Monday, July 8, 2013

Working of STS book number two

The next Secret Teddy Society book is underway and is delving deeper into the teddy world. Corruption and greed has found its way into the Teddy Council for the first time. Power struggles are something that teddies never had to deal with before. Theodore has always been the number one bear on the Council and is now being tested by Ballinger.
The tone of the second book is darker with more political overtones. Without making it feel like a spy novel, creating the struggle for power is my challenge at this point. I love a feel-good story and want STS to always be that. However, I do love a book filled with intrigue and mystery. A good villain is essential for this style of book and I hope Ballinger is just what this plot needs.
I've made a list of the best fiction books and the best fantasy books to get a feel for a common connection. It was enlightening to find an incredible amount of common themes of character and story. Some not as obvious, which is what made these stories more intriguing. Copying a style of writing can be unavoidable at times because of the influence it creates on the individual.
With a loose understanding of what makes or creates interest in a story, writing a fantasy teddy bear book that is more for a general audience such as adults, young-adults and older children has been the easy part . . . it's the marketing or selling the book that becomes difficult.

The reviews for the first Secret Teddy Society book, Breaking The Code, have far exceeded my expectations. George Ibarra, an independent book reviewer, was the first review on Amazon and Goodreads. Wow! What he said about this fantasy book that was seemingly for children was amazing.
His review listed below:

"The best fantasy tale I've read in a long time. 

On the surface the book comes across as a silly, cute adolescent fantasy about teddy bears. It is that and a morality tale.

SECRET TEDDY SOCIETY: BREAKING THE CODE is about love, honor, loyalty, respect, and friendship. It is the teddy bears own Lord of the Rings, but with more excitement and stronger ties.

STS captured me from the beginning with a daring escape of one bear through the help of another. It builds itself upon intrigue and conspiracy within the teddy bear world before focusing on two teddies, Waldo and Bobby, and their human family. I found myself rooting for the bears as they discovered all about our world, and also about ice cream, tastysquishes, Kage Kuma (shadow bears), were-bears, and zombie bears.

This book is great for the young and for adults. It is well written and well plotted, with plenty of foreshadowing. STS deserves a major publisher and I hope it finds one."

Are you kidding me?!
Who could ask for a better review? AND, I don't even know this person. Not a relative. Not a childhood friend. Not my next door neighbor. George found the book on his own and read it. What made him decide to read it? I truly don't know. I'm just glad he did.

Having STS make the list of best fantasy tales for children or adults is not necessarily the goal but it sure would help.

I'll keep you posted on how the next book is going, uh, without giving too much away.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Secret Teddy Society in the classroom

Something happened that was rather serendipitous. While I was doing a Goodreads book giveaway (Goodreads is a social website for readers) for STS, I randomly contacted a person that had entered the drawing. I don't know what prompted me to reach out to this individual. His icon was a stuffed pig, plush toy and at the time he didn't have any social connections on Goodreads. I simply wrote to say thank you for entering and I hope you win. I also mentioned that if he didn't win I would be happy to send him a free ebook. He wrote back thanking me for the generous offer but confessed that he was more of an old school guy that preferred the feel of paper. I appreciated his candor and told him that if he didn't win that I would be glad to send him a paperback.
Well, he wasn't one of the winners so I sent him a copy. He responded with a wonderful review of the book plus he mentioned that his students would also enjoy STS.
What? He's a teacher? He never mentioned it. This could be interesting.

As I have said many times, I didn't exactly know the proper age for STS. It seems as though a younger audience would find it appealing. True. Unfortunately, I have since received a few comments stating that readers under the age of 11 or 12 tend to struggle with the vocabulary which creates disinterest in the story. It's not that it's filled with large words but I didn't dumb the book down just so kids could read it. This was to be a book that was geared more for anyone that can allow themselves to be a kid again and enjoy a childlike story that has a more serious tone of consequence for ones actions. Why can't a teddy bear story be cute and serious?

The man's name is Mr. Henderson. He is a 5th grade teacher in Orlando, Florida. We have been keeping in touch because I am curious about the responses from a younger audience. Not to mention the age group he was dealing with was on the cusp of understanding the diction in the book.
He thought enough of STS to offer it to several of his students. I asked if he would let me know their reaction. Mr. Henderson agreed and thought it might add incentive to read if the students knew that the he was communicating with the author. He was right.
Because I had asked about their reaction he told his students that they could write a note that he would forward to me.

With their permission, I would like to share the comments I received.

Some of the comments divulge details that may spoil surprise or scenes.


