The Top Ten Self-Publishing, Fantasy, and eBook Stories of 2014

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Hey there, guys!  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas (or at least a brief break from work/commuter traffic/annoying office mates, for those who didn’t celebrate).  I don’t want to distract you from composing your reviews of Dark the Night Descending, which I know you’re all doing in the final two weeks of my contest, but I thought I’d share with you an end-of-the-year roundup of the top posts on Inkless.  2014 was a good year for my humble little blog, and I think it’s kind of fun to revisit the stories that attracted the most eyeballs over the past twelve months.

Ready to count down?  Here we go!

10. Short Story: He Belongs to the Sea

It was nightfall when the blood came.  William had been set to sitting and watching, so the surgeon could attend to others.  He had never seen so much before.  The fall had cracked the old man’s ribs, a crunch and a cry as he hit the rail before tumbling over into the water, but he had swum to the rope that had been cast for him, and hauled himself back up onto the deck…

9. Short Story: Traffic Jam

Loneliness had its perks, she told herself as she slid her hands over the steering wheel, back and forth, three times, before they came to rest right next to each other in the middle again.  It didn’t matter if you kept your head down if no one ever asked you to lift it up.  She gently inched the car forward, as if kissing up against the bumper ahead of her would made the traffic clear faster, but it didn’t.

8. The Top Ten Twitter Hashtags for Writers

Whether you’re blogging, Facebooking, Instragramming, Tweeting, or (heaven help us) Snapchatting, social media is a primary part of our current cultural experience as well as a great way to make connections, promote your work, and blow off a little steam when things aren’t quite going your way.  

7. Yea or Nay: MS Word Book Cover Templates for Self-Publishers

Inside and especially outside, authors who may have a wonderful grasp of the written word often fail to translate that talent into the realm of graphic design.  I’ve talked about cover art before, and I’ve discussed the pluses and perils of the mysteriously hooded figure and the voluptuous temptress who could really benefit from a professional fitting.  Stay away from the cliché, I’ve always said.  But what if the cliché isn’t entirely what it seems?

6. 25% of Kindle Books are Self-Published, But Not for the Money

Self-published books distributed through Amazon KDP made up a quarter of the top 100 titles on Amazon last year, The Guardian reports, which is a pretty clear indicator that indie authors are entirely capable of putting out quality content that people want to read.  And they’re not doing it for the money, either.  Only 10% of self-pubbed authors publish books purely to rake in the dough.  Mostly they just want to be heard.

5. Blurb and Ingram Are Bringing Self-Published Books to Real Stores

Blurb, one of the older and more technologically robust self-publishing services out there, wants to help you solve the gaping hole in your lonely little heart.  They’ve partnered up with Ingram, the master catalogue from which booksellers buy their stock, to list self-published titles created through the Blurb platform. 

4. Death Be Not Proud: Mortality, Fantasy, and a Smidge of Rage

I was very much caught by surprise when browsing my Twitter feed this weekend.  Amidst the cat pictures and New Year’s wishes and hashtags, I came upon a New York Times Sunday Book Review interview of short story author and poet Russell Banks.  The lede caught my eye instantly and so inflamed my sensibilities that I instantly clicked on the full article, as the New York Times no doubt intended.  

3. There Will Always Be Someone Better Than You

There, I said it.  Okay?  They’re just always going to be there.  Selling more books, getting better reviews, using prettier words, winning more awards, gathering more Twitter followers…there will always be someone who seems smarter, more accomplished, more talented, and better equipped to navigate the rocky shoals of the publishing world.

2. Wait, There Were HOW Many Self-Published Books in 2012?!

When people say there’s stiff competition in the indie publishing world, they usually just mean it as a really ineffectual way to temper a new author’s disappointment at not bursting onto the best-seller lists by day two.  But it turns out they’re right.  I mean, they’re really right.  The sheer massive number of self-published books produced in 2012 alone will stagger you.

1. 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.

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An Apologetic Post

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Hey there, guys, gals, and assorted gender expressions.  I know I’ve been a little erratic these past few weeks, and I do apologize.  I could blame the fact that I’ve been very busy at work (which I have), or the fact that I’ve been dealing with a broken cell phone saga all week (which I also have, damn it all), but mostly I’ve just been bogged down in the snowy doldrums due to the weather constantly flinging itself at my face.  Winter is a pretty hard time for most of us in the frozen north, and it just seems to be dragging on extra long this year.

