Saturday, December 21, 2013

Update: Life and Writing

I haven't blogged in awhile, but I figured I should post a little update for those who might have assumed that I died or worse.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thigh-deep in two books that I've been writing: the sequel to Clipped and a super-secret YA project. My writing process has involved a lot of coffee and a lot of terrible music. Also, some translating of heinous writing notes, like this: He takes that thing and gives it to what's his face. Yes, that's always incredibly helpful, self. Fuck you, too.

When I write, I feel the need to go into a little corner and isolate myself from the rest of the world, so I may be fairly absent for a little bit, but I'll be back in a few weeks. As I hopefully wrap up my YA project by the new year, I'll post details and ramblings of a crazy, life-deprived person.

Through all this, the above picture has been a source of inspiration and pleasure, so I hope you enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Promoting through a Goodreads Giveaway: Experience and Tips from an Author

A little over a month ago, I created a Goodreads giveaway in an effort to stir interest in my gay erotica novel, Clipped. (I promise I won't say anything more about my dirty book. This post is just going to be a helpful guide for anyone considering using Goodreads giveaways.) At the time, I had published the manuscript myself on Amazon. I didn't really know how successful a Goodreads giveaway would be, but I decided that I didn't have anything to lose by giving it a go, so I tried it out. Since I went hunting for experiences from author's before I went forth with the giveaway, I decided it would only be fair for me to discuss my experience, as I benefited from other people's thoughts on the subject. I always like to research people's experiences before I pursue something. That said, I'm hoping that someone will find this of use.

If you're an author considering a Goodreads giveaway, I definitely would recommend it. Though I can't say how the giveaway effects sales (halfway through the giveaway, I signed Clipped with Wilde City Press and removed it from Amazon), at the very least it:
  • Put the title in front of people who might otherwise not have seen it.
  • Doubled the amount of people who had added the book to their to-read list.
Now, does that mean that everyone who added it is going to read it? Not even a little bit. In fact, it's likely half of them will let it archive in their TBR queue. But when starting out, I don't think it ever hurts to just have the name of your book floating around in people's faces.

So here's the rundown on how I went about my giveaway. I've included advice and clues for authors and publishers that are considering this option.

1. Things to Consider
  • You need to have a Goodreads Author account to do a giveaway. This is fairly easy. If your book isn't already listed on Goodreads, you can manually add it and then sign up for Goodreads and link your profile to your book.
  • To create a giveaway, you have to be able to send physical books to winners. Goodreads doesn't do e-book giveaways. Don't ask me. Half the things Goodreads does doesn't make any sense.
  • It can take Goodreads two to three days to approve and/or update giveaways and ads, so if you want to list a giveaway for a few days, keep this in mind. Also, if you need to edit the info at any point, it will take another two or three days before they are able to update. As a general rule, I'd say they don't update on the weekends. However, occasionally I've found that something will just randomly get approved. I have no idea. I haven't hacked the Goodreads update system yet.
  • After the winners are selected, you have six-eight weeks to deliver the book to the winners. For those of you who are planning to use POD options (as I was), keep this in mind. Between creating files, getting approved, and proofing, all that time really adds up, so ideally you need to have the book ready to go by the time winners are selected. 
  • The costs of a giveaway easily add up. Cost of book production + shipping to you + shipping to each winner + marketing and promotion = total cost. Just don't be tempted to underestimating your cost and set a realistic number of books for winners.
2. How Do You Create the Giveaway?

Goodreads makes it fairly easy to setup a giveaway. On top of reminding every Goodreads Author that they have the option, the setup is pretty straightforward.

If you click on the title of your book, the right side of your page should look like this:

Click on the "List a giveaway" link, and it will take you to this screen:

You can just copy and paste your description from your book's page, but you should add a little intro before that. A lot of publishers/authors will say something along the lines of, "Giving away ten paperback titles..." I suggest you do a little research before just throwing your title up. Go to other authors in your genre that are hosting Goodreads giveaways and see how they do it. I noticed that more people were signing up for giveaways that were giving away 5+ titles. 10 seemed to be a bit of a magic number at the time. As for the giveaway dates, I noticed that most giveaways were about a month long (this is the length that Goodreads recommends), and I stole my dates from some of the other titles that were posting around the time I wanted to post. In hindsight, it might have been better to choose an end date or time with less people. Your title stands out as the giveaway comes to an end because it shows up higher on the "Ending Soon" page. If there are only a few titles on the "Ending Soon" page with you, you'll stand out to potential readers.

