Author Self-Promotion: 4 First Steps

In today’s literary market, it pays to self-promote, and there are plenty of options available to authors for that purpose. So, if you’re just getting started with this whole publishing thing, how should you begin promoting yourself? I’m not a marketing expert, but I can point you at some basic and fairly easy-to-do things that have worked for me and can help expand your presence on the ol’ interwebs. Like the title of the post says, these are very basic first steps, not any kind of recipe for instant promotional success (if you have one of those, please post it in the comments :-)).

One more thing. Before you get started self-promoting, I suggest you obtain the following two items:

  • A good author bio. There are a lot of good reasons to have an author bio ready to go, but you’ll need one for nearly all of the online marketing platforms I’m going to suggest below. Writing a bio is a very individual thing, and you’ll need to decide what’s important enough to include. If you’d like to see how I write MY bios, check out this post.
  • Author photo. You might consider this one optional. Some folks don’t like having their picture taken, and there are some very real privacy and security risks that go along with letting the world know what you look like. Personally, I like the author photo, and I generally plaster my smiling mug all over the damn place. Like the bio, what makes a good author photo is up to the individual author. If you’d like to see what I think makes a good author photo, check out this post.

Okay, if you’ve got your bio and your author photo, here are four of the easier ways to get started down the self-promotional rabbit hole:

  1. Social media. I know, this sounds like a total no-brainer, but I know more than a few authors who don’t have any social media presence. Hey, I get it; Facebook and Twitter are full of inane bullshit, but, unfortunately, the vast majority of potential readers have Facebook and Twitter accounts (or start growing the ones you do have), and if there’s an easier way to reach a fuck-ton of people quickly these days, I don’t know what it is. So, at a minimum, I suggest you get a Facebook and Twitter account. If you’re the kind of author who tends to have a lot of illustrations in his or her books, then image-based platforms like Instagram and Tumblr could be good options too. The trick with social media is to stay active, posting often and with meaningful content. That said, the best way to do that is the subject of many, many articles, websites, and books, and is well beyond the scope of my humble little blog. All you need do, though, is type something like “grow my Facebook audience” into Google, and you’ll find hundreds if not thousands of resources on the subject.
  2. Set up a Goodreads author page. Goodreads is one of the premier book review sites, with something like 25 million members, so I definitely think having a presence out there is good idea. Obviously, you need to have published or self-published a book or have had a short story appear in a collection that was published (people need to have something they can actually read and review). Setting up an author page is super easy to do (and free), and once it’s done you get access to cool marketing tools like Goodreads Giveaways. You can also link your blog and other social media to the page. Basically, if someone has read one of your books and likes it, they can go to your Goodreads author page and see what else you’ve written, learn about you and your blog, and so and so on. Here’s my Goodreads page if you’re interested.
  3. Set up an Amazon author page. Maybe you’ve heard of Amazon; they sell a lot of books. If you’ve published or self-published books or short stories in collections that are sold through Amazon, I think an Amazon author page is a must. This is another freebie and setting up the page is really easy (go here for that). Like Goodreads, you can link your blog and other social media to your author page. Amazon also offers a lot of promotional tools for authors, but they’re usually of the pay-to-play variety, and you’ll have to decide if they’re worth it. You set up an Amazon author page for the same reason you set up a Goodreads author page: it’s a place for readers to go to learn more about your work, and with Amazon, buying that next book is just a click away for interested readers. Here’s my Amazon author page if you’d like to take a look.
  4. Start a blog. This is the most involved of my suggestions because running a blog requires a lot of time and effort, but it’s great to have a platform for your ideas and a place to promote your work. I wouldn’t say this is an absolute must, but it has been THE most successful promotional tool in my little repertoire. My suggestion is to pick some kind of hook or theme beyond, hey, here’s another author’s blog. Make sure that theme is something you actually want to talk about (and you can talk about a lot) and that ties into your work in some way. Starting a blog doesn’t have to cost you anything either, and WordPress and Blogger have perfectly serviceable free packages. That said, spending a few bucks to get a domain name and access to a few other useful features isn’t a terrible idea. Also, remember to point folks back at your blog in your author bio (and everywhere else it’s appropriate).

