Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Best Seller That Publishers Wouldn't Touch

After countless form letters, hair pulling, and fear of mass rejection, I was told by agents and publishers alike, "Thanks but no thanks."

Well I have news for them, REUNION would've been a good buy.

After several months of diligent blogging, tweeting, and review peddling, my breakthrough novel had sold over 6,000 copies without their help. I did everything a publisher could've done on my behalf; the editing (Jacque Penn/Neal Hock), the cover art (me), the ebook formatting (Ted Risk) etc. I didn't think I'd have to work as hard as I did. I spent hundreds of hours promoting and guest blogging. I built a platform through The Writing Bomb and The Kindle Book Review because I had started at ground zero.

Before I go any further, I have to thank the dozens of readers and writerly friends I've met on Twitter and facebook. Indie authors will never succeed without the underlying support of others.

Perhaps my lack of "Platform" was the only reason Reunion was rejected, but I doubt it. Maybe they thought the story was too risky. Or maybe they thought the masses wouldn't be interested in a supernatural thriller about the struggling survivors of a school shooting?

Whatever the reason, they passed. It wasn't good enough for them. And honestly, I DO NOT feel any bitterness toward the publishing system. They had their reasons, and a business plan, and I didn't fit.

No worries. No skin off my back.

But you know what? I'm really glad I didn't let the old-publishing system discourage me, or make me reconsider whether Reunion could succeed. I guess I just don't like to hear "No". I never have. So I wasn't about to let their decision stop me from moving forward.

Being the industrious person that I am, like so many indie authors, I put my nose to the diamond-grit grindstone and started to figure out how I could get this book out to readers without a publisher. It took many hours of study, and blog reading, and online research, but it was so worth it. I discovered that "pay to publish" is just wrong. I discovered that the steps required to get a good product is much easier than I was led to believe. And I discovered that I didn't need a publisher to sell the story I needed to tell.

I believed that the life of a school-shooting survivor would be difficult. I believed that these teenagers lives would be dramatically altered. In my heart of hearts I felt a deep concern for the pain and hurt and scars that they must have endured. And I knew they would carry the pain with them, affecting every aspect of their adult lives.

My research proved that I was correct. Did you know that when young people go through school shootings, the effects (as in level of post-traumatic stress) are often far more severe than those of trained soldiers who experience military combat? It's true. The reason is because adolescent and teenage frontal lobes aren't always fully developed, among other reasons, so the impact of the experience is magnified, causing severe cases of ptsd. In fact, I communicated with one of the survivors of the Columbine shooting before I published and he told me that it took him 10 years before he began feeling "normal".

Interesting isn't it? Imagine the variety of experiences. Imagine the countless twists of fate?

As a writer my mind took my concerns and went wild. The result was Reunion, a supernatural thriller that has since become an Amazon best seller as of yesterday (December 24, 2011), a day I will never forget.

That day has changed my life, but not for the reasons that you might think. Yesterday is so special because it proved that I'm worthy of respect as a writer no matter what the publishers say. AND because it proves that YOU are too...if you are diligent.

Every time an independent author makes the best seller list, it proves that the old system is broken. Best selling indies are clear evidence that publishing houses don't always have the best eye for what will sell. Making the Amazon Best Seller List also proves that publishers do not know how to weigh the value of an author's level of determination, and commitment.

I think I have a great story, and I know I have determination. Had they only but asked, I could've communicated why I was going to be a best seller with or without them.

But Amazon Select did it? Never mind Amazon Select. I made the decision to join while others didn't . I made the decision to go on a 45-day blog tour. I made the decision to price my book at 99¢ until the time was right to change. There are many great books and Amazon and an agent will never never help fate choose who wins. Publishing success is more complicated that one simple program. It's my beief that prayer and God's good graces have more power than any online program. And I know there was plenty of that over the course of the last several months.

All to say, I feel like I won the wager between me and the publishing industry. I don't care if Reunion falls out of the Top 100 before I finish this post. I still won. Indies everywhere won in 2011 and 2012 is looking even better.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

~ Jeff Bennington is the (Best Selling) author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance & Creepy.
4.4 Stars
5 Stars
5 Stars

Friday, December 23, 2011

Are You Ready for the NEW Black Friday?

It's coming! Can you hear it? It's a happy sound. It's the sound of wrapping paper crumpling, tape tearing and the oohs and aahs of readers around the world opening their much anticipated Kindle, Kindle Touch or Kindle Fire?

It's a sweet sound; the sound of Kindle love. And is there any better gift?

If you're an author, I hope you're listening to the joy, because the next week, in my humble opinion, is going to be the equivalent of Black Friday. Excited Kindle readers will tinker with their new toys and spend their Amazon gift cards on our books. Did you hear that? On our books...yours and mine.

These are very exciting times. Indie authors have so much to be thankful for. We're experiencing a time when technology has caught up with big business, an unbelievable opportunity to show the world that there are writers with exceptional talent, and worthy of notoriety with or without a publisher.

There are so many reasons why this is good news for writers and especially good for readers, but I don't want to beat a dead horse; Joe Konrath has covered the pros and cons of indie publishing.

My question is, are you ready for the NEW Black Friday?
Is your bookstore looking as good as it should? Is your hook catchy? Is your cover attractive? Are your editorial shelves in order? Have you put your best deals out front, in a nice display for all to see?

What's that? At least one of your books are on sale, right? You know, your "leader", your introductory book set at a bargain price, enticing readers to try more of your work?

Okay. Maybe you only have one book. Fair enough. But while we're on the subject, lets talk pricing.

Did you set the price at 99¢, $1.99, $2.99, $4 or more? This is an interesting question that many people are talking about. However, in my opinion, we shouldn't be debating whether a 99¢ book is devaluing books in general, but rather, discussing the size of an authors audience.

