Sunday, December 16, 2012

Free Books: Give it away. Just give it away.

I have a Free Book Promotion coming up and I keep hearing the George Strait song ‘Give it Away’ playing in my ears. (Now you know where I get some of the inspirations for my blogs). It was time for me to do some research and talk to several successful authors on how to do this and what their experiences were in giving their books away.

Free books have been a custom in traditional paper books for as long as book reviews have been written. They came with the territory. They were sent directly to a person or an agent. The reader/customer rarely got their hands on a freebie unless they went to the Library.

The Internet has changed all that. The ebook has altered the way we read, distribute and market books. It has increased the competition between authors and retailers and publishers, all at the speed of light. Now one of the most important things for an author is to create an interest in his book with friends and followers online.

One of the methods of choice is a Free Book Promotion.

10 Easy Planning Steps

I’ll start off with ten steps we all should write down and follow if we are going to give our books away.

1.      Start several weeks in advance. First, select the dates and the period of time you want to run your promotion. There is some wisdom used here. The experts say do the promotion for 2 or 3 days in the middle of the week but not at the start of the month. Give yourself enough lead time so you can get everything together.
2.      Get your book and site information together in an easy place to work with. I use a Word document to manage mine.

That includes your book description, the ASIN and ISBN numbers, your cover, the Amazon buy link and any other link that relates to your book. This should include links to reviews and blogs.

3.      Made sure all your support group’s information is updated with the latest book information plus all your author profiles are up to date.
4.      Next, go to the Amazon promotion manager and schedule your Free Book Promotion.

             Review the Amazon Free Promotion Rules before you start. If this blog had more space, I would recommend this step before I published the book but that is a whole different topic.

             Basically, you need to be enrolled in the KDP Select program. You have 5 days to offer your book free every 3 months and you must have exclusive rights for the primary content of the book and Amazon has the exclusive rights to the sales. If you got all of the above, you’re good to go.

5.      I recommend you set up a day to day schedule (at least a 2 week schedule) and decide what you are going to offer free and when? Your book? Giveaway product? A Bonus book? Remember not all things can be done at once and you well run out of time if you’re not careful. 
6.      Start drafting your tweets and your Facebook communications. This is something you can start way ahead of time. Your are going to post them often. Variety is a good thing here. If you just keep sending the same tweet at your followers, they will start skipping over them like some of the other noise out there.

             Here is a sample of two that I created for my upcoming Free promotion. This will give some idea anyway of what I am talking about. Notice I have put the number of characters in brackets after the post. When I get down to tweet time, I know right where I’m at with Twitter.
Start 12/19. FREE Holiday Present. Stone encounters Murder/Espionage on on the Colorado - Black Mountain Secrets   #RT [139]
FREE 12/19 Black Mountain Secrets, a Jonathon Stone Mystery - Murder - Espionage - Intrigue on the Colorado River #RT [139]

7.      Highlight your book trailer if you have one? Black Mountain Secrets
8.      Create a blog or two, highlighting your book and time them to be released just before your promotion. Don’t forget the links back to everything.

             For example, I have three blogs prepared for my promotion. Make sure that other bloggers know the timing of your event as well as other sites that list your book. Remember they need enough lead time to react. That is where scheduling comes in to play.

9.      If you want to try something different, try Pinterest and their pins as a storyboard of your book, like you would a book trailer. Then point your readers to the board.

      I did that, using pictures I took during my research for my latest novel, Black Mountain Secrets. They were the stills from my book trailer. I can’t tell you how this will work out in practice but I know I need to link and tweet this heavily to make it work.

10.  Develop a follow up plan to re-contact your followers to reinforce when and where they can get your free book. This could be by Twitter, Facebook, email or another vehicle of your choice. The key is to keep communicating during and after your promotion.

Yogi says: It’s not over till it’s over. I’ll add to that: And it’s only over when you stop.

Setup Goals and Objectives

Of course, everybody’s primary goal is to sell more books. But there are a lot of ways to look at giving your book away. There are goals and objectives that you should consider.

To tackle this problem, I went to my HBS Author’s Spotlight crew. They are a group of award-winning, bestselling authors, some with very different points of view, who I have interviewed on my blog. They weighed in on their experiences with Free Books. (The links inserted in this post are to the Authors Spotlight interview. A must read.)

Develop a Strategy

One of the first things that was apparent. You need a strategy for giving your books away.

Award-winning  self-published Fantasy Writer, M.R. Mathias - @DahgMahn gave us his point of view.
I give away books all the time. It sometimes helps, sometimes not. Here is how it helps ME: I give away book one of a series, or a prequel type novella. If people like it they buy books two and three. The 23rd thru the 27th of Dec. I am giving away book one of "The Legend of Vanx Malic - Through the Wildwood" on Amazon.

Gaining Reviews

Some authors feel that if they give their books away, it will encourage the reader to write a review. It is much like an understood commitment.

Crime and Horror Author, Jade Varden - @JadeVarden had this experience.

I’ve had good results in that I managed to give books away, but I did not gain a ton of new reviews because of these giveaways... but I did improve communications with the book bloggers.

Looking for Exposure

This was the most popular reason for giving their books away.

Mystery & Thrillers Author, Dave Folsom - @davefolsombooks explained the promotion worked in practice but the outcome was hard to measure.

I have used both the Goodreads Giveaway program and Kindle’s Free Days.  Both resulted in a large number of responses and considerable exposure. How much this affected the sales that followed is difficult to measure… my main goal was exposure … Unfortunately, this is a slow uphill battle… the only minor obstacle was Amazon’s exclusivity requirement.

Mystery Writer and the host of HBS Author's Spotlight blog, James Moushon - @jimhbs is looking for exposure starting soon.
I am starting my first Promotion December 19 for 3 days through Amazon Select for my mystery novel, ‘Black Mountain Secrets’. My main goal is to get exposure for my fiction writing, get reviews and develop an audience. The Jonathon Stone Mystery series is a life long dream of mine that I want to share with Mystery readers.

YA Mystery & Thriller Author, Maree Ward-Russell - @mibbymw gained exposure but didn’t get the bump in sales she wanted.

