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I made a little design for this year. It’s how you can tell I’m serious.

Recently I announced the subject of my next novel/my NaNoWriMo project, Toyland. And with November 1st fast approaching, I thought I’d go into the novel a bit more before I start posting once a week about my progress. Plus, I’ve had two reviews in the past week and possibly two tomorrow, depending on how close to my territory Joker lands. Gotta break things up with some variety or I just don’t feel right.

First, let’s go a bit more into what Toyland is actually about. As I said before, Toyland is a Gothic horror novel taking place in a boarding school in southern Ohio. The protagonist’s name is Mason Prather, a teenager who enjoys anime, wants to be a lawyer someday, and is the stepson of the boarding school’s headmistress. However, the autumn semester of his sophomore year proves challenging in many ways, and not just academically. Odd occurrences keep popping up at school, and people are either getting hurt or in danger of getting hurt. All this seems to emanate from a strange girl with dark hair seen around campus by Mason and his friends, as well as from a children’s book Mason finds in the school library.

I’ll give you three guesses what the name of that book is, and the first two don’t count.

Next, let’s talk about researching this novel, because that was a lot of fun. Looking back, I’m not sue when I first settled on doing this book, let alone for NaNoWriMo (curse you, slippery memory!), but I’ve definitely been becoming more familiar with Gothic fiction and its trappings for at least a year. Some of you may remember my post from last summer on what Gothic fiction is, and I’ve continued reading Gothic stories since then, including The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Hell House by Richard Matheson, and rereading The Shining by Stephen King this past winter.

Yeah, lots of fun research that felt more like play at times. But once I decided to work on Toyland next, I started taking in a different kind of media: anime. To be specific, I watched the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Princess Tutu, and Ringing Bell (I also tried to get Made in Abyss, but it’s not streaming anywhere, and I didn’t want to shell out for the Blu-Ray). There are two reasons why I chose to watch these anime as research, but I can only go into one without giving away spoilers. Now these anime, especially the first two, are known for their dark and surreal imagery (especially Madoka). Imagery that’s supposed to be pleasant to the eye but instead comes off as dark, strange and surreal are going to be big parts of Toyland, so I felt watching these shows would be good research.

That, and you can’t go wrong with watching these anime. They’re popular and have even won awards.

They’ll probably show up in an anime recommendation post at some point.

And now that I’ve watched all those series, as well as researched different styles of architecture for the school (I’m going with Queen Anne revival) and have watched a film I will never watch again or let my kids watch, I think I’m ready for November.

Well, almost ready. The other night after reviewing the outline and posting on Facebook and Twitter that I hadn’t “found any plot holes,” I may have found a plot hole. And I’m not sure how to fix it. I hate plot holes in my stories. I spend hours making sure my stories don’t have any (or many). So I’m at the drawing board, looking for fixes or work-arounds. Hopefully before November, something pops up.

Well, if you need me, I’ll be sleeping off my exhaustion from the past few days. Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

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Quite recently, Rose received its sixteenth review on Amazon’s US site. This is a big deal for me, because the only other book I’ve published with that many reviews is the first book I ever published, The Quiet Game: Five Tales to Chill Your Bones. Guess how long it took for that one to get that many reviews?

Six years.

Why did it take so long for The Quiet Game to get that many reviews, when Rose was able to do it in less than two months? There are a number of factors at play, in my opinion. My writing has vastly improved since 2013, and my audience across different platforms has grown as well. But the big difference, if I’m being honest, is my marketing plan. Unlike my previous works, I had an actual marketing plan in place when I published Rose. And it seems to have worked pretty well so far.

Given that, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned from having an actual plan in place. And given all the lessons to impart, it’ll probably take a few posts (hence the “Part 1” in the post’s title). Hell, sponsoring a YouTube video will probably take up its own post. But if it helps a promising author with a new book coming out from making the same mistakes as I did, then it’ll be worth it.

