Looking for Villainspiration

abstract-1057521_960_720It’s dark and dreary in my hometown of San Jose this week, and the ghost of something dark hovers at the edges of my thoughts whenever I watch the news. The combined effect might be disturbing if it were an ordinary week, but right now I’m obsessing over how to craft a worthy villain to terrorize the protagonist of my new series. I need all the villainspiration I can get, because the task of creating a villain requires a different kind of soul-searching than writing a nuanced protagonist.

As an avid reader of all kinds of literature, I’ve been frightened by the creations of many talented authors who are adept at writing believable antagonists for their heroes. Below are some of the most helpful nuggets I’ve taken from their hard work and brilliance.

Knowledge of the villain’s plans and motivations should be hard-won.
One of the creepiest books of all time is Dracula by Bram Stoker. I’ve lain awake at nights as a grown adult unable to sleep for fear that the red light blinking in the corner is not, in fact, my fire alarm, but rather the red pupils of an evil vampire after my sweet little throat. Stoker’s Dracula never revealed his darker side to the heroes willingly. He acted the part of a gentleman, and it took serious detective work to uncover his evil past and nefarious plans for the future. When the heroes earn their knowledge, the reader credits it more than when it’s handed over in a neat package of backstory from someone in the know.

Sometimes the worst villains start out as the heroine’s friend.
This isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that is powerful time and again when executed well. When a friend turns enemy, they know the heroine’s fears, strengths, and vulnerabilities. And because the villain began as a friend, the author is less likely to let the villain devolve into a caricature of evil instead of a person. Sarah J. Maas has a new twist on this idea in her Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy. The heroine’s true love in the first book becomes the villain of the second, without any idea that he has fallen from his throne in her heart. Seeing how the good in him grows warped in both fascinating and troubling – in the best way.

No monologuing. Ever.
Your heroine can have a speech. Your heroine’s friend can espouse on relevant topics at lenght. Your heroine’s mentor can have a rallying pep talk. But, please, skip the long explanation of motives, preview of evil plans, and exhaustive reminiscences of the past coming from the mouth of the villain. If the villain’s backstory is crucial, find a creative way to expose it. J.K. Rowling created the pensieve to give Harry a peek into Voldemort’s past. It allowed the reader to experience events in real time, with action, instead the biased ranting of Voldemort. This makes more sense for most villains, who would never willingly reveal weaknesses or plans to someone with the ability to undermine them.

Take a peek inside your villain’s head.
It’s human nature to over-simplify and stereotype the people we encounter, and the heroine of your story is no different. When, as a writer, you’re lost inside your protagonist’s head, good and evil are very black and white. But readers have a different reaction to villains who are too extreme, or cartoonish. They are less terrifying, because they don’t feel real. Writing from the villain’s perspective (even if you don’t use what you write in your final draft) forces you to give them believable motives, a view of the world that makes sense to them, feelings, and a personal history. If you’re looking for an author who does this so well, consider the protagonist/villain of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Humbert Humbert. The man is a child molester, but in his own head he is a victim of the thirteen-year-old torturing him with her beauty. You find yourself on the brink of sympathizing with him, and then the reality of what a monster he is hits you again and again. Even if you can’t give your villain a voice within your novel, as his creator you should know him well, so you can write him believably.

Thunder (or a garbage truck) is rumbling in the background as I write this post, reminding me that I should return to the task of tackling my next novel. So I’ll dim the lights, shed reality, and put some of this villainspiration to good use. As long as I don’t encounter my own personal tormentor…writer’s block.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

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Goodreads Book Giveaway of My YA Fantasy Novel, The Society of Imaginary Friends

The-Society-of-Imaginary-Friends300x200Enter for a chance to win a hard copy of my Amazon bestselling novel, The Society of Imaginary Friends, a young adult epic fantasy. Click here to enter my Goodreads Giveaway, which is live now through December 21, 2016. This breakthrough novel is the first book of The Conjurors Series, and retails for $8.99.

