My cousin is a musician. He’s worked his entire professional life amidst notes; touring with a successful band for years, producing several fantastic CDs and teaching. When iTunes slammed into the planet and made music digital and cheap he was angry.
“Too bad, cuz,” I’d say. “You know what they say. Adapt or die!”
Okay, I didn’t say it like that, but it’s the message that he probably took away from our debates.
Then Spotify and its ilk pushed music even further into the ether. Songs became not just a commodity, but a common element. Like air, except louder and with a riff.
Poor music business.
But what if indy authors have more in common with our musical peers than we think? What if the proliferation of subscription services is sending us down a path of permanently earning less for our books.
I’m an optimist. I believe that the writing life is a wonderful life. I know it’s here to stay. But it may need to change into something different.
So I got to thinking. Stand back. It’s a dangerous thing. Ask my wife. Or my cousin.
Here’s my take…
Musicians have concerts. Gigs can add some cash to the coffer as music sales drop through the stage. At gigs, bands sell CDs (and LPs!) to the audience.
But writers have nothing similar. Book readings are the closest thing, but they’re not as essential to the reader as live music is to the music fan.
So are we doomed to just maneuver the same turbulent sea of shifting tactics to survive Amazon’s whims, or Facebook’s changing policies, or a tiered Internet?
Believe it or not, I’m going somewhere positive with all of this.
What if writers need to produce their work to find that alternate revenue stream? Produce our work? What the hell does that mean, Ben? Well, what if I need to make The Camelot Kids a comic book and a weekly animated short for it to make me money? What if Shirley Link is a monthly podcast and a small indy film? Maybe your book is a future YouTube hit? What I’m searching for here is that secondary revenue stream that leverages the wonderful book we’ve written and builds upon it for a modern audience.
Does that makes sense? I mean, we tell stories. On paper. On touchscreens. But maybe we need to ponder other ways to tell our stories.
Maybe we need to tap into these social network thingies and find audio recording, film making, 3D animating peers who will work for a cut of the profits.
As importantly, maybe new services need to spring up that help us make our books into animated movies, or plays, or films, or games, or virtual reality experiences. Yes, there’s ACX. There are fun toys like Booktrack. Those are along the lines of what I’m talking about, but what I’m starting to see is that I need to break out of my comfort zone (even more than I already have). I’m starting to see that the same way that musicians had to learn to set up a gig, perform and connect with music fans in a whole new way, well maybe in some twisted, introverted wordish way that’s our future, too.
What do you think? Could you envision writers as media producers? Do you think a successful indy author will need to be a successful media producer in the near future? Is the thought too terrifying to ponder? Or does it excite you?
The basics of social media fluctuate around the edges. Use your real voice, be useful and go heavy on images when you can. But if you look at the list below you’ll see some essentials that are harder to spot.
The basics of social media: Facebook
* Consider making a Fan page for your work. This means you can keep your personal separate from your professional connections. Yes, you can still promote your work from your personal page once in awhile (just don’t make a daily habit out of it).
* Put up a great pic in the header with the following specs: 851 pixels wide by 315 pixels tall on PCs. Loads fastest as an sRGB JPG file less than 100 kilobytes. If it’s more than 100k it will get pixelated!
* Share other posts and Like other pages. This will help people see your taste and influences.
* Post every blog post on Facebook as well. You can link to the post or post it in its entirety, depending on what you want to get out of the post.
* Add pictures whenever possible. Generally, people prefer images to text.
* Use Facebook Insights! This is available only to Facebook fan pages, not personal profiles. The insights will tell you what’s working and what is not.
* Contests are a wonderful way to get new followers. Use Giveaway Tools at http://giveawaytools.com/ and enable their Facebook tab feature, which will place the contest on your Facebook page.
* Post often about what’s going on, but don’t forget to ask questions, too.
The basics of social media: Twitter
* You get 140 characters for your bio. Use it well. Engage, amuse and throw in one or two hashtags to show what you’re all about.
* Snag a Twitter handle that resembles your brand/story. This will make it more memorable.
* Post a large-rez image for the twitter profile page. Use a great profile pic. Here are the dimensions:
Profile pic: 400 x 400 px
Cover photo: 1500 x 500 px
* Twitter will continue to drive people to use their profile pages so be ready if they flick the switch and make it a primary destination!
