Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When and Where You Should Be Giving Your Book Away for Free

If you are a new self-pub author, or even if you are an established self-pub author, the idea of giving your book away may at first strike you as counter-intuitive. You're trying to sell books, right? But here's the thing, no one knows who you are or how great your writing is, and when you're competing with lots of other authors, many of whom are well-known and already have a following, actually getting people to read your book at all is your first priority.

But not just anyone. You need to find your readers: the people who are fans of your genre, who are interested in your subject matter, who will be excited to find your book and will gladly spread the word to their friends and peers that they should read your book, too. To help you get your book into these highly valuable readers' hands, there are online resources you need to use where giving your book away works for you: NetGalley, Goodreads, and blog tours. Remember, you need to find your readers and engage with them. This is known as "building your platform."

NetGalley is a site that allows publishers (including self-published authors) to make their books available for free to readers who have indicated interest in your genre and who understand that their participation is hoped to result in a positive review (if in fact they enjoyed the book) posted on either Goodreads or Amazon or both. Usually this is done immediately prior to or simultaneously with your book's launch. The book is made available as an electronic "ARC" (advanced reader copy), and the publisher controls who they invite to read the book, and whose requests to read the book they grant. There is a wide variety of readers on NetGalley. Anyone can sign up to be a reader, and the audience there runs from highly professional bloggers who have hundreds of followers reading their book reviews, to people in the industry, to your standard hobby reader and fan.

With NetGalley, there is a risk that a reader who can't stand your book (there are always a few) will disregard NetGalley's suggestion that in this case they send a note directly to the publisher, opting instead to thank you for the free read with an aggressively negative review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. This risk comes with the territory, and if you're self-published you should have a thick-ish skin already. Don't let the odd "this book sucks!" get you down. If anything, it just makes the many more enthusiastically positive reviews feel that more authentic. NetGalley is free for readers, but costs $$$ for publishers to access and use the platform. If you can afford it, I would recommend you hire a book PR/publicist group with experience in your genre to manage your NetGalley presence for you. They already have some favorite readers upon whom they rely to post well-written reviews for the books they liked, and they may already have a "do not grant request" list of readers to avoid. I hired Wisdom House Books to handle my NetGalley account, and they kept me up to date on activity with regular reports and kept track of it all much better than I would have done on my own. Spreadsheets give me hives.

You can also engage readers directly through Goodreads' giveaway feature. Readers browse the giveaways regularly, and I've had fantastic experiences with the Goodreads readers as far as posting feedback and reviews. These folks are avid readers--huge fans. You want to get your book into their hands. Pestering readers in your genre to read your book is generally frowned upon (duh), as is plugging your book in the various discussion forums. Instead, just give your book away through the Giveaway tool. It's extremely easy to set up a giveaway, then watch your numbers for how many people have shelved your book as "to read" skyrocket, then ship the books out as soon as you get the list of winners from Goodreads. It really could not be easier. Just make sure you already have print copies of your book on hand and ready to go (signed is nice!), because you need to mail them out pronto as soon as the giveaway ends. Browse through the current giveaways on Goodreads now if you've never had a look there before. You'll get a good idea of what kind of blurbs people write for the giveaway, how people time their giveaways (launch anniversary; as a pre-launch of the sequel interest-builder; on the anniversary of a historical event that features prominently in your book; to celebrate winning a prize recognition--you get the idea). Be sure to plug your giveaway on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, and anything else you've got going. It might even be a good time to spend a little money advertising a Facebook post about the giveaway.

Along these same lines, consider doing your own "friends and family" giveaway on Facebook. Friends and family can be weird for self-published authors. Some feel like they should be given a free copy of your book just because (ignoring the fact that it costs you money for printing and shipping and the artwork, layout, editing, advertising...) and at the other end of the spectrum some will buy three copies just to watch your Amazon rank bounce up. Most friends and family who get your book for free, if they like it, will sing the book's praises loudly and often. Let them be your biggest supporters.

