Friday, January 28, 2011

Guerrilla marketing and the publishing battle

DIABLERO is kind of a modern-day adventure/horror novel about a group of people chasing a demon-possessed Blackbeard the pirate from North Carolina to Virginia to South Carolina and then to the Caribbean hoping to prevent him from literally opening the gates of hell. There’s a lot of great character development in there, so it’s not just plot driven. It’s getting five-star reviews on Amazon and selling pretty well online and in some independent bookstores mainly in the southeast.

The number one thing is to write a book that people will want to read. Everything else you do hinges on that.

Even if you have a publisher, if they’re small like mine, they will have limited resources. But even large publishers can’t do everything. Your book is only going to sell as much, or as little, as you want it to. Besides obvious things like e-mail and advertising, there are tons of things indie authors can do to promote themselves.

I think one of the factors that help sell my book is having the endorsement of bestselling author Steve Alten who wrote the MEG series and the apocalyptic GRIM REAPER: End of Days. Favorable reviews on Goodreads, and a few blogs don’t hurt, either. If you can get reviews on websites that are relevant to your particular genre, that really helps make people aware that your book is out there. You really should figure out who your core audience is and focus on them.

But a writer’s best friends are social networking sites like Facebook, because you can go on there and search for people that have similar interests and friend them. You can also create a page for your book and an ad campaign that will reach thousands of potential fans for a couple of dollars a day. Facebook can be linked with Twitter, MySpace and a host of other sites that will post any messages you put up on Facebook.

Another great tool is a blog. You should try to blog about subjects related to your book, which in my case would be horror, sci-fi, fantasy, Blackbeard, pirates, writing and things like that. That gives people a reason to stick around plus you’re not always talking about your book all the time. You’re giving people something that interests them. Guest blogging on other blogs is a great way to spread your name around, too. Oh yeah, and podcast interviews!

Besides Facebook and Twitter, there are also writer’s websites like Writer Face, Filed By, Authors Den, Book Hitch and tons of other places where you can hook up with readers and other writers. If your book has local appeal like mine does, you can also get on some message boards. Try to get interviews or reviews in your local paper, as well, because lots of people will support local authors.

Get your book in some local book stores, set up some author signings and talk to people who come to the store. Being nice and talking to people will sell your book faster than anything. The introverts who sit at the table waiting for customers to come to them are usually going to be disappointed. Build a local following that can eventually branch out into a bigger following.

Also, most computers have built-in video editing programs like Windows Movie Maker and I highly suggest creating a book trailer and putting it on YouTube. You can find plenty of free music, photos and videos online to create your own video. Or pay someone to do it. I’ve had over 1,300 hits on my YouTube channel in the last month alone.

But all the promotion in the world can’t sell a bad book. If you don’t get good word of mouth, you’re sunk before you even set sail.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Researching a horror/sci-fi/fantasy/technothriller

When I was preparing to write my first supernatural thriller, I wanted to learn the best ways to do research, but there weren’t really any books out there on the subject. I just had to jump into the fray and figure it out for myself.

Writing my first novel took a lot more research than I thought it would. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to guess at things, especially technical details. I want to know what kind of boat it is, what kind of engine it has, how fast it can go, who built it, how far it can go on a tank of fuel, how many compartments it has—well, you get the picture. I hate for people to read my books and go, “Whoa, dude—those boats don’t have diesel engines, they have gas engines. Epic fail!”

Right now I’m researching my next thriller and believe me; I’ve had to go around a lot of roadblocks. It’s what I call a supernatural techno-thriller; a Tom Clancy meets Dean Koontz kind of thing. People get a little nervous when you start asking about classified information, though I haven’t really gotten into anything quite that heavy, but so far I’ve found some cooperative people who are glad to help. Not only will they be getting their names in the acknowledgements, but they’ll receive a first-edition signed copy, as well.

The first thing I have to do for this type of book is figure out the basic story from beginning to end. You really have to know the ending, or at least I do, in order to figure out how to get where you want to go, whether it’s character driven, plot driven or both.

