Villains Don’t Have to be Evil

Guest Post from: L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

As my guest today, I have mystery thriller author L. J. Sellers writing about one of my favorite topics: Villains. LJ shares her thoughts and asks you to share your favorite villains at the end of her post. And be sure to check out the great giveaway contests below. Take it away, LJ!

The villains in thrillers are often extraordinary human beings. Super smart, physically indestructible, and/or incredibly powerful because of their money and influence. As a reader/consumer, those characters are fun for me too, especially in a visual medium where we get to watch them be amazing. But as an author, I like to write about antagonists who are everyday people—either caught up in extraordinary circumstances or so wedded to their own belief system and needs that they become delusional in how they see the world.
 
In my Detective Jackson stories, I rarely write from the POV of the antagonists. That would spoil the mystery! But in my thrillers, I get inside those characters’ heads so my readers can get to know them and fully understand their motives. I’ve heard readers complain about being subjected to the “bad guy POV,” but that’s typically when the antagonist is a serial killer or pure evil in some other way.
 
I share their pain. I don’t enjoy the serial-killer POV reading experience either. But when the villain in the story is a fully realized human being, who has good qualities as well as bad, and who’s suffered some type of victimization, and/or has great intentions, then I like see and feel all of that. And I think most readers do too.

Sellers The Trigger_med
In The Trigger, the antagonists are brothers, Spencer and Randall Clayton, founders of an isolated community of survivalists, or preppers, as they’re called today. As with most real-life isolationists/cult leaders, they are intelligent, successful professionals—with a vision for a better society. But these everyday characters decide to mold the world to suit their own objectives and see themselves as saviors—becoming villains in the process.


From a writer’s perspective, they were challenging to craft—likeable and believable enough for readers to identify with, yet edgy enough to be threatening on a grand scale. On the other hand, my protagonist Jamie Dallas, an FBI agent who specializes in undercover work, was such a joy to write that I’m launching a new series based on her.

The first book, The Trigger, releases January 1 in print and ebook formats, with an audiobook coming soon after. To celebrate the new series, the ebook will be on sale for $.99 on launch day. Everyone who buys a copy (print or digital) and forwards their Amazon receipt to lj@ljsellers.com will be entered to win a trip to Left Coast Crime 2015. For more details, check my website.
 
If that weren’t enough, I’m also giving away ten $50 Amazon gift certificates. So there’s a good chance of winning something. But the contest is only valid for January 1 purchases.
 
Who are your favorite villains? Supermen types? Everyday delusionals? Or something else?
 
Sellers LJSellers medL.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery series—a two-time Readers Favorite Award winner—as well as provocative standalone thrillers. Her novels have been highly praised by reviewers, and her Jackson books are the highest-rated crime fiction on Amazon. L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where most of her novels are set and is an award-winning journalist who earned the Grand Neal. When not plotting murders, she enjoys standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
 
Other social media links for LJ: Website, Blog, Facebook

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FREE on Kindle

Today is my first venture with the Kindle Select Program wherein a book goes free to the public.WarriorRogue_w7578_300
Wild Rose Press, who publishes my romance novels, decided to enter their new titles into this program before the official release date. I am really hoping this offer raises awareness of my series.
  
Before we proceed further, please go now and download your free copy. Share this link with everyone you know! Please “Like” the page while you are there.

Warrior Rogue (The Drift Lords Series) by Nancy J. Cohen is FREE on Kindle Feb. 13-17. http://www.amazon.com/Warrior-Rogue-Drift-Series-ebook/dp/B00AU62NQS/.

I’m also running a Valentine’s Day contest in conjunction with the free giveaway. Click on the Contest tab here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nancy-J-Cohen/112101588804907 and remember to Like the page while you are there.

What have I learned from this experience? It takes a tremendous amount of time away from writing to put up a free book. Why? Because you have to publicize it all over the Net. How do you do this? Here are some sites that will help:

http://digitalbooktoday.com/maximize-your-kdp-select-free-days/
http://indiereviewtracker.com/making-your-e-book-free/
http://www.rachelleayala.com/p/promo-sites.htmlhttp://www.thekindlebookreview.net/author-resources/
http://writeonthewater.com/?p=11162

From helpful sites such as these and from posts by other authors, I’ve gathered two pages of places to notify about an upcoming or current free release. Twitter and Facebook accounts have to be notified on the day of the freebie, but a bunch of other ones expect advance notice. So I’ve been busy filling out these forms.
Here is a list of tips, in no particular order, on what to do before your book goes free.