Lastly, but by no means least, you can reach out to book bloggers to do a blog tour. Of all of the giveaway options, this is the route that gets you the most directly and personally in contact with the people who like to read what you like to write. Again, this is an opportunity to hire a book publicist/PR group to set the tour up for you, make a pretty banner for you to put on your blog, approach bloggers they know and have worked with before, help with plugging the blog tour, etc. Naturally, they'll want copies of your book to send to the reviewers, and they may in turn review it themselves, send you questions for an interview, invite you to a livechat, or other means of putting you directly in front of readers. The blog tour was by far the most fun I had in getting to know my readers, and getting a view into reading fandom out there was both energizing and incredibly fun.

Well there you have it. There are some very important times to give away your book, particularly if you're a new author starting out. Please comment below on your own adventures in deliberate (as opposed to pirated) book giveaways--I love to hear from fellow authors.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

DMCA Self-help for Self-published Authors (and others!)

I am currently being trolled on Twitter by a guy who is outraged--outraged, I tell you!--that I had the gall, nay, the hatred for humanity, to send DMCA takedown notices to content aggregator websites asking them to remove pages offering unauthorized free downloads (i.e., pirated copies) of my book. His argument meandered from "DMCA takedown notices are ineffective and you want your books pirated anyway" to "you're an idiot" to "DMCA is the source of all evil in the universe and you--YOU evil author!--are responsible for 'destroying society' with your abusive DMCA takedown notices." The fact that, without some amount of compensation authors would no longer be able to write books for him to steal, did not register with him at all.

In some cases, the websites politely replied and apologized. In others, there was no reply, but the page eventually came down. I go through this exercise every few months and happened to tweet about it. Enter troll.

There are actually many directions to go with this topic. The troll, true to form, chose juvenile mocking and ignorance (meanwhile raising my profile on Twitter and gaining me new followers--thanks! :-) ) More interesting directions would be:

--An exploration of data showing whether ebook theft helps or hurts new self-published authors (there is too little data to come to any solid conclusions, esp wrt new authors).

--A discussion on ways to improve the DMCA (the DMCA covers a lot of ground besides takedown, but that would take more inches of blog post than I'm interested in going into, and many intelligent and informed professionals in the field (read: not trolls) are already discussing this very topic on the interwebs--personally I think fine-tuning and expanding the fair use exclusions from copyright ownership are the way to go, but that's just me).

--a post to my fellow indie authors explaining how the DMCA takedown notice works and how they can self-help from piracy--if they so choose--by using this important tool in protecting their (painfully meager) livelihood.

Naturally, I'm going with the third option. First, I'll discuss how the DMCA safe harbor procedures and takedown notice came into effect, then I'll walk you through doing your own DMCA takedown notices (with a little help from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). In a subsequent post I'll have a brief discussion on the places and ways that you want to give away your book for free.

First up, a big fat disclaimer:

This blog is not legal advice, and you should not treat it as legal advice. I don't know you or your particular circumstances, my license is retired, and if you want to know about your particular legal rights and risks under the DMCA, you should talk with a lawyer.

What is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act?
The DMCA was written to solve a problem for website owners who wanted to be able to let third parties post content for others to enjoy. If a person posted something to the website, and another someone came along and contacted the website owner in writing to say that the content was infringing their copyrights and should be removed, the website owners were finding themselves caught in the middle and frequently sued by both the alleged infringer and the alleged copyright owner. The courts held early on that when a third party posted infringing content to a website, the website owner itself became an infringer by continuing to "publish" (one of the exclusive rights of copyright ownership) the infringing content on the internet. So website owners were left with either leaving the content up and risking being held liable for infringing, or taking it down and risking being held liable for tortious interference with contract, breach of contract, or whatever the person/business whose content was wrongly removed could come up with. Something had to be done, or the websites we all know and love where we can post and share content wouldn't be able to afford to stay in business.

Among other things, the DMCA addressed this problem by creating a "safe harbor" for website owners. Now if a copyright owner finds infringing posts of their content out on the internet, they send the website a "takedown notice" where they swear under penalty of perjury that they own the rights to the content, that the content has been posted without their permission, give their personal address and phone number for contact (yeah, that part creeps me out a little as an indie), and ask the website owner to take down the content. The website owner then must remove the content and also give notice to the party that posted the content of what has happened.