Ally wrote:

"Secret Teddy Society: Breaking the Code

Secret Teddy Society is a great book. It was fun to read, but some of the vocabulary was hard. This is a book that I very much enjoyed reading. :) I liked the part when Waldo faced the Zombie bears and also when he and Bobby Bear would come to life when the house was empty. I think the vocabulary was a 6th or 7th grade level and I think it would be easier to read if you either explained in the book what it meant or used an easier word.

I think you should really write a sequel because the books are really cool and you say in the last sentence of the book that there are more adventures around the corner. I think you should write about Waldo and Bobby Bear's family traveling and they get lost and meet new bears with different cultures. Also, my 3rd grade brother thinks the book looks interesting and wants to read it next.
I'm glad my teacher gave it to me to read.

From, Ally"


Callista wrote:

"I LOVED THE BOOK! It was my favorite book out of everything I have read. I liked that Waldo and Bobby Bear liked... no LOVED ice cream and milk. And marshmallows. The book made ME believe in Teddy Bears! I have one question though, where did you get the idea to write a book about teddy bears? Anyways, I think that the book doesn't have any parts that I didn't understand. It was good for a fifth grader in my opinion. Is it okay if I could have a sneak peak on the next book? The parts that I liked were when the zombie bears were trying to say "I'm going to take all your stuffing" in a nice way! I also liked when Waldo ran in front of the dog to help his friends get out of the dumpster. It really shows true friendship. I loved the character Bobbie and how she believed they were real from the beginning. But, the funniest part was when Waldo stuck his tongue out at Tiffany at show and tell and she said, '......Blah blah blah..-Tongue.' I hope you add some new characters to the second book and I really enjoyed the first book!

From Callista"


Emme wrote:

"Altogether the book was great.  I didn't want to put the book down.  I got confused when the book switched perspectives in the beginning then after a page or two I got it.  The best or memorable parts would have to be the chapter that has Chompers in it.  The part when James took the bears to the school.  When the bears had ice cream for the first time, the zombie bear chapter.  Last of all would have to be the ending.  I liked how you left suspense at the end of the book.  I can't wait to read the sequel when it's done."


First of all, I was delighted to receive notes from these students. 
After the book was released I had an uneasy feeling regarding the audience. I was afraid that by using a slightly larger vocabulary that I would be creating a bigger problem . . . that no one would find interest in the story. 
My daughter's old second grade teacher tried to read STS to her class then sent a note back explaining that she had to stop reading it because it was "...WAY over their heads."
I wasn't surprised yet her comment added to my confusion about age group.

The first reviews to crop-up on Goodreads and Amazon for STS were exactly what I had hoped for; adults that enjoyed the book as a good story of loyalty, courage and love. But the question still on my mind was: what is the starting age group?
Mr. Henderson's class helped tremendously with the answer.

Now, after having contact with Mr. Henderson and his 5th grade class, the audience was becoming more defined. Some advanced younger readers even at age 10 will do fine with STS but it does seem that on an average the age starts around 11 to 12 years old.

The excitement that was felt with Mr. Henderson's few students got me thinking. What if we started an STS School Club? A place where we could display comments, suggestions and impacts from other students. With each note I read from his class, I noticed that they all found different things about the book they liked. Wonderful. What a great way to create even more excitement; let them be a part of it.

Secret Teddy Society School Club begins with STS Club Henderson. 

A personal flaw I suffer from is over-generosity. I wanted to thank the girls for their notes and kind words. I reciprocated by sending a letter that Mr. Henderson then framed and gave to the students. I understand that I can't do this for each student. True. But for now, I can. It is an honor to impact someone's life in a positive way and a personal note was the least that I could do.

Mr. Henderson told me that he plans on working with the book throughout next year, plus he started an STS binder in class where he inserts a copy of the letters I have written to each student and their comments to me. I was taken with his gesture. I wanted to include him in the building process of STS School Club.
Because I am offering shirts on the website I thought I would ask for some input on some new designs. When I asked what some of the feedback was he replied, "Ally told me that she drew a picture for a shirt but she hasn't brought it to school."
That wasn't what I asked. She was to look at the designs I had come up with and select from those.
Oh-well. This could prove interesting.
He forwarded her design and it was adorable. I took what she drew for a design and used her layout.
She had a phrase that read, "Do you know the real deal about teddies". She had a carton of milk, an ice cream cone, a Zombie bear and a glass of milk with a straw scattered about. I was able to utilize actual book chapter graphics that my daughter had drawn and create her design. Why not print the shirt and send it to her as a surprise?
You got it! That's what I did.