Once I’ve outlined the story and figured out who my characters are, it’s time to start writing. Personally, I prefer to research as I write, that way I learn whatever I need to know to move the story along. If I research first and then end up changing the story around because I don’t like the way a certain thing is working, then I have wasted time researching for nothing.

Most of my research is done on the Internet. You can find out almost anything you need to know from Yahoo, Google or any of the other search engines. If it’s not there, then the local library is the next best place. In fact, some may even like it better than the Internet—it’s a personal choice.

It’s also helpful to find people who have been in the situations that you’re writing about. If you’re writing about a Navy ship, find a Navy sailor who has served aboard the same type of ship that’s in your story. You can’t beat real world experience.

That brings me to my next point. If you can actually spend time in a place like the one you’re writing about, such as a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, for instance, or a certain city like New York or wherever your story is set, nothing will make it more real to a reader than first-hand experience. I happen to live in the place where most of my first book takes place and I’ve visited the other places, such as Charleston, Williamsburg and the Caribbean.

If you need to find out technical details about certain types of guns, or DNA, or animals, or glass blowing, find someone who sells guns, or works in a crime lab, or is a veterinarian, or makes glass bottles. And don’t forget to give them credit.

But whatever you need to do to make your story believable, do it. It will only be made all the better for it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writing the perfect thriller

What is it makes the perfect thriller? Is it the suspense? The violence? The unpredictability of the plot? The character development? Or a combination of all of the above?
I have to admit I don’t know the exact formula, but it seems to vary book by book. Even authors like James Patterson or Stephen King can have their hits and misses, so it’s probably a good thing they’re so prolific, right?

I read a lot of thrillers. I’m in the midst of a Steve Berry novel and it’s quite engrossing. He puts a lot of detail into his stories…a LOT of detail. Maybe a little too much detail. Tom Clancy is usually guilty of that. If I want to know how to operate a nuclear submarine I’ll read the manual. Some people like that, though. To me it bogs down the story. If the reader doesn’t really need to know, why tell them? I only put in my stories what readers need to know in order to keep the story flowing. Maybe that’s why I’m not a bestselling author yet, I don’t know.

Brad Thor is a guy who only tells you what you need to know to keep the story moving, yet I still come away knowing more than I did when I started, which is a good thing. Same with James Rollins, Steve Alten, Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and most of my other favorite writers. What I like about James Patterson are his very short chapters. I tend to write my stories the same way. I like a fast-paced novel with short chapters. I could attribute that to my ADD, but I think telling a story is more important than giving geography lessons or teaching you how to build your own pyramid.

One thing I love about Nelson DeMille are his characters. I can really get inside their heads, probably because he writes a lot in first person, as does James Patterson. I write in third person, but I still get inside my characters’ heads. I like to show their flaws so readers can identify with them and say, “Hey, they’re imperfect, just like me!” The super-agent who speaks five different languages or the master criminal with the degree from MIT gets a little old after a while. That’s why I usually make the characters in my books regular people in extraordinary circumstances, i.e. the journalist and his wife, the park ranger up against an evil being at war with his own humanity. That’s why people like my characters—they’re real people, not super-humans.

Some authors overdo the blood and gore. I don’t need to see some guy get dissected alive to know the bad guy is pissed. Get on with the story. I don’t want to have to hold a barf bag while I’m reading or have to go for counseling later. Some people get a little too much into the violence. Maybe their editor told them to add more, who knows? Sometimes Stephen King is guilty of that, or Dean Koontz. But they are both master storytellers, so I’m not going to presume to lecture them. I almost always love the characters in their books and the plots are first rate.

My next book has lots of suspense, supernatural overtones, intriguing characters, a compelling plot and great settings. There is also some violence, sex, language and other things that some may find questionable, but it all adds to the story—it’s not just thrown in willy-nilly. I think my current book is the same way. Basically, I write the types of things that I like to read. Isn’t that the way it should be?

For more of my writing and to order my latest supernatural thriller, DIABLERO, go to: Toby Tate Stories