Would you mind if I cursed?

Would you wash my mouth out with soap if I let my characters use bad words?

So, I’m writing two new books at the moment, and I’ve run into a bit of a quandary.  One is straight up sci-fi with aliens and made up science.  The other one is another post-apocalyptic tome with a little bit of a western theme thrown in.  It’s the latter one that has me a bit worried.  To date, I’m known (in small circles) for my young adult books.  They are peppered with somewhat disturbing images and blood and guts, but I’ve stayed away from “offensive” language.  Now, it wasn’t exactly planned that way.  It just came out that way.  Overly foul language did not fit the stories or characters.

That is not so for the new books, particularly the second one I mentioned.  It is full of four letter and otherwise bad words, some even spoken by children.  It fits the story.  I promise.  The question is can I get away with that?  Will the current fan base for my current books allow me into venture into the land of the f-word and its ilk?

I published under the name Jackson Goddard, so I could publish a book that wasn’t even close to the YA category or scifi/horror genres (The Prophet of Cradle County).  It wasn’t because of language, although it can get a bit dicey. The question is should I publish under a pseudonym for a book that is the same genre, but uses much, much stronger language?  It may not be in the YA category. That remains to be seen, but still I’m bound to get crossover as far as readership goes.   In addition, Jackson Goddard doesn’t get any sales bump when R.W. Ridley books get a little word-of-mouth action.

What to do, what to do, what to do?  Ahhh, I know I’ll ask you.  If you have an opinion on this matter, please take part in the poll below and/or leave a comment.

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2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Do you have a manuscript or self-published novel that you think was overlooked by the mainstream publishing industry?  I do, a bunch of them.  You may even feel like it’s impossible to break down that wall separating you from traditional publishing nirvana.  Well, wipe that frown off your face, you sad, sad clown.  Amazon is now accepting entries for its version of American Idol, except it’s for writers… and it’s not lame.  Here are the details.

The 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest: Submit Your Novel

Amazon.com, along with Penguin Group (USA) and CreateSpace, is pleased to announce the fourth annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, the international competition seeking the next popular novel. The competition will once again award two grand prizes: one for General Fiction and one for Young Adult Fiction. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance.

Manuscript submissions are now being accepted through February 6, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time), or when 5,000 entries have been received in each category, whichever is earlier.

Go to www.createspace.com/abna to register and submit your manuscript following the instructions on the entry form.

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I kind of apologize to Jay Cutler

It seems I may have let my passion for quality football get in the way of my common sense.  Sunday I jumped the gun and questioned Jay Cutler’s toughness when he decided not to re-enter the NFC championship game after the first series in the third quarter.  I was one of the conspiracy theorists who thought Cutler was trying to find a way out because the Green Bay defense was making his life a living hell.

As the story has developed, it seems that Cutler did want to continue to play but the medical and coaching staff wouldn’t let him.  An MRI Monday revealed that he did have a knee sprain. It is true that plenty of players have played on a sprained knee.  Many have even played with torn ligaments in the knee, but each sprain is different and each player is different.  So, I admit it was wrong of me to judge him for his motives in the most important game of his relatively young career.

And here comes the but.  Whether intentional or not, Cutler has developed a prima donna persona.  He has burned up all his “benefit of the doubt” cards. He came out of college with an odd unearned swagger.  That translated into a tumultuous stint in Denver.  He adopted the gunslinger style and has yet to develop the heroic side of that particular passing mentality.  He’s thrown plenty of interceptions slinging the football around, but to date it’s only guided him to one winning season.  There were times this year before Chicago’s bye week where he looked lost, befuddled and uninterested. Jay Cutler just looked bothered by it all.

So, to Jay Cutler I apologize for questioning your toughness. You’re an NFL quarterback who gets pummeled by 300 pound men for approximately 20 weekends every year.  You’re tough.  But you should know, I judged you by your reputation more than your actions on the field on Sunday.  Here’s an idea. While you’re rehabilitating your knee, take some time to rehabilitate your reputation.  Your teammates and fans deserve it.

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I write for another blog. Check it out!

Building your author brand

For some reason, I’ve neglected to link to my other writing gig on this blog.  Call it a brain glitch or laziness or whatever you feel is appropriate.  Especially if you feel it’s really necessary to belittle me and my writery ways.

I write for CreaeSpace’s community blog.  My original posts usually go up twice a week; Monday and Wednesday.  And, I post links to blog and news items on Tuesday and Friday.  If you’re interested in what I have to say about writing and marketing on a regular basis you can check out CreateSpace’s Resources page on those days.  In addition, I’ve decided to post a link here whenever my posts go live.

This weeks post is Evaluating Your Author Brand. Without ruining the ending for you, I give sage (or the spice of your choice) advice on how to evaluate your online persona.  Or put another way, Author know thyself!

