Half Price Books and Shelf Unbound Indie Book Competition


Remember back in June, when I made all your bodkins start quivering with the news that Shelf Unbound just opened its 2013 Indie Publishing Contest?  Well, prepare to be re-quivered with a truly exciting update.

Shelf Unbound Magazine has teamed up with Half Price Books to add a brilliant new prize to the contest.  Not only will the winner receive an editorial feature in the December/January 2014 issue of Shelf Unbound, along with $6000 worth of free ad space for a year.  The winning book will also be stocked and promoted in all 115 of Half Price Books’ stores in 16 states!

That’s a heck of a prize for the $30 entry fee.  As self-published authors, it’s often hard to see the path to wide distribution and a dedicated audience, but this is a pretty clear road to awesomeness, if I do say so myself, because…

The Last Death of Tev Chrisini will be joining this year’s winner in all of Half Price Books’ stores! 

That’s right, folks!  I’ve been waiting a few weeks to be able to share the news with you, and it’s been really hard to contain my excitement.  As much as I adore the ebook world, it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to see my work on the shelf in a brick-and-mortar bookshop.  I’m incredibly grateful to the awesome Margaret Brown and the fantastic people at HPB for bringing that dream to life.

Of course, I don’t actually live anywhere near a Half Price Books store, which are mostly located everywhere except the Northeast, so there may be a road trip in my future.  I’ll be sure to let you know when The Last Death hits the shelves so that you can sneak in and take a picture or two on my behalf.

The entry period has been extended until midnight of October 1, 2013, so you’ve still got time to get your books in.  You’ll know if you’re a winner by the first week of November.  I’m really looking forward to seeing this year’s crop of excellent self-published books!  Go!  Enter!  Do it!  Run!


The Dirty Little Secret of Amazon Category Rankings

Pssst.  Hey, self-published authors.  I’ve got a secret for you.  Do you want to know how to get more exposure for your book on Amazon?  Are you confused about why a certain novel is on some ridiculously specific Top 100 list while you’re languishing in the #100,000’s for Fiction > Fantasy?  The Amazon KDP platform is generally pretty easy to navigate when you’re publishing a Kindle book, but there’s a hidden method to getting access to the more detailed category lists, which will expose you to a targeted audience and give you some ranking figures to boast about.

When you look up a listing for a book on Amazon, scroll down past the reviews to the section titled “Look for similar items by category”.  If you visit the page for The Last Death of Tev Chrisini, for example, you’ll see this:


The book is listed under an increasingly specific series of categories, including epic fantasy and sword & sorcery.  But anyone who has gone through the KDP publishing process knows that sword & sorcery isn’t a BISAC category, and you can’t select it from the list that looks like this:


You can select two BISAC categories, and they’re all relatively vague.  BISAC codes are assigned to help publishers and libraries make sense of book subjects for the purposes of developing metadata.  Amazon uses BISAC codes to some extent, but they also have their own internal ranking and categorization system that determines the all-important Top 100 lists.

So how do you further specify your genre?  It’s actually pretty simple.  Go back to your book listing and click on Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy.  You’ll get a page that’s dominated by George R.R. Martin, unsurprisingly, since he’s the hottest name in the genre at the moment:


But look on the side, where those convenient red arrows are.  Look at all those options!  Broad things like epic, historical, and paranormal are there, as determined by BISAC, but check out those other ones!  Arthurian!  Fairy tales!  Superhero!  And better yet, look at the relatively small number of books in each of those categories, as compared to a broader BISAC designation.  If you write an Arthurian fantasy, you’ve only got 400 other competitors for a spot on the Top 100, as compared to 12,000 epic fantasy novels.  Much better odds of making it to the front page, right?  That makes you much easier to find when readers who just want to hear about Camelot come looking for a new story.

Now, here’s what you do.  When you’re publishing your Kindle book, and you’ve filled out your BISAC options, you’ll see an unassuming little box for seven keywords right underneath:


The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun is basically about a young man navigating a world of chaos, and learning the meaning of responsibility, courage, honor, and duty along the way.  So I chose “coming of age” as one of my targeted categories.  I put “coming of age” as one of my keywords for the free Kindle preview of The Spoil, and look at this:


Bam!  Easy as pie.  All you need to do is make sure that your keywords match a category on that extended meta-list, and you’re good to go.  I only had to give away seven copies of my preview in order to make it onto this list, and anyone looking for a coming of age story will see it right there in front of them.

