OPINION: The Need for Champions

If you ask authors to list what they dread the most it’s having to sell themselves and their books. Apparently, self-promotion remains one of the most daunting tasks of the whole process, especially for self-publishing authors and trade-published midlist authors.

Even though most people understand the creative accomplishment of writing a book, authors who toil for months and sometimes years to craft a novel are often reticent about spreading the word that their work is available. Not because they don’t want to, but because they are afraid of the backlash of self-promotion.

When we were children, we’d stand up and proudly show the drawing we made or the castle we built and bask unselfconsciously in the admiration and adulation of our parents and teachers.

But when we grow older, many of us are discouraged to speak of our accomplishments. There’s an element of crassness and arrogance associated with self-promotion. We are expected to be humble and wait for people to ask what we do, and when we speak about our novels, we are encouraged to do so with humility and self-deprecation, so people know that we’re not arrogantly thumping our chests over our accomplishments.

How can you tell people that you’ve written and published a novel or even a series without embarrassment?

With the proliferation of self-publishing through Amazon the current offering in reading material is astoundingly high in volume and ironically low in quality. A recent census revealed that 80% of the people living in the U.S. want to write a book. Sadly, not everyone who wants to do something truly excels at their endeavours, so there are a lot of books flooding the market that are not really worth a reader’s attention.

Many readers are turned off by the glut of badly written self-published books that beg their attention. As a result, readers will not listen to authors promoting their books, but they will turn to other ways of deciding what books to read.

One of the most influential factors in choosing a novel to read is when books come recommended. Preferably by friends, because recommendations carry more weight if delivered by someone trusted for their good judgment.

Many readers are unaware of how important recommendations are, especially for beginning authors who rely on the word-to-mouth to build their readership.

Although this counts doubly for self-published authors–who don’t have a publicist or a publisher to coordinate their marketing efforts–even trade-published midlist authors are pretty much left to their own devices.

So how can readers help their favourite authors?

Be their Champion.

If you meet someone who might enjoy the same books you enjoy, tell them about your favourite authors. Write about the books you read on GoodReads. Leave reviews on retailer websites. Like your favourite author on Facebook. Pin their covers on Pinterest. Follow their blogs. Apply for Advanced Reader Copies of their books. Start or join a fan club.

What do you think? Please comment, and let me know I’m not just talking to the void. If you have ideas to increase word-of-mouth, don’t hesitate to share!

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RANT: Toddlers and Tiaras

The rainy season came and with it indoor exercise. So I went down to the gym to walk the treadmill.

Right in front of the treadmill are huge TV screens that show a variety of channels. Today, during my exercise, I watched a reality show around underage beauty pageants called ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ on TLC, which is a show about beauty pageants for infants.

I don’t mind (too much) if an adult wishes to enter into a pageant. Although I dislike the vapid nature of pageants where superficial aesthetics are awarded, I can understand why some people need the validation. I can understand pet pageants, where dogs and cats are groomed until sometimes they no longer resemble pets.

I cannot stand these beauty pageants for infants and children. Of course I’d heard of the show and I’d seen flashes of announcements, but I never watched a whole T&T episode.

Apart from dressing up toddlers as adults and teaching them how to ‘seduce’ the panel, the children seemed to be programmed to become self-centered superficial brats. An 8-year old girl was behaving horridly egotistical, smugly announcing that she’d feel bad for the other contestants who would be crying when she’d walk off with the crown. She ended up getting a price for best personality (!) and three other awards, but the ulitmate award went to a 1-year old. She was visibly upset, crying and pouting, and went into a total meltdown in the corridor behind the stage.

And the parents looking at each other with tight plastic smiles hiding the raging hatred. Talking to each other how ‘rude’ some parents were for not having their child on the stage on time, and gnashing their teeth about the injustice of a one-year old winning a 1,000 dollar award.

I look at my three-year old, smearing her face with chocolate and laughing at herself in the mirror and I realise how child abuse can take different forms. Dressing a child up as an adult and proclaiming that they ‘like’ going to these meat market pageants is just as horrific as claiming they ‘like’ to be sexually intimate with adults. These beauty pageants teach children how to behave like adults in order to please adults.

Children have an innate need to please their parents, both because they love them and because children do realise that they are dependent on their caregivers. To abuse that need for affection by parading them on superficial beauty/popularity meat markets is just as despicable as sexual abuse.

Of course the parents who project their vapid ambitions on their children will claim that the children enjoy the pageants, relish the dressing up, and welcome the competition. I won’t deny that. I’m sure they do. But you have to ask yourself ‘why’?

A child needs affection and encouragement. And children have excellent antennae to gauge their parents feelings.

These pageant children relish dressing up. So does my 3-year old daughter. She dresses up like a lion or a horse or a crocodile. Sometimes she dresses up like a princess. It’s a way for children to try out different personae and interact with the world.