So without further ado, let’s go over some essentials for having a marketing plan.

Rose wouldn’t be doing as well as it is without a marketing plan.

First, don’t expect your book to just take off without putting in any work. I know it’s tempting, after all the writing and editing and either finding a publisher to work with or putting in the time, effort and even cash, to just sit back and hope that word of mouth will be enough. You may do a couple of blog posts, some boosted Facebook ads, and a friend’s podcast, but in your mind, the reviews and good word of your friends, family and some blog followers will be enough. Eventually, more and more people will discover your story and things will snowball from there and your book is doing a steady business with a few new reviews on your month and you suddenly have a little extra spending money.

In my experience, that doesn’t work. I used that approach for the first four of my books, and three of those still have less than ten reviews on Amazon. Books rarely, if ever, snowball like we dream. These days, you need a detailed plan to get people interested in your book, and that requires work. It requires research, identifying places to send your book for reviews or promotion, talking to people and places (e.g. bookstores) that might be interested in what you’re published, maybe even making new business cards or bookmarks. Anything that can get your book noticed and get reades interested.

In other words, expect the work to keep on going long after your book is released to the public. If you want the public to give a damn about your book, that is.

Second, know your niche. Companies like Coca-Cola, no matter how they market, can afford to market it to thousands of random people. They’re Coca-Cola, they can afford it. You, however, can’t afford it. After all, your book is a particular type of story. So what do you do? You figure what audience you’re aiming to get reading your books, and you try to stick to that. Know what language in an ad or in a description would entice for them. What kind of mood are you trying to convey? Are they more likely to be pulled in by mentions of the grotesque and macabre, or by descriptions of beautiful men and women and scenic locales?

This seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget. More than once I’ve tried to interest people in my stories who are more fans of Parks & Rec or Ten Things I Hate About You than serial killers or the demonic. Sure, occasionally you find people who step out of their comfort zones and will read your story, but they’re a minority.

So, identify your niche and what’s likely to get them interested. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble (and a few business cards) if you do.

And third, talk to your network. I’m not saying ask every Facebook friend to read your book. That doesn’t work, believe me. But most likely you know other authors whom you can ask for tips. They probably know quite a bit about finding your audience and getting them interested, or where to send your book for a possible review, or a hundred other ways to market your story.

And even if you don’t know other authors, there’s likely someone in your circle who knows a bit about business or marketing. After Rose was accepted for publication, I actually called up and met with a friend who’s been involved with a number of successful start-ups. He gave me some solid advice for reaching readers which I tried to keep in mind when I started the marketing machine for Rose.

No matter who you work with though, make sure to take down notes so you can refer back to them later. After all, it may take a long time between when you ask and when the book gets out there. Believe me, I know (fifteen months between acceptance and release).

Write advice down, or there’s a chance what you’ll learn will be forgotten later on.

So now this post is getting a bit long, I think I’ll cut it off here. Suffice to say, before you even start the marketing, there’s a lot of things to keep in mind and to work on. However, they’re part of a successful start to getting your book noticed by more people than your mother and a few friends. And once you have those down, you’ll have the start to your marketing plan.

That’s all for Part 1 of this series. Next time I’ll talk about more concrete tactics. In the meantime, you have until October 16th to submit questions to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com for an AMA in honor of this blog’s eighth anniversary. Ask me (almost) anything about writing, horror, Rose, or myself and if I get enough responses, I’ll be happy to answer them in a special blog post.

And if any of this gets you interested in reading Rose, I’ll include the links below. And if you do read the book, let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love reviews and it helps me in the long run.

Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

So if you’ve seen some of my most recent posts, last night the Ohio Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a proud member of, held its first public reading event at Kafe Kerouac in the University District in Columbus. And you know what? It was a great program. We had a decent-sized crowd, and there were about eight or so different readers showing off their poetry, flash fiction, or short stories. I actually had a few ideas for stories listening to other people’s works. We even had an acquaintance of mine from one of my Facebook groups show up and read a short story he’s been working on.

