How Steve Vernon leverages Kindle Scout and his sense of humor

Sandra Hutchison interviews the ever-entertaining multi-genre author Steve Vernon about his experiences with Kindle Scout, the challenges of publishing across genres, his reviewing habits, and more.

Steve, you used Kindle Scout to successfully win a contract for your book KELPIE DREAMS, but I know that wasn’t your first try. What are your tips for those who want to try that?

First, write the very best book you can write. Try to make it marketable. Kindle Scout is simply a thirty day pitch to the world’s largest digital publisher – Amazon. Kindle Press (which is the publishing arm that actually publishes winning Kindle Scout novels) wants a book that is going to sell. So, if you have decided that you want to write something that is intense and personal and complex and damn near unreadable – DON’T BOTHER TRYING TO PITCH IT TO KINDLE SCOUT!

Or, maybe you should.

Why?

Well, really for me the very best way to think of Kindle Scout is like this. Kindle Scout is the a thirty-day extension to your book launch. Think of it as a pre-pre-order.

It works this way: You enter your book into Kindle Scout. You then have a thirty-day window to try to draw as much attention, in the form of nominations and views, to your book. If it’s selected, you get a $1500 advance and a chance to sell a whole lot more copies. The readers who nominated your book receive free copies – which can lead to a sudden boost in reviews.

BUT – if you AREN’T selected for Kindle Press publishing, you still have a note that you write ahead of time to your readers that can be used to notify them when you actually release your book. If you release it as a KU release you have the ability to set a free giveaway on your first few days of release and thus you have the ability to give away a whole lot more copies, boost your ranking and (hopefully) boost your initial flow of reviews.

I could talk a whole lot more about Kindle Scout – but let me just sum it all up by saying YES, I would do it again. The experience has been a good one for me and it continues to be good.

You’ve been publishing a long time, including some early traditional deals. At various times you’ve gone all-in with Kindle Select and recently I noticed you mention that you were planning to go wide again. A lot of self-published authors have spoken of a more challenging market lately. What are your thoughts about the indie publishing terrain right now?

The indie publishing terrain is getting tougher by the minute. The obstacles are rising up before us indie authors like a gigantic mountain range, but there is STILL gold in them thar hills. Sure, it has gotten tougher. But the opportunities for an indie author are still out there, better than ever. You just have to work a little harder, is all.

Most of your books are horror, but you also have some Christian humor and your Kindle Scout winner, KELPIE DREAMS, is a romance. Do you have any useful insights to offer as a cross-genre author?

As a cross-genre author I would say this.

DON’T DO IT!

I have undermined my effectiveness as a salable author every time I release something that is a little off of my usual stomping grounds – but the simple truth is, I have to do it. We can’t always do what is smart and/or profitable. I get bored writing the same darned thing.

You came to my attention with what I still consider the single most entertaining review of one of my books. Your blog is usually funny, too. Is it safe to say broad humor is consistent across all your work? Do you have any particular recommendations for marketing humor?

Good humor is necessary for any genre. Nobody wants to read about somebody crying all day long. Even Romeo and Juliet had a giggle or two. Even Mercutio, when facing death, remarked “Look for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”

Can you dig it?

That said, I tend to giggle a little more in my prose than the average writer.

How do you see the relationship between your work as a reviewer and your work as an author? Advantages? Dangers?

A writer has ALWAYS got to be careful what they say in print. I haven’t ever had a review blow up in my face, mostly because I rarely review something that stinks. If I can’t say anything nice about it – like, “It was a good book. It had pages and words and everything,” then I don’t say anything at all.

You’re also a Canadian. Can you speak to that experience as an indie author? Do you face special challenges because of it? Any special opportunities?

We Canadians are natural-born storytellers. I make a fair bit every year as an oral tradition storyteller. The one thing I do regret is that living here in the Maritimes leaves me without any sort of horror conventions. We do have a couple of science fiction conventions, but no horror conventions at all in Nova Scotia.