I think authors should set their pricing based on demand for their work (i.e., the significance of your platform). If you're struggling to sell anything, your audience/customer base is obviously low. You should set your prices accordingly. If you're selling by the thousands, there's probably enough demand to raise your prices a bit. But whatever you do... remember to think like a business person.

But I'll warn you, if you see Stephen King's $15.99 ebook prices and then scoff at authors who have set their prices below the $2.99 mark, remember that name recognition goes a long way, and some of us don't have it. Think about it...

Do book buyers around the world know who you are?

Do you have an ever growing email list of hungry readers?

Or are you like me, fighting tooth and bloody claw to get folks to notice your kick a•• thrillers? I mean seriously, if readers knew how hard I've had to work to get my name out there, they might buy my books out of pity, or because they love rooting for the underdog, of which I am the head of the pack.

Or maybe they wouldn't.

Either way, don't take slow sales personally. Simply press on, working diligently toward your goals.

Think... Get 'em in here, dazzle 'em with my best work, my best price, and then win their business with a quality product ~ as in a well written, well-edited book, with professional ebook formatting.

Whatever your audience looks like, let this post serve as a reminder that indies are humble book-store owners, fortunate to have a relationship with the largest ebook seller in the world.

I recommend varying your prices, offering deals, and generating demand for your best work. That's how successful businesses operate. That's what I'm doing. And honestly, I couldn't do it as well without Amazon's Select program.

In fact, I can't wait to share the juicy details about what the Select program has done for me already. However, I've been invited to write a guest post at The Creative Penn after the New Year regarding KDP Select, so you'll have to wait. Sorry.

For now, polish the brass, wax the floor, and get your books in order, because Christmas is here. Millions of Kindle owners will be knocking on your door. Are you ready for them?

Below are a few tips to get your books in tip-top shape.

BONUS TIPS for Amazon success: 
  • Is your Product Description page Selling your Book? If not, I can fix that. I've bedazzled my book pages, linking all my titles and posting my accolades. I re-work your html for only $23. Look here ~> Glam! Bam! Thank you, ma'am!
  • Is your Cover really cool? If not, there's a million other books that will draw the attention of readers away from YOUR book. I can fix that for only $79. Look here ~> Get a face lift.
  • Are you lacking reviews? Reviews sell. Of course you need a GOOD book to get good REVIEWS. But if your book was professionally edited, I can fix that. ~> Send your book to The Kindle Book Review. 

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading. Follow my blog by email so you don't miss any posts.

~Jeff Bennington is the author of Twisted Vengeance, Reunion and Creepy.
5 Stars
4.4 Stars
5 Stars

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Sure Fire Way to Get More Readers

In this world where $ rules, there is one simple trick that will get you more readers. 

But before I tell you what it is, I need to make sure we are on the same page; otherwise none of this will apply.

Page 1: I'm assuming you have a great book and that you have had it professionally edited. I'm also assuming that your writing is fresh and interesting and your plot is to die for.

Page 2: I'm assuming you have a brilliant cover, because if a reader doesn't like the art, he or she ain't gonna buy your book. (And do not give me crap about sayin' ain't... this is just a freakin' blog. Get off your high horse)

Page 3: I'm assuming you have written an eye catching and interesting blurb on your book page. If the reader isn't hooked by your "hook" (or lack thereof), why would he or she spend money on something that is not interesting?

Okay, so we're on the same page. Your book is awesome. I get that. Mine is too. Good. Now what's the secret? Simple. One word. Free. Yes, free.

Free is the new word for sales. Don't believe me? Ask any one who signed up for the KDP Select program. Ask anyone who has given away 1,000 copies of their book. Ask anyone who has received a gift that they didn't deserve. Free is good. Free is nice. Free is better. Free is word of mouth. Free is your friend.

So what's the big deal? Why even bring it up?

I'm posting this because we are embarking upon a season when we give and receive gifts. It's a time when we can all relate to how good it feels when someone gives you something you don't deserve. In fact, getting almost feels as good as giving something away.

If you've ever thought, I'm not giving away my book that I spent months and even years working on. My time and talent is far too valuable to throw my labor away like that, I'm here to tell you that you are DEAD wrong. Everyone loves a cheerful giver. Everyone loves a gift. And everyone remembers the one who gave them something for free.

So the secret to more sales is...give your book away.

Workin' the world of freebies is something that's hard for authors to understand because they're ready to recoup their publishing expenses. But as I've said in the past, indie publishing is not for the one-trick pony. It is a life-long journey; one that you cannot help to traverse once you have strapped on your boots.

Bottom line: We all want to sell our books. But remember to give your ebooks away, at random, from your blog, in contests, as gifts, to help promote your other titles and just because you like doing it. If you don't love the smiles, you'll love the boomeranging sales.

HINT: Amazon has this really cool algorithm that has a funny way of putting your book on A LOT of book pages every time you make your book free. When that happens, more eyes see your book. When that happens, if you've done everything right (i.e., we're on the same page) you will sell more books. Wink. Wink. BOOM!

Incidentally, REUNION, my #1 best selling suspense thriller is FREE today and tomorrow in the Kindle Store. If you have a Nook and would like a copy, leave your email address. I'll get you a copy asap. 

~ Jeff Bennington is the author of Twisted Vengeance, Reunion and Creepy
5 - Stars
4.4 - Stars
5.0 - Stars

Like my book covers? I designed them and I can make one for U2. See my Author Services Page.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why My Writing SUCKED and What I Did to Fix It.

Believe it or not, in 2009 I published a political thriller destined to be an international best seller. It was smart, loaded with intrigue, suspense, action and it was so timely I'd say it bordered on prophetic. My family and friends agreed.

Then I published in self-published with no idea what I was doing.

Sound familiar?

It didn't take long before I offered this amazing book to online readers. A few months later, reality hit me like a steel pipe across my face. The reviews started coming in and I soon discovered that what I thought was New York Times bound, in truth, had become another example of a self-publisher with poor writing skills.