Unsurprisingly, all of the stories and poems read to us were really good. Some were kind of funny, others were pretty dark. All were quite imaginative, and reminded me how many different kinds of stories can be written between a thousand and ten-thousand words.

Of course, when my turn came up, I read part of Rose to the audience. This was my first public reading of Rose, and I was really excited to share part of the story with an audience.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, Rose is my upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press and is currently on schedule to be released on June 21st, 2019. The novel follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same metaphorical page here.

And as promised in my last post, I did get my reading on video (thank you to Jennifer Carstens for holding my phone and filming this for me). It took about three or four hours to upload the video to YouTube from my phone, but in the end, I think it was worth the wait. Enjoy.

Now as I said in the video, what I read to the people at Kafe Kerouac won’t be the final version of Rose. In fact, after I got home last night I started working on the edits my publisher sent me. But you get the idea. This is what you can expect from the final novel. And I hope this intrigues you enough to check out the book when it comes out.

Thanks to Ohio HWA for putting together and hosting this event. Thanks to Kafe Kerouac for being an awesome venue for our first public reading. And thanks to all our readers–Lucy Snyder, Sarah Hans, Anton Cancre, Maxwell Ian Gold, Megan Hart, Jennifer Carstens, Rob Boley, and Mark Dubovec–for making the night so creepy and inspiring. I hope we can do it again sometime very soon.

Now if you need me, I’m off to do a ton of editing (while also spending time to celebrate my birthday). Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Yesterday I came out of Avengers: Endgame, in awe of the movie I’d just seen. I pull out my phone, and see a message from a friend. The same friend, might I add, who informed me of the shooting in Pittsburgh. Six months to the day of the Pittsburgh shooting, in fact. This time, it was a Hasidic synagogue in Poway in California. Thankfully, the casualties were much fewer: several people were injured, but only one person died, and she died saving the rabbi, who despite his injuries allegedly finished his Passover sermon and told his congregants that they were strong and would get through this.

Despite all these stories of strength and heroism, however, the fact that this happened again, on an anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting, is horrifying. It reopens old wounds and reminds us all, but especially the Jewish people, of how vulnerable we can be.

As many of you know, I am Jewish, and I feel deeply connected to my heritage. And twice, my people and my heritage has been openly attacked in America, a country where people are theoretically supposed to be able to live free of persecution.

Reading about this, it’s tempting to think nothing can change in this country, that hate and gun violence can never change. However, remember what that rabbi was supposed to have said? Well, I found a quote by him, and while I can’t verify if he said it at the end of his sermon, I can verify it’s from what I consider a reliable source. He said,

I guarantee you, we will not be intimidated or deterred by this terror. Terror will not win. As Americans, we can’t cower in the face of senseless hate that is anti-Semitism.

Amen. There is an upsurge of open strains of hatred in the US, from all walks of life and all sides of the political spectrum. Not just anti-Semitism, but racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and so many more. We can’t let this become the norm anymore than it has. Take a stand against hate and fear. Reach out to the people around you when you see them in trouble, if you’re able to. Fight for popular platforms to ban hatred. Facebook’s taken a stand against white nationalist and other groups, and there’s a campaign on Twitter to get similar groups auto-banned from the platform using the hashtag #JackStopTheHate, which is directed to Jack Dorsey (username @jack), the CEO of Twitter. Speak out if someone is posting or saying hateful things, because if you stand up to them, you’re letting them know their views aren’t tolerated.

Together, we can fight for tolerance and love.

At the same time, fight for initiatives to end gun violence. John Earnest, the shooter in Poway, used an AR-15, a military-grade weapon. What is a military-grade weapon doing in the hands of a 19-year-old civilian?! We can’t keep letting people get their hands on military weaponry so easily. If we do, we’re only ensuring that this cycle of violence continues. Vote for bills or leaders who will fight to keep these weapons from being used in shootings over and over.