* Be nice. You can challenge people, but be respectful too. Same rules that apply to a party, apply here.
* Pin your best tweet to the top of the profile page. Here’s how:
Go to your profile page.
Find the Tweet you’d like to pin and click the ellipsis icon (•••).
Select Pin to your profile page.
* Use hashtags for your events and deals. This will help you track interest.
* Use Hootsuite! It’s a great app that lets you schedule tweets ahead of time. It also lets you follow “conversations” in their own tab. So you can follow the hashtag #infographics (for example) to see what people are saying about that subject in real time.
* Use a link shortener. These are the shortened urls that you see sometimes that “hide” the long string url. Hootsuite uses its own shortener AND it gives you access to the metrics behind that short link.
* Retweet often. You’ll find buddies this way.
* Always give credit by mentioning “via @[Twitter Name]”
* If the person who follows you shares your interests then follow back.
* Twitter is getting more visual so feel free to share images of your own and others’
The basics of social media: Blogging
* What do you bring to the table? Focus on posting about your interests, NOT what you think people are interested in reading. If you just focus on what other people are looking for then you’ll run out of inspiration after a week.
* Plan your posts a full month to one year ahead of time. By doing so, you remove the arduous task of deciding what to write about! Use a calendar to track your content plan.
* Be genuine. Your voice must be your own for it to stand out. People can spot fakery and casual-contrarians from a mile away.
* Post regularly! The kiss of death is silence. Yes, the pressure is on. You can do it.
* Don’t put Share buttons everywhere, just put them in one or two obvious places.
* Use your blog as a tool to grow your fanbase by offering the option to subscribe to your blog. This way people will get an email whenever you update the site. You can put the subscribe button in an obvious place. Every blogging platform offers a version of this feature.
* Every post must have a large title (H1), a smaller sub-title (H2) underneath and preferably some bullet points within the post. This is how people browse a post AND it’s how Google scans your page.
* Guest bloggers are waiting to post on your blog. Ask around. They’ll bring their fans with them, too.
* Guest post yourself. Find new fans by sharing your work with new people on other blogs.
* Pay attention to comments! Answer quickly and give it some thought so people know there’s a real person on the other end of the keyboard.
* Pictures, illustrations, animations. VISUALS! VISUALS! VISUALS!
I miss Shirley! I’ve been working so hard on The Camelot Kids that she’s had to have some adventure all on her own. I’ll get back to her soon in a book titled Shirley Link & The Party Poopers, but until then you can snag a short story! Shirley Link & The Ghost of Christmas Presents is in the Book Elves Anthology: Volume 1 along with some of my favorite Middle Grade authors.
Here’s an excerpt. Then head to Amazon and order the Kindle version or the softcover!
It’s not easy for me to enjoy the holidays.
Halloween was fun for awhile. Until I got my first stomach ache from one too many Resses Peanut Butter Cups.
I guess Thanksgiving has its moments. But you know what? I just don’t like the taste of turkey.
I especially have a hard time with my birthday. Yes, I know it’s not a holiday, exactly, but you wouldn’t know that from the way my parents act. When I’m 21 they’ll probably still look at me like I’m a four year old, with their heads bent a little bit to one side and a proud grin on their faces.
But one holiday is okay. Somehow, it promises a hopeful morning, an afternoon packed with joy, and an evening of peace.
My family does volunteer work every Christmas day. We’ll help out the Northeast Food System Partnership or the Organic Trade Association in Greenfield. I think my soft spot for Christmas comes from the year my family volunteered at Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls. They give out toys and a fantastic Christmas lunch to families less fortunate than mine.
So that morning a couple of years ago, the whole Link family piled into the car after a humongous breakfast. We slid our way through the icy town until we got to the church. The parking lot was pretty full.
I arrived a little sleepy. Seven pounds of pancakes will do that to a person. Also, I hadn’t enjoyed a good nights sleep. My good friend Wylie had called me up on Christmas Eve and talked non-stop about the new Marvel Avengers video game he was hoping to get for Christmas. Somewhere around his description of Starlord’s powers I fell asleep. When I woke up who-knows-how-much-later he was still talking.
So as Mom, Dad and I got out of the car I wasn’t at the top of my game. It was Christmas! Who knew I’d have to take on my newest case as an amateur detective?
