heyjamie

Jamie Jo Hoang - Author & World Traveler

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An Author’s Voice

For the first time in a while, I found myself so enraptured in a book that I stayed up until 4 in the morning trying to finish. The book TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS surprised me. I found the book, I hate to admit, because I was the runner up for a book award, which Sejal Hadani won. After reading a slew of really terrible indie books, I decided to read one that beat me out in a contest. To be honest I can’t remember which one it was; in any case I’m glad I did.

I am generally not a fan of books that have multiple main characters, I find that the author’s tend to rush the story lines and the book ends up being unsatisfying. Not the case here. TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS is about a family who suffered from an abusive father and how they, as adults, try to reconcile their lives. The characters are rich, and often do things that make the reader cringe, but root for them nonetheless.

I have struggled for a long time with my own identity. Am I Asian? Am I American? Do I have to pick? The Asian identity is rooted in criticism, distrust, and distance. But I was lucky enough to grow up in America where every kid is told they have potential and every dream is a real possibility. But when it came time to describe the main character in my first book, I chose to make her white. Not because I despise being Vietnamese, but because I didn’t think anyone would read it.

Asians are stereotyped as doctors and lawyers or pharmacists, we are pragmatic and responsible. And as with all stereotypes, there is some truth to it. My parents’ idea of getting creative is building a dog house using scrap wood and has more to do with problem solving (and saving money) than creating art for art’s sake. They are immigrants who had to earn everything they have so of course they are this way.

They did their best to try and instill the same values in me. I graduated high school with a 4.6 GPA and attended a well known and reveres university, UCLA. When they sent me off to college, I took with me their hopes and dreams for a better life.

I wasn’t supposed to be a dreamer, yet here I am living in a world of make believe.

As I read Hadani’s book, I had to wonder to myself, how much of it is real? How much of the pain and suffering that her characters face does she know about first hand? Maybe none, maybe some, and maybe it doesn’t matter. As a reader, it certainly doesn’t matter, but as a fellow author, I want to know.

Part of finding our voice, is infusing who we are into our writing. And what are we if not the experiences we’ve had in life? I have been told that BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY is so vivid that it reads like a memoir, and I’ll admit that there are moments stolen from my actual life, but for the most the part Aubrey’s journey is her own.

But when I read something like TRAIL OF BROKEN WINGS, which has captivated audiences with it’s 4,000+ reviews and thousands of highlighted passages and I have to wonder. Did she connect with readers so well because she made herself vulnerable? And if that’s the case, am I willing to do the same?

My second book, which I’m working on now, takes place in Brooklyn with a Vietnamese protagonist. In part it’s because I believe it’s time I stop hiding from myself, but also because like every little girl watching TV as a kid, I would like to live in a world where I’m represented and reflected in the mainstream media.

And, as a creative person I recognize that it starts with me.

Twitter for Authors

As a self-published author I turned to Twitter as a way of promoting my book BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY, but over the past year, it sort of shifted into something more.

Twitter is a great tool for authors. Not only do we get to practice marketing 140 characters at a time, it’s a great way for us to send out 140 character snippets throughout the day. I look at it as short bursts of creativity.

However, if you’re expecting Twitter to sell your book, I hate to break it to you, but it’s probably not going to work. A year and a half, and 48,000 followers later here’s what I learned about using Twitter as an author.

Treat Twitter like a giant networking tool. I began by following as many writer’s as I could find every day. At first only a few of them followed me back, but then I made a dramatic shift in the way I used Twitter. Instead of pumping out blurbs or advertisements for my book every day, I began posting content with “added value.” This means I began posting content for the benefit of others.

As a writer, the things that really interest me have to do with writing. So I started looking up great writing quotes and posting those along with a short comment about the quote. Low and behold, now not only did writers start following me back, they started finding me through the retweets of my followers.

And then, a great thing started happening, people actually came to my Twitter page to look at all my Tweets and there they were met with my banner which advertises my book. Because they had an interest in my Tweets, I now had a greater chance of getting them to purchase my book. Yay! A handful of my reviews on Amazon, are from people who found my book through Twitter.

But I should remind you here, that I don’t sell a ton of books this way. However; that’s not the value of Twitter for me. Again, it’s more of a networking tool between myself and the hundreds of thousands of other writer’s out there.

Recently, having gained over 45k followers, I decided to see if I could help create a shift in the indie market. So every Sunday I host an event called ReTweet Sunday, where I tweet indie and small press books to my followers.

