Monday, July 5, 2010

Keep Your Book Sales Steady - Tips from Lynda Hilburn

In October of 2007, Lynda Hilburn’s novel The Vampire Shrink joined the upper echelon of the vampire culture with this book jacket grabber:

Denver psychologist Kismet Knight, Ph.D., doesn't believe in the paranormal. She especially doesn't believe in vampires. That is, until a new client introduces Kismet to the vampire underworld and a drop dead gorgeous, 800-year-old vampire named Devereux. Kismet isn't buying the vampire story, but can't explain why she has such odd reactions and feelings whenever Devereux is near. Kismet is soon forced to open her mind to other possibilities, however, when she is visited by two angry bloodsuckers who would like nothing better than to challenge Devereux by hurting Kismet.

To make life just a bit more complicated, one of Kismet's clients shows up in her office almost completely drained of blood, and Kismet finds herself immersed in an ongoing murder investigation. Enter handsome FBI profiler Alan Stevens who warns her that vampires are very real. And one is a murderer. A murderer who is after her.
In the midst of it all, Kismet realizes she has feelings for both the vampire and the profiler. But though she cares for each of the men, facing the reality that vampires exist is enough of a challenge . . . for now.

Lynda’s next novel, Dark Harvest, followed in 2008 with equally rave reviews, tempting the readers with this lead in:

Denver psychologist Kismet Knight counsels vampires. Her life changed forever when she discovered a dark preternatural underworld, became involved with gorgeous, eight-centuries-old Devereux, the powerful leader of a vampire coven, and was forced to reconsider her notions of "reality."

Still adjusting to her new role as an expert on all things paranormal — as well as her unexpected notoriety and new clientele — she schedules what she believes is simply another radio interview. She couldn't be more mistaken. Not only does the radio host behave very strangely, but an ominous, on-air call turns Kismet's world upside-down again.

Shortly thereafter, Maxie Westhaven, a tabloid newspaper reporter in search of a juicy story, befriends Kismet, leading her into a bizarre world of role players, lost souls, and death. Enter Victoria Essex, Devereux's building manager and resident witch, who discloses a startling secret of her own.

Meanwhile, Luna, Devereux's hostile, femme fatale personal assistant recognizes a perfect opportunity to throw a wrench into her boss's blossoming relationship with the human psychologist and, to complicate matters further, Kismet's old boyfriend, self-absorbed psychologist Tom Radcliffe, shows up with his own outlandish request.

Typically when a book hits the stores, the sales flourish within the first few months of its release then gradually begin to settle. Lynda Hilburn has wisely seized the latest boom in publishing to maintain a steady sales rate. She’s using Amazon.

And why shouldn’t she? In the contracts for The Vampire Shrink and Dark Harvest, her agent negotiated that she maintains all the electronic rights. If a book as good as Lynda’s has not reached all of its potential audience, then why wouldn’t she spread her vampire bite on the viral electronic platform?

Lynda is very busy as a licensed psychotherapist and a certified clinical hypnotherapist. She set aside some time out of her schedule to share some tips on her writing and marketing.

CIR: We’re running stories about rejections on the blog this month and it may become a staple with us. Do you have any memorable rejection anecdotes?

LH: Thanks for having me on the blog, Dave. Like all writers, I’ve certainly had my share of rejections. I think my choice to blend genres, at a time when it wasn’t as common as it is today, caused me to receive an extra-large dose of “no thanks” responses. In fact, those rejections were the most confusing because they were all over the place. There was nothing consistent I could change to please a large segment of the editors my agent contacted, except to take out the extra genres. Most said, “This is a book that can’t figure out what genre it wants to be. You need to pick one genre and take out all the others.” And each editor had a different idea about which genre needed to be axed. It hadn’t occurred to me that I couldn’t write the book the way I wanted it, which meant mixing urban fantasy (although, nobody was talking about urban fantasy back then, either), romance, sex, humor, satire, mystery, chick lit and horror. So, the most memorable aspect of my rejections was the total frustration I felt about them.