In brighter news, however, I’m preparing to fly down to Florida in a few days so I can attend a pretty intense conference for my day job.  It will be warm and sunny, I will be spending most of it inside a cavernous, windowless convention center smiling a lot, desperately wracking my brain for small-talk, and saving the world one data-driven patient care decision at a time.

This means there will not be a post on Monday, but I promise I will do my very, very best to pull something out of my hat for Friday and return to the normal way of things as soon as humanly possible.  The key to blogging is to stay regular and stay committed, and I am at least the second one if not always the first.

Also, it’s my birthday on Sunday.  Happy birthday to me and my mom, because we share the day.  I expect lots of presents from all of you in order to keep me motivated.  Right?  Right.

In any case, here’s to a nice break from the wet and the mud and the ice.  I hope to come back refreshed, triumphant, and ready to tackle anything, including a return to the first draft of Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow, the second book in my new series.  I submitted the first book to ABNA this year, so I also have that to bite my nails over.  Thank you for your patience, and see y’all next week.

End of the year roundup: The biggest hits of 2013

Yup, it’s that time of year.  Snow shovels, Christmas jingles, and retrospective roundups from every single blog in existence.  Since my blog remains in existence, despite the odds, I thought I’d do a little year-end recap of some of the most popular posts that have gotten y’all talking in the past twelve months.

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The Dirty Little Secret of Amazon Category Rankingsranking

Topping the list is this helpful advice about how to tag your book on KDP in order to reach the widest audience.  Amazon’s self-publishing process is simple but not entirely transparent, and I’m happy to say that this information has helped a whole bunch of people use the system to their best advantage.  Check it out and pass it on, all ye authors.

25% of Kindle Books Are Self-Published, But Not for the Money

A quick look at some recent stats about just how well self-published books are selling.  Still think there’s a stigma to going it alone?  One in four readers doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

There Will Always be Someone Better than You

A lament about my inferiority complex seems to attract a lot of web traffic that is not publishing-specific, because inferiority strikes everyone in a very similar way.  I don’t know if reading this post can help you get back on the horse after a disappointment or frustration, but it was certainly therapeutic to write.

pile-of-books Wait, there were HOW Many Self-Published Books in 2012?!

Statistics seem to be the name of the game these days.  There were a lot of books published last year, and a ton of them were DIY.  Does the popularity of self-publishing bring equality to a closed market, or does it dilute the value of the really good stuff?

Five Ways You Can Tell if You’re a Fantasy Junkie

Not sure what it means that you want to buy that One Ring replica for your girlfriend this Christmas?  Maybe it means you have good taste.  Run through this list of five symptoms of fantasy addiction (and have her take a look at it too before you finalize that purchase) to see where you fall on the fanboy spectrum.

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The results are a pretty good indicator of the direction I’m planning to take Inkless in 2014.  More interesting news, more focus on readers in addition to authors, and a continuation of the Monday/Friday posting pattern that seems to be manageable enough.  Short Story Fridays will continue on a regular basis as long as I have the wherewithal to keep writing flash fiction, and I hope you all have the wherewithal to keep reading them.

It’s been a great year for the blog, a great year for my work (even though very few people have read The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun), and an honor to have you, dear readers, as a part of this crazy journey.  2014 will hopefully see the publication of at least one new work, probably in the summer, and some big things between now and then.  Stay tuned.

WordPress authors talk NaNoWriMo and what happens after

Hey, guys!  I hope you’ve all enjoyed your first week of noveling madness, and haven’t yet been banned from your local coffee shop for scaring the children with your creepy concentration face.  Whether you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year or not, you might want to check out a series of posts by the WordPress wizards on the joys of this month-long festival of literary abandon – and what to do with your 50,000 word mess when you’ve finished.

In addition to four other super cool authors, these posts just sort of happen to feature the wit and questionable wisdom of me, myself, and I.  Please check out the books and blogs of my fellow NaNoers – but don’t spend too long on the internet, because you’ve got a word count to meet!

NaNoWriMo 2013: Want to write a novel?

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NaNoWriMo Roundup: Seasoned authors share their secrets

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On blogging and publishing your book: Authors talk shop

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Five Things to Consider Before You Self-Publish

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It’s a tough world out there for us self-publishers, and there are a lot of things to think about before diving head-first into the strange and magical land of ebooks, print-on-demand paperbacks, and fierce competition with your friends and foes.

Want to learn more about what you should consider before taking the plunge?  Head over to Bear and Black Dog Editing’s blog to see what I have to say in my guest post about forging a path forward in this new and exciting industry.