What inspired KELPIE DREAMS

It sprang from a single moment in which I looked out from the window of our gold Toyota Echo and saw a woman standing on the shoreline of a quiet cove, knee-deep in the water. She was just gazing out into the distance, like she could see something out there that was calling for her.

By the time I got home I could not shake that vision. I kept wondering what kind of person would do this sort of thing. I thought about every wild and untamable woman I had ever met and talked to and heard about and I tried to capture these memories and sew them up into the woman who became known as Lady Macbeth.

That’s the protagonist in KELPIE DREAMS. She has a bone to pick with the world and she isn’t afraid to let that out. I had always wanted to try to write this sort of novel. In a lot of ways I believe that I succeeded. There are an awful lot of things about this book that I wish I had done better, but all in all I am very proud of it and I am very pleased and grateful that the folks at Kindle Scout saw fit to accept this novel for their line of books.

What’s your number one hope for what your readers will get out of reading KELPIE DREAMS?

Oh, there’s nothing deep or meaningful in this answer, I’m afraid. My number one hope for what a reader will get out it is nothing more than a bit of fun. When it comes right down to it, there are always going to be books out there that move and shake you deep down in your very being. I can think of two or three books that hit me hard and left me thinking for years to come – but primarily I read for the simple need to escape the day-to-day humdrum of existence. It is why I read on the bus to my day job. I work as a cubicle dust monkey for the Canadian Federal Government, and believe you me, I dearly need me a little honest escape. So I read books that make me giggle. I read books with a lot of gun play and a few explosions and heroes saving damsels and single-handedly defeating rampaging hordes of bad guys and politicians.

Tell us about how it came to be written and published.

KELPIE DREAMS was my second attempt at a Kindle Scout campaign. I wrote that book like all of those scenes in all of those old action movies, where the hero gets ready to go and kick the bad guy’s butt. When he loads his six shooters and strings his bow or sharpens his sword. When he does a billion one-armed push-ups and runs to the top of the library stairs and yells “Yo, Adrian!” I wrote the novel focusing on how I wanted it to win Kindle Scout. Every word and every line, I kept thinking to myself, I want this book to win.

I could talk all about the power of creative visualization if you wanted me to. I don’t know if that works or not. But what I can say for certain is that I wrote KELPIE DREAMS and I wanted it to win and, son of a gun, it won.

Learn more about KELPIE DREAMS

Meet Lady Macbeth – a high school librarian, ex-assassin, and part-time kelpie, whose mother wanted to name her Hemorrhoid at birth. Now she has to take on a Sea Hag – eight legs of Godzilla-ugly poured into a bucket full of meanness – with the help of a one-woman army named Rhonda, a 200-year-old sea captain, and a hunky lighthouse keeper who won’t admit that he’s dead as well. KELPIE DREAMS is a funny, action-packed, shoot-em-up paranormal romance novel for folks who HATE to read romance novels. It can ONLY be found in e-book format on Amazon. It is also available in paperback as well. You might also want to try a taste with its short sequels KELPIE CHRISTMAS (which is perma-free) and KELPIE SNOW.

STEVE VERNON has been writing fiction for the last forty years or so. He has released seven regionally-published books, as well as fifty independently-published releases and a dozen or so small-press releases. He says, “If you want to picture me, just think of that old dude at the campfire spinning out ghost stories and weird adventures and the grand epic saga of how Thud the Second stepped out of his cave with nothing more than a rock in his fist and slew the saber tooth tiger.” Or, as Bookgasm put it, “If Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch had a three-way sex romp in a hot tub, and then a team of scientists came in and filtered out the water and mixed the leftover DNA into a test tube, the resulting genetic experiment would most likely grow up into Steve Vernon.”

You can learn more about (and from) Steve at…

His Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Steve-Vernon/e/B002BMD282/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StephenVernon

 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stevevernon007

Frustration and hope: An interview with self-published author Lisa Marie Latino

Sandra Hutchison interviews an indie author whose romantic comedy debut was written to give hope to anyone who feels they’ve fallen short of their dreams.

What inspired Ten Years Later?

