Category Archives: Interviews

Hangout with AJ Cosmo June 2016-Report Cards, Poop, and Jar Jar Binks

It’s been awhile but AJ Cosmo and I were able to catch up again.

TL:DR

We cover these topics:

  • Writing groups are great ways to keep you FROM writing.
  • AJ’s next book is called Hugs and was written for a mom who is reader of AJs.
  • His next middle grade book is called “Poop”–he’ll get on a banned book list and then that will be the end of that.  He’ll be super famous rich.  (The book is actually about health.)
  • I learned from most recent book The Return of the Professor that new books really do help increase sales.
  • Also that I should have added pronunciation guide for Dolbin School.  It’s pronounced DOLE-bin (long o sound.)  I stole the name from Dolby Labs.  When writing the original book in 2013, I needed a name for the school and I have movie posters in my office and I saw the Dolby Labs logo and I adapted name.
  • Writing books for me has become enough to consider it a part-time job.
  • We both are not fans of Scrivner writing software.  When you spend more time trying to learn the software opposed to writing, well, that’s a problem. There I said it.  Glad I got that off my chest.
  • I also talk about the rule that Report cards can only be given out at a certain time on the last day of school, plus AJ spouts his disappointment that Jar Jar wasn’t in The Force Awakens.

Check our previous hangout.

Get AJ’s latest book Nuts:

And you can pick up my latest book The Return of the Professor.

 

Hangout with AJ Cosmo

AJ and I did a Hangout back in January, and I just realized that I had not posted it here.  (It’s on Youtube, and my Facebook page.)

We spent time talking about our school visit to Potomac Elementary.

We discuss our current projects, including my next book Dolbin School 3.

Also check out AJ’s latest book Nuts.

If these videos help anyone let us know by leaving a comment.

Check it out below:

 

An eight year old publishes a book-Interview with Max and Martin Weiss

I admit it. I am jealous.

Max Weiss is 8 years.

Max Weiss

And Max has published a book- The Baseball King.

I was 39 when I first published.  Ugh, Max is so far ahead of the curve.

Okay, jealousy aside.

Max does want to be a pro baseball player when he grows up.  Good for him.

Max is an entrepreneur as well.  He sold an early version of the book to his neighbors.

I learned about Max through is father, Martin Weiss (Wow, what a great name!)

Martin shared his story in a Facebook group Choose Yourself, so I HAD to learn more.

Max and Marty were nice enough to answer some questions for me.

(Seriously read this.  There is a lot to learn and admire here.)

