5 Authors’ Blogs for Self-Published Writers

shutterstock_136888421Navigating the murky waters of the self-publishing industry can be both intimidating and overwhelming. From the craft of writing to marketing your books, the entire process is a truly intense labor of love. It also stands to reason that many writers are not necessarily gifted at selling themselves. I think most of us would prefer to be locked in a room somewhere, building new worlds. But market we must if we want to live to write another day. With an immense amount of resources out there, it’s hard to know what marketing techniques are effective, and which are a waste of your time (and sometimes money).

Listed below are five authors that I have found provide candid, intelligent advice on writing and marketing your books. Most of the big questions I’ve had have been answered on one of these blogs. Why re-invent the wheel when you can follow in the footsteps of other successful writers who are willing to share what they’ve learned along the way?

Lindsay Buroker
This was the blog that convinced me to self-publish. Lindsay is the author of several series, including Emperor’s Edge and Flash Gold, and her stories are fun, quick reads that I thoroughly enjoy. On her blog, Lindsay is incredibly forthcoming about sharing which marketing techniques worked for her, the numbers of books she’s sold at different points in time, and smart, insightful observations about new trends in the industry and how they can be applied to selling your books.

Hugh Howey
Once upon a time, Hugh Howey was a starving, self-published author just like the rest of us. Now he’s a bestseller, and his brilliant Silo Series (Wool, Shift and Dust) are well-known to any self-respecting sci-fi fan (and personal favorites of mine). But what makes this blog special is that Hugh’s ability to reawaken your passion for the craft of writing, which sometimes can get a little lost in the monumental effort of marketing and selling books.

Tim Ferriss
On the other extreme from Hugh Howey is Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4-Hour Work Week (and many other 4-Hour themed nonfiction books). He is an author and an entrepreneur who has branded himself and his books, and has become immensely successful because of how brilliant he is at marketing. This is not a blog for authors looking to discuss the craft, but if you’re looking for big ideas and are a risk-taker, you’ll find some great strategies on his blog.

C.J. Lyons
I find this blog great for practical advice from a prolific self-published author who practices what she preaches. She writes suspense/thrillers, and has been incredibly successful in her niche. She openly shares what has worked for her, but also acknowledges that not every writer has to be a best seller in order to be successful. Her strategies are thought-provoking and not at all like the generic advice that you find on so many self-publishing websites.

Kami Garcia
Disclaimer – I write YA fiction, and Kami Garcia, author of awesome YA fantasies like Beautiful Creatures, is one of my favorite writers. What I find cool about her blog is that it isn’t all self-promotion about he books. She dedicates time providing insightful input and resources for writers. Kami isn’t self-published, but her blog is a quick, enjoyable read if you’re curious about the kind of things that author’s who’ve already “made it” think about.

When to Stop Editing

I can admit it – I’m addicted to editing. I’ve rewritten the first chapter of one of my novels so many times that all of the versions start to blur together. Sometimes the changes are relatively minor, but I can’t help thinking of better and better ways to begin, and end up with a completely different opening scene. I’ve added and deleted prologues, and added an epilogue only to question whether it disrupts the flow of the primary narrative.

So my question is, how do you know when your story is good enough? I think I’ll always come up with new ideas that I want to incorporate, but unless I want to end up with one unfinished manuscript at the end of my life, at some point I have to stop and move on.

When I reach this point, I know I have to share my story with people who I trust. They will inevitably  have suggestions of their own, but I can tell by the type of feedback whether or not I’m close. When you hear that an entire character isn’t working, or a section / aspect of the book is slow or doesn’t make sense, I keep rewriting. Or if several readers are taking forever to finish the story, that’s a red light – obviously it isn’t holding their interest enough to finish quickly. But when the suggestions start to get minor, details that need to be sharpened, I make the edits and move on.

So I know it’s time to finally let go of that first chapter. Time to close the file, admit it’s done and start dreaming up new worlds.

How Not to Approach Choosing a Cover Artist

Picture1When I wrote the first book in The Conjurors Series, I held what turned out to be a naive belief that it would succeed or fail based on the merits of my writing. Now older and (hopefully) wiser, I’m ready to admit that a strong, eye-catching cover is crucial to selling any book – but especially one that you’re self-publishing. If you’re a self-publishing pro, this post is not for you. But if you’re a relative newbie to this world, please learn from my mistakes. Perhaps you’ll save yourself hundreds of strands of hair that you would otherwise pull out your head in frustration.