Description:

Valerie Diaz has a power that she can’t contain, and it’s killing her. Bounced between foster homes and the streets, she only has time to concentrate on staying alive. But a visit from the imaginary friend of her childhood opens a world of possibilities, including a new life half a universe away on a planet that is bursting with magic.

The Society of Imaginary Friends follows Valerie on a journey that straddles two worlds. In order to survive, she must travel many light years away to a realm where anything is possible. On the Globe, imaginary friends come to life, the last of the unicorns rules the realm, and magic seeps from the pores of all the Conjurors who live there.

But choosing to embrace her potential will set Valerie on a treacherous course – one filled with true love, adventure and perilous danger.

Tips on Your Quest for An Agent

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Self-publishing my 4-book YA fantasy series, The Conjurors, was an experience that I am so grateful for. Over the past five years, pushing myself to finish the series and learning how to effectively market it has given me purpose and taught me what it means to build a platform and brand for myself.

But I’ll be the first to admit that marketing my books isn’t nearly as fun as writing them. There’s a satisfaction to be had when a sales/marketing strategy succeeds, but, for me, it doesn’t compare to the joy, the oblivion, of losing myself inside the movie in my head. So I decided for my new YA science fiction series, Joan the Made, I would search for an agent and try the traditional publishing route.

I had no illusions that it would be easy, or even possible, to land an agent. I have no contacts in the industry, or published friends to look to for advice or a reference. I’m also a hard-core introvert with the networking skills of a meerkat. But I have a book that I believe is the best thing I’ve written so far, and the willingness to spend a ridiculous number of hours researching agents, personalizing my query letters, and sending out hopeful wishes into the universe.

At first, there was a lot of rejection. But after sending dozens of queries and tweaking my manuscript and letter, interest began to rise. I’m still waiting and hoping that an agent will be interested in working with me. My manuscript is currently in the hands of a few agents, and there are others who have yet to respond.

Here are some lessons I learned along the way that dramatically improved the response rate from the agents I queried.

Revise your query letter when it isn’t working.
After every ten queries, I would rewrite my letter to emphasize a new angle. I adjusted the paragraph about myself, the description of the novel, and expanded why I was reaching out to that particular agent. This was the best thing I did. By the fifth query rewrite, I began seeing a lot more interest in reading samples of my manuscript, and even manuscript requests.

Revise your manuscript if you receive valuable feedback from agents.
A few kind agents gave me words of advice in their rejection notes, letting me know what they liked or what could be improved. About halfway through my querying process, I rewrote my manuscript to incorporate those suggestions.

Try Twitter pitch fests.
I know. I was skeptical at first, too. Condensing my manuscript into 140 characters was a challenge, and what real agents found writers on Twitter? A lot, it turned out. It was also a much-needed ego boost to see agents “like” my tweet and request a query letter and writing sample. One of those agents went on to request the full manuscript. I had the most success with #PitMad and #PitDark. Just be sure to vet any agents who are interested in your manuscript before reaching out to them to make sure they’re legit.

Only target agents interested in your exact genre, or you will drive yourself nuts.
Take it from the girl who queried over 100 agents. There are a lot of agents interested in exactly what you’re writing. Focus on those agents, rather than agents who have broader interests. If you’re writing Fantasy or Science Fiction, I found this list helpful. Another tactic that I tried was looking up who the agent was for books that were similar to mine that had been published and were successful.

I’m a still a newbie at the querying process, so I welcome any suggestions you have for me that I haven’t thought of yet.

 

How to Create an Advertising Campaign for Your $0.99 eBook Promotion

This September, I ran my biggest promotion to date on The Conjurors Collection, which is a bundle of the first three books in the series. It is the most successful promotion that I’ve run so far. Below are my best rankings during the promotion period.

Ranking

I discounted the bundle, which was $7.99, to $0.99 for two weeks, from September 6-19. In total, I sold 612 copies (earning me $214) and had a huge surge in readers from Kindle Unlimited, for which I was paid over $400. My check from Amazon for September was more than $700. Even considering that I spent $350 on advertising, I made a great profit (for me). Even better, the following month I made almost $500 even though I did very little advertising (less than $50), so the long-term benefit of the ad campaign was significant.