  1. Max, how long have you been playing baseball? As long as I can remember. It’s been something like 4 years since I’ve been playing. I started with t-ball. I hope to play for the Boston Red Sox when I grow up. I will play first base or shortstop. Right now I play all positions, but the ones I’m really good at are shortstop, first base and pitcher.
  2. Max, what prompted you to go out and sell one-page copies of the book to your neighbors? One day I was bored and I was thinking about baseball so I though how about I write a book. So I wrote a story and I sold some copies to the neighbors for one dollar. It was good so I thought I should charge money for it. My dad told me now to go back those neighbors and give them the new hard cover book for free.
  3. Is there another book on the way? Maybe there might be a lot of books that I might write soon. Who knows? If I did, I’d write about basketball. When I grow up I might write more books. But I might not be an author if I’m a baseball player. I’m thinking about starting a YouTube channel about different games before I write another book. My other idea is to start a charity for kids who want baseball equipment but don’t have enough money to get it.
  4. Marty, being a member of the Choose Yourself group on Facebook, how long have you been reading James Altucher’s work? I’ve been reading James Altucher’s work since about 2011. A friend of mine, Patrick, first introduced me to him. He had sent me an email saying that I had reminded him of Altucher (albeit he was sure to mention that I was a taller version). I first really became intrigued with Altucher related to his supposed interest in a particular stock at the time that I was following. I slowly became more and more interested in his writings. I do remember the one thing that seemed to really intrigue me about him was his honesty. I remember thinking about how he says things that others would be too afraid to write, yet they are things that perhaps many of us had actually pondered ourselves.
  5. Tell the story again of how you got the Carlton Fisk quote. As the book project continued, I kept coming up with many more ideas. One that I thought that would be really great was to get a current or former Major League Baseball player to write a blurb for the book. I originally asked Max to offer up some names of players. We initially sent out a couple letters to current players (and I believe perhaps even my child-hood, favorite Wade Boggs). Given that I knew sometimes it could take months to get a response from players, I thought it might be best we looked at retired players. It also dawned upon me too that a retired player is more likely to cross generations, which I thought would be great for the book. Max and I agreed upon Carlton Fisk. He certainly knew he was through a Red Sox event we attended locally (Winter Weekend at Foxwoods), and of course Fisk’s iconic World Series home run. I discovered Fisk is an honorary board member of the Cancer Support center. I had then simply sent the appropriate draft copies, along with our request, and a nominal check made out to the Cancer Support Center. Most importantly I was very clear and sincere in my personal note that I expected him to keep the charitable contribution regardless. I thought for example, that this wasn’t necessarily as simple as asking for an autograph and could understand a number of reasons as to why he might not agree to a blurb. Ultimately, Max and I were so ecstatic to receive our request back from Fisk upon which he had written a note on our sample cover print out, which read: “Go for it Max. Good luck,” which he had signed.
  6. With your son writing the book, you formatting and uploading the book, and your mother this seems to be a family affair. Are there other entrepreneurial projects involving the whole family? The key thing about this project was being able to show to Max the relationship between ideas and execution. I was proud even with his initial execution, and wanted to further demonstrate the tools and resources, which are so easily available today to make things happen. While it still requires hard work, many resources have been democratized, and so much is possible or at least a lot more accessible than a decade ago. Beyond the initial entrepreneurial spirit he demonstrated, it was certainly the thought of Max’s grandmother (my mom), having the skills to draw the illustrations, which led me to the conversation with Max around taking this book idea even further. I really liked the idea, that this was a family affair. While not given credit in the book, Max’s aunt (my sister) helped with the editing. She’s a wonderful teacher, and really enjoys what she does. Aside from the experience for Max, it’s been a lot of fun for me as well. Having an excuse for example for putting up a Web site (www.TheBaseballKing.com). And yes there are other entrepreneurial projects. Specifically we sell a few products on Amazon.com. This is a lot of fun as well. Particularly as my wife enjoys testing the products, and the boys help me out with things like packaging and sticking labels on products to be sent to Amazon for fulfillment. There of course have been those one off projects. One baseball season for example, I involved my kids in a video project in which we created fun to watch team videos, slightly customized for each child.
  7. What else should people know about the project? I think my mom is confused as to the “seriousness” of it. At first, I’m not sure she understood how far we planned on taking this. Yet at the same time, I believe she probably thinks today it’s a lot more serious that it actually is. I really didn’t want to stress her out in having to do so many illustrations; particularly knowing she doesn’t do this kind of art (oil paintings and realistic portraits is more her forte). My vision was simply some black and white drawings taking inspiration form Shel Silverstein’s books. I had told my mom, she could just draw stick figures. Given what we’ve done with the book today, my mom wishes for example she had used charcoal paper and not just plain typing paper to do the illustrations, and of course is critical of her own work and insists she would have done a better job. I love the illustrations, and also like the “rawness” of the illustrations in that they appear to be hand-drawn in the book. The other interesting aspect to the book was the editing process. It was important to keep Max’s original story intact as much as possible. Heck, I have several books myself published by major publishers, and the editing done on Max’s book is minuscule relative to what the editors had done to my books! For Max it was mostly punctuation, capitalization and spelling. There are aspects of the story we questioned internally, but never mentioned to Max. In fact, we even rationalized some of these things in our head as if the author had purpose. For example, when the boys are playing ball, we found it odd that Max chose the Yankees (He’s a HUGE Red Sox fan!). But interestingly the boy who chose the Red Sox is the one to go on and become the baseball king … and of course why would he have a Yankee become the hero? That raised another thought as well though. We found it interesting and perhaps selfless, that Max’s friend Ryan is that character, and not Max himself. Rather, he takes the backseat. In another example, we thought about having him add to the story of who won the game when he tells the score of the children. Again, we had to step back, and we thought, let it be. Perhaps the beauty here is as the two young boys playing together, it wasn’t really relevant who won. I am afraid that years later, Max will ding me for the one change I made, in which he may later express his mad reasoning … Max at the end of the story is the opposing team’s catcher. In his original story, he was the umpire. Aside from making some nuances with the illustrations come together, I felt there was a conflict of interest of having Max be the umpire for his friend, Ryan in the World Series.

 

There is so much to learn from this interview.  So thank you guys  for taking the time to answer my questions.

Oh and Max, yes, you can be a baseball player an author.  Derek Jeter released his first book, the same week I released a baseball book.  (Guess who did better in the rankings.)

So you can do both.

Oh, and you can help kids that don’t have enough money for baseball equipement.

Glad to know know kids like you exist Max.

 

So go ahead and check out the book’s website.

Also Martin Weiss is a pretty accomplished fellow as well.  He write computer/IT books.  Check out his Amazon page.

Here is info on Max and his grandmother.

 

March Hangout with AJ Cosmo

It’s been a couple of months since AJ and I have been able to do a Hangout as my day job of teaching fifth grade gets VERY busy during January and February.  But we were finally able to catch up.

We talk about the strangeness of digital piracy, writing longer books, growing a Twitter following, using your email list to reach your readers, and doing pre-release with Amazon KDP.

Also I know there are a lot of teachers that read my stuff so I have added a comprehension packet to my Insider’s list freebies.

Kevin Books TPT giveaway

Get a free ebook copy of Kevin and the Seven Lions plus the comprehension pack by Nikki Sabiston, who is a fourth grade teacher in Virginia.  Check out her blog here.

