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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dreaming of Death—A Mysterious Building, An Elevator, and a Prophetic Nightmare


Since I published my novel seven months ago, I’ve had my fair share of questions. Since it’s a book with a large paranormal element to it, I’m most often asked if I believe in ghosts or if I’ve ever had an encounter with one.
Although I’ve interviewed people who have seen ghosts, I can’t claim to have ever seen one myself. But I must have some kind of personal paranormal story, right? Something weird? Something that made me suspect that the world isn’t exactly as it seems?
Like most of us, I have a few. I can tell you about the time I performed a Tarot card reading—and was far more accurate than I wanted to be. Or the time I refused to go into a friend’s basement for reasons I couldn’t explain, only to find out much later it had been the scene of a grisly murder.
But I think I’d rather tell you about one of the times that I dreamed of my own death.
I was in the 7th Grade when we visited BlackstoneVa., with my church youth group as part of a large retreat. Though I had often been away from home as part of the Boy Scouts, the trip was exciting for two reasons: 1) there would be indoor plumbing as well as easy access to Mountain Dew, and 2) there would be girls with us.
Here’s the strange part of the story. From the moment I walked into the place where the retreat was held—and I had never stepped foot in there before—I knew exactly what the layout would be. I knew where the stairs were, the rooms were, what the décor would be like, and basically how to find my way around.
It was very odd. When I walked inside, the entire place felt familiar. Like I had not only been there before, but spent significant time exploring every nook and cranny. This wasn’t something I kept to myself. As soon as we walked inside, I told my friends I had—somehow—seen this place before. I had a friend walk ahead of me, with me telling him what he would find around every corner (before I could see it). Everything was exactly where I said it would be. 
It was only then that I remembered the dream. As is often the case with me, I don’t remember my dreams in the morning: something has to trigger the recollection for me. When I was younger, this was really easy—I’m sad to say it’s much harder now.
Walking around the building and giving my friends an advance guided tour triggered the memory of the dream. In the dream, I had been walking around the inside of a strange place. It was big, empty and spooky. I wandered all around until I came to a hallway off to the left. When I turned the corner, I saw a large trash bin on the right side and a white elevator at the end of the hall. I waited there a moment, not sure what to do, but with a growing sense of dread.
In the dream, the elevator suddenly “dinged” open and when it did, a gust of wind swept down the hallway. The trash bin immediately was pulled into the elevator, which was now a giant, gaping hole. I grabbed the corner of the wall, but everything else was being pulled into the elevator—the pictures on the walls, the carpeting on the floor, everything. Finally, after holding fast for what felt like several minutes, I couldn’t hold on any longer. I was sucked into the elevator too—my last thought before plunging into the darkness was that this would kill me.
Back in real life, I stood there on the first floor of the building and recounted the dream to my friends. Some thought I was lying, others thought that perhaps I had visited the building before (I hadn’t). But one friend agreed to go exploring with me. I had to know: was the elevator in here? And what would happen if I found it?
When we got to the second floor, we crept cautiously through the halls. I knew just where to go, just where the elevator would be. Sure enough, we came to a hallway on the left. We rounded the corner. There on the right side of the hall was the trash bin, just as it had been in my dream. At the end of the hall was the white elevator.
The thing that scared me the most wasn’t that everything in my dream existed in the real world. What was most frightening to me was that there was no one else in that hallway, but the elevator call button—the one you press to make the elevator come to you—was lit up. Just as I registered what it was, I heard the “ding” and the elevator door slid open.
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I ran. I ran like hell, with my friend close behind me. Once safely back to the group, we told them everything. Even though a few made fun of me, I noticed everyone studiously avoided the elevator from that time on, convinced it was a dangerous trap. During that retreat, I never set foot in the elevator—nor, for that matter, got anywhere near the hallway.
So what did it all mean? If I had stepped into the elevator, would something have happened? Did I somehow pick up on some terrible history of the place?
If this were a novel, I could tell you. I’d tell you the secret hidden past of the elevator and how a boy 20 years earlier had vanished near that very spot. I’d tell you how many kids who come to that place have the same terrible nightmare, and how a few even hear the voice of a young boy calling to them as they walk near the hallway.
But truthfully, I don’t know the answers. How could I dream of a place where I had never been? And why did I dream about an elevator that, as far as I know, was perfectly normal? Two years later, when my group returned to that retreat, I took a dare and rode the elevator. I’m still here.
But I will tell you this. When the door shut on me and I was alone in the elevator, I was never more afraid in my life. And I’ve honestly never felt the same about any elevator ride since.
So that’s my real-life paranormal story. What about you? Have any insights into my dream? Have you had any dreams that came true? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Top Nine Reasons to Buy A Soul to Steal (Revised and Expanded)


By far the worst part about publishing a book is that, instead of leaning back in a comfy chair with a pipe and watching the sales roll in, you have to really hustle to sell it. Sure, Stephen King doesn’t have this problem, but if you are a new author like me starting out, it’s tough to make an impression.

