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#WriteTip: One Free, One Cheap, One Real

Sam av

Last week, our eBook retailer, Pronoun, surprised us all when they doubled our author royalties, released the long-awaited Author Pages, and opened the door to Free eBooks. I had always wanted to offer something to my readers for free, but previously Pronoun’s lowest price had been $0.99. This, as you can imagine, was big news for Frankie and me.

Almost immediately, I dropped the price to FREE on my fresh publication, A SHINY FOR TRICK. Then I flung it to the masses and more or less forgot about it.

Today I checked my email. Pronoun has been sending me updates on how my sales have been. Since I dropped the price to free, I’ve sold 29 copies. Granted, I’ve not turned a profit on any of these books, but 29 is about as many digital copies that I’ve sold of THE BLOOD OF NERYS.

I had hoped this would happen. I am so glad that it did.

I turned to my roommate this morning and told him about my discovery. We discussed something he had heard somewhere about marketing. That it’s best to have one free product, one cheap product, and a lot of your real product.

(Note: The prices I’ve listed here refer to eBooks only. Printing incurs the cost of paper and ink, so print copies naturally cost more. I won’t be covering print with this blog post.)

Free Books as a Marketing Tool

Most people will pull the trigger on a free book without so much as a second thought. They might never read it, but they CAN, and that’s all that matters at the moment of purchase. Offering something for free seems counter-intuitive. After all, at this point you’ve spent hundreds of hours on the thing and likely had to pay for editing, cover design, or other services.

The important point to keep in mind though is that almost anyone will pick up a free book if they are even slightly interested in it. With your free book, you are casting a net far and wide, hoping some of the readers you reach stick around.

Your free book should be, in my opinion:

  • Short (mine is 17K, about 58 pages)
  • In your primary genre
  • Readable by everyone you ever hope to reach with any book (kids? Adults? Both?)

This is the appetizer. At this point, anyone who took the time to read your free book should know what to expect from your writing. Plus, they’ll be done with the free book quickly, and hopefully want to read something else.

That’s when you bait them again with the cheap product.

Cheap Books Are Your Chance to Prove Yourself

Now, give them a real novel. In my opinion, your cheap book should be:

  • Between $2-5
  • A standalone novel
  • In your primary genre
  • Directed at your primary audience
  • A good example of what you’ll typically write about

You might want to have 2-3 of these directed at different audiences. If you’re planning on writing books for both adults and young adults, you would probably want one of each. If you have to choose one, choose Young Adult (YA). A lot of adults enjoy these.

But start with one, and then move on to your Real Product.

The cheap book should be a singular example of what you’re about here. Develop a full story, hook and hold a reader, give a satisfying conclusion. They should read this thing and want to read more books.

Alright. Give ’em Everything You’ve Got.

Time for the real thing. Your crowning achievement. That beloved world you’ve been dying to write that you plan to spend a lot of time exploring. This should be where you put your series.

In my opinion, your real story should be:

  • Between $4-10
  • A series in your primary genre
  • Directed at your primary audience
  • About whatever your heart desires

You might have more of these later. This is what you’d mainly be writing from now on. Keep working on major standalones or major series directed at any of your audiences in the genres you will write. Basically, you’d want to write a free book, then a cheap book, then a real product, and then spend the rest of your career rounding out your listings.

How This Looks for Me

  • My Free Book is A SHINY FOR TRICK. It’s directed at all audiences and reads like a grim (not Grimm) fairy tale. It’s mostly lighthearted at the surface, but it does dabble in some darker themes like obsession and starvation. It’s 17K and written for a younger audience, but to adults it might feel like a Pixar short. Rather adorable and entertaining. It’s pure fantasy–magical creatures, other worlds, magical boxes and magical treasures.
  • My Cheap Book is THE BLOOD OF NERYS priced at $3.99. This was actually my first book. It’s definitely for an adult audience. It has a little gore and a lot of swearing. The setting is dystopian with a blurry sense of setting (this is intentional. Whether or not this is our world gone awry or another world is entirely up to your imagination. Either works). It deals with large philosophical concepts like God, magic, and science. It’s medical science fiction with a twist of fantasy, with blood as a main component, and finished in one book.
  • My Real Product is ACHILLEA and the books that will follow. This is not published yet, but will be a trilogy, and then a later trilogy, and then some. I will be spending a lot of time in this world. I have built a familiar sense of place and person. I know these characters as well as I know real people, and I love them dearly. ACHILLEA was the first book I ever finished, and I’ve poured countless hours into refining it to make it perfect. This is an adult epic fantasy, rife with powerful female characters, espionage, and turmoil. ACHILLEA sits at 137K. The second book is in progress and currently at about 38K. (My foolish writer brain thinks writing book 4, the first of the second series in this world, is somehow a great idea, so that’s sitting at about 8K, too).I cannot wait for all of you to meet these characters. They’ve been with me a long time. Heike, Achillea’s surly captain, is my belligerent muse.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you enjoy the work Frankie and I do on this blog, the best way you can support us is to share the posts and share our books. Even if they aren’t your thing, but you believe in what we’re doing here, sharing them with someone who might is a huge help. As with any new author, exposure is always the biggest challenge. (And reviews!)