I went through various periods of self doubt in the years after college. I, too, was single, still living at my parents’ home, and went through some very trying times that all entrepreneurs do while forming their own businesses. As I opened up to others about my frustrations I realized that nearly everyone, no matter their circumstance, was dealing with the same insecurities. That theme — visions of what one thinks life SHOULD be versus reality — really inspired me, and since I’ve always wanted to write a book anyway, I channeled that angst into writing Ten Years Later .

A lot of readers assume Carla and I are the same person because we share a similar background and common interests — we’re both New Jersey-based sports fans of Italian descent. Obviously, I drew on a lot of my life’s experience in shaping a relatable fictional character, but Carla has her own set of unique circumstances that represent the plight of driven millennials everywhere trying to claim their stake in the world.

The book was originally written for women in their twenties and early thirties who are struggling to find their way; I wanted Ten Years Later to be their beacon of hope and motivate them to accomplish their heart’s desires. But as I’m getting to know my readers, I’m realizing that they come from all walks of life. High schoolers to middle-aged men have read and loved it. To write a book that can touch a wide variety of people is very fulfilling.

How did you come to publish it?

I did the blind-pitch dance to about fifty literary agents…and got rejected by all of them. I have built my career by creating opportunities for myself that no one else would give me, so I figured I would add one more to the list! I enlisted an editor, proofreader and illustrator to craft an ultra-professional final product. I published through CreateSpace and they were very helpful in guiding me through the process. It’s another “business” to worry about but I wouldn’t want it any other way!

What most surprised you in the writing and/or publishing of your book?

My experience as a business owner alleviated a lot of the “shock” in my new career as a self-published novelist. I knew the work was going to be hard and the reward not so instant. But I’m still learning something new everyday, from distribution tips to new blogs or online book communities to tap into!

What’s been your best experience so far as a published author?

Getting feedback from readers. I am so humbled by the fact that people chose to spend their time in my little world I created. Professionally, there is no better feeling.

What comes next?

The ultimate goal for Ten Years Later is to turn it into a movie. In my humble opinion, I think it would smash at the box office as the next great romantic comedy!

As for the future, I have many ideas for books; some in the same lighthearted vein, some in a much darker voice.

As an indie-published author, what advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Find a subject that absolutely consumes you with passion and run with it! That passion will take you through the writing, editing, tweaking of the final product, and marketing yourself.

Find a subject that absolutely consumes you with passion and run with it! -- Lisa Marie Latino Click To TweetAbout Lisa Marie Latino

The CEO and executive producer of Long Shot Productions, a full-service media production company based in Fairfield, New Jersey, Latino has produced numerous commercial, corporate, and entertainment programs that have taken her throughout the United States as well as Europe. In 2014, Latino co-launched HipNewJersey.com, an online lifestyle program featuring the latest trends around the Garden State.

Latino has appeared on a wide variety of local television, network cable, and radio shows, including TLC’s Cake Boss, SNY’s Oh Yeah, and WFAN Sport Radio’s Boomer & Carton and works in-season for the New York Giants Radio Network. She has also served as an adjunct broadcasting professor at Seton Hall University. Latino graduated from Montclair State University in 2006 with a degree in broadcasting and speech communication.

Learn more about Lisa Marie Latino on Facebook or her web site, lisamarielatino.com, which has more social media links.

Ten Years Later
Carla D’Agostino is not your typical heroine. Stuck in a seemingly dead-end job, single, and still living with her overbearing Italian-American parents, Carla is thrown for a loop when she realizes her ten-year high school reunion is fast approaching. True love, a career as a sports radio talk show host, the perfect body–every dream remains frustratingly out of reach no matter how Carla strives and schemes. Out of reach, that is, until unexpected events lead her right back to where she started, and Carla discovers that all she ever wanted was right in front of her the whole time. “Ten Years Later” is a witty, unpredictable tale of one ordinary young woman’s race for the top as she throws caution to the wind and decides to go for her dreams.
WHERE TO BUY IT:
Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iBooks

Romance author offers both “clean” AND “spicy” versions

Sandra Hutchison interviews indie author MM Jaye

MM JayeMaria, you’ve recently tried something that I tried and failed with back in 2013 – publishing a new book that has both a “spicy” (NC17) and “clean” version. I had done that with fanfiction in the past, and I thought it would be nice to offer two different versions since THE AWFUL MESS has some progressive Christian themes, but the two explicit sex scenes might be too much for some religious readers. Your book doesn’t appear to have any Christian appeal per se, though. What prompted you to try offering both a spicy and clean version?