3. Tags Are Important

Something that you may not be thinking about, but which is incredibly important, is the tags that you choose for your title. This section is on the listing page and appears like so:

When filling this part out, you should go around and see what other titles in your genre are tagged as. For instance, for my title, I used some of the following: gay erotica, mm erotica, mm romance, dark erotica. Similar to creating meta-tags for sites, you want to put in genres that you think your audience will write into search engines. Again, the best thing you can do for this part is look and see what others are tagging their titles as. Popular shelf names work, too. By doing this, I found that my title showed up on a variety of lists of "Most Popular" and "Best in" pages because they were tagged similarly, and I'm sure this contributed to some of the sign-ups I got for my giveaway.

3. What Should You Expect?

Though I had a steady stream of signups throughout the giveaway, it definitely peaked in the beginning and at the very end (particularly stronger toward the end). I'm sure that this has a lot to do with how Goodreads set up the giveaways and how people are more likely to notice it in the new and ending soon giveaway sections.

I want to add a little disclaimer here. I posted Goodreads and Google ads for the contest. This did help me get some sign-ups throughout, but when I signed with Wilde City Press, I pulled my ads, so they in no way affected the major spike that occurred at the very end. I'm fairly sure this is a common occurrence with the giveaways. As I mentioned previously, as your contest comes to an end, your title is listed on the "Ending Soon" page of the Goodreads giveaway, and this seems to get titles noticed.

By the end of the giveaway, I had 551 entries, which I am very happy with. I'm not sure how this stacks up overall, but for the niche that I'm writing in (and the fact that I'm an unknown author), I'd say that's not too bad. I also ended up with over 300 people adding me to their to-read shelves. When I started, I think I was around 120, so it doubled the efforts that I made outside of the giveaway.

3. What Can You Do To Promote It?

Like I mentioned before, I used Goodreads ads, and those seemed to be very effective. At the same time, Goodreads ads is a skill that must be learned through trial and error. I'll be posting about my experience with that soon, but just know it's all about getting a good CTR in the early stages. If an ad doesn't take off right away, change your approach ASAP and try again. You learn as you go, and with all PPC advertising, it's all about rapid adaptation.

Outside of Goodreads, obviously you should use any social media platform you can to promote the giveaway. Ultimately, I think the in-house Goodreads promotion that giveaways offer provided me with more promotion than anything that I was able to accomplish through my ads or social media.

4. Overall?

An excellent experience. Again, I can't say how this all adds up in terms of sales, but when you're an indie author, you really have to take exposure where you can get it. A little press is better than no press, and the cost of a giveaway is minimal compared to the cost of PPC advertising.

As I mentioned researching previous posts on Goodreads giveaways, I thought it was only fair to include some of these resources here:

Annie Daylon's Giveaway
Promoting Your Book Through a Goodreads Giveaway

Feel free to ask any questions about Goodreads giveaways. I won't have all the answers, but I'm willing to share anything I've learned in my experience.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Importance of HIV and AIDS Discussions: Tearing Down Ignorance

It's here: World AIDS Day 2013. I hope everyone has a chance to get out and get tested today. In honor of WAD2013, I would like to take a moment to blog about why this subject is so important to me and why I think it's so important for us to keep talking about it. Being a gay man, I can really only discuss this subject from that vantage point, so most of what I have to say is to other gay men, but being that HIV affects many more demographics, I equally encourage everyone to take this day seriously.

Over the past week, I've made sure to interject World AIDS Day into various conversations with my friends. I always make it a point to bring up AIDS and HIV when I can, if only to make sure that it's something people are thinking about. Occasionally, this will be met with glares and comments that say something to the effect of, "Why are you dragging everyone down?"