A month later I ran a mini-promotion on just the first book in the series, The Society of Imaginary Friends, discounting it to $0.99 for a week. I only spent $43 in advertising, but I had less than 50 sales. I wanted to call this out because part of my success with my September promotion was that I was selling three books for $0.99, which was a much more attractive deal.

Below I’ll list the sites that I used for advertising and the costs and results of each one. But some key takeaways – it’s worth it to have multiple days of high sales, even if the ads don’t immediately pay for themselves, because it pushes up your rank on Amazon, and the increased visibility results in more sales in the long term. For my next promotion, I plan to cluster my ads so that the ones that sell the most units are on subsequent days rather than spread out.

Another takeaway was that for a huge book like my bundle, it was worth it to be exclusive to Amazon (KDP Select). I was paid much better by every Amazon Unlimited reader than I was from readers who bought the bundle at $0.99. In the first case, I probably made over $5 for every reader who finished the book, and in the second case I made under $0.35. So while I may make my individual books available on other sites, I’ll keep my bundle exclusive to Amazon.

Below are the number of copies of the collection that I sold on a particular day, with the associated ad that I used.

Books Sold

September 19, 2015: Ebook Soda ($10), Pixel of Ink ($30)
Number of Downloads: 71
Effectiveness: Medium
Pixel of Ink is a site known for delivering a return on ad investment, but they do not always have options to advertise with them. It’s a matter of luck if your book can be featured when you need it there. I can’t say for certain how many sales were from Ebook Soda, so I may try advertising with them separately in a future promotion.

September 18, 2015:  FKBT ($25)
Number of Downloads: 35
Effectiveness: Medium
I was somewhat disappointed with the Free Kindle Books & Tips ad, given its price tag. It’s one of the few I won’t be using again, because my $25 can be split among other sites that will deliver a bigger value altogether.

September 17, 2015:  Wattpad (Free), Indies Unlimited Thrifty Thursday (Free)
Number of Downloads: 19
Effectiveness: High
I was concerned about my rankings dropping because I had no paid ads on this day, and was pleasantly surprised that a post on my Wattpad account (where I have the first book in the series published for free) and Indies Unlimited delivered an excellent influx of readers for no charge.

September 16, 2015:  Booksends ($50)
Number of Downloads: 70
Effectiveness: Medium
Though Booksends is pricey, I recommend it in order to drive up your Amazon sales rank. Though my initial investment in the ad didn’t yield a positive return, I do think it helped the overall campaign by selling such a high number of copies in one day.

September 14 & 15, 2015:  Books Butterfly ($50), Book Barbarian ($8)
Number of Downloads: 92
Effectiveness: Medium
These ads were over the course of two days. Like the Booksends ad, I recommend using Books Butterfly to give your ad campaign momentum by having a higher number of downloads, even if the ad doesn’t pay for itself right away. I will also try Book Barbarian again, next time on its own day so I can better determine how well it does on its own.

September 13, 2015:  The Fussy Librarian ($24 to be listed in multiple genres)
Number of Downloads: 19
Effectiveness: Low
I’ve advertised with Fussy in the past with better results, but this time I was disappointed in the return on my investment. However, I think part of the problem was that I spent extra cash to be listed in additional genres. Next time, I’ll stick to one genre, which will have a lower price tag.

September 12, 2015: eBookHounds ($5), Robin Reads ($15)
Number of Downloads: 59
Effectiveness: High
This was my first time advertising on these two sites, and I will definitely be using them again. I had a high number of downloads for a low cost, and it was one of a few days where I immediately made a profit, not counting the long-term impact on sales.

September 11, 2015:  Betty Book FREAK ($8), Reading Deals (Free)
Number of Downloads: 17
Effectiveness: Medium
For $8, I was satisfied with the number of downloads I received. I would try using Betty Book FREAK again to see how it performs on a different day.