CIR: In Chris Redding’s blog, you said “The biggest lessons I’ve learned have been about the business side of being an author.” Do you feel like you gained more success once you realized the business end of this writing game?

LH: Things became steadier for me as I realized that being an author is nothing like what I was used to, running my own businesses. I’d been self-employed for most of my adult life, and was comfortable calling the shots and charting my own course. In publishing, well, let’s just say things are different. I had to make every mistake a new author can make (sometimes twice), before I understood the nature of the business. And, as a psychotherapist who had no problem “disclosing and sharing,” (okay, I can laugh about it now) I soon discovered those things are unwelcome, to say the least. Alien. I definitely spoke a different language. The advice my divorce lawyer gave me years ago applies to publishing: You’ve got to take all your emotions out of this process. So, it is true that my steep learning curve taught me to take a mental/emotional step back, which, I believe, has helped me to keep my books in the public eye.

CIR: Since you are clearly a creative person, (besides being a writer, Lynda also sings rock) do you use your imagination to dream up ways of better marketing your book?

LH: Thanks for the kind words, Dave. I do view myself as creative, but I think my best skill regarding marketing is that I pay attention to what’s going on around me. I belong to lots of writing/author groups and loops. When a new marketing idea begins to percolate, I immediately check it out to see if it would benefit me. That’s one good thing that came from my years of self-employment: having to spend continuous money on promo/marketing. I don’t even give it a thought. I just do it. If something works out – meaning I get a sense that it increased my name recognition – then I do more of it. If not, then I regroup. I try to attend conferences where I can make presentations (although that is harder with a full-time job), and I create opportunities in my community to talk about writing or vampires or anything publishing. I guest blog and have guests on my blog. The list goes on and on. As most writers know, promo can be 24/7, and it’s a struggle to do a sufficient amount, while still keeping time to write.

I do enjoy singing and have been working with various classic rock bands in the Denver metro area. Unfortunately, I always have to choose between writing and performing. Lots of the bands I’ve worked with practice and perform in the South area, which is far from my Boulder location. It just became too challenging to try to split myself into so many slices, so I had to drop out of the last band. Maybe something will open up in my neck of the woods. Here’s my singing MySpace page if anyone would like to listen:

CIR: At the last conference I attended, none of the agents were interested in seeing manuscripts that mentioned vampires. Considering its run from before the 80s started by Anne Rice, could this be the end of a genre for new writers?

LH: I hear that all the time. It simply isn’t true. If you look at the sales numbers for all forms of paranormal books, especially vampire books, the opposite becomes apparent. I do think that many agents are saturated with vampire authors, or other authors who jumped on the vampire bandwagon. They’d like nothing better than for a new sales stream to emerge. That makes sense. But the popularity of “vampire fiction” has increased steadily since Anne Rice wrote her books, and I see no end in sight. Good vampire books will continue to sell. There are just too many reasons we readers respond to the vampire archetypes for the fanged nightwalkers to sink back into the grave for good. Yay! Because it’s my favorite thing to write. Always has been.

CIR: What are you working on now?

LH: I’m working on the third book in my Kismet Knight, Vampire Psychologist series, as well as some shorter things (some in Kismet’s world, some not). I’m also thinking about a spin-off in the same world and an unrelated series. Maybe I’ll win the lottery so I can quit my day job and write full time!

CIR: Do you have any advice for an author who is considering taking a manuscript to Amazon?

LH: My situation is unique, so I’m not sure my experience would translate the same way for all others. I already had some success with my print books. In fact, I’ve been constantly surprised that they continue to sell so well. Since my agent (wise fellow) kept all the book rights for me except domestic print rights, my publisher couldn’t create e-versions of my novels.