I hope this little walk-through helps you in your quest to find the right audience.  I urge you to use some of your keywords for this very simple way to get your book in front of the right readers.  After all, that’s what keywords are for!  I don’t know why Amazon doesn’t explain this better during the process, but it’s fine with me that it’s still relatively under the radar.  Yay for search optimization!

Five things you’d rather not know about self-publishing

1017380_792927345185_1158397228_nWhen I published The Last Death of Tev Chrisini in March of 2012, I was a helpless neophyte when it came to the world of self-publishing.  I made a series of awful cover art decisions, went through about twelve new versions of my text after its initial release, didn’t do any marketing, and generally thought that my novel would somehow automatically become a shooting star without any actual effort on my part to hoist it above the crowd.

After a year and a half of trial-and-error in the self-pubbing world, The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun is ready for its debut (stay tuned for a free preview of Chapter One on Thursday!).  In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned, even if I wish they weren’t true.  Here are the top five things I kind of hate about self-publishing, but that I feel are necessary to understand, accept, and act upon if you want to make your mark in an increasingly crowded, competitive industry.

You’re an author, not a marketer?  Then get out of the game

You’ve read this in every Writer’s Digest advice column, every PR magician’s blog post, and every agent’s frustrated tweet about the self-pubbing world.  You have to be both.  You just have to be.  Authors and marketers often seem like polar opposites, since writers tend to be internal people, and marketing is about charming the external world.  It’s difficult, it’s tedious, it’s frustrating, and it sucks.

But unless you’ve got the big bucks to hire a publicist, it’s a necessary evil.  Whether you’re talking to book review bloggers, trying to get your book into the local shop, using Twitter and Facebook effectively, or going door to door and asking readers one by one to give you a chance, marketing isn’t optional.  If you don’t grin and bear it, and don’t acknowledge that this is a hat you must learn to wear, no one is even going to know your book exists.

You need to get down to each nitty-gritty pixel

I don’t have a graphic designer.  I don’t have an editor, and I don’t have a manuscript formatter.  Even though the covers for The Last Death and The Spoil were created by a professional, I ended up doing a lot of personalization (The Spoil cover is largely a product of my own efforts), not to mention wrestling it through the CreateSpace cover process, which is a saga for another time.

A lot of people don’t have the technical skills to produce an attractive and intriguing cover, or to format their manuscript in a way that’s easy to read and adheres to industry conventions.  If you’re not one of those savvy people, skip to the next section.   If you are (or you think you are), then you’re going to end up spending a couple of hours at 400% magnification with a 1 pixel brush, and that’s not a step you can skip.  Your audience sees your cover first.  Make it a damn good one.

You will need to make some financial investment

I happen to possess many of the skills necessary to produce a book from start to finish.  If you don’t, and you’re really serious about trying to make a career in self-publishing, you’re going to have to invest in professional services.  Self-pub companies like Lulu and CreateSpace offer their own pros, but you can also tap into the freelance market with sites like Odesk, which are a better option for the cash-strapped.

And even if you shepherd your book through the process on your own, there’s money involved.  Buying copies to keep on hand, giveaways, fees for contests, purchasing ISBNs, and proof copies are all things that add up, trickle by trickle.  The publishing process might technically be free, but this is a game that requires some initial outlay before you can even hope to make a profit. And don’t hope too hard about that part.  If you’re in this for the money, prepare for a rude awakening.

Self-publishing is a lot like online dating

Don’t ask me how I know, okay?  All I’m saying is that you’re going to send out a lot of pleas for attention, and you’re rarely going to get any positive responses – or responses at all.  Readers are bombarded by blind entreaties for their time and money, from countless authors who have unremarkable presentations or simply don’t match what that reader is looking for.  Don’t be offended when someone ignores you.  You ignore other authors (or potential suitors) all the time, too.