  • Make a list of promotional sites that will announce your free book.
  • Notify the sites that require advance notice.
  • Decide if you want to pay for ads at any of these sites.
  • Get your book reviewed. Some of the sites will only take your title if you’ve had XX number of reviews with a rating of 4.0 or higher.
  • Schedule a blog to run on the first free day to announce your freebie offer.
  • Prepare a sheet of tweets with hashtags and Facebook posts in advance.
  • Schedule tweets ahead of time to run throughout the day of your freebie.
  • Send a newsletter to your mailing lists with your free book announcement.

What else would you add?

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Do Giveaways Work?

by Michelle Gagnon

Figment.com has just announced a contest to celebrate the release of my YA debut DON’T TURN AROUND. In keeping with the theme of the book, they’re asking for a story about teen rebels with a cause, in 1,200 words or less. The winner will receive a 13 inch MacBook Pro (a computer that features prominently in the storyline, since it’s sort of a “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for teens”), and a signed copy of the book.

I’m really excited about this (especially since, for a refreshing change, this time I won’t be the one paying for the grand prize!) However, I wonder…do giveaways really lead to more copies sold?

For my second book, BONEYARD, I held a Kindle contest. Anyone who signed up for my newsletter got their name thrown into the hat (mind you, this was for the Kindle 1, which as a brand spanking new device retailed for $450).
That was, to date, my bestselling novel.
But I was hesitant about repeating that particular contest-after all, signing up for my newsletter didn’t necessarily translate to purchasing the book; and many might simply unsubscribe as soon as the contest ended. (For the record, I didn’t experience an unusually high dip in subscribers in the aftermath). Plus, it was a lot of money to spend without a quantifiable return.

So for my third thriller, THE GATEKEEPER, I decided to take it up a notch. I offered a MacBook (paid for out of my own advance) to anyone who could answer two easy questions about the book.
I received a decent number of entries; certainly not as many as with the previous contest, but a respectable amount. To enter, a reader needed to provide the names of two specific characters, in response to a fairly simple question for anyone who had read the book.

But some people literally sent a full roster of every character in every single one of my novels. One woman emailed me directly twenty times over the course of a day, listing two characters at a time (a few of whom weren’t even from any of my books), asking repeatedly, “These two names? What about these two?”
When I gently pointed out that randomly throwing names at me wasn’t really keeping in the spirit of the contest, she got huffy and fired off a nasty email about how spoiled authors were, and how this was the only way she could get a new computer. Plus, she wasn’t a big reader in general, and found it unfair that she be asked to read something in order to enter a giveaway.

*Sigh. The entire experience ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth (not to mention a dent in my wallet). So for my fourth book, I skipped contests entirely.

I had no idea that Figment was going to be running this contest until it posted; I love the idea behind it, though. Especially since Figment serves as a virtual writing community. And I’m terribly flattered that they’re offering such an amazing, generous prize.

But will it translate into sales? Hard to say. I know the old 50% marketing adage (half of what you do will work, but chances are you’ll never know which half). But it’s a source of perpetual frustration for every author–where do you concentrate your marketing time and money, especially now that there’s such a huge array of options? Hemingway never had to deal with Twitter (although I suspect he would have been fantastic at it, with his knack for sparse prose).

So what do you think? Has a giveaway ever persuaded you to purchase a novel you never would have picked up otherwise?


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Tag Line Haiku

by Michelle Gagnon

Ah, the tagline…how I love it. For those of you who don’t know, a tagline is that little nugget on a book cover (or movie poster) that serves as a branding slogan, that memorable phrase that persuades you to buy the book (or purchase a ticket to the movie). The following are a few of the most  famous cinematic taglines:

  • “In space, no one can hear you scream.” -Alien
  • “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” Jaws 2
  • “There can be only be one. -Highlander
  • “One ring to rule them all.” -The Lord of the Rings 
  • “The truth is out there.” – The X-Files 

One thing most people don’t know is that authors rarely get to choose their own taglines. So far, my books have been graced with the taglines, “Anyone can end up in the…BONEYARD,” and “We are our greatest enemy.” (THE GATEKEEPER). My latest release, DON’T TURN AROUND, actually had the tagline changed once some of the top buyers weighed in on it; we ended up with, “Off the grid/On the run” (which I love).