Five Social Media Tips for Authors

I am the guardian of good online etiquette.  Hear me roar.  Also, Jen went to the zoo yesterday.

I am the guardian of good online etiquette. Hear me roar. Also, Jen went to the zoo yesterday.

If you’re tired of scrolling past Instagram photos of your smiling, bikini-clad high school classmates, or clicking “hide” when that coworker starts sharing recipes and Candy Crush invites sixteen thousand times a day, then you know from experience that Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, StumbleUpon, and tumblr can be more of a hassle than they’re worth.

Social media doesn’t always work as a sales platform.  With millions of authors, musicians, actors, start-ups, and artists looking for exposure, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.  I’m no media whiz kid, as my 94 followers on Twitter and 44 Facebook “likes” will be the first to tell you, but here are some of my top do’s and don’ts when it comes to keeping social media from turning into social mediaaargh.

Learn everything you can about SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the foundation of the only thing that matters in the universe: Google page rankings.  Want your blog to come up on top when someone searches for “space pirate murder mystery robot love story?”  Then you better have short, relevant, eye-catching titles, and work those keywords into the first 160 characters of your posts.

Pay attention to your URLs.  Tag effectively.  Keep your articles under 1000 words, because people typically won’t read any more than that.  Use sub-headings to define your article’s content and chop it into easy, bite-sized pieces for readers.  Google gives preference to titles with fewer than 60 characters, and the more buzz words you can pack into that half-a-tweet, the better.  You can’t get read if you can’t get found.

Keep it short, keep it relevant, keep it funny

People have short attention spans.  They want to be entertained, and they want to be entertained by the stuff that matters to them.  If you’re commenting on an article about diagraming sentences, no one cares about your opinion on global warming.  And they care even less about hearing your elevator pitch and having to scroll past your Amazon link.

Being a productive, interesting member of any online community is about contributing to the topic at hand in a way that makes people look forward to your two cents.  Humor works.  Funny humor works better.  Get to the point and get to it fast, or you’ll attract a lot more eye rolls than eyeballs to your next tirade.

Don’t let l’eau de desperation stink up your campaign

Look, we know your free Kindle promotion is going to start on Wednesday.  It’s only been half an hour since you last mentioned it.  We’ve seen your Facebook posts, and once you’ve invited us to like your page once or twice or three times, we get that it exists.  Now we’re just ignoring you.

No one likes spam, but what people like even less is the blatant guilt-tripping that often accompanies it.  It’s great to let people know you’ve got a book coming out.  Some of your old friends might be proud of you.  Most of them are going to “like” the post and then never buy a copy.  That’s just how people are.  The more bullying, whining, cajoling, and demanding you do, the fewer sales you’re going to make.  Alienating your friends is never a good marketing strategy.

Stick to what you’re good at

When I first published The Last Death, I tried everything.  Kindle message boards, fantasy communities, discussion groups on Shelfari and Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, this blog, and even Pintrest.  I thought spreading my net as wide as possible would get me the most exposure, and I guess technically that’s sort of correct.

But I had no time or energy to give each of these things the attention they deserved.  Leaving one “buy my book” post before disappearing into the ether was not being a good community member, nor was it a very effective way to make people want to hear more about what I have to say.  So I decided to stick to WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter to thoroughly cultivate my brand.  If you can’t figure out who I am and what I have to offer based on those three platforms, then I can’t help you.

WWYD?

Jesus, in his infinite charity and kindness, may accept every Farmville invitation and click on every Buzzfeed photo montage.  He might buy every self-published author’s magnum opus and retweet every mildly amusing quip you have on hand.  But you don’t.  You’re mean and horrible and have to keep some of your money to buy food and chocolate and anti-anxiety pills, because you’re a writer with limited tolerance and limited grace.  Most people are like you, in that respect.  They skip things.  They ignore things.  And that’s not something that’s ever going to change.

So before you post anything, whether it’s an artsy cell phone pic of your dirty sneakers or a self-indulgent whine about how long it’s taking to get through the line at the post office, think about how you would react if you saw that Facebook post from someone else on your friends list.  Would you scroll past?  Would you get annoyed?  Then don’t post it.

Building a strong, attractive brand requires some sacrifice, and sometimes that means forgoing that snapshot of your turkey sandwich.  It also requires a little reciprocity.  Click on other people’s links sometimes.  Leave your mark on their blog just as you wish they’d do on yours.  Social media can be a game-changer, but only if you stick to the golden rule.