This really is just the very beginning/scratching the surface of promoting yourself as an author. You’ll need to invest time and effort into keeping these various platforms updated and current (for example, you often have to tell Amazon to add your latest book to your author page). As I mentioned earlier, there are TONS of books and websites devoted to helping authors promote their work though all of the platforms I mentioned above (and a bunch more). As usual, a little research goes a long way.

Got any tips to help new authors start promoting their work? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Listen to “Night Games” on Pseudopod

My vampire/baseball story “Night Games” was published on Pseudopod today. If you’re unfamiliar with Pseudopod, they’re a top-notch horror podcast that features short stories in audio format. Their readers are fantastic, and my reader, Rish Outfield, did a hell of a job bringing my story to life. Anyway, click the link below to listen to “Night Games” and let me “stake” you out to the ballgame. (Hah! I’m a bad person.)

Click Here >>>>> “Night Games”

Picture Me: Some Thoughts/Advice on Author Photos

Along with a bio, a lot of publishers big and small will ask you for an author photo to display alongside your story, on the back cover of your book, and so on and so forth. I know lots of folks hate having their picture taken, and if that’s you, I understand, but if you DO want to have an author photo, here are some things you might consider. Note, I am not a professional photographer, so take any technical advice I offer with a grain of salt. These are things that have worked for me; you may want to go in a completely different direction, and that’s perfectly cool and acceptable.

  1. You should look professional. I’m aware that people’s ideas of what “professional” means can vary widely, so I’ll approach this from my own perceptions of the word. For me it means getting myself into presentable shape: freshly shaven (face and head), putting on a nice shirt of some kind that will photograph well (I prefer stretchy T-shirt type things in dark colors), and doing some light maintenance on the facial area. For you, professional may be completely different, and that’s cool; you just want to make sure the image you’re putting forth is the one you actually want (a lot) of people to see.
  2. The photo should look professional. Usually, this means hiring a professional photographer. I lucked out and married a woman whose hobby has been photography for the last twenty years. Your author photo should probably not be a selfie.
  3. Style. So I prefer a close-up type photo, what is usually referred to as a head shot. I find that it scales up or down a lot easier when publishers have different display requirements. Even with my meager Photoshop skills, I can take the original and resize it for whatever the publisher needs. As for background, I like simple industrial looks: brick, steel, stone. This is all stuff that’s available outside my front door in downtown Seattle. That said, the black or white “studio” background is perfectly acceptable.
  4. Format. I’m a little out of my depth here, but generally a publisher will ask for a hi-res jpeg or TIF file, so it’s a good idea to keep hi-res versions of both handy.
  5. Color or black and white. This is totally a personal preference, but I like black and white. To me it just looks more authorly. That said, I have a color version of my author photo if a publisher required one.
  6. Smile. Again, this is just personal preference, but I think looking like a friendly, approachable person is a lot better than looking like a brooding angry writer guy. Your mileage may vary, of course. My goal with my author photo is for people to see it and think, “Hey, I’d have a beer with that guy” rather than “I wonder if that guy will punch me if I ask him about his books.”

So, with all that in mind, here’s my current author photo, for better or worse:

rudel-author-headshot

If I could change a few things, it would be the hole in the brick wall below my left ear and maybe a bit more contrast between myself and the background, but those are not deal-breakers for me, and I’m pretty happy with this photo. This one is over a year old, and I’m considering changing it out in the next few months. I think freshening your author photo every couple of years isn’t a terrible idea; you want people to recognize what you look like now not five years ago.

Got any tips for author photos (like, what might be wrong with mine)? If so, I’d love to hear about them (or share your own photo).

7 Top-Tier Horror Markets: My New Story Gauntlet

Once I’ve finished a new story and it’s ready for submission, I have a short list of top-tier spec-fic markets that it goes to first. I have dubbed this list “The Gauntlet,” and they are some of the toughest but most prestigious publications I know of that accept horror. They also work very fast, and I often get a response to my submission within a few days or even a few hours.