I have recently unpublished that book. I can do better...much better.

So what sucked about my writing, you ask? Plenty.

The good news is, my writing is no longer what it was. I have since authored three books that are frequently in Amazon's Top 100 category lists. One of them has hit #1 in Amazon's ghost category and meandered around the top 200 on occasion.

I've read indie authors and many of them are amazing, selling, and getting incredible reviews. Unfortunately, some are not. The reasons vary, but these books suffer because of poor cover art, poor formatting, but most often because the author has much to learn. I know I did. Fortunately, I fixed my mistakes. Well, most of them anyway. Writing is an adventure, and I'm sure I'll be learning twenty years from now.

The following are some of the major mistakes I made before I knew what I was doing. If you see these mistakes in your book(s), especially if it is published, I'd urge you to fix your writing as soon as possible.
  • My pages were littered with "was". I've heard this described at the "fuzzy wassies". Too many was words, including were, is a sign that your writing is weak. That is because when you use "was" too often, you create a weak sentence, giving very little imagery and using unnecessary words. Fix your sentence... She was running in the woods...with She ran through the woods. This is shorter and more concise. Limit your was words to less than three per page and watch your writing come to life.
  • I had lengthy monologues that took the reader out of the story. I have since learned that where there is dialogue, there should be plenty of action, body movements, etc. Characters need to express themselves in shorter bursts of verbal exchanges. Include the character's thoughts and observations while another character is talking. 
  • Over use of adjectives and other modifiers. If you have a sentence that says something like.... Barron Von Dorkenwad ran his hands through Rapunzel's golden, straw-like, crusty hair... you probably need to do a rewrite. Limiting your modifiers is a must. If you can't find one good word to describe Rapunzel's ragged hair, cut it off and make her bald. You might as well because your reader will stop reading at that point.
  • Boring introduction for the sake of establishing the setting. Your intro is your first impression and it better be good. If you write supernatural thrillers, as I do, you better give some kind of indication (or foreshadowing) within the first few paragraphs that your book is going to be a frightening, mysterious or disturbing story. Give a sense of the genre on page one. Raise questions in the readers mind about your protagonist that they will want to answer. Start with conflict and slow it down later. There's a reason directors start their scenes with the word, "Action!"
  • I had a habit of telling my reader what was happening instead of showing. Here's an example: Jane Doe had it all together. Her hair was perfect, her smile glowing and she knew everyone loved her... Try this instead: Trixie stood nose to nose with Jane and sneered. Her lips curled and with one eye squinted said, "You act like you've got it all together. But your perfect smile and..." She flicked one of Jane's curls. "...flowing hair doesn't fool me. You're a mess. And I see right through you. We all do." See how that works? Let the characters do the describing. You hear it all the time ~ Show, don't tell.
  • Similar words within close proximity. These words began to bother my reader. Had I thought of different words, I might have been able to prevent more of those wordy speed bumps. I think you get the idea.
I know, you want to be original. You want to stand out. But listen, dear author; great writers can break the rules because the rest of their writing, plot, and characters are spot on. When you decide that originality means not following the rules, or disregarding them altogether, you have decided that you no longer want to sell books.

There have been plenty of authors who write amazing first novels, but the vast majority do not. And in today's "anyone can publish" world, this has never been more true. Your readers want emotion, feelings, thoughts, fully-developed characters, color, believable plot lines, action, vivid yet brief descriptions, poetry and alliteration. They want a story that plays out in their minds, without speed bumps. They want words spelled correctly and used in the right context. And it is my belief that they want shorter stories.

Trust me. I learned the hard way. But guess what? There is no easy way. Writing is work... and writing well is exhausting.

Write your story for the reader ~ not for yourself. Study and take your craft to the next level.

Unpublish your book if it sucks.

If you'd like to improve your prose, check out the following books: Write Like the Masters by William Cane, On Writing by The Horror Writer's Association, Novelist's Boot Camp by Todd Stone, On Writing by Stephen King and anything you can find by James Scott Bell.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me and comment. BOOM!

~ Jeff Bennington is the author of Reunion, an Amazon #1 bestselling ghost story, Twisted Vengeance and Creepy. Jeff provides $79 book covers among other author services.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why You Could Write the Next Best Seller.