That party then may send a "counter-notice" swearing under penalty of perjury that the content is not infringing and that they have a legal right to publish it--and if the website owner receives a counter notice, they must restore the content within 10 days unless the copyright owner promptly runs to court to sue. If you are a copyright owner and an infringer has opted to commit perjury and keep your content up, your next and only remedy is to sue the infringer (who may well be a sad and lonely dude in the Ukraine who could give a shit), but you may not sue the website owner, because they have complied with the DMCA's safe harbor rules and are now immune.

In many ways, this is a crap deal for authors. It's a small tool to use, and the infringer may laugh in your face and keep posting your content with impunity (and you may or may not be bothered by that) knowing that, as a self-published indie, the chances of you suing are as slim as the standard Amazon review. Prior to the DMCA, when website owners were themselves on the hook for publishing infringing content, the website owners were much more cautious in removing potentially infringing content. Now with the DMCA safe harbor, they could care less, and since more content = more traffic = more revenue, the website owners have a financial incentive to have as much content on their sites as possible--infringing or not.

Nonetheless, I have had pretty good results in filing DMCA takedown requests, for now it's all that authors have to try to combat theft of their books, and while there will always be pirated copies of my book out there, you have to hunt it down, and--fair warning--more than once when I clicked on a link that purported to offer a free download of my book, my professional-grade Malwarebytes app blocked the site for detected malware.

DIY DMCA Takedown Notices
So, you've googled your book and found a few pages where your book is being offered for free download and you'd rather it wasn't. First, check that this isn't a paid subscription service that is legitimately offering your book through your aggregate ebook distributor (e.g., BookBaby, Smashwords). Once you're really sure that this is actual piracy, poke around the website until you find the link labeled "DMCA". If you can't find that, try "Safe Harbor" or simply "Legal." As part of the safe harbor rules, the website has to have a page with their safe harbor information--who you send the notice to--and they have to tell you what must be included in the notice. They may also include, in SCREAMING CAPITAL LETTERS, lots of warnings that you are subject to penalty of perjury for making any misrepresentations of fact in your notice. This page will also tell you exactly what to put in your takedown notice--include everything.

For more nuts and bolts on the actual letter, here's a great blog post from the nice folks at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America: The DMCA Takedown Notice Demystified. You can send it by regular email, with the text in the body of the email.

You do not have to have filed your book with the U.S. Copyright Office to be able to use this process. Your copyright ownership becomes exclusively yours the moment you create a work that is in the scope of the copyright protections.

There have been plenty of lawsuits against entities who use the DMCA takedown notice procedures abusively--i.e., not bothering to find out if the material is allowed under "fair use" exceptions; filing takedown notices to address an issue that DMCA doesn't cover; filing bogus takedown notices as a form of harassment. These are not you. DMCA, like most laws out there (the patent system, Medicaid, the Freaking Tax Code) is susceptible to being gamed and used abusively by entities with a whole lot more resources than you or I have. Businesses and individuals hire people whose sole job is to find something that might be infringing and automatically shoot out a DMCA takedown notice. Some have takedown notices generated and sent automatically with no humans involved whatsoever. This is definitely not what the drafters of DMCA had in mind when they wrote it, although I'm sure some of the folks who commented in committee hearings raised the possibility. Courts are issuing decisions to rein in some of the abuses where they can, with the 9th Circuit (the federal appelate court that includes California in its region) issuing a ruling last month on the duty to ensure there's no fair use prior to filing a notice. On the other hand, it turns out that federal perjury is really really hard to prove, so the chances of anyone being slapped with that one are pretty slim.

I hope you have found this helpful, and I'll post more about copyright issues for indie authors in the future. If you are an indie author, you will be entering into lots of contracts and licensing agreements with a variety of entities to assist with book design, book layout, editing, marketing, and distribution. All of these transactions are loaded with legal terms that you owe it to yourself and your work to become familiar with. They are also loaded with intellectual property provisions that can affect your ability to safely publish your work. Study up and read thoroughly before signing any dotted lines/clicking on "I Agree."

Feel free to share your own DMCA experiences or insights below, and happy writing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I'm a Featured Indie Author!