Thanks everybody! Have a great weekend!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#WriteTIP: All of the Writing Advice I Have, the Mega Post

Sam av

I am on lunch break and I’m in an interesting mood. History tells me that now is a good time to put some words down because it means they are going to come out weird, and weird is good.

For me.

There are so many thousands of writers out there, and post after post about the right and wrong things to do, what to do when you’re stuck, etc. You might ask yourself why you would care to read mine, then? Our aim with this blog is to inspire you. We want to make it impossible for you NOT to write. Remove the fears. Heap on the encouragement. Lead by example.

This is going to be a long post. I’m going to throw down everything I’ve got. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Where Do You Even Begin?

  • Throw out anything you’ve ever been told that is holding you back. If someone mentioned a ‘rule’ of writing that made you feel inept, forget it. If someone told you that you weren’t cut out, forget that, too.
  • Say stupid things. Don’t tell yourself your idea is bad. In your own mind and by yourself, be as weird and as out there as you want. Nothing in your own mind is too weird, too cliche, too overdone, too tropey, too dirty, too controversial, too scary, too fucked up, too anything. You are not TOO. You are you.
  • Imagine every possibility. Re-envision your idea as many ways as you want.
  • Start anywhere. With the character, with the plot, the villain, the setting, a single line of dialogue, a color. Wherever feels right.
  • Go anywhere. Skip around. Write the ending and then the middle and then a smut scene and then a death.
  • It’s okay to work on multiple things. If an idea only holds you for five fleeting minutes, that’s just fine, too.

Do not set limitations on your imagination. Your imagination is far more powerful than you can ever know. Tear away those chains and find out.

Things to Keep in Mind When Writing

  • Writing is hard.
  • Some days are easier than other days.
  • There may be long, pronounced periods of no productivity.
  • You will think you suck at writing.
  • You will want to throw it away.
  • Most writers do not write constantly
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect right now. The written word can be adjusted infinite times.
  • There is no right or wrong way to approach your task.
  • Every story is different, and some need to be written in different ways. They are as tricky and unique as people and require a significant amount of effort to ‘get to know’ them.
  • Set attainable goals. Maybe you can’t write 2000 words every day. Can you write a few hundred? Or can you write three days a week?
  • You will only get better if you keep writing. It’s okay to take breaks, even long breaks, but you won’t improve until you put words down.

Writing is a discipline, but not all of us are rigid enough to keep to it. It’s okay to fall off the wagon once in a while as long as you’re committed to getting back on it. No one can tell your story except for you. You are uniquely qualified to tell it.

Tips for the Writer Mind

  • Removing something from your mind frees it up for more processing. If you have an idea, write it down so you can think of the next one. The more you do this, the more you will think up.
  • Staring at a screen for hours decreases the quality of your work. If it’s not working today, find something else to do.
  • When you can’t write, read.
  • When you can’t read, play a video game or watch a movie.
  • Working on your story does not always mean writing. It might mean drawing pictures, searching pinterest for inspiration, sketching out timelines, scribbling maps, writing scenes for the story you don’t intend to publish, talking to someone about your story, thinking about a problem, or taking care of yourself.
  • Your mind is a delicate, amazing machine and requires a rich environment to thrive. Feed it well. Rest it well. Provide variety to hit all of its good buttons.
  • Reward yourself for good work.

Keep your word machine sharp with practice and discipline. Surround yourself with stories and bask in the magnificence of it all. Stories are everywhere. Soak it up.