I love this event, because I get to see so many books pass through my Twitter feed and I occasionally buy one that interests me. Every one of us indie authors is fighting for FaceTime with readers surfing the internet, but sometimes we forget that writer’s are readers too. Very veracious ones at that!

Also, we indie authors are in this together so I think it’s important that we support each other by reading indie books. Actually, if I’m being honest I was severely disappointed in the books I’d randomly chosen to read by indie authors who’s path I crossed on Twitter. That was, however, until I learned how vet the indie books by looking for seals from book award contests and by reading the negative reviews left by other readers.

Why the negative reviews? I find they tend to be more helpful. Glowing 5-star reviews are great, but a 3-star review that highlight’s something I might actually like, has way more sway in getting me to read a book.

Another added benefit of using Twitter is that my feed, which is full of motivational tweets for writers, often times inspires my to write too! And anything that pushes me to get my fingers to the keyboard and working is a good thing in my opinion.

High Marks from the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

Writer's Digest Award Logo

I just received my scores from the judges and BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY received a honorable mention with 5/5 in all 5 categories of the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Honestly, I am so blown away and humbled by the support of my fellow writer’s and writing community. This entire journey with my little book has been enlightening as well as educational. I spent the last decade reading articles on Writer’s Digest and admiring other writer’s who had the courage to write a book and then release it to the world and I’m so happy to be able to call them my colleagues now!

I wrote my first article for Writer’s Digest this past year thanks to the wonderful Chuck Sambuchino who contacted me after reading a review of BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY in Kirkus Magazine, and I hope to ingratiate myself into the Writer’s Digest community even more in the coming years.

For all new and emerging writer’s you probably know this already, but there is a wealth of FREE information on Writer’s Digest and if you take the time to read the articles, it’ll save you a lot of time, headache and money, down the line when you’re ready to publish.

Anyway I’m blabbing because I’m just so excited about the judge’s commentary, so without further ado here it is:

Entry Title Blue Sun, Yellow Sky

Author: Jamie Jo Hoang

Judge Number: 63

Entry Category: Mainstream/Literary Fiction

 

Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 5

Plot and Story Appeal: 5

Character Appeal and Development: 5

Voice and Writing Style: 5

 

Judge’s Commentary*:

In Blue Sun, Yellow Sky by Jamie Jo Hoang, we are presented with an interesting premise that builds emotional tension as the pages turn and we fall more in love with a character, and a situation, that is fated to change as the novel progresses.

The title seems brilliant, a great way to hook the reader in and get them asking questions. The book is structured well with chapters that are nicely paced, with enough meat to make them satisfying but not so ponderous as to make it difficult to keep track of the narrative as it develops. The overall design of the book is professional and first rate, while the cover image for the book is evocative and interesting. I particularly like the title font as a way of conveying theme and tone.

The characters here are fully realized, vivid and alive, and often do surprising things—or do/say things that are very human, which can be rare. I especially like Aubrey, who seems able to keep her head and her emotions in tact, all while dealing with a situation that might cripple other people. Instead, she reminds us of the lively nature of living a life well.

Amazon

Note from Writer’s Digest: *If you wish to reference this review on your website, we ask that you cite it as such: “Judge, 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.” You may cite portions of the review, if you wish, but please make sure that the passage you select is appropriate, and reflective of the review as a whole.

Note from me: Please, please, please, share with anyone you know who might be interested in reading the book! Sharing is caring =)

 

Why KDP is Really the Only Platform for Indie Authors

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I have been promoting my book BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY for a little over a year now and I’ve tried everything under the moon to boost sales and get the word out about my book. The thing is, it’s really hard to compete with the hundreds of traditionally published books with millions of advertising dollars behind them. I’m not complaining, this is the just the nature of the game at the moment.

Yes, there are anomalies that have emerged and multi-million dollar books have come out of kindle sales, but you see it’s just that. 100% of successful self-published books rose out of the indie slush pile through the kindle.

As an indie author, I really wanted to try and spread my book as far and wide as possible. I put my book up on Kindle for the first 90 days and sold about 80 books through the free promotion, and then I made the mistake of pulling my book from the KDP program so that I could have my book listed on the Nook, iBooks, Kobo, etc. I shouldn’t have done that.

The thing that kills me is there were signs/red flags everywhere telling me as much. Every statistic and indie book blog reiterated the same thing: 99% of sales happen through the kindle and about 1% is sold everywhere else. After reading that for the hundredth time, a light should’ve gone off in my head telling me “Focus your sales on Amazon,” but of course my desire to appear everywhere (as most prolific writer’s do) took over and I spent the past year advertising my book through every imaginable outlet that ultimately the campaign reached only a select few.