It struck me, as I recently perused the vast array of titles at my favorite independent bookstore, that there’s a game in here somewhere. A way, if you will, to combine two of my favorite things: taglines and haikus. And you’re all invited to participate.


Just so we all understand the rules: a haiku is, according to the standard definition, “A Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five.”


For the sake of simplicity, feel free to combine book tag lines with film tag lines, if they seem to belong together. But make sure to attribute the tags to the appropriate sources.


I’ll be composing my haiku with a nod to some of my favorite titles (I excerpted the first part of the tagline when necessary; feel free to do the same).
Have fun, I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

Past evil still lives.  
Beauty is only sin deep. 
Everything ends here.  

(Respectively, Heather Graham, THE UNHOLY; Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, SLIDE; and Patrick Lee, DEEP SKY.)

On a side note, if you’ll permit a digression: my publisher is currently giving away galleys of my upcoming release, DON’T TURN AROUND. There are a few different ways to enter, and each only takes a few minutes. 


On Twitter, just retweet this:
@EpicReads Off the grid. On the run. DON’T TURN AROUND by @michelle_gagnon http://vsb.li/zJ3A8c RT for a chance to win!

On Facebook, Like this page.

And/or on Goodreads, Click here to enter.

Feel free to forward to anyone who might want a free book!

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Big Ticket Giveaways

by Michelle Gagnon

I promoted my last book release by holding a drawing for a Kindle reader. People called me a fool. Even my agent expressed concern that I was overdoing it, that there was no guarantee that a big ticket giveaway would translate into sales.

Perhaps. After all, the old marketing adage is that fifty percent of what you’re doing will work. The trouble is, chances are you’ll never know which fifty percent.

So where in the scheme of things did my Kindle promotion fall?

It definitely helped. All someone had to do to enter the drawing was sign up for my free newsletter. My newsletter mailing list grew exponentially during the months that I was promoting the giveaway. Granted, there’s no guarantee that subscribers even read the newsletter, never mind bought the book. But having thousands of people receive updates on my next release was far better than hundreds.

A large chunk of the marketing budget of major corporations is devoted to establishing brand recognition. Similarly, my goal was to get my name and the title BONEYARD out there, to build familiarity so that when people saw the book in stores, they would be more inclined to purchase it.

And in terms of actual sales, my second thriller outsold the first by nearly ten-to-one. Not that all of that was necessarily attributable to the Kindle giveaway, but I don’t think it hurt.

Additionally, I promoted the contest through other marketing avenues. I featured it on Facebook and MySpace ads. I pitched it at signings and conferences. I mentioned it on every stop of my twenty-four blog tour.

Now, there was one criticism, and it came mainly from booksellers who were understandably loathe to support the Kindle. Personally, I think that ereaders such as the Kindle have the potential to increase readership across all formats. After receiving one as a gift, I’ve ended up buying more books each month than I did in the past. And I wanted the giveaway to be linked to reading and writing in some way, shape, or form.

However, I understood the complaint. For that reason, this time around I chose something that hopefully everyone could get on board with: a MacBook laptop computer (well, okay, maybe not Bill Gates. But nearly everyone else).

Again, I received a flood of emails from people telling me that I’m nuts. I respectfully disagree (although I concede the point is debatable, but for other reasons). For one thing, I did come up with a way to (hopefully) link the drawing to sales: anyone who answers a question that relates directly to two of my books receives ten additional entries in the contest.

Also, when I look back on the marketing budget for my first book, I spent far more and gained less. All things considered, pooling your resources into one big ticket item that draws some attention, and which you can cross-promote for free on blogs and social networking sites, is far less expensive than hiring a publicist. There are nearly 15,000 books published EACH MONTH in the United States alone. It’s hard to stand out among all that noise.

Recently someone told me that Joseph Finder gave away televisions at bookstore appearances on his 2006 tour. Televisions! I have no idea if this is true (or, if it is, how the heck he afforded it) but apparently that spurred his book on to the bestseller lists (and I’m sure his events were packed, which always makes the booksellers happy).

Hmmm, televisions. Maybe next year.

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