Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Twelve Shades of Self-Promotion

Joe sez: When I heard my frequent collaborator, Ann Voss Peterson, was involved in a new box set with a group of high-profile authors, I was intrigued. Both by the content (I just bought a copy and you should to) and by the way they've gone about promoting the set, which may involve the most marketing I've ever seen done by indie authors.

So here's Ann and her partners in crime to discuss Twelve Shades of Midnight.

Ann Voss Peterson (The School): Thanks, Joe!

I’m involved in a twelve-author anthology called Twelve Shades of Midnight that was released today, October 28th. A lot goes into a project like this one. From putting together a list of authors, a concept, and a brand, to writing, editing, and formatting the stories themselves, to finding affordable ways to promote, the process is a little mind boggling.

So I’m going to let my fellow Twelve Shades of Midnight authors tell you about some of the things we did. Here's the woman who started it all, Robin Perini.

Robin Perini (Night of the Jaguar): The amazing rise of Indie Publishing has created a dynamic landscape for writers, and a wonderful opportunity to experiment. I’m lucky enough to have quite a few friends in the writing world, and over the last few years so many have explored all the options. Be they Hybrid, Traditional or Indie, choice abounds.

While I write romantic suspense for two publishers, I had created a paranormal world that I wanted to explore. And I wanted to stick my toe into the Indie world. With the day job and contracts, time was precious, and I knew the learning curve would be steep. What better way, than to pool resources with some of my friends and work on an anthology? So I asked around, and amazingly enough, not only was there interest—there was a lot of interest. 

My goals were pretty straightforward: 

1) Learn as much as I could about Indie Publishing (the process, the business, the technical aspects, the marketing). 

2) Cross promote with other authors. 

3) Explore new and different ways to increase discoverability for all of us.

4) If we hit a list, that would be a plus.

Because Learning and Cross Promotion were the two main goals, to start, I considered a multi-genre project. In the end, that seemed distracting, so we decided to focus the anthology on Adult Paranormal Romance Novellas, but not just any novellas, never-before-released works. I also wanted to bring in several circles of readers to see if we could tempt readers to try out someone they may not have read before.

We ended up with four major circles: Paranormal Romance Authors, Urban Fantasy Authors, Romantic Suspense and Thriller Authors (Category and Single Title), and Young Adult Authors coming from the traditional, hybrid and indie world. We have three NYT bestsellers, several Amazon bestsellers, and even more award winners.

We also have a range of tones from horror to zany; as well as a range of sensuality (hot to sweet). We’ll see if this was a good idea as we gain feedback.

Mostly, we have an amazing group of generous writers who were willing to dig right in and take a chance with new and different ideas.

And we are taking a chance. We put together an anthology that is priced at 4.99 with 12 novellas between 20k and 50k words.

The stroke of midnight ushers in many things. From hijinks and mischief to danger and evil, romance is the magic that binds these paranormal novellas together. Join 12 bestselling and award-winning authors as they explore the different shades of midnight in exclusive, never-before-released stories.

Darynda Jones - A LOVELY DROP 
Dakota Cassidy - WITCHED AT BIRTH 
Claire Cavanaugh - MIDNIGHT RENEGADE 
Rachel Grant - MIDNIGHT SUN 
Trish McCallan - SPIRIT WOODS 
Robyn Peterman - SWITCHING HOUR 
Ann Voss Peterson - THE SCHOOL 

AVP: The $4.99 price is a risk. Most box sets are priced at 99 cents. However, ours was different than most in two important ways. None of the content in this set has been released before, and it will be exclusive to the set for a substantial period of time. And since our main goal was to introduce ourselves to other authors’ fans, we wanted to encourage those who buy the set to actually read some of the stories. So after a lot of debate, we decided to take a chance on the $4.99 price point. Will it work out the way we hope? We have yet to see.

There were other things we had to focus on before we began writing our individual stories, namely exactly what we were going to write and how we were going to approach selling it. Luckily we had some authors on board who were willing to take on this challenge.

Jenn Stark (Getting Wild): Participating in the 12 Shades of Midnight anthology has been a terrific experience. Although I'm traditionally published under two other pen names in YA fiction and romance, I was thrilled to have the chance to launch a new series among such amazing authors!

Branding this anthology was admittedly a challenge, as we had 12 authors each at very different stages of the publishing journey--from completely new names to fan favorites to USA Today and NYT Bestsellers. We also had significantly different "heat" levels of each romance, from mild to steamy hot. How do you make the most of what you have to offer? In our case, we opted to feature two of our most well-known authors on the cover first, then follow with the rest of our group in alphabetical order. The cover imagery was a bit more of a challenge, and we went through two versions, trying to find the right mix of "sassy" and "paranormal" while being true to all of the stories in the set. In addition, each author is creating her own cover for her story, which when viewed together really showcase the novellas' unique styles. Then, we added special features within the novellas to tie the tales together. For example, in each novella you'll find a reference to another story within the set, as well as the name "Max Midnight" and the time of midnight featured prominently. Finally, we've done promotion around the question "What shade of midnight are you?" to underscore the diversity of our stories and how each offers something different for readers.