Here’s my list, presented in no particular order:

My current record with these publications is one original acceptance (DarkFuse Magazine), one reprint acceptance (Pseudopod), one further consideration letter (Apex Magazine), and a whole bunch of rejections (every last one of them). The order in which I submit a story (or if I submit a story at all) is due in large part to when these markets are open to submissions, the length of the story, and which market is best suited for the piece. Like I said, these are some of the toughest publications to crack in the spec-fic market, and most of them have acceptance rates well under one percent according to Duotrope. And, let’s face it, that acceptance rate is probably a lot smaller because rejections are more likely to go unreported than acceptances.

One quick note about response times. I mentioned earlier that these publications work fast, and they do for an initial response. That’s usually a rejection, but in my experience, these markets will send you a note if they’re considering your story for publication. After that, the wait can be much longer, months even, before you hear from them again. That said, I’m thrilled to just be considered by these publications, so that second wait, when it happens, isn’t too bad. Some of these markets do accept sim-subs, by the way.

So, why submit to these markets first? Here are four good reasons.

1) Reach. From what I’ve been able to gather through a bit of internet research, most of these markets have readerships in the thousands or even tens of thousands. So if you can manage to get a story accepted by one of them, that story is going to be read by a lot of people interested in the type of fiction you write. That’s the kind of thing that helps you build a brand and can maybe affect the sales of something like that novel you’re thinking about self-publishing some day

2) Group memberships. Stories accepted by these markets often count toward membership in professional writing organizations like the HWA (Horror Writers Association) and the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). If you want to be a member in one of these groups and get access to the benefits that entails, you have to publish at qualifying markets. All the markets in my list qualify for one or the other or both.

3) Awards. If you’re a spec-fic writer who dreams of winning awards like the Hugo Award or the Bram Stoker Award, then publishing at one or more of these markets (and others like them) is a good step toward the fame and glory you seek. Stories nominated for both awards and probably a few others are often drawn from the pages of some of the publications on my list.

4) Pro rates. Simply put, these markets pay the most. Nearly all of them pay the pro rate of .06/word, and some pay a lot more. For me, money is at most a tertiary consideration, but getting a chunk of cash for a story is still awfully damn nice.

Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t included one or more [super huge famous spec-fic] markets on my list, and the reasons are pretty straightforward. Factors that disqualify a market from my gauntlet include but are not limited to:

  • Longer wait. I don’t usually submit to markets that take longer than 30 days to respond in my first go-around unless the story is just a perfect fit. I’ll invariably start hitting these markets once the story has run the gauntlet, so to speak.
  • Bad fit. I write horror in a fairly specific style, and there are magazines that just don’t publish the kind of horror I write. For example, I rarely write anything that could be considered weird fiction, a popular fantasy/horror subgenre.
  • Content restrictions. A few top-tier publications have a strict PG-13 content restrictions, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I just have trouble writing without an R-rating. I have a strict rule that the word “fuck” must appear at least twice in every one of my stories (a personal failing, I know).
  • Ignorance. Yep, finally, there are probably lots of great markets I just don’t know much or anything about. Please enlighten me in the comments if you know of one that should be on my list.

So, there’s my gauntlet run (so far) and the reasons new stories typically go to these markets first. Got a gauntlet run of your own? Maybe for another genre? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

It Came from My Hard Drive! Part 3 – A Red Night

Once again I’ve delved deep into the digital ruins of my hard drive and unearthed a tidbit of ancient fiction. Well, seven years ancient, but it’s never been read by anyone. (You’ll have to decide if it should have stayed that way.) This is yet another piece from when I was an RPG designer/writer/editor for Goodman Games (posted with their kind permission). Like the others in this series, “The High Road” and “The Challenge,” this is from an unpublished manuscript for a player-oriented 4E Dungeons & Dragons supplement. Also, like the others, this is a vignette meant to introduce a gaming concept through the narrative, in this case a wresting/boxing-type option for the the fighter class. (I know, grappling; what was I thinking?)

As I was reading this thing for the first time in seven years, I realized it’s a Robert E. Howard (Conan) pastiche (sincere apologies to REH fans). I can’t remember if that was on purpose or not, but there you have it. Anyway, this one is called “A Red Night,” and it comes with the usual warnings for this series. It’s basically a first draft, high fantasy world, blah, blah, blah.