To get the book and comprehension packet join my Insider’s List.

Interview with Steven K. Smith writer of The Virginia Mysteries Series

Steve is a writer right here in Richmond, come to find out we’re only a few minutes from other but we met through the wonder of Amazon and the internet.

Steven Smith

He has written, The Virginia Mystery Series, a series of adventure books about brothers Derek and Sam who move to Virginia, and get into a series of adventures based on great history that is here in the state.

I finally picked up the series when it was a Bookbub feature. (And it looks like his experience was even better than mine.  No jealousy here…)

So I reached out to Steve after I picked up the book, and sent him some questions.  He was nice enough to answer.

 

What did you write before these books?

I’ve always loved to write, but it’s had many starts and stops along the way throughout my life. I really started up in earnest about five years ago after my youngest was born. I found myself the dad to three boys under the age of six, which was simultaneously exciting and exhausting. I started a blog called MyBoys3.com as a way to capture some of the daily adventures that found their way into our busy home. After a few years writing blog posts, I started writing bedtime stories that I thought my kids would enjoy to hear. The story started coming together and I realized it could be a book, and a few months later, Summer of the Woods was born.

Did you ever try to get an agent or send them to publishers?

I’ve never attempted to go the traditional publishing route with my books, and I don’t regret it. Since writing books kind of snuck up on me, I hadn’t put a lot of time into researching how to work with a publisher. In my day job I work for a company that grew out of an online Manhattan startup, so I’m used to working in new ventures and really enjoy the entrepreneurial mindset. I started learning about indie publishing and found it very exciting to be in control of my product from start to finish. Some people don’t seem to enjoy that part, but I find it a lot of fun to start my own imprint, MyBoys3 Press, hire editors, cover designers, and work on marketing efforts. I listen to a lot of indie publishing podcasts in the car and on planes, and given the state of the traditional publishing industry, I don’t think I’d be able to make that jump now that I’m used to running it all myself.

Are there any more books planned for the series?

Yes! I’m currently working on a fourth book for the series that is tied into the historic Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond. My hope is to keep them coming a couple per year since kids seem to really enjoy them. I’d also like to try my hand at a young adult or older book at some point in the future, but I think that’s going to take a bit more work to get used to the writing style. The great thing about books is that the content is evergreen. There are always going to be new young readers coming along through elementary school that are looking for exciting stories to explore. With Print on Demand and eBooks, once books are out there, they don’t go away like they used to after just a few months on bookstore shelves. That’s exciting from both a creative and business standpoint.

How did your Bookbub experience go?

I tried for a long time to get approved for a Bookbub deal. They rejected me at least a handful of times. After I finished Book 3 last fall, I created a box set for the Kindle version of the three-book series. I decided to take a risk and offer them for a big discount to see if I could catch Bookbub’s attention and pull in a lot of new readers at the same time. This time they bit, and the sales from the ad covered my marketing costs by nearly tenfold. The experience reinforced to me that as a writer, and really any kind of entrepreneur, you need to keep trying new things. Some of them (most of them, probably) won’t work, but some will, and that is what’s going to keep your business driving forward. But you probably wouldn’t have found the one that worked if you didn’t try a bunch.

Being new to Richmond, how did you research the town to develop the background to the story?

I moved to Richmond about four years ago from New Jersey to be closer to family. My wife grew up in Virginia, and my parents and sister all settled in the general area too, so it felt like home very quickly. I was a political science and business major in college so I’ve always enjoyed taking a lot of history classes. As I watched what my sons were learning in school and started exploring the area, history seemed to be lurking around every corner. My first book is mostly a straight adventure story, but for the second and third books, I intentionally tied some of the historical people and places that I was learning into the mix. My new tagline for the series is “adventures with a twist of history.” I think too often history gets a bad rap as being boring, but when you mix it into an exciting mystery or adventure, kids love it and they get to learn some cool things about our nation and the area they live in at the same time. It has also given me a natural connection to local historical sites like St. John’s Church, Colonial Williamsburg, and the American Civil War Museum which are all carrying my books, as well as with teachers and librarians who like the tie-ins to what their students are learning.

 

Thanks to Steve for taking time out to answer my questions.

Catch up with Steve on his site Myboys3.com

Check him out on Twitter @myboysthree

Or on Facebook

Check out interviews I have done with other indie-writers.

Interview with Annie Fox

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and is having a great holidays.  A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Annie Fox about her new book The Girls Q and A book on Friendships.

Annie is an educator and worked with girls, parents, and teachers on having better relationships.

I also found out her husband worked for Lucasfilm for a decade.  Cool side note in that conversation.

Check out her book, and our conversation below.

Also if you are new to my work my best-selling book Kevin and the Three-Headed Alien is a Kindle Countdown Deal this week for 99 cents. I would love for you to check it out.

