known as "Spawn". One such person is an assassin who uses her Spawn to help her ply her trade.

The Pied Piper's Appetite by Rich Phelan: This is the one I mentioned earlier. I can't say too much about it without spoiling it, but you'll love it. The price of the book might even be worth it for this story alone!

Riana In the Gray Dusk by Viktoria Faust: The memoir of a photographer who had a weird encounter with a woman years ago. It's the shortest of the bunch, and while I thought it had potential, it didn't really go anywhere for me.

The Autobiography of An Unsuccessful Author by Brittany Gonzalez: Am I the only author who gets drawn to stories about authors? This one's not bad; it's about a has-been author who tries his hand at a completely different genre. In his case, horror. Weird things ensue.

Crying by Darren Worrow: Oddly enough, I'd just read this story a few weeks before, as a standalone. It's about a guy reminiscing about his childhood, specifically about an old painting that he and his gran used to look at. He discovers some weird things about the painting's history. Generally speaking, Worrow's a comedy writer, not a horror one, so there are elements of comedy in here. It's still pretty deep, though, and makes you think.

So that's it. Some good, some bad... but more good than bad. If you're into weird things, I think these stories are definitely worth a read.

My rating: 4 / 5 stars

About the Book

Prepare for extreme horror. You have in your hands the first volume in our award-winning series. This unique collection of ten stories features a range of international talent: award-winning authors, masters of horror, rising stars, and fresh new voices in the genre. Take care as you reach into these dark places, for the things here bite, and you may withdraw a hand short of a few fingers.

Water, Ice, And Vice, by Antonio Simon, Jr.
– Jeremy's new apartment harbors a demonic wish-granting fridge, which he uses to exact bloody vengeance on his obnoxious roommate.

The Dinner Party, by Trevor Boelter
– A dinner party devolves into a massacre when the blood flows as freely as the wine.

Routine, by Mia Bravo
– Edward's life is neat and orderly, just the way he likes it. It doesn't stay that way for long once bizarre apparitions threaten to end his life, and worse – break his daily routine.

The Final Spell, by Mark Meier
– Ken, a modern-day wizard, risks life and liberty in pursuit of the ultimate magick. How far will he go to obtain limitless power?

Back Through The Mist, by J.S. Watts
– Police Sergeant Comberton's investigation of a baffling murder strains her resolve to its breaking point. When the enquiry takes an otherworldly turn, she questions whether the past holds the key to her future.

Spawn, by Paige Reiring
– Assassin-for-hire Alice's personality is so keen, it can kill. She'll need every edge she can get when the hunter becomes the hunted.

The Pied Piper's Appetite, by Rich Phelan
– A competitive eater leads a ghastly double life in pursuit of a gruesome personal crusade.

Riana In The Gray Dusk, by Viktoria Faust
– A hastily taken photograph leads to a shocking revelation and a rare glimpse at a singular individual.

The Autobiography Of An Unsuccessful Author, by Brittany Gonzalez
– A one-hit-wonder's search for inspiration blurs the line between reality and insanity, with horrifying results.

Crying, by Darren Worrow
– Vinny's research into an urban legend about a haunted painting reveals more about himself than he ever dared to ask.

Buy the Book

The e-book is available at a variety of online retailers. Click here to see them all.

If you're in South Africa and prefer paperbacks, you can get it from Loot for (at the time of this writing) R310.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

MailChimp Automation, Facebook Lead Ads, and Zapier

MailChimp

I use MailChimp for my e-mail marketing, but I have a confession to make: my subscriber numbers are nowhere near 2000, so I'm still on their free plan.

I love MailChimp, but the one thing I've always been missing is access to their incredibly powerful automation features. So, when they announced a couple of weeks ago that all subscribers would have access to their Automation function, I was ecstatic. Previously, it was only available for paid accounts, and with my abysmally low numbers, there was just no way I could justify paying for it.

The whole of last weekend, I spent building my automation workflows, and to be honest, I think I may just have gone overboard a little bit. Here's what happens when you sign up for my mailing list (after you get your final "Welcome" e-mail confirmation):

  1. Four days after signing up, I send you an e-mail, thanking you for signing up and asking if you've had a chance to download your free book yet. If you need any help downloading it, you can reply to that e-mail and I'll do my best to help you out. Then I ask if, once you're done with it, you would mind writing me a short review.
  2. Eight days after signing up, and depending on the free book you chose to receive when you signed up, I recommend that you might enjoy a different one:
    1. If you picked A Petition to Magic, then you might enjoy Tales From Virdura.
    2. If you picked Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash fiction, you might enjoy Billy's Zombie.
    3. If you picked Stingers, you might enjoy the anthology that Stingers originally appeared in, I am not Frazzle!
  3. When you sign up for my mailing list, one of the things you're offered is an invitation to our private Facebook Group, so twelve days after signing up, if you haven't yet joined the Facebook Group, I send you a reminder with the link to that group.
  4. Finally, sixteen days after signing up, I'll send you an e-mail letting you know that you can Like me on Facebook, or Follow me on Twitter.
This sounds a little convoluted and over-the-top, but I don't want a situation where you sign up in the beginning of a month, and then don't hear from me again for three weeks until my next monthly newsletter. This way, you'll get used to seeing my name in your inbox, so by the time you receive my regular newsletter, you won't have forgotten who I am. Besides, if you can make it through all those e-mails without unsubscribing, there's a good chance you'll stick around!

Facebook Lead Ads

Right, so now I had this beautiful workflow in place, it was time for some subscribers to test it. I've run Facebook Lead Ads before, and had moderate success.

