I don’t remember pointing out a lot of useful resources during the eight or so years I was actively blogging about self publishing because I don’t remember finding much worth linking. But for anybody who is interested in the business of writing science fiction and fantasy, I want to recommend the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast, with over 100 hour-long episodes in the can:
It’s hosted by bestselling author Lindsay Buroker (and her dogs), with help from Joseph Lallo and Jefferey M. Poole. Lindsay has been doing this since 2014, though I only found out about it last year when she invited me on. I took a rain check due to my father’s declining health, and now that he’s gone, between paperwork and getting back to writing, I’m jealous of my time. But there are over a hundred podcasts or videos of Lindsay and company talking with successful authors (and a few marketers) in the field, and they let it all hang out the way I used to with my nonfiction publishing experiences. The guests run the gamut from Kindle bestsellers to authors who have signed major trade publishing deals, but the focus is definitely on eBooks.
The invitation to be on the podcast got me thinking about what I would have talked about, and I could only see myself discussing the laundry list of all the things I’ve done wrong in the last three years.
For starters, covers are critical in fiction marketing, yet I launched with a home-made cover before going to a professional, and then went through four redesigns before finally getting to one I like last October, two and a half years after publishing the first book. Part of the challenge for cover design is that my stories don’t fit into a genre category, which is serious mistake #2, because matching a well-defined category, at least partially, is extremely important for discovery on Amazon.
Matching a genre is also important for gathering good reviews. People are more likely to give a good review after reading a book that meets their expectations than after reading a book that they didn’t expect. Amazon just doesn’t have a “family science fiction for grown-ups” category.
Another major error was launching my first book as permafree, without even creating a sign-up list for readers who were interested in reading more, something I finally got around to (with MailChimp) when I released the sixth or seventh book. And my production of the first few books was a bit rushed, leading to a couple of early reviews mentioning typos. These days, I read each book out loud while doing the final onscreen copy edit, and then I read it out loud three more times on my Kindle before even sending it to the first proofreader. I’ve literally reached the point where I spend about as much time editing as writing.
In retrospect, my worst error might have been the title of the first book, “Date Night on Union Station.” It is a literal and accurate description of the contents (a hangover from my nonfiction career) which nonetheless ended up misleading both readers, and perhaps more importantly, people who will never consider the series because of the first book’s title. None of the books in the series are romance novels, at least in the publishing sense of the word. They are satirical future fiction stories that hold up a fun-house mirror to current views on economics, what it means to be civilized, work, relations, and especially, artificial intelligence.
And more than anything, they are stories about family, making redundant the title of the twelfth book in the series, “Family Night on Union Station,” which I’m writing in memory of my father. He led me to Victorian literature, especially Dickens, and to 1930’s madcap comedies, both of which are my “influences” for the series more than modern science fiction. Now that my father is gone, I find that like a character in a play or a novel, I’m full of sorrow over what I didn’t say to him while he could still hear me. Life resembles art.