I had placed ads on Facebook, Twitter, Google Ads, and Goodreads and no to avail. Sure, I sold some books but it was at a very heavily discounted price AND they resulted in NO REVIEWS, which in all likelihood means that the vast majority of people who download “free or discounted” books don’t necessarily read them. It was only when I learned that I could advertise on the Kindle that I went to check it out and found that, low and behold, the Kindle does have a natural selection process (KDP Select), which my book was not eligible for.

Why wasn’t it eligible? Well, Amazon is smart. As a business, they want to monopolize the e-book world, and if the stats above are any indication, they’re doing a pretty good job. So they will help move your book, IF AND ONLY IF, you sign with them exclusively. Now, if Nook, iBbooks, Kobo, and Google Play were smart they’d offer up something similar and entice indie authors away from Kindle’s exclusive deal. But they don’t. I’m guessing because they don’t care, or they’ve thrown in the towel and admitted defeat to the almighty Kindle.

Now, being able to advertise on the Kindle doesn’t mean that I’m going to be an overnight success, but at least Kindle algorithms allow for direct marketing and if readers seem to like your book, Kindle also hand selects titles like “The Martian” to promote for free. It’s still a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, because of the sheer amount of e-books being published now, but there is hope.

I’m also pretty sure that there are benefits to having Createspace do your paperback books, but the quality of the print is so much worse than IngramSpark that I’m having a hard time justifying that switch.

The Book Every American Needs to Read – IT’S WHAT I DO

Photo taken from the It's What I do website. All rights are the owners.

Photo taken from the It’s What I do website. All rights are the owners.

This post was meant to be a book review of sorts. But as I’m listening to the last 30 minutes of this incredible book, IT’S WHAT I DO, this post is slowly turning into a pleading message to every American: Please, please, please, read this book. 

Lindsay Addario, a photo journalist for the New York Times, recounts experiences living at the edge and capturing images in the midst of war. As a spectator reading articles in the newspaper, I don’t think I ever truly considered the risk a photographer takes when capturing bullet-ridden moments with nothing but a lens with which to shoot back.

Addario speaks with candor and enough self-detriment to make her approachable, but the stories she tells are so incredible that I had to wonder if she wasn’t really a cat with nine lives. And I am certainly not saying that every American should hop on a plane and head to a war zone, but perhaps our distance from war makes it hard for us to empathize with those who are suffering all around the world.

Right now, outside my window, I’m watching as a defiant man is being held back by six sheriffs after throwing several punches at a tow truck driver who was sent to repossess his car for non-payment. It’s a poor neighborhood, riddled with stories of sorrow and bad luck, but in this particular case it’s about arrogance. The “owner” of the vehicle “purchased” the car but doesn’t feel the need to pay for said purchase; therefore, the car is being taken away. Sounds pretty simple until the owner starts claiming that his rights have been violated. To avoid a lawsuit, and perhaps to protect himself from further physical assault, the driver has no choice but to call the cops. Hence, the string of police outside my window.

I mention this story because on the one hand I’m listening to Addario describe a war zone and the suffering of those born into the crossfire, and then on the other hand is this self-righteous American not only looking for a handout, but demanding it. His lack of appreciation mocks the liberal agenda so many have fought for. There is a need for social programs–there are people in America who truly need it–and then there are those who see an opportunity to not only exploit it, but demand that they deserve it. Whatever happened to being grateful for the things given to you?

I’m not a politician and I have no idea how to fix this, but I wonder if this man would be so self-righteous if he’d read Addario’s story. I wonder if his kid who stands behind him, hands balled into fists and itching for a fight, could learn something about humility if he understood how much he has just in the way of freedom. It makes me angry to see people blatantly taking advantage of the system and yet I am torn because these social programs assisted my refugee parents 35 years ago.

I have half a mind to take this book, grab the kid, sit him down, and force him to read it. Force him to educate himself in order to not follow in the footsteps of his father. He’s a good kid–I can tell by the polite way he always greets me and the ashamed look he has when he knows his parents are “milking the system” and he has no choice but to play along. But I can’t do that. I can do nothing but sit back and watch him join the ranks of others on this block as they all eventually find themselves handcuffed and in the back of a black and white police car.

I am a writer telling stories that I hope will compel and inspire readers, and I am begging everyone out there to please, please, please read this book and then pass it along to a friend.

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War

An Open Invitation to all Indie Authors

I am one of the millions of indie authors out there fighting for shelf space in an already incredibly saturated market. It is controlled by book publishers who have the financial ability to spread their advertisements far and wide and push my book to the back.