September 10, 2015:  The Ereader Cafe ($25)
Number of Downloads: 27
Effectiveness: Low
Like FKBT, I was disappointed by how few downloads my $25 got me. This is a site I may cut from my future promotions to see if the money can be better spent elsewhere.

September 9, 2015:  Booklover’s Heaven (Free), BKKnights ($5.50)
Number of Downloads: 22
Effectiveness: High
BK Knights always gives me a good return for a small price tag. But be careful which of his services you choose. I recommend SKIPPING his twitter/facebook offerings. Instead, opt to be listed on his site, where readers are more likely to download your book.

September 8, 2015: Ereader News Today ($20)
Number of Downloads: 50
Effectiveness: High
I always have excellent results when I advertise with ENT, and this time was no exception.

September 7, 2015: Discount Books Daily ($10), Booktastik ($10), SweetFreeBooks ($5), ReadFreely (Free)
Number of Downloads: 25
Effectiveness: Low
By grouping so many ads together, it’s hard for me to parse which ones worked best. Maybe one site is responsible for all 25 sales, in which case I would be doing it a disservice not to recommend it. However, I will think twice before advertising on any of the paid sites from this day of my promo in the future, because the number of downloads was disappointing for a combined budget of $25.

September 6, 2015: BookGorilla ($50), ReadCheaply (Free)
Number of Downloads: 71
Effectiveness: Medium
Like Booksends and Books Butterfly, though BookGorilla is pricey, I recommend it in order to drive up your Amazon sales rank. Though my initial investment in the ad didn’t yield a positive return, I do think it helped the overall campaign by selling such a high number of copies in one day.

 

Have you found other sites that you highly recommend for advertising ebooks? If so, please share!

How to Weave Believable Technology into Your YA Dystopian Novel (Part 2)

file000898499863As I mentioned in my last post, Part 1 on this topic, it is with glee that I leave behind the world I’ve been writing about for years to enter a new one. It’s radically different than the one I left behind, not even set in the same time. I’m visiting the future, and am learning about the technology I’ll find there. For the first time, my day job is kinda helpful, as I work in Silicon Valley at a high tech company, where we geek out about what the future will look like all the time.

I’m a believer that the best place to generate ideas for plausible ideas of future technology is to check out cutting-edge technology from today and extrapolate. Below are some resources that might trigger ideas for you.

Technology Websites
No surprise, there are a lot of online resources to sift through if you’re interested in technology. They range from those too mundane to yield exciting inspiration to those so futuristic that they don’t feel plausible. The sites I regularly check out are TechCrunch, which covers the latest technology news, and Fast Company, which doesn’t exclusively focus on technology, but rather innovation. If you’re interested in learning about how electronics function in a little more depth, check out the text and videos on SemisMatter to become more knowledgeable.

Technology-Focused TED Talks
If you haven’t heard of TED talks, they are awesome. Some of the most brilliant people alive share their expertise on everything from writing to technology to business. These brilliant people deliver short (18 minutes or less) talks on all kinds of topics, like robotics, biotechnology and space travel. And you can watch the videos of these talks for free on their website. They have a great search feature, including a way to filter by topic. Check out their most viewed talks and their technology topic talks. You’ll be educated without realizing it, and I defy you not to be inspired by some of the technology that you’re introduced to.

Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
CES is perhaps the most famous technology trade show, where the coolest up-and-coming technology is on display. Unfortunately, this is an industry event that isn’t open to the public, but there is a lot of media coverage of the event. If you do a search for the 2015 show, you’ll hear about the hottest technology that was present. I got distracted by a 3D printer that prints dessert, but that’s another story. Search for new coverage of CES for the past three years or so and you’ll start to notice trends that you can weave into your story.

Reference for the truly geeky.
For those interested in a dense but thought-provoking read about the extremes of what our future might look like, my favorite book, which I encountered in my day job, is The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil. It blew my mind and made me grateful to be living in an age of exponential growth of technology. Maybe I’ll have a chip in my brain before I die (by choice!) or tiny robots will be released inside me to cure me of diseases. I sure hope so.

