Let Your Readers Interact with Your Characters in Your Facebook Group!

The readers in my Facebook group love when my characters, Ian “Boss-man” Sawyer, T. Carter, and Mistress China, stop in to chat with them. They love Ian’s sarcasm, Carter’s playfulness, and Mistress China’s protective nature. How do my readers interact with them? It’s very easy!

Author Ellie Masters gave me the idea for making FB pages for some of my characters, then linking them to my group. Once that was done, I could choose which character I wanted to be when interacting with the group. I can even have my characters tease or argue with each other. It’s a lot of fun and my members really enjoy it!

First thing you need to do is decide which character your readers would like to interact with the most and create a Facebook page (not a profile) for them. Choose “Public Figure,” then enter your character’s name. For category, there is no fictional character option, so choose Book or Book Series. Upload photos for a banner and page image–book covers, what you think the character looks like, etc. (make sure you have the rights to the images). Write a description of your character, what book(s) they are from, and links to buy the books or anything else you want to add!

Once your page is up and running, go to the menu on the left side of the page and click on “Groups.”

Click on “Link Your Group.” A list of groups you are an admin for will come up. Select the one you want to link to the page. 

Now go over to your group. In the upper left corner, next to the banner, you’ll see a button that says “Interacting As Yourself.” Click on that and you’ll get a pop-up of the pages you can interact as. 

Choose who you want to post/comment as and you’re all set! See? Easy-peasy! 

Note: Under the character name, you’ll see it says “Admin Published by Samantha A. Cole” – only the admins will be able to see that. 

A few things to mention:

1. Once you switch over to interacting as a page, you will keep interacting as them until you switch back. 

2. For some unknown reason, you can’t post/comment a gif or video and have it auto play. It will show as the link only.

3. Anyone who is an admin on both the page and in the group will be able to interact as the page. It is best to make a friend or relative
you trust as admins on both in case your profile gets thrown in FB jail or suspended. 

4. This is a great opportunity to interact with your reader group! I ended up making a novella that included questions my reader group
asked my characters and their answers! So have fun and enjoy! 

How to Get Your Author Profile Back If Facebook is Ghosting You

Many authors use their pen names on their Facebook profile, which puts them at risk for being reported as having a fake account or impersonating someone else. This has happened to me several times (thanks to a twatwaffle who has nothing better to do than to report others) and a few of my author friends. What might follow is sheer panic and frustration while trying to jump through the hoops of FB’s gauntlet and, quite possibly, being ghosted by FB. I recently got my account back after being ghosted for a few days, then helped an author friend who had been reported as impersonating me after she went two weeks without her profile.

What to do BEFORE your profile is suspended:

It’s always best to be prepared for this because it will save you a lot of time and frustration if you are suspended. You may not need to do ALL of these, but it’s recommended that you do as many as possible. The more proof you provide FB, the better chance you have at getting your profile back.

  • Make someone you trust (a PA, friend, relative) an admin for all your groups and pages so you can access them if you’re suspended.
  • If you live in the US, get an employee identification number (EIN) from the IRS. There is an option for an alias/pen name. You’ll receive a PDF with both your real name and your pen name on it with the EIN. If you live outside the US, research what documentation you can get in your country that will link your real and pen names. 
  • Open a PO Box with your real and pen names. The post office will send you documentation for both names. Take a photo of it.
  • Have mail sent to your pen name. Take a photo of it.
  • Take screen shots or photographs of any writers’ organizations you belong to (RWA, NINC, etc.) with both your real and pen name showing or just your pen name.
  • If your copyrights are in your pen name or have both names on it, then take a photo of them.
  • If you go to book signings, take a photo of you with your banner with your pen name on it. 
  • If you have a DBA (Doing-Business-As) for your pen name, take a photo of the paperwork.
  • If you have an LLC for your pen name or your publishing company, create an employee ID badge for yourself. Make sure it has your photo, pen name, and date of birth on it. And, yes, take a photo of it.

Put all the above in a file. I recommend saving it in several places – computer, external hard drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. If your profile is suspended, FB will ask you to send them proof of identity. Send them all of the above. They may ask you to take photos of you holding up the information. Hopefully, this is all it will take for you to get back in without any further problems. If not, keep reading.

At some point, you might get frustrated with the back and forth emails with FB without any results and you might just get … let’s say, snippy with them. Oh, what the hell … you’ll get bitchy with them. This is when they will ghost you and stop responding to all your emails. This is also when the real panic may set in. Don’t worry. There’s more you can do.

During my latest suspension, I recalled the confrontation between the drag queen community and FB a few years ago. The drag queens wanted to be able to use their stage names for safety reasons and to prevent being outed to family and friends, if that was a concern. After the media got involved, FB finally relented and allowed the use of stage names. What many people didn’t realize is that this also pertains to other groups, such as authors who use pen names. I contacted Sister Rosa, who had been very vocal for the drag queen community during that time. The advice I received was what helped me and the other author get our profiles back.

