Category Archives: Business

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Amazon's algorithm

Why Understanding Amazon’s Algorithm is Important for Your Book’s Rank

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Last week I talked about how a negative review on Amazon can actually help sell books. This week I’m going to go more in-depth on Amazon’s rating system as it applies to book reviews. Full disclosure: I have no secret knowledge of Amazon’s algorithm. Everything I’m about to tell you is experience-based only.

I first realized something was askew with the Amazon algorithm when I had 16 five-star reviews and only one 2-star review, yet the percentages in the handy-dandy review chart that comes up for every product showed 22% of people rating it as 2 stars and, of course, 78% giving it a five-star rating.

I’m by no means a math genius, but even I can tell that 1/16th is not the same as 22%. I wanted an explanation.

Like any self-respecting writer, I penned a letter to Amazon’s support staff, asking them to adjust the numbers for me. I got a swift reply. Here’s what they said:

The overall star rating for a product is determined by a machine-learned model that considers factors such as the age of the review, helpful votes by customers, and whether the reviews are from verified purchasers. Similar machine-learned factors help determine a review’s ranking in the list of reviews.

The system continues to learn which reviews are most helpful to customers and improves the experience over time.

Nice. But customers don’t know the intricacies of Amazon’s algorithm, so if they glance all they see is that nearly 25% of readers gave my book a lackluster review. In all fairness, the next time I viewed my page, the 2-star review percentage had been knocked back to 12%. I’m pretty sure Amazon’s machine didn’t suddenly learn a new trick. I suspect there was a glitch and Amazon wasn’t copping to it.

Back to the algorithm, which considers three things:

Amazon’s Algorithm: Age of Review

Newer reviews are weighted more heavily than older ones.

To make the most of this aspect, encourage readers to leave feedback even beyond the launch of your book.

Amazon’s Algorithm: Helpful Votes by Customers

There are little thumbs up/down buttons next to all the reviews that says “Was this review helpful to you?” The more thumbs-up presses the positive reviews get, the more they’re weighted. Same goes for the negative ones, so it helps if your positive reviewers do more than simply say “Great read!” The more insightful a review is, the more likely it is to gain a thumbs up. I’d like to go on record as disagreeing with this aspect of the algorithm. Someone may have written a review that helped sell the book, as my negative reviewer did, but that thumbs up will only make that review count as, well, more negative.

To finesse this section, encourage readers to thumbs-up positive reviews that have helped them.

Amazon’s Algorithm: Verified Purchases

This means those ARC copies you give out for reviews won’t be weighted very highly by Amazon’s software. That’s a shame, since in my mind, they’re totally valid. It also means when someone purchases your book in Australia and you’re in the US, the review does not receive a verified purchase label. I have no idea why this is — I’ve queried Amazon  and not heard back as of this writing. I don’t know if this happens between other countries but I know the Australia/US anomaly exists.

Verified purchases are the gold standard — encourage everyone to purchase your book, even if they’ve gotten a free advanced copy.

The Last Word

Besides being aware of the components of the algorithm to fine-tune your marketing, you also need to be on top of your book’s product page, managing it on at least a weekly basis. I’m fairly certain that 22% number was a simple error on Amazon’s part and not generated by their algorithm, otherwise there would have been no change in the percentage as a result of my letter. Let’s face it, Amazon’s a big company and lots of things can go wrong. It’s up to you as the product owner to take responsibility. So make regular visits to your book’s page and be involved. Amazon’s response to me was lightning-fast, and I don’t really care if they admit fault or not, I just want the percentage to be more reflective of reality.

And if you want to sell books, you will too.

See you on the next page!



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reviews help sell books

How Negative Reviews Can Help Sell Books

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Seems like a radical idea, but negative reviews can actually help sell books and I can prove it.  One reader gave me the best present ever when she contacted me through my website. She’d just bought my supernatural suspense novella, Salt in the Blood, based on a two-star review. Yes, you read that right — two stars. She told me it was the best two-star review she’d ever read. She also mentioned the commenter’s reasoning was exactly what made her push the buy button.