Every writer has his or her own way of carving out their masterpiece. 
Some sit up in a proper position with their fingers curled just so, like a pianist, to keep from getting a crippling case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Some authors snuggle under their covers, or sit on the porch and let the breeze blow across their face while they create. I like to recline, feet up, head back, with a cup of coffee nearby. I frequently act out my scenes, bringing myself to tears as I feel my characters emotions. And yet with all of these preferences, I’ve wondered what makes my words come out different than the next prolifically fascinating author. How is it, exactly, that my “voice” is unique?
After thinking about this, I’ve come up with a list of reasons why every author has a distinct voice and therefore has a shot at becoming the next best thing because of their uniqueness. As we all know, literature is extremely subjective and trends come and go. If you’re not a vampombie loving artist, you could be writing the next trend at this very moment. 
Here are a few reasons why you could be the next literary lottery winner.
  • You Have a Unique History! No one has ever lived your life. Your childhood and adolescence and college years have twisted together a very distinct experiential DNA. You cannot avoid the fact that you’ve traveled a road that no one else has dared to explore. It is this voyage that will carry over into your writing, making you different,  fresher than the same old authors that the world reads over and over. Use your story to your advantage. Throw in your memories, your embarrassing moments and your failures into your characters lives and bring the literary world something new.
  • People Bore Easily. As much as I love Lemony Snicket and J.K. Rowling, there will come a time when I get bored with a series and maybe the author as well. When that time comes, I’ll move on to someone new. I might start reading another well-known author, or a not so well known literary artist waiting in the shadows. It’s a great feeling to know that someone picks up your book by accident and falls in love with your writing. After all, accidents do happen!
  • Literature is Subjective. Like I said earlier, one man’s trash is another man’s favorite book. With all the “I’m sorry to inform you” agent form letters I’ve received, you’d think no one would get past the first line of my work, but that’s not the case. My previous suspense thriller, REUNION, hit the #1 spot in Amazon's ghost category. How is that possible when so many agents passed on it? Easy. Literature is subjective. Sometimes agents and publishers miss the next trend, or simply enjoy other genres. And sometimes, the publishing world loses touch with what readers want.
  • Being Different is Good. Do you remember the kid in school with the weird haircut? You know, the one who everyone teased but deep inside you wished you could grow a pair as big as his, and do something original. Then at your ten-year reunion you discovered he’s driving a Mercedes and living on the beach in Sarasota because he invented a new design to a widget that hadn’t changed in fifty years. Originality pays. Being different is good! Unfortunately, we live in a world that breeds sameness. Our schools and social systems line us up and pin on the qualities that appeal to their needs at the time. They want citizens that stand at attention, say yes to their policies and shut up about it. In my opinion, the best thing any writer can do is break free from unoriginality, and forge a uniquely crooked trail.
The truth is, one-hit wonders come and go. Many great books have risen to the top and then sank to the bottom of the literary ocean, rusting and watching the crabs walk over their pages. If you create something new, that will not be the end of your story. You have to continue writing, creating a list of books for readers to choose from, diversifying your portfolio with as much savvy as a Wallstreet-wiz kid. Then, as soon as you have a captive audience, remake yourself. Of course, if you’re the next J.K. Rowling, don’t stop after The Sorcerer’s Stone! Learn to recognize a good thing. Just know that after you make your millions from your upcoming series, we, as in the readers of the world, will start to yawn and begin looking for the next good book that’ll scratch our story-loving itch.

~ Jeff Bennington is the author of TWISTED VENGEANCE,  REUNION, CREEPY and the founder of The Kindle Book Review.
5 ~ Stars
4.4 ~ Stars
5 ~ Stars

This post was an original guest post at The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog in May 2011.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Indie Book Blowout is BIG NEWS!

I'll get straight to the point. The Indie Book Blowout sponsored by the wonderful folks at The Indie Book Collective have done something amazing. They've gathered the best Indie authors out there, convinced them to price their books at 99¢ and then they do this huge, massive, mammoth event that is quite honestly, mind boggling.

They reach out to the four corners of the earth, holding a Zeppelin-sized megaphone shouting, "Look over here. We've pulled out all the stops to bring you the best indie ebooks at rock bottom prices."

With indie publishing hitting mainstream news, this is a story that needs to be shared. Is CNN hearing this? The Wall Street Journal? New York Times? Are you media peeps even paying attention here? Readers are making a turn. Readers are accepting indie authors, because the old stigma of the poor quality "self-publisher" is beginning to fade... still there some, but fading.

This event is comprised of ebooks of all genres including BRAIN RUSH from the Amazon best selling author Richard Bard, SUNDERED by Shanon Mayer, BRILLIANT PREY by Brenda Wallace and many other best selling indie authors! Did you hear that? Indie authors are on the best seller's lists.

Yeah it's big news when an indie author sells a million copies or hits the New York Times Best Seller list. But take a closer look at Amazon's top selling ebooks. Indie authors have invaded Amazon's Top 100 ebook list, and especially in the category Top 100 lists.

Trust me, I know; I have three books in the Top 100 suspense, ghost and occult categories.

And yes, I too am participating in the Indie Book Blowout. Why wouldn't I? This is the most professional and dedicated group of authors I know. They pay for quality editing, have great book covers and they know how to tell a story... just ask their readers and reviewers. Isn't that who we're writing for? Isn't the bottom line of book quality, the smile, or tear, or laughter that readers get from a good book? Yes, it is. Quality is not determined by who publishes it, but rather, by reader response.

Alright, that's all I want to say. Go to The INDIE BOOK BLOWOUT Now!

Look for CREEPY, my collection of scary stories; REUNION, my #1 Amazon best selling ghost story; and TWISTED VENGEANCE, my brand new supernatural thriller that will leave you guessing until the twisted conclusion. Also, check out my FREE short-suspense,  MURDOCH'S EYES.

True Ghost Stories
Paranormal Thriller

Go now... the INDIE BOOK BLOWOUT is celebrating the 12 days of Christmas from the 12th -24th of December, so it won't last forever. After the 24th, many of these titles will go back to their normal pricing.

~ Jeff Bennington (writer dude).

*** Do you like my covers? I made them and I'll make one for you too. See my "Author Services" page!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why Santa Claus Became an Indie Author

Back in the day, before the Internet, global warming and eReaders, an old friend of mine who goes by the name of St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, wanted to write a book. He enjoyed reading the old classics such as Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Frosty the Snowman and the ever popular, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He wasn't trained in the craft of literature by any means, but he certainly had an appreciation for the literary arts.

As you can imagine, the Christmas season would take its toll on the old-butter ball. So after the packages were delivered, the cookies eaten and the payroll met (damn elves had formed a union and nearly brought the north pole into bankruptcy court), my holly-jolly friend would find himself kicked back in his leather BarcaLounger with a stiff drink and a good book. While reading, and slowly getting buzzed, he'd dream up his own novels. His love for the story, or perhaps his bout with ADHD, would send him into a dream state where his mind did a dance, forming new characters and worlds and plots that only he could imagine.

You see, Santa had lived quite a life. He had many stories to tell, you know, the usual world-traveler fare: fine dining, the occasional holiday mascot kidnapping/ransom thingy and  Colombian cigs. Finally, his vast experiences and love of the arts had come to a head. He took one more drunken sip of his Jack-n-Coke and rang his little jingle bell that he kept near his side at all times.