If you are interested in getting this info early with additional info joined my Insider’s List.   (You’ll also get two free short stories.)

Hangout with A. J. Cosmo. We discuss his Monster A-Z series and children’s indie-publishing

AJ and I talked twice on Google.  This time didn’t record because frankly I didn’t know what I was doing.

After Youtube told us the video was removed for being too long, Youtube changed its mind and let the video up.

Don’t worry you only see my face for a few minutes, I eventually switch it to AJ.  And I didn’t (still don’t) know how to show both of us in the window.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15uv3xbBk8M]

Check out the interview I did with AJ last year.

If you are interested more great content like this, as well as free books, and other exclusive content I would love for you to join my Insider List.

Interview with Darren Pillsbury-Author of Peter and the Monster books

I recently read Peter and the Dead People, by Darren Pillsbury. The first book in the Peter and the Monster series. I read it in Peter and the Vampires, a collection of the first four Peter stories. I found the book as a freebie on Amazon. Darren has put out over 20 books about Peter. I found Peter and the Dead People to be tightly written and highly enjoyable. The story involves Peter Normal moving into his grumpy Grandfather’s creepy house, and meeting a new friend Dill. Peter and Dill get into trouble by not following his grandfather’s instruction of “Not going into the garden!” Reading the story I felt like I was watching a good 1980’s monster movie, along the lines of Goonies. Very enjoyable.


I read the book and immediately wanted to connect with the author. That’s what I love about the 21st century, I can reach out much easier to people whose work I respect. I don’t need to track down some mailing address. Email does the job just fine. And yes, I now email people I don’t personally know and ask them questions. Shockingly most of the time they actually respond. That’s how I roll these days.  I recommend it.

I want to highlight good indie children’s writers. Most indie writers that are highlighted are, sci-fi, fantasy, and romance writers. Hello, there are good indie children’s writers out there as well.

So I emailed Darren some questions and he was kind enough to answer my questions in excellent detail.

You first self-published “Imaginary Friends” in 2007. How has self-publishing changed for you since then?

It’s gotten ten times easier, with the possibilities of gaining new readers a thousand times better than before. When I self-published Imaginary Friends in 2007, it was largely a paper-only world. The print version was difficult to set up; I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get distribution just on Amazon; and because it was printed on paper, the end product was exorbitantly priced. (It didn’t help that I tried to make a $4 profit on each book.) Who in their right mind is going to gamble $12 on an unknown author they’ve never even heard of before?

But ebooks are cheap and relatively easy to produce. You can offer them for 99 cents on Amazon, and for $0 on virtually every other retailer. (In fact, by jumping through some hoops, you can offer them for $0 on Amazon, too… sometimes.) A lot more people will take a chance on you at 99 cents or $0 than at $12 – at least a thousand times more people.

You have written 26 Peter stories so far. Where do you get ideas for the stories? Are there more Peter stories coming?

I usually come up with the monster (or villain) first… and then I think, what can I do that will make this monster different from other depictions I’ve seen? Sometimes it’s a little different, sometimes it’s a lot. Novelty isn’t the main goal – a good story is, one that either freaks you out or makes you laugh or just plain entertains you. But if I can put a twist on the monster, I prefer to do that.

Examples: usually vampires are depicted as adults, or when they are children, they are secondary characters (as in Interview With A Vampire). I thought, “What if your main villain wasn’t some scary guy in a black cloak, or a Nosferatu-looking freak, but a little girl in the same fourth-grade class as you who died and came back with tiny fangs, eyes black as a Great White’s, and the ability to fly? And what’s worse, she has a crush on you?”

Sometimes it starts with a fear I had as a kid. I saw an episode of the 70’s animated Spiderman cartoon where a bunch of mannequins come to life and attack Spidey, and it freaked me out at the time. Because, hey, mannequins are everywhere at the mall. What if they’re really alive?

A lot of times, it’s just a fantasy – a cool thing I wish I could have done as a kid. Who wouldn’t want to encounter a yeti while skiing? Who wouldn’t want to go into a hall of mirrors and see something really terrifying in the reflections? (Well, maybe some people wouldn’t. But I would.)

And yes, there are definitely more stories coming. I originally planned to do 100, but I’ve scaled that back. I think there will probably be 50-60 by the time I’m through.

How would describe your writing process?

Lots and lots of daydreaming. I pace up and down my house, just getting lost in a mental movie I create in my head.

Usually there’s an initial idea, or a specific image or scene I want in the story… and I just start daydreaming about it. Like, “If that happens, how did we get there? And what happens afterwards? And what would happen if…”

Usually I start coming up with other cool scenes or images I want in the story. Conversations between characters and bits of dialogue. After a period of time – sometimes two days, sometimes two months – I think I’ve got enough major events to make a story, so I sit down and do a brief outline. Nothing fancy, just a one-line description of four or five big scenes, along with some of the dialogue. By the time I’ve written all that down, I start getting other ideas on how to make the scenes connect, and I write those down, too. And that’s my roadmap for the rest of the story.