In my post, What Do You Do With A Bad Review, I pick apart the review and show you how to make lemonade out of those lemons, but I never imagined a review like this (see below) would help sell books, too.

bad review

Until now, I’ve shuddered every time I read it.

But the young lady who contacted me said the reviewer’s mention of the descriptive language of the novella caught her eye and she immediately wanted to read more. She felt like the main criticism was the short length and fast-paced story, which is covered in the book’s descriptive passage. But here’s the other thing: She said that she only looked at the book in the first place because it didn’t have a full five stars.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important.  She only looked at the book in the first place because it didn’t have a full five stars. 

negative reviews help sell books How a Negative Review Can Help Sell Books

It seems counterintuitive that consumers would bypass a five-star rated item, but research backs this trend up. The folks over at Techcrunch report that the sweet spot for generating purchases was an average star rating between 4.2 and 4.5. Why? Consumers are getting wise to the plethora of fake reviews on Amazon and other ratings sites. And many simply discount the five- and one-star reviews as not insightful enough. According to an analysis of Amazon reviews, more than half of people give five star reviews, and the next most common star rating after one star is four stars. Very few people give two star reviews.

Another way a negative review can help sell books is if it is specifically critical. The woman who reviewed my novella disliked it, among other reasons, for its short length and fast-paced story. Luckily, these two characteristics are appealing to some readers, so someone who’s looking for a short, energetic read might be further intrigued by Salt in the Blood based on her review.

Playing the Review Gamereviews help sell books

Writers live for good reviews. After pressing ‘publish’ we await the verdict of our reading public and pray they pronounce us fit to be read. If we get negative feedback, we question whether or not we should put pen to paper again. We sulk. We get angry. But instead perhaps we should drum up a bit of thanks. A little bit of criticism, besides being a good way to keep one’s ego and expectations in check, could be just the ticket to higher sales numbers and even more fans.

Of course, a review is not just a star rating, at least on publishing giant Amazon. In next week’s post I’ll take a closer look at the Amazon review system and give you a few tricks you can use to keep your books looking good the browsing reader, even if you score a few negative reviews.

See you on the next page!


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bad review

What to Do With A Bad Review?

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Bad reviews — every author gets one eventually. I didn’t expect to get one so soon, and so, well…bad. I have just published my first fiction book, a supernatural suspense novella titled Salt in the Blood. It got glowing reviews from advanced copy readers and the hard launch went very well, with a pretty decent level of sales. Like any author excited to see people reading and enjoying their work, I checked Amazon daily to see if anyone had left me another review.

And there it was. My first bad review. I am instantly gutted. It wasn’t just a four- or three-star review either. It was a two. A TWO, people. That’s a D in the grade book. Could I really be a D-list writer? I needed to dissect that bad review to find the answer.

Here’s what the reviewer says:

bad review

Analyzing the Bad Review

Oh my. Well, I DO mention that the book is a fast-paced novella in the first sentence of Amazon’s description section. I’m thinking perhaps she skimmed over or didn’t read that part when she made her purchase. If she did, it might explain her dissatisfaction with the book’s length and perhaps it’s “rushed” feeling. Next, any romance in the book is incidental to the plot, not a feature of the story, so I’m going to chalk that up to “you can’t please everyone.” But she did say the characters were flat and she didn’t connect with them. While lack of connection may be specific to this reviewer, I need to look closely at my character development in case there’s a lesson to be learned. As a writer, you should pay close attention to any criticism and use it to improve your writing. While you’ll never please everyone, you may come closer by evaluating your writing through the eyes of others — something crap reviews help you do.

I’m grateful for the glowing analysis of my scene writing skills at the end of her review. It’s quite a nice compliment and doesn’t seem to fit with the 2 stars she gave the book, something others that read this review may notice and consider.

Next Steps

After analysis, action plan. First, I checked her other reviews. She’s mostly a harsh reviewer. In fact, she gave a bag of charcoal two stars. I’m not sure how a bag of charcoal gets two stars, other than to not be charcoal, but there it is. This helps me to understand her view on things in general. I’d feel a lot worse if she was generous with her reviews of other products.