  • From the email addres you use to sign into your pen name profile on FB, send all the above proof to namesupport@fb.com
  • In the email, put the following:
    1. You are an author with published books.
    2. You use a pen name for: list the reasons, i.e. you are protecting your identity and that of your family; you might lose your real job if someone discovered you are a steamy romance author; etc. In my case, I mentioned that I’m a retired police officer with an uncommon last name. I didn’t want anyone I had arrested during my career tracking me down through my pen name.
    3. You are known publicly as your pen name. Your readers only know you as your pen name. You attend book signings under that name. Let them know if you are a best-selling or an award-winning author.
    4. All other social media sites allow you to use your pen name without any problems. Give them a list of all the links, including Amazon, Bookbub, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
    5. Give them your website address.
    6. Put a statement similar to this in your email. “Like the drag queen community, authors use pen names to protect themselves and their families. You allow the more famous authors and celebrities to use their public personae names, like … (list a few people: I used JK Rowling, E.L. James, and Vin Diesel.) If you insist on authors using their real names, then you must apply that to everyone, and demand that those people use their real names as well.” (I did not put this in my original email, but in a second follow-up one after I did not hear back from them.)
    7. Tell them you DO NOT currently use a profile under your real name.

After I sent all that information to the namesupport@fb.com address, I DID NOT get a reply.  The next day, I sent a follow-up letter, again with no reply. However, the following morning, I decided to try and log into my profile and was able to get back in. The other author had the same thing happen. After sending her information to name support twice, and me emailing name support and telling them we are two different people, that I live in the US and she lives in the UK, and that she was reported by someone with a grudge against me, she tried to log in and was successful. I have no idea why they don’t email you back, but then again, I don’t know why we must deal with this crap in the first place. If you can’t get back in, keep sending the emails to name support and keep checking to see if your account is reactivated. Once you get back in, they will keep that information for at least three months to up to a year. If you get suspended again, respond to the notification email that you sent all your information to name support and they have it on file. That should get you back in within a few hours. 

The following is the entire first email I sent to name support. The more detail you put in there, the more likely you are to get your account back. 

My name is Samantha A. Cole. I’m an independent, self-published author of twenty-eight novels and novellas, and as of this past October, I’m honored to say I am a USA Today Bestselling Author. 

Like hundreds of other authors who write fiction, I use a pen name. The use of pen names has been around for centuries, protecting the identity of authors who may attract the wrong attention based on what they write. There are a variety of reasons why authors prefer to use a pseudonym, such as, authors who write steamy romance have been known to lose their jobs, especially in school systems, and they are trying to protect their families. Stalkers are occasionally an issue, particularly if they disagree with what the author has written or believe the author is “easy” because they write steamy romance. In my case, another reason is that I am a retired police officer, whose real last name is unusual enough that it wouldn’t be difficult to track me down if I was using that name to publish my books. I had arrested hundreds of people during my career and would prefer not to have any of them showing up at a scheduled book signing. I am the only person in a county of 300,000 people with my last name with the exception of my elderly mother who lives in a nursing home. I can not risk having my past career clash with my current one. 

The problem myself and many authors are facing is that Facebook has made it extremely difficult for us to maintain a pen name as our profile name. When asked if we could have a profile under our pen names, your response has always been we can list it as a secondary name under our real name profile (which defeats the purpose of trying to keep our real names separate) or we should use a business page for our pen name. There are many reasons why the latter is not practical. I currently have close to 5000 “friends” on Facebook under my pen name. While many of them are authors, editors, photographers, cover designers, bloggers, and other people who work in the book community, most of my “friends” are readers who enjoy my books and like being able to communicate with me. It brings them closer to me, my books, and my characters. I have a FB group with over 1300 members who love that I interact with them daily. Most feel that the “human” factor is removed when they interact with a page and not a profile. There are also things I can do under my profile that I can’t do under my page, such as post video trailers in groups that invite authors to share in them. 

Back in 2014, Facebook finally relented and allowed drag queens and those who use stage names to use their alter-ego names on the site if that is what they were known by the public as, however, this only applied to that community. I work approximately fourteen to sixteen hours per day as Samantha A. Cole. It is the name I use on my website, Romance Writers Association, Instagram, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, Twitter, AllAuthor, Bookbub, Fictfat, YouTube, Goodreads, and Pinterest. None of those sites have an issue with my pen name – only Facebook. I go to dozens of book signings and author conferences each year and the only name I am known as is Samantha A. Cole. I have not used my real name FB profile in four years because I spend all my time networking, marketing, researching, and other business matters under my pen name. 

Over the past year, I have been harassed by another author, who has reported my pseudonym profile as being fake or impersonating someone else or someone else impersonating me. That person uses their fake accounts to report me. While that is a separate issue altogether, the problem is FB blocks my account and repeatedly forces me to prove who I am instead of wondering why my profile is being reported so often. Several times I was able to get my profile back by supplying you with copies of my IRS EIN (issued in my pen name and linked to my real name), copyrights of my books issued by the US Copyright Office in my pen name, a screenshot of my RWA membership in my pen name, and an employee ID badge for my own New York State DBA Suspenseful Seduction Publishing. That has always worked in the past until this recent incident. 

Two weeks ago, after I was able to get back into my profile after being in “jail” for a post your bots deemed as too steamy, someone took to reporting my personal assistants and other friends of mine with the name “Sam” or “Samantha” as impersonating me. The first few attempts, Facebook realized they were not me and ignored the claim. However, when the reports turned to other people named Sam and Samantha, another author and personal assistant for a third author were reported. The PA was able to get her account back rather quickly because that is her real name. However, the other author, from the UK, has not been able to get her profile back over the past week, despite sending FB numerous documents proving who she is. She had a new release today and is unable to talk to her fans or market the book thanks to the person with a grudge against me. I have contacted FB several times about the person harassing me, but I always get the same “canned” useless response. 

