Monday, May 27, 2013

How Readers Can Help Authors - Kathryn Knight

I saw this article by Penny Sansevieri the other day, originally published in The Huffington Post Blog.  There are great ideas on ways readers can help their favorite authors, and the original article (found here) kindly gives authors permission to post the list on their websites.  Below are my favorites:

  • Review the book:  Readers are some of the best resources for reviews. If you are an author, ask for a review. You might even include a note at the end of the book to your readers inviting them to review it and telling them why. I'm surprised that many readers don't do this, it's not because they're lazy but because they wonder if their opinion matters. Guess what? It does! Like a book? Please review it. Even if you don't like it review it, too. Most authors welcome feedback if it's constructive. Always be positive.

  • My thoughts:  I do try to encourage readers to leave reviews, although sometimes this feels like asking a lot when people are so busy.  Plus, people unfamiliar with the process sometimes aren't sure where to start.  But the best reviews are short and to the point, with examples to back up statements.  That said, it's best to avoid spoilers, as other consumers DO read reviews--or at least warn of an upcoming spoiler.  I absolutely love getting personal emails from readers expressing how much they enjoyed my book, and I always respond quickly with a thanks and save them for days I'm struggling.  It means the world to me when someone goes out of their way to connect with me.  But the public reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, itunes, etc. are especially important, as they really help other readers choose books they may enjoy--I know when I love a book, I always want to share it with others!  Like the article says, your opinion DOES count.

  • Photo sharing:  This is another thing that I would love so much. A reader holding up my book, snapping a picture and posting it on social media! This is a fun, visual way to share your love for a book. Even better, snap a picture where you're reading it. Taking a book on vacation? Why not show yourself enjoying the book (cover out!) laying in a hammock or sitting somewhere sipping espresso (Paris?). If you don't have any travel planned, take a picture anyway. Authors love, love this so much!

  • My thoughts: What a great idea!  My sister did this on a few occasions, although it wasn't her in the picture...she caught a photo of her 3-year-old "reading" Silver Lake, her auntie's first published book (good thing she can't read, the steamy scenes aren't really meant for kids, lol).  My sister put it on Facebook, plus another one later of her cat curled up on the bed with the book!
  • Local bookstores: Though it may seem like every author who is published gets a shot at bookstore shelf space, the truth is that most don't. If you've found a book you love and had to buy it on Amazon because your local store didn't carry it, tell them. Bookstore managers have told me if they get multiple requests for a book they will consider stocking it. 

  • My thoughts:  Combined with the item below, this was a powerful tool for me.  I received prime shelf space at a local bookstore for the entire year when a local bookclub chose Silver Lake as their January pick--see my post about the sometimes difficult process of getting shelf space.

  • Reading groups: This is often a tough one for authors to get into. Reading groups are a fantastic way to get the word out about your book but many are tough to reach and often pick their books months in advance.  If you know of a local book club let them know about this book and then put them in touch with the author.

  • Buy the book for a friend:   This is pretty basic. If you love the book you just read, buy a copy for a friend. I do this almost every year for Christmas. If I love a book, I gift it. When you gift it, remind the person to review it.

  • My thoughts:  Books are great gifts for readers...if you can get a signed or personalized copy, even better!  Amazon even allows a person to gift a Kindle version of a book--all you need is their email address and you're done.

  • Social Media:  Sharing has become part of our lives. We share good and bad news but when was the last time you shared what you are reading? Here's where that great picture you just took of you reading a book can come in handy. Or even better, hop on over to Goodreads or Library Thing and share your love for this author to the millions listening there.

  • My thoughts:  I'm truly thrilled when I see my books on lists at Goodreads or Library Thing...some readers will post what they are reading in the groups they belong to, and some readers add a book to popular lists.  Silver Lake has been added to 7 different lists on Goodreads, and I'm grateful to each person who took the time to do that.

  • Bookmarks:  Most authors will get things printed up like bookmarks, postcards, etc. Bookmarks are especially fun because despite the eBook surge, many of us are still reading printed books. Email the author and see if he or she will send you a stack of them that you can share with your local library or bookstore.