Next, I made a mental note to pay specific attention to character development in future stories. Even if this is just her opinion, paying more attention to this critical skill can only help me.

Finally, I’ll relax and enjoy the compliment she gave me. Perhaps, I’ll reply to her when the next book, Blood in the Flame, is ready for advance readers and give her a copy in return for a critique. After all, we need criticism. It helps us grow. It helps us perfect our craft. And sometimes, it nails our feet firmly to the ground when we’re in need of perspective. However, don’t let a bad review break your stride or crush your enthusiasm for writing. Use it the way it’s meant to be used — as fuel for your creative fire.

See you on the next page!

P.S. Salt in the Blood is only 99 cents at Amazon. I’d love it if you’d read and review for me!



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first launch salt in the blood

My First Launch: By The Numbers

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In this post series, I’m giving you a brief look into my first launch as an indie writer. As you can imagine, it required more hands-on work than traditional publishing (although I hear traditional publishers require writers to do much of their own marketing — mine didn’t). I’m counting the launch successful, even though my numbers are small.

I want to share all the details with you. All of them. Even the ugly ones, so you won’t feel alone when your first launch happens. Many writers are hush-hush about numbers. Some of my closer friends will share their sales figures with me, but most will not. I’m not sure why. There’s plenty of readers out there for us all, and writing and publishing your own work is notoriously difficult. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you’re starting out.

Before we take a look at my results, you should know that I’m only moderately active on social media. I make an occasional Facebook post (I don’t really like FB, to be honest) and I tweet a few times per week. Of course, I also post here and publish some of the posts on Medium and LinkedIn. I get on Goodreads when I can, which is not often. So, I’m definitely minimally marketed.

First Launch Results

  1. Salt in the Blood was #2 in its category on the first day of hard launch. As of this writing, it’s at #408.
  2. A total of 1131 copies were downloaded during the two free days of promotion, which I think is a spectacular result.
  3. Another 28 copies were downloaded on the non-free days.
  4. I had to sign up for the 35% royalty plan in order to set my price between .99 and 2.99 (important, since this is a novella-length story).


While I’m not going to get rich with these numbers, I do have a plan in place. This book is the first of a trilogy and it will become permafree as a teaser for the other two books. Also, I will bundle the three and market them together at a future date.

In the meantime, I’m working on a selection of rather twisted short stories and will be releasing them in June. My hope is that the more work I have out there, the better my numbers will get. And I promise to keep everyone posted on the results. By sharing, we can all be successful!

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horror fiction book launch salt in the blood

Inside My Indie Book Launch: Part Two

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For those of you who haven’t experienced an indie book launch, yet, here’s a more in-depth peek into mine. When you’re ready to launch your book, take a page from my experience to keep your head above water better than I did!

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears saying again: I’m a pantser. I write stories with no earthly idea of how they’re going to end until I come barreling, full-stop, into that final paragraph. While “pantser” playfully describes a writer who writes the way I do, it has an expanded definition. I’m obviously a pantser when it comes to publishing, as well, and I’ll bet there are more of you out there!

Planning the Book Launch

Planning? If you call doing a few casual Google searches for “book launch” and seeing what surfaces, then I definitely did it. Afterward, I proceeded to ignore all the advice out there. My beta readers doubled as reviewers, too. I  distributed ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) too close to the launch date, about 3 weeks in advance, which meant some folks didn’t have time to read it and review for soft launch. I did pin a Tweet on my Twitter profile a few weeks out and changed it slightly as launch date neared, but other than that, I didn’t really “get out there”.

Crazy, right? In my “other life”, I once planned vast marketing campaigns in corporate America. Yet I take a minimalistic approach to my own marketing. What gives?

Fear of Launching

Your first book launch can be daunting. I mean truly scary. There’s so much information out there to sift through, and so many people trying to get you to buy something. This muddies the water considerably when you’re determining what items  to focus on for success. Everyone wants to sell your their promotion service. Twitter, Facebook, book promotion companies, makers of book trailers, book graphics, advertising companies and others clamor for your hard-earned dollars. Wait! You haven’t even earned your first book dollar yet. Companies want you to give up money that you don’t even have for a wish and a prayer. You have to hope you’ll recoup it once you release your book into the wild.