I set up an ad, offering A Petition to Magic for free if people on Facebook clicked my ad and gave me their e-mail address. The ad targeted people between the ages of 21 and 35, living in South Africa, who like both e-books and short stories, and I spent R50 (around $3.90) on it.

The results were pretty... meh (resulting in fewer than five leads), but it was enough to test my MailChimp automatons. Plus, I learnt something....


Zapier

Normally, when you run a Facebook Leads Ad, you get a CSV file at the end, with a list of people who took up your offer and their e-mail addresses, and you have to import them manually into your e-mail software.

But this time, as part of the Leads Ads wizard, I was offered the chance to sign up to Zapier, which automatically pushes new leads into MailChimp and sends them the link to download their free book.

I'd never heard of Zapier before, but what a pleasure! I woke up the morning after running my ad, logged into MailChimp, checked my List, and all the subscribers from my ad were sitting there waiting. They'd been sent the link to their free book, and were sitting in my workflow's automation queue. No importing required.

The only problem with all this is that I subsequently discovered that I'd signed up for a 14-day free trial at Zapier, and if I wanted to continue using that feature after my fourteen days were up, it would cost me $20 (about R250) a month. Yoh, but that's expensive! There's just... no way I can justify that cost.

They have a free plan as well, and Facebook Lead Ads aren't the only thing they integrate with. There are over 750 apps that Zapier can help automate, from sending tweets to Slack, to e-mailing you when people fill out Google Forms, and more.

Many of these apps can be used on the free plan, which gives you a hundred automations a month at no cost. Unfortunately, Facebook Lead Ads is a "Premium App", and premium apps are explicitly excluded from Zapier's free plan.

Oh well, that was good while it lasted. I guess it's back to importing CSV files and manually sending Welcome e-mails for me from now on... unless you nice people buy lots of books. :-)

So what do you think? If you run an online business, have you used the above combination of tools to automate your marketing? How did it go?

I'm also interested to hear from readers - have you ever given your e-mail address to an author from a Facebook Ad? Did you stick around, or unsubscribe as soon as you got your freebie?





Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Authors' Newsletters: Private Facebook Groups



This post is a revisit of one I wrote a few months ago, Authors' Newsletters: What Makes You Sign Up?

In that article, I spoke about how difficult it was to persuade potential readers to sign up to my e-mail list, and how even the offer of a free book doesn't seem to be enough.

The topic came up a few weeks ago in an author's group, and someone said they'd had success with offering people the chance to be part of a private Facebook group.

I thought, "hey, that's not a bad idea!" and immediately set about creating one. So now, dear reader, I'd like to offer you the chance to get exclusive access to our private Facebook group, when you sign up for my newsletter.

I hope to turn it into a community where we discuss books, books, and more books. Let us know what your favourite genres are to read, ask for book recommendations, share reviews of books you've read, and just generally have a wonderful time.

If it does well, I may even consider contacting some indie authors I know to come and do Q&A sessions for us.

Does that sound like something you'd be interested in?

To join, all you have to do is head on over to https://www.grahamdowns.co.za/get-free-stuff.html, and fill out the form.

To close off, I'm going to ask the same question I asked in my original post: 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?

Please let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Word-Loss Diet, by Rayne Hall (Book Review)



Rayne Hall's writing books are always right on point. This one's no exception. It's filled with no-nonsense things you can do, right now, to make your writing really sizzle and pop.

Throughout this book, there's this analogy of obesity, as if the very inclusion of certain words bloats your book. From "filler words" to advice on adjectives and adverbs, to dialogue attribution tags, there are things you can cut, often without any change to the surrounding sentence, which will make your prose leaner and meaner. Too much fat, Ms Hall says, and your readers lose interest. Stop saying "very", shorten your dialogues, cut introspection and descriptions of travel. Hall claims that, depending on how much of this stuff you're doing wrong, you could cut your manuscript length by as much as 20%.

And for the most part, it's good advice. I happen to have the opposite problem at this moment, with my work-in-progress: I'm trying to bulk it up. But at least, armed with this book, I know what NOT to do to try and make it longer. I'm definitely keeping all this in mind, now.

At the end of the book, Rayne Hall includes two sample stories, in the hopes that you'll see just how much better this new style of writing is. I more-or-less see her point, but I did find that there were a bit TOO few attribution tags in her dialogue sometimes. See, I read for five-minute stretches, and I sometimes have to stop in the middle of a dialogue. When I pick it up again an hour later, I've forgotten who's involved in the conversation, and when I have to go through two pages or more without an attribution tag, I tend to lose interest.

But hey, that's my particular reading style. Everyone's different, and besides, one of the over-arching themes of Rayne Hall's books is that you should find your own unique voice. I still think this book is useful, and I'd recommend any writer read it. There's no doubt it'll make you better at your craft.

(My Review: 4 / 5 stars)

About the Book


Tighten and tone your writing style, and use simple revision tricks to slim down your manuscript. Shed thousands of words without changing the plot.

Strip away the word fat and reveal the muscle of your unique author voice.

This book is short, but potent.

It is perfect for

- self-editing before you submit your book to agents and publishers, or before self-publishing

- understanding why your stories get rejected, or why so few readers buy your book after downloading the sample chapters

- taking your writing craft skills to the next level

- polishing your writing style for the move from amateur to professional

The book is based on Rayne Hall's popular class of the same title which has helped many writers shed word weight and develop a leaner, stronger writing style. Some authors say the class was the best investment they ever made. Now you can study the techniques in book form at your own pace.

Click here to find out where you can buy the book.