I’ve talked a lot about the softcover collection of The Camelot Kids coming out in December, 2014. Why am I so excited? Well, besides seeing the story all together in one volume, there’s the spectacular artwork of Ian Greenlee. Ian has been body slamming every single piece for The Camelot Kids eBooks (yes, in a good, loving way). His art is getting a lot of buzz in the illustration world. And readers LOVE what they’ve seen so far.
Here’s one review:
“I love love love this series!!
The illustrations are really really wonderful. I wish I had some to frame for my office.”
“This is the first in an exciting new middle grade series, by Ben Zackheim, with stunning illustrations peppered throughout, this one is sure to be a hit.”
I want to give you a peek at how we’ll be using the artwork in the softcover edition. From the start, Nathan Fox (Art Director and cover artist) has wanted the illustrations to emerge from the story. His meticulous sense of theme and intent are woven into every visual decision he makes. For instance the theme of The Camelot Kids: Part One was “Emergence” which translated into wonderful illustrations of our characters stepping into a new world. But the softcover will give us a whole new way to play with the theme.
Well, when Simon Sharp finds the vambrace in the grass in Part One, it’s his first step into Merlin’s domain. Simon doesn’t know it at the time, but Ian did a fantastic job of showing the confusing, dramatic moment. In the book, you’ll be able to see the drawing in all of its detail, and you’ll notice how some art appears to embrace the text of the story. In the two-page spread below, notice how the leaves flow from one page to the next, like ivy growing through the prose.
This is just one example of the beauty and attention to detail that you’ll find in The Camelot Kids: Book One, coming in December. Yes, THIS December ;-)
Here’s a free story, starring Maille Rose! Maille (pronounced Molly) has become a favorite of The Camelot Kids’ fans. Read on to find out why. You can also download this story to your device for later. (PDF) (epub) (mobi)
Maille Rose’s wand hand was asleep. Sitting in a closet will do that. As a rule, something is going to lose blood flow when you’re scrunched up in a pile of dirty laundry for seven hours.
Her target had been due to return to his bedroom at 7 pm. At least that was the routine according to the Survairys who had scouted ahead the previous week. But 2 am rolled around and faded into 3 and she still found herself browsing the clothing tags. She even invented a new game called “Percentage Polyester?” but she just couldn’t go on when it actually became enjoyable.
Maille wished she could doze off, if only to escape the smell for a while. But she had a job to do. Maybe she could leave the closet for a few minutes to stretch her legs? No way. She wasn’t allowed to leave her entry point until the target showed up.
“When I’m in charge,” she thought, “I’ll update every ridiculous rule in Rules of Magic.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t put you in charge,” a man’s voice said in her head. “Your target is walking up the stairs.”
“About time,” Maille thought back.
“Your right hand is asleep,” the voice grumbled. “How are you going to do your job when your hand is blopping around like a rotten pumpkin?”
“I have no idea what that means,” she thought. “But don’t worry about it. I got it covered.” She hoped her cockiness was obvious. Nothing got under his skin more than cockiness.
“Oh, you do, do you?” he grunted.
“I came up with a spell!”
“You came up with a spell.”
“A spell. That’s what I thought. Did my brain stutter? Yeah, the spell gets the blood flowing. It’s pretty cool. Did I remember to feed Mrs. Howl’s chickens?”
Maille didn’t mean to think about the chickens just then. The stray thought was what wizards call a Randumber. Randumber’s are when you think about something without meaning to, which interrupts the conversation you’re having with whatever cranky wizard is using your head as a motel. Randumber’s are considered quite rude and a sign of poor form in the wizarding world.
But Maille didn’t care.
She cared more about the fact that no, she had indeed not remembered to feed the damn chickens now that she thought about it.
She plopped her limp hand on her lap and held the wand over it. It was a bit awkward in that small space because Maille Rose’s wand was once a normal Louisville Slugger bat — before she chose it as her primary wizarding tool.
“Influit,” she whispered.
Within seconds Maille could move her hand normally. Just in time, too. The door to the room creaked open.
She held her breath. She didn’t want the target to hear her breathing. In Maille’s experience, a gentle, quiet entrance (even from freaky entry points like closets) was the best way to avoid the target’s death by abject fear.