This pressure to spend is the real reason I conducted such a pared-down launch. It’s my first fiction book launch. I’ll have more. Being minimal as possible when spending money means when I add something to my next launch, I’ll have a good comparison. There was a lot of do-it-yourself magic in the way I approached this first try. I made my own graphic ads on Canva. I signed up for Freebooksy, a service that will shout your book out for free. At one a.m. on the day of my hard launch, I got up and sat, bleary-eyed, at the computer to announce my book on the Kindle Boards. Let’s not forget sending a mass email to anyone who ever ended up on my contacts list for any reason, whatsoever.

Just Do It.

I know that I delayed my launch for months out of sheer terror. What if something went wrong? What if I uploaded the wrong file (I thought I did at one point)? KDP said they were running my free book days on February 3rd and 4th, but what if they got the dates wrong? I must have checked those dates in my account a million times. What if a server went down? Nuclear holocaust? My mind came up with any and every disastrous scenario at there. In the end, everything was fine. Successful, even. So don’t let your own fear derail your success. Just press the button, set your prices, do what marketing you decide upon, and relax. Breathe. Nothing will be done that can’t be undone. Did you know you can re-launch your book? If the first launch has glitches, just do it again. Don’t let the enormity of what you’re doing — publishing your first book — keep you from actually doing it!

Next week, I’ll share my exact timeline and marketing tools and give you the actual numbers from my launch.  So stay tuned! And if you need something to read while you’re waiting, Salt in the Blood is only .99 right now. Get it here!

See  you on the next page!

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horror fiction book launch salt in the blood

Salt in the Blood – Inside My Indie Launch

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My new supernatural mystery/horror novel, Salt in the Bloodlaunched last week! It’s a rush writing about my book here, almost like I’m my own celebrity. The launch process, on the other hand, wasn’t such a rush. In fact, it was nerve-wracking and tense, and that’s the best I can say about it.

Like many other indies that have boldly gone before me, I published Salt in the Blood myself. I had several beta readers give me feedback and edits, which unfortunately happened after I’d sent the manuscript to formatting. This meant I had to learn how to format the ePub myself, review it, and get it back on the Kindle publishing platform. I downloaded the programs Calibre and Sigil to help tackle this. When you’ve delayed your launch too long already though, struggling with new software is not something you look forward to.

I managed to make those corrections and get everything set on KDP, but then I realized that the corrections were made directly to the Salt in the Blood ePub and not to the original file. I was at a loss at how to take my ePub back to Word (or, in my case, Pages) and then back again. Instead, I decided to re-create the document using KDP’s 6 x 9 Word template. I took my original file, corrected it, placed it on the template and added a table of contents. With fingers crossed, I uploaded it to Createspace. While Createspace was able to upload the file, was appearing as a one page file. I was devastated and annoyed. Back to the drawing board for me.

I sat at that drawing board so long, I could have written the sequel to Salt in the Blood in that time. Ultimately, I decided to pass on print for now and just finish up the other odds and ends that remained before my soft launch, which was coming up fast. What I didn’t realize was I’d have to decide between 35% and 70% royalties.

This might seem like a “no duh” moment for most of you — who wouldn’t take 70% over 35% pay? But here’s the hitch. Books at the 70% level have to be priced between 2.99 and up. Two ninety-nine is the highest price I’d want to charge for my book, which is novella length. Even though Amazon shows page count on the book’s product page, I didn’t want anyone to feel ripped off by paying too much. I wanted the final price for Salt in the Blood to be .99 and the only way to make that happen was to the choose 35% plan.

Here’s where I curse Amazon softly while pressing the little dot to activate the 35% plan.

Is it not enough that I am only making 99 cents? Now they’ve got to hog most of the money? Heck, it only costs .04 in downloading fees — I’d happily pay that to Amazon if they’d let me keep even half of my meager earnings.

That was my last task, however, before pressing “Publish”. When I got to that point I think a small, scared part of my expected Amazon to implode, explode, or send me an instant rejection letter or something to that effect. But what happened was Salt in the Blood, live, on it’s own product page, ready for purchase.