I’m not saying I have a Pulitzer on my hands (not that I would ever know since surprise, surprise, I can’t submit my book without the backing of a publisher!), but even getting a book on notable lists like the New York Times, Pop Sugar, and The Guardian is nearly impossible without paying gobs of money to a publicity firm, which in the end may or may not even be able to get you a spot anyway. My book, BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY (shameless plug) has won three major Indie Awards, got a starred Kirkus Review, and multiple book bloggers I approached gave it five stars. Yet, unless you Google the book title specifically, you’ll never find it.

Recently, I’ve started studying book lists. You know, the ones titled: “If you loved BLAH, BLAH book, you’ll love THIS BOOK,” and “15 Must Read Books for the Summer.” And what I found is that the same top 10 National Bestsellers come up on every list.

Of course, National Best Sellers are good books–millions of people have read and loved them–but instead of us all reading the same 10 national best sellers, how about we build a network for readers to discover “the next National Bestseller?”

As an indie author, I want to support indie books. But when searching for indie titles, I find books like The Martian, which is no longer indie. If a reader loves my book, there is no place they can go to find a similar indie book to support. Even Googling “Top 5 Indie Books” yields a less than fruitful search. A schmorgesborg of random titles in random genres comes up. How can we indie authors support each other’s books if we can’t find them?

So, today I’d like to start a new trend. I’m calling all indie authors to use the ever growing hashtag #IndieBooksBeSeen. Start your headlines with: “If you loved this INDIE BOOK you’ll love these BESTSELLER books.” Here’s my list of 8 Books you’ll love if you loved BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY.

 

Indie Book Wheel2

Let’s change the way publishing works and start putting indie books front and center!

 

Unfortunately, I’m not a graphic designer or fancy flash coder (otherwise I would love to provide everyone with a drag and drop easy tool!) but I do have this template as a Photoshop file, and you’re welcome to download it FREE here! Don’t forget to tag me @heyjamie on Twitter so I can retweet it to my 29K followers.

Boom! Indie book front and center. Now here’s the catch: I need other indie authors to do the same. Yes, that’s means you, Mr./Ms. indie author sitting there reading this and wondering how to promote your book. Together, let’s create in a shift in the market.

Reddit changed the way we get the news, with viewers pushing articles they want to see up the ranks. My dream is to see authentic indie books finding their way into the mass market via readers like you and me.

I know what you’re thinking. Hey Jamie, WTF? You say you want to promote Indie Authors, but here you are showing us more bestsellers! You’re right. I hate that I had to do this, but like I said, it’s impossible to find indie books that are actually similar to mine. If you’re an indie author and you wrote a women’s fiction book that you think my readers would love, send it my way. If I agree that it matches I’ll gladly bump one these books off my pinwheel.

We’re part of an exciting shift in publishing. Consumers now have a say in what books become popular and guess what Indie writers, you’re a consumer. The books you buy and review determine what the next National Bestsellers are, so how about the next time you go to a bookstore you browse the Indie or Local Author section and add one of those to your TBR pile?

The eventual goal is to, as a community, build a network of indie books that are recognizable to our target audiences. We need the help of bloggers too! Imagine ourselves, the readers, typing in a book we love on Amazon and seeing our titles pop up alongside it. Let’s even the playing field and help each other gain visibility for our indie titles.

South Park, James Cameron, and Writing

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 5 years you’ve probably seen this video South Park made of James Cameron. They’re clearly making fun of the fact that he has to actually “do” the things he makes movies about and that he, in fact, does everything. Cameron has a thirst for adventure like no one else and the end result of that curiosity are his incredible movies.

My dad rarely ever goes to see a movie. Mostly because his grasp of the English language isn’t good enough for him to understand or catch all of the subtext or innuendo’s. But when I took him to see Avatar, he totally got it. Moreover, he really enjoyed the visuals. I think for someone who has known poverty, and lived through a war, he was blown away by the magic on screen. Afterwards, he kept asking me, “How do people get ideas to come up with things like that?” My snarky response was, “I don’t know Dad, if I did do you think I’d still be living here? Nope I’d be a millionaire exploring the seven seas on my yacht.” “What’s a yat?” he asked. I sighed, “A boat. I’d be on my own boat.” “Oh,” he says, “Well hurry up and figure it out.” Thanks Dad.

His question did pique my curiosity though and when I googled James Cameron I found that it wasn’t just that he had a more vivid imagination that I did, it was that he had explored so much more of the world than I had. In my quick google search of “James Cameron” I found the TED Talk he gave below. In his 17-minute talk I learned that he convinced the studios to make Titanic because he wanted to go deep sea diving. The love story and box office millions were an aside. As a diver myself, his exploration of the deep sea hit a nerve with me.