Together, we can ensure people don’t have to worry about being shot every time they step outside.

This weekend should’ve only been about positive events: Endgame having a billion-dollar opening; She-Ra season 2 hitting Netflix; the end of Passover and plenty of pizza parties! Not this. Nothing like what happened. And it’s up to us to make sure it never happens again.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who supports me and thinks about me every time something like this happens. I can’t allow myself to be scared into submission by monsters like this. Just know that your love and kindness bolsters me and keeps me from retreating when I need to speak out on issues like this. Thanks.

So, if you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you know that my novel Rose, the story of a woman who is turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems), is moving along in the publishing process. You probably also know that my publisher and I have been discussing business-related matters to make sure the book does well once it comes out.

In that spirit, I’m taking to the blogosphere to ask if anyone would like to be an eARC reader for Rose.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with that term, eARC stands for “electronic Advanced Reader Copy.” Basically, eARC readers get electronic copies of a novel before it comes out so as to drum up some buzz. In a best case scenario, an eARC reader will get a book from an author, read it, and post a review online for all to see.

Right now, I’m building a list of eARC readers, and I was wondering if anyone here would be interested. You’d get to read Rose well before anyone else, and if you post a review afterwards, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked to be an eARC reader for the next book.*

If this sounds up your alley, shoot me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com with your first and last name (if you use a pseudonym online) and I’ll add your name to your list. The only criteria is that you can’t be my Facebook friend (I know, it sucks, but apparently Amazon and other websites are cracking down on people utilizing their friends and family to write fake reviews and up the rankings on their books, so using FB friends as eARC readers is falling out of fashion), and you really want to read the book. Posting a review on or after the release date isn’t required, but highly encouraged, and of course increases the likelihood you get asked to be an eARC reader again.

And if you don’t have time in your life to read the book or you’re just not into horror, that’s cool. I don’t really hold grudges or anything like that. I also won’t write you into my stories and leave you to suffer a gruesome death. I only do that to people who seriously piss me off.

I hope some of you will take me up on this offer, and send me an email. I’ll be keeping an eye out for them. And whether or not you do, I look forward to sharing Rose with you in the near future.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Hope you all have a relaxing weekend (especially after how rough this week has been. Anyone else catch a cold?). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*I’m assuming there will be a next book. Gotta be hopeful, am I right?

There’s a reason why one of the first lessons in the art/business of fiction writing is to read, read, read. Long or short, in or out of your preferred genre, good or terrible. Reading the works of others, even if the story is not to your taste, can give you new ideas, show you what to avoid in your own stories (*cough* the orgy scene in It *cough*), and sometimes how to write something you didn’t know how to write before.

Let me tell you a story right now: as many of you know, I’ve become a big ballet fan since last year. Consequently, a lot of ballerinas and dancers have been showing up in my story ideas lately. It wouldn’t be too crazy if I had to write a dance scene or dancing someday in the future. I figured it would be a good idea to find other stories where dance features prominently, in the hope that from reading about dance there, I might pick something up. I asked one of my writers groups on Facebook if they had any suggestions, and one woman recommended a book to me that sounded good, so I downloaded the audio book onto my phone and started listening this week.

The book, Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson, follows a young ballerina’s trip into the world of professional dance, while at the same time she encounters a particular aspect of that world’s dark side that changes things for her forever. It’s not horror, but it’s decent so far. And I have gleaned a bit about describing dance steps in prose, while at the same time learning a bit more about ballet culture (I had no idea ballerinas were called “bunheads.” Seems obvious now, but I didn’t know it until this week). And while I expected those, one thing I didn’t expect to find is a lesson in a type of character:

The story’s protagonist, Mira, seems on the outside to have it all. Her family doesn’t abuse her, she’s talented at ballet and has an upward-moving career. She even has a sort of mentor/sponsor in the form of Maurice, an older balletomane. She also seems to be mentally and emotionally all there. However, ballet and Maurice are really an escape for her. Her parents divorced rather suddenly; her airhead mother is a mess who can’t pay bills and takes in a creepy boarder; her dad is in a relationship with another woman who’s also in a divorce, and it’s moving a little too fast; and all this occurs after seeing her parents’ marriage erode for who knows how long. All that can really mess a kid up.