If you’re interested in how some famous ya dystopian authors have handled technology in their novels, check out my last post on the subject.

Best Places to Advertise Your $0.99 Ebook Promotion

As my adventures in advertising and marketing my self-published books continue, I thought I’d share some lessons from my latest $0.99 promotion of the first book in The Conjurors Series. For this attempt, I clustered five different advertisements within one week in an attempt to push up my ranking and visibility on Amazon, particularly for certain subgenre lists.

I was reasonably successful (by my modest standards), and for the week that I ran the promo, I had 87 people purchase my book. My highest ranking was around 6,000 for paid books on Amazon, but I was in the top 20 of three key subcategories that my book fell into.

A good percentage of the people who downloaded my book have now purchased the second (and even third) book in the series. Overall, I have recovered the money I spent on advertising with sales, but not with much left over profit-wise. But I consider the promo a success, because I now have a better idea where to focus my limited budget for future ads.

Below are the sites I used to advertise, and the success I had with each one.

The Fussy Librarian, $14
I’ve used this site for various free promotions, and it usually gives me a noticeable bump in downloads. For the day I advertised on Fussy, I had 7 downloads of my book at $0.99, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it did help push me up in the rankings. Overall, I would use this site again, especially in conjunction with other advertising as a way to increase my visibility on the Amazon lists.

Free Kindle Books and Tips, $25
This was my first experience with this site, but it came recommended from a fellow author so I decided to check it out. On the day I advertised, I had 15 downloads of my book, a decent percentage of which I assume are from this listing. For my meager budget, I found this a little pricey, but ultimately worth it, as it helped push my ranking in Amazon’s paid lists up to about 17,000 (from 100,000).

Ereader News Today, $15
Without question, this was the most valuable advertisement I’ve paid for. It’s hard to say exactly how many people came from this source, but I estimate around 30 downloads, which brought my rank up to around 6,000. It was in the top 20 of three subgenre lists, which may have also increased downloads.

Bookgoodies, $35; Bookgoodies Kids, $35 (home page feature for one week)
Bookgoodies was my biggest investment, and also my biggest disappointment. I estimate that it drove a couple of sales of my book a day, which isn’t nothing, but didn’t have the same impact as any of my other advertisements, in spite of being more expensive. This surprised me, because I’ve found Bookgoodies to be very helpful in driving traffic for the free promos of my books.

Are there any places where you’ve had great success with ads? I know Bookbub is awesome, but I haven’t managed to get them to agree to list my book yet.

In Quest of an Honest Review

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When I began my self-publishing journey a few years ago and sent my novel into the world, I’ll confess to being shocked when anyone didn’t like it. My first 3-star review led me to eat five peppermint patties in a row. That’ll show ’em. But 3 years and 40 reviews later, I have a very different take on reviews. I’m happy to see them, no matter what the star rating is. The people who don’t like my writing teach me at least as much as the people who do.

Think my dialogue is trite? Allow me to rewrite it. The opening of my book didn’t hook you? Let me add a scene. My book reads like it was written for a younger target audience? Maybe it’s time to market it to middle grade instead of young adult.

Now that I’m almost done with the last book in my series, I know that I’ll take all the lessons that my readers taught me and apply them to my new series from the get-go. And my attitude toward reviews has completely changed. When it comes to reviews, no matter how critical, I say bring it on.

I have gone from wanting people to like my book to wanting to know the truth about my writing. No matter what people think, I’ll probably always write, but I don’t want to be deluded about it. When readers give me the truth, I relish it, even when it’s criticism.

For that reason, I decided to have the first book in The Conjurors Series reviewed by Glenn Hates Books – Brutally Honest Book Reviews. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants an honest assessment of their book. He won’t pull punches, but he’s not out to eviscerate everyone, either. If you’re ready for the truth, give it a try.

If you have any other recommendations on places to get legitimate reviews of books, let me know. I’ve tried Story Cartel with some success, and reaching out through social networks. Have you had any luck with other sources?