I’ll let Shea go into more detail on how we came up with using the name Max Midnight.

Shea Berkley (Stone Cold Dead): This is my first foray into the world of boxed set that has original, never-before-seen stories. In fact, many of us had never been in a boxed set before (blind leading the blind), but that didn’t stop us. Wanting the endeavor to be a success, we asked the question that caused a bit of excitement, and it was this: How we could make the stories more interactive for our readers? One way was to use a name that would appear in each story…Max Midnight. The way the name appears and used is up to each author. Some have been very creative in its use, making it a game to find out what Max Midnight refers to. The name hunt has no ulterior meaning other than to add a bit of fun to our readers reading experiences as they move through each story.

AVP: We had extra help experimenting with branding ideas from Naomi Raine who is an artist and designs websites (like this one for author Rachel Grant). And much of this planning was done before we wrote the stories.

Now, the biggest part of project was (of course) the writing itself. We each wrote a story that included the elements Jenn and Shea described, but other than that, we could do whatever we wanted, as long as it included a romance and at least a hint of the paranormal. Sometimes a few outside requirements can actually spur creativity, as author Trish McCallan discovered.

Trish McCallan (Spirit Woods): When the idea came up to have everyone include a character named Max Midnight as an Easter egg in their story, I’d just started the first draft. At first I planned to write in a throwaway character. But that plan went out the window the moment I introduced the mysterious golden retriever that Spirit Woods revolves around. From the moment the dog leapt on stage he was Max Midnight. And his name alone twisted the story in a direction I had never planned. The dog became a superhero, at least in the heroine’s eyes, saving her life not just once—but twice. But even more interestingly, the circumstances surrounding the dog’s name ended up spawning three brand new storylines in the Spirt Woods’ World. So that one little Easter egg, meant to connect all the novellas in the Twelve Shades of Midnight Box set, also ended up connecting the first three novels in my Spirit Woods’ World.

AVP: Next came editing, and each of us dealt with our own stories. Many of us already have our team in place. In traditional publishing, there are four basic steps to editing a book, and I use all four when producing my self-published work.

Developmental editing is where you deal with the big picture; character development, plot structure.

Line editing is about the writing itself, sentence structure, paragraph structure, finding the most effective way to tell the story.

Copy editing is about the details like grammar, fact checking, continuity of names, descriptions, time lines, punctuation; all the picky things that might pull a reader out of the story.

Proofreading is the final stage, a close review of everything to catch mistakes that were missed or introduced by the other editing stages.

No book is ever perfect, but it’s important to make your content the best it can be. I trade developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing with my team of experienced author friends (you might know one of them whose initials are JK). I then hire a proofreader to catch anything we might have missed (a couple of suggestions would be Blue Otter Editing and grammar.rulesAtoZ@gmail.com ).

Jenn Stark and Rachel Grant used Linda Ingmanson (catalyst8@aol.com) , Jenn says, “She offers two rounds of content editing, plus a proofreader (separate person). I was very pleased with her work!”

After editing was complete, we sent all twelve stories to the ever-so-lucky Rachel Grant.

Rachel Grant (Midnight Sun): I originally offered to format the Twelve Shades anthology because having an in-house author do the formatting meant we could be flexible with authors delivering their final files on different dates, instead of having to wait until all 12 were complete and send them off to a formatter who would need plenty of lead time. With a group of this size, sometimes plenty of lead time isn’t possible. :)

Some stats on the project:
Novellas: 12
Chapters: 165
Pages (Word, single spaced, TNR 18pt): 1,468
Words: 384,718

Clearly, formatting a multi-author set like this is daunting, and there is no way I would have considered attempting it if I hadn’t found my new love, Legend Maker. Legend Maker is for Mac computers only (sorry, PC people). Prior to Legend Maker, I did a fair amount of hand-coding, using find and replace in Word to get a document ready for HTML, which I edited in Textmate, then converted to epub and mobi using Calibre. The necessary hand-coding for a set of this size using my old system would have made my head explode. But thanks to Legend Maker, I was able to skip much of the fussy hand-coding, working with HTML in Textmate, and Calibre conversion. Tagging headings and scene breaks is a snap when using Legend Maker (and I’m especially grateful the Twelve Shades authors were FABULOUS and marked their chapters and scene breaks just like I asked them to). When a document is properly formatted, it’s simple to run through Legend Maker and create the epub and mobi files. No head explosions. I even still have hair.