As writers, we create worlds that other’s get to live in, but our creative minds need fuel. A car doesn’t run without gasoline and we can’t write without inspiration. This is the fun part of our jobs! Yet, we’re made to feel like we’re undeserving of the “fun research” because what we do for research is what other people call “entertainment” or “vacation.” But here’s the thing. James Cameron could never have made Titanic the way he did without that deep sea dive. Nor do I think Avatar would have existed without his incessant need to explore the world.

Exploring the things that draw on our senses is what opens our imagination to creating worlds beyond what anyone thought possible. I think there’s a reason writers are usually slightly ahead of our technological time. We not only see things, we want to experience them for ourselves. I personally am fascinated with the passage of time. The lifespan of a seed becoming a flower is immensely interesting to me, and the details people seem to love so much in my writing comes from caring–albeit, a ridiculous amount–about the process.

So, I hereby give all writers–ok, you don’t have to be a writer–permission to: eat at that expensive restaurant, travel to an exotic location, zip-line through the Amazon, climb to the highest peak, dive to the deepest part of the ocean, and just do whatever. Say yes to everything and see where it takes you!

A Visit to Pablo Naruda’s House in Santiago, Chile

 

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La Chascona–Pablo Narudas house in Santiago, Chile. Fun fact: There are two identical doors at this house, one for him and one for his mistress.

 

A few months ago I went to a beautiful wedding in Uruguay (a story that still needs to be written). From Los Angeles I had a daunting 24-hour flight, which included two layovers before reaching my final destination. The first stop was a quick drop down in Lima, Peru where 70% of the passengers disembarked and new people took their place. Pretty uneventful. Next stop, Santiago. I had an 8-hour layover so I decided to go exploring. There was a bit of a rush in knowing I only had a few hours, was in foreign country where I could barely speak the language, and was risking missing my connecting flight–in other words, everything was awesome! Damn that Lego movie for having such a catchy tune.

Just after clearing customs I hesitated momentarily, then proceeded through the baggage claim area in search of a taxi company. After finding one, I tried to explain what I wanted (mostly with hand gestures and pointing): I needed a driver for 2 hours to take me to San Christobal Hill and Pablo Naruda’s House and then back to the airport. I showed the desk attendant google map printouts of the two places and drew stick figures of me and a taxi driver visiting each one then coming back to the airport. When she still didn’t understand, I cursed my 8th grade Spanish teacher. The poor desk attendant looked at me with a blank stare and just as I was about to call it quits and head back into the the airport, another girl approached saying she spoke ‘minimal’ English. “Well, we’re in luck because I speak minimal Spanish,” I said, and she laughed. I explained my situation again and this time was rewarded with an “Ah…” before she smiled and spoke in rapid Spanish to the attendant. A number was scribbled on a piece of paper: $12,000.

“TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS?” I exclaimed.

“Pesos,” she corrected me. Quickly, she calculated the conversion to US dollars and wrote $80 US on the paper. Okay! $80 I could manage. In fact, $80 for 3 hours in a cab seemed like a steal. (Side note: It’s not. My older sister, an obviously more seasoned traveler than I, would later tell me I was severely ripped off–no matter, I was on a high and having the time of my freaking life!)

When I met my driver, he never gave me his name, but for the sake of this story let’s call him Robert. Robert glanced at the 4 receipts I handed him and a look of confusion of crossed his face. Not again, I start to think. But he turned to me and said, “So you want to go to San Cristobal Hill, Pablo Naruda’s House, and then come back to the airport?”

“Yes!” I smiled. “You speak English?”

“So, so,” he said. “You speak Spanish?”

“Muy poquito. Very little,” I laughed.

It was about 7:45 a.m. local time and I was ready for the grand tour of Santiago, so imagine my surprise when we arrived at San Cristobal Hill only to find that they didn’t open until 8:30 a.m. Well crap. Robert told me it’s not a problem, we’ll just see Naruda’s house first. This sounded like a good plan until we arrived at the house, properly named La Chascona, and saw the sign that said, Open at 10:00 a.m. I was about 40 minutes into the trip and my wild solo excursion in a foreign country was turning out to be an epic fail.

“What do you want to do?” Robert asked me. I just paid $80 for his services so I hardly wanted him to just drive me back to the airport. I didn’t say anything for a while and racked my brain for a solution. A few minutes passed and I got the feeling he was becoming super annoyed with me but then he said, “I can take you to see the House of the President? And then probably San Cristobal will be open after.”