Now I wait and hope for the best.

**UPDATE: SITB made it to the #2 Spot in Horror/Occult on the first day of hard launch! I’ll consider that a win. Thanks to all of you who helped make it happen!

Help a Starving Author: Get Your Copy of Salt in the Blood Now at Amazon!


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what to write

What to Write in 2017

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New Year’s resolutions: Most are compounded in a surfeit of sparkly-eyed impulsiveness brought on by a combination of alcohol and hubris. What results from unattainable goal-setting is soul-sucking emptiness accompanied by a “why bother?” attitude. And, if you’re a writer, a few ill-chosen goals can completely derail you–heart, soul, and ambition. None of us wants to chase words around the page to end up with an unsellable article or unworkable storyline.

So forget resolutions for 2017. Instead, determine what to write. It’s not even a goal, really. It’s more of a quest–a bit of inner research to help organize the numinous threads of creative genius lurking beneath your surface.

Because it’s there, I promise. If you’ve got a passion for writing, that creative vortex is in there, churning with ideas for stories the rest of us can’t even begin to imagine. You only need to coax it out.

What to Write, Really

So let 2017 be the year you decide what to write. Do you have the makings of a non-fiction writer? Then choose your niche. Will you write about travel, finance, hearing loss, Komodo dragons, or how to get an automobile loan? What topics fire your passions? What subjects make you want to Google search until your fingertips bleed?

Feeling fictional? What’s your genre? Are you ready for romance or do you fancy a bit of post-apocalyptic drama? Some of you lean toward the cerebral buzz of a technological thriller while others feel more at home in worlds of swords and sorcery. Which are you?

Discovering what to write is as easy as getting a cup of coffee or tea (tot of whiskey optional) or other beverage of choice and spending a nice afternoon with your feet up thinking about it. Don’t stress. Don’t force it. Just daydream and write down the thoughts that float into the periphery of your mind.

You’re not searching for a specific idea, although one may come to you. Instead, you’re searching for the word to place on the blank line:              I write ________________.

Books for children under 8?

How-to articles on woodworking?

Historical romances?

The crucial part of the formula is to be true to yourself. Don’t force yourself to write a certain type of article or story because you think it makes money. Good writing can make money. Stilted writing, even in a “money-making” genre or topic, makes none. So, if erotica is not your thing, do us all a favor and stick to a subject that is, even if it happens to be “steampunk vampire medical romances.” You’ll find your tribe, your niche, your avid readers, no matter how broad or narrow your genre. Same thing goes for you non-fiction writers. If writing about industrial laser diodes makes you want to poke yourself in the eye with a fork, then leave off and find something that will stimulate you to excel at your craft.

So, what kind of writer will you be in 2017? I can’t wait to find out!


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writer's guide to fiverr

A Writer’s Guide to Fiverr

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Fiverr is a fantastic resource for the self-published writer. But, you need to be very careful when dipping your toe into the sometimes muddy waters of low-cost services for hire. This quick-and-dirty Writer’s Guide to Fiverr will help you take those first steps and, hopefully, allow you to get the services you need done well and in a timely manner. I’ll take you through some of the most common pitfalls and teach you how to discern the good from the bad at a glance. Here we go!

A Writer’s Guide to Fiverr

You can find practically anything on Fiverr, but I’ll focus on the ones most pertinent to the self-published author. These are: logo design, book cover design, editing, and e-book formatting. I steer clear of marketing services on Fiverr altogether, since that category has so much risk associated with it. Once you’ve decided what service you need, you’ll need to make sure you’re connecting with a professional.

Searching Fiverr

You can search by topic on Fiverr easily, just enter, say, “EBook Cover Creation” and press “search”. Your results will populate and you can begin finding someone to fill your need. But don’t just click on anyone. I suggest categorizing your results by clicking on “average customer review” rather than “relevance” or “recent arrivals” in the filter box. That way, you can begin with people who have strong histories of good service.

