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Archive for October, 2011

Overcoming Random Writing Pitfalls

October 31, 2011 5 comments

It occurred to me that I’ve been blogging for a while now and the value of my blogs to my fellow writers might not have been as helpful as it has been in the past. Oh sure, I’m trying to share what I learn as I fight my way into the industry, but I’m contacted fairly regularly by people who are at the beginning phases and are desperate for help in trying to achieve their dreams.

First a disclaimer: I’m still reaching for my dreams, I’m not there yet. What are my dreams? Making writing my day job. I know some people who have reached that point though, and without exception they are stand up people that I’d be happy to spend time with. I’m working on it though and to that point I’ve made my way up to over 150 books sold a month, including some wonderful people in Europe. So take my advice as my opinions only. These tricks and tips work for me, but maybe the won’t for you. Even if they don’t I encourage you to read them with an open mind and see if maybe they might spawn some out of the box idea that will help you when you’re in a bind. With that said, on to the questions:

I want to write a book about such-and-such, but I don’t know how to start it!

This is an easy one for me. Make yourself the main character. Sure, it can be a little awkward if the main character is significantly different from yourself, but I’m not suggesting you dress like the character or anything. Just put yourself in that character’s shoes. Once you’ve accomplished that, figure out what the character is going to be doing at any given point and then start writing about it. Ideally your story should start with an explosion. Not necessarily a literal one, but some event or scene with instant excitement that has the reader hooked as quickly as possible. As an example, a book I’m editing right now (Traitor, the sequel to The Lost Girls) starts with my main character out shopping with a friend when she spots a suspicious couple. She trails them, convinced that the girl is under duress and the guy is going to do something particularly nasty to her. This is confirmed when she discovers they’ve slipped into a restricted section of the mall behind a locked door. Out comes the badge and the gun – my main character’s in her prime now, this is what she lives for.

I’ve been working on a story but I’m stuck!

This happens to me too. I deal with it in different ways. Some times I need to shelve the book for a little bit and work on something else. My subconscious keeps working on it though and at some point it forces its way back into the foreground and says, “Since you can’t figure this out, I did it for you – now write this!”

Other times I need to reread it and revise it. My original plans for Wanted involved a lot more happening in that first book. There was supposed to be one character running away from the others who then got “rescued” by a scary group of people. Convinced he needed to win their trust he’d try to become one of them and betray his former companions, all the while that former group would be searching for him. I got stuck though – it didn’t make sense and I couldn’t figure out a way around it. Rather than load it full of BS that I wouldn’t buy I took a step back and then realized I had the perfect solution. It required me blowing away over 8,000 words of the story, then rewriting it so that it ended a lot sooner than I’d first planned. It was a much better story at that point though. Readers agree – Wanted outsells every other book I have by at least a ratio of 4:1 and I regularly get feedback praising the book. In fact, I got so much positive feedback I was compelled to write a sequel called Ice Princess.

So my advice for this is to make sure you’re not forcing something that doesn’t work. Rather than trying to pound that square peg in a round hole see if maybe you should change things so that it fits better. It might not be what you wanted, but if you keep an open mind you’ll probably be a lot happier with the finished product.

I wrote a book, but it’s unpublished and I don’t know what to do with it!

It used to be that was the case of a lot of people with good stories to tell. These days publishing is changing. A lot. I’ve been trying to get people to read my stuff via the Internet since the early 90s – unfortunately I didn’t know how to write back then so it was a crap shoot at best for me. These days I’m a much better writer and there are all sorts of opportunities for people who are willing to publish both digitally and via print. A few print on demand companies exist that are affordable, if you feel you must see your book in print (Createspace, Lightning Source, Lulu, and others). I use Createspace myself, though I often get angry when doing so for a variety of reasons I won’t go into. To be honest, those reasons are likely to be my own quirks as much as they are problems with the company. Worth mentioning is that I only get the print version of the books for either giveaways or for gifts to those who aren’t interested in an e-reader.

Ebooks, on the other hand, are the way of the future. Print books will never go away, but they have been showing steady declines in sales compared to their digital counterparts. Likewise using a POD service will most likely not get you through the doors and into major bookstore retailers. With an ebook that is not the case! Amazon and Barnes and Nobles both have massive online presence catering to their ereaders. I prefer the Kindle myself, but that’s only because I haven’t played with the Nook. I have friends who prefer the Nook from Barnes and Noble. In either case, as a writer you can self-publish your work via Amazon’s KDP site or the Barnes and Noble PubIt website. Alternatively there’s Smashwords, another great epublishing site that will also reach out to both Amazon and Barnes and Nobles, as well as many other distribution channels. Only problem with Smashwords is the delay in getting royalties from the downstream e-tailers.