Usually my process is coming up with scenes A, D, F, J, M, Q, T, and X and Z… and then I fill in all the other ‘letters’ as I go, creating the connective tissue between the main scenes I originally wanted in the story.

I think the cover illustrations for your Peter collections are great! Who did those covers?

If you mean the covers for the Volumes – the multi-story collections, like Peter And The Vampires (Volume 1) with the white bat on the red background – a very talented graphic artist by the name of Ronnell D. Porter did them for me. He did them up through Peter And The Witches (Volume 5). After that, because of the economics of my situation, I started doing them for the collections Peter And The Ninja (Volume 6) and Peter And The Ghost (Volume 7).

If you mean the single-story covers, I did those. I have some background with Photoshop. Some of them are pretty good (like #25, Peter And The Kindermord, or #23, Peter And The Ghost)… and others aren’t. If you want to make a serious go of this writing thing, I recommend getting professionally produced covers by a talented graphics artist. It doesn’t have to be super-expensive – if you go to Kboards.com and look at the Author’s Café subforum http://www.kboards.com/index.php?PHPSESSID=iit2id0cnme0lqkv0amabt8r90&board=60.0), they have a resource page with sites of pre-made covers that range from $25 to $75. And you can sometimes find a really good up-and-coming artist who is willing to do quality work for $50 or $75, though the better they are, the more likely you’ll have to spend $150 or more.

We all like to say, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but that is EXACTLY what 99% of readers do. Do NOT put a crappy cover on a book you want to sell, because no one except your family members and closest friends will ever buy it.

Do you have other writing projects coming?

Not in the children’s literature world. I might do an adult sci-fi action book at some point, or something else… but the Peter series is all I’m going to do in the children’s lit world.

What is your advice to others who are wanting to self-publish?

It depends entirely on why you’re doing it, and what you want your endgame to be.

If you are self-publishing as purely creative self-expression or as a hobby – and if you don’t care if you make any money – then do whatever the heck you want. Go wild. Have a ball. Just keep your expectations very low concerning how many copies you’ll sell and how much you’ll make.

If you want to make a career out of self-publishing and eventually make some sort of money at it (whether that’s your car payment, your mortgage, or a full-time living), that’s a different beast entirely.

Your best chances to make a living at writing include doing the following:

– Write in a genre where the readers are passionate about the genre, or there are a TON of readers who read that genre. There don’t HAVE to be a lot of them, but they need to devour books in that genre. Romance is great for this – the average romance reader plows through 2 or 3 ebooks a week. Mystery fans? Same thing. Thrillers, it depends – but everybody reads thrillers. The crumbs from a humongous pie (think a pie as big as the state of Texas) are better than a large slice of a tiny, tiny tartlet.

Other genres are more difficult. You have a fairly good shot in fantasy, military sci-fi, and science fiction. Children’s picture books (for 3 to 5-year-olds) can do very well. Horror, humor, and literary? Not so much. Are there indie writers making a living in those genres? There are indie writers making a living in virtually every genre. But it’s far easier to do it in romance, thrillers, and mysteries.

By the way, children’s series – at least independent children’s series like Peter And The Monsters – don’t sell that well. If you absolutely must write a children’s series aimed at 10 years old and up, do it for the love, not for the money. I do not make enough money to live on with the Peter series, even with 26 books/novelettes and 7 collected volumes.

– Write a series. The hardest part of self-publishing (after you’ve written the first couple) is marketing yourself and finding new readers. If you get a reader hooked on the first book in the series, he’ll keep on coming back. This, incidentally, is one of the few reasons I make ANY money on the Peter series – because people who love the first collected volume tend to read all the rest of them. Standalone novels (stories where the characters only appear in that one novel) are fine, but they’re harder to market than series.

– Write a great book. Do not publish the first thing you write as soon as you finish writing it. I spent over a decade writing, on and off, before I published Imaginary Friends. Work on improving your craft.

Does this mean that you have to write a decade before you publish anything? No! All I mean is to publish the very best book you possibly can, not your first draft! In fact, I suggest you begin getting feedback as soon as you can. Publish your work on Wattpad.com, or on dozens of other similar sites on the internet, and get feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. If you really, really, really want to self-publish right out of the gate, self-publish under a pen name. Or be willing to potentially start publishing under a pen name later.

– Get your book edited – or at least proofread – by someone else, preferably a professional. I did not do this when I started, largely out of economic necessity (and hubris – HEY! I was an English major!). I still cringe when I find typos rereading some of my older stuff.