I’ve seen a number of Facebook and Goodreads groups that feature “clean” books only, and since my stories are a lot more than just the physical attraction between the protagonists, I thought I’d offer a version of the story minus the sex scenes to appeal to those readers as well. Later on, I discovered that there are also a lot of bloggers who are willing to host only PG-13 books and covers on their blog, and in author exchange posts, having a “milder” version proved useful.

How did you actually go about it?

It was fairly easy. I wrote the spicy version, then went back and deleted the sex scenes and some heavy foreplay and also toned down the language in certain parts. (I decided against including “f” bombs in the clean version just to be on the safe side.) The only challenge was rounding up the parts where I deleted a scene, so that the story flow was seamless.

At this point, I’d like to note that I feel there’s a difference between “sweet” and “clean” stories. “Sweet” romances have a more wholesome feel with an inspirational theme, whereas “clean” can be sassier reads (in my clean version, the protagonists have pre-marital sex), just without the “which part goes where” bits. I don’t think I could turn the spicy version in a “sweet” read, bearing the above distinction in mind, simply because I’d have to write a different story.

I notice you use the same title, but different subtitles, and beautiful covers that are related but noticeably different. What was your thinking there? Did it cost twice as much or did you get a break on the pricing?

Thank you for the positive vote on my covers. Luckily, my cover designer didn’t charge more for the “clean” cover. I bought all images myself, used the same background for both versions, so it was just a matter of placing two different images on the same background. Same fonts. No extra charge.

Fate Captured spicy (small)Fate Captured Clean (small)As for the concept behind the covers, since this is a series, I chose a stunning backdrop with a predominant color (green for FATE CAPTURED, orange for FATE AWAKENED, the upcoming Book Two in the Greek Tycoons series) and then chose a portrait image of a girl that bears resemblance to my heroine for the “clean” cover and an image of an intimate couple for the “spicy.” The tricky part was finding a girl in the couples’ image that looked like the girl that would go on the “clean” cover, but browsing those stock photo sites is fun.

When I tried doing this with my debut novel back in 2013, I slapped a “PG-13” burst on the cleaned-up version and added that as a subtitle, but despite the separate ISBNs, Amazon ultimately decided to list both editions together on their site. I felt that led to some confusion for readers. Have you managed to avoid that so far? Would it bother you if it happened? Did you have any discussions with Amazon or other authors as you undertook this dual publication?

I had no problems with Amazon. The covers are different, and I made sure the titles (not subtitles) were different as well. FATE CAPTURED (CLEAN ROMANCE) and FATE CAPTURED (SPICY ROMANCE). I guess since the covers and titles were different, Amazon saw them as two separate books. I also used different keywords. Naughty, naughty words for the spicy version, milder and more generic (no bad boy alpha male) in the clean one.

With my book I discovered that very few people seemed interested in the clean version vs. the more adult one. I think in its first month the difference in sales literally ran 25 to 1. Have you noticed a difference in sales between the two editions?

I have had the exact same experience. Just a trickle of sales for the clean version. But, to be honest, I don’t promote it as much as I do the spicy one. It helped me a lot when author friends wanted to review my book and didn’t feel comfortable with explicit sex scenes, so I had something to offer to them, and I also offer the clean version to blogs that host only PG-13 books. So I feel that the clean book helps more with marketing and connecting with other authors rather than with bringing income. Oh, and, of course, I have something to show to relatives. Let’s not forget that!