Indie Author News keeps a curated list of top Indie Authors and supports the rest of us trying to break out by offering Dirt. Cheap. promotional opportunities. I decided to take them up on one of their indie author promotional packages, and I'm amazed at the exposure I've gotten. In the last week I've gained about 200 followers on Twitter, met a ton of new authors, and seen my book promoted as a "Featured" book and an interview pushed out to their 87k+ Twitter followers and dubbed "amazing". Wow. The whole thing has left me a little breathless.

Here's a link to the interview. They asked some fun questions.

As fun as this has all been, the proof in the pudding will be seeing an increase in sales. But all of the exposure ain't bad, either.

To my fellow indie authors--what promotional tools have you found to be most helpful?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Guest Post on The Book Rat: No More Heroines

If you have not yet met Misty at The Book Rat, you're missing out. This powerhouse of lit fandom keeps a very active blog focused on all of her favorite books: "urban fantasy, paranormal romance, magical realism, sci-fi, and fairy tale retellings." She also hosts events dedicated to Halloween, Jane Austen, and fairy tales. If you are an author or reader of any of these, you will love this blog and the opportunity to get to know so many of the authors--The Book Rat is very generous in sharing her space with authors and introducing new works to her readers.

Misty and I talked about what I should post about while I was on my vacation in Oregon, and I ran a few ideas by her, mostly because I was pretty certain she'd find my first idea--a critique of the use of  the word "heroine" when discussing female heroes--too dry, too feministy, too ... dull. But no! She loved the idea, and made her own contribution to the theme.

Here's a link to the post:

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy meeting The Book Rat.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Blog Tour Round-up!

What a week!

Six blogs in seven days, with interviews, excerpts, reviews, and much more. I am so very grateful to the amazing team at Wisdom House Books (aka The Owl House) for putting together such a winner of a blog tour for Gwendolyn's Sword, and I am especially grateful to the fellow readers, authors, and bloggers from around the globe who gave their time and blog space to participate in the Blog Tour.

All last week was like Christmas every morning, waking up to see the new post and then sending them out to all of my social media channels. Here in one place you can visit all of the tour stops and meet the gracious hosts. If you enjoyed Gwendolyn's Sword, chances are each of these hosts have more recommendations for books you'd be interested in. I was especially delighted to see the frank feedback and the excitement over the refreshing take on women lead characters in historical fiction.

Without further ado:

Travel to the enchanting Emerald Isle to meet Irish journalist Aoife Lawlor and read her review on her blog, Fred Weasley Died Laughing: "This was an action-packed feminist adventure, ...."

Zip over down under to Book Frivolity, where hilarious blogger and historical fiction/fantasy fan Kristobelle provides an excerpt and a thorough book analysis. Her discussion of the book's play between historical fact and fantasy, quite honestly, gives helpful criticism as I write the sequel.

Join ElianaS at ItsYouandEverything for a scene analysis and a discussion of the belief systems in conflict in the book's 12th c. England setting.

Writer A. van Eeden's review is interspersed with a series of lyrical and evocative pics of medieval settings and characters. His debut novel will be coming out soon, and if his reading list is any indication of his interests, I'm pretty confident I'll want to read it!

Fellow writer TeaSippinNerdyMom strikes a Blog Tour trifecta with a thoughtful and original author interview, an excerpt, and a full author bio!

Last but not least, head over to SpontaneousOutpourings for a critical review where Skye Adams gave me some good news and some bad news--but mostly good news.

Readers, it's your turn: I want to hear from you. What have you read this summer that you just loved? What historical fiction/fantasy blogs do you follow? Who are your favorite women with swords, real or fictional?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Even Writers Get Vacations...Sort of

There's been very little posting on the blog for the last few weeks because the family and I have been on extended vacation in Oregon, a much nicer place to spend July than in central Texas. Unfortunately, we are heading back at the end of the week, just in time for Triple Digit August. Thanks to my vivid writer's imagination, I'm doing a great job of pretending I'm not actually leaving Oregon any time soon.

So that hubs could get some work done, we're in a house with wifi, which means I've been getting some work done every now and then, too. And I've got some exciting news that I can now officially announce (because I have the official banner with dates and everything).