– Get as cool a cover as you can. It’s the ONLY thing that will catch a potential reader’s eye and make her give your book a second look. Pay for a professional cover if you can afford it. If you can’t, get a professional pre-made cover that’s close to what you want and within your budget. Aim for simple, memorable covers with easily readable type. Don’t get some minutely rendered picture that demands a 6 x 9 inch cover to fully appreciate its beauty. On Amazon, the images range from the size of a postage stamp to roughly 2 x 3 inches. Get a cover that can be shrunk down and people can tell what genre it is, see your name (and hopefully the title), and say, “Oooh, that’s cool-looking.” And make sure your fonts are clean and easily readable. I violated this with my Peter series, and I’m probably still paying for it. The lettering on the single books looks great at full-size… but at postage-stamp dimensions, it borders on illegible. Bad choice on my part. Learn from my mistakes!

– Always make your name (or pen name) VERY BIG and VERY READABLE. You should be selling yourself as a brand. You want people to remember your name first, your book titles second.

– Have a mailing list. This means an automated service where someone can sign up and get email updates on new books you publish. I use Mailchimp. They have paid and free accounts; I recommend the paid because you get an autoresponder, which means you can send people an email automatically as soon as they sign up.

The reason for a mailing list is, if you have a list of people who liked one of your books enough to sign up for updates, you want to be able to contact them directly. You don’t want to gamble that readers will randomly stumble across your new book on Amazon and say, “Oh, wait, didn’t I read that author’s last book?” Don’t leave it to chance.

Another alternative to Mailchimp, at least in the beginning, is to register a free Gmail account and have people send you an email if they want updates. Then keep track of those addresses and email them when your next book comes out. When you get too many addresses and it becomes cumbersome to email everybody, $10 a month will be a bargain for somebody else to automate the process. I failed to start an email list until late in the game, and I am sure I have lost out on hundreds – maybe even thousands – of purchases because of this. Don’t be foolish: free or paid, start an email list with your first book, and prominently feature the link to your sign-up page (or your email address with instructions on what to do to be notified) in everything you publish.

– Once you start publishing pretty good stuff, write as fast as you can. If readers like your books, they generally want MORE, RIGHT NOW. This is a very, very good problem to have (if you’re making enough money to justify it). But if you’re doing this for love, and for love only, never lose sight of that. Rushing out books just to placate a handful of readers will burn you out and eventually make you hate writing. Know your desired end result, and write for that. If it’s more money, then speed is your ally. If this is primarily something you do because you love it, then do whatever you want.

– Be very careful on how you price your books. At Amazon, everything $0.99 to $2.98 gets you 35% royalties. (99 cents is the lowest you can officially charge, though there are ways around this, including going exclusive in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program.) $2.99 to $9.99 gets you 70% royalties. $10 and up gets you only 35% royalties again. Guess how Amazon wants you to price your books?

A $2.99 book will get you $2.00 in royalties. You would have to sell six times as many 99 cent books to make the same amount of profit (99 cents x 35% royalies = 33 cents a book, and .33 cents x 6 books = $1.98).

99 cents is good for short stories, or for first novels in a series to get people to give you a try… but in general, you’re not going to make any money off of 99 cent books. Are there exceptions? Yes. But in general, most financially successful self-publishers charge between $2.99 and $5.99 for full-length novels. Also, these days, 99 cents carries the stigma of ‘cheap’ and ‘low quality.’ Be careful how you represent yourself.

– If you don’t mind some occasional R-rated language, read J.A. Konrath’s blog. I got into ebook self-publishing because of him, and I agree with 90% of everything he says about writing and marketing. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com

– There is a very popular – and in my opinion, pernicious – theory out there that the only marketing you need to do is ‘write another book.’ You say you’re not selling any of your latest book? Just write another one and publish it. Not selling any of that one, too? Write another and don’t worry about it.

BAD IDEA. You need to do a certain amount of marketing. This doesn’t have to be complicated; it can mean writing books you give away for free to lure readers in (and advertising those free books when you give them away). It means having a way (an author’s Facebook page, a blog, and/or an email address) where readers can find you and interact with you. It means experimenting with advertising you can afford. If you’re really outgoing, it means befriending other authors and promoting them to your readers if they will promote you to theirs. Or agreeing to do ‘sampler’ books, or participate in boxed sets, or short story collections – something, ANYTHING, to get your name out there. You don’t have to do all of this at once, or even half of it – for instance, I didn’t get a Facebook author’s page until my 20th fan wrote in asking, “How do I find you on Facebook?” My resolution for 2014 is to utilize Twitter and Goodreads better. But put some effort into marketing yourself and your books, and you’ll get a lot farther than just writing book after book and praying new readers will accidentally discover.

Things that DON’T work: don’t spam people on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else with “Buy my book! Buy my book!” It doesn’t work. Seriously. Don’t be that person. If you want to use social media, put in the time to engage other people, build up real connections, be interesting… and then mention, ‘Hey, I just put out my newest book.’ People will be a lot more interested than if you tweet “BUY MY BOOK!” 270 times in a row.

Now, is it important to ‘write the next book’ as soon as you can? Yes, it’s EXTREMELY important. But put forth at least a little effort so new readers can find you, and current readers can strengthen their bond with you.