Finding your audience – or your new favorite author – is about making that magical connection with someone who speaks to you.  You’re going to start a lot of novels or explore a lot of markets that seem promising, but end up explaining their last colonoscopy appointment in great detail while you pick at your salad.  Being angry or bitter when you get a bad review, get dismissed by a blogger or agent, or get snubbed by a PR opportunity is the same as writing a nasty Facebook status about your boring dinner companion.  It doesn’t do any good, and it just ends up making you look petty and foolish.

Sometimes “no” will be the answer, and you just gotta deal

Because rejection is going to happen.  People are going to hate your work.  They’re going to say unflattering things, or misinterpret your favorite character, or even return the $2.99 e-book they just bought, which has always kind of puzzled me.  “No” is the answer a lot more often than “yes” is.  “I didn’t care for it” is a lot more common response to a book than “this is the best thing ever.”  Those three-star reviews can sour your day, but they aren’t a death knell unless you freak out about every single one.

Writing is hard.  Publishing is harder.  Self-publishing is a thankless, Sisyphean task.  You’re not going to sell a million copies your first month.  You might not even sell one.

But you’ve written a book.  You’ve finished it.  You have enough courage to expose its marvelous, flawed, creative, joyful beauty to a hostile world.  Be proud of yourself, enjoy the experience, and push as hard as you can to get that boulder up the hill.  Because all the “no” in the world can’t match the feeling of holding your bound, printed, published work in your hands for the first time.  If I’ve learned anything during all of this, it’s that all the trouble is so totally worth it.

Shelf Unbound Self-Publishing Contest 2013


Good morrow, lords and ladies!  I bring you excellent tidings to set your bodkins a-quiver.  Or something.

Shelf Unbound Magazine, patron saint of my early success and a bloody fine publication bringing exposure and praise to indie authors around the world, has opened its writing competition for self-published authors again!

If you’ve published a book through CreateSpace, Lulu, Amazon KDP, a different DIY house, or a small independent press that releases fewer than five titles a year, you’re eligible to take a chance at some awesome exposure and some amazing personal attention from super-publisher and all around wonder woman Margaret Brown.  The full rules are here [PDF], so give them a gander and get on board!

The deadline for entry is midnight on September 10, 2013, which gives you plenty of time.

Oh, and if you scroll down to the bottom of the contest page, you’ll see a friendly face (which belongs to me) and a brazen entreaty to give me your patronage.  I know many of you have already picked up a copy of The Last Death, for which I thank you, but if you haven’t yet, consider throwing your support behind my little campaign.  It is not a condition of entering the contest, just a bit of extraneous pandering.

I highly recommend that you give it a shot.  Last year there were close to 800 entries, and this year there will probably be more, but Shelf Unbound is a great publication to be a part of, and it’s worth a try.

CreateSpace Featured Author Showcase

Hello, strangers!  ‘Tis I, your wandering author.  After about two weeks of intensive packing and a weekend-long location re-calibration, I’m back to writing, awaiting the arrival of my new feline friend, and ready to take the reins again.

So let’s start off with some good news!  Most of you know that I’ve been using CreateSpace to publish my books, and some of you know that I’ve recommended it for those looking to make the leap into paperback self-publishing.  Well, a few weeks after winning the Shelf Unbound award, I was contacted by a lovely woman at Amazon’s PR firm who put me forward for a featured spot in CreateSpace’s member showcase.


And it worked!  You can read my interview feature here, and please, by all means, spread the word around.  It’s really awesome to be recognized by the people who made it so easy to put my work out there in the first place.  Hopefully this is just another step towards great things.

As always, thanks for your support and good cheer.  I’m really, totally, truly, almost sort of done with the first draft of The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun, and even though it’ll take a little longer than anticipated to get it to market, I think it’ll really be worth the wait.  Stay tuned!


I have a confession to make.  I’ve been hiding something from you.  I didn’t want to share it for fear of alarming my loyal readers, because I can’t find my smelling salts and I don’t really want to be responsible for that sort of thing.  However, I want to mention it because I have a problem in front of me, and the only way to solve it is with your help.

It's...uh...ketchup.  Yeah.

It’s…uh…ketchup. Yeah.  Ketchup.