A Red Night

Narl studied his target from across the crowded tavern, barely noticing the noise and stink of the Wastrel’s patrons. A full tankard sat untouched on the stained table in front of the half-orc assassin, but he was not drinking. This was a red night, and he needed to keep his wits sharp to complete his contract, for this was no ordinary target. This was no fat priest or slovenly merchant with muscles of sodden dough and fighting skills that would shame a child. This target was dangerous.

His name was Bjorngar the Great, an infamous pirate captain whose moniker Narl had found ridiculous until he’d seen the northerner in the flesh. Narl was hardly small, but Bjorngar dwarfed him. The massive human was well over seven feet tall and had to be three hundred and fifty pounds at least, most of it iron muscle by the look of him. To make matters worse, the red-haired pirate was armed with a long-hafted executioner’s axe, a weapon far too massive for anyone without Bjorngar’s strength and size to wield properly. If his sources were correct, and they usually were, his target could swing that axe with a skill that bordered on supernatural.

Despite his target’s physical advantages, Narl was not overly concerned. Bjorngar lacked the training of a Black Throat assassin, training that had turned Narl’s body into a living weapon more than a match for the best armed and armored warrior. Plus, he had another advantage: Bjorngar had been drinking steadily for the better part of the night. Most of his crew had either retired or lay in a drunken coma around their humongous captain, who sat behind a graveyard of empty flagons.

The giant northerner suddenly lurched to his feet, lurched around the heaped and snoring bodies of his crew, and then staggered toward the tavern’s front door. It was what Narl had been waiting for, and when Bjorngar walked out into the night, the assassin counted to thirty then followed.

The Wastrel was one of the more popular taverns in the port district, and this late at night, it was one of the few businesses still open. When Narl stepped outside, Bjorngar was nowhere in sight, but he soon heard the sound of piss splashing against brick in the alley next to the Wastrel. He crept into the concealing shadows of the narrow corridor of trash-strewn dirt that connected Eel Shadow Road and the Way of the Mermaid. Business and personal dwellings crowded in on either side, blocking the silver glow of the moon and creating a stretch of blackness that was nearly complete. Narl’s orcish blood allowed him to see in the gloom, and he spied his mark a short way down the alley, leaning against the wall and voiding enough steaming urine to fill a horse trough. The great oaf had left his weapon in the tavern.

Narl smiled. At no time was a man more vulnerable than when he had his most prized possession in hand. The half-orc glided toward his target, his massive hands outstretched to seize Bjorngar from behind. From there he would lock his arms around the big northerner’s bull neck, and not even Bjorngar the Great’s great strength would save him from being throttled to death. He was within a few feet of Bjorngar, who was still doing his best to piss a hole in the stone wall of the Wastrel, when the northerner whirled around, spraying Narl with a shower of warm urine. The disgusting assault caused him to recoil for an instant, long enough for his foe to reach out with one apishly long arm and grab him by the throat.

Bjorngar’s grip was like a steel vice, and Narl realized his target was not as drunk as he should be. He twisted like an eel, momentarily slipping free, but again, the northerner’s absurdly long reach allowed him to lock his fingers around Narl’s shoulder and pull him back and off-balance. He became alarmingly aware his opponent was not only far larger and stronger than he, but he was also no stranger to unarmed fighting. With a twist of his hips and feet, Bjorngar spun Narl around and pulled him into a bear hug, locking both gargantuan arms around the half-orc’s back. Narl squirmed and fought, slamming his fists into Bjorngar’s head and shoulders, but the pirate’s strength was unrelenting.

“I’ve always wanted to try my strength against one of you Black Throat killers,” Bjorngar said, blowing ale-sodden breath into Narl’s face, and grinning. “I’ll be very disappointed if you’re the best they have.” The northerner’s grip tightened, crushing the breath from Narl’s lung’s and turning his shout for help into a weak, rattling gasp. He slipped into darkness to Bjorngar’s booming laughter and the sound of his vertebrae snapping like rotten twigs.

Fightin’ Fiction II: 3 More Melee Myths

Since the first article I did in this Fightin’ Fiction series was so popular, I thought I’d double down and do another one in the same vein. So, here you go, three MORE melee myths.