“Okay!” I shouted enthusiastically. There was a little guy in the back of my mind telling me he was about to charge me up the wazoo for this little detour, but I didn’t care. When else was I going to get the chance to explore Santiago? We hopped in the car and almost instantly Robert went from taxi driver to tour guide. He pointed out the national library, a famous cathedral, a huge indoor market–popular as a place to get a bite to eat after a heavy night of drinking. He told me if I ever came back I must be sure to check out a stall inside that sells the best crab in the world. Come to think of it, I was kind of hungry…but Robert had already gone above and beyond his duties so having him to pull over would’ve been asking to be abandoned in a foreign city. We pulled up to the President’s Palace, and he pointed out the guards surrounding the building and told me they were the most respected division of law enforcement. I told him they are were quite handsome and he laughed.

When I finally arrived at San Cristobal Hill he took me to the top, parked the car, and said he would a nap while I looked around. By this point, we had a pretty good rapport going so I was pretty sure he’s wasn’t going to leave me there; nevertheless, I looked for his car every time it was within view just to be safe. I hadn’t done a lot of research before coming to Santiago; to be honest, I wasn’t sure I had the guts to actually leave the airport until I did it. So all I knew was that San Cristobal Hill had the best view of the city and man, did it ever. Hundreds of thousands of buildings and roads all sprawled out in front of me. Behind me a staircase led further up the mountain and toward a large statue of Mary, complete with a mini chapel at the base of her feet. The main character in my novel, BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY, visits Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, something I had yet to do, so as I stood beneath Mary I tried to imagine being in my character’s shoes. I could write an entire blog just about that experience so I’ll refrain from getting into it, but what I will say is this: as a first-time author it was affirming to know that my character’s experiences weren’t wrong.

Robert was in the driver seat playing a game on his phone when I returned to the car. At the sight of me, he shut off his phone with a smile and we headed back down the mountain to Pablo Naruda’s house. After paying a fee, I was handed a listening device that looked like a long skinny telephone before being ushered into a courtyard. There were about 14 stops on this tour of Naruda’s house, but I only had a few minutes before I risked missing my connecting flight so I decided halfway through the first description to skip to the next one. Big mistake. At the end of each section the narrator kindly tells you where to walk next. This left me wandering around the courtyard with a security guard eyeing me suspiciously. I turned down a wrong corridor and get scolded in Spanish, which ironically sounds a lot like a scolding in Vietnamese, but he pointed me in the direction I was supposed to go. I moved through the downstairs portion quickly, past the dining room, small bedroom, his mistresses’ quarters, and then finally I reached the place I came to see. Pablo Naruda’s study.

It wasn’t very large. In fact, it seemed quite small given Naruda’s notoriety and fame. There were wooden bookshelves lining the back wall, a desk, reading chairs, and lots of artifacts that reminded me of Native American relics. Maybe they were? If I’d had more time I probably could’ve listened to find out. His desk was clean with nothing more than a few pieces of paper, his glasses and a pen. It was also tiny, not much bigger than the desk I used at home. The room was brightly lit with tons of windows. I wanted really badly to sit down in one of the chairs and imagine being him; to look out over his garden and think about the words that would flow together into poetry.

For a writer, the 8-hour layover in Santiago was enlightening. I walked in the shoes of one of my own characters and sat in the house of one of the greatest writers in history. AND I did it all with time to spare, so after going back through security, I took a seat at the bar, ordered a Pisco Sour and toasted myself for a layover well spent.

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Why Book Trailers Matter

Making a book trailer is no easy feat, but to stay competitive in a highly saturated book market it needs to be done. Recently, Tara Lynne Groth of Write Naked found my book trailer on Google+ and contacted me about doing a interview. And afterwards, guess what? SHE BOUGHT THE BOOK!

Check out the full interview on Write Naked! 

Book marketing is a beast of a job and after 4 months of just trying everything–though I still couldn’t tell you the best way to go about it–I did learn a few things:

When you don’t have money for advertising it’s very hard to compete on the internet for face time with readers, but if you take on a mass approach and understand that you may only reach one person a day, that’s 365 people in a year, plus everyone they’ll tell if they think your book is great. Which they will.

In the fast paced world we live in, Tweets come and go in the blink of an eye, and most people just scroll through the vast majority of them. But readers are a great bunch of people, and if you can get your work in front of them they’ll market it for you. Word-of-mouth is still the best way to promote your books.

So where does the book trailer come in? Well, having a 1 minute visual reel to show people make it easier for your readers to quickly show their friends how awesome your book is.