My only experience has been with KDP direct …  My goal was to get myself ‘out there’ in terms of people getting to know me. At first it went well with 2000 downloads in the first 2 days. Problem is if you give that many copies away free, there is no incentive to buy and I found I had a slump in sales straight after.

Paranormal Action-Adventure and Short Stories Author, Troy Blackford - @TBlackford3 is just starting and he wants exposure.
I've managed to give away thousands of copies … My main goal was getting the work out there and hope people would like it and perhaps spread the word.

Best seller/rankings

Some go through the Free Book Promotion drill to get a higher ranking and in some cases gain the bestseller tag.

Award-winning novelist and speaker, Pamela Burford - @PamelaBurford got both with her promotion and a bonus with her backlist sales.

I made my fun foodie romance, ‘Too Darn Hot’, free beginning in September. My purpose was to rise in Kindle's best-seller lists and to prompt sales of my other books. This was my first freebie promo and it succeeded on both fronts...readers have liked the book enough to buy my other backlist romance, ‘Snowed’.

International Best Selling Author, Stacy Eaton - @StacySEaton had the increase in the rankings that she wanted and more. Plus she continued the marketing push after the freebes with added to success.

I put 'Whether I’ll Live or Die' up free for 2 days last month and gave away over 8,000 copies in 5 countries.

All in all, my experiences with listing my books for free on Amazon have been good. This last giveaway was the best and I loved seeing the numbers roll in. I climbed the rankings to the #21 spot on the Free Kindle Books list.

After I came off my free days, I continued to rank in some of the categories for almost two weeks.

My goal is always to get my story out there into the hands of readers...there were times I did not promote my free day as well as I should.

YA Romance Author, Emily Tippetts - @EMTippetts got exposure and sales but she realized there was more too it than just providing a free book.

I've given books away for free through Amazon's KDP Select program. The first time I did this was March 1 of this year with ‘Someone Else's Fairytale’, and the book shot up to 13th overall in one day. I then ended the giveaway and the book had a strong sales surge and climbed to 194th overall. The surge then subsided to about 20 copies a of the main drivers of a giveaway is people seeing the book high in the rankings...make your giveaway last longer….For about three weeks I had a good sales bump - nothing extreme. I never climbed past 8,000 on the site, but it was noticeable…. It isn't enough to make the book free, you have to get the word out to people who are looking.


Another reason for giving a book away is to create or improve your brand. Branding sells books in the future.

Award-winning speaker and a bestselling author, Devin C. Hughes - @DevinCHughes has a two edged sword here. One side is book sales and the other is promoting his speaking tour.

I give away quite a few books to a variety of folks who attend my events … I giveaway books to promote me and my brand.

Pre-Promotion plan

The days leading to your free promotion should be heavy in your planning schedule. This is the period leading to the start of the sale.

1.      Get your blog out there to your followers. I plan on having three blogs posted two days before my promotion begins, all with links back and forth plus to my Amazon buy page. You’ll see related posts on the eBook Author’s Corner, the HBS Author’s Spotlight and the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novels blogs.

2.      Start tweeting like mad, they say. I will dig into the tweets I created in my planning stage and start tweeting at regular intervals each day for the next two weeks. Notice I am not going to stop when the free promotion is over.

3.      List with other blogs – the more listings you get the better.

Now Let’s Give It Away

It’s time for your scheduled free days and to put your plan in motion. Contact your promotional sites and support groups. Timing is everything.

Amazon will do their thing but you need to keep working. It’s time to post on your Facebook pages, tweet the world, contact the groups that you belong to and get it rolling with your support groups.

Like Melissa Foster - @Melissa_Foster from the World Literary Cafe suggests: “Get authors in a cross promotion group and tweet like crazy (and thank them for it).”

The Give Away is done but we’re not

We need to keep marketing and as one of our contributors suggests: “Don’t lower your price. Keep up the momentum for a few days. If you’re free days ended before the weekend, keep up strong promotion efforts (through social networking) through the weekend.”

Results is the objective

Authors want results for their hard earned time and effort. Here are some opinions from our prized authors. Beware, sometimes the expectations exceed results.

Award-winning Mystery Novelist, Dani Amore - @authordaniamore explained her results this way.

It's been an interesting experience giving away books for free.  Probably in relation to the amount of time and effort I spent promoting the free books, my results have been varied...modest spikes in sales of other books, and maybe a few reviews...

Experienced Fiction and Non-fiction Author, Erik Christian - @SimplyAfterDark commented on how his strategy paid him in results.

I love the free promotion offered on KDP. I try and split up the 5 days free into two segments. It has helped sales considerably, as you can see from my rank of "Drunk" which was free just a few days ago.

Best Selling Author,  Patrick Hatt - @PatHatt24 echoed the same results.

My experience in giving them away for free has been it helps a ton, depending upon how it is done... I have  always gotten sales of my other books and sales of the free book when its free period was over.

Best-selling Mystery & Thrillers Author, Jake Needham - @jakeneedham had good results but sees a change he can’t explain.

I've done KDP Select give-aways of two of my titles and have had rather interesting results. In April, I offered free copies of ‘THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE’ through KDP Select and nearly 40,000 copies were downloaded…In the months immediately following, the total sales of of my titles jumped…In November, I tried KDP Select again with ‘KILLING PLATO’. In the three days that free copies have been available, just over 15,000 copies were downloaded worldwide.

Since both offerings were therefore more or less the same, I really have no idea if the offering of a title for free through KDP Select has become less effective as a promotional tool since last spring.

Writer of Fiction Novels, Non-Fiction and Children's Books plus the founder of the'Indie Chicks' writing group, Cheryl Shireman - @cherylshireman had good results but she questions the carryover to future sales.

Amazon Select can be a good way to attract short-term attention to your novel, but I am not sure what long-term effect giving away free copies will have on sales… [all I know is] a lot of readers were exposed.


Mystery Writer and the host of HBS Author's Spotlight blog, James Moushon @jimhbs ran head on into the exclusivity of the KDP program. 