I’m sure even more will mess her up as the story goes on.

Mira’s a type of character I don’t see very often: one whom no one, not even themselves, would see as troubled, but is deeply troubled nonetheless. She’s a perfect example of this character type, the “seemingly untroubled troubled person.” I don’t know if there’s a proper name for this type of character like there is for others, but that’s the one I’m going to go with. And she’s teaching me quite a bit about writing this sort of character.

So like I said, reading a diverse amount of work can teach you all sorts of things that you can apply to your own writing. Sometimes you even learn things you weren’t expecting to learn, like how to write a certain type of character, or writing about a complex war in another world, or even just some random facts about Spanish history, religion, evolution, art, and technology (looking at you, Dan Brown). Sure, you might find some stories you’ll hate or that will teach you absolutely nothing, but then there’s a lesson to derive from those stories as well: what not to do when you’re writing your own work. I’m certainly learning a lot from Girl Through Glass and the other stories I’ve been reading lately. And I can’t wait to learn more.

Have you ever gotten an unexpected lesson from a story you read/are reading? What was it?

Last year I had the pleasure of reading The Cronian Incident, a science fiction novel by my good friend and fellow writer, Matthew Williams. I found it a very engaging and deep sci-fi novel, and I was glad to hear that Matt had a sequel in the works. Last week, Matt released the follow-up to The Cronian Incident, The Jovian Manifesto, and I got my copy courtesy of Matt and the publisher, Castrum Press (my publisher too!). In order to celebrate the new book’s release, I thought I’d bring Matt back on for an interview.

So without further ado, let’s begin!

Rami Ungar: Welcome back to my blog, Matt! Tell the folks around here who don’t know you who you are and what you do.

Matthew Williams: Well, my name is Matt Williams, I am a resident of Vancouver Island in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. I live with my wife and cat, and I am a writer for Universe Today. In my spare time, I write (obviously), teach Taekwon-Do and generally enjoy the place where we live.

RU: Tell us about your two books in the Formist series, The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto.

MW: Both novels are set in the late 23rd century, at a time when the human race has expanded to colonize almost every body in the Solar System. In the Inner Worlds – Venus, Earth and Mars – life is characterized by advancement, augmentation and post-humanity. In the Outer Worlds, on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus, are the people who have chosen to live a simpler existence, one that respects the line between humanity and machinery.

The story begins with the kidnapping of a high-profile man from Mars who belongs to the Formist faction (hence the name). These are the people who are dedicated to terraforming Mars so that their citizens can finally achieve the dream of living on the surface without pressurized domes or radiation shields. The Formists hire a special investigator to solve the kidnapping, a former member of Interpol named Jeremiah Ward who’s serving out a prison sentence in a penal colony on Mercury.

In investigating the disappearance of the Formists’ associate, Ward will uncover a plot that is centuries in the making. In the end, he will have to make the ultimate choice between doing what is right, and what may keep him alive.

RU: What’s different about writing The Jovian Manifesto, both in terms of content and just in writing the story?

The Cronian Incident, Book 1 in the Formist series.

MW: For starters, TJM is the second installment in what is planned to be a trilogy. As such, it has a darker tone than the first book. There’s also much more action, which was an absolute must for me! After taking the time to build the setting in Book I, I wanted the protagonists to be thrown into the thick of it. Of course, this book also introduces a few new main characters and a few new settings. This gave me a chance to tell new stories and create some new worlds, which is always fun.

RU: TJM features a female-led cast, something we’re seeing a lot more in various media. Was that intentional on your part?