That’s all there is to it – just self-publish and watch the success come rolling in!

Or wait, maybe it’s not so simple. What about cover art for the book? Editing? Marketing and promotion? Yeah, it’s a lot more complicated than I’d ever realized. That’s one of the backbones of my blog, my exploration into the trials of publishing. It can be done on your own and it can be done at very low cost. Or if you want some help you can try to find one of the many publishing companies that have sprung up recently. I’ve got one too that I co-own with a friend and fellow writer. She’s also a wickedly good editor, with added emphasis on the “wicked”. She wields that red pen like a scythe some days. Anyhow, if you think you’ve got a good enough book and want to send it our way, stop by our website at http://www.novelconceptpublishing.com and click on submissions. We focus on filling in the holes we experienced with other publishers – bad communication, poor business intelligence info, infrequent royalty payments, and a lack of marketing / promotion to say the least. Oh, and the author keeps 70% – 75% of the royalties. We’re here to help each other out, not to get rich off of someone else’s hard work.

Those are the three big questions I see the most – at least among questions not centered around me or my own work. And since this isn’t about me, there’s no reason to bother anyone with that Q & A. I’m happy to field more questions though! If you’ve got them post them as a comment or send me an email (jason@booksbyjason.com). I love helping other writers out – it helps me out just as much.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Promotional Experimentation

October 29, 2011 1 comment

I can think of many kinds of experimentation a person may undergo. There’s the kind that better humanity that are conducted in laboratories; there’s the kind that can lead to some wicked fun in college; and then there’s the kind that take place because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. This one falls under category three.

The Lost Girls has not had the kind of success I expected it to regarding sales. I’m very biased, but everybody who’s read it (and reported back to me) has claimed it’s a great story who’s only fault is that it leaves you aching to read more about the character(s). The cover art is exceptional, if I do say so myself, and even the blurb seems to be pretty exciting. Hmm, maybe I’ll revisit it and try to make it even more appealing. Anyhow, I digress. The fact is the sales are lacking on it, and that just doesn’t make sense. So the next stage is more promotion…

Free book alert! Yes, I’ve set up The Lost Girls via Createspace for a POD (print on demand) service and while you can technically order a print copy from Createspace or Amazon, I recommend the ebook version (mainly because it’s cheaper). However, the Free Book part comes from a Goodreads giveaway I’m conducting. I’ve secured five copies of The Lost Girls in print and plan on signing and mailing them out to the five winners. You can go to Goodreads and enter to win it there, but hurry because the giveaway ends on November 25th.

I’m thinking I may do an ebook giveaway for it as well here on my blog, but I need to figure out exactly how I plan on doing that, so stay tuned!

Here are the official links to cut down on confusion: Goodreads giveaway for The Lost Girls

 

The Lost Girls, a Dark Earth novel by Jason Halstead

The Lost Girls, a Dark Earth novel by Jason Haltead

In case you can’t wait for the giveaway to end, it’s only $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Smashwords

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Success Story!

October 25, 2011 1 comment

So I wrote this book a few years back called Wanted… regular readers will know because I post about it from time to time. I do so because it outsells every other book I’ve written by a factor of 4, at least. I can’t explain why that is, other than the cover art is phenomenal and the book and characters within it are great. But you’re asking me why I’m taking up your valuable time talking about it – well, I’m not. Or at least I’m not anymore. Instead I’ll let someone else talk about it who bought it, read it, and left an absolutely glowing review of it!

“Although this is said to be Sci Fi, I really think it is a small part. It was more of a human relations story. the 5 main characters were interwoven amazingly well. You loved and hated with equal passion and all the twists and turns kept your finger ready to flip that page quickly.

Have you ever finished a book and wanted to scream at the writer for more details??? That was this book for me…I was so wrapped up in the characters that when the book ended I felt like I just lost a friend.

Can wait to read more!! Keep ‘em coming, Mr. Halstead. ” – D. Oswald

UPDATE! – I just found a fresh review on Amazon’s UK site for Wanted as well. Here’s a highlight from Ishbel: “Just finished reading WANTED by Jason Halstead and it really is a book worthy of Five Stars, A Fabulous book. If you fancy a good read I would highly recommend it.”  – I’m really loving the people in the UK more and more. I have got to go and visit!