Recently, in a FB group where people can post anonymously through a Google form, mildly veiled posts were made stating that a purge of certain authors in the online book community was going to take place. I have been quite vocal over the past year about plagiarism, pirate book sites, and more, which has put me in the line of fire. Monday evening, after I’d shut down my computer for the night, I was again reported for having a false profile. When on logged back on yesterday morning, I was met with being blocked out of my account. I had an email from Facebook stating I needed to supply proof of who I was. I sent them the same information that I provided the last two times to get back in. This time they responded I needed to take photos of myself holding up the documents, which I did. Three times I received a response saying they couldn’t see the ID badge, and twice I took more photos and sent them back. In all of them, you can see my photo, my date of birth, my phone number, my name, and my company name. After the third email saying to take a better picture, I got frustrated to the point I asked, “What can’t you see? I can read clearly the information on the badge in each photo.” I was not rude in my inquiry, just unsure what they were having trouble reading. After that, Facebook stopped responding to all my emails. I have sent the required information to them in six more emails but have not received one response. I tried contacting a FB business marketing person who sent me an email recently about my author page, which is still up, but apparently, I no longer can do that since my profile is down. I get a message saying only certain people can contact them – two weeks after I got an email from the advertising office; I am no longer one of those “certain people.” 

Like the members of the drag queen community, authors have very valid reasons for not wanting to use our real names on our profiles, yet Facebook is the only social media platform that does not allow us to do so. Other authors and I are at a loss on how to appeal our case to them as there is no way to contact the company unless they want to contact you. There are several well-known, traditionally-published authors who are allowed to use their pen names as their profile names because they are famous, but for most authors, we are not afforded the same luxury.  

Please give authors the same rights afforded to the drag queen community and those who use stage names on Facebook, which is where the majority of the indie author world does its networking and promoting. This is our livelihood and my readers are wondering where I went. 

Thank you for your time.

It’s Time for a Reminder About Book World Etiquette!

A romance author friend of mine received a friend request on Facebook last night from someone she’d never interacted with, but she accepted the request anyway. A short time later, she received a PM basically saying the new friend had just finished the rough draft of her first adult short story and could the author look at it and see if it had potential. Then without waiting for a response, the entire short story was posted in the chat. I won’t get into the rest of it because it doesn’t really matter, but the author was appalled that someone sent her the content out of the blue.

Do NOT cold PM or email other authors, who don’t know you from Adam, and ask them to review your material. It is very rude and not acceptable by most authors. If you want their opinion on your manuscript or even a review blurb for your cover, then cultivate a relationship with them first.

1) Become friends with them.
2) Like and comment on the posts on their wall and page.
3) Join their reader group and become active in it.
4) READ their books and see if they write what you write. For example: the romance genre has many sub-genres, from closed door vanilla to steamy erotica. Don’t send an author who writes historical romance a military romance. Or a vanilla romance author a story that reads like a Penthouse submission. Or sci-fi non-romance author a young adult story. Make sure their books are similar in style to the one you’re writing.
5) After you read their books, leave a review and let them know how much you enjoyed their books. 
6) Chat with them in private about your shared sub-genre and book world stuff in general.
7) In other words, become friends with them!

THEN, and ONLY THEN, feel free to take a chance and ask them if they’d be interested in reading your book and critiquing it or giving you a review blurb for your cover. Do NOT be offended if they turn you down. Most established authors barely have time to read their favorite authors’ books, much less someone else’s book, and they get asked for critiques and reviews quite often. I have several new authors in my reader group who friended me, joined my group, interacted with my group, and after all that, asked me to take a look at their first chapters and give my opinion. I did so with pleasure because I felt I knew them by then. Several of them are now published authors, with more books on the way, and have thanked me for my input.

If you want someone to take a look at your material and let you know if it has potential, then do a FB search for critique groups and join one. There are a bunch of them and some are genre specific. Post your material in there for feedback. Or search for beta reader groups and get a non-author’s opinion about your book. Betas represent the readers who will eventually be considering your book for purchase. Their opinions count!

One of the other reasons you don’t want to send someone, who you don’t know at all, your manuscript is you risk someone taking your story and making it theirs. A lot of authors on Wattpad had their stories stolen – some were rewritten in minor ways, but most were verbatim.

So please, remember, don’t randomly friend an author and without so much a “how do you do?” send them your material and ask their opinion. All they will do is, at least, tell you it’s rude to do that and advise you to check out the critique groups, or, at most, block you and tell their author friends what you did and they’ll block you too.

You wouldn’t walk up to a doctor in the street, strip in front of them, and ask their opinion about the rash on your butt. Don’t walk up to an author, toss your book at them, and ask them to read and critique it. It’s poor etiquette.

New Author Blues

In several author groups, I often see posts from new authors with only one or two books out, asking if they should do promotions for free books. 

When I first started in the indie book community, I found several blogs, articles, posts, etc, that said it is very uncommon for indie authors to develop a large following and start to see a steady increase of sales (over $100-200 per month) until after their 4th or 5th book release. This held true for my experience as my 5th book was the one that started getting the ball rolling for me (along with a few shoutouts from authors with much larger followings who I’d either become friends with or who’d found my books and read them).