The bell rang and a sexy little elf strutted into his private quarters and humbly bowed before the saint. He asked her to get him his old typewriter. She suggested he use the new MAC laptop that had recently come in from R & D. He smiled, parting his beard with his happy lips and his eyes beamed. Minutes later, after a brief tutorial, old Santa was off and running, well, typing actually.

His life-long dream of writing a hard-boiled crime fiction series had begun. Words came to him fast and furious, whipping through his thoughts and into the computer like Balzac on his sixth cup of coffee (look him up). Day after day he crafted his series, finally giving him the sense of fulfillment he had always longed for.

He once told me that bringing presents to those snot-nose brats year after year had lost its glam decades ago. But writing had ignited a spark in him. He had discovered that he wasn't a saint after all, but rather, a novelist, a gosh-darn-can-you-believe-it novelist.

He did a spell check, printed off the last page, and finally let Mrs. Claus read his manuscript. She found a few flaws, but smiled, hugged him, and patted his bottom. She was so proud of her Nikki, a hero to children around the globe and now he would add published author to his credits. What a man. What a stud! You should've seen the look in her eye. Not sure if it was dollar signs or if her second glass of chardonnay had finally kicked in, but she was getting fact, hot might be a better word.

The next morning... Santa mailed a stack of query letters to agents and publishers, most of which were on his naughty list, but he figured a personal letter of forgiveness might make things right and increase his chance of that big publishing and movie deal he'd been dreaming about.

Six months later... he received a letter in the mail. His shoulders slumped and Mrs. Claus patted his bottom again, comforting him after his first of many form letters.

The next morning... that cute elf I mentioned earlier suggested he try sending out a few electronic query letters. After all, she knew Santa had always been concerned about his bottom line. He did as she recommended. Several months later, he had received a slew of digital rejection letters, some suggesting he work on better characterization, dialogue, and that he would need a platform if he intended to be published in today's market.

"A platform?" puffed good ol' Saint Nick. He took off his big red mittens and flashed his middle finger at the stack of rejection slips, lifting each one and flipping the bird time after time until each paper had seen his answer to their suggestions.

Although he was hurt, Santa did have thick skin. He knew he had much to learn and so he buckled down and read a few books that he thought would improve his writing, such as: Write Like the Masters by William Cane, On Writing by The Horror Writer's Association, Novelist's Boot Camp by Todd Stone, On Writing by Stephen King and anything he could find by James Scott Bell. He upped his reading schedule and committed to polishing his prose.

Soon another Christmas had come and gone and Santa had revised his work several times, and even employed his staff editor to hone his MS to a fine point. By the next Christmas, Santa's books were still for sale. Times were tough in the publishing world with the onslaught of the Nook and Kindle and all. Agents and publishers just weren't taking new authors, although they had a knack for humiliating those who had decided to go it alone.

At this point, I was thinking, Come on. He's Santa for crying out loud. What the hell? Cut him a break.

Of course, Santa wasn't about to give up. Hell or high-frickin' snow drift, he wanted to share his hard-boiled crime series with the world. I mean the dude had built one of the greatest empires that had ever existed in the North Pole... surely he can figure out this publishing sh-- I mean business.

She too had written a book and a few sexy, paranormal novellas, and had been involved in an indie author support group that shared knowledge and resources.

WOW! Who knew? thought Santa. "Why didn't you tell me about this before?" he asked. She replied that she had just recently discovered the group and that it was new to her as well. She went on to say that she was about to publish her second novella as an independent author, or what used to be called self-published, a term that, as she said, meant that you were like rotting scum at the bottom of the writing pool. She just smiled and said that was starting to change. She flashed her first Amazon paycheck at her boss and winked a glittery eye lash.

The glimmer in Santa's eye and the red in his cheeks had returned.

He asked her all sorts of questions and she filled him in on the changes that had recently taken place in the world of publishing. Alas, Santa's hope of sharing his hard-boiled crime with the world had finally come to pass. He hired @TweeTheBook to create his ebook covers and format his print interior, registered with all the online sales channels and started selling. He planned his release after the first of the year, cancelling that year's trip to Sarasota with his sweetie and went on a blog tour instead.

Wouldn't you know it... Santa started selling. Day after day, he gained traction with hard boilers around the world. After a couple of months he made it into two Amazon top one-hundred categories and watched as readers moved from book one, to book two, to book three, actually paying him $2 for a book that cost him nothing to create (except the time he spent writing and pissing around with the publishers). On occasion, he broke into the top 200 which as far as he was concerned, was better than he had ever expected.

His blog, A Holly Hard-Boiled Christmas also started to gain traction, gaining followers daily. Mrs. Claus started checking his Amazon stats and frequently congratulated him in her own, very warm and very special way.

Santa had finally made it as an author. He sold over six thousand copies in six months, and projected fifteen thousand in the next year. And after hearing that he would've been lucky to sell that many copies as a "traditionally published" author, he wondered why his book didn't take with the publishing world.

"Hell," he said, "I'm getting great reviews, and people I don't even know want to read my stories. Just imagine what I could've accomplished with a publisher's global marketing budget. Maybe the gatekeepers are doing something wrong? he wondered. Maybe they don't really know what readers want? Or maybe the best thing to do is just keep writing what I love and be grateful that I live in a time when I can write and publish without someone telling me that I suck, when in fact, I do not."

Santa took a well deserved sip from his iced beverage, put his feet up and considered selling his North Pole stock. Maybe the elves can make this holiday work without me, he thought. Maybe, I'll keep writing and Christmas can take care of itself. I think I've had a good run. He sipped and chuckled as his head felt a little lighter. And then he stood up, grabbed his stack of rejection letters, shoved them in the fire and thought, I'm an author damn it. I don't need a label. My books are selling and that's all that matters.