Which sells better, clean or spicy? Two indie authors' experiences. Click To Tweet

Your price point on all your books right now seems quite a bargain at 99 cents. Do you have any thoughts about pricing and promotions based on your experience so far?

Well, both FATE CAPTURED and my Gothic mystery romance, HOUSE AT THE EDGE, are under 50K words. They’re borderline novellas. That’s why I priced them at 99 cents. FATE AWAKENED, which stands at 80K words, will get a $2.99 price tag. But the group of authors in the World of Gothic series (atmospheric mystery romances in exotic locations around the world) I’m a member of are currently discussing raising the price of all novellas to $2.99 as it better reflects the quality of the work involved in releasing the titles, and I agree. FATE CAPTURED will remain at 99 cents as I want it to be an attractive lead-in for my contemporary romance series.

Do you feel that indie publishing is getting easier, or harder?

I’m a new author. I feel it’s getting easier for me to write stories because gradually I’m getting faster (and hopefully better), and there are a number of nifty tools available out there to either help your writing (Scrivener, Grammarly), or to boost awareness of your work (from bloggers willing to host new authors and Facebook groups to Thunderclap and Headtalker campaigns which help spread the word). However, the competition is getting tougher and although the availability of tools is great, reaching a larger audience is becoming more difficult. I have friends who have earned serious money from writing romance, using Facebook ads as their main advertising tool, who told me recently that Facebook ads seem not to work anymore because of the staggering number of marketers using them. So, to sum up, it’s easier to get things done but harder to make money from indie publishing.

In addition, I’d love to share a great free tool for creating beautiful landing pages for your books. I’ve noticed that adding the URL I get from this app to my Twitter posts (instead of my book’s Amazon page) sales have increased. It’s a free app for an iOS device (Adobe Spark for iPhone or iPad) but it’s also available online: https://spark.adobe.com/. It’s basically drag-and-drop easy. Here’s the landing page I created for my Gothic romance: HOUSE AT THE EDGE.

Comment on this post and you could be the lucky winner of your choice of the clean or spicy ebook FATE AWAKENED. (Please check back by next Saturday to see if you’ve won, unless one of us already knows your email address.)

More about MM Jaye and FATE AWAKENED

Fate Captured spicy (small)In FATE AWAKENED, a meddling thriller writer ruins the career of a Greek shipping heir then tarnishes his family’s name and faces his inevitable wrath—because to fix him, she needs to break him first.

MM Jaye’s mother claims that she spoke her first word at the age of six. Months. As a kid she would record fairy tales in her own voice, play them back, and then re-record, adjusting the pitch and tempo. Later, she used her voice to inspire young adults and teach them the art of translation. But there came a time when life took a turn for the worse, and her voice temporarily died out. That’s when she turned to writing. FATE CAPTURED is the first book in her Greek Tycoons series, set on the Greek island where her husband proposed. MM Jaye lives in Athens, Greece, with her husband, daughter and Kindle.

Learn more at:

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/MM-Jaye/e/B00OX44NSO
Blog: http://mmjayewrites.com
Facebook: https://www.fb.com/MMJayeauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MMJaye
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/mmjaye1/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+MMJayeauthor

 

Indie author moves to Booktrope: An Interview with Massimo Marino

Update: Booktrope is no more.

Sandra Hutchison interviews fellow Awesome Indies author Massimo Marino about his decision to republish his indie titles (and future titles) at Booktrope, an eBook publisher that is staking out new ground between traditional publishers and independent authors.

Massimo Marino

Massimo Marino

Massimo, give us a short history of how you came to be an indie author.

Writing, for me, started early in my childhood. My dad received Astounding Stories. I wasn’t allowed to read those magazines, but they also had astounding covers. Based on those covers, I created stories in my mind, then put them down on paper so that I could re-read and never forget them. I didn’t think in those days about plot and action, character development, building my voice, or what themes and belief systems I wanted to cover. The place and the setting came from those cover pictures, and I wasn’t that concerned with temporal or structural issues.