You’d think with reviews like that coming it’d be pretty ego swelling. I find it to be quite the opposite. It’s humbling, even, to read that I could impact somebody that much with mere words. Sure, this person isn’t offering to name their firstborn after me or anything, but that’s just as well – it might get awkward or creepy. ;)

So enough rambling, you’ve read the review, why not try it out yourself? I promise you’ll have fun with it and then, when you’re done, you’ll be itching to read the sequel!

 

Wanted, book 1, by Jason Halstead

Wanted, on Amazon

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0053KJ2QU/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwboo024-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B0053KJ2QU

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0053KJ2QU

Barnes and Noble: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Wanted/Jason-Halstead/e/2940012787965

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/61275

Ice Princess, 2nd book in Wanted series, by Jason Halstead

Ice Princess, on Amazon

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005OS3DU2/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwboo024-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B005OS3DU2

Barnes and Noble: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Ice-Princess/Jason-Halstead/e/2940013409989

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/90738

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Categories: Writing Tags: , , ,

Blurring the Lines

October 24, 2011 2 comments

So I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, but finally took the plunge today. I took the advice of a certain million-ebook-selling-person, (cough)John Locke(cough), and created a Twitter persona for one of my most persistent characters. And by persistent I mean not only persistently nagging at me, but persistent as in she’s in several books I’ve written or am writing.

Her name, Katalina Wimple. I’ve blogged about her and The Lost Girls (her debut novel) before. She also has  a cameo in Voices – but Voices is set later in the Dark Earth universe timeline by a few years. It could be confusing, and contrary to good marketing sense, I would recommend not reading Voices until after I’ve published (and you’ve read) The Lost Girls, Traitor, and Wolf Girl. Voices falls between Wolf Girl and Black Widow.

Anyhow, Kat has a Twitter account (@VDIKaty), as I was saying. If you want to see the latest trouble she’s getting into, or eavesdrop while she insults me, feel free to follow her at http://twitter.com/VDIKaty

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Afraid of the Dark

October 23, 2011 4 comments

At the moment I’m feeling a bit gloomy. My wife’s back in the emergency room. Last week she spent five days here before being released for two days with thoughts that things were on their way to being normal. Now she’s back with the same problem as before, which went largely undiagnosed. I won’t go into details, HIPAA laws and whatnot. Suffice to say we’re alarmed and a little scared. Sure, they’ve done the major tests and those came back negative, so that’s good. The reason for her problems is still uncertain though, which is not so good.

All of this got me thinking about past times and troubles. Times when there’s been too much drama and harassment in my life. Times when things seemed bleak or destined to spiral into a very bad place. Every one of those times I made it through (as evidenced by this post). Some were my fault, such as ending my competitive powerlifting career by pushing myself too hard and ripping my pectoral muscle completely free of my arm (not to worry, surgery reattached it but it’s never going to live up to the original design specs). Others were not so much my fault, like when the job market in Michigan forced plant closures that sent me across the country in search of employment and caused me to let my house go to the bank. I finally closed that chapter just a couple of weeks ago but it was at the cost of our retirement savings.

The message each time is not that bad things happen whether we deserve it or not, but that these things aren’t the end. For example, in my earlier injury I can be appreciative of the fact that I had a job and insurance to help me recover and not leave me with a lame wing flopping in the breeze. In the latter example I’m glad we had the retirement money stashed aside to make it possible to avoid legal action and / or wage garnishments (or worse). We have to build it back up and we’re not getting any younger, but that’s what hard work is all about.

At other times I’m just thankful that I’m too damn stubborn to accept defeat, depression, or misery. As a kid who hadn’t reached double digits in age I accepted that I was afraid of the dark – I’ve always had a vivid imagination and there’s no telling what monsters await when you can’t see them. So how did I deal with it? Well acceptance doesn’t mean taking what’s dealt to me and saying that’s good enough. Not for me. It meant I accepted that I had that problem and that, once I understood it, I could find a way to overcome it. I did too, by shutting myself in the basement and turning all the lights off, then forcing myself to sit there for a while (it felt like days!). Finally, when I could breathe normally and my heart rate slowed to something normal yet no vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or other monsters had eaten me, I stumbled through the dark and up the stairs to the light above. Problem solved. Screw you dark, I won!

It’s a damn shame modern problems aren’t quite so easy to resolve. But as the complexity of a problem increases, so does the solution. Sometimes it requires waiting on others (e.g. doctors), and at other times it requires marching out to the nurse’s desk and reminding them that we’re feeling forgotten.

