An intro to online ads for self-published authors

Online advertising is a thorny issue for self-published authors. People throw around anecdotes that run the full gamut from “waste of money” to “massive success” and everything in-between, and there’s very little data to support any specific conclusion. Continue reading “An intro to online ads for self-published authors”

So I’ve ended up in a “Writer’s Duel”…

… after a bit of banter on Twitter.

Right now there’s something of a meme going on for posting tier lists (it’s an old meme, but it has come back for some reason). I decided I’d post one about best snacks to eat while writing:

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Reception to this was interesting – I had expected a bit more surprise; we had a pretty die-hard McCoy’s fan (who I can barely hear over how WRONG they are) but the only other debate came from David Sand, who insists that Liquorice should be god-tier.

This led to a back and forth that dragged in a bunch of other people, like some kind of calorific black hole, during which there was talk of a duel, then Princess Bride GIFs and soon this became about more than just a snack – it was about HONOUR (for reasons that made sense at the time but in retrospect make no sense whatsoever).

So, fast-forward to later, and at midnight tonight, both David and I are going to post a piece of micro-fiction, 100 words in length, in this thread on Reddit. The winner (decided by a mechanism that has not yet been established) will decide once and for all, if liquorice is god-tier or shit-tier.

Just over four hours to go; interested to see what David has up his sleeve.

Nearing the end of Draft 1 of The City and the Dead!

Just passed the 65k word mark and I’m getting towards the end of the first draft of book 2! I just have to do the finale and the very end segment.

It’s been pretty crazy, all told. One thing that I wasn’t prepared for was how different the second book was to write. I have much more sympathy, now, for people who write long series and manage to keep all those character interactions trucking along without letting things get stale.

This time around I think the edit’s going to take longer. With the first book I did a bit of editing midway, which was a mistake. I’ve tried to rigorously stick to passes this time, so we’ll see how that goes.

Still on schedule for a late Winter release!

Authors: Why you need a review policy

On Reviews

Reviews are important for authors.

However, they are also one of an author’s biggest challenges, because reviews aren’t “for” authors; they exist to inform the consumer at the point-of-sale. This means that authors are supposed to be quite hands-off when it comes to reviews.

Then again, it might be easy for J.K.Rowling or Stephen King to rake in reviews, but it’s tricky when you’re just starting out and you’re just happy when anyone reads your books. When you’re self-publishing, you have to wear many hats, and one of those is “publicist”.

So how do we balance having to be both author and publicist? One way is to identify a set of policies regarding your reviews, and sticking to them.

Review Ethics

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Ultimately this is a balance between two forces – publicity and ethics, and if you want to maintain ethics, I think there’s really only one guiding rule:

Don’t compromise your reviewers by paying them or offering them incentives to give you a good review. This also means not accepting reviews from obviously biased people (your mother may love your book, but she’s far from impartial).

Additionally, there’s one other if you also provide reviews – it’s basically the same thing in reverse:

Your reviews should always be honest and as unbiased as possible. Additionally, you should not accept incentives for reviews, such as counter-reviews or preferential treatment – even cash.

Some argue that to maintain the highest level of ethics, authors shouldn’t actually provide reviews at all. I don’t personally support that stance but I certainly respect it.

Of course, as a self-published author, only you can decide whether or not you allow these rules to influence your business; you’d have to go very far past the line of “good ethics” before you start to commit fraud. This used to be a lot easier than it is today; thankfully Amazon is getting better at filtering out obvious fakes, but naturally this is a predator/prey game, and phony reviewers are becoming more complex in their approaches all the time.

I recommend you practice some ethics in how you handle reviews, even if this makes things trickier in the short term. In the long term, your reviews will be trustworthy and endure, as opposed to the obvious templates that seem to fill out the fake reviews I’ve seen on Amazon.

After all, you want your readers to be able to trust your reviews and testimonials; once you lose that trust, it’s almost impossible to get it back.

This is all doubly important if, like me, you don’t provide your work for free (my books occasionally have sales, but they are always priced).

Grey Areas

As stated earlier, this can make things very difficult for a new author proceeding from a standing start. How do you get those crucial first reviews (when you can’t rely on close friends and family members)?

I believe you need to be prepared to compromise, which is okay, provided you do so with the right intentions.

What follows is very heavily my own opinion; feel free to dispute this in the comments section.

Providing Review Copies

Obviously this skirts quite close to “incentivising”, but personally I think this is okay. Getting those first reviews is difficult for anyone, even authors who are giving their work away for free!

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This a pretty common publicity tactic, regardless of if you are selling frying pans, toothpaste or books.

Naturally, you can’t ask reviewers to only give you good reviews, though I don’t personally think it violates ethics to only give your books to people you think might give you good reviews – you wouldn’t give a chick-lit romcom book to a science fiction blogger, for example.