The obstacle I had was with my first book, ‘Call Off The Dogs’. When it was published, I rushed out and placed with all the online retailers. That was before Select was the main method of choice for book promotion.

Now I tried to go back and make ‘the Dogs’ exclusive so I can promote it free through Amazon. Unfortuniately some of the minor retailers will not unlist the book and have priced it at zero. Amazon won’t let me enter the program until the issues can be resolved.

Some people just don’t give it away

Some of the authors questioned for this blog see free promotion differently. There are two ways to look at this you know. I just lost ‘x’ number of sales or did I gain potential readers for my next books. Fortuniately you can measure the free downloads and future sales are hard to determine.

Action-Adventure Thriller Author & popular publishing industry blogger, Joanna Penn - @thecreativepenn had mixed feelings: one for non-fiction, one for fiction. 

I have used KDP Select for my non-fiction book 'How to love your job or find a new one' … giving it away for free was always about getting more readers... for my fiction, I prefer a paid promo, as I end up making more money and also get more targeted buyers. I no longer have my fiction in KDP Select.

Historical Fiction Author, Ron Fritsch - @RonFritsch looked at his reading base and said no.

I've never offered them free to the general public. I don't think the persons who might read my books would be impressed with a giveaway.

Mystery & Thrillers Author, blogger and book editor, Amy Metz - @goosepimpleisms had a different problem. One that many authors are faced with.

I haven't been able to offer my eBook for free because my publisher controls the pricing.


Will there you have it. We have learned a lot from our contributors but the question still is: should I or not? I think goals, schedules and planning can’t hurt and being prepared is a must. Also, working the Internet for all its worth is a required and you should keep selling after the promotion. It is better than just throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks. Also, we learned that free books are not for everyone.

George Strait’s song keeps singing in the background. Don’t get caught singing his last line: “I can’t even give it away”. Listen to George here, if you wish


What has been your experience with Free Book Promotions?
Should we add anything to the planning process?
Did we miss a goal or objective along the way?

HBS Author's Spotlight Contributors

The author comments are excerpts from a survey conducted by the HBS Author's Spotlight. You can view the author’s complete answers on the following blog: Free eBooks – HBS Author’s Spotlight Survey.

There question was: What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in other types of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

Follow me:

Follow Me on Twitter: @jimhbs
Or EMAIL at:
View my website: James Moushon – Mystery Writer
Or visit my blog: The eBook Author Corner
Take a look at my Author’s blog: HBS Author’s Spotlight

Check out the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novels:
Call Off The Dogs

Or newly released: Free starting 12/19/12 for 3 days
Black Mountain Secrets

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Author: An Interview with Rayne Hall

Today I have an excerpt of a recent interview with award-winning Author Rayne Hall. She is a Fantasy and Horror Fiction author, editor of the Ten Tales series of themed short stories and the teacher in the 'Writing Workshops with Rayne Hall' classes.

Author Genre: Fantasy and Horror Fiction

Author Description: Rayne Hall writes fantasy and horror fiction. She is the author of thirty books in different genres and under different pen names, published by twelve publishers in six countries, translated into several languages. Her short stories have been published in magazines, e-zines and anthologies.

After living in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has settled in a small Victorian seaside town in southern England. Rayne holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing.

Over three decades, she has worked in the publishing industry as a trainee, investigative journalist, feature writer, magazine editor, production editor, page designer, concept editor for non-fiction book series, anthology editor, editorial consultant and more.

Outside publishing, she worked as a museum guide, apple picker, tarot reader, adult education teacher, trade fair hostess, translator and belly dancer.

Currently, Rayne Hall writes subtle horror and outrageous fantasy fiction and tries to regain the rights to her out-of-print books so she can republish them as e-books.

Rayne teaches short online classes for writers. Topics include Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing Short Stories, Creating Great Villains, Tightening your Writing Style, and more. Caution: not suitable for beginners or the faint of heart!

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

Tell us what is next on your drawing board? Do you have more than one writing project going on and do you use any type of software to keep track of where you’re at?

I always have several writing projects bubbling on the burner. Right now, I'm preparing Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies for publication, and several other anthologies for the Ten Tales series are already under way. Two of my works-in-progress are set in the Middle Eastern fantasy world of my dark epic novel Storm Dancer. Flame Bearer is a novel and The Colour of Dishonour is a collection of short stories. I'm also working on new projects for my series of books for writers to add to Writing Fight Scenes and Writing Scary Scenes. At any given time, I have about three hundred short stories in progress, mostly horror.

How big of a role does social media ( over 22K twitter followers) play in your marketing? Do you do any traditional marketing like book signings and personal appearances?

In the past, I've done physical book signings, personal appearances and such, but these days I focus on ebooks, so I meet my readers online.

My social network of choice is Twitter @raynehall which I use not just as a marketing tool but for engaging with my peers (other writers) and my readers. I share #writetip tweets, thought-provoking quotes, interesting websites and writing inspiration. Of course, I also announce news about my books, e.g. when a book is available free or hits a bestseller list.

I don't do Facebook; I'm too busy writing. I don't keep a blog either, but I do a lot of guest blogging. Many bloggers invite me, because my guest blogs are quality articles which give value to the readers, not promo dumps.

We have had several authors from the UK in the Author’s Spotlight. Does living there present any special or unique problems in marketing and publishing? What percentages of your readers are in the US vs. the UK?

Ebook publishing is international, and many readers who have previously been only exposed to their country's form of English are startled to see different words and spellings. Some American readers think that British English is wrong; they write reviews complaining that my books are “filled with errors” (referring to words like colour, travelling, enquiry, jewellery, and to grammatical differences such as which vs that), and some who are aware of the difference demand that I “should learn American before publishing a book”.

I don't think that I - or other international authors - should change the way we write just to please this ignorant (or arrogant) minority.

If someone seriously dislikes British English, they don't need to read my books. I put “British English” in the book description, masthead and introduction.

Another challenge is that Amazon discriminates against international authors on several levels, but the details would exceed the scope of this interview.

I find it exciting that ebooks allow readers and writers from all over the world to connect. This creates a constant flow of international ideas, exchanges of perspectives and glimpses into different cultures.