Just like I’m writing this blog post as a tool to help me wrap my head and feelings around a stressful time, my writing also serves as a release from day to day stresses. I can escape in a medicinally safe manner and let my mind work on my concerns in the background while the foreground tackles thoughts of how Katy is going to deal with her dual fear and hatred of her father even though she’s being forced to face him by the one person in her life she can’t bear the thought of disappointing. Or maybe I’m plotting out the means with which Logan fights the curse that turns him into a monster while he searches for a cure to his condition.

Just like my writing helps me escape from the day to day stresses of work and baffling medical conditions, it also helps me to deal with them. It decompresses my brain and gives me some new angles and perspectives to deal with those problems. I’ve found that reading does much the same for me – it allows me to escape for a brief time and give myself some out of the box objectivity that can help me deal with things. Best of all, it’s cheaper than a prescription and doesn’t leave me with cotton mouth and the urge to go and devour a bag of Doritos!

So the next time you’re feeling at your wits end don’t run from the problems or cover them in a blanket of denial. Seek a second opinion, one that comes from a new character you’ve never heard of before. One who’s dealing with a host of their own problems in a way that can inspire you to deal with your own. Yes, it’s that simple: read a book and open up a world of opportunities you didn’t realize existed.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

50% of These Stats are Meaningless

October 23, 2011 1 comment

As a budding author I’m very interested in understanding everything I can about the process of writing, publishing, and selling a book. Or multiple books, in my case. The writing and publishing part I’ve got down. The selling part I’m fumbling through. One way of tracking progress to that end involves tracking the numbers and correlating them back to strategies and tactics employed. Well the tactics at least, a strategy would be more of a far reaching direction, such as becoming a persistent bestseller. A tactic would be a task undertaken to fulfill that strategy (e.g. writing a blog to expose people to my writing and making them curious about my books so they buy one or more of them).

The irony is in the details. As in their is just so many details out there! Using Google Analytics I can track my websites and try to glean some useful information from them, such as how many people visited it and where in the world they came from. Or stats on this blog, which tells me how many page views I’ve had and how they found the blog (what website referred them here) and whether they clicked a link in the blog to go elsewhere. Some of it is even sort of useful, but it’s easy to get wrapped up in them and focus on one or more facets and lose out on the big picture.

What I’d like to do is track my Amazon sales in a more reasonable fashion. I’d like to know daily and even hourly sales numbers. No, I don’t sell a book every hour (working on that, feel free to help me out by buying some). But that way I could have a better idea of when more people are awake, alive, and interested in buying books – or at least my books. This is an attempt to understand my target market better and be able to cater to their wants and needs better.  See how thoughtful I am? ;-)

The problem is the delay in Amazon’s reporting service. It looks to me as though a sale on Amazon takes about 2 hours to be reported, based on a couple of specific examples I’ve been able to pinpoint. I’ve read of a few services that offer to do this for you, but of course they charge money to do so. It’s not an obscene amount but is it worth it to have something available that keeps me from having to manually check and record sales every hour of the day? I’m thinking I might focus more on blocks of time (morning, midday, afternoon, evening, overnight, etc.). Hey, what can I say – I like to sleep too!

With that said, this means I’ve got a new research project I can post about and share my results for. Keep in mind it only applies to the people who buy my books. I’m not quite certain how to narrow that group down, but this is one of many attempts at defining this diverse group. For my fellow writers, I hope this can help you figure out your own markets and best means of reaching them. For my readers, keep checking back to see how I manage to identify you – if I can identify you, that is! You’ve got a few things in your favor already – if you’re reading my books that means your intelligent and you’ve got good taste! ;-)

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Categories: Writing

Selling My Soul – Progress Report

October 21, 2011 4 comments

I’ve been teasing and hinting that I’m doing all this research and I’m going to post the conclusions of that research. Well, I’m a long ways from that, but I can offer up some tidbits on what a few months of progress are showing. And most importantly (to you, the readers), this is free! I’m not offering all this up in a conveniently bundled package for $x.99 like certain individuals out there. Maybe I should and maybe this simple bit of humanitarianism is a marketing fail on my part. I’d rather think you’d be grateful for this and more inclined to believe that I really do want to help people succeed – both myself and you, dear reader. Heck, maybe you’ll be so appreciative you’ll even go out and buy one or more of my books. No pressure though… ;-)

First on cover art: By improving my cover art images it’s definitely getting good feedback from people anecdotally (kind words over Twitter and email and such). Is it driving sales? No, is it helping? Yes. Can I quantify it? Alas – no. I did take Wanted from a good to a better (in my opinion) cover and got several very positive comments on it though, including at least one sale because it “looked very interesting.” Small sample of data, but I only made the transition last night.