Of course, you need to decide if you want to disclose that you gave a reviewer a free copy of your book. I do, and I encourage you to do so (I think being up-front about this is pretty important).

These are good reasons to have a fleshed out policy that is universal whenever you want to provide a review copy.

Review Exchanges

Review exchanges can be a murky area, and Amazon in particular frown upon them these days. Again, I believe you can go into them with either good or bad intentions.

If you’re not aware, review exchanges are when two authors agree to review each other’s books. Obviously the problem with this is if they give you 5 stars, but you dislike their book… Yeah.

You need to decide whether you will be swayed by the reviews of other people, and how you’ll handle things when conflicts arrive.

This is a good reason to have a strict policy, so anyone entering into exchanges with you knows what they’re getting.

Providing a “safe space” for reviewers

Remember how I said that whilst useful, reviews aren’t for authors? This is the policy area that relates to this.

As an author, I believe you should foster a situation where reviewers know it is safe for them to review your work. This means that reviewers don’t have to worry that an author will bad-mouth them online if they post a negative review.

This is more useful for popular authors who receive many reviews – but it’s a good idea to get started early.

A written policy that simply states you won’t engage with reviewers over criticism is ideal for this.

Bear in mind, this doesn’t mean you’ll never engage with hostile readers – it just means you won’t try and ‘drag them over the coals’ for negative reviews.

In summary

Hopefully from this, you can see why a review policy can be useful. It doesn’t take long to put one together (mine can be found here, if you want an example) but might be very beneficial in the long term.

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Thanks for reading! I often post little bits of guidance like this. If you want to keep up-to-date, you should follow me at…

Logan – A writer’s review

All spoilers will be BELOW THE CUT – so just stay above the cut if you don’t want to see spoilers about Logan.

Below the cut I break down the movie into the 3-act structure and talk about character motivations.

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There is an important maxim for story-tellers, be they scriptwriters, authors or working in any other medium.

This maxim is straightforward. It goes like this:

Characters are like geodes. On the surface, they just look like boring rocks.

To see what they’re really made of, you have to break them.

Logan is, without a doubt, one of the best demonstrations of this maxim I have ever seen, to the point of causing the audience some degree of distress. Centring on an ageing Wolverine/Logan and Charles Xavier, the movie gradually unfolds to reveal more about what has happened to these characters who we thought we knew so well, now crushed by the weight of past mistakes and misdeeds.

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There’s a bit of post-modernism going on. The movie’s grim nature, dwelling heavily on what happens “after the party is over”, could almost be seen as representative of the X-Men movie franchise as a whole, and perhaps the feel of malaise that has unfortunately started to creep into the entire comic-book-hero movie genre.

In truth, it seems hard to believe that this movie is related to the original X-Men, a movie I saw in the cinemas seventeen years ago – or that it shares a lineage with Blade, a movie I saw even earlier (some of my followers just thought “wow, he’s older than I thought” – probably).

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What’s also interesting is that it comes out at a time contemporary to Deadpool, another comic-book inspired movie with an “R” rating, yet although both based on the same source material, the two films could not be more different if they tried.

In this context, Logan is an arresting film. It takes characters you know and shows them in a light you may find surprising, and that’s a big achievement when working with Wolverine and Charles Xavier, characters who have already been portrayed by countless artists, story-writers and in one case even multiple screen actors. You might go in thinking there are no more ways to really make the franchise feel “fresh”, but believe me, you’d be wrong in that assumption.

Is it good, though? Well, more beneath the cut, but I would certainly say to go see it if you’re a fan of the franchise and you’re not afraid of seeing some very violent action. The performances are good, the action is pacey and the emotional journey is pretty much flawless – I’m not really sure you could ask for more.

Spoilers beneath the cut.

Continue reading “Logan – A writer’s review”

Press Release: Ethan Fox’s 2nd book title revealed as “The City and the Dead”

For immediate release
11th Feb 2017

Contact:
Ethan Fox (Author)
http://by-ethan-fox.com

Ethan Fox’s 2nd book title revealed as
“The City and the Dead”

BRIGHTON, UK – After reaching a threshold of activity on social media, Ethan Fox has revealed the title of the 2nd book in his ongoing series will be The City and the Dead.

The announcement came with the following imagery:

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All three source images were labeled at source as “for commercial re-use with modification”

Ethan had this to say, as a sneak peek about the narrative:


Two months have passed since the events of The Scissors and the Sword

Jessica Cartwright’s holiday is cut short when she is assigned to a new case; a quarantine patient has awoken from a coma at a local hospital and killed a nurse in an attempt to escape.