~ Jeff Bennington
   Author of Twisted Vengeance, Reunion & Creepy 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why I'm Joining Amazon's KDP Select Program

Amazon is playing games and they're changing the rules again. They're changing the game, and they're doing it in time for Christmas. Most Amazon authors and publishers have received an email from Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Got mine today. If you haven't, check your email, check your KDP account and check it fast.

What are they doing? They are playing the Monopoly card, hoping to sway authors to publish solely with them, forsaking all others. And as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to play too. Essentially, Amazon's Kindle store has set up a program called, Amazon Prime. This program costs kindle owners $79 a year, but once they are a member, they can access kindle books from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library FOR FREE.

Authors who publish on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform have the option to "opt-in" to the KDP Select program that will make their books available to Amazon Prime members. If an author chooses to do this, he or she will receive part of the $500,000 cash available in the program for December 2011, and the estimated $12 Million in 2012 as an additional source of royalties.

Is there a catch? Yes. You have to make your ebooks available EXCLUSIVELY through the Kindle store. You can still sell your print books anywhere, just not your ebooks. You can no longer sell them on Barnes & Noble, iBook Store, Goodreads, Smashwords, etc.

Will authors get paid for their books? No; not with traditional royalties anyway. The royalties, from what I understand, are based on the number of books borrowed divided by the amount of money in the fund. They hope to loan 100K ebooks by the end of 2011. If they reach that goal, authors whose books were borrowed will receive a proportional amount. For example: if your book is loaned 1,500 times before the end of December, and they reach their goal of 100K total books loaned, you will get 1.5% (or $7,500) of the $500,000.

Sound complicated? It sort of is. Sound risky? Yes. Could it be worth it? I think so. The way I understand it, Amazon is doing what Netflix did in the movie rental business; only with Amazon it's Pay a yearly fee and get free books all year. I think it's a great idea and a model that Libraries should follow.

After reading through the details, I found out exactly how many ebooks I've sold through my other sales channels. After doing the math, I decided that there isn't any reason why I shouldn't give this a try, because the results are so lopsided. Here's what I discovered....

Total Sales since March 2011 (Date I started selling online).
Source               # books      % of Sales
Kindle sales   =  5866            97.0 %
Nook Sales    =    114              1.8%
Smashwords  =      49                .8%
Apple ibooks =      11                .2%

For me, the decision is not just about joining Amazon's KDP Select Program, it's about spending my time and resources where there is actually a return on my investment. If you sell a significant amount of books through those other sites, you might make a different decision. But for me, I'm in.

I look forward to being one of the newer and maybe few authors who participate in this program. I look forward to the extra promotion that Amazon offers as an incentive. And I look forward to another stream of royalties.

Like any new program, it's an experiment. But I'll give it a try and see how it goes. I like games. So lets play Amazon...I'm pretty good at Monopoly.

~Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance & Creepy

I'd like to know what you think. Please comment and follow my blog if this has been helpful. To read more about the program click here. If you'd like to buy my supernatural thrillers, go here ~~~>

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Turning Self-Publishing Into Self-Employed

As indie publishing becomes more and more prevalent, writers will become self-employed as well as self-published.

If you've never owned a business, you might need to get a handle on a few ideas that may have eluded you when you first imagined going indie and showcasing your work through online, world-wide distribution. Your schedule will likely change because the demands of going indie are immense, much like self employment. But one of the big changes is that you are now running a business whether you like it or not.

As a published author your life will get busier, and it will get entrepreneurial. You might have one or twenty published works, but no matter how many books you manage, you need to think like a business person. With 2011 coming to a close, I thought I'd run a few ideas past you regarding your growing indie book business...
(The following tips apply to US authors and might change per IRS policies.)
  • You cannot hide your book income. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and any other book distributors you sell through will send you a 1099. This is a little form that these sites will use to report your income to the IRS. The days of getting paid under the table are over. And you will have to pay self-employment taxes on any income you receive that is greater than $400. 
  • I recommend opening a separate bank account to separate your personal income/expenses from your business income/cost of doing business. You may need to get a federal tax ID number, but that isn't necessary immediately. Your social security number will do for now (But check w/ your state). Also, consider using your publishing name as your DBA ("Doing Business As"), the name of your business. I use Nexgate Press as my DBA. With this account, my book distributors can direct deposit into my business account; a very clean and efficient way of doing business.
  • Keep track of your expenses including everything from shipping receipts, paperclips, marketing expenses, production costs and other costs of doing business. All of these expenses will reduce your taxable income, so try not to miss anything. Be diligent in your records and you'll know for sure if you're making money... or not.
  • As a business owner, you have to market your book(s). You might get lucky and start selling as soon as you upload your book, but that's not likely. Selling anything requires marketing. You have to announce the publication of your work and that will take cash, so expect to spend something even if you are on a low budget. There are several ways to market your book for free but advertising in places like Kindle Nation, Night Owl Reviews, Book Buzzer and Goodreads will cost you money. Being prepared will make the pill go down easier. Expenses are inevitable. If you are new to publishing, and you haven't made your money back after initial expenses, the good news is you'll show a loss for 2011 and you'll get some of that money back.
  • You'll want to plan a budget for 2012.  Include expenses for the works you plan to publish in 2012 even if you won't publish until later in the year. This way you can budget your future marketing and production expenses (editing, cover art, etc). 
  • Consider writing a business plan. All successful businesses start with a business plan. This is where you take time to look ahead and think about where you want to go with your writing business. How many books would you like to publish a year? How do you plan to market your work? What will your platform look like a year from now. A business plan is a great way to put your vision on paper, so you can look at your plans objectively instead of keeping your dreams locked inside your head. This is a business remember, not a floating book idea. Write down what you plan to do and then do it, step by step, until you succeed.
  • HINT: If the work of publishing is overwhelming you, try hiring a friend or teen to do some of the busy work for you. Example: I pay my 16 year-old son to do some of my online work. It is very helpful and he gets a healthy $15 a week for easy work. This saves me about 3 hours a week and has freed me to do the more important things.
If you want to plan ahead for your 2011 taxes, click here. This page will inform you of the correct forms and other information you'll need for your taxes.
Here's another website to use as a resource that has helpful spreadsheet samples and more detailed tax information for writers.