The competition is a different aspect. Children are geared towards pleasing their parents and they know they’ll be praised for performance. However, competition has a dark side where sportsmanship is denied and children are encouraged to ‘crush’ the competition. Children crying because a panel didn’t consider them the most beautiful child is a clear signal of rampant egotistical superficiality. Instead of teaching children that happiness is more important than beauty, these children will become self-centered brats for whom adoration equates success. And where the lack of adoration plunges them into deep and dark despair. They’ll be beautiful on the outside, but ugly and twisted inside because their beauty becomes their only currency for affection. And they won’t have the mental development of adults to deal with this ignominy.

And no child welcomes a highly strung competitive ‘beauty pageant’, where they are taught that dressing up provocatively and wiggling their undeveloped bodies for adult strangers will get them parental adoration from ‘caregivers’ who have no idea how grotesque their ambitions truly are.


Inspired by feedback from readers…

This blog article is inspired by the feedback emails I receive from readers who have read my books and are eagerly waiting for Rogue to come out:

Dear Reader,

I appreciate your enthusiasm and understand your eager anticipation of the new novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. I’d love to be able to write more new stories to entertain my readers, but to do so, I really need your help.

I would be able to write more books in a shorter time, if I didn’t have to spend so much time getting my books noticed. And I can’t do it by myself.

I’m a self-published author, which means that after I finished writing, editing and polishing my manuscript to make the work ready for publication, I cannot devote myself to writing the next novel, but I have to become my own publisher. I have to commission a new cover, format the books and get them published on the retail sites.

That’s no hardship for me, but what bites me is that nobody promotes my books for me. And tooting my own horn feels awkward. I love the stories I write, but if I try to communicate my love for my work to other people, even if I just try to tell them I wrote a book that’s worthy of their attention, I run the risk of sounding arrogant and conceited.

Besides, all authors think they write great books (or they wouldn’t be writing them), so my opinion of my books means less than nothing.

What I need is fans like you to help me gain more exposure for the Amsterdam Assassin Series. If my fans champion my books, I can devote myself to writing new stories.

If you want to help, this is what you can do:

  • Write reviews for the books and post them on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Facebook, GoodReads, your blog, twitter, any social media platform you can think of.
  • Recommend the Amsterdam Assassin Series to other readers. Personal recommendations carry great weight. If you’re enthusiastic, you can inspire other people to follow your example. Tell people that they can receive a free copy of Reprobate in return for a review.
  • Give me feedback on how to improve my promotion by telling me how you found me/the books and what you were looking for. Send me comments on what you like or dislike about the books, so I know how my work is received.
  • Follow my blog for the latest news. Like me on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, and Amazon.
  • Sign up for an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of ROGUE, so you can read the new book before it is published and write a review that can be posted on retailer sites and social media in the first week of publication, so Rogue will be propelled higher into the rankings.

I’ve been writing for twenty years and I’m not going to stop just because my sales number in the 15-20 books per month, but the less time I have to spend marketing my work, the more time I have to write new stories.

So if you’re eager for my next book, help shoulder my workload and donate some of your time promoting the books you love.

I’m grateful for your support, your feedback makes my day!

Cordially,

Martyn V. Halm


OPINION: Why Bother?

Writing is an outlet for me. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories, but there’s not always someone around who has the time and patience to listen, so I write my stories down, just to have something tangible. My first novel had been pretty much ready for a decade, before I published it last year.

The people who can be bothered to read my work are glad they did, and encourage me to write more books. Not that I need their encouragement, as I would write my stories even if I wouldn’t be able to publish them, just to have them in material form, instead of telling them to myself in my head. Still, I enjoy receiving accolades from reviewers and beta readers.

My sales are not impressive, but I’m not that interested in bestsellers and being a flavour of the week. I’m in the storytelling game for the long haul. By all accounts, my characters remain present in the minds of my readers after they close the books, which is exactly what I wanted. Before I published the Amsterdam Assassin Series, people would see me writing and ask me what I wrote about. Now, I can just send them a link to my blog, from where they can sample or buy my books. So, I guess I will keep publishing my books, and writing more books.

I know there are 350,000 books published annually, and getting noticed is hard, so it might take until the third or fourth book is published before my sales go into the triple digits, but I honestly don’t care too much about that aspect of being a writer. I’d be doing this anyway. My only expense is hiring a graphic artist to make the covers, since I suck at that. And I found a student who can make my covers look reasonably professional without breaking the bank.

Do I ever have moments that I’d quit? I’ve had slumps and I found I became harder to live with when I stopped writing, for whatever reason. So quitting isn’t an option if I want to stay reasonably sane. Or, at least, not get any weirder than I’m now. And writing also gives me excuses to indulge in research, which is great fun. At least, if you enjoy looking at corpses getting eviscerated, destroying a leather punching bag with a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, following a tameshigiri seminar to learn how to decapitate a body in one cut of a Japanese sword, or slaughtering a pig with a tactical folding knife to check if it can really handle the abuse of a brutal killing.

So, I guess I’d be writing and publishing far into the foreseeable future. And I hope you join me.