A quick google search for “The Best Book Trailer” turned up this page. 

The site has A LOT of great book trailers, BUT the vast majority of them are national bestseller books, which means someone paid quite a bit of money to create it.

If you’re like me and don’t have the cash, you’re job is a little harder. You need to think outside the box and come up with a creative way to showcase what you’re book is about using the tools at your disposal. If you have technical friends or creative friends ask them to help you. Just pulling images off of google searches and adding title cards is a bad idea. First of all, you don’t own the rights to those photos, so it could come back and bite you in the ass.

I’m not an expert on how to create an amazing book trailer so I won’t go into that here but what I will say is this: know your audience. Think about the kinds of movies they go to see and look up the movie trailers to get ideas.

Imagine yourself as a customer and think about how much more effective it is to meet the author when considering the purchase of a book! Then buckle down and do a short interview/intro for your book trailer. Don’t make it too long 10-15 seconds tops and then move on to what you’re book is about.

Don’t forget to add purchase links at the end so people know where to buy your amazing book!

My book trailer was based off the trailer for WILD, starring Reese Witherspoon. Since I of course didn’t have a budget with which to hire a multi-million dollar actress and fly all around the world, I decided to make it an homage to pop-up books which I loved reading as a kid.

 

5 Things You Need to Know Before Self-Publishing

There’s nothing like receiving your first proof, but unless you want it collecting dust on your bookshelf you need to get moving on marketing.

Switching gears from writing to marketing was quite possibly the most excruciating brain shift I’ve had to endure. That being said, I’ve learned a lot! So I thought I’d share my experiences to help anyone who is considering self-publishing. I also plan to revisit this page if I ever do this again for another novel.

Number 1 — Begin PR Planning at Least SIX Months in Advance

Six months seems like a long time to wait after the novel is done but trust me when I say it will fly by before you know it, and there is a lot of prep work. I’ll get into the nitty gritty later in this post, but allocating enough time to send out massive amounts of e-mails and get responses takes a long time. Had I known what I know now I would’ve started this process at the same time I began querying agents.

First things first, and I cannot stress this enough: GET A BOOK COVER. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” be damned. EVERYONE is going to judge your book by its cover first. And you’ll need the cover to jumpstart everything else.

Then, get your ISBN numbers. You will need two–one for your Paperback and a different one for your e-book.

Also, there are 3 basic e-mails you will need to prepare, as you will be sending out thousands of e-mails.

a) Query Letter — If you haven’t queried before you should. Rejection sucks, but having an agent will help you avoid many of the mistakes I’ve made going it alone.

b) Book Review Query — The concept is very much the same as your Query Letter but you have to include book information. Here is a sample if you need help.

c) Newspaper Book Review Query — This one I found to be the least useful, since I got a 0% response rate, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work for someone else. Here’s a list of Newspaper contact info– if you have any luck with this please comment below. I’d love some tips.

Create a Press Release — I used PRweb (a paid service) because I had no idea how to even begin writing one.  You don’t need to send out a Press Release right away, but having the PDF file ready will you save you lots of time and a headache later. This is getting a little ahead of ourselves, but when you’re ready to release it (and please do check with someone who knows PR) here is a list of sites compiled by Mashable, where you can do so for free.

Number 2 — Get all of your Social Media Lined Up and Ready to Go

Setup/Update your: Personal Website, Facebook Author Page, Twitter, Goodreads Author Account, Amazon Author Account, Google+, etc.

Make sure you have a full page dedicated to your book: What’s it about? Where can I buy it? What are others saying about it?

Start building a Twitter following. There are useful apps out there for this. Hootsuite is great for planning out tweets in advance and Justunfollow helps you find people to follow via keywords (ie. #author, #books, #amwriting, etc.) This will ensure that you’re building a reader network and not just a bunch of random Twitter followers who just want a followback. Also, you’re building a network, so for the love of God, just follow people back. Unless you’re Stephen King and get 100,000 followers the day you sign up for Twitter, you need to look at social media as a reciprocal networking medium. I can’t vouch for other networking communities, but writers genuinely want to help each other out and you’d be surprised at how many people will retweet your book tweets.

Facebook: This will feel like you’re pimping yourself out a little bit, but GET OVER IT. Invite ALL of your friends and family to “Like” your author page. You’re going to need all of the support your can get and it begins with them.

At first, it’ll feel kind of lame to have these pages up with no news to post, but be patient we’re getting to that next.

Number 3 — Submit Your Book for “Reputable” Industry Book Reviews

Yes. You have to pay for some of these. And No, this does not guarantee you a good review. They’re pricey (~$250-$500 each) but a good review from just one of them is HUGE. This is where strangers begin taking a chance on your “Indie” book.