Hikaru, back from the dead, struggles to adapt to 21st-century life. Determined to hunt down his old nemesis in the present day, his journey puts him on a collision course with a new presence that stalks London: Another man who has seen death, yet returned with a malign purpose.

Their twin investigations will force them to question their friendship as the city begins to slide into a state of chaos.

But when the dust settles, which will remain standing? The City? Or the Dead?


Outline work on the novel is said to be complete, and it is expected to be available via Amazon for Kindle and in paperback form by the end of 2017.

Title reveal: Book 2 is now “The City and the Dead!”

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After a tumultuous few months, I’m now ready to announce that Jessica Cartwright and Hikaru Arashi’s next adventure will be titled The City and the Dead!

Two months have passed since the events of The Scissors and the Sword.

Jessica Cartwright’s holiday is cut short when she is assigned to a new case; a quarantine patient has awoken from a coma at a local hospital and killed a nurse in an attempt to escape.

Hikaru, back from the dead, struggles to adapt to 21st-century life. Determined to hunt down his old nemesis in the present day, his journey puts him on a collision course with a new presence that stalks London: Another who has seen death, yet returned with a malign purpose.

Their twin investigations will force them to question their friendship as the city begins to slide into a state of chaos.

But when the dust settles, which will remain standing? The City? Or the Dead?

The outline is complete and I’ve started work on the first draft, so here’s hoping the book will be available before the end of 2017!

How to survive your first expo as an indie author!

Note: This was originally posted to tumblr in August 2016

Had a week to decompress after my first time running a table at a convention, which has given a chance for my thoughts about it to simmer to the surface.

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Overall, things went very well. Not all smooth sailing, but I was able to get set up and sell books without too many problems. I sold enough to make it worthwhile, and picked up a bunch of new readers in the process (Hi if you’re reading this!). Another thing though is that I had a lot of fun; it was great to meet some of the other exhibitors and get advice.

What follows are a few lessons I learned and things to avoid if you’re going to do something similar.

Books are heavy!

This might seem super-obvious, but I totally underestimated this. I mean books ARE like bricks of paper, so when en-masse they can weigh a lot more than you realise. This is fine when in storage, but as soon as you need to unload them from a car, or stand in a queue carrying a box…

Be very careful about how much you choose to carry each trip, and maybe invest in a trolley. I certainly will for next time.

Be prepared to adapt your setup

Running a table involves a degree of planning – making sure, for instance, that you’ve got enough stuff on your table, and you can arrange it in an interesting way. However, you can’t predict everything and you need to be able to adapt things. The main thing to watch out for is that every “aisle” at an event has a prevailing direction – i.e. do people tend to come from your right or left? If you don’t have a symmetrical store (I didn’t) then be prepared to deal with that.

DON’T SLEEP IN

Yeah, I did this. Yes, I was an idiot. Don’t do it.

Bring more than you expect – but numbers are hard to predict

Sales can surprise you. I did quite well, actually MUCH better than I planned. I brought half my total stock down on day 1, and I had to actually bring more on day 2 (numbers at the end of day 2 suggests I would’ve ran out if I hadn’t done this).

That being said, I spoke to other vendors on the day with a similar outlook to my stall, and the results were varied. Some of them did much better than expected, some did far worse. It seems that it really is difficult to judge.

My advice on this, if you’re looking for a yardstick, is that you should be at least bringing enough stock so that you can break even on the table. If you’re not doing that, then you’re guaranteed to lose money, and that’s not a good situation to be in. You’re there for publicity and promotion, but it helps if you can make things at least cost-neutral.

You WILL need to leave your stall, and you WILL lose customers because of this

No matter who you are, no-one can stand looking perky at a stall for 9 hours. If you’re on your own, you need to pace yourself. You need to stay hydrated (cons can be busy and hot), you’ll need to eat, and as part and parcel with that, you’re going to need to know where the toilets are.

Firstly, have a “be right back” sign.

Secondly, be prepared – whenever that sign goes up, odds are someone is going to suddenly take an interest in your stall. You’ll be walking back from the loo, or eating, or just taking two minutes to walk up and down your con aisle, and that potential customer is going to be there, and they’re going to leave before you can speak to them.

It happens. It’s a pain. Live with it. There’s nothing you can do, short of having multiple people on the stall.

Sales will come when you least expect them

When I opened on the Saturday morning, it was over an hour and twenty minutes before I made a single sale (whilst I stood there about to chew my own arm off). True enough, someone came along to buy a book, and then another, and another… But the most surprising thing was that my sales didn’t correspond to how busy the con was. I had sales during busy times and sales during the quiet times, when hardly anyone seemed to be walking around.

Try to stand, if you can.

This depends heavily on your product. For instance, if you have a stall with many competing products that will draw people in and speak for themselves (jewellery, t-shirts for example) then it might not matter so much.