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How I increased my book sales

There are plenty of more tens where these came from. I want to be perfectly clear about this.  I do not sell tens of thousands of books (yet) every year.  I haven’t spent any marketing dollars since January of 2010 on any of my books.  I’ve never launched a major coordinated advertising campaign for any of my books.  I would say 90% of my marketing (or more accurately branding) takes place on this blog and my relentless (almost annoying) presence on various social networks.  So, if you’re looking to me to help you unlock the secrets to sell a million books, you’re likely to be very disappointed.  Trust me, when I figure that out, I’ll be on this blog discussing every detail of the trek.

My books sales hover in the thousands.  Not a blistering number of sales on the surface, but here’s the thing, I have increased sales every year.  Granted, I usually add a book to my arsenal every year, but even accounting for that, each title sells more copies year over year, and it all starts with my anchor book, The Takers.

Comparing 2010 sales of The Takers to 2009 sales to The Takers, I increased sales by 29% on just that title alone.  Taking all books into account, I increased sales 45% over that same time period.  I’m only counting print sales for our purposes here, but I’ve increased sales on the Kindle side of things, too.

So, how did I increase my sales so dramatically?  After all, I’m a self-published author.  Mainstream media wouldn’t know me if I sat down in front of them and pitched my books to them.  I’m not opposed to spending more money on marketing, but to this point, I’ve shelled out only about $1,500 since I first published in 2005.  I am not a household name.  To top things off, the publishing industry as a whole has struggled to increase sales since I entered the market.  This is not the golden age of publishing.  So, what did I do to sell more books this year than last year?  Here’s the list of things that I’m confident attributed to my increased sales.

1. Word of mouth – My books have a small fan base, but they are extremely engaged.  I have a handful I hear from all the time via email, this blog and my social network accounts.  They are champions at spreading the word.  More than a few of them are teachers, and they introduce my books to a new crop of students every year, to which I am extremely grateful.

2. Price reduction – I dropped my base price for my books from $15.99 to $9.99.  I never liked the higher price, but I didn’t have any flexibility in changing it until my POD provider (CreateSpace) had an overhaul in policy and created flex pricing.  I immediately jumped on the new policy and brought my pricing more in line with publishing industry standards.  It made me more competitive, and eliminated a huge sales hurdle for me.

3. This blog, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube – I’m fortunate to be a one-man shop in publishing in a time when I have access to the same tools bigger publishers use to brand their authors and sell their library of books.  Every day I use these resources at my fingertips, the more my brand gets out.  The world of publishing only looks like a sedentary lifestyle.  And in as far as the day-to-day routine is done primarily sitting on one’s ass, it is, but it is also a frenetic occupation.   Your mind is constantly in motion creating and looking for opportunities to get your name out there. And, we’re not counting the time you spend writing, rewriting and everything else that goes into creating a book.

4. Evergreen mentality – I don’t look at my books as having an expiration date.  Just because I’ve written and published a new book, doesn’t mean my previous books are no longer relevant.  I look at all my books as having equal value regardless of the date they were published.

5. Publishing every year – One way I’ve kept my fan base engaged is to provide them something new to talk about every year.  I’ve made it a personal goal to publish a new title every year.  Initially, I did it to keep myself sharp and hone my craft.  But, the unforeseen benefit of the practice is having those early readers returning over and over again to read (and buy) my next book.  One and done is hard to pull off unless your Harper Lee or Ralph Ellison.

6. An insane belief in the improbable – The odds are against a book doing well in the market.  Statistically, more people want to write a book than read one.  The odds are even worse for a self-published book.  If you take new books, and royalty-free republished books, more than one million books were published last year.  In 2005, when I first published, that number was around 270,000.  I’ve had to find my spot in an ever-expanding pool of offerings.  It would have been easy to give up a long time ago, and chalk up my exit to too many things stacked up against me.  But dreams are a funny thing. They are easy to conceive, but nearly impossible catch.  And as Dr. Robert Sapolsky put it, the more impossible something is the greater the moral imperative that it must be done.

So, there you have it. I know I haven’t given you any magic bullets or even gems of wisdom.  Succeeding in publishing takes the same one element every profession takes, hard work.  If you’re pursuing easy riches, you’re on the wrong road.  Writing and publishing serves a compulsion first, and with persistence, the money will follow.  So, lead with high expectations, and survive with an impenetrable sense of success despite you current struggles.

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NFL players calling Cutler out on Twitter

Welcome to the age of social media in the NFL.  It seems that a lot of football fans like me weren’t the only ones baffled by Cutler’s decision to not play (although the official line is that the team doctors wouldn’t let him return) in the NFC championship game after the first half.  Some current and former players are wondering what in the hell he was doing.  Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones Drew is among Cutler’s colleagues  who thinks it was a chump move.  Here are his tweets.

First of all, as a Tennessee fan, I appreciate the Meyer reference.  And second of all, he appears to be right.  It looked like Cutler quit on his team.  My prediction is that we’ll see some Bears players voicing their anger with the prima donna QB over the next couple of weeks.  Like some other players have pointed out, if you can stand on the sideline, your knees not hurting that badly.

You can read more about what other players are saying here: Cutler’s NFL contemporaries go after him on Twitter

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