Regarding the percentage of readers in the UK vs the US: I don't know, because not all distributors provide this information. Based on information from Kobo and Amazon, I estimate that just over 5% of my readers are in the UK, but it fluctuates from month to month. My books also sell in Canada, Germany, and other countries.

An interesting phenomenon is that certain books are more popular in some countries than in others. For example, Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires is more popular in the US and Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts in the UK.

Following along the same lines, explain to us the process you go through to launch one of your books.

Let's look at one of the Ten Tales books. These are anthologies (books containing stories by several authors) in the fantasy and horror genres.

First I create the concept. For example, the series includes Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts and Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, so an anthology of zombie stories was a natural complement. When developing my vision for the project, I explore what the topic means to me (i.e. what fascinates me about zombies), what readers want (why do people buy and read zombie stories), what books are already in the market and how will mine differ. I set the parameters for the topic. In this case, I decided to interpret “zombie” in the wider sense, including not just bite-infected flesh-eaters but reanimated corpses and people who chose the undead state for reasons of their own.

Accordingly, I opted for the title “Undead” and kept the word “Zombie” in the subtitle: Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies.

Then I invite authors to submit new work, consider previously published pieces, select the first stories, commission an artist to paint the illustration for the cover. This is the most exciting phase when the idea seed germinates and grows into a plant.

Next, I write the introduction, correspond with the authors, clarify the rights to previously published pieces, work with writers to improve their yarns. At this stage, the challenge is to balance the content. The hallmark of the Ten Tales books is variety. I want ten stories with different plots, concepts, tone and writing style, and characters of different ages, ethnicities and physical abilities. Selecting the first stories is easy; the difficulty lies in filling the final slots with stories which are of the same high quality, but different from the ones I've already chosen.

I design the cover digitally using the commissioned illustration, send out the contracts, decide on the order of the stories, compile the About the Contributors section and the novel excerpts in the endmatter, write the masthead and table of contents, and assemble the manuscript.

The non-creative nitty-gritty comes next: formatting, proofreading, getting outside proofreaders, correcting errors, formatting. With anthologies, where ten authors using ten different ways to indicate scene breaks and separate paragraphs, standardising the formats can be a tedious task. During this time, I also plan the marketing strategy and set up promotional events, such as the Cover Reveal and Author Interviews.

I work on several projects simultaneously. While I'm formatting Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies, I'm already working with authors and illustrators on several other Ten Tales books.

Read About Rayne Hall

You wear a lot of hats: author, editor, teacher and publisher. Which one do you enjoy the most? Does moving from one activity to the other give you some breathing room?

I enjoy them all. Combining them gives me variety and at the same time, it keeps me focused because they overlap. I feel that all the qualifications, skills and experiences I've gathered throughout my life are coming together. It does create time management challenges, though. Sometimes I'm itching to design a new book cover when I ought to format an ebook, or to select horror stories for the next anthology when I ought to compile the author bios for the current one.

How rewarding is it working with multiple authors in your short story projects?

Working with multiple authors is exciting. For each Ten Tales anthology, I choose writers with different styles and different approaches to story-telling to give every book ten distinct flavours. It's thrilling to see how differently the authors interpret the theme. There's an exciting buzz when several authors are involved, each of them keen not only to make their own story as good as they can, but linking up with one another and striving to make the whole book a success.

The Ten Tales books contain stories by established writers as well as fresh voices, and I mix previously published and new work. I'm picky: I take only the best. Some authors are a pleasure to work with - skilled, helpful, reliable, fast-working, creative, good at following instructions - and I'm publishing them again and again. I also recommend them to other editors.

Of course, the more contributors a project involves, the more things can go wrong - but that's part of any venture.

Does each author get a bump in their own book sales?

Many authors do. We can't measure it reliably, but there are indicators. Sometimes readers email an author “I loved your story in Ten Tales of XYZ so much that I've now bought your novel.”

Amazon's “Customers who bought this book also bought” feature is useful. When you look at Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, you see that readers have purchased books by contributors Liv Rancourt and Jim Bernheimer. Customers who bought Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft also bought books by contributors Pamela Turner, Debra Dunbar and Karen Heard.

By buying a Ten Tales book, readers get ten quality stories about their favourite subject - vampires, zombies, pirates, ghosts etc - and all ten are different, so the reader knows that at least some of these will suit their taste. This makes a multi-author anthology more appealing than a single-author work.

When reading an anthology, readers always pick a favourite story or two. They're keen to read more by those authors, and ready to buy a book.

For the authors, this kind of exposure is invaluable, and it's why well-known authors like Jeff Strand, David D. Levine, William Meikle or Deborah J. Ross w/w Deborah Wheeler are happy to lend me their stories. It's not for the money, because I'm only paying a token. To have a story included in a Ten Tales is useful for reaching readers, and also is a mark of the author's success, because the series has become known for the quality of its stories.

Moving on to ebooks. How are your Short Stories being received in the ebook form?

Single stories don't do so well, but the anthologies (books with stories by several authors) and the single-author sixpack collections are popular.

Of the sixpacks, the Six Scary Tales series is doing especially well. Many readers buy one of the books in the series, like it, and buy another one.

With the Ten Tales, there's brand recognition. People start to recognize it as a brand for quality and variety in the fantasy and horror genres, and get the other books in the series.

Are you a part of the Amazon Select program? If so, how is that working out?

I have mixed feelings about this. The KDP Select is Amazon's push towards a monopoly, using a mix of rewards and penalties to get authors to grant exclusivity. I'm not putting all my books into KDP Select because I don't like monopolies and I value my independence.

I have experimented with KDP Select, enrolling one book or another for three months, to see what would happen. Sales didn't increase significantly, although there were a few loans. The option to make a book free for five days offers an interesting promotional strategy, although it worries me that Amazon allows this only for books that support the monopoly.

The five days free-books promo sometimes resulted in a lot of free downloads (11,000 in the case of Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts), but this doesn't mean all 11,000 read the book. Many people download anything that's free and have hundreds of books on their Kindle which they never get round to reading.