Books, on the other hand, are a bit more work. People might walk past and see your artwork, but if helps a great deal to engage them. Once you’ve explained the premise of what you’re doing, get a book in their hands to give them a chance to read your blurb – and if your blurb is good, more often than not you’ll get a sale.

Of course, some people will either blank you immediately hold up a hand and say they’re not interested. That’s fine, but similarly, try not to let it bother you.

As a general rule, I tried to wait a few minutes in between engaging customers (unless someone actively came up to the stall and seemed VERY interested without my help). Otherwise you start badgering people, which isn’t good for attendees and is potentially worse for the people running stalls next to yours.

Try to look professional

For the record, this doesn’t mean wearing a suit (unless your book is about investment banking, I guess). What it means is to have a tablecloth (which is ironed), have good artwork, and have a plan for how your stall is going to look. To give an idea, someone during the weekend approached me and during the conversation, made it clear that they thought I’d been “doing this for years” – they were surprised when I told them this was my first time. That was (though unintentional) a huge compliment. As an addendum to this…

Have good artwork

People’s opinions may vary on this, but for a book stall, I think artwork is incredibly valuable. Books ask a lot of their “end-user”, i.e. a reader – a great investment of time. On the other hand, at a con, you only have seconds to catch someone’s attention – perhaps even a single glance!

This is doubly problematic because most con stalls are intensely visual. Comic book creators have a real advantage here, but so do other content creators like film-makers. Don’t forget that these are your competition.

My artwork is handled by Jim at Jelzoo.com, and he’s done an amazing job. I can confidently say that I wouldn’t have sold anywhere near as many books without his cover, bookmark and banner artwork (multiple attendees and buyers said the same thing).

Remember – you’re a small business, and don’t worry about being new

People like to support small businesses and creative endeavours. Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have built an entire industry off that sense of goodwill.

I’m not ashamed that I self-publish. I’ve deliberately gone my own way with things, and found an approach that works for me. I would strongly urge you to think along similar lines.

A fair few of my sales came from people who were driven by this. I’d say about half of them were people who were content-creators too (one guy was a singer, another worked for a movie company…) and the other half were people who have considered writing books themselves, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Either way, those people were all too happy to support a local artist who is trying to run a small business.

Similarly, don’t worry about letting people know you’re just starting out, for the same reason.

Bring essential supplies.

Tissues. Chewing gum (or mints) for breath after food. A 2-litre bottle of water. Hand sanitising gel (every few hours or you will get con-flu). An emergency USB charger which can power your phone if it starts to run out. Petty cash to get coffee. Deodorant/aftershave/perfume or anything else you routinely wear (again, these places can get hot). A bag for rubbish.

If your con is in a town (as mine was), you don’t need everything (you can always run out to a shop) but if you’re at an airport conference facility, make sure you have everything you could possibly need – as if you don’t have it, you can be certain you’ll need it.

Bring a USB power source

I mentioned this under “essential supplies” but I want to mention it again. For about £10 these days you can buy USB power sources – basically a battery you charge, and you can use this to charge your other devices. An inexpensive one will be enough to bring an iPhone back to 70% from near-dead.

Most cons do not allow you to use a power source unless you’re willing to pay, and the cost is expensive. As an exhibitor, you have two things which need power – your phone and your card purchase machine, and both of these need to be powered in order to work.

Lollipops aren’t worth it

This was the only part of my stall that was a bit of a waste – I had free lollipops to give away in a bowl, and I brought nearly all of them home with me! Certainly I made lives easier for some parents who had young, bored-looking children, and a bit of good cheer hurts no-one – but they weren’t free to me, and overall, probably weren’t worth it. I think only one sale came from them.

Most importantly, try to have fun!

OK, so this is a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. You’re trying to reach out to new readers, so you need to try your best to seem enthused. Your attitude (along with your artwork) is the first element of your work they’ll encounter, and you need to seem inviting. This is a lot easier if you’re having fun – so take plenty of breaks, stay hydrated and fed, and try to keep your spirits up even when things are quiet.

Ethan Fox will be at Brighton Craft Fair! [Saturday 25th Nov 2016]

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Hi everyone!

Last-minute announcement as it has been arranged quite quickly, but Ethan Fox is going to be at the Brighton Craft Fair, tomorrow, 25th of November 2016!

I’ll be selling signed copies of The Scissors and the Sword, as well as having gift-wrapped copies people can buy as Christmas gifts.

Of course, there’s also the rest of the fair, which you can learn more about here – it supports a range of local creative people, and is a great chance to buy something locally-made.

The event takes place during shop opening hours at the Friends Meeting House in Brighton:

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If you’re in town, make sure you stop in to say hello!