  • My thoughts:  I have beautiful bookmarks, as well as business cards and postcards featuring my cover art and blurbs.  My sister gives them out to her patients.  My husband gives them out to his contacts.  They are not incredibly expensive, and I gladly mail out plenty to anyone willing to distribute them.

    As an avid reader, I can rattle off a list of books I've absolutely loved.  No, I never bothered to contact the author before I understood the process...but now I've promised myself that when a book really resonates with me, I will drop the author a quick note or at the very least leave a glowing review.  Because now I understand how much it means to have someone enjoy your work.  When I began writing Silver Lake, I said it would all be worth it if just one person I didn't know in any way contacted me to say they loved it.  Thankfully, that's happened on more than one occasion, and each and every time I find myself floating on air.  I'm thrilled when I find a book I can't put down.  To hear I've created that experience for someone else is truly one of the best feelings in the world.


    Friday, May 24, 2013

    Popular Highlights #Kindle Feature - Kathryn Knight

    I recently discovered an exciting addition to Gull Harbor's buy page: Popular Highlights.  Since this was a new feature I'd never noticed before, I did a little research.  Apparently when a certain number of Kindle readers highlight the same passage from a novel, that passage is listed at the bottom of the page on Amazon for others to enjoy.  As a writer, I'm thrilled with this feature.  I get to see what Gull Harbor's readers found important or meaningful.  It's a new way to interact with readers, albeit one-sided and anonymous.  The only drawback I can see is that some of the popular highlights contain spoilers, which could ruin the experience for a reader contemplating a purchase.

    No spoilers here, I highlighted this myself from Ch. 2

    However, as I quickly researched how this feature works, I noticed some controversy among Kindle users.  As a reader, I don't usually highlight things.  I save my highlighting for my messy, handwritten notes on my current work-in-progress--and I use a thick, old-fashioned yellow marker.  But even if I did highlight while reading e-books, I don't think I'd mind other readers seeing what I found interesting, especially in aggregate form on a buy page.  Some people prefer their highlighted excepts to stay private, however--and that is an option which can be controlled by simply turning off the feature via menu and settings.

    Popular highlights can also show up within the book, as the Kindle owner is reading, if the feature is enabled.  Some readers enjoy having the opportunity to note passages that grabbed previous readers' attention.  Others find it distracting enough to pull them out of the story, which is never a good thing when one is immersed in a great read.  And lastly, some critics suggested the appearance of pre-highlighted material keeps readers from recognizing important plot points on their own or from making their own decisions about what is meaningful.

    There's no doubt the tremendous growth of both e-readers and the technology which fuels them presents opportunities for significant changes in reading habits.  How do you feel about the Highlights Feature?

    Monday, May 20, 2013

    How writing has changed my reading - Kathryn Knight

    Having undergone the rigorous journey of writing two novels (which included a number of rewrites, several attempts at creating intriguing query letters, the painful process of summarizing the stories into 3-page synopses, and--after that amazing contract offer--three additional rounds of edits to produce the final product), I now approach reading for pleasure in a whole new way.  I'm not sure it's better in terms of my enjoyment of my favorite hobby, but after everything I've learned about writing these past 7 years, I think my new frame of reference is here to stay.

    Reading has always been my passion, and I appreciate good stories in all genres.  That hasn't changed.  But when I was younger, I rarely gave up on a book.  I had it in my head that once begun, a book had to be finished.  This applied whether I was enjoying the book or not.  I can only remember one book that I simply had to give up on--Lady Chatterley's Lover.  After discovering a classic novel with a racy title like that, I assumed I was in for a great read.  But I found the writing dry and tedious; the characters boring and one-dimensional.  I have no idea if the sex scenes were of any interest--I simply couldn't go on with the book.  The fact that I remember this, twenty years later, tells me that I still feel a bit guilty for abandoning the story.