MW: Not originally, no. In the first book, most of the story is told from a single POV – Jeremiah Ward’s. I wanted the second book to be told from multiple points of view and had several characters in mind when plotting it out. As it turned out, all of the new characters were strong, motivated and independently-minded women. When this was pointed out to me – by my friend and colleague, Rami Ungar, no less! – I was quite pleased. I had not embarked on this book looking to make the cast female-led, but I was happy it worked out that way. I’ve often worried that as a male writer, I would default to writing male leads, or find that writing female characters was more difficult. It pleased me to see that this was not the case.

RU: This is your second book with Castrum Press, and you also have a short story featured in their anthology, Future Days. What’s it been like working with Castrum?

MW: It’s been excellent, really. As a recently-established publishing house led by experienced writers, they know the particular struggles that new writers face. It’s also very clear that they are interested in promoting new talent, which is something you don’t see a lot of these days in the publishing industry. Also, it gives me a chance to entrust my work to people who have been part of the industry and know what it takes to succeed in it. That’s very reassuring to a newly-established writer, and something that independent authors don’t get to enjoy.

RU: Science fiction is often described as a lens towards what the future could be, as well as what our society looks like now. Do you agree with that sentiment? And what do you think the Formist series says about humanity?

The Jovian Manifesto, Book 2 of the Formist series.

MW: Absolutely. Science fiction has always been about predicting what the future will look like, but that always comes down to how the world looks today. In that respect, science fiction books are an extension of the present-day world and are intended to convey messages about the direction it is taking. As for my own work, I believe they reveal that regardless of the time period, or the level of development we will have reached, humanity will always be facing the same basic challenges. How do we ensure our survival and our future? How do we erase the dividing lines and learn to live together? How do we ensure that our most cherished values also survive?

RU: What are your plans for the future at the moment? More books in the Formist series, perhaps?

MW: Oh yes! I hope to write a third installment for this series and very much want to explore the universe I have created further. This could involve some origin stories, since some of the characters I have created have interesting pasts that would require a whole book to explain. I also hope to write additional trilogies that take place farther down the road. But of course, that all depends on how the Formist series shapes up. And of course, I have several other ideas I would like to see in print.

RU: What are some stories, science-fiction or otherwise, that you are reading now and would recommend?

MW: I recently finished The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, both of which I would strongly recommend. I also finished Halting State and Rule 34 by Charles Stross, Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, and House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds. I recommend all of these books to people who are fans of classic science fiction, space opera and near-future speculative fiction.

RU: Rule 34? I thought that was just an Internet meme. Should I ask or…? Moving on: if you could pick a fictional universe to live in, which one would it be and what would you do there?

MW: Good question, and one which I really haven’t pondered much. I suppose if I had to choose, I would live in the universe dreamed up by the late and great Frank Herbert – i.e. Dune. I figure I could help with the terraforming of Arrakis given all the research I’ve done on the subject. I have always wanted to try The Spice too, and I figure I would be able to look out for myself since I know how the series goes. Plus, I would absolutely want to see what travelling through folded space feels like!

RU: Final question: Look out! A sandworm out of the Dune universe is about to attack! What do you do?

MW: Ooh, that’s a tough one to answer! Deploy a thumper, stand back, and get your hooks ready, because we’re going for a ride!

RU: I’ll pretend I know what that means, because I’ve been bad and haven’t read the Dune books yet. Thanks for being with us, Matt! I hope both books do very well!

That’s the end of the interview, folks. If you would like to keep up with Matthew Williams, you can check out his blog, Stories by Williams. You can also check out his writings through his Amazon page and through his Universe Today page. And of course, you can check out his Facebook and Twitter pages. And I highly recommend you check out his books, The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto. I found the former to be a great example of hard science fiction, and I can’t wait to start on the latter.

And if you have a new book out and want an interview, check out my Interviews page and leave me a comment. We’ll see if we can’t make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully see you very soon with more to talk about. Until then, pleasant nightmares!