#PublishingPaidMe

First of all, the hashtag from Twitter earlier this week isn’t about me.  It’s about showing the disparity between BIPOC advances and payments in the world of traditionally published books.  It’s meant to make the world of publishing a little more transparent.

While reading through the various posts, I realized, once again, that I’m still okay with my decision to self publish.  It’s not something I often consider, but seeing all the back and forth, not only do I not have to deal with any of the nonsense, but I also don’t have to be part of a system that repeatedly does not compensate BIPOC authors fairly.  There are many problems in the world of traditional publishing, none of which the least has to do with representation and equitable pay and advances.  In the past few months, there have been publishing houses who have carried books with highly problematic authors.  Decisions made at levels that were clearly directed towards money, and not the integrity of the company.  A quick look at the recent actions of a certain famous wizarding author yields even more issues…

So, while my own ‘self publishing paid me’ isn’t much to speak of, at least it has been fair.  The stories I’ve wanted to tell have been my own, the successes I’ve had have been my own, and will continue to be.  While I’m hopeful that the #publishingpaidme hashtag was helpful this week, only time will tell for realized contracts and equitable pay for all.

#BLM.

Like anyone with the ability to consume media, the past week has been a blur.  Of hate.  Of intolerance.  Of injustice.  Of ugly divides that separate so many people.  As an American, it’s especially challenging, and as an ex-pat, nothing short of surreal.  To believe my home country was somehow at its lowest, and knowing that limit might not ever exist is disheartening.  And no, my struggles from the safety of a villa in Dubai aren’t anywhere near what BIPOC, shop owners, or anyone related to the protests are going through.

As I told an author friend this week, it seems utterly ridiculous to be working on a novel where a bunch of privileged white kids have little dramas and humorous scenes on a fictional television show.  Even at 1,000 words a day, it’s difficult to concentrate on anything.  And why write such a fluffy story at all?

So, I’ve donated.  I’ve posted where my network is the largest and within the past hour I called out friends (privately) for perpetuating stereotypes.  I’ll continue to do so, but to what end?  Because, is there going to be an end?  My voice feels so incredibly small in the universe, and I’m supposed to have words, but I can’t seem to find the right way to put them together to express myself.

My thoughts on giving a book away (and the services that support this).

It’s no surprise that as an author, one of the biggest challenges is connecting with potential readers.  Without a large marketing budget, finding new people to read your work — and most importantly, having those readers leave reviews, becomes a difficult challenge.  I think at the beginning of my publishing journey, I believed giving my books away wasn’t helpful, or necessary, or…I really can’t be sure.  And, as the years went on, I realized The System (aka Amazon) pays significant attention to reviews.  And as a reader, I get it.  Although most of my reading comes via NetGalley and authors I already know and love, I’m always looking for new talent. When I approach purchasing anything online, I always read reviews and yes, those reviews have a huge impact on my buying behavior.

So, with some of my recent novels, I wanted to revisit my strategy and and do my best to obtain more reviews.  For The Queen of England: Coronation, I wanted a healthy base of reviews (and also to get over 40 reviews, something that was personally annoying me).  As it is the first book in a three book series, my hope was to grab people’s interest (so that they read – and buy – the remainder of the series).  For Twenty Year Reunion, given the space between releasing Life After Joe (2015) as Ann Benjamin and now, well, it’s a bit like starting over again.  I recognize this as my own failure, but this is also the reality of publishing under two pen names.

Finally, while there’s nothing specifically scientific about it, I value a review at USD$5.  As in, even though it is totally illegal, that is what I would pay someone to leave a review on any of my books.  I think having an idea of what monetary equivalent per review review makes sense, and was important in my approach to below.

So, what services have I used?  Let’s dive in!

Hidden Gems

In case you’ve not heard of this service, essentially for a fee (based on your genre), you sign up for a day and request readers.  I used Hidden Gems – to great success – for reviews for Queen 1 and 2.  While the service yielded more reviews with Coronation (15-20, if I remember correctly) than Grand Tour (9-10), both books received a number of positive reviews, and in a timely manner.  I can’t remember exactly what I paid, but using Hidden Gems was definitely worth it.  The only ‘con’ to using the service is that the wait list is rather insane.  The absolute EARLIEST I could sign up Twenty Year Reunion was August (which I did).

However, a bit of good news, I was contacted late yesterday to see if I wanted an earlier spot (May 8th), which just opened up.  I was delighted to accept.