    But twenty years ago, I did not have a husband, kids, pets, and a house.  I had plenty of time to read.  Now, my reading time is a precious commodity which I refuse to waste on something I don't love.  Once I combine that reality with the knowledge I've gained throughout the writing process, the guilt disappears.  If, after the first few chapters, I'm not looking forward to continuing the book, I don't.  Unless there's a very compelling reason to keep going, it's time for me to move on to the next one.  I want a book I can't wait to read once I finally have some down time; not one I have to slog through because of some imaginary obligation.

    There are a couple of things in particular that will make or break a book for me now.  First and foremost, I have to care about the characters.  I want to feel connected to them, to feel their emotions and root for their success.  If I don't care what happens to the main character, I lose interest fairly quickly, even if the plot seems promising.

    One of the most useful things I learned when I began writing was the importance of getting the conflict out in the first 3 pages.  I worked very hard to actually get it onto the first page in both my novels--hopefully the reader is hooked and wants to read more.  When reading, I like to see this as well.  However, I don't necessarily give up on a book that takes me a while to "get into"--Outlander was one of my all-time favorite books, and I was definitely not hooked by the first chapter.  But in that case, enough people I trusted had recommended the series, and I'm so glad I kept going. 

    Point of view problems are another thing that I may not have noticed before writing my books--but now, they will pull me right out of the story.  Occasional head-hopping is sometimes necessary, especially in romance, and I'm okay with that.  It can be done seamlessly in a way that allows the reader to experience what both characters are feeling.  But omniscience bothers me.  If I'm connected to a character, experiencing events through him or her, and suddenly the narrator tells me something the character can't possibly know, I immediately cringe.  It doesn't mean I'll stop reading, but I do notice it, and it disrupts the flow of the story for me.

    It's not just negative things that attract my attention.  When a writer uses a fresh, original metaphor or a wonderfully descriptive phrase, I'll read it over a few times with appreciation.  That's a good thing for a writer to note--but as a reader, it still slows me down and takes my focus from the story to the actual writing.  Not necessarily the best practice when reading for pleasure, but it's something I can no longer help.  Funny dialog, powerful sentences, clever segues into flashbacks: these are all things that grab my interest.  While picking up on these things may momentarily break my concentration, it can also serve as inspiration for my future writing endeavors...and that's a price I'm willing to pay.

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    Gull Harbor - Amazon Best Seller! Kathryn Knight

    Thankfully, sales are still going strong after Gull Harbor's debut on Kindle.  As part of Amazon's Kindle Select Program, the title was offered for free for 5 days in April, and it hit the #1 ranking in the Free Store in Fantasy Romance.  Many of my fellow authors were interested in how I promoted my free days, so last week I blogged about all the effort I put into spreading the word.  And as I researched ranking categories for that post, I discovered something that helped propel Gull Harbor onto a Best Sellers list in the Paid Store.

    Paranormal Romance is a huge catch-all genre, incorporating stories that include vampires, angels, demons, witches, wizards, fairies, time travel, ghosts, shifters, and anything else an author's mind can conjure up.  At The Wild Rose Press, it's such a popular genre that we have two separate lines: Faery Rose publishes the "lighter" paranormals, such as angels and time travel, and Black Rose publishes the paranormals with a "darker" element, such as werewolves and vampires.

    But Amazon is different, and I'm still learning my way around this enormous marketplace.  Both my novels are ghost stories--with human heroes and heroines attempting to unravel a mysterious haunting--which are not as numerous as paranormal romances involving vampires or demons.  I know from my personal reading preferences that the only "ghost" subcategory in Amazon falls under horror.  While there are a lot of spooky and suspenseful moments in both Silver Lake and Gull Harbor, I would never classify them as horror.  So I didn't give subcategories much thought, especially since our marketing department handles our book listings on all the various sites they are offered for sale.

    If I understand correctly, each Kindle book can be classified under two categories.  Both my novels were entered as Romance>Paranormal and Romance>Fantasy.  Truthfully, with the millions of titles available on Amazon (over 2 million currently on Kindle), I never expected to see much of a breakdown for my titles other than overall ranking. 

    But the exposure gained by Gull Harbor's free days paid off.  Even after the free promo was over, the title stayed within the top 100 Best Sellers in Romance>Fantasy in the paid store for a while.  And as I wrote up last week's blog post, I noticed something I hadn't considered before.