The best results with the five days free-book promo was when I made one of the Six Scary Tales books free. For a month afterwards, the other Six Scary Tales books showed increased sales. Whether or not that was worth removing the book from Kobo, Barnes&Noble, iTunes and Smashwords, is another question.

Tell us how authors can get involved in your workshops?

My workshops are for writers who have mastered the basics and want to learn new skills and take their writing craft to the next level. Most students are intermediate, advanced and professional writers. These classes are not for the faint-of-heart: I make my students work hard, and often their writing improves so much in just one month that they look back at their previous writing and cringe. Not everyone is ready for that.

Typically, the classes are one month long and presented in the form of a Yahoo Group, with twelve lessons, twelve assignments and individual feedback. I'm scaling back my teaching in the coming year to have more time for writing. However, I'll teach a Creating Great Villains class in February.

Here's the list of the workshops I teach: Rayne Hall’s Workshops

I see one of your classes next year is WRITING SHORT STORIES TO PROMOTE YOUR NOVELS. That is one I would like to join. A lot of new and indie authors should be interested in that class too.

This class is for authors who have at least one novel published, either indie or traditional. We'll look at strategies for how to use short stories to promote novels - for example making the short free and charging for the novel, or getting a story published many times in ezines and anthologies - as well as what kind of story works best to boost a novel's sales, identifying the target audience, finding markets, and much more. The assignments guide each student to write a complete story which is perfect for promoting the novel.

Author's Book List
Spells: Ten Tales of Magic
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page -- Smashwords Buy Page
Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft
Amazon Buy Page -- Smashwords Buy Page
Storm Dancer
Amazon Buy Page
The Devil Eats Here
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page -- Smashwords Buy Page
Six Historical Tales Vol 1
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Writing Scary Scenes
Are your frightening scenes scary enough? Learn practical tricks to turn up the suspense. Make your readers' hearts hammer with suspense, their breaths quicken with excitement, and their skins tingle with goosebumps of delicious fright.

This book contains practical suggestions how to structure a scary scene, increase the suspense, make the climax more terrifying, make the reader feel the character's fear. It includes techniques for manipulating the readers' subconscious and creating powerful emotional effects.

Use this book to write a new scene, or to add tension and excitement to a draft.

You will learn tricks of the trade for "black moment" and "climax" scenes, describing monsters and villains, writing harrowing captivity sections and breathtaking escapes, as well as how to make sure that your hero doesn't come across as a wimp... and much more.

This book is recommended for writers of all genres, especially thriller, horror, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. It is aimed at advanced-level and professional authors and may not be suitable for beginners.

British English.
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Scared: Ten Tales of Horror
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Six Scary Tales Vol 3
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts
Ten Tales Fantasy & Horror Stories
Amazon Buy Page
Six Scary Tales Vol 2
Amazon Buy Page
Six Scary Tales Vol 1
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Rayne's Contact Information
Website: Rayne Hall

Blog: Google+
Twitter: @RayneHall
E-Mail: rayne[underscore]hall[underscore]author[at]yahoo[dot]com
Goodreads: Check Out Goodreads
LinkedIn: Check Out LinkedIn
Facebook: Check Out Facebook
Pinterest: Check Out Pinterest

What do you Think? 
How much does building relationships and social media play into your marketing plans?
Does the British English change the way you judge the quality of a book?
Do you help other authors my offering advice and support?
Do you think short stories are a good way to get your writing in front of readers?
How important are writer’s groups to your success?

HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the HBS Author's Spotlight plus the blog: eBook Author's Corner. From the blog - Rayne Hall – HBS Author’s Spotlight.
Check out the index of other Spotlight authors. Spotlight Index.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Trailers: Do Authors Get Enough Bang for Their Buck?

Because book trailers are becoming a popular online marketing tool, I thought it was time I did a study of what was going on in this phase of book promotion. First, a trailer has to be a part of the total book package. You must keep that in mind as we proceed.

I reviewed 50 trailers, some from the HBS Author’s Spotlight group and some from high-profile authors. That should give us a good cross-section of the development of this relatively new process.

Are they worth the time and money? What did I see and hear that made a good book trailer? It must be noted at this point, the following are my opinions and hopefully some helpful observations.

Plan your Trip
Before you go down this trail, you must plan where you want to end. As you’ll find out, it is more detailed than you would image.

The first major decision to make is how I am going to produce the trailer? Am I going to do it myself or outsource it to a professional? Cost is the primary question in this decision I would guess. As you’ll see in this blog, there are some real good trailers created at a very reasonable cost.

Start of the trailer
Most start with a storyboard in which they create a scene list and match script text alongside each picture or slide. For example, the majority of trailers in my review start with the book cover or a slide with the Title and Author displayed. You may think that is elementary but there were several that didn’t give you that information until well into the video.

How does it sound?
This is important to the effectiveness of the trailer. The music and sound should fit your vision of your book. The sound includes music, voice, singing and special effects. Here are some observations.

Some trailers had great mood music which fit right into the story line. Some had singing in the background. A couple started off with strong music right up front which was a great attention getter.

There was one that was streaming along at a steady pace then out of the blue there was a loud gun shot. That got your attention. Several had cry outs, screams, eerie sounds and even the sound of arrows whizzing through the air.

Two observations: if you are going to use voice over for your slides, use a professional or not at all.
International Best Selling author Stacy Eaton, had one of the best music selections. It fit the mood of her book completely.

Stacy said, “I love making video trailers!!! They are so much fun! I use Windows Live Movie Maker and it is really easy.

I know that many people use music they have in their own libraries, but you have to be careful about copyright infringements.

Some people think video trailers are good, some don’t. It’s a personal taste, just like how one reader will like one book, but not another.” Check Stacy’s Book Trailer: Whether I'll Live or Die

Another author in the review was Joanna Penn. She is an action-adventure writer plus she is an expert in the book writing, marketing and publishing industry. Her trailer starts with strong music which immediately gets your attention. Check Joanna’s Book Trailer: Pentecost. An ARKANE Thriller

I have to include Monica Mathis-Stowe in this section. Her combination of pictures and music sets the tone for a very impressive trailer. If this doesn’t get the reader’s attention nothing will. One of the eye catching items of her book package was the girls from the cover. The music she used in the trailer fits right into a complete package.