I stopped when I started my studies in physics at the university, but the urge to write always lingered. Then, after all seemed forgotten, a story found me and kicked hard to come out. It lingered for over a year, so I joined a writers’ group for peer review and honing my skills.

Like most, I started submitting manuscripts to agents. I got standard rejections but also some encouraging personal notes from agents. They pointed to “what the market wants” and said “nobody takes a risk on something at the edge.” But I decided I had to take the risk and prove to myself and others that writers cannot react passively to the market, but must be encouraged to innovate, forget about what sells, and write what they must.

For you, what have been the greatest rewards and frustrations of being indie?

The greatest rewards happen frequently: they are the words from readers, the thank you messages, comments like “from now on I’ll read whatever you write.” As an Indie writer, this is encouraged and I believe readers feel less intimidated and will often contact an Indie writer without fear, as opposed to trying to write to Stephen King, for example.

The frustration is realizing that it does not matter whether your story is good, or is so well-edited that readers find no issues, typos, mistakes, or find it completely engaging. Some readers still give you no chance because you are an independent author. The stigma is less than it was only a few years ago, but you’ll never convince the reader who only buys from the New York Times bestseller list.

We met through Awesome Indies. How have that and other communities for readers and writers been important to you in your career as an author?

It is always of the greatest importance to compare yourself and your writing with that of others. I also wrote about this on my blog, about the hubris of many self-published writers. (Sandra interrupts quickly here to note that she obviously decided to embrace her own sheer hubris.)

To be a good writer, you must make your ego fall apart like a soaked sponge. That will do marvelous things to your writing. Too many believe they are at the zenith of their craft and work entirely alone; thus, the majority produce unreadable stuff. They fuel those readers who say any writer who does not write with a publishing house is a joke at best.

You’ve recently transitioned from being an indie author to being published by Booktrope. What inspired you to make that change?

The glass ceiling. It is there, and I wanted to see how it was working with a traditional publisher. I met with a wonderful agent at a writers’ conference. She read my trilogy and liked it. She introduced me to the publisher. They accepted “Daimones” and asked for the others. So Booktrope is now publishing the “Daimones Trilogy” and will publish my fourth novel, too: “The Law” – YA Urban SF.

I work with excellent professionals, from the publicist, the editor and proofreader, to the cover artist. The staff is extremely supportive: they show a genuine interest in promoting and selling my books. After all, they can only make money if the books sell. Incidentally, the investment already made by them on the trilogy has exceeded my Indie budget for each book by not less than a factor of 10.

What are your major goals as an author right now?

The same as before. Getting better line by line. I was accepted at SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. There I’m meeting great authors and learning even more. “Daimones” has also been considered for nomination at the next Nebula Prize. While I don’t dare even think about that possibility, that would meet a major goal.

What’s your best advice right now for aspiring writers in your genre, science fiction?

You need to read: the SF classics, the big names, those who created new paths in SF, not those who followed. Then explore the current scene, from Scalzi to Howey, Crichton, VanderMeer. When you have read millions of lines from SF novels, you start to have the tools to help your imagination fire.


Learn more about Massimo Marino at his blog: http://massimomarinoauthor.com.

About “Daimones”:
Nothing could have prepared them for the last day. Explore the future of humanity in Massimo Marino’s sci-fi debut, Daimones, an apocalyptic tale that feels like it could happen tomorrow. You may never sleep through a windstorm again.

Discover the "Daimones" by Massimo Marino Daimones Trilogy on:

Amazon link to "Daimones"
Nooklogo

 

 

 

On NetGalley:
https://s2.netgalley.com/catalog/book/70976

 


Okay, this is Sandra, confessing that I have been curious about Booktrope myself. I found  another point of view, one that is a bit less enthusiastic, from Tiffani Burnett-Velez at “My Year with Booktrope.” I believe, however, that her experience may be colored by timing. Many indie authors are noticing that it’s a lot harder to gain any traction out there today than it was when she self-published her first book.

If you have any insights, feel free to share them with us below. (This is a moderated blog, so it may take half a day or so for your comment to show up, but it will get there.)