Here's how it unfolded as told by Mr. Henderson:

The shout happened around 9:15 this morning?  Did you hear it?  I'll try and recreate the scene for you...

Once the class settled in I went through the normal routine (this is what we're doing today, this is why we're doing it...) I paused so I could point out something Ally forgot to mention during her book talk about STS.  Then, still standing in front of the class, I had Ally explain how she knew going in to reading the book that she would be writing something that the author would read.  I then explained to the class how you wondered what type of t-shirt design a 5th grader thought would be cool (I kind of made some of this up so she didn't know about the shirt at the time) so she drew a picture that I emailed to the author.  I then called her to the front of the class, which she didn't want to since she didn't know where I was going with this, and pulled out the letter you sent now in a frame.  I held the letter up to the class and began to explain the conversations we had while she was reading the book and how you wanted to do something for her.  

I need to pause here to let you know that ... (other) students were now sitting up straighter and hanging on my every word wondering what the letter said. she came up front and I read the letter to the class (I stopped when it got to the part about the next book b.c. I thought that was something that would be special if only she got to read).  I handed her the frame and I started to scratch my head.  I told her that there was some kind of padding in the envelope with the letter and I wondered if she wanted it to keep the frame safe in her book bag.  I walked to a closet I have in my classroom and took out the shirt which was hanging on a hanger.  Of course, as soon as I came out of the closet I could already hear the murmurs about her getting a shirt. So, I held the shirt up high and turned it around and showed the class that the shirt Ally had just described to the class was the same as the one I was holding up.  I explained how the shirt was not only one of a kind but also signed by the author (this got several more jaws dropping and gasps throughout the room).

I then took a picture, its fuzzy :(, and explained to the class how a teacher tries to match students with books they enjoy and they should give those books a chance because they never know what a teacher might have up their sleeves.

The funniest thing, at least to me, was listening to all the students tell me they wanted to read the book next and some of them asking the girl currently reading it to hurry up and finish it.

Mr. Henderson.

Here is the picture of Ally with the shirt she designed and framed letter. How adorable is that? Seriously!


That would have been fun to see. Mr. H did a great job describing the scene. I couldn't help but smile while reading.

I thought it might be fun to keep posting a few comments from students and share their perspectives about the Secret Teddy Society.

One more thing.
I asked Mr. Henderson if he could take a picture of Ally and Callista together posing like Bobby Bear and Waldo (Arms folded back to back). He was able to get them to pose and sent me the picture.
I then made a new picture from that one. I thought it might be fun to have them posing with BB and Waldo to be the welcome picture for STS School Club. (To be clear, the parents are always asked permission before using images)

This is what I came up with:


If any teacher wants to involve their class please contact me.

Friday, January 25, 2013

My thoughts on marketing a self-published book

The easy part is apparently over.

Writing the book was merely the beginning of the process of story telling. That is, if you want other people to enjoy your imaginative efforts.
Informing the public (or marketing) is the new task at hand. If I thought writing, editing, formatting, cover design and publishing wasn't difficult enough, now try reaching people that have no idea you exist.
I am not a forceful or "pushy" individual. I repel when others do it to me and I don't want to be that type of person. I was hoping my work would be discovered on it's own. What?! That just doesn't happen. On it's own? Impossible! Books don't find their way into people's lives on their own. Someone needs to put it into view. Ah! But how?
I read article after article and blog after blog about marketing your self-published book. What did I take away from it? Still not sure. There was a reoccurring theme in most of them: Network on other book sites, promotional book giveaways, and start a blog. Twitter, facebook, Pintrest and the rest of the web social sites were all mentioned in the marketing scheme. I, however, do not spend any time on social pages. My list of friends on my facebook page are scant at best. I did not have a Twitter account nor do I feel like I have anything to say except, please buy my book.
I find it interesting that you are to start a blog to help promote your book yet don't blatantly promote your book on your blog. No one wants to read a long commercial for a book. Huh? I get it. Don't be obvious about why you are blogging. So if everyone who writes a book also starts a blog, then the white noise that is already roaring in the winds of blogger-town will exponentially become hurricane force.

The question is: How does one stand out?

I will keep asking that question and seek to answer it as I go.

So, I have this blog. And yes, it is to let people know who I am and that I exist. But I have also found this to be rather therapeutic. I do not wish to vent or rant about struggles but help those who are experiencing the same trials. It is vexing to swim in a swelling ocean of self-published literature. The sense of drowning is almost palpable.