Reviews and Portfolios

Always check the number of reviews. Someone with 843 five-star reviews has more history than someone with only 45 reviews. After you’ve narrowed it down with this method, do yourself a favor and check out their portfolio. Here’s where it pays to do your research. For example, I’ve seen plenty of users post book covers from some of the big book cover creation sites like and Derek Murphy as their own work. Obviously, this is fraud, or at the very least, dishonest, and you may be in for a difficult working relationship with these vendors.

Language Barriers

No writer’s guide to Fiverr would be complete without telling you to check the location and language of each vendor. Many will say they are conversant in English when, in fact, they have minimal skill and may even be relying on Google translate to communicate with you. This may not matter with some services, but when you’re trying to get a design idea across, it’s crucial. On the other hand, I’ve worked with several designers with limited English who had fantastic natural talent and a willingness to get it right and I was more than pleased with the end product. If I had limited time and patience, though, I’d go with someone from a country conversant in your language.

If you’re looking for editing services of any kind, you MUST be careful to choose an individual for whom English (or whatever language you’re publishing in) is their native tongue. Don’t be fooled by individuals who post that their native tongue is English if they’re living in a country that is not English-speaking. They may be telling the truth or they may not be; I simply don’t have the time or the money to find out. Go with the safe bet, always.


Sometimes, working with Fiverr vendors requires patience. I suspect (but can’t prove) that many of them subcontract work to people living in other countries. While your contact may be an English-speaking native in the U.S., UK, or Canada, the folks doing the work may be in any one of many non-English-speaking countries. This can result in miscommunication and work that must be redone several times.

That being said, the folks I worked with have always strived to give me a good, clean product. It may have taken a few tries, but I’ve gotten a product I’m pleased with each time. If you are on time restriction or are not a patient person overall, you may want to try a different route than Fiverr.

I’ve used Fiverr for both logos and book covers and have been very happy with what I received. In fact, the Gottabeewriting logo was done for $10 by a lovely designer named Bunny. You can find a link to her on Fiverr here. The book covers for Salt in the Blood and Blood in the Flame were completed by Hammad at this link. Check them out:

horror fiction salt in the blood



I got his premium package for $50 and I feel it was money very well spent!

If you’re happy with your Fiverr purchase, please consider giving your vendor a tip. For the most part, they charge very little for their services and it’s always nice to pay it forward when you can.

In conclusion, go ahead and try Fiverr as a resource for some of your self-publishing needs, but do be aware that there are many scammers out there and you need to protect yourself by doing some thorough research first.

See you on the next page!

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book trailers

Book Trailers: A DIY Guide for Starving Authors

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Book trailers are so much fun to do, and they needn’t cost you a fortune, either. My new book, Salt in the Blood, will be out in a month or so, and I wanted to add something fun into my bag of marketing tricks. I’ve always loved book trailers, and a quick search pulled up quite a few companies who’ll happily do one for you — for $500 or more. Even for that price, some of these seemed a bit lacking in some ways.

Being the intrepid jack-of-all-trades that I am, I decided to try my hand at creating one myself. I figured a nice DIY could save a heap of money and my bottom line. Here’s my very first attempt, and the one I’ll be using:


While it’s not the best book trailer I’ve ever seen, it’s an acceptable one that I believe does its job. Book trailers are designed to attract attention and generating intrigue and interest in the story. Even a simple trailer done well can achieve this.

In all, it took me around three hours to complete, start to finish. It cost about $40, since I did purchase two film clips to use, but the rest of the clips and images I found on free sites or created myself. Here’s how you can, too.

Resources to Make Amazing Book Trailers


First, let’s start with equipment. I use a Mac computer, so I’ll be coming from that background.  iMovie, a simple software resident on a Mac, was used to create the show.  I also have Camtasia software, available for Windows or Mac, so you could start there if you have a PC or want more complex effects. Camtasia offers more flexibility than iMovie, but I’m not ready for the big time, yet. Windows Moviemaker is a free option for you PC fans, and Wondershare is another paid choice for both platforms. I don’t have any experience with these, though, so explore at your own risk.

So, once you get your software, it’s time to start making your movie. iMovie has wonderful movie trailer templates you can edit. I used the “EPIC” theme for the Salt in the Blood trailer, but you can use whichever fits your needs.