Like the last article, this one is aimed at authors who would like to add more realism to melee combat in their work. The first article covered some broad stroke concepts, but I’m going get just a bit more granular with this article. Again, everything here should be taken as advice on writing melee combat in a very specific way. It is NOT the only way to write melee combat nor is it the BEST way to write melee combat. It’s a stylistic choice, and if it suits you, awesome. If it doesn’t suit you, also awesome. Also, yes, I’ve broken every one of these “rules” in my own writing, shamefully bowing to the almighty “cuz it sounds/looks cool.”

And away we go!

1) Heroes don’t wear helmets (but they should). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a hero on screen armored everywhere EXCEPT the one place that would likely result in her death if she were hit there. I mean, come on, if you armor everything else and leave your head bare, you’re basically saying to every enemy on the battlefield, “Hit me right HERE!”

Like armor and shields, helmets work really, really well. Hell, they might be the single most important bit of armor on a warrior’s body. Most helmets were shaped so that blows from weapons would slide off them to some degree, blunting the impact of the strike. As with body armor, thick padding was worn beneath the helmet to absorb even more of the impact. There’s ample evidence that helmets saved the lives of their wearers, and it’s kind of hard to imagine a warrior going into battle without one. I sure as hell wouldn’t.

The fix: So, yeah, I do understand why heroes don’t wear helmets on screen. They want you to see the actor’s face (and probably hear him or her speak). But you don’t have that limitation when you’re writing, so give your heroes (and bad guys) helmets to go along with their armor and show those helmets working every now and then. Have your hero take a shot to the head that rings his bell but doesn’t cleave his skull because of the helmet. Or, do the reverse: have your hero level a mighty blow against the bad guys melon, only to have her blade deflected by his cunningly wrought helm.

2) More than the blade. This one is kind of sword specific, but nearly every medieval and renaissance fighting manual I’ve seen teaches that the blade is not the only part of a sword that can be used to attack an opponent. The quillons and the pommel can make great weapons in certain circumstances, especially when close in. Smashing a guy in the teeth with the steel pommel of your longsword will definitely ruin his day. A warrior could also flip her sword around, grab it by the blade (it really won’t cut you that way), and use the quillons like a pick against heavy armor. There’s also half-swording, which is technically still using the blade, but the warrior grasps the blade in the middle with one hand and uses the sword more like a spear or dagger to gain extra power and control in a thrust, which can be useful against heavy armor.

The fix: Easy, have you hero smash bad guys in the face with the pommel of his sword when he’s in close, half-sword that dude in chainmail to death, or flip his sword around and use the pick-like quillons to end that mook in the flat-top helm.

3) Two weapons is better than one? I know; this one hurts. Wielding two weapons is cool, and hey, you have two swords or battleaxes or warhammers or whatever, so you can attack twice as much, right? Well, not really, especially if you have two longish weapons. One will invariably get tangled with the other and reduce your attack vectors. I’m not saying it was never done, just that it’s not all that great except in very specific circumstances. When you do see it historically, it’s almost never on the battlefield. Why? Well, it seems there were three primary weapon systems for foot soldiers on a medieval field of battle. (I really can’t see a situation where dual-wielding would be a good choice for cavalry.)

  • Weapon and a shield. This system is great for a couple of things. As I said in the last post, having a small, mobile wall in front of you is handy for keeping the bad guys’ weapons from splitting your skull. In formation, shields let you make a big mobile wall with your buddies (a shield wall), which is damn good at keeping missile weapons from killing you (missile weapons were kind of common on medieval battlefields). Oh, and here’s a pro tip, weapon and shield IS dual-wielding because a shield can easily be used as an offensive weapon, and a very effective one at that. Just sayin’.
  • Two-handed Weapon. The second weapon system was a two-handed weapon, usually something in the spear/polearm family. These are great for penetrating heavy armor (more leverage), and they’re just fucking wonderful in formations, allowing you to presents a forest of pikes or halberds to the enemy. That’s a pretty intimidating battlefield formation that’s effective against infantry and cavalry, who could absolutely murder foot soldiers out of formation.
  • Missile weapon. The last weapon system is a missile weapon of some kind, which, with a few rare exceptions, requires two hands (and even the one-handed type were usually paired with a shield). Missile weapons are great because you can kill the enemy without getting close to him, and when there’s a bunch of folks with missile weapons you can do cool stuff like make Spartans fight in the shade and whatnot.