So, at the risk of being crass, I’d like to take this opportunity to convince you to take a chance on a newbie author. I think you’ll like my novel, A Soul to Steal. How can I say that? Why do I think you would like the book? Let me count the ways:

9. You won’t guess the killer
I never set out to write a mystery, instead thinking I was writing a suspense/thriller. But a key question overhangs the book: who is Lord Halloween, the elusive serial killer who targets Leesburg, Virginia? When I wrote the novel, I worried everyone would figure it out. But I’ve been told by virtually every person who read the book that they had no idea who it was (the sole exception is my sister, but of course older sisters know everything). Yet I didn’t pull a cop-out, either. The novel does not end with me suddenly introducing a random new character who turns out to be the killer (“Look Scoob, it’s old man Winters who runs the haunted amusement park!”). Think of this as a challenge: if you figure out who the murderer is, you will be in the top echelon of elite readers.

8. The price is right
I understand that people might not want to take a risk with a new author. When you buy a Dean Koontz or Jim Butcher, you know you are getting quality. But at $2.99, my novel costs about as much as a cup of coffee. And it lasts so much longer! Your coffee is done within 10 minutes. But this book, at over 100,000 words, lasts as long as you want it to. Unfortunately, just like coffee, the novel may keep you up at night.

7. Instant indie cred
If I become a mega best-selling novelist one day, you can tell all your friends you read my book before I made it big. “I discovered him first,” you’ll say. Then you’ll go on to detail all the ways in which I’m no longer as good as I once was and I’ve become too commercial. “He sold out,” you’ll say, with your friends nodding sagely. “He used to be original, but ever since he wrote A Soul to Steal and Zombies, it just feels like his heart isn’t in it.”

6. It’s a fascinating look at your local paper
One thing I’ve been surprised to hear is how much readers enjoy the setting at a local community newspaper in Loudoun County, Va. I’ve been a journalist my entire professional career, including working at several local papers, one in Leesburg. The setting feels authentic because it is. I worked at that paper for three years and learned a lot about being a reporter at a small town newspaper. I also came to love Loudoun County. It is a place rich in history and atmosphere and I wanted it to be as much a character in the novel as anyone else.

5. It has great reviews
Please don’t just take my word for it that the novel is any good. As of this writing, there are 59 great reviews (including 49 5-stars) for the novel on Amazon. Can 49 5-star reviews be wrong? Actually, don’t answer that. I’m sure 49 people have been collectively wrong about lots of things in the past. There are probably 49 people who believe the world is flat and that the Jersey Shore is quality television. But still, in this case, they aren’t wrong.

4. It has the Headless Horseman
Since I was a kid, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been one of my favorite stories. I’ve always loved the Headless Horseman, one of the scariest figures in American horror. I’ve built an original novel that uses the Horseman—but doesn’t repeat the characters or plot of Washington Irving’s classic tale. This is not “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Zombies,” though now I would like to officially trade-mark that title for future use. In all seriousness, I’ve found a unique way to use the Horseman. This isn’t a half-baked sequel or knock-off.

3. It’s surprisingly funny
I am not a terribly serious person. So despite the fact that the novel involves a serial killer, the Headless Horseman, an ancient Celtic myth and a bunch of innocent people dying, it also has a fair amount of humor. One consistent feedback I’ve received is that my characters are well-developed and likeable. For example, Janus, who provides much of the comic relief, has proven to be one of the most popular characters in the book.

2. It’s scary, but not gory
The novel is a mix of mystery, suspense and the paranormal, and technically falls under the Horror category on Amazon. If you like thrills and chills, the novel has plenty. But it’s not a gory book. If you are scared of words like entrails, spewing and mangled, you’re in luck! None of those words appear in the novel (although they do appear in this blog post, for which I now must apologize). I don’t like gore. It’s not that it bothers me, I just don’t find it interesting and it can ruin a perfectly good scary scene. Accordingly, you won’t find gore in A Soul to Steal.

1. The ending is “amazing.”
I could tell you a lot of things here, including that the book is an addictive page-turner or the first in a trilogy that promises to get even better as it goes on. But probably the novel’s best selling point is its ending. When I started writing A Soul to Steal, the ending is what I had in mind. Everything builds to that point. Yes, it’s part of a trilogy, but this is a complete book. I’m not trying to hold back for the sequel. This novel is carefully structured to lead to a satisfying conclusion—one you won’t see coming. But don’t take my word for it, read the reviews. Vanessa the Jeep Diva wrote: “When everything came together and all the pieces finally fell into place I was completely shocked. The ending was fantastic.”

So what are you waiting for? A Soul to Steal is a top-rated mystery/thriller with a supernatural twist. Buy it now and see what all the fuss is about.