Unless you’re a gifted artist as well as a writer, don’t create your own cover art.
Even a random person on the street could have done a better job with the cover of my book than I did with my original cover. In my infinite wisdom, I opened ClipArt in PowerPoint, chose an image, and called it a day. To my untrained eye it looked simple and elegant. But friends and family assured me it looked boring and amateurish. When readers agreed, I had to admit that they were right.

Don’t hire someone from O-Desk, Freelancer, etc. unless you have a strong artistic sensibility and know exactly what you want on your cover.
Alas, in my case, my creativity with the written word does not extend to the visual arts. I knew enough to realize that my own cover art wasn’t getting the job done, but figured that surely someone who could draw reasonably well could easily create a dynamite cover. However, without any distinctive guidance from me, or even an understanding if what I was seeing was good, this effort didn’t save me any cash – it was a money sinkhole.

Avoid random web searches for cover artists unless you have the patience of a saint.
After scouring dozens of websites and flipping through hundreds of cover samples, I felt more overwhelmed and less confident about how to fix my cover than ever. I had no idea if the artists whose work I was viewing had been successful in selling books. I was terrified of throwing away more money on an artist who needed guidance from me that I couldn’t provide.

Don’t let your number one consideration when choosing a cover artist be price.
Like a lot of newbies in the self-publishing industry, I’m on a micro budget when it comes to promoting my books. But people more experienced and successful than myself all agree that your cover is the last thing you should cheap out on. I’m not saying you need Dan Brown’s cover artist working for you, but finding someone who can give you a cover that is professional and pleasing can be the difference between success and failure when readers only your see your title and a thumbnail image of your cover before deciding if they want to find out more.

With that being said, there were a few things that did work for me. First was seeing who the pros were using. Some self-published authors thank their cover artists in their acknowledgments or post who their cover artists and editors are on their websites. (And may karma reward them for that!) Another good source was a Goodreads list of recommended cover artists (they have multiple threads on this topic). This was nice because there were a variety of price points. My last tip is to reach out to any friends you have who are artists or at least have a good sense for the visual arts to look at the portfolio of the cover artist  you’re planning to go with before you spend any cash. Worst case scenario, at least you have someone other than yourself to blame if your cover doesn’t come out quite right.

Brand new covers of the first two novels in The Conjurors Series will be posted on my site in October. I hope you come check them out and let me know if I finally got it right!

How to Write a Great Battle Scene

shutterstock_101136988One of the scenes in my novels that I find most intimidating to write is battles. How much action is too much? Or am I making it too simple? The Conjurors is a young adult fantasy series, and I enjoyed a succint, informative article on StormTheCastle.com about writing fantasy battles that got my brain working. These techniques gave me a starting point, and when I sat down and wrote the big battle in my story, I found a few other helpful techniques that I wanted to share.

Keep track of your heroine.
With all of the blood and manoevers and treachery, it’s easy to get lost when writing a battle. I found that using my heroine as an anchor helped to focus me. This is still her story, so I reminded myself to include her emotional responses to what she was witnessing, as well as the action itself.

Write a battle your audience will care about.
The battle scene in a book for adult men should look different than a battle in a YA fantasy aimed at a female readership. Talk to your fans and friends to see how much detail they want you to go into on the battlefield. Personally, I tend to skim the battle scenes in books that describe tactics and detailed combat. On the other hand, when I read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, the battles kept me riveted, because it was as much about what was happening inside Katniss’ head as it was about the fighting itself.

Check out historical battle tactics.
This can get overwhelming and confusing, so I’d like to add the caveat that it’s only worth real effort if you’re writing a massive battle scene. If you’ll be battling for a few chapters, you might want to check out some information on battle strategy to make your story richer. It also helps provide a framework for your battle so that you don’t get lost in all the blood.

Choose a fighting style and read up on it.
You can even take a class. If your fighters are all using hand-to-hand combat, it helps to know a few moves that you didn’t see in an action movie. You can talk to a friend in martial arts or even read up on the basics. No matter what style you have in mind, from 21st century warfare to clashing swords, a little knowledge goes a long way toward making your story believable.

Do you have any other tips on how to write a battle scene well? I’m editing mine now and would love some tips!