Selling to the public:
Someone told me that "... people will buy anything you tell them to buy. It's just how you tell them." Ah! Presentation and credibility are the two main fabrics of marketing. We are an aesthetic society. We buy things that appeal to us. (Mostly visually)
In book terms, the cover is extremely important. If you get the potential buyer to pick up your book then they'll flip it over to read the description then you are half way home. There! Now we're getting somewhere. If you have crafted a good summary of your book that sucks the would-be buyer into your story then you have made a sale. To some-up: The book cover and description are vital for book sales.
That's all fine and good but the question remains: How does one stand out?
Let's assume that your book along with the hundred thousand other books that are in your genre also have great covers and descriptions. What then? We are now back to social websites and networking to spread the word. Let's face it, you're not going to self-publish a book and then walk into Barnes and Noble and find it on the best sellers table by the door.
Grass-roots projects or movements was a term I heard years ago and never gave much thought to. But now it is a phrase I use a lot because that is what you are really trying to do. If you are a brilliant wordsmith then reaching a good literary agent or publisher might not be a problem since they are sensitive to the well-written word.
I, however, am not a word genius. I write as I talk. It makes for easy reading but some people like a poetic description of the mood. Coming up with clever phrases and captivating scenes is something that is developed over time and until then we need something or someone to help us find our niche, our audience.

Kindle Select:
Yes, I belong to the Kindle Select group (for now) but have wondered why I belong. They offer the Amazon world to you and yet I am not allowed to be offered anywhere else online (in ebook format) or it violates the Kindle Select agreement. So what do I get in return from Amazon? Again, not sure. For your 90 day exclusive agreement they give five days to offer your book for free. And? Well... not sure what else, to be honest.
That being said, I think I finally understand why you would give your books away - regarding the Amazon world. I was confused at first but I think it works like this. Your book only gets noticed when people start buying it. The more people buy it - the more it gets noticed. Domino effect. But - if you don't have any sales then how do you get noticed? An excellent question. One that I asked many times. I am starting to think that Amazon doesn't look at book sales or book giveaways any differently. So, if you can giveaway a bunch of books in a short period of time through Kindle Select then Amazon sees this surge of downloads as being popular. Hence, your book will move into the "Popular" category. Once the promotional giveaway ends and your book is now for sale, your placement will remain - for a while. Now your book has broken through the sludge of obscurity and into the light of awareness. People can see you. Let's go back to the other main ingredients of your book. If your cover is good and the description is well written then you should start seeing actual sales.
This is just my observation and assessment of what I am going through with Kindle Select. If someone has a better grasp of what the Kindle Select program offers please feel free to let me know so I can post it. Also, if I am wrong about the giveaway promotion I would like to be corrected.

FYI on a personal note:
I have found it completely freeing to admit when I don't know. My daughter, on the other hand, has found it annoying. When she was growing up she would ask (almost daily) Daddy, why does this happen? or What is so and so? To her dismay, often my response was: "I don't know, Pumpkin."
A crestfallen face would appear after each reply. Then I heard the question that culminated from years of unsatisfactory answers. "Do you know anything, Daddy?" Sure, no parent likes to disappoint their children but I had to stop and tell her that if I don't know the answer then I'm not going to make something up just to look good. Once I explained my logic I noticed that she slowly followed suit. It is truly freeing. No posturing and no lying. I simply showed her that it was okay to not know everything . . . just look like you do.(that was a joke)

An update on my Kindle Select program.
My contract with KDP Select automatically renewed after the first 90 days of membership. I decided to try a strategy with the 5 day giveaway program. Instead of doing a 1 or 2 day giveaway throughout the 90 days, I thought, why not do it all at once and really try to gain some momentum in sales (or downloads). Since I had already done three giveaways before (1 day, 2 days and 2 days) I did notice a download trend on some days. The very first time I did one for 1 day, I had 118 downloads. That was a Friday (I think). I have tried most days of the week finding that weekdays had a bit more downloads than weekends. That being said, Friday was my best download day to date.