Worth noting: I had issues with the italics in some files, because Word can be aggravating and pushy by replacing styles you don’t want replaced, but once I discovered the issue, I was able to run a document compare and search on italics, to see what had been lost. The problem I had was a Word issue, not a Legend Maker issue, and now that I’m aware of it, I will always run a compare as a final check when formatting.

A stylistic choice I made for the set was to use the moon from the cover to decorate chapter headers and mark scene breaks. It’s a great way to pull the set together with one image, plus it gives a nice polished look. It’s insanely easy to insert graphics (and Legend Maker handles graphics very well) but it does increase file size (and therefore delivery costs in Kindle). An added benefit when it comes to marking scene breaks is that breaks can land anywhere on an ereader, depending on the user’s settings, meaning a blank line can easily be missed if it falls at the bottom or top of a screen, causing confusion if the reader misses a cue to a POV or time shift. When choosing a graphic, make sure it will look good on black, white or sepia backgrounds, because tablet readers support all those choices. I prefer .png files because they have transparency, but .mobi files don’t support transparency (while .epubs do), so for some graphics you may want to go with a .jpg to ensure it will have a white background in Kindle. If you’ve purchased the set from iBooks, be sure to check out our title page and those moons on a black background.

AVP: Of course, after the writing was done for us (and the writing and formatting for Rachel), we still needed ideas to get the word out about the anthology in a cost-effective way. We set up preorder pages on all the retailers and promoted the project on our own, using the box set cover (more on that below) and the individual covers we had made for our stories. Here’s mine, done by the fabulous Carl Graves.

We also put together some group promotions, and I’ll let the authors in charge tell you about those.

Angi Morgan (Hit-and-Run Hallie): I’m traditionally published and always looking for inexpensive ways to promote and connect with readers, so I brought some of those ideas to the 12 Shades project. I cohost a readers blog, Get Lost in a Story, and arranged a three day blog stop with fun questions about each author. I also arranged for a week-long promotion on Just Romantic Suspense with two authors each day featuring their books and fun blog. (You can also see our advertisement that we created from pieces of our cover.) I take advantage of my husband’s professional skills as a video engineer for all my trailers. I’m very lucky that I can work with him and he has the same vision for my trailers and marketing ideas. So not only is he cheap, he keeps at it until I love it. Here’s the trailer he put together for Twelve Shades.

Dakota Cassidy (Witched at Birth): Each of us had a hand in pulling together and launching the anthology. While Robin Perini handled corralling all of us, I cornered my awesome BFF Renee George like a raccoon in a dark crawlspace and begged her to make us a hot cover, and Robyn Peterman's amazeballs buddy Debby Pence did some awesome memes for us.

Also, as a team, Robyn and I took charge of the Facebook launch party--which is no surprise because we’re the two most likely to create the loudest noise and make the most visible mayhem. We spent an hour on the phone carefully organizing (read talking over each other with our ideas and laughing), and thinking up ways to keep things running as smoothly as possible. Planning in advance is crucial.

Robyn Peterman (Switching Hour): Robyn here! I agree and corroborate everything Dakota said. Now for my two cents.

Do launch parties really work to get a book noticed?

Yes and no. Most of the time the people there are already fans and are going to buy the book anyway. The real benefit of a launch party is the sheer amount of extra marketing you get on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets. Prizes can motivate fans to share out the ass and this is a good thing. Dakota and I are anal and run these suckers with military precision. If you're going to do one, you should have all your links and posts sitting on your desk top. You will most likely lose at least three fingers while typing like a maniac during the party and you will be blind for four hours after it ends.

AVP: Curious how a launch party works? The Twelve Shades of Midnight launch party is set for October 29th from 6pm to midnight, EDT. Here’s the Facebook page.

And that about wraps up the project. We set up preorder pages at all the retailers, and the book was released on Tuesday, October 28. Now we wait to see how it does. One of the great things about self-publishing is the freedom to try new things and determine your own career path. And someone who knows a lot about doing just that is Twelve Shades of Midnight headliner, bestselling indie author Liliana Hart.

Liliana Hart (The Witch Next Door): Ultimately, I began self-publishing because I had stories to tell and I wanted people to read them. I’d gone through the traditional hoops for several years, but things weren’t happening the way I wanted them to. I knew I could write and that there was a market for the stories I wanted to tell. So I started self-publishing and have loved every minute of it. Hard work pays off, and self-publishing is a lot of hard-work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now I love the control and the freedom it gives me to tell the stories I want to tell without limits or rules. I love being in control of my career and being able to make changes if I need to. I'd be writing whether I made money or not--I did for more than a dozen years before my career took off. Writing is in the blood and I have to tell the stories in my head, but it's nice that I can live out my dreams and make a living at it too. Not many people get to realize their passions. I'm very blessed and grateful to my readers.