These are the 5 I’d hit up first:

BookList — Booklist is part of the American Library Association so getting reviewed here is a big deal. It’s free to request having your material reviewed. However, you MUST to submit to Booklist no later than you submit to any other pre-publication media AND they do not review an e-book unless it’s available in libraries already (one of those industry Catch-22’s).

Kirkus Reviews — If your browser is as keen to your searches as mine is, you will see ads for Kirkus Reviews EVERYWHERE. This made me wary of course, but make no mistake they are the Creme de la creme of indie book reviewers. Kirkus has been around since 1933 and for indie authors, getting a good review by them is like getting a good review from the New York Times (I have yet to figure out how to get The NY Times to review a book). It costs $425, but your review is automatically considered for their “Indie Book of the Month” promotion, which means A LOT of free exposure to book buyers via their website and bi-monthly magazine.

BookLife  — BookLife is the Indie arm of Publishers Weekly. They’re still in Beta as of now, but they are accepting Indie books for review and it’s FREE. However, if you want to advertise your review with them it does cost $149.

Readers Favorite — It takes 3 months to get the free one and they review over 50% of their submissions. But if you’re in a hurry you can pay $59 for a rushed review and get it within 2 weeks.

Foreward Reviews (If you do this 3 months prior to your publication date, it is possible to get a review for free.) If they choose to review your book, you will get a spotlight in the Magazine as well.

Clarion Reviews — Clarion is a division of Foreword (and the more recognizable industry name). If you miss the Foreward deadline (as I did) you can pay $499 for Clarion to review your book. Both reviews are conducted by the same group of people.

Number 4 — Submit Your Book to Bloggers for Book Reviews

This is what grassroots campaigning all about. Book bloggers have your target audience hooked into their reviews so it’s the best way to promote your book and it’s FREE. It does take a long time to e-mail everyone, but if you’ve done the first 3 steps you will a pro by the time you get to this part. Book bloggers get a lot of e-mails so they need at least 2 months to schedule in your book.

Depending on your genre, you’ll need to do research on the blogs that best fit your book, but for anyone writing women’s fiction here are the sites I used:

Book Blogger List

The Indie View

Additionally, Digital Pubbing wrote an amazingly comprehensive article on how to find reviewers and readers, among other things.

Update: Once you get 25 or so positive blog reviews, watch the pages and request book reviews from other bloggers who comment. You’re response rate will be higher and it’s direct targeting.

Number 5 — Figure out Printing/Pricing

I made the mistake of doing this part first. But could you really blame me? I really wanted to see it in print! It does take a lot of time and research to find the printing press that is best for your needs. I went with IngramSpark and you can read why here. But there are definite drawbacks–the major one being the $25 fee to upload new versions of your book. If you’re tight on money, make sure you have everything proofed several times before uploading. This is not a problem if you go with CreateSpace. The other perk to CreateSpace is being able to set up pre-orders. That being said, with IngramSpark the book fits in easily with any book you’ll find in a bookstore and you better believe book buyers take that into account when considering your book!

As far as pricing, if you’re like me and all you want is to have it out there for people to buy, you’ll want to set the price as low as possible. However, there are several things to consider still.

a) Just because your e-book is $.99 cents it doesn’t mean people will buy it. Sometimes pricing it that low makes people think it’s of poor quality. Look up books in your similar genre and price-match to stay competitive. OR just price it at $2.99. It’s a respectable price for an e-book and even popular New York Times Best Sellers go for that low. I mean it’s the price of a cup of coffee.

b) Paperbacks are a little more nuanced. There are hard costs to Print On Demand, but then you also need to consider that retail book buyers will want a wholesale discount and to avoid paying them to buy your book, you’ll need to raise the price. A 50% markup is where I’d start because wholesale buyers typically want a 35%-55% discount. Besides, you presumably spent a long time writing this thing– don’t sell yourself short. I’d say for a first book $8.99-$12.99 is a good range.

Once you’ve completed all of these steps an agent you queried way back in step 1 will probably call you and you’ll think you did it all for nothing. But you would be wrong! What will likely happen is the next e-mail they send you will be a link back to my site with the subject line: Let’s Get This Baby Out There! And the both of you will be simultaneously relieved. You, because Ta Da! You’re done! And she (or he), because they were mentally geared up for the long haul and you took the express train to meet them halfway. They will be so impressed with you for being at the top of your game.*

*Note: If you could kindly remind them that I am still looking for an agent that would be great! Thanks! =)

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