Monica said, “The (trailers) were created by DzinebyKellie.  Kellie saw my vision and made it come true. I gave (Kellie) my book’s synopsis and she created this wonderful book trailer. I was amazed.” Check Monica’s Book Trailer: Where Did We Go Wrong?

You have a lot of choices here. You can take them yourself; you can get pictures of models for your cast of characters or you can buy stock images. One author had her readers/followers supply drawn images which she included in her trailer. Talking about getting your readers involved in the process. I like that a lot.

Several had police radio calls or displayed newspaper articles which I thought was quite effective. I even saw silhouettes used which conveyed the message while leaving the character's appearance up to the reader’s imaginations.

I think it is all about the pictures. You need to get readers involved with sight and sound.

Mystery author Dave Folsom takes the pictures used in his trailers himself. Several of his books are based in the northwest and he captures the rugged setting in the trailer. The reader can truly visualize the surroundings.

Dave said, “I used One True Media where you can upload your own photos and create videos for a very reasonable price.” Check Dave’s Book Trailer: Scaling Tall Timber

Next I would like to highlight Young Adult Author Elise Stokes. Her picture presentation was unique. She had her text on the side of the pictures, giving the reader a real shot at reading the message. Her trailer’s pictures were all hand drawn.

Elise said, “Seeing my characters as these talented young artists do, and I’m honored they were inspired to draw them. I had the satisfaction of doing it myself.” Check Elise’s Book Trailer: Cassidy Jones and Vulcan's Gift

Next we have Crime and Horror Author Jade Varden. She uses a newspaper in the front of the trailer to convey a story is coming. Also her use of video clips was great.

Jade said, “I got the video clips for my trailers at Creative Commons, because that material is all Fair Use. I put it all together using Windows Live Movie Maker.” Check Jade’s Book Trailer: The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

Slide presentations
Using slides in your trailer is all about the timing. You must give the reader enough time to read and digest your message.

Historical Fiction Author Ron Fritsch spent time on his sequencing. He has one part of his trailer that uses arrows flashing across the screen with sound. You get the message right away. It also finishes with a picture of the author, which I recommend. Check Ron’s Book Trailer: Promised Valley

Distribution of the trailer
Well by far the favorite way to display a trailer is YouTube. There are many other free locations and I would recommend distributing your trailer to as many places as you can.

My favorite is to embed the trailer on a page on your blog or website. It gives you the ability to add extra information on the sides of the trailer. Even links that may be skipped by the reader during the trailer viewing.

A great example of this is from award-winning Author Melissa Foster. She embedded her trailer on her website. It gives her the opportunity to give static information to the reader that maybe overlooked in the trailer like contact information and where the reader can buy the book.

Melissa said, “I love to make book trailers. I buy stock photos off of different image sites like Shutterstock, I download music from free music sites, and I use Movie Maker or Animoto.” Check Melissa’s Book Trailer: Megan's Way

I have to include myself in here somewhere. (James Moushon) I chose to distribute the trailer both ways. I put my trailer on YouTube and then embedded it on my website. I had a problem with the website version at first with MAC users not being able to view the video. Then I discovered that I could embed the YouTube code into my web page and I was off and running.

I like the web page version the best because it lets me have an Amazon buy page next to the trailer so my readers can buy right away without leaving the page. I like the expanded screen option. Check my Book Trailer: Black Mountain Secrets

So where does the Text fit in?
First of all the text should be a teaser for the reader not a spoiler. I guess that is common sense. The first advice I got was to choose my words wisely. They should be captivating, relevant and concise. I spent a lot of time on this.

Here are some tips. Don’t use rolling text unless you can slow the feed so the viewer can read it. If you’re going to use text over your pictures, choose your text colors wisely. If you have more than two lines, use a solid colored background like white or black or red not a picture.

One trailer I liked had the text in a colored insert rather than right on top of the background picture.

Cost or Budget or whatever you want to call it.
You can do this for almost nothing or you can spend some real money. You must remember to count in the value of your time when you make the decision.

Amazon Best-Selling Author Cheryl Bradshaw put it this way in a previous interview in the HBS Author’s Spotlight. “The kind I’d want to do would be very high dollar and look more like a movie trailer. I am fairly unimpressed with the low-budget trailers.”

One side bar to this is that as you’ll find out below, some of the big hitters are not impressive with their trailers. I think if you have a following and its presented well, you’ll get your monies worth.

How long should your trailer be?
I don’t have a good answer for this one. Of the fifty trailers I reviewed, 18 seconds was the shortest. It was by a big time author. He gave us a cover, his name, blurb from a review and the buy now message. That was it.

The longest was 5 minutes and 33 seconds. Again this trailer was from a big time author. Yes I did manage to stay awake. But I felt like dosing off at the 3 minute mark.

I would say a minute to two and half minutes gives you plenty of time to get your message across. This is a marketing tool not a movie streamer.

Creation time should be a consideration
The question you have to ask yourself is: Am I creative enough and have the skills to do this myself or do I need help? Remember if you can’t get your readers to visualize what your selling here you should outsource the project or move on.

Best-Selling Author Pamela Burford said in a recent Author’s Spotlight post, “I find it too easy to spend enormous amounts of time on promotion, at the expense of writing time.”

At the end of trailer
The last slide should be timed to allow the reader to consume the information. Typically the last two slides include Coming soon announcements, contact information, the author’s picture or the cover. You know like the back cover type information.

I am not a big fan of Internet addresses or trailer credits at the end, especially the rolling text kind. I guess that’s why I like the embedded version of the trailer. Remember YouTube goes directly to an advertising page when your trailer is done, so that last page is gone unless you can extend the viewing time.

So what is your Goal if you decide to go down this trail?
It is all about marketing. You want the prospect to watch the trailer and want to buy it as soon as possible. Make sure to put links to your trailer everywhere. Then you need to get readers to watch it. The trailer should be a part of your complete book marketing package, together with a well-done trailer. Sometimes not doing a trailer is an okay decision.