Here's a website that gives detailed instructions on building financial spreadsheets for writers. 

If you are in the writing/self-publishing business because you love writing, that's great, but don't let Uncle Sam catch you off guard when you start selling. Be smart and keep good records.  If you need help publishing your work, I offer a few author services such as cover design and interior book formatting to lighten your load. 

Good luck in 2012. BOOM!

Jeff Bennington ~ Author of all the books to the right ~~~>

Sunday, November 27, 2011

When Angels & Demons Met in Haiti ~ The FULL True Story

As told by Rex Byers, one of the survivors.
Edited by Jeff Bennington

On November 12, 2011, I went on a missionary trip with thirteen friends from my church to provide music, drama and testimony for a crusade held by a local church about thirty miles outside of Port Au Prince, Haiti. The work was done through an organization called Double Harvest. They provide a small medical center, ecological and humanitarian efforts to the people of this struggling nation. 

Upon arrival, we had more work than we had planned. Due to a miscommunication, the stage that was supposed to be finished still needed a lot of work. We did not attend the church for services that Sunday morning, but set out to finish the canopy on the stage. The work was hard but we continued through the day, just in time to turn the stage over to the Haitians. 

The next day, we completed the final touches on the platform, arranging lights and the sound system. We practiced our music and drama and had a great service with the Haitians. The days that followed consisted of an assortment of small and larger projects, including installing a tent to provide shelter for a local school.
We woke up early on Thursday (Nov. 17) to start another job and finished by 11:00 a.m.  After an hour wait, we were driven back to our apartment. We were exhausted. Some took naps, and some just caught up on reading or playing cards.  By the time the Crusade was ready to start that night, for some reason, we were all in a funk.  We were tired from the previous day’s work as well as the work we accomplished that morning. When we stepped on stage, we found instruments in disarray; a different bass guitar and two guitars with broken strings, among other issues.  But we put on our game faces and pushed through. We waited to hear Adrienne Petty’s testimony and then made an early exit to get back to our apartment.  

Some of the team members took time to relax and debrief, while others were engrossed in a euchre tournament. The last group to go to bed was the card players. The rest of us were asleep by 11:15 or so.

What transpired next was the stuff movies are made of. 

Bruce Donaldson, one of the veteran missionaries of the group, had been sleeping on the deck outside of our apartment to stay cool. The generator shuts off at 9:00 p.m., so there was no air conditioning or lighting. And when I say apartment, it’s really more of a commune.  There are two quarters; one for the women and one for the men.  These two wings run parallel and come together in two large living areas. The only thing separating the two areas is an open doorway. Bruce was asleep outside the men’s kitchen door.

At approximately 12:00 a.m., Bruce was wakened by the sound of men speaking Creole, a common Haitian language. He soon realized they were not friendly. They immediately began to bind his hands and fired a gun next to his ear, deafening and disorienting him. Fortunately, Bruce liked to sleep in the nude. As it turns out, this was a God thing because Haitian men are very macho and I think they had trouble subduing Bruce in his nakedness. Nuff said. 

Anyway, they managed to lift Bruce up and press his face against the kitchen window, shinning flashlights in his eyes. We think they did this to get our attention. Their thought process must have been that we would take pity on Bruce, open the door, and let them all in. 

Linda Herr was the first person to wake up and see Bruce in the window.  She started for the door but then, in a God moment, realized she had no defense.  She called for the others and each of the men slowly started waking up. Jason Braun, a member of our staff and Chris Herr (Linda’s husband) were the first to arrive on the scene. With what Jason describes as “Holy Ghost” strength, he opened the door, grabbed Bruce’s arm, and won the tug of war with the six gunmen.

But before Jason and Chris could get the door closed, the men outside inserted a crowbar, brick, and a broomstick between the door and the frame. At this point, Jason and Chris knew we had a serious problem on our hands, and the fight for our lives went into fill gear.

The gunmen shoved the door open, and our guys would push it back. The Haitians were relentless.  They stuck the barrels of their guns through the crack in the door and started shooting. One of the bullets grazed Chris’s thumb, taking out a small chunk of skin. He started bleeding but refused to back away from the door. 

When I heard the commotion I rushed out of bed. I met Linda who was following Bruce’s instructions to get knives. I took the knives from her and proceeded to slide them across the ceramic tile floor to the three men securing the door. Outside, the gunmen started to shoot through the windows, and the tempered glass shattered in a million pieces, tiny shards that we would crawl over for the duration of the attack. 

With the windows shot out, the gunmen had a panoramic view of the kitchen. The window above the sink had two separate panes, roughly thirty inches by thirty inches. 

About this time, a bullet hit Bruce in the forearm close to his elbow and exited just above his elbow.  He was bleeding quite heavily and had to leave Chris and Jason. 

Moments after Bruce was shot, he began singing the chorus, Our God. This had been one of the songs we had been playing each evening. Throughout the ordeal, Bruce kept his cool, gave the rest of us instructions and brought water to those who would receive more serious wounds.

Brad Downing, a younger man on the team, came to the door to help and then Jason and Brad realized they had to do more than just hold the door. They called for Morgan Young, one of our pastors, a pretty large dude, to take their place at the door. The rest of us were praying our faces off. And I’m not talking polite, politically correct prayers, but the life and death kind: “God save us. God intercede. God help us. Jesus we need you!"  

The women were struggling to keep it together. Most of us thought it was only a matter of time before the door would open, or they’d come in through the windows, or they’d realize that there was another door not being attended only eight feet away on the women’s side. 