Your Environment

  • Protect your writing time.
  • Learn to say “No” sometimes.
  • Remove distractions. This includes kids, pets, spouses, friends, family, the television, obnoxious background noise, and sometimes even disruptive music. Struggling to write through this is not an option. It will burn out your brain as it tries to focus on too many things.
  • Turn off social media. It’s a drug. It floods your mind with numbness and shuts the whole machine down.
  • Your writing space should be easily accessible, comfortable, conducive to writing, and have everything you need in it. Mine has notebooks, folders, binders, pens, pencils, blank paper if I want to draw, a flat, uncluttered surface, speakers for my music, a basket of snacks, and space enough for my laptop. There are books on either side of me if I need to pull one for reference.
  • A lot of people like to write with music. It’s hit or miss for me. I can’t write to music with words I can understand or I start singing and divide my focus. And sometimes, I need the music off completely. I know people who need utter silence, and I know people who can’t write without music.

Your writing space should have everything you need and be the place you go to write and work on writing. Make that the habit, and writing will come more naturally.

Take Care of Yourself

  • Don’t be too self-deprecating. It’s okay to be critical of ways you can improve, but tearing yourself and your ability down is self-defeating.
  • Know yourself. Your limitations, your weaknesses, your strengths. Find your method and stick to it.
  • Try new things. It gets your brain thinking about new stuff.
  • Get out of the house sometimes
  • Change up your routine once in a while. Sometimes that’s all you need to shake something loose.
  • Ask for help. Writers are noncompetitive. Friends can help by offering feedback or bouncing ideas off of. It can be hard to open up, but it’s absolutely critical.
  • Rest.
  • Pamper yourself. Get the good coffee and drink it. Have a bubble bath once in a while. Sit in the dark with music on and shut your eyes. Buy a small gift for yourself you don’t need. Get good pens and notebooks. It’s okay to geek about them, too.

After You are Done Writing

  • Celebrate!
  • DO NOT PUBLISH! Your work of art needs some aftercare.
  • Rest it. Let the words sit for a while and work on something else
  • Go back and edit! Polish up those words and make them shine! Now is the time to make sure you’ve used the right word choice. Editing is how you make sure your story is at its absolute best before sharing it with the world.
  • Beta! You need people to read your story and make sure it’s working. Betas will help you identify strengths and weaknesses and highlight plot holes for you to fix.
  • Keep going! Write more things!
  • At some point, you have to accept where the book is and let it go. Could you keep making it better? Sure! But if you hold onto it forever no one else will ever get to read it. Write ANOTHER book. A BETTER book. Keep moving!

The feel of finishing a manuscript is amazing! Make sure you enjoy it, but don’t get so excited that you release your novel before it is ready.


Ask yourself what you want out of publication, and decide whether traditional or self-publishing is right for you. Don’t let anyone else influence your decision. This is your work. Each pathway has its own share of ups and downs, so choose what you like better. Do your research for both sides. This isn’t a decision you should take lightly.

The publishing world is changing. Get what you want out of the work that you’ve done. Make the right choice, and then never regret it.

There are books that are terrible and books that are amazing. Most likely, you’re somewhere in between. That means yes, you CAN write publication-worthy stories.

Remember…no one can write your story except for you.

You just need to do it! And you absolutely CAN!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#SamWIP: Habit-Forming

Sam av

I’m not going to do a video because I burned through all of my StayFocusd time.

(StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that helps you limit your goofing around time)

I do have some updates, though, that are good news!

Sundays with Tatiana

My graphic designing friend and I have decided to make Sundays a creative day. We’re going to hang out at her place where it’s quiet. She has projects to work on and I have projects to work on. We put on some background TV and get work done with minimal distractions. It’s good to around someone who is taking their creative endeavors seriously. I am actually productive when we hang out.

On that note, we started watching Westworld (HIGHLY recommend).

Setting Goals

I recently read this article about Stephen King’s writing habits. Everything on the list makes sense. I list the 13 secrets in the article here, and I’ll italicize the ones I’m working on and bold the ones I’m comfortable with already:

  1. 1000 words a day, every single day, no matter what.
  2. Combine unlikely connections (like Westworld’s Western theme and AI, for example)
  3. Great opening lines 
  4. Recuperation time after finishing a project
  5. Read a lot
  6. Finish a draft in three months or less
  7. Keep your purpose in mind (hint: it isn’t money)
  8. Use personal experiences to make it real, and then make it more real
  9. Form routines, and make ‘writing time’ a ritual that trains your brain to write.
  10. Appreciate all forms of feedback
  11. Write how you want and don’t shy away from anything
  12. Keep it simple enough to set a scene, but leave enough for the reader to fill in
  13. Remove all distractions. Isolate yourself with the story.