So don’t panic when your first book, or even your second or third book, fails to do well. Readers like to see a series with more than a book or two out so they can binge read if they like the first one. The same holds true if you don’t have a series, but your books appeal to them. It’s hard to get exposure with just one or two books, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, just that it’s very uncommon.

I was lucky in the fact that I was out on disability when I first started writng. I’m single with no kids (other than furbabies) and until my mother got sick two years ago, I didn’t have much getting in the way of my writing like some people do, so I was able to publish several books in a short amount of time. I know that’s not always the case for other authors, but the results are still the same. You need more than just a book or two out there to get noticed.

Don’t give your first book away for free (unless it’s to a review site like Booksprout or Hidden Gems) without books that readers can purchase when they’re done with the freebie. Without followup books immediately available, it’s highly unlikely that the readers will remember your name when your next book is finally released, especially if they read over a dozen books per month.

Also, don’t deep discount or run freebies on your books less than 3 months after the release. This annoys people who paid full price for your book only a month or two ago.

One other point, don’t make your new releases 99c unless you’re trying to get on a list or have some other valid reason for doing it other than you’re an unknown author. Readers will come to expect your books to be cheap and some will be annoyed when you finally start asking $2.99 and up for your books. Don’t devalue your work. Since Day 1, I have never released a full novel under $3.99 or novellas under $2.99. Will I in the future? Yes, I might if I want to hit a list, but I also have a backlist of 27 books to make up the difference.

So again, don’t panic when your first couple of books don’t sell. Find ways to promote them without giving them away unless it’s to a small group of people—i.e. takeovers, book signings, Booksprout, etc.—until you have more than 4 books out. Until then, just keep writing. You’ll get there. 

Killing Off a Character

After struggling to think of how the parent of one of my charcters died, that wasn’t from cancer, a heart attack, or an automobile accident, I went into my two favorite author groups on Facebook (Alessandra Torre Inkers and Indie Author Support) and got some input from the members. Here are a list of ways to kill off a character that you may not have thought of!

Abdominal aortic aneurysm 
Accidental/freak gunshot
Advanced Auto-immune Disease
Affects of Alcoholism
Alcohol poisoning
Allergic reaction/Anaphylaxis
Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection
Asthma attack
Bank robbery

BDSM play gone wrong
Blood clot
Blood pressure disorder
Boating accident
Bombing victim
Brain aneurysm
Brain infection post untreated sinusitis/tooth infection
Brain parasite
Bungee jumping accident – cord snapped
Buried when sand or dirt hole collapsed

Carbon dioxide poisoning
Carnival/amusement park ride accident
Caught in riptide
Celiac Disease
Complications from plastic surgery
Crushed by a fallen tree
Cyanide poisoning
Cystic fibrosis
Death by misadventure – freak accidents doing everyday things/extreme sports/taking a selfie
Deep-vein thrombosis
Diabetic ketoacidosis
Died saving others in a fire/shooting/natural disaster etc
Diving accident – pool, from a cliff, ocean
Drive-by shooting
Drug overdose
During a sport game/practice – hit too hard or genetic heart defect
Eating disorder complications
Ectopic pregnancy
Erotic asphyxiation
Extreme dieting
Fatal reaction to anesthesia
Fell down elevator shaft

Fell overboard from cruise/boat
Fell while hiking or rock climbing
Flesh eating virus
Food poisoning
Froze to death
Gangrenous gallbladder
Gas explosion
Given wrong medication by pharmacy/doctor/nurse
“Hangman’s fracture” from a fall
Heart attack due to genetic heart abnormality
Hit and run car accident
Hunting accident
Huntington’s Disease
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – HOCM
Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome
Infection from unsafe abortion or unsanitary delivery
Infectious disease while working in 3rd world country
Infective Endocarditis
Injured during domestic violence incident
Injured in earthquake
Injured in tornado
Injuries received during boxing or MMA match
Job-related injury
Kicked by/fell from a horse
Kidney failure
Killed by bullet shot into the air by a careless person (idiot) celebrating a holiday (can be a mile or two away)
Killed doing parkour
Killed during carjacking
Killed during robbery – home, store, on street
Killer bees attack
Lacerated artery – carotid, brachial, femoral
Landmine or grenande from WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War

Liver failure
Lupus complications
Lyme Disease
Mauled by dog/lion/hippo/jackals/bear etc
Medication or blood type mixup in hospital
Meningococcal meningitis
Mining accident
Mistaken identity murder 
MRSA (staph) infection after general surgery
Murdered by secret lover

Package bomb
Perforated bowel/colon
Perforated gastric ulcer
Peripartum cardiomyopathy
Placental abruption

Placenta previa
Plane crash
Postpartum hemorrhage
Pregnancy induced heart failure
Pulmonary embolism

Ruptured aorta

Ruptured appendix
Russian roulette
School/mall/arena/club shooting
Scorpion sting
SCUBA diving – ran out of air, faulty equipment, stuck in underwater cave
Shark attack
Skiing accident
Skydiving/parasailing accident

Smoke inhalation
Snake bite
Snowmobile/ATV accident
Spider bit
Steriod use
Strangulation – intentional or accidental
Stroke caused by birth control pills
Struck by lightening
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Surfing accident
Terrorist attack on unsuspecting public
Toxic Shock Syndrome
Train accident
Undiagnosed meningitis
Unintentional prescription or recreational drugs
Untreated head injury
Untreated rabies
Uterine rupture

Make a Change

Author  DD Lorenzo and I were just talking about the book covers, titles, and blurbs of her books. A third author had suggested she try something new and recover them (and also update the titles and blurbs) because the books aren’t getting the recognition and following they deserve. I totally agreed with her. I’ve read DD’s Depth of Emotion series, and it’s really good (and I don’t like 1st person, but I still loved the stories and her style). 