Voracious Readers

Similar to Hidden Gems, Voracious Readers connects authors with potential readers.  As my approach was to get people on the hook for the first book in my Queen series, I listed Coronation as ‘evergreen’ (an ongoing free book).  As interest and requests rolled in, my optimism grew.  Seeing all the potential new readers, I was excited.

Unfortunately, in comparison to the timely and responsive reviews of the Hidden Gems readers, I felt very disappointed by Voracious Readers, and decided to stop the service two months in.  Why?  For as many books I sent out (almost 200), I think I received maybe 3-5 reviews in that whole time.  And the majority were on Goodreads (my preference is definitely Amazon).  Because I overlapped my Voracious Readers service and a free day on Amazon where I had over 2,000 downloads, it’s difficult to tell where reviews from March 17th forward are coming from.

As some small bonus, I have added more people to my author newsletter database, which is a small silver lining.

AuthorsXP

As I thought Hidden Gems wasn’t going to come online until August (and that was too long to wait), I decided to research some other options to source readers for Twenty Year Reunion, and came up with AuthorsXP.  Reviewing their options, I wanted to try the Elite Readers option (again, as a way to build reviews).  After one week, I’ve sent out 13 copies, which I’m honestly kind of ‘meh’ about.  I was hoping to be closer to 20, but perhaps I’ll hit that number over the weekend.  If I don’t reach 20, I’m going to see what I can do about getting a refund.

BookSweeps

I used this service to try and build my BookBub followers, as well as build my newsletter subscribers.  I had the best luck with this service, and whenever I opted in, I received a list of 325 new subscribers.  Result.

 

Of course, there are tons of other services out there – many of which I’m ineligible for, as my books are all opted into KDP Select.  I do this, mainly because I’m paranoid about not complying with Amazon’s rules.  I’ve tried to submit to BookBub for my YA stuff, but was wary this week about pulling the trigger for Life After Joe (as a way to get new readers for Ann Benjamin), as the $600+ price tag has me nervous on what actual return I would get.

So, where do you find out about new authors?  If you’re an author, have you used any of these services before?  

YA Scavenger Hunt: Spring 2020!

Welcome to the 2020 YA Scavenger Hunt!  This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! 

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt.  There are SIX contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all!  I am a part of the BLUE TEAM — but there is also a GREEN, GOLD, PINK, & PURPLE team for a chance to win a whole different set of books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE
 
Directions: Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the BLUE team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).  If you’re wondering what mine is, I’m a big fan of my birthday, March 17.

 

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

 

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by April 5th, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

 

SCAVENGER HUNT POST

 

Today, I am super excited to be hosting the fabulously talented Stacie Ramey on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt!
Stacie Ramey is the author of The Sister Pact, a contemporary realistic Young Adult novel which was named a YALSA 2016 Popular Paperback and a 2015 PSLA Top 40. Her sophomore novel, The Homecoming was awarded a Florida Book Award. Kirkus called her third book, The Secrets We Bury ” A sensitive, funny, and sometimes awkwardly romantic story of survival and self-awareness” and also named it to its list of 13 YA Books Both You and Your Teen Will Enjoy. It’s My Life is about a high school junior with cerebral palsy, who is on the verge of giving up on herself until she learns that her childhood crush has moved back to town. When Stacie’s not writing, she engages in Netflix wars with her children or beats her husband in Scrabble, all while watching the Florida Gators and Penn State Nittany Lions play (Go Gators).
Find out more information by checking out Stacie via her website.

 

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT

Today’s book, IT’S MY LIFE, sounds like an interesting one!

While facing disturbing revelations about the cause of her disability, a high school junior with cerebral palsy is on the verge of giving up on herself until she learns that her childhood crush has moved back into town.

 

From the author: This is a deleted scene from IT’S MY LIFE. It was one of those scenes I loved, because it showed Julian and Jenna as they kind of flirt with being more than friends before he moved away. We took out this entire thread, the one where they go looking for this woman everyone in their town says is a witch because it complicated the story too much. I admit that I still miss parts of it and may use it in another story in the future. So glad I got to show it to you here!

 

I picture how it would feel to touch his hand. Like we did that day in the woods. I want to feel the weight of his shoulder up against mine. His hand  was even on my back, warm. The other under my arm, as he helped me over the downed trees, skinny and gray. We weren’t supposed to go look for her. We’d sworn we wouldn’t anymore, but he’d shown up at my house all out of breath. “I think I know where she lives,” he’d said. “I was out walking, and I found a place…”

“Did she have animal skins hanging?”

“Yes,” he said. “I saw them, just like you thought.