Dani Amore, an award-winning, international bestselling crime author, said recently, “I have done book trailers and have no idea if they helped or not.”

Mystery & Thriller Author Maree Ward Russell expressed it differently. “They are yet another avenue for attracting readers – especially as the visual medium is always so effective. I am looking into it.”

Award winning author Dawn Greenfield Ireland echoed the same thing. “A book trailer is high on my list.”

So now did the Big Authors do in my review?
I was very proud of my Spotlight Authors compared to some of the top authors. Let me summarize what I found.

The top authors had most of their trailers under one minute. Most had poor music or none at all.
They had professional voice over when it was used. They did have strong music but very poor timing on the slides vs. text.

One had kids acting with very poor sound and a misspelled word. I won’t release that trailer.
They basically were selling their self and not necessarily the book.

I must include this. One of our top indie authors (not a Spotlight author) had the poorest trailer in the survey. The trailer was 29 seconds long. It consisted of the author holding the book up in front of a camera and yelling “Buy me” over and over again.

Things like this are why indie authors and self-publishers get a bad rap.

What do you think?
Is there a pay back? Is it worth the time and money? did you read anything here that will help you create your next trailer? I know I did.

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Black Mountain Secrets

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Author: An Interview with Melissa Foster

Today I have an excerpt of a recent interview with award-winning author Melissa Foster. She is the author of three International bestselling novels and the founder of the World Literary Café, Fostering Success and the social and support network for women, the Women’s Nest.

Author Genre: Literature & Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers

Website: Melissa Foster
Author's Blog: Melissa Foster Blog
Blog: The Womens Nest
Twitter: @Melissa_Foster
Goodreads: Check Out Goodreads
Facebook: Check Out Facebook
Pinterest: Check Out Pinterest

Author Description: Award-winning, bestselling author Melissa Foster is a touchstone for the indie publishing community and a tireless advocate for women. She is the founder of the World Literary Café, Fostering Success, and The Women’s Nest , as well as a Community Builder for the Alliance of Independent Authors . Melissa writes emotionally-driven contemporary fiction and suspense with passionate characters that remain with the reader long after they’ve read the last words. Melissa is a friend, mentor, brownie connoisseur, and book fiend.

Melissa hosts an annual Aspiring Authors contest for children, she's written for Calgary's Child Magazine and Women Business Owners Magazine, and has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Melissa lives in Maryland with her family. Melissa's interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, helping women see the positive side of life, and visiting Cape Cod.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

The word is out that you have two novels coming soon, TRACES OF KARA and WHERE PETALS FALL. When can we expect to be able to get our hands on a copy? Give us a teaser on the plot of each of them?

Coming SOON is the word. Here is a sneak preview to whet your appetite.


Kara Knight can't wait to leave her hometown for the promise of nursing school and a fresh start on her future--leaving behind an over protective mother, a broken heart and painful memories. However, twenty-five miles away, the brother she doesn't know is determined to be reunited with the sister he cannot forget.

Kara is abducted and thrown into her obsessive captor's delusional world. As the past she thought she knew unravels around her, Kara struggles to make sense of the memories that come creeping back, threatening her sanity and her safety. Meanwhile, Kara's mother races against time to save the daughter she fears she will lose when a long-held secret is revealed. The hours tick away as Roland plays out his plan--to take Kara with him into death at the exact moment of their birth, never to be separated again.

TRACES OF KARA is an action packed, pulse pounding psychological thriller/suspense novel that features a determined killer who slowly loses his grip on reality as his carefully detailed plan starts to fall apart and a heroine determined to move forward with her life who now must reconcile everything she believed to be true about her family with the reality of their tragic past.


On the surface Junie Olson’s life looks idyllic, from her handsome husband and beautiful daughter to her successful business, the bakery she always dreamed of opening. But in the past few months her world has slowly unraveled. Her precocious child is withdrawing, showing unexplainable signs of emotional regression, a condition that frays the bonds of Junie’s once impenetrable marriage. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, Junie packs up her daughter and goes home to help her mother. Her homecoming stirs up memories of the nightmare she thought she had put behind her, the disappearance of her childhood friend, Ellen. Haunted by recurring memories of what happened on that fateful day, Junie must gather the courage to revisit her past and untangle the secrets surrounding her missing friend, and the trauma that has caused her little girl to climb back into herself. As the pieces come together on the event that shook her small town, and at the risk of losing everyone she loves, Junie will question everything she thought she could rely on and everyone she thought she knew.

WHERE PETALS FALL is a gripping and emotional novel with an undercurrent of suspense, featuring a determined mother whose world slowly comes apart around her. Where Petals Fall will appeal to fans of Lisa Scottoline's Save Me or Jodi Picoult's Salem Falls, who love an emotional and gripping read. They will root for Junie as they follow her transition into an indomitable heroine who must reconcile what she discovers about her husband and family’s tragic past, and find a way to put the pieces of her family back together and carry on.

Social media appears to be a major part of your marketing with over 29K Twitter followers and an excess of 125K tweets. What is your goal in the on-line communications? How do you weed though all the noise? Do you use software to manage the through-put? How does social media fit into your marketing plan?

For me, social media has been a blessing. I'm a naturally gabby person, and I love to share what I've learned in publishing. Social media allows me to connect with readers across the world, and it's a great avenue for sharing writing related information with writers everywhere. But for me, social media has a more powerful impact on a more important aspect of what I like to share, which is inspiration for seeing the positive side of life, gentle reminds to care about others, and share your joy. To me, success doesn't bring happiness as well as helping others does, and social media has been a gift to me in that way.

As for weeding out the noise, I'm kind of a Twitter addict. You'll notice that I respond to each and every person who tweets to me, unless for some reason I don't see the tweet, which certainly happens, though not often. I don't pay any attention to those who tweet nastiness or drop the "f" bomb, in fact, I block them pretty quickly. There's not much room for negativity in my life. I prefer to surround myself with positive energy. But, there is a lot of valuable information being tweeted by many, and I learn something valuable on a daily basis.