If you want to find out more about the novel, find me on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/asoultosteal

Find me on Twitter at @hobbinb

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A chance to get 8 books for zero dinero—including mine.

The following is in reference to The Masquerade Crew:

Their adventure started a little more than six months ago. Since they posted their first author-requested review on October 1st, they're going to officially celebrate their six month blogaversary between now and April 1st, which is the first day of the A to Z challenge. They encourage you to come back for that because for 26 days in April they're going to post writing tips from some of their followers.

In the meantime, they're kicking off this party with a mega giveaway. Roughly half of the authors of their 5 star reviews have agreed to give away copies of their books. This is your chance to win up to 8 free books. Click on the book covers to go to their review.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How KDP Select Made Me a Bestselling Author


It’s no secret I’m a big fan of KDP Select. The first time I did a free promotional day, I was blown away at how many downloads the book received.  I was also pleased with the resulting sales a week later.

But that was nothing compared with my second experiment with free promotional days. Instead of building the suspense, let’s go straight to the numbers—and then I’ll explain why I had so many more sales the second time versus the first. Below is a chart of paid book sales for the first seven days after my free promotional event.

As you can see, the free promotion in February vastly outpaced the one in January. In January, I sold 73 books in a single day, at the time a record for A Soul to Steal. In February, I sold 351 books in a single day. I had two other days where sales topped 220. All told, I sold 246 books in the seven days after the free promotion in January—a number I was very pleased with at the time. In contrast, I sold 1,250 in the week after the February promotion. (Side point: I priced the book at 99 cents for two days following the January promotion, but I did not lower the price in February, leaving it at its regular $2.99.)

So, what changed? Why was it so much more successful the second time than the first? While I can’t say anything with certainty, I have a few educated guesses as to what happened.

1)                  The book got a new, more professional cover
Of all the factors, I believe this is the most significant. I liked my old cover, which you can still see here, but it screamed self-published. Accordingly, while folks had no hesitation in downloading it for free in January, they didn’t rush to buy it afterwards. Sure, it got a boost, but not nearly what it would have likely received had I changed my cover earlier. Please take note of this, indie authors. If sales aren’t where you would like them to be, your first thought should be to look at your cover. If it doesn’t look like a Big Six cover, it’s time to get a new one.

2)                  I ran the promotion for two days instead of one
Following the advice of several other authors, I ran my promotion across two days (a Tuesday and Wednesday), rather than just one. I’m a little unclear on exactly how much this helped, mostly because more than 10,000 people downloaded the book on the first day and “only” 5,000 downloaded it the next day. Still, given how much weight Amazon’s algorithms put on popularity, the combined downloads were enough to keep A Soul to Steal front and center in the Kindle store over the weekend. Had I just done a single day, I’m not sure that would have happened.

3)                  I engaged in market layering
In January, I stopped all advertising prior to the free promotion. I had been using Facebook ads successfully, but was hoping the KDP Select experience would free me from being dependent on them. In February, I wanted to follow Jeff Bennington’s advice and “layer” marketing following my free day promotions. (If you want more details on this strategy, check out Jeff’s excellent how-to guide “The Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe” here). As a result, I turned on the Facebook ads again in a big way, spending $50 a day and using my two most successful ads that I had. I also used World Literary Café’s Social Media Mania to promote the book. It’s difficult to know how much impact this had individually, but it’s not a coincidence that the same day the promotion ran was also its most successful. A free excerpt received more than 2,000 hits on that day. Was it worth the $40? Easily.  Overall, Jeff is right. If you want to ensure your book’s success after using a free promotional day, your best chance is to layer on marketing as heavily as possible.

4)                  I changed my genre and hit several bestseller lists
If you look at the January numbers, you can see the boost in sales fell off rather quickly. After Day Five, they largely fell back into “normal” range. But after getting such large numbers in the initial days after the February promotion, my sales continued to be far stronger than normal for a much longer period. Even now, sales are decidedly better than prior to the free days. Why? Well, for starters, the novel hit #1 on Amazon’s Ghost bestseller list, and #4 on all of Horror. 
       Over that critical weekend, it also charted high on the Suspense, Thriller and even the very competitive Mystery and Thriller bestseller lists. This actually brings me to another point. In January, my book was slotted under Ghost-Horror and Occult-Horror. But in looking at the Kindle store, I felt like I was narrowly limiting the novel’s exposure. Yes, the novel qualified under Occult, but I was essentially doubling down on Horror. Honestly, I’ve never been entirely comfortable slotting A Soul to Steal there anyway. It’s a mixture of several genres, including mystery and thriller. Looking at similar novels by Blake Crouch and Joe Konrath, I decided to switch genres, abandoning Occult and moving to Suspense. This can be risky, and you must make sure you aren’t changing genres arbitrarily, but the novel truly fits under Suspense. As a result, I likely received more downloads on the free days from people looking for thrillers, and not necessarily horror books. And I definitely received more exposure by appearing on those bestseller lists. Once I was part of those lists, the book continued to receive higher than normal sales even after the initial boost from KDP Select was gone.