NYT and USA Today Bestselling Author Alessandra Torre (I highly recommend joining her Facebook group) has mentioned many times in her videos, blogs, and post that, if your books aren’t selling, then changes need to be made. If I remember correctly, one of her books has gone through 6 different covers!

At the end of last year, I took Alessandra’s advice. Recovering my series was a given since I’d done the original covers myself—something a lot of us have done for financial reasons in the beginning of our careers. Those covers were okay—and I say that in a flat tone of voice – my readers liked them, but they weren’t attracting new readers as much as I hoped. My standalone, The Friar, had a professional cover, but the title and cover had some readers thinking it was religious or religious taboo.

I ended up reworking all the blurbs, redoing the covers, and changing that one title. Sales have definitely increased on all books—part of that is from Bookbub deals, but  I’m sure the new covers helped me get those deals. They also helped me get a high number of downloads from those deals and keep those sales coming.

If your sales are not where you’d hope they would be, then take a good look at the entire package. I love DD’s book covers, but one person’s opinion isn’t the only one that matters. If the covers/titles/blurbs aren’t appealing to a broad reader base, then something has to change, if not all three.

The Friar won an award in 2017 in the Readers’ Favorite Awards in the very competitive Contemporary Romance genre. However, sales were dismal on it. It’s currently my only stand alone.
The Friar was retitled and recovered. While it will probably never be among my top sellers, the sales and ranks have definitely increased.

When I retitled/covered The Friar and made it The Road to Solace, all I had to do on Amazon and the other sites was change the title in the listing, upload the new cover, and adjust the blurb. I did NOT have to get a new ASIN or ISBN for the EBOOKs only. Print versions needed new ISBNs. The ebook version, though, is the more important aspect. The print versions are always easily linked to them. If you keep your ASIN and other ebook ISBNs, then you don’t have to go through asking Zon, Kobo, B&N, etc to move the reviews from one listing to another – a quick email takes care of this if you decide to start with a new ASIN/ISBN for the ebook. Some authors like to start with a fresh ASIN/ISBN because then the book will be listed as a new release and get exposure that way. If I ever do this again, I might go that route, since all I have to do is contact the sale sites, give them the old and new numbers, and ask them to transfer the reviews.

So don’t be afraid to start over with a new cover and title. I know how it feels to change from a cover you love and that has an sentimental connection with you, but sentimental is not going to sell your books!  Check out the top 50 books in your genres and study the covers and blurbs—see what is making them top sellers. Go into author groups and get opinions about different cover styles, titles, and blurbs. If you have a reader group, show them a few cover/title options and get their opinion from the consumer point of view. Remember, if your books aren’t selling, it’s because of either the cover, title, blurb, editing, or marketing—or all of them. Do the research, take a chance, and put your best book forward.

As with all posts in this blog, these are suggestions. What works for one author, may not work for another. Do what works best for you. 


What You Can and Can’t Legally Use In Your Fiction Book

Often, I come across questions about copyrighted material, trademarks, and whether or not certain things can be used in fiction. Here’s a common list of items I see authors asking about.

Towns/City Names: You can use the names of real towns and cities without any problems. I tend to use real large cities and make up the names of smaller towns. It’s easier to “create” a town to your story’s specifications and needs. You can take liberties with real places by making up the names of streets or businesses.

Company/Brand Names: You can use real company/brand names (Nike, Ford, Frito-Lay, Xerox, Facebook, etc.) as long as you don’t show them in a bad light. For example, you can write: A guy who worked for Xerox sat there eating his Fritos with his Nike-covered feet propped up on the dashboard of his Ford Explorer while he scrolled through the Facebook feed on his cell phone. You can’t write: “(Insert real clothing manufacturing company name) employs sweatshop workers from a third-world country. They pay them pennies and have beaten those who complain.” (Unless you have cold-hard facts that it’s true, make up a name for the company.)

Song/Album Titles, Movie/TV Show Titles, Book Titles: These are free to use, but, again, it’s recommended you don’t talk bad about them in any way, i.e., “It’s the worst song ever written.” (You can even use them for your own book titles as long as you’re not violating any registered trademarks.)

Lyrics: A BIG NO-NO! (Most of the time.): Most song lyrics have copyrights on them for 50-100 years. They usually have 2 copyrights to them: one belonging to the artist who wrote it and one to the recording company that released it. However, there are songs out there that are considered “fair use” and other songs that you can get permission to use. In 2015, Helen Sedwick, an author and an attorney in California, wrote a blog post on this, and it has a lot of good information on it. I highly recommend reading it if you’re really interested in getting permission to use a song’s lyrics in your book. 