    The Romance>Fantasy category has no subcategories to narrow the rankings down--but Paranormal Romance has four:  Demons & Devils, Psychics, Vampires, and Witches & Wizards.  I'd been so fixated on "ghosts" as the paranormal element in my books, it actually took me a second to realize Gull Harbor fits nicely into "Psychics".  In the blurb, Claire is described as a "medium"--but that's essentially short for "psychic medium".  While she's recently embraced her talent for communicating with restless spirits, she is of course completely human.  For that reason, I just wasn't thinking of her as paranormal. 

    I fired off a quick email to our marketing director, and Gull Harbor was moved into this more narrow category within Paranormal Romance.  Since then, it has stayed on the list of Top 100 Best Sellers in Psychic Romance.  It soared as high as #5 out of those top 100, and is currently at #20. 

    It's been thrilling to see my novel on the first page in the Paid Kindle Store.  While I know it won't last forever, I'm trying to live in the moment and enjoy the ride!  And taking time off from working on my YA paranormal to write and research that blog post truly made an impact for me this time...if only I'd taken the time to capture a screen shot of that #5 ranking! 

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

    Hitting #1 on Kindle Free Days - Kathryn Knight

    I'm still recovering from the whirlwind of activity before and during Gull Harbor's Kindle Select Free Days.  It was absolutely thrilling to see my novel climb in the rankings hour by hour, until it hit #1 in the Fantasy Romance category on day 4.  Gull Harbor also broke the top 10 in the Paranormal Romance category, and rose to #37 overall.  While #37 may not seem all that exciting, this was Gull Harbor's ranking out of ALL free books in all genres that day on Amazon - a grand total of 54,133 titles! 

    Had to capture a screen shot!

    This was my first experience with the Kindle Select Free Days.  My publisher was not yet a part of the Select Program when Silver Lake was released.  I'll admit I had mixed feelings about offering my new release up for free.  Anyone who's written a novel understands the figurative--and sometimes literal--blood, sweat, and tears that go into such an extensive endeavor.  The idea of giving that work away for free can be a bit painful.  But I never entered this business with the goal of making a lot money (good thing, lol!).  Like many authors, the most important thing to me is that my work is read, and hopefully enjoyed. 

    So I decided to put everything I could into the free promotion days offered by Amazon.  I viewed this as an opportunity to increase my novel's visibility in an enormous marketplace.  And boy am I glad I did.  In addition to hitting #1 in the Free store during those 5 days, Gull Harbor has hung onto a spot in the top 100 Bestsellers in the Paid Store in its category since then.  I know it won't last forever, but I'm enjoying a tremendous bump in sales for both my books since the promotion.

    I put so much preparation into making the most of my free days, I'm not sure I can point to any one thing that helped the most.  But I'll share what I did here for anyone looking to maximize their promotion efforts during free days.

    Gull Harbor is in some pretty large categories.  There is no "Romance> Set in haunted house>Cape Cod" category, although I wish there were!  Since the paranormal element in Gull Harbor is a ghost, I could not get into one of the more narrow categories (vampires, witches, demons, etc.) within Romance>Paranormal.  I was stuck in the largest Romance category other than Romance>Contemporary.  Gull Harbor's other category, Romance>Fantasy, was only slightly smaller.  I knew I would have to really spread the word far and wide to get seen within these expansive groups, even as a free book.

    I gave myself a budget of 0 dollars.  There are many places that will guarantee a feature for your freebie on their site for a small payment.  And I'm not saying those sites don't deserve monetary support--they do.  But I'd spent money in others places in the past few months, and I decided I was going to invest time rather than money for this particular promotion.

    I started with some links from our marketing director and went from there.  Many sites offering free promotion for free books in turn had more links for similar advertising.  This site in particular grouped a large number of sites together:  I investigated every one I could find, reading the guidelines and taking notes.  I filled an 8x11 piece of paper with lists of places to submit my freebie to, along with their deadlines, tips, and etiquette rules.  If it was a forum, I registered in advance and learned my way around.  If the site allowed you to list your book well in advance, I filled out the information and sent it in early.  If a site wanted an explanation as to why they should pick your book, I took the time to write a sincere and hopefully persuasive response.  Yes, this took time and organization.  But I chose quantity over a financial investment, and enough sites featured my book to help me spread the word.