Right now, my biggest focus is to write SOMETHING every day. I count it if I’m editing, though. Editing is much slower than writing and doesn’t add a lot of new words, but I’m generally happy if I’ve stayed on task and made significant progress, so I don’t mind. I’m on a roll right now!

Forming healthy, consistent habits has always been a challenge though. The fever of NaNo gives way to the lethargy of winter, and by spring I’m just in Fuck It Mode. I need to keep at it. Practice puts me at my best level of skill, and I do have a lot of great ideas that I make excuses to avoid. It’s always daunting once I get to the middle of a project, and it’s too easy to walk away.

[GHISLAIN]; or, that smutteh novel I’ve been hinting at…

This book doesn’t have a title yet, but I have it saved under GHISLAIN, which is the name of the reaper/shinigami that haunts my main character.

I’ve been shifting tense from third person past to third person present. It fits the story a lot better and I like it. However, when you’ve written 30,000+ words, suddenly deciding to change your verb tense is labor intensive. I’ve spent several days on this now. I’ve added a few thousand words because I’m also editing a bit, but I definitely haven’t hit 1000 a day because it’s slower.

However, getting a closer look at it is making my heart happy. It’s in good shape to be what I want it to be.

And I’ve talked about it with a few people, and they seem pretty excited about the concept, so I’m motivated to work hard on it. I’m liking this project so far.

A Shiny for Trick

I mentioned a loooong time ago that this project was complete. Frankie and I have been tiptoeing around discussions regarding the cover. But, she’s been reading it and I got some good feedback, so now I’m feeling pretty confident about it.

We’re getting closer to publication on this one!

That’s all I’ve got for now. Back to work with me!

Check out the #SamWIP category every Monday to hear about Sam’s current projects!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

#WriteTip: The Mythical ‘Time to Write’

Sam av

#SamWIP on Monday, July 25

For starters, I want to apologize for completely forgetting about my #SamWIP on Monday. I think I got home at like…10 p.m.. Monday is the only day that I absolutely compose the post on the day of, to ensure I capture the full picture of a complete week. Several of these other posts I can compose and schedule ahead of time, as they refer to static incidences. Nonetheless, I do want to provide you with a full update of what I have been up to, but I think it will now have to wait until next Monday. Thank you for your patience!

#WriteTip: The Mythical ‘Time to Write’

I want to start this by being frank: ‘time to write’ simply does not exist. Stop looking for it. Stop waiting for it. Stop scheduling it and praying you are ready to write when it gets here.

I think this is the number one complaint I hear from any writer, even some of my more disciplined writing friends. You know who I don’t hear it from, though? People who regularly publish books. Veteran authors will still complain about the words eluding them, but I don’t often hear them bitch about not finding time to hone their craft. They have a stubbornness, one that separates them from people who “want to write a book someday…”

There is no time to write. Most of us are busy adults. We have friends, holidays, birthdays, kids, grandkids, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, jobs, other hobbies, families, commute times, movies to watch, TV shows to binge watch, trips to take…Do you remember your last video game release? Your last new book release from your favorite author? When that last movie came out and you dropped everything and went? The time has to be made. It has to edge out all of the other supposedly important things in your life that are getting in the way. That extra time does not otherwise exist. There won’t ever be time for you to do that thing you have always wanted to do.

You just have to do it anyway.

There are no exceptions. Only excuses. Writers who have a story they love that simply must be written will find the time. Some days it will be pleasant. The stars will align, the sun will beam through the window and make your words look like God wrote them, the dogs and the kids will be silent and phone will never ring. Some days it will be miserable. You will stare at the page for hours and hate every single word that you write. But you have to put your butt in the chair and stare.

I once heard a story about a man who writes novels on his commute to work each morning. He only has fifteen minutes each way, but he puts down a handful of words at each trip, and eventually it adds up to a book. Parents with young children can write books. Nurses with busy schedules and long hours can write books. I can write books. You can write books.

It won’t be easy at first. This takes practice, discipline, training. Maybe start with a small exercise. Pick 10 new vocabulary words and write a sentence for each after you get home from work. Try some writing prompts. Set an alarm on your phone at the same time every day. Don’t make plans for that time. Scribble it on a post-it at work when the idea hits. Take a lunch break and free write. Swap out your news time with writing time. Get out if bed when that idea strikes (this, you will never regret). Stay up late. Get up early. Get in the habit of doing this every day. It will get easier.

And when it gets easier, your writing will improve, and it will accumulate. You’ll have a book in no time. And, if you keep at it, maybe someday it will be a good one.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).