Celebrities (Authors/sports figures/actors/actresses/politicians/any other well-known-figure): Again, free to use, but don’t risk being accused of libel by showing them in bad light (no matter how much the press and tabloids have done that).  Recently, actress Scarlett Johannson won a defamation case against a French author. 

Excerpts from books, poems, newspaper/magazine articles, blog posts, etc.: Unless you have permission from the author and give proper credit to the author and the original publication, you’re leaving yourself open to a lawsuit. (Also, a possible ban from book sites for plagiarism.) The exception to this rule is anything written before 1923 is considered to be public domain and can be used. Some works written after 1923 also fall into this category. If you’d like to learn more about public domain and how to figure out if a written work is available for use or not, check out this article from the Stanford University Libraries.

Images of Celebrities or Any Other Image Found on the Internet: Just because an image can be found freely on the internet, it does not mean you’re allowed to use it any way you want. While there are sites like Pixbay that have images you can use for free, most images are copyrighted and require you to purchase them for use. To ensure you won’t get sued for using an image, make sure you either purchase the image from a legal listing site (Shutterstock, Depositphoto, etc) or the original photographer, or research the copyright terms on free-use sites like Pixbay. This includes images you use for covers, teasers, and on your website. There are actually people out there who post their images on the web, then do searches for anyone using them on their website or social media page and suing them for unauthorized use. 

As with all my posts, these are simple guidelines to help you. Some are not written in stone, and you may find ways around the limits if you really feel you need a well-known name or previously-written work in your story. Make sure you research anything that belongs to someone else before using it in your books and risking a lawsuit.

How to Create, Cultivate, & Maintain an Active Author/Reader Group on Facebook!

Some of the most frequent questions I see in author groups have to do with creating, cultivating, and maintaining an author’s FB reader group for fans of their books. When should I start one? How do I get people to join? How do I get them to engage on posts? Etc., etc., etc. 

Let’s see if I can answer those questions for you.

When should I create a FB reader group?

It doesn’t occur to many new authors to start a group BEFORE they release their first book, but this is actually the best time to do it. It’s going to take a while to build up your membership (took me three years to hit 1000+ members), but if you’re already active in the FB book community then you have a head start. Create the group, think of a cute/fun name that has a connection to your books, then invite the book community members, that you interact with the most, to join. If you already have a book out, get crackin’ on creating that group.

How do I get people to join my group? There are several ways:

1) Post the link on your wall and your author page if you have one.

2) Post the link on all your other social media profiles too—Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon author page, etc.

3) If you are already sending out newsletters, make a big announcement in it that you’ve started a reader group and invite them to join—don’t forget to give them the direct link.

4) If you’re doing takeover events, put an invite to join your group in its own post! Don’t bury it with all your other “stalk me” social media links.

5) When a reader contacts you through Messenger, your profile, your page, email, or any other social media site, to let you know they enjoyed your book and maybe left a review, invite them to join your FB group.

6) Right after “The End” in your books, tell the readers if they enjoyed the book and would like to learn more about your other books or upcoming ones, then they should join your group!

7) Be VERY cautious who you let in your groups, though. You will be bombarded with creepers wanting to join. Because my group is called The Sexy Six-Pack’s Sirens, I attract the trolls who do a FB search for the word “sexy.” Turn on the feature that creates a popup for join requests that gives them 1-3 questions they have to answer. They can be funny or serious, but make one of them “Name one of (your) books.” You’d be surprised at how many weird responses I get to that one.

Here’s the big one! How do I get my members to be active in my group? 

This is the #1 group question I see all the time. I’ve written a similar response every time I’ve answered it, and seeing the question again today prompted this blog post. So here we go:

1) Post several times a day, every day! Let me say that again! Post SEVERAL times a day, EVERY day. If you’re not active, your members won’t be active.

2) Don’t just post about your books! Post about other things too. Here’s a list of things I post about, but pretty much anything goes (except religion, politics, or any other hot-button topic).