While I certainly understand that HIV and AIDS aren't the source of the most jovial of conversations, they're important to discuss. Too many times I've heard a friend or a peer say something ignorant about HIV and HIV+ people. An alarming number of these comments come from my gay peers, which is incredibly disheartening. Among these ignorant comments, I've heard:
  • What's the difference between AIDS and HIV?
  • I've only ever had sex with people who tested negative, so I don't have to worry.
  • Oh, I've never really thought about getting tested.
  • I would never be in a relationship with an HIV+ person.
  • Well, it's not my problem that other people weren't being responsible.
  • I don't understand why my new boyfriend won't have unprotected sex with me. That's a trust issue.
This is a small sampling of the sorts of comments that have left me perplexed and deeply concerned about people's education about HIV and AIDS. Just yesterday, a friend texted me about a conversation he was having with someone, where a gay man he was speaking with said that he only had unprotected sex with people who said they tested negative for HIV. Looking back on my sex life, I can recall only one person honestly disclosing their status to me, and it was someone that I really hadn't been planning on having sex with. Considering the number of partners I've had, I have no doubt that several of my sex partners lied about A) their actual status or B) even knowing their status. The truth is, there are a staggering number of gay men who just aren't getting tested. I recent statistic from the CDC, about 60% of young people with HIV don't even realize that they are infected. And seriously...who isn't going to say that they're negative if they want to get some booty? After all, if they haven't found out they're positive, doesn't that make them negative? No. It makes them incredibly irresponsible and representative of one of the insidious ways that HIV continues to spread. In fact, several people I know who are currently positive contracted HIV from someone that they trusted.

As unfair as it is to be lied to about someone's status, the burden isn't just on those who may have been infected to know and disclose. It's not smart to trust anyone about their HIV status, especially considering how many people out there aren't even getting tested. Over the course of my life, I've known several people who hadn't gotten tested until I practically dragged them to the clinic. It's not just that I think people should know their status. It's important to get into the habit of testing, so if there is a scare, people will at least have minimized the fear of the testing process. I remember the first time I got tested. I was in AID Atlanta. I was sitting in the closet-of-a-waiting-room, waiting for my number to be called. I didn't know what they were going to ask me to do. I was anxious, nervous. I was worried, fearful, and to make it even worse, I was sitting in the waiting room with another guy, who was balling his eyes out (I assumed only because he was worried about his pending results and possibly somewhat aware of the risk that he was at). Those first few tests weren't easy for me, so I can understand why people aren't eager to put themselves in that position. But those tests made other times where I was worried about exposure that much easier.

But as much as I like to stress the importance of testing and understanding one's status, I don't want to perpetuate a negative stigma about those who test positive. Testing positive for HIV is not the end of life...not even the end of a person's sex life. I have known plenty of HIV+/HIV- couples who have had long-term, sexually-active relationships without transmitting the disease. I was in a relationship with an HIV+ man for several years. We had an incredibly active sex life, but knowing his status and doing what I could to prevent transmission kept me HIV-. In fact, when approached about this relationship, people usually ask, "Weren't you afraid of the risk?" My response has always been, "With a one-night stand, there's a risk. Are they telling the truth? Are they lying? They could very well be positive. With an HIV+ person, I know the risk, and I take the steps necessary to ensure that I'm always safe." That said, I want to stress to HIV- people that knowing a person is HIV+ does not make them an untouchable, which is so commonly how people react to that notion. You can find plenty of stories from HIV+/HIV- couples to know that not contracting HIV is all about education, not just sexual contact.

To HIV+ people, I'd like to stress the same thing. There is a lot of ignorance in the world about HIV and AIDS. There are a lot of people who are eager to say, "You did something wrong. You deserved it. You were irresponsible." The truth is, though, I have friends who contracted HIV from less risky behavior than others who remain uninfected to this day. HIV doesn't choose victims. It doesn't dish out fair and just punishment. There is nothing fair about it. And just because a person has HIV, does not mean that their life or sex life is over. It does, however, mean that you'll be met with great ignorance and stigmatization. This is where the real enemy is, and I only hope that the world is moving in a direction to lessen this stigma.

So again, please. Get out, get tested. Get educated about HIV and AIDS. Talk with people about it. Tweet about it. Blog about it. Pin about it. Ignoring this problem isn't going to make it go away, but talking about it will make it easier for us to tear down those boundaries that do little more than hold up biases and stigmas.