Back to the update:
In deciding to run the full 5 day allotment, I began it on Tuesday so that it would end on Saturday. This would also give me some further data regarding the better download days.
Tuesday, the first day of my giveaway, started very well. By noon I was at 38 downloads. By midnight, EST, I was at 90 downloads and by end of day, which is on Pacific Time (3:00 am EST) I had 102 downloads. A great start. One hundred downloads a day was what I was hoping for. When I checked the download stats on Wednesday, sometime around 10:30-ish am, I was still at 102 downloads. Noon came and went and I was still at 102 downloads. What the...? Seriously? No downloads? Curiously, I went to Amazon and tried to find my book in the Kindle Free section. Couldn't find it. I narrowed the search. Nothing. I spent (or wasted) a couple hours scouring pages for my lonely lost book. Nothing. It just wasn't there. Maybe something's wrong. I went to the Secret Teddy Society Amazon book page directly and clicked the download button. Boom! It worked. Okay, so that seems to be working. What then? Why was no one downloading my book? I panicked and quickly wrote a letter to Amazon asking if there was a problem with my account or is there some other reason why people aren't able to find it. I received a relatively prompt response saying that there was no problem with my account and that the book was searchable. First off, I do appreciate their same day response. That being said, when I read the part about being searchable I knew there was a miscommunication. I already knew that you could search for my book if typed the name into Amazon. I wanted to know why I was not listed in any of the Kindle or Amazon Free ebook categories?

After another day of only a few more downloads, I decided to contact Amazon again to clarify my concerns about the display of STS.

My note to Amazon: (Sent Feb. 14th 2013)------------------------


I am curious about something. I am currently in the middle of a 5 day book giveaway for my book Secret Teddy Society: Breaking The Code. On the first day (Tuesday), I gave away 102 books. That was consistent with my previous giveaway results. However, I noticed that Wednesday I gave away 10 books and at this point, Thursday -noonish, I have given away 2 books. That's 114 total in two and a half days. (Sorry for the long-winded question) When I go to Amazon books and search for the book in all the proper categories, I don't see my book listed at all. In fact when I narrow down my search even further, I still don't find it listed. I went through every page. I am curious, does my book not fit a particular parameter that is required? I submitted a query yesterday and received a response. Thank you! However, their comment was that my book was searchable. I can only assume they meant, if you know the name of the book and what you're looking for. But if you simply want to view the books that are Free in a particular category then I am not sure how it works. Also, I don't understand how I giveaway 100 books in one day and only 12 books in almost two days?
I am only concerned that I need to do something more on my part to be seen on Amazon. I do not have a fan base nor do I have 1,000 facebook friends. To belong to the Kindle Select program is causing doubt for me. I am still not sure what advantages this gives me. For 90 days of exclusive ebook sales, KDP Select allows me to have five days to give my book away? I am not eager to give my book away but I need to be seen on Amazon. I don't see Amazon helping to promote my book for such exclusivity. (I also understand they can't promote every KDP Select book)
Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. Making people aware of the STS in an ocean of self-published books today is daunting. I know you must get this question many times a day, and for that I apologize for being one more annoying writer. I need help.

I am not angry, bitter or upset and I do apologize for the intrusion, but I am still trying to figure out how things work in the world of publishing and marketing.

If you are still reading, thank you for taking your time. (a little humor)

I look forward to hearing from you and any assistance you can give.

Sincerely, Jim Gilmore

Response from Amazon:--------------------------
Hello Jim,

I'm very sorry for any frustration this issue has caused.

We'll need a little time to look into this concerning your book no being shown on the free promotion browser search.

We'll contact you with more information by the end of the day on Monday, February 28.

Thanks for your patience.


My note was sent on Feb 14th. Two weeks to look into why I'm not showing up on Amazon browser searches? I am going to guess what they will find. Nothing. There will be no problems on their end and that I was doing something wrong on mine. In the end it doesn't really matter. My promotion is over and it was not a success. I gave away a total of 145 books in 5 days to people that may or may not read it. Not good.

There was something else I discovered about the Free ebook giveaway.
Last week, I finally started getting some reviews on Amazon from people that had either purchased the paperback or downloaded the ebook. I was delighted to have someone finally review it - good or bad. I just wanted to know that someone had read it.

A review from England: "This was very different book, I was sure I wouldn't read much of it, started it for curiosity really but enjoyed it and was enthralled with the story. I would definitely recommend it. Give it a go, you'll get hooked!"

That was lovely. I couldn't have said it better myself. But as I read it something jumped out at me. They said, "...I was sure I wouldn't read much of it,"
Why were they so sure? Because they downloaded it for free. (aside from it being a teddy bear book) They weren't invested in the book at all. I am delighted that the book kept their interest till the end, but it did make me aware that people are simply downloading free ebooks just to get free ebooks. Whether they plan on reading them is not the point. They want free books. I want readers. I was also worried that giving my book away meant the loss of potential sales. I'm now thinking that it won't hurt it much at all because those people probably wouldn't buy my book anyway. Unless it was highly recommended from a friend or they love teddy bear stories.

I will post the response from Amazon when it arrives.