As for my overall marketing plan, I don't think in terms of the typical marketer looking for sales. My life is about building relationships, and for that purpose, social media plays a big role into my life.

I am a firm believer that helping other authors succeed is a pay forward venture. You are involved with several high-profile writing groups. To pick one, how does an author get involved with the World Literary Café? What are the goals of the Café? Tell us about the Best Indie Book Festival?

I'm so happy to hear that you're a pay-it-forward believer! All of my endeavors are pay-it-forward driven. Readers, writers, bloggers, reviewers, and anyone interested in the literary field can join the World Literary Cafe (WLC).

Our goal is to unite the literary community, bring new-to-you authors to readers, and help author promote their work, while teaching them how to take control of their own success.

The educational arm of WLC is Fostering Success.. At Fostering Success, we offer affordable, effective, easy to understand courses for writers to learn everything from self-publishing and social media to branding, platform building, and book marketing.

WLC is run by a host of volunteers who keep the WLC running smoothly, help to educate authors, and bring our programs to life. Kudos goes out to
Stacy Eaton (plus her blog), Amy Manemann (plus her blog), Wendy L Young,
T.M. Souders (plus her blog), Christine Cunningham, G.E. Johnson,
Natasha Brown, (plus her blog - and the Chronicles), Rachelle Ayala (plus her blog - and another),
Emerald Barnes, Bonnie Trachtenberg, and Rhea Baugham.

I am very impressed with the group Indie Chicks which you are apart. It is an extraordinary group of ladies. I have had several authors already in the Author’s Spotlight. I had to include the group’s book in the list below. (Proceeds donated to a charitable organization that fights breast cancer.) How did you get involved with the group? What are the major benefits you personally have received working with the members?

I was blessed to be invited into the group by Cheryl Shireman, who coordinated the entire effort. These ladies are friends, mentors to many, and fabulous writers.

Time management appears to be one of your challenges with a large family, a great blog, your writing and marketing effort (Twitter included). How do you schedule your time to meet all the goals you must have? How does the family deal with you time constraints? How much traditional marketing do you do?

I am a panzer when it comes to things like outlining, but as far as my time management goes, I'm a total scheduler. I schedule everything from phone calls to picking up my children from school. I wrote an article on this topic that your readers might enjoy Time Management.
Each day I have a To-Do list that is prioritized to the nth degree. The list is reevaluated as the day demands, and like Nike says, I 'just do it'.

I have an incredibly supportive family who takes pride and joy in my efforts. They cheer me on and are more than happy to have dinner a bit later some nights, or do their own thing while I'm on a Skype meeting with a book club. I know how rare it is to be supported with something like writing, which many people deem a 'habit' (don't even get me started on that one…), and I'm truly blessed with supportive friends and family.

I'm not certain what you mean by 'traditional marketing', but marketing is a part of my day, every day. The way I see it, everywhere you go is a new chance to meet people, and the more you meet people and build relationships, the greater chance that you have that they'll eventually pick up your books.

My research shows you are a tireless advocate for women. How rewarding was it to put your feelings on paper with Megan's Way, battle of a single mother with cancer and how it affects her and the people around her? What is the background for this award-winning story? Where there people around you that shaped the characters?

MEGAN'S WAY is a very personal story that stemmed from a real-life issue with my mother. Megan's voice was so strong that I had to put down CHASING AMANDA, which I was writing at the time, to write MEGAN'S WAY.Some of the characters were definitely shaped around people that I know, though not all of them, and the ones that were are not direct images of their models. I think that as a writer, we take bits and pieces of those we know and see, and we weave them into new people--our characters.

You are a creative talent being a painter and a writer among others attributes. Moving between the two creative processes, writing and painting, is there a change of pace? Do you do one to get away from the other? Is there a high that you have to get off of?

I actually don't paint much anymore. I loved painting, but there's only so much time in the day, and I feel more connected with writing. That being said, there is definitely a change in pace. I found painting to be more relaxing, and writing, depending on the genre I'm writing at the time, sweeps me into the minds of the characters, who at times are killers, sleuths, distressed parents, or terrified children--and that's not relaxing at all, lol. The pace of writing is much faster. They offer two completely different types of enjoyment.

You have great trailers for all three books. What software did you use to create the trailers? The music sets the tone for each one. Can you tell us where you got the music and the pictures? You were able to combine still-pictures with video. Were the trailers self-created projects or did you outsource the production? (Give credit here.)

I love to make book trailers. What a joy it is to put faces to the characters. I generally buy stock photos off of different image sites like Shutterstock, I download music from free music sites, and I use Movie Maker or Animoto (they also offer music) to create the videos. I did mix still pictures with videos, which is quite easy using the above referenced tools. Thanks so much for your time.

Author's Book List
Chasing Amanda

Book Trailer: Chasing Amanda
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Come Back To Me
Book Trailer: Come Back To Me
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
Megan's Way
What would you give up for the people you love?

Book Trailer: Megan's Way
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page -- Smashwords Buy Page
Indie Chicks: 25 Independent Women 25 Personal Stories
This exciting anthology contains stories from twenty-five women from different parts of the world. Their ages differ, as do their backgrounds and locations, but one thing they all have in common is a spirit of independence and a determination to not only succeed, but prevail. Whether their struggles are to maintain balance between motherhood and career, escape from an abusive relationship, or to step out in faith and pursue a dream, all of these women have forged their own path. As women, one of our most powerful "gifts" is the ability to encourage one another.

This book is an effort to encourage women across the world. These twenty-five women share stories that will make you laugh, inspire you, and maybe even make you cry. Their hope is that these stories will inspire YOUR independent spirit and allow you to live the life you were meant to live.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to a charitable organization that fights breast cancer.
Amazon Buy Page -- Barnes and Noble Buy Page
What do you Think?

How much do building relationships and social media play in your marketing plans?
Do you help other authors my offering advice and support?
How important are writer’s groups to your success?
Are book trailers an important part of your marketing effort?

HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the HBS Author's Spotlight plus the blog: eBook Author's Corner. From the Melissa Foster - HBS Author’s Spotlight