    Then I tried to maximize my exposure on other social media sites.  I try to be supportive of authors I've connected with through my publisher, Twitter tribes, Twitter followers, and Facebook pages.  In turn, I had support in return from shares, retweets, and downloads.  I try not to bombard my Facebook followers with promotion, but since this was an offer for a free book, I asked people to share the Gull Harbor link.  I was amazed at how many people happily did this for me!  And I'm lucky enough to have some loyal readers who went above and beyond.  One reader shared my book's link on 19 Facebook pages!  I was truly humbled by the support.

    I blogged, visited forums, posted in my Goodreads groups, and scheduled tweets and FB posts within The Wild Rose Press database.  My brother shared the link with his realtor loop.  I even handed out some postcards to a few cashiers at stores during the week.  Sure, it felt a tiny bit awkward...but it's a free book!

    The downside of this kind of exposure is opening your book up to many, many readers who would probably not have chosen it had it not been free.  And people in general are 10 times more likely to leave a negative review about something that bothered them than to take the time to write a positive one about something they loved!  So less-than-stellar reviews are an inevitable consequence of the thousands of downloads it takes to hit #1. 

    However, I try (sometimes it's quite difficult, lol) to find the silver lining in those reviews.  A lot of valuable feedback can be found in the useful criticisms.  Plus, anything less than 4 or 5 stars reminds me that I am doing my job: my novel has moved beyond the circle of comfort defined by family and friends.  My marketing efforts have been successful.  And while it's painful to have someone not find your work amazing, not everyone likes the same things.  Books I've found brilliant have received plenty of low marks from other readers.  Conversely, books I didn't like have thousands of happy fans. 

    Thankfully, the feedback for Gull Harbor has been far more positive than negative.  I've had readers go out of their way to connect with me via email and Facebook to tell me how much they loved the story.  And since my only goal when I began this journey was to create stories people would enjoy - stories readers could lose themselves in for a few hours - hearing those kind comments renews my passion for work that is truly a labor of love. 

    Thursday, May 2, 2013

    Heat Flash - Romantic Suspense Giveaway

    Today I'm welcoming Taylor Anne, author of the romantic suspense novel Heat Flash and a new "Rose" at my publisher The Wild Rose Press.  She's offering an e-copy to one lucky reader - leave a comment to enter and we'll draw a name on Sunday night!  Please enjoy her first author interview below, as well as the blurb and an excerpt from Heat Flash!

          I love hearing about “the call” – tell us about finding out your book received a contract offer.

    Well, I initially submitted Heat Flash as a short story with a totally different name. I received a rejection. :(  But with the help and support of my great editor, we worked and worked at the story until it was in good enough shape to submit again. So, I was on pins and needles twice with this book. When I did get the email, well, all I can say is Woo Hoo! I don’t think I’ve drifted off cloud nine since that day. It’s an awesome feeling!

          It really is the best feeling!  It’s great when an editor finds a story intriguing enough to help make it the best it can be.  So what inspired you to write this novel?

    The idea for Heat Flash actually came from a one-sentence writing prompt. All I knew in the beginning was that the couple had a history together. It really just evolved from there.

          Oh, couples with a history have serious sparks – I love to read (and write) “reunion” romances too!  What was the strangest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

    So far my research has only consisted of internet, books, people watching and conversations with others. Who knows though - one day I may find myself jumping out of an airplane in a parachute. I’m always up to new adventures.

          I would draw the line at jumping from a plane, I hate heights!  Did anything from real life make it into the book?

    A couple of things actually. First, when I was writing the story I was planning to buy a new vehicle. I wanted a Nissan Rogue, so that just had to be the vehicle for Kendall. Mine is grey, not red like hers. The second thing would be Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA. My son followed in his great-grandmother’s footsteps and attended four years at NSU. It is a quaint and picturesque town. Oh, and I can’t forget Kendall’s favorite wine, Moscato. Definitely one of my favorites also.