  • Excerpts from works in progress—the steamy or very funny parts.
  • Pictures of men and women who have inspired my characters.
  • Memes—always fun.
  • I recently start posting daily “funnies”—funny cartoons (try to make sure you won’t offend anyone with one—again avoid hot-button topics).
  • I ask my members to help name towns and businesses for my books.
  • I’ve had contests where the prize is for the winner to become a character in my book (name, physical attributes).
  • I show my members the covers and book teasers before they go live.
  • Live writes (more on that below).
  • Invite other authors to come into your group and do a takeover for an hour or a day
  • Post the links to another author’s books that you’ve enjoyed—especially if they’re on sale!
  • Let your members know who your favorite authors are—it’ll give them something to read while they’re not-so-patiently waiting for your next book
  • Let your members post about a new author or book they read (I’m not saying let them promo other authors every day, but the occasional OMG! I just found this amazing book! is allowed).
  • Keep a growing list of your members birthdays in a spread sheet and give monthly or weekly shoutouts to those whose birthdays are coming up.
  • Post about your real life—my members have heard about my mom’s health issues, my brother visiting and disrupting my routine for a few weeks, my dogs’ antics, my move to a new condo, crappy weather, etc. (But don’t get TOO personal).
  • Let them post about stuff going on in their lives too—but within reason. Avoid controversial stuff and not every day. But if they need a prayer for a family member (or themselves) because of health issues or accidents, have a funny thing that happened to them, have a question that’s non-book related, or they’ve accomplished something big in their lives that they’re proud of, I let them post about it.
  • Ask random book and non-book questions like When and who was your first kiss? Are you a dog or cat person? My characters are getting married—what do you think their wedding dress or tux/suit looks like? Which of my characters is your favorite and why? What was the last movie you saw? ANYTHING!
    • Now I know a lot of authors will say that they ask these questions in their group and they’re met with the sound of crickets. These types of posts really only work if you are engaging the members every day with all the other types of posts.
  • Suggestions for book titles. (I’ve gotten a huge response to this twice now and have used some of the titles. My new Hazard Falls series was named after a member’s suggestion when I asked for a small town name for the series.)
  • Run contests with the prizes being an ARC or a $5 gift card.
  • Post funny videos (again, avoid controversial).
  • Post name game pictures (the ones with the first letter of your last name means something and the color shirt your wearing means something else). You can find these by Googling them or even making one that has your book/series theme to it.
  • Copy and post a glowing review that a member gave you on one of your books and thank them for their kind words.
  • Encourage them to post their reviews.
  • Create a second secret group and tell your readers to join it if they want to discuss your latest releases without putting spoilers in the main group for those who still haven’t read it yet. (In that group, immediately after a book release, I create a post asking what their favorite scene was.)
  • Ask for suggestions for a character’s name (I had my group suggest names for a pregnant couple’s child).
  • Post pictures of you meeting your group members at signings.
  • Keep an ongoing list of your upcoming signings in the file section of the group. I ask for volunteers to help at signings this way too. First person to volunteer, I pay for their assistant ticket and then give them a gift (book, gift card, or something else) at the end of the signing.
  • Create albums with your book teasers and covers in them so members can easily grab one if they want to post it somewhere.
  • Ask your members what jobs they’ve held so you can create a list for future research on a character’s job.
  • Do a live video and talk about your upcoming books or anything else!
  • And anything else you can think of that will garner responses. If you post any of the above only once or twice a week, it’s not going to work! Post often and you’ll start to see more and more engagement. Remind members to turn their group notifications to “All” so they don’t miss anything!

3 ) Live Writes 

A live write is when you do just that—write live in a group or event. These can be done solo or with a partner, and you can invite other authors to do one in your group. You can alternate POV or paragraphs.

  • Announce the live write all week with the time and date.
  • At the start of the live write, ask for story prompts for the author/authors—images, careers, places, etc
  • Choose a prompt and begin. Write a paragraph or two (don’t worry about typos, they’re expected)  in the comments of the post then hit enter. If you’re doing this solo, then just start the next paragraph under that. If two authors are involved, then wait a few minutes for the other author to post their section, then read it and continue the story. (Duals are fun because you never know what direction the other author is going to go in lol).
  • Some authors prefer that the members don’t comment (they can like) in between posted scenes. I, personally, don’t mind, as I get feedback on what I’ve already written. Either way, make sure the members know which you prefer before you start.
  • Sessions can go anywhere from 1-2 hours. (Trust me, the time flies!)
  • Have fun! I’ve done several of these, both solo and with a partner, and one has even inspired an upcoming book.

So that’s the lowdown on starting, cultivating, and maintaining an active FB reader group. As always, these are just suggestions, and other authors may have some other ideas. Do what works best for you. Feel free to join the Author Group Ideas Facebook group where authors and PAs share posts and ideas that worked for them in their reader groups! 

Nobody’s Buying My Book! Woe is Me!

In one of the author groups I’m in, another author pointed out that your wall or page is not the place to be whining about lack of sales, exposure, lack of reviews, or anything else. I totally agreed with her and decided to further explain the reasons why. 

Whining is not going to endear you to readers and make them want to go buy and read your books. In author groups, you shouldn’t be whining about lack of sales either, but asking what you’re doing wrong and how you can change it. Is it your covers, blurbs, writing, formatting, or marketing? It’s got to be one or more of the above. It might even be all of them.
Every author started as an unknown. No one begins to write one day and produces the next Great American Novel that doesn’t need a stitch of editing, that readers will be clammoring for, and that Hollywood will be knocking down their door for the movie rights to. Hell, I doubt there’s an author alive who can publish a book that doesn’t need to be edited. You also can’t just throw a book up on Amazon and expect it to sell itself. This isn’t a baseball field in the middle of Iowa, with long dead players coming out of the cornfield. “If you build it, they will come” works in Hollywood. “If you write it, they will read” doesn’t work in the real book world — not without a marketing plan.

For many people it’s the lack of knowing how to network and market (free or paid) that’s holding them back. For others, it’s their writing that’s holding them back. When I first started, I was in a Facebook author group that I no longer participate in because there were a lot of “my way or the highway” people in there and a lot of cutting others down. When I was still new, though, it was one of the few author groups I’d found that was a resource for the critiquing and marketing at the time. Since then, several more have popped up and there are a handful of really good ones that I recommend. (See this blog’s first entry.) 

With only a few books out at the time, I was still naive enough to agree to a review swap — what could go wrong, right? Ugh, NEVER again. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The author had about a dozen books out, all with only a few reviews. I tried very hard to read her book, but the grammar, syntax, punctuation, head hopping, run-on sentences, information dumps, etc., were so bad, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. Granted, some of what she’d done was stuff I, and many other authors, had done in the beginning. 