She Eyenapped the eye of a nearby fly to get a good look around. The door had indeed been nudged open slightly, but the room appeared empty. A single bed-spring with no mattress sat in a corner, covered with a couple of blankets. The paint on the wall flaked off like dead skin and left an army of flesh-colored chips on the rotting floorboards.
Back in her own head, Maille’s non-magic ears concluded that her target must have gone back downstairs.
“That’s it. I can’t stay here any longer,” she thought. She wasn’t going to wait one second more for this ninny to show up while chin-deep in his boxer shorts. He could discover the truth about his life some other day.
“Now see here, you whipperscrapper…” the voice in her head started, getting his words wrong as usual.
It was too late. She’d already nudged the closet door open with her foot, wand raised high. Just in case she needed it.
But her wand wasn’t enough.
Maille’s target, now more aptly named her attacker, had been cloaked in the shadows on the other side of the closet door. He kicked the door closed, trapping Maille’s leg in the doorframe with a sickening CLUNK!
“Sounds like that hurt,” the voice in her head said, so loud that her head throbbed.
“If you won’t help me, then zip it!” she screamed back, this time out loud.
Maille rolled forward, dodging a baseball bat to the head. She punched her opponent in the nose and blocked the second blow with her own bat.
But, unlike the attacker’s weapon, Maille’s bat had magic.
And it had been dented. So it was now mad bat magic.
It lashed out with a burst of purple flame, chest-high, that cut across the floor and lay down an eerie glow. Maille immediately feared that her wand had overreacted because… well, there’s no other way to put it… her target was the cutest boy she’d ever clobbered.
Handsome Face (as Maille would call him until she learned his real name) leapt over the wall of flame and took another swing.
But this time she was ready. The spells rolled out of her mouth in the following order:
ContraPlaga (accompanied by waving her arm dismissively) disarmed him.
Stipatio (a spell usually reserved for putting babies to sleep) made his eyes get heavy.
ModusObligatus gave real weight to the darkness of the room, keeping her attacker contained, just in case he managed to beat down the Stipatio.
Handsome Face kind of lolled to the floor and lay flat on his back, frowning at the ceiling. Maille stood over her target. She was short of breath because ModusObligatus added about seventy pounds to everyone in the room.
And because this guy rattled her in a profoundly irritating way.
Maille Rose reminded herself who was in charge here — square jawline, piercing eyes and wide shoulders aside. She got ready to launch into her standard pitch.
Instead, she said, “Hi! I’m Maille!” She closed her eyes and shook her head. That was as far off-script as she could have possibly managed.
“What are you doing, silly girl?” the noggin voice echoed in her skull.
Handsome Face glared at her, like he’d take a bite out of her leg if he could move.
“I’m not sure how you got to be such a fighter,” Maille said, trying to keep her tone light. “But that’s a good thing.”
“Stick to the script, Maille Rose,” the gruff voice spoke behind her right ear.
“I’m trying!” she yelled.
Handsome Face lost a little of his frown. It was replaced with concern. Most likely concern that he was stuck in a room with a nutball.
“Okay, listen up,” Maille started. “Have your parents told you about The Prophecy?”
Handsome Face’s concerned look got more intense. She was freaking him out now. Fine. As long as she kept the upper hand no one would get hurt.
“Here’s the deal, and I’m sure you’ll listen to me because you can probably tell I’m a wizard.”
“You’re not a wizard yet, you little liar,” the head voice said with a condescending cackle.
Handsome Face’s expression was now one of terror. She followed his stare to her hand, the one that had been asleep a minute earlier.
It was the size of a basketball.
Her new spell was malfunctioning.
“Oh, look at that,” the voice said. “Who could have guessed that an untested spell could backfire?”
Maille decided to do the only thing that would buy her time. Pretend nothing was wrong…
“So,” she continued, “you’re the great, great, great, great…” She paused.
“Great, great grandson of Sir Hoel, one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. You may think, ‘okay weirdo with the mutant hand, so what?’ Well here’s what needs to happen. We’ll need you to give this note to your parents or guardians.” The hand was so heavy that she lay it on the ground, bending over as casually as she could, and dragged it across the room. She placed a slip of paper on his chest. “Don’t read it! It has a pretty potent spell that will make anyone who’s not meant to read it sweat soy sauce for eight hours. Okay. Next, you’ll need to wrap up any personal matters because you won’t be seeing this world for a few years if all goes well.”