I felt so confused because I usually think five steps ahead of what I’m working on. I found out later that in extreme cases of trauma, the brain releases chemicals that are like poisons and the brain stops processing like normal. I did, however, have the clarity to realize that the window above the kitchen sink had to be blocked. At that moment, I was positioned between the two kitchens when I realized I could maneuver the upright freezer away from the wall and push it in front of the sink to block their view.

 After I moved the freezer forward, I made my way behind the refrigerator. Guns were still firing. The others were still praying, shouting and crying out to God. We felt defenseless. They had guns and all we could do was react. We had knives, but we couldn’t use them, and we couldn’t make them stop shooting.

That’s when I reached into the refrigerator and grabbed a couple 20 oz. glass bottles of Coke. I thought I could hurl them through the openings in the window when I saw their flashlights, but the attempt was futile.

During this time, Joel Larrison, our youth pastor was pinned down in his room. He stuck his head out of his door long enough to feel a bullet move through his hair.  Monte Sanders, our music director, had been with Joel earlier but ran to the back room to protect Cole Braun, Jason’s son who had just turned thirteen. This is the hallway where the gunmen were shooting from the front window next to the door.

Meanwhile the ladies were hunkered down behind beds in the back bedroom.  Adrienne Petty and Julie Baldini, another staff member, had emptied shelves out of a cabinet and climbed inside, making peace with God and audibly saying goodbye to their families. Shelia Miller, yet another staff member, was also praying, but later shared that she never gave up hope. Most of us did.  Maggie Duncan and Linda were calling out to God as well. 

These five women might have been our greatest defense. So many things were going on at the same time. While I was throwing coke bottles and moving the freezer, Jason and Brad had decided it was too high to jump out of their bedroom window for help.  But in a moment of sheer adrenalin, Jason bolted out of the window, landing on partial gravel and grass.  This was another miracle. The jump was roughly twenty-five feet. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage to Jason’s ankles or feet.

When Jason hit the ground he proceeded to scale two gates that were ten feet tall, cross a small creek-like moat, and sprinted another quarter of a mile to get to Arthur’s home. Arthur is the missionary that manages the complex.

I kept thinking that I needed to push the freezer closer to the sink. It was stuck on the ceramic tile so I pushed as hard as I could. It moved a little and seemed like it wanted to tip over so I gave up on that idea. But before I could get back to the refrigerator, I heard a loud “pop” and I felt my leg sting. I knew in that moment I had been shot. My adrenaline allowed me to take a couple of steps before I collapsed. 

Fortunately, God had already put Brad on the back porch. When I collapsed, Brad immediately grabbed me and dragged me to the veranda. Brad didn’t know what his purpose was on the trip. He soon found out. He had spent a year in pre-med and knew exactly what to do.  He knew where to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. He stayed with me through the rest of the ordeal, keeping me from bleeding out. 

At this time, Morgan was still pushing against the door when a shot was fired. Morgan thought, “Why does my leg feel so hot?” He felt something running down his leg and yelled, “I’ve been shot. Shit, shit. I’ve been shot.“ Thankfully he realized it was not life threatening… but the door was. He faithfully stayed at his post. 

Once Jason reached the house, it took a few minutes to awaken Arthur and Becky. Arthur grabbed two pistols and his friend, Jon P, who stayed at their home, and then the three men headed toward the gunmen. 

Arthur and Jon P fired their weapons toward the gunmen in complete darkness. And it’s an eerie kind of darkness in third world countries. We’re used to dusk to dawn night light, traffic lights, or lights from another city. But in Haiti there is nothing of the sort.  

The gunmen returned fire and then there was silence.

Brad was still holding my main artery so tight I thought that he was causing more pain than my wound. No matter how much I whined, he would not give up. Brad shouted to Jason, “Are the police here?"  But the voice returning was not one that we recognized. The voice said; “Yes. The police are here."  

Jason had crawled into a bean field next to the apartment to get closer and said, “No. They’re not here.” He didn’t recognize the voice either and thought that one of the gunmen was trying to fool us.  Thankfully, the gunmen did leave. 

Some of the team took Morgan to the back bedroom to care for his wound and Brad stayed with me.  The police arrived within minutes and the trauma was over. 

 Four men were shot, but there were no broken bones, no arteries struck, and no one was brought home in a body bag.

Maggie Davis was one of the ladies on the trip who was in the back praying.  She said she stopped counting after she heard 30 shots. 

We’ll never know how many angels and miracles God deployed that night, shielding us, holding the door closed and directing bullets away. As far as my wound is concerned, the bullet entered the front of my thigh, went around my femur, and stopped just inside my skin in the direct center of the back of my thigh. 

According to Arthur, the police usually show up hours after an incident, but for some reason, they were there within 10 minutes. 

While the wounded went to the hospital, Brad called his boss who owns a nine-passenger Leer jet.  Before I returned from the hospital I was told that the jet was on its way and we would be home that evening with our love ones.

I’m sure that the gunmen had to think to themselves, These idiots are bringing knives and coke bottles to a gun fight.  But our Lord, our protector, was probably thinking, These idiots have brought guns to a God fight.

I asked the doctor to clean the slug that hit me because I wanted to take it with me.  I’m having the slug encased in a gold Ferrell with a cross standing off of it. I plan to wear this around my neck in memory of what happened that night.  

I remember reading that God commanded the Israelites stack stones at different times to commemorate crucial moments in their history. I intend to use the bullet as a conversation piece, to tell people how an impossible fight was won by the power of prayer and intercession. I want to use the bullet that could have killed me as a lesson to my grandchildren of how big their God is and why they can always trust in him. My bullet will always be my altar of remembrance, reminding me of the time when Heaven and hell met in Haiti. 
                                                                                                         ~ Rex Byers