A few weeks before Christmas, I was put in touch with an agency in New York.  There were burner phones and cool sunglasses and self-destructing notes left under park benches – the whole deal.  I’m an international assassin, my last mission went awry, and I need you to hide me in your basement. Really.

Okay, no.  It was a literary agency, of course.  They loved The Last Death and are excited about my prospects for success, and even asked for the first chapter of The Spoil and didn’t throw up after reading it.  I’m not officially signed or anything – this is more of an advisory partnership at the moment.  But they’re a bunch of awesome people, I’m extraordinarily flattered that they find my book worth pursuing, and I’ve had some very helpful conversations about what I need to do to get my name out there and generate enough interest in my stuff before a traditional publishing house will bite at a self-published work that’s already on the market.  We’ll ignore the indignant chorus of accusations about the stigma of self-publishing, because I don’t really care about all that, and it doesn’t matter.

The point is, I’ve gotta move some books.  I have to be desirable and charming and sociable and in demand, none of which are adjectives that have ever been used to describe me before.  We all know that badgering readers for reviews doesn’t work, and beating people over the head with a paperback will barely even leave them with a concussion.  Trust me, I’m an international assassin.  The best you can do is a particularly vicious paper cut.

But here’s what might work: putting on some razzle dazzle with guest posts, or an interview or two.  There are hundreds of blogs out there with a literary focus, and I know some of you guys are among them.  So here I am, volunteering my services.  Have a fantasy topic that needs to be addressed?  Want historical grounding in issues that pop up in make-believe worlds?  I’m your gal.  Know of a blog that’s looking for authors?  Tell me!  Want to grow your own audience while helping out a fellow author?  Come do a guest spot on Inkless.  I know it’s hard to get noticed, but you notice me and I want to notice you.

What do you think?  Are you in?  Leave a comment, send an email, use smoke signals…just get in touch.  Let’s be awesome together.

News, interviews, and a contest!

[Skip down to the bottom if you only care about the contest]

I’ve been a busy, busy girl.  No, I haven’t finished up The Spoil of Z-K yet, since illness and injury have kept creativity out of my reach for the moment, but I have been doing other things.

Tomorrow I will sign a lease on a brand new apartment, where I’ll be moving in March.  It’s one town over, closer to my job, and within five minutes of my grocery store, two CVS’s (what luxury!) and some nice restaurants, not to mention a big park with a lake to swim in and several of my favorite stores.  I’ve been living in my current place for more than five years now, and although I will always cherish it for being my first apartment, in many ways it’s simply time to move on.

spikeI will also be taking on a feline roommate in this new apartment of mine, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I’ve missed having some kitty companionship since I moved away from home, and I think it’s finally time for me to commit to a freeloader of my very own.  This is Oliver, a.k.a. Spike, a (probably mostly) Norwegian Forest Cat and such a sweet, lovely, playful boy.  He’s a rescue from a local adoption program who very luckily turned up at the back door of a foster cat family about a year ago.  I probably won’t be able to bring him home until April, but I know he’s being well taken care of in the meantime.  You can all look forward to many, many, many more cat pictures in the months to come.  Many.

But I haven’t completely stopped all my book promotion work due to staring at his mischievous little face for twenty-four hours a day.  Did I say “little”?  He’s 18 pounds.  But anyway.  I had the opportunity to do an interview with Rachel Herriman, and spoke to her about The Last Death and The Spoil of ZK, as well as The Paper Flower and some of my wise words about the writing and self-publishing process.  At the bottom, you’ll see some information about a giveaway.


There are only a few simple steps in order to enter to receive a signed, personalized paperback copy of The Last Death of Tev Chrisini.  Here’s what you have to do:

1. Follow me on Twitter: @jenrosebresnick

2. Follow Rachel Herriman on Twitter: @Writer93

3. ‘Like’ RachelHerriman.com on Facebook

4. Send an e-mail to rachel@rachelherriman.com with your Twitter handle and Facebook name to ensure an entry!

You can do all that, right?  Easy as pie.  If you already follow me on Twitter, then don’t worry about that step – it still counts.  The last day for entry is January 31.  A winner will be randomly chosen after that, assuming there are any entries this time.  Good luck!