Nothing, of course, lasts forever. Although these numbers are very exciting and I continue to have higher-than-average sales, if you look at the bestseller lists, A Soul to Steal has largely tapered off. I also have no idea if this kind of success is repeatable. It’s possible that every free day brings less of a bump because so many people have already downloaded the book. I may look back at this as the novel’s high point.

But all in all, this experiment has been a gigantic success. I’ve had more positive reviews in the past week since the promotion than at any time since its initial publication. I’m receiving regular Facebook posts complimenting the novel. Beyond sales alone, the novel has clearly attracted more readers—many of whom are excited about a forthcoming sequel.

I can’t guarantee others will have the same experience. J.D. Currie has a nice round-up here of what others have reported, and it’s clear there is variance. But I will say this: Unless you are selling great numbers on Nook, iBook or Smashwords, there is no good reason not to try this route. It might not pan out, but if it does, you could find your novel is suddenly a bestseller.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What I've Learned After Six Months As a Published Author


This week marks a big moment for me: the six-month anniversary of publishing my first novel, “A Soul to Steal.”

I honestly had no idea what I was getting into.

It was, in retrospect, a last-minute decision. The manuscript for the book had been sitting on a shelf for a few months after an agent told me the novel was excellent, but was going to have trouble finding a market in the current environment.

After that experience, I had no idea what to do. Like a lot of others, I saw a New York Times story about Amanda Hocking’s success and thought, “What the hell?” I had always been convinced self-publishing was an act of desperation, the kind of thing that would make you untouchable as a potential “real” novelist. But the world was changing, and Amazon’s platform seemed like a great way to get the book out there without someone charging me thousands of dollars.

I did some prep work, making sure the book was clear of typos (the novel had long been edited and proofed before I sent it to the agent, so this was a final check), asked a friend of a friend to make me a cover and created a Facebook page.

That was about it. I had no blog, barely any Twitter presence and no friggin clue how I was going to sell any books. I wasn’t naïve—I knew this was going to be tough—but I figured I could learn everything I needed to know on the fly.

What have I learned since that day? Here are a few highlights:

1)      People are awesome
I had a lot of fears about putting the book out, the strongest of which was what you would expect: I worried people would hate the novel. It didn’t fit neatly in any genre, combining elements of mystery, suspense, the paranormal and even urban fantasy (a genre I didn’t even know existed.) Would people get it? Was it any good? The response, I’m happy to say, has been overwhelmingly positive. Book bloggers were very positive, readers have been kind and, in general, I’ve received a lot of nice compliments on the book from people I’ve never met. They have also been remarkably supportive, urging me to keep writing, offering comments on the blog, and filing reviews on the novel. My book now has an actual audience, and its fans are growing.

2)      My novel is not a Halloween book
Since my novel climaxes on Halloween night—and centers around the origins of the holiday itself—I wanted to publish it well before All Hallow’s Eve. In theory, I thought I would sell a lot of books in the lead-up to the holiday, and then watch my sales disappear right afterward. I was so convinced of this that I consoled myself on Halloween night that I had a great run and would do even better next year. But do you know what happened? Sales actually increased after Halloween. November was better than October, and January ended up being better than November and December combined. February, which started as my slowest month, was a new monthly sales record. My point? People want to read scary books regardless of the time of year.

3)      This is like a second job
I look back at the me from six months ago and wonder – if I had known what I was getting into, would I have still done it? When I published, I thought I could query a few book bloggers, sit back and wait for sales to roll in. I didn’t understand the time and energy I would invest in getting the book launched—and then maintaining it. I ended up querying hundreds of bloggers, 30 of which agreed to review the book (and only half of which ever did). I spent hours perfecting Facebook ads and then reaching out to various Facebook sites for books. I started a blog, joined Triberr and then KDP Select. I’ve read dozens, if not hundreds, of blog posts from others on how to maximize sales. I’ve also been working on a sequel every day. In short, novel writing has become another full-time job. So would I do it all over again? Yes, in a heartbeat. In the past six months, I’ve become a bonafide bestselling horror and suspense novelist. Just to watch my book ranked on the Horror bestseller list near Stephen King’s excellent 11/22/63 was the thrill of a lifetime. It didn’t stay there forever, but it doesn’t matter. I got a taste of what success can feel like. And it felt pretty damn good.

I don’t know what’s in store for the indie author community, the book industry or, for that matter, me. But looking at how many indie authors are on the Kindle bestseller lists, I can say this: if you work hard at this game and produce quality novels with eye-catching covers, the future looks pretty damn bright.