So, you see, there’s really not a good reason to dual wield on the battlefield. It’s not great in formation, it won’t keep arrows off you, it won’t let you fire arrows of your own, and it won’t keep cavalry from riding you down and slaughtering you. As I said, it’s not that dual-wielding was never done, but when you do see it, it’s typically  in a civilian setting, and the off-hand weapon is smaller and primarily for defensive purposes.

Here’s a great video posted by Skallagrim (great channel, by the way), where two HEMA instructors discuss two-weapon fighting at length with demonstrations. They show a couple of ways it can work and some reasons it doesn’t. Keep in mind, this is not a discussion of a battlefield situation. It’s taken from the point of view of civilian dueling (no armor).

The fix: Hey, I can overlook the odd two-weapon fighting bad-ass here and there, but if you really do want something a little more realistic, use the dual-wielders sparingly and away from the battlefield if you can help it. Also, make those that do use that style all the time very special individuals (they’d have to be to fight like that and stay alive).


There you go. Three more melee myths to heed or ignore in your own combat scenes. As usual, if you have any experience in this area yourself, use the comments to chime in. Or, if you just want to tell me why your dual-battleaxe-wielding bad-ass doesn’t NEED a helmet, please do so below.

August 2016 Submission Statement

Well, August was certainly better than July, where I did pretty much nothin’ in terms of submissions. I managed to get a few stories out last month, and I even snagged an acceptance and a publication.

August Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Other: 0
  • Publications: 1

Rejections

Here’s the lone August rejection.

Rejection 1: 8/14/16

Thank you for submitting work to our Flash Icon contest. There were some incredibly high-quality entries submitted this time around. 

Unfortunately, “XXX” didn’t make it into our Top 10. However, we encourage contest participants to submit these stories for consideration in our regular issues (free to submit) if you’d like to do so. 

Thanks so much for your participation. We couldn’t do these contests without you. 

This is another entry into one of The Molotov Cocktail’s flash fiction contest. This one was called Flash Icon and challenged writers to include an iconic person, place, or thing. I went kind of far afield on this one and chose an obscure monster from Greek mythology as my “iconic” thing. I don’t know why I thought a hecatonchire, even a named one, would be even remotely iconic, but there you go. I’m not saying that’s why this story didn’t place, but I’m guessing it didn’t help.

Acceptances

One acceptance, and, yep, it’s from the same place as the one rejection for the month

Acceptance 1: 8/14/16

Once again you’ve dazzled us with some strange and compelling flash fiction. “The Father of Terror” has won 2nd place in Flash Icon. Dead cats and slumbering Egyptian demons are right up our alley.

By now, you know the drill. This piece will be included in the mega-issue by mid-week and it will be in the Prize Winners Anthology due out this fall. 

A very nice acceptance letter, and I always love working with the folks over at The Molotov Cocktail. My story “The Father of Terror” took second place in the Flash Icon contest. My iconic thing in this one was the Sphinx, and I’m not saying my choice of an ancient, immediately recognizable structure was the key to my story placing, but it’s a damn sight better than a Greek monster no one has heard of.

Anyway, always nice to get another one on the board, and the fact that it’s with one of my favorite publications is just icing on the cake.

Publications

Yep, it’s a three-for. The one publication is at, you guessed it, The Molotov Cocktail.

“The Father of Terror” was published in their Flash Icon mega-issue, which you can read right here. As usual, this contest collection is chocked full of great stories, and if you dig horror and flash fiction, it’s  a must-read.

flashiconcoverfinal1

The other thing I’d like to call your attention to is not a publication but a flash fiction contest out at Red Sun Magazine. You might remember they published my story “Paper Cut,” and they’ve been kind enough to base this contest around my novel Flashpoint and to offer the book as part of the prize packages. Anyway, if you write flash fiction, head over to Red Sun for the official rules.

Red-Sun-cover


That was my August. Tell me about yours.