It was really a matter of timing. Prior to Amazon’s Kindle taking off like a bullet, the only option I thought I had for selling e-versions of my books was to find a epub that would take on books they couldn’t have the print rights to. That didn’t seem like a good idea to me, but it turned out to be irrelevant, because none of the epubs I contacted were interested. Simultaneously, I started to hear all kinds of chatter about authors uploading books (if they own the rights) on Amazon. Figuring I had nothing to lose, because otherwise there would be no e-versions of the books, I hired someone to convert my novels into Kindle versions and he uploaded them for me (there’s not enough time for me to try to do everything, so I believe in the fine art of delegation). I also had him upload an erotic paranormal novella I’d sold to an epub (and got the rights back for) under a pen name. That was mid-March, 2010 and my books immediately began to sell.

If you follow the Kindle exploits of author JA Konrath, and know about his incredible success, you’ve probably assumed that level of accomplishment doesn’t hold true for everyone. There are indy authors who are doing extremely well on Amazon – some without a previous platform to grow from – and lots who aren’t doing well at all. Konrath talks a lot on his blog about why that might be. He says a great cover and an enticing book blurb, followed by an excellent read, can lead to success with e-books. Also a low price. He says people just don’t want to pay a lot for ebooks and that Amazon is turning the publishing industry upside-down.

Would I write books specifically for Amazon? Yes. But, again, that’s because I already had some print success and now Kindle success. Would I choose Amazon over a NY print publisher? No. NY is still my dream. I will always try to sell everything I write to a print outlet before uploading it to Amazon. Should writers upload their books to Amazon? Maybe. If the book has proven to be ready for publication and indy/self-publishing is the route the writer desires. Then, be prepared for 24/7 promo. I have gotten some nice surprises since the Kindle versions of my novels have been on various best seller lists on Amazon. Publishing professionals have contacted me directly, and that’s always fun. Who knows what might happen?

Lynda will be at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference giving a presentation entitled "Writing Characters with Pyschological Disorders."


Rosemary Carstens said...

Lynda: Thanks for sharing your ideas about writing and marketing. It's good to hear how well you are doing!
Rosemary Carstens,

Andy said...

Lynda, You are AMAZING. You do everything! Who knew you could sing, too?? I'll always be appreciative of our brief work together - you're a wonderful hypnotherapist - thanks!
- Andy Stanton

Lynda Hilburn said...

Rosemary: Thanks so much for stopping by. I appreciate the support! I hope everyone will check out your wonderful FEAST site.

Andy: I'm glad the work was helpful. You're a doll to tell me that. I think all of the women in BMW are amazing, including you!

Laurel Kallenbach said...

It's great that your agent managed to arrange it for you to keep the e-rights to your books. I hope the Kindle sales become lucrative for you.

Lynda Hilburn said...

Hi, Laurel. So far, so good. I'll have to keep adding new content so things will continue to flow. Thanks for commenting!

Shannon said...

You are a real talent, Lynda. RMFW is lucky to have you. Nice interview, Dave. This blog rocks. Get it, rocks? I'm chiseling with the humor.

Lynda Hilburn said...

Hi,Shannon. Thanks for the kind words. This blog does rock! Nice of you to stop by!

Lise Horton said...

What a great post - filled with terrific info and I'm intrigued to hear about your Amazon experience. Smashwords, I believe does something similar as far as an author uploads her book based on their tech specifications and your in business. I think also that you have hit the nail on the head - book sales come as a result of promo. Constant, dedicated promo and learning as you go what works for you (and what doesn't). Seems, Lynda, that you must have a huge plate with all the time demands on it. Good luck moving forward with your projects, print, Amazon and otherwise. Thanks for this intel!

Lynda Hilburn said...

Hi, Lise! Thanks for commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, Smashwords is a pretty happening place, too. All my books are there, as well. The owner is a nice man who is working hard to make sure different versions of authors' books are available in all the e-versions possible. I can only imagine that trying to work with all the different outlets is like herding cats for him! Best of luck to you, too!