– If a reader contacts you, whether by Facebook, blog comments, or email, always contact them back. You never know when one friendly email might convert a casual reader to a fan for life.

– Consider going ‘permafree’ with your first book once you have at least two books in a series, preferably three. ‘Permafree’ means the first book is permanently free. You want people to take the free sample, get hooked, and buy the rest of your product. Without a doubt, permafree is the only reason I made ANY money on my Peter books: the first book in the series is free, which lures in new readers. It’s not always easy to get Amazon to make a book permafree – officially it’s against their terms of service – but there are ways. Google ‘Smashwords + Amazon + permafree’ to find out more.

Keep your expectations realistic, though. Only about 3 to 10% of people who download free books actually ever read them.

– I use ‘Amazon’ a lot to refer to the entire ebook market, but know that there’s BarnesAndNoble.com (they make the Nook ereader), iTunes, Kobo, and Google Play, plus ebook distributors like Smashwords.com and Draft2Digital.com that will take one copy of your book and convert it and distribute it to many, many different sites (for a cut of the proceeds, of course). Do your homework and decide what’s best for you – to go exclusive with Amazon and get 5 free promotional days out of every 90 (the KDP Select program), or go for diversity and try to reach as wide a potential audience as possible.

Whatever you do, though, PUBLISH ON AMAZON. Amazon accounts for 90% of my revenues. That’s not true of all writers, but it’s true of many. Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla of the US ebook market. Ignore it at your peril.

– Grow a thick skin. (This is one thing I continue to fail miserably at.) Listen to constructive criticism, and try to ignore the rest.

Once you are reasonably happy with your writing – and once you’ve received enough reviews that a single 1-star won’t tank the entire rating for your book – stop reading reviews posted on Amazon and other retailers. It’s basically seeking validation from other people, and there will always be people who hate your work. Some will have valid reasons, others are just jackholes. Assemble a group of people whose opinion you trust, who like the genre you are writing in, and then listen to their opinion rather than to random people on the internet. The problem is that few reviewers give truly constructive criticism on how to improve your writing. It’s usually, “I loved this!” or “It was okay” or “I hated this – there’s no happy ending!” Reviews with great advice are usually few and far between. If you think you can get insights from reviews, but you handle criticism horribly, get someone you trust to read through them and summarize the nuggets of gold. Believe me, a good review will give you a sugar high for five minutes, but a vicious review can destroy your whole day and sap your energy to write. Why do that to yourself?

Now, does that mean ignore your readers? No. If people write you emails (and you should always include your email address in your books), listen to those opinions, even if they are somewhat negative, and even if you end up disagreeing with what they say. Reviewers acting under anonymity sometimes take that license to be raging buttholes. People who write you directly usually aren’t going to be absolute jerks – they’re more thoughtful, and they have to attach a real email address to what they send you.

If you can handle criticism no matter how spiteful it is, you’re golden. If you can’t… and I certainly can’t… protect your energy and your inner writer at all costs.

– The best advice on feedback I have ever heard comes from Stephen King. To paraphrase him, assemble ten people who like the genre you write and whose opinion you trust. (These can be fans you recruit, whose emails impressed you with their thoughtfulness and intelligence, not just people who suck up to you and tell you you’re brilliant. Surrounding yourself with ‘yes-men’ will do you no favors.) Give them the book after you have finished writing and editing it and you think it’s basically ready to go. If five or more people mention something as a problem – not liking the hero, the dialogue is bad, pacing is off, the ending is flat – then it’s probably an issue you need to address with another rewrite. If everybody dislikes something, but they all dislike different things, you can safely ignore all of them.

What’s the hardest part of the act of writing?

Making yourself sit down and actually do it. The time leading up to getting my butt in the chair is the absolute hardest part, because I can always think of a dozen things I would rather do. When I’m actually in the groove, there’s nothing better than writing. But I have to keep forcing myself to do it every time, over and over and over – just get my butt in the chair and start.

What’s the hardest part of writing as a career?

If you’ve never written a book, then it’s finishing the first one. That’s tough. Don’t ever, ever go back and start revising until you’ve written the final page. I did that with my first novel years and years ago, and I still haven’t finished it. Been meaning to forever, though…

Once you’ve written a couple of books and you’re self-published, then marketing is pretty tough. At least for me. Other than giving books away and talking to fans, I don’t particularly like marketing. But you’ll go a LOT farther as a pretty good writer and a persistent marketer than you will as a brilliant writer and a crappy marketer. I wish that weren’t the case, but over and over again, I see persistent marketers end up doing well, no matter how good their writing is. There are always exceptions, but 95% of success stories lean toward people who continuously go out and try to get new readers (in non-tacky, non-spammy ways) and who interact often with their fans. Now, hopefully you’re a brilliant writer and a persistent marketer writing in a viable genre. If so, the world’s your oyster. But just know that, over the long run, ignoring marketing is a fast ticket to Zero Salesville. And even if you’re not doing it for the money, presumably you would like SOMEONE to read your books and enjoy them. So work on both writing AND marketing.