 The twigs crunched and snapped under us as we made our way. The leaves were off the trees already, making a soft bed on the forest floor. Some had dried and they crackled when we stepped on them. We passed a nest in a tree. The day was gray and the woods were soft browns and green and the entire thing felt like it was made for us. Like time stopped and we were trudging forward, me limping, he, helping me, hoisting me when needed, his hands on my sides, over my shirt but under my jacket, felt so personal.

We sat against the tree trunks, our backs against a tree, watching for the witch to come out but she never did. All we could see was the smoke coming out of the chimney.

“You know about the dance?” He asked. “I mean it’s that night. You ever go to those?”

He knew I did. He’d seen me leave for the school dances. He’d be outside playing street hockey when Kate and Selene and I would pile into Mom’s car. All of a sudden it was hard to look at him. From the corner of my eye I could see it was hard for him also. “Yeah. I like the dances,” I said. “You?”

His eye met mine and then skirted back to his hand that was holding the water bottle we’d both drank out of. I didn’t have time to wonder if he was thinking about both of our lips having shared the same space, because he blurted. “You want to go with me then? To the dance, I mean.”

I looked straight in his hazel woodsy eyes. The ones that belonged in the forest or on the ice. I nodded. He smiled. Then he put his hand in mine and we watched some more. Only I wasn’t watching as much as feeling the shape of his hand in mine. The weight of it. The warmth.

It was getting dark and cold. My teeth started chattering. “You’re freezing.” Julian put his arm around me. “We better get back.”

CONTINUE THE HUNT
And don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of books by me, Stacie, and more! Just a reminder, to enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 17. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

 

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author!  Click this link to visit Amber Duell, also on the Blue Team.

 

Another look at KDP free days, The Queen of England: Coronation version.

So, at this point, I think I’m onto a winning combination.  While I might *never* get into Bookbub (thanks for nothing), I do seem to be able to consistently break into the Top 100 free books when I discount a novel.

Let’s back up a bit.

It’s been a hot second since I’ve had a book out for free.  Back when I was friends with Amazon, it’s something I tried on a fairly regular basis.  Then this happened, and really, reader, I never recovered.

So, when I finally published the third book of my YA steampunk trilogy, I thought it was well past time to get in gear with some marketing.  And what better place to start than my birthday?  The fact that a global pandemic has people inside and (potentially) reading more is a bit of a bonus.

So, I went to my trusty platforms and signed up for my free day.  I walked the same steps I’ve walked before, with a few added bonuses.  I was able to tap into a few select Facebook groups, and, because of a platform I’ve been paying for (Voracious Readers), I finally have been getting my newsletter in gear.  Sure, it’s only 500 people, but that’s a start.  So, I sent out my usual reminders and hoped for the best.

When I woke up the day of the big push (March 17th), the book was up at #101. Now, I didn’t have anything else scheduled, and I knew that at #101, I wasn’t on one of the main pages of Amazon (where most of the traffic is).  So, I dug a little deeper, and posted on a few additional places.  Boom!  #97!!  I finally topped the algorithm at #89 which to me is very respectable, considering most of the books in the top list are all romantic in nature, written by more established authors, or aren’t so specifically genre’d (for lack of a better word) like the Queen.

How do the numbers officially break down?

Downloads:

March 16th – 38 (literally NOTHING posted, except on this blog)

March 17th – 2,131 (where I spent all my time, money, and energy)

March 18th – 438 (momentum from the 17th, plus a few extra groups, free)

March 19th – 95 (no posts)

Overall, I’m happy with these numbers, and the investment I made for marketing.

My hope (of course) is that people will buy the other books in the series, and gulp (!) leave a review.  What is the effect for the rest of the month and going forward?  I can only guess, but I am optimistic.

How do you find out about free books?

On Death.

A tragedy happened last weekend.

A tragedy occurred five years ago.

What do we do with the memories of friends who choose to end their lives?  I find myself in the same place I was in five years ago.  Another young man.  Another tragic loss — to a family, to a community, to friends around the world.   I realize neither death is about me, but I turn inward and think, ‘Did I miss something?  Could I have done something?  Said something?’  And I know a person’s mental health is a private thing, and I know I might not have been the closest to either of these friends, but still…

I think about the person who died five years ago on a fairly regular basis (or at least when a certain social media platform reminds me of his birthday every April).  I wonder silly things, like what he would’ve thought of the recent Star Wars trilogy.  What other series he and I might have discussed.  How his life would’ve turned out — all the things that he might have gone on to do.