“You missed a whole paragraph, Ms. Handy” the voice scolded.
Maille collected her thoughts. She hadn’t forgotten her lines since job #4. “Oh! Yeah. As a descendant of Sir Hoel you have been chosen by Merlin to join the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table in New Camelot where you’ll be trained in preparation for the return of King Arthur.”
“Time of return is inconclusive.”
“I know, Merlin,” she said to the voice. “The time of his return is inconclusive, so don’t ask. We’ve been waiting for generations so it may never happen.”
“Maille Rose!” Merlin hollered.
“Any questions?” She smiled her most comforting smile just as the bedroom door slammed open.
A small man, almost as wide as he was tall, looked at her with eyes the size of surprise itself.
“What the hell is goin’ on in here, Tongueless?” he said as he stepped on the boy’s shoulder.
Maille lifted her wand but the deformed hand slowed her down. The back of the man’s hand smacked her face hard sending her onto the bed-spring.
She tried to remember where she was.
“You brought a girl into my home, you freak? You know what happens when you break the rules around here. Now get up!”
But Maille’s spell kept him flat on his back. So the man kicked him across the face. It wasn’t a hard kick. It was more like he was checking to see if a wounded animal was still alive.
The runt of a man unbuckled his belt, looped it into a circle and snapped the leather together. His drunken frown morphed into a drunken smirk.
He came at Maille first. She got a quick glimpse of his mess of a face. His three day beard pulled back to reveal a mouth filled with broken, blackened teeth. His small eyes almost squeezed shut under the pressure of his smile.
He snapped the leather again and raised the belt over his head. It came down on her leg.
That woke her up.
“AngerIbidem!” she yelled.
“I’ve got to hand it to you. That’s some good thinking,” Merlin said in her head. Maille made a mental note to have her revenge on the old wizard sometime soon.
The thug grabbed his own throat and strangled himself. His tongue rolled out of his mouth, shoving chunks of chewing tobacco to the floor. Maille planted her feet hard, determined to convince her body to wake up. She picked up a flashlight that sat next to the bed and clocked the creep upside the head. He fell to the floor.
Disgusted with the whole predicament, Maille lifted the spells on Handsome Face.
What had the monster called him?
It occurred to her that the young man hadn’t spoken a word, or even made a sound since they came to blows.
He propped himself up on his elbows, then sat up and rubbed his shoulder. Maille could see a blood red scrape running from his neck to his t-shirt’s collar line.
“That looks bad. I can’t heal it but I can clean it and dull the pain if you’d like,” she said.
He locked eyes with her. He was thinking about it. Then his face relaxed, he got to his feet. She hoisted her hand up and rested it on her shoulder, then approached slowly. She gently placed her bat on the wound. The blood evaporated and the scrape was clean by the time she pulled it away.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He didn’t answer.
She signed the question with her good hand, in case he was deaf or mute.
But he just stood there.
She summoned a dot of green light. It was the size of a penny and it floated between them. She lifted a finger and moved the dot across the stale air.
“Maille Rose” …
… she wrote in light.
“That’s pronounced Molly,” she said. Then she slid the bright dot toward him. It slid across the room and came to a stop right between his eyes.
She was worried that whatever this revolting man on the floor had done to the boy over the years had damaged him beyond repair. Her concern grew as she watched him go cross-eyed looking at the light, as if he didn’t know what to do next.
But then he took a purposeful step back. There was something reassuring in the motion. It showed her that whoever this guy was, and however he’d been damaged by his life, he did things on his own time and in his own way.
He took the light with his palm and the glow grew to match the size of his hand.
… he wiped into the air in big, thick letters. The handwriting was uneven. Yes, there would be work to do with this guy. But she’d seen the patience of Merlin’s team at work many times. It always worked. Every time.
Maille glanced down at the man under their feet.
“He your dad?”
Tom nodded, unable to look at him.
“Do you want to skip the whole ‘letter to your parents or guardians’ part of my speech?”
“Grab what you want.”
He didn’t move.
“Okay, let’s go then,” Maille Rose said, turning toward the closet faster than she should have. She almost lost her balance but Tom caught her humongous hand and cradled it under one arm.
She smiled, he smiled back and Maille Rose led Tom into the closet to take him home.