Images and Footage

To make book trailers that are reflective of your story, you’ll need images or film clips of specific scenes, characters, or actions. Finding good fits is easy, although it is time-consuming. Check out sites like pixabay, pexels, unsplash, gratisography, morguefile or Creative Commons for choices. Many of these have both images and video, so look through each. You can also get free stock footage on Youtube by searching “free stock footage of (your subject)” in the search bar.

If you have trouble finding footage, consider combining an image with a green screen effect, or shooting your own. In the example, above, I used green screen smoke (free) over the image of the flayed man to mimic action. I shot the salt clip myself with an iPhone in slo-motion mode.

Sound, soundbible, or this list of 55 free sound websites are great places to look for sound clips. You can also record your own on your phone or with recording equipment if you have it. My movie template already had sound that I liked, so I just stuck with it, but you can edit all the components to fit your story.

Ultimately, book trailers can be a quick and easy way to generate interest in your book, whether fiction or non-fiction. Have you created your own trailer? I’d love to hear how you did it!

See you on the next page!

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defending your writing from trolls

Defend Your Writing Without Turning Yourself into a Troll

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I read a well-written article by fellow Medium writer Pete Ross about how people are offended by the occasional curse word. He nobly defends his fellow writers from what were obviously petty and poorly-considered jabs at their writing prowess and personal choices from the horde of trolls that inevitably lurks around every corner of the social media landscape.

Even though I wanted to fist-pump and shout “Hell, yeah!” to his overall message, (why, indeed, must people freak over opinions that don’t mesh with perfect precision with their own?), I found myself being a bit confused by the way in which he went about building parts of his defense.

When touching on the idea of people’s dislike of writers using curse language, he suggests, “Maybe you don’t like it because you’re old or conservative.”

Oh, no he didn’t.

Yes, he did. And then he went on to call them stupid.

He writes, “I’m going both barrels on you right now, because you’re stupid. You’re stupid because you can’t separate one little word from what is usually an excellent body of text, or even worse appreciate its skillful use because it somehow offends your sensibilities.”

Oh, no. I love Pete–he’s super intelligent and it definitely shines through in his writing. But he lowered himself into the troll barrel with the name-callers and I don’t think he even realized it.

Not everyone that doesn’t agree with cursing in an article is old, conservative, and/or stupid. Some people just don’t like it. And guess what? That’s okay. It’s okay to have an opinion and to voice it . After all, examining opposing viewpoints is how we grow and learn. It’d be boring beyond belief if we were all the same! But, we all need to learn to voice our opinions with respect for each other.

We writers need to be the change, as trite as that might sound. I know that nasty, small-minded comments are hard to deal with; I’ve had my share of them directed at me, too. But we have to argue our points without descending to their level, or we just become part of the problem.

We should focus our writing on attacking the issue, not the person voicing the opinion. Pete makes fantastic arguments in his article. I loved his example about comments to a video in which a veteran uses the f-bomb. In the video, the vet responds with occasional profanity to the current “22 pushups a day challenge”. He wants people to understand that there’re better things to do to help vets with PTSD. Pete writes, “It was a rather deep and profound message, but that didn’t stop people showing up to tell him that using the f-bomb a couple of times devalued his message and turned them off. Seriously, a combat vet is putting his soul on video and providing some really important social criticism, and all you care about is the word “fuck”?

Way to hit home. Reading Pete’s sentence made me angry for that veteran. Ross goes on later in his article to say, “Get it straight: this isn’t academia, this isn’t The New Yorker and it certainly isn’t your local community newsletter. People come here to write wonderful pieces in the way that they want to write them, not the way you want them written.”

Again, a great argument that gets his opinion across without descending into name-calling and trollish behavior.

Writers, when you’re called to defend your writing, I hope you do so armed to the teeth with your superhero-power: a compelling way with words. You’re a writer, able to leap tall trolls at a single bound. At the very least, you ought to be able to use your verbal acumen to skewer the little buggers without turning you into a carbon copy of them.

See you on the next page!


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