          It’s fun when characters take on some of the author’s interests.  My heroines all love coffee.  Tell us three things about yourself unrelated to writing.

    Three things, hmmm. I love to travel. In the past six years, I have been on four Caribbean cruises, visited Galveston, TX; St. Augustine, FL; Orange Beach, AL; Table Rock, MO; and Washington D.C. And my son is moving to Santa Cruz, CA, this summer, so guess where I’m going? Totally unrelated to writing would be the full-time job I hold down. I’ve been with this company for seventeen years working as a Sales Administrator. Challenging and frustrating – but they are my second family. Do you think they would mind if I gave that up to write full-time? LOL. Okay, so I live in Southwest Louisiana and have to say that boiled crawfish is one of my favorite foods. Yes, those little mudbugs! If you haven’t tried them, you really should. But you have to come to Louisiana because we really know how to spice them up.

          That’s a lot of traveling!  I really, really want to visit Louisiana some day, but I might have to pass on crawfish.  What’s your all-time favorite book?

    That’s a tough one. I don’t think I really have an all-time favorite. I love reading romance and suspense, but am open to many other genres such as paranormal and dystopian.

          I enjoy different genres as well.  Anything else you’d like to share?

    Sure. First I want to say I couldn’t have done any of this without the love and support of my wonderful family. Thanks guys! Second, one thing I have discovered is writing and publishing a book is a lot more than what it sounds like. The work doesn’t end there. You have book cover designs, edits, blurbs, promoting, social media….. okay, I’ll stop. Wow! But, the readers and other authors out there are the best support system a person could ask for. Thanks to all of you. And a special thanks to Kathryn for hosting me today. It has been a pleasure.

    You’re welcome, Taylor—I’m thrilled to be hosting your very first blog spotlight, thanks for being here!  You make a great point about all the work that goes into a book—it takes an enormous group effort to bring each story to life.  Congratulations on the release of Heat Flash!  It sounds like a great book, and Taylor is giving away a free e-copy to one lucky commenter.  Be sure to check out the blurb and excerpt below. 

    When FBI agent Mason Black left Kendall Reed without warning, it devastated her, but she managed to bounce back. Now on the run from a maniacal stalker, she must learn to trust the man who betrayed her in the past.

    Dealing with his own insecurities and secrets, Mason will do anything to protect Kendall from the dangerous lunatic terrorizing her. But the bigger threat may be the one Kendall poses to his heart.

    Scared of Kendall’s reaction if she learns the truth about him, Mason puts his own problems and emotions on hold to find her stalker. But when Kendall’s life is threatened, he has no choice but to risk body and soul—and even his heart—to save her.


    “Look,” Kendall said, irritation lacing her words. “I know you don’t want me here. You did your duty by protecting me. You saved my life tonight, and now you’re stuck here. The least I can do is keep you company.” She silently hoped that explanation would satisfy him. She was wrong.

    Mason watched her. A flicker of some emotion flitted across his face before he rasped, “It was my job to watch after you. This,” he gestured to the bed and rumpled sheets pooled around his waist. “This is one of the drawbacks of my job. It’s something I’ve learned to get used to. And, it’s just that, my job, it’s nothing personal. You don’t need to babysit me.”

      “I see.” She turned away from his cold stare so he wouldn’t see the hurt his words had caused. He dismissed her, just as he had done in the past. So much for thinking they could talk. So much for the flutter in her heart at knowing that Mason was back in town. She fought hard to hold back tears. 

    Fear of going home to an empty house turned her stomach. She lifted her hand to rub her throat. She had to get control of her emotions. She wasn’t afraid of much and didn’t want to allow herself to be scared now, even though the night’s events justified a little fear. With confidence she mustered up from somewhere, she took a deep breath, removed her hand from her throat, stubbornly set her jaw, and faced the man lying in the bed. 

    Her clipped words took them both by surprise. “Nothing personal. It never is with you, is it?”