And with my friend here in Dubai, the absolute amount of love, memories, and people he touched in his life is nothing short of incredible.  When I say he was one of the genuinely nicest, sweetest people I’ve ever met, I’m not being hyperbolic. After our initial meet up, like a mama duck, I took him under my wing and did what I could to introduce him to as many people as I could.  He was my +1 for much of 2016.  And, as our work took us in different directions, he was still someone’s message I would always answer.  You know the person in your contacts that you always smiled at your phone when you saw they were calling? That was him. Because even if he was stressed, or you were stressed – you’d always end the call with a smile.

Will there be others?  Will I write other posts?  Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible.  I don’t look forward to those days ahead.

If you’re reading this and ever want to talk, I’m here.

If you don’t know who to turn to:

In the U.S. – Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or IMAlive at 1-800-784-2433.

In the UK and Ireland – Call Samaritans UK at 116 123

In Australia – Call Lifeline Australia at 13 11 14

In other countries – Visit IASP or Suicide.org to find a helpline in your country.

YA Scavenger Hunt, Fall 2019!

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are SIX contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the RED TEAM–but there is also a blue team, a gold team, an orange team, a red team, and an indie team for a chance to win a whole different set of books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE
 
Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the red team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).
 
Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by October 6th, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
SCAVENGER HUNT POST
Today, I am hosting Yvonne Ventresca on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt!

Yvonne Ventresca is an award-winning young adult author who frequently explores themes of trust, deception, and betrayal in her novels. BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES (Sky Pony Press, 2016) won a National IPPY Gold Medal for YA fiction, and Buzzfeed said, “This suspenseful psychological thriller definitely won’t disappoint.” Yvonne’s other published work includes PANDEMIC (winner of a Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), two nonfiction books, and several short stories selected for anthologies. She loves a good ghost story, and as a third-degree black belt, she studies Isshinryu karate in a haunted dojo. You can learn more about her books at YvonneVentresca.com, where she also features resources for teen writers, or connect with her here:

Facebook | Twitter | Blog | Instagram | Pinterest |Goodreads

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT

Exclusive Black Flowers, White Lies content: Ghosts

By Yvonne Ventresca

I wasn’t thinking about ghosts when we first relocated to an ordinary suburban house. I tried to keep the place organized, even with two young kids, so when items in our home moved around unexplainably, it was both noticeable and disturbing.

One day a sweater that I would normally hang neatly on the banister was strewn across the stairs. No big deal, I tried to rationalize. I figured my toddler daughter had pulled it down. Other items shifted, and I made excuses for each one.

But I clearly remember the afternoon I opened the hall closet to find my daughter’s sippy cup on a shelf with the towels, not in the kitchen cabinet where it belonged. It did not seem like a scene from a horror movie. It was daylight, there was no mysterious chill in the air, and sippy cups are not particularly scary. Still, I stood there, frozen. The shelf was too high for my daughter to reach, my husband was at work (and not that inclined to pick up sippy cups anyway), and my son was a newborn.

I did not want to consider the idea that the house was haunted. But how else did these things move around? I worried enough to talk to the hypothetical ghost. Please stop, I said. This is frightening, and if you are a kind spirit, perhaps you could just leave us alone?

To my relief, the incidents ended soon after. Coincidentally (or not), my son finally started sleeping through the night. I probably moved things myself and just didn’t remember doing it, right? I wrote off the whole experience to my sleep deprivation and tried to forget about it.

And yet . . . when I started writing Black Flowers, White Lies, the eerie feeling about ghosts came back to me. I remembered the wondering so clearly: what if? And that helped inspire Ella’s story.

About Black Flowers, White Lies:

LIES CAN COME BACK TO HAUNT YOU.

Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a connection that transcends the grave. Since her mother disapproves, she keeps her visits to the cemetery where he’s buried secret. But when Ella learns that her mother may have lied about how Dad died sixteen years ago, it’s clear she’s not the only one with secrets. New facts point to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not a car accident as Mom always claimed.

When a handprint much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger, as he did once before, or if someone’s playing unsettling tricks on her. But as the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, she finds herself terrified about who—or what—might harm her.

Soon the evidence points to someone new: Ella herself. What if, like Dad, she’s suffering from a mental breakdown? In this second novel from award-winning author Yvonne Ventresca, Ella desperately needs to find answers—no matter how disturbing the truth might be.

To buy Black Flowers, White Lies: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | AmazonUK | BAM

And don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of books by me, Courtney Brandt, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 17. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the red team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!
CONTINUE THE HUNT
To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author! Visit Brenda Drake, another member of the red team for more details.