But the difference between myself and that other author was that I listened to the advice of other more-experienced authors. When they pointed out what I was doing wrong in my writing, I fixed what I could. I couldn’t afford an editor in the beginning, like many of us, so I did what I could to make up for it. I used Grammarly (and another program I no longer have and can’t remember the name of at the moment) and several beta readers who were good at spotting typos. As soon as I could (5 books later), I hired an editor to go through my backlist. She actually thought they’d been professionally edited before because there wasn’t a whole lot we had missed typo-wise, by that point, but she did find some other stuff I needed to fix. I cringed when I went back and rewrote a book I’d let a few family members and friends read years ago. The storyline was good, but my writing sucked. I’d done every fiction-writing don’t.

Once I had the things I was doing wrong in my writing pointed out to me, they were easy to spot in those older books. That knowledge also helped me not make the same mistakes again in my subsequent books. But what it also did was make me even more aware of those issues if they popped up in other authors’ books. 

So getting back to that other author — by the time I did the review swap, I’d been taken under the wings of several other established indie authors who’d successfully published several or more books. I say “successfully” because they’d established a large following, their sales ranks remained steady below 50k, and they had more than a decent number of reviews with high averages. As I said above, I’d taken their advice and fixed everything I could. So, then, I’d figured I’d try to pass on this advice to this other author because I want to see every new or unknown author succeed. I politely explained I was have trouble getting through her story and that I saw things she’d done that I had done before learning they were wrong. I offered to send her some cheat-sheets I’d found to help with different things and to give her the links to sites and programs that’d been recommended to me that I’d found useful.

Surprisingly, her response had basically been “no, thanks, but I understand that you won’t be able to leave a review.” She then shocked me, again, by leaving a 4 star review for my book. I just couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to improve their books so that potential readers would be able to get past that first chapter and read the whole thing. If they can’t, they’re not going to recommend your book to anyone else. They’re going to leave low reviews that will contradict the few 5 star reviews you may have gotten from friends or family and maybe one or two readers who’d been able to get past all the problems in your writing. None of that will get you new readers and better reviews. 

When it comes to learning the craft of writing, you have to leave your ego at the door. Take criticism and use it to your advantage. Don’t roll your eyes and say the other person doesn’t “get your style” or they’re just too picky and critical. I’m not telling you to change your style — that’s what makes your stories unique — but make sure you’re using proper punctuation and you’ve searched for typos in every way possible (read it aloud, use a text to speech feature, get a proofreader, add a few more betas, or anything else that works). Make sure you’re not head-hopping — stay in one person’s POV in the scene — and that you don’t have five pages on how the character made their peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Make sure the reader knows which character is speaking. Use dialogue tags sparingly and use actions when you can. Avoid information dumps – spread the information out in different scenes or chapters. Look for plot holes and plug them.  And anything else that is pointed out to you.

Okay, now that you’ve gotten your book the best you can make it, it’s time to market it. There are plenty of ways to market yourself for free. In April 2015, when I released my first book, my marketing budget for EVERYTHING was about $20 per month, and I made it work for me. How? Read on.

First things first. Go into Facebook author groups or critique groups and ask others for input on your blurbs and covers. What you think is the perfect cover for your book may not garner the same response from others. Many authors find blurbs difficult to write. Others have a knack for it. Ask for help. Your covers and blurbs are the primary draws for readers.

Next, get marketing for free. Make a FB reader group and engage your members daily. Get on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, All Author, Bookbub, Goodreads, Amazon, Fictfact, Youtube, Books+Main, and any other site out there. Research and ask others how to use those sites to your advantage. Get involved in author groups, and make friends with those who write in the same genre as you. Sign up for takeovers. Offer some free books in blogger groups. Did you know there are over 1000 FB groups that allow you to promote your books in them? Yup there are. I’ve spent over 3 years finding them, and I’m sure there’s more I haven’t come across yet. There are new ones popping up every month.

Low-expense marketing — get a website and newsletter going. Keep them up to date. Post on your website’s blog several times per month. Send out newsletters at least once a month but don’t go crazy. Readers don’t like to get bombarded and they’ll stop opening them. Also, there are many low-priced book marketing sites out there. Ask other authors which ones they found worked for them because there are too many out there to list here at the moment.

When you can afford them, look into the higher-priced marketing options. There are plenty of those out there too.

I’m sure there are suggestions I’m missing — new marketing ideas are being developed all the time.

So, authors, please remember that complaining about anything on your page and profile is not going to increase your sales. In fact, it will probably decrease them. Readers don’t want to hear it and they may even unfriend you as a result. You’re now a product — a brand — and like any other product out there, you’ll be assessed on how you appear to the public. Always put your best foot forward. 

Createspace Closing & Merging Into KDP Print

For those of you who missed the announcement yesterday or are waiting to for Createspace to notifiy you in someway, here is the info on KDP about CS closing and merging into KDP Print. If you didn’t already know, Amazon owns CS, and, ever since they opened KDP, it was expected for this transition to take place. KDP and CS both used the same printing companies, so whatever qualities you liked or disliked with your books or deliveries will continue with KDP. This link to the KDP help pages tells you what to expect over the next few weeks, how to transfer your titles (with a video to explain it – some people have already transferred their titles and say it’s quite easy), and all the other info you need to know.