Book Blurb: I’ve revised and fine tuned my book blurbs, improving them steadily all along. I may occasionally make a tweak here or there but by and large that’s all there is to it. The results? Well there’s no empirical data saying it helped n%, but there has been a steady increase over time.

Book Reviews: Yes, these are helping…I think. Nobody has contacted me to say they were on the fence about buying my book until they saw “RazorbabyX99″ thought it was a great read, but knowing how I and a few others look at making a purchase in an online venue, reviews are worth their weight in gold. And like above, the positive trend reflects that these are a factor, I just wish I had more of them. I honestly believe more reviews would make a very strong difference. As it is I’m lucky to have two reviews on any given book on Amazon. I encourage – no, I implore people to please help out the writers they like (especially if it’s me) and leave a few words or sentences about a book they liked. It’s so immensely helpful.

Twitter: The powerhouse that is Twitter is both fun and useful. I’ve had a lot of success with Twitter helping me to increase sales. Both my tweets that go out aimed at promoting and other tweets that draw people in. Sure, maybe it’s a a 1:500 ratio but that’s still a sale. But even more importantly, I’ve met some really cool people and been touched by some of them as well (and not in a creepy way). For example, my wife has spent the week in the hospital for some severe abdominal pain that the docs had a hard time identifying. It looks like she’ll be headed home very soon, hopefully today, and the problem was one that was complicated by a matter of timing and coincidence. A few mentions on Twitter about this brough in a flood of well wishes and support. It was very touching and very much appreciated. Sure, maybe there’s no real investment when all your doing is typing in a few encouraging words but trying being on the other end, when you’re not quite sure what’s going on and you’ve got the creative machine that is a writer’s mind working against you instead of for you. It’s amazing how the power of anonymity and empathy combine to make me think that maybe humanity isn’t destined to spiral into chaos.

Website: I’ve got one (http://www.booksbyjason.com) and I update it frequently. Either new samples, news postings, or design changes (major or minor). Come to think of it I need to revise some font sizes on my book pages for the links still. Well anyhow, having a website has been quite helpful. People like the free samples. My visitation is down recently because I haven’t been pumping it out there very much. So, um, go visit it! ;-)

The data: The following numbers are US numbers from Amazon only. I’ve got a great following in the UK that is increasing at a similar base and even if I can’t speak for their loyalty to me, I’ve found myself becoming fiercely loyal to them for the support I’ve received. I’ve got a passport, I just need the time and more sales to finance a trip to go and visit!

Month             Quantity                 Notes

June                       20                     No advertising worth mentioning, original covers / blurbs / website

July                         14                     Just beginning to attempt to advertise but “attempt” is the key word.

August                   50                    Started fumbling with Twitter effectively and blogging. Website enhancement

September          108                    More of the same plus I blurbs and prof. cover art. Website changes too.

October             93 / 135              At 93 presently, trending towards 135. More and more of the same.

So the improvements aren’t linear by any means, it’s a result of working hard and the more I can put into it in terms of time and effort, the more I get out of it. Adding new books to the mix helps as well, of course! The numbers aren’t outstanding by any stretch, but it’s a positive trend and I’m here for the long haul. I stand zero chance of hitting 1 million ebooks in five months like John Locke did, but that’s okay – I’m not the marketing guru he is either. Ironically I read his book and saw that he and I independently came to many of the same conclusions. In a few instances he’s been able to implement them better though.

But speaking of marketing, I’ve got something new I’m trying in the very near future too. It’s staying under wraps until it happens though, it’s a surprise – but I promise it’ll be a great one!

I started this marketing bit with the intent of using it as a tool. It was a means to an end. The end is a long ways away but that’s okay because it’s changed It went from being thought of as a necessary chore to something that has changed and improved me. The Twitter experience, where I interact with friends, has been inspirational, touching, exhilarating, and fun. There’s occasional somber moments as well, such as when I learn of a friend who is on the verge of losing a cherished family pet. They’re not just fans and readers, they’re part of an extended family and I couldn’t have the hopes, dreams, and ambitions that I do without them. If you’re a writer I’d advise you take that to heart and remember we’re only successful because of the people who make us that way.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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