Sorry if all this advice is overwhelming. But these are the things I wish somebody had told me when I was starting out. I probably wouldn’t have listened to them… but after six months of beating my head against the wall, I might have said, “Huh, maybe I ought to go back and take a second look at that advice…”

Thanks Darren.  I think this advice is solid.

If you are interested in monster books I would definately check out his Peter and the Monsters books.

The above links take you to Amazon.  I love Amazon.  You can also check out Darren’s books on Nook:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/peter-and-the-vampires-darren-pillsbury/1100686093?ean=2940011309281&format=nook-book

On iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/peter-vampires-volume-one/id452735081?mt=11&uo=4

On Kobo:

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/peter-and-the-vampires-volume-one

And lastly on Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/58850

Also check out my interviews with best selling children writers, AJ Cosmo and Raymond Bean.

Raymond Bean-Best Selling Children’s author answers some questions. Only one question about farts though.

I am a teacher, and I write books.  I am not the only one.  Raymond Bean teaches 4th grade in New York City, and has two best selling series with Amazon, Sweet Farts and School is a Nightmare.  He teaches 4th and I will be teaching 5th, and judging by pictures we both seem to have the same hairline.  But the difference stops there, as he has written two series and is on his way to releasing a third series.

He was nice enough to answer a handful of questions.  But it was how we came to connect through James Altucher deserves a mention.  James is also a best-selling indie-publisher whose recent Choose Yourself sold over 40,000 copies in it’s first month.  Enough to put him on the Wall Street Journal’s best seller’s list, and the New York times for that matter.  But because he didn’t sell them in stores the New York Times list doesn’t include his work.  That’s a post for another time. (See my review of Choose Yourself.  James retweeted my review, and consequently that was the biggest day on my blog so far.  There is a lesson there.)

James does a weekly ask me anything through Twitter on Thursday afternoons.  Typically I can’t participate because I am in school during that time, but during July my schedule is a little more open.  After the success of James’ Choose Yourself and a subsequent post on Tech Crunch about self publishing 3.0, I asked him on Twitter how would his advice differ for selling children’s books.  And this is how James replied:

Three things on this:

  1. James thought I asked a great question.
  2. I stumped him enough that he passed me off to Raymond Bean.
  3. I steal James’ idea and interview Raymond myself.

And from there Raymond was nice enough to respond to the tweet and then was nice enough to answer some questions for me.

(I believe this is a very important 21st century skill.  We should be teaching our students and children to expand our connections through technology.)

Enough backstory, here are the questions that Ray was nice enough to answer:

1.       How long have you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always written.  I remember a pencil box I had in elementary school (probably second grade) that had an elaborate scene of kids having a snowball fight on the cover.  I wrote speech bubbles next to each kid.

2.      Did you ever send the manuscript for Sweet Farts to agents or publishers before sending it to KDP?

Yes, I sent Sweet Farts out to many publishers and several agents before and after self publishing on Createspace/KDP.  Amazon Publishing ultimately picked up the first book and the rest of the series.

3.      Did you use any services from Createspace such as editing, cover design, or illustrations?

Createspace does all the services for my indie titles.

4.      How long did it take for the book to begin selling well?  Was it immediate or did it take a while for mouth-of-mouth to kick in?

It took about three months for sales to kick in.  I was lucky because the book seemed to generate a good deal of word of mouth between readers.

5.      Where did you get the idea for Sweet Farts?

See the video.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTwd-3s9FJM&w=560&h=315]
6.      What sort of promotion did you do?

I gave away a good deal of free copies.  It was way back in 2008.  I think I was fortunate because self publishing hadn’t really exploded yet.  Once my book started selling on Amazon it pollinated with other popular children’s titles and its discoverability increased dramatically.

7.      When did Amazon approach you to sell through their imprint?

I don’t remember exactly, but it was in 2009.  I remember googling Amazon Publishing and nothing came up.  I took a leap of faith that Amazon would grow its publishing business.  I’m glad I did.  Today they are growing at an amazing rate and announcing new imprints all the time.

8.      What sort of advice would you give to new writers considering self-publishing?

I think the most important thing is to get your work out there where readers can find it.  Once it’s available, write more.  Self publishing helped me land a fantastic agent and kick start my writing career.

9.      What do your students think of your success?

They’re very supportive.  I try to use my love of reading/writing to encourage my students to read and write more.

10.  Who is your favorite sports team?

I’m a big basketball fan.  The Knicks for sure.

Thanks so much to Raymond for taking the time to answer my questions.  If you’re a teacher of old elementary school students I would recommend checking out his work.

In spite of basketball being his favorite sport, Raymond’s upcoming book is about baseball.  Which is my personal favorite sport.  So I will be checking it out.

Any other indie writers I should track down and interview?  Leave suggestions in the comments.

Also check out my interview of best-selling children’s author AJ Cosmo.