Remember my earlier post about the importance of investing in your own writing and hiring a team of professionals for your book? The pro's at Wisdom House Books have done something that I absolutely could not have pulled off by myself. I don't have either the contacts or the bandwidth to put together a book blog tour. And if you're a self-published author, as I am, this kind of publicity is critical to finding your audience and connecting with your readers. I feel so fortunate to have found the talented professionals that I found at Wisdom House books. They also did the book interior design and layout, and the rocking cover design exactly to my specifications.

Here's the beautiful banner they made for me:

I'll be adding this to its proper home at the top of the blog after I get home, but I'm too excited about this not to pre-announce it now. As the tour is ongoing I'll post links on Twitter and Facebook, and then a tour recap post here thanking all of the tourists.

Some other fun I've been having over my vacation is watching the book reviews from the Goodreads giveaway winners come in. Reviews have been positive, and they've also given me insight into some of the aspects of 12th c. England and what is known about women's lives and the role of religion from that period that I should take some time to illuminate here for my readers. I did so much research for Gwendolyn's Sword, and only so much of that background could be included in the Historical Notes section at the end of the book. But there's more to know about this period that is perhaps surprising and different from what we would assume must have been the reality. I'm looking forward to busting a few middle ages stereotypes with these future posts.

Finally, the good folks at Wisdom House Books also pointed me toward various contests that I entered last spring. Over the next several months finalists and winners will be announced. Fingers are crossed that I'll have more good news to announce in the coming months.

Happy summer, readers!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Join a Book Club!

Yes, I know we all have ridiculously full schedules. We're working, we have deadlines, family obligations, volunteer obligations, not to mention maintaining our physical and mental health and well being. Well, file this suggestion under that last, often over-looked chore--maintaining your wellness.

We have lots of digital pathways open to us that allow us to dip in, on our own schedule, from the convenience of our own kitchen table or sofa, to online book reading communities. Like this blog! And look, here you are reading about reading! So easy! There's also Goodreads, as well as a huge number of blogs/vlogs and book review sites and communities for every genre and interest--too much to shake a stick at.

And yet, reading books is a communal experience. As the famous line from "The Dead Poets Society" goes: "We read to know we are not alone." So while all of the above digital communities are invaluable in enriching the reading (and writing) experience, I want to make a plea right here and now for the importance and irreplaceable value of meeting with other fans of reading, face-to-face, on a regular basis.

I belong to a book group that I started about a year ago by posting a message to my neighborhood listserve describing the kind of books I'd like to read and the timing (one book and one meeting per month), and now get to be a part of a regular meeting of ten like-minded readers from all walks of life and generations. We meet at a nearby restaurant that is neither cool nor trendy--so there's always a table large enough for us available. And the restaurant has a fine offering of table- (and wallet-) friendly wines and a full bar if something more adventurous is called for. No one has to cook or clean up, so all we do is sit and discuss the book we've all just read.

As a writer, this regular window into readers' minds, with people I have grown to know well and whose opinions I value, cannot be replaced. I get to hear their impressions of different styles of writing, how different characters strike them, the little things that they liked or didn't like about a story. This is great information. They all know that I'm a writer, and that I'm listening closely to their impressions. They don't mind at all. I have *not* suggested my book to the group, partly because we don't read books in the genre that I write, historical fantasy, and partly because that would just be weird and self-serving. But I do rely on my experience as a writer to add to the conversation in the group--the challenges of constructing character, the temptation to rely on easy plot ploys to get oneself out of the corner one has written oneself into--that sort of thing.

As a reader, I get so much more out of the reading experience by discussing the books with these folks. They bring up interpretations and connections that I sometimes missed entirely. They help me to see the layers of meaning, because different layers stood out to them than registered for me. They remind me that story-telling is essentially a communal experience, down through the many ages and cultures of humans. After a year, our little group has gelled. We are extremely informal. We are reading books I wouldn't have picked on my own (also great and necessary for a writer!). My appreciation for the craft of story-telling continues to grow.

So...if you aren't already in a book club, consider starting one. It's easy, free, and takes only a tiny bit of your time to manage. You get to decide what you want to read and the schedule, and then ask if there's anyone out there who would like to form a club with you. But more importantly, it connects you to books and story-telling in a communal way that can't be duplicated through any online platform or forum.

Are you already in a book club? I'd love to hear about it! How did your book club get started? How long has your club been reading together? What do you read? How are your meetings run? Tell me in the comments below!