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Atlantis: TVC Winter Wonderland Sale!

| Volume 1: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00V0A3N44 | Volume 2: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01835JT32 | Volume 3: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077TSBBYL |

This sale runs all through the weekend of 12/15/2017. Remember, it’s the holidays and books make great gifts!

[Even if they’re not my books. Spread the book love! ]

Review of Atlantis: TVC — Volume 1

Something unexpected has happened!

If you’ve been on the fence about picking up Volume 1 of my light novel series, Atlantis: The Visionary Continent, then maybe the review J.K. Penn wrote will be the push you need to grab a copy! Check out his write-up here.

He also reviews a few other light novels [Both traditionally and self-published] on his blog, and even has a light novel of his own. [Which you should check out as well!]

What a pleasant early Christmas present! rainbow

Thanks-Give-Away Promotion

To say thank you to my readers, all my available works are free over the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s right–free! If you’ve been waiting to pick up volume #2 of the Atlantis: TVC series, or to try one of my other stories, now is the time! Want something to curl up with while you snack on leftovers? This deal is for you!

Have a friend you think may be interested in one of the stories listed above? Feel free to share this promotion! It’s for ALL my readers–current and future.

heart

Thank you all for your support. I am truly thankful for each and every one of you.

[Links to the listed e-books can be found on the Shop page in the header, or by clicking on the image above.]

End of Summer Sale!

That’s right! Volumes #1 and #2 are on sale this weekend! You can pick up Volume #1The Visionary Continent for FREE, and Volume #2Awakening is only 99¢. Grab them before summer is over! [They’re great for reading by the pool, or so I’m told…]

If you’re looking for a shorter read, my novelette Simple Words is free this weekend as well!

Simple Words

I’m excited to announce that my newest work is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

It’s a dark story, but one of my personal favorites. I’ve had it in my head in various incarnations since probably around 2002 or so. I am glad I waited and let it percolate, because I don’t think I could have done it justice until now.

Simple Words debuts on June 17th, 2016. Pick up a copy today!

Simple Words

The Self-Promotion Hat

If you ask about promotion or marketing as a new self-publisher, people usually say something vague like: “As a self-pubbed author, you need to wear many hats!” as they direct you toward social media, or paid book promotion services, and… well, that’s it. “Here’s a link to Twitter, and another one to Goodreads. Now go forth–and don’t forget to wear your marketing hat! Even traditionally published authors have to do this now.” Others will recommend that you have a nice cover and tell you to try to utilize word of mouth. Barring that, you’ll get told to pay someone else to do it. No one is wrong, but no one is telling the full story, either. To market successfully, you need to use everything available to your advantage. Things like:

A Finished Book

  • Eye-catching cover that instantly conveys your book’s genre
  • An edited, polished manuscript beneath that cover
  • Intriguing back cover blurb that introduces the main character and asks more questions than it answers

The actual book is half the battle, but it’s the most important thing you can work on. This is the end product. Everything you do after you write it will be designed to lead readers to it, and when they leave, they should feel at best satisfied–and at worst, neutral. They should not feel tricked or offended by taking time from other tasks to look at your work.

Your Audience

These are the readers you had in mind when you wrote your book, and the ones you will need to keep in mind as you build your campaign. Who do you think would like your story? Ask yourself questions like:

  • What type of stories do they normally read?
  • What element of your story would pique their interest?
  • What other authors would they read?

The more questions you ask, the closer you will come to seeing your ideal reader. Once you have your ideal reader pinned down they are who you want to aim for as you plan your ad campaign.  Any marketing you do should target them, and anyone else you may catch will ripple out from that center.

A Social Media Presence

  • A blog branded with your name or pen name*
  • A Facebook Page
  • A Twitter Page
*= If possible you should start this before you finish your book

This is the bare minimum for social networking. I highly recommend buying your author name as a domain and having it direct to your blog if you do not open a website. I also advise you to join a third social media of your choice, this one visual. Pinterest or Instagram are great choices, though I have personally found great success with Instagram–especially since it cross-links so easily with Facebook.

That’s another thing–if you are more comfortable on one type of social media than another, there are resources that allow you to make a single post on your preferred platform and send it to others, maximizing your exposure. [This is a great article detailing the most popular options available to you.]

Speaking of exposure, there are several different ways to achieve this. Simply putting yourself on the web will not sell books! You would be surprised at how many authors stop here and wonder why they couldn’t sell to people other than friends and family. The web is a vast, busy place. You have to make yourself visible. You have to make yourself and your book stand out. There are several ways to do this:

Visual Aids

People are visual creatures. First impressions are important–some readers won’t even read your back cover copy [or your back blurb, as it is sometimes called] if they hate your cover! With split-second decisions like that being made, you’ll need to have cover art that can work double time for you in advertisements. If you are going to market your book, you’ll need a few visual aids:

  • A high-resolution copy of your cover art
  • A high-resolution copy of your final book cover
  • A photo of yourself that is not a selfie [Author’s Headshot]

These should all be at least 2000 px in height, and 600 dpi; preferably saved in a lossless format, like PNG or TIFF. The cover art is what you are going to use whenever an ad requires a picture, and the image of the cover whenever you want to display an image of your book. [Such as in banner ads] Your author picture will be used when you create an official profile for yourself. You should have one on any website you sign up for, and display it on any “About” pages you have the chance to fill out.

If you wish to get creative and make banner ads, or advertisements with text on the images, I highly recommend paying someone with more experience to do it. It works out well to do it by yourself when you’ve spent the last twelve years freelancing as a graphic designer [like I did], but if you are planning on using any kind of template tool or paint program to create your images, you’re probably going to have a bad time. This is the one point in the self-publishing process where I would err on the side of caution and hire someone. If you can’t afford it, do text only ads. It is so difficult to overwrite a bad first impression. It can be done, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Advertising Yourself and Your Work

Free Options

  • Social Media Hashtags
  • Word of Mouth
  • Getting cataloged by webcrawlers

Don’t underestimate the power of hashtags. Put them on all your social media statuses! Make them relevant to what your book or series is about, but don’t forget about vaguely-associated ones, like the platform you sell from [Smashwords, Amazon, etc.] or the cost of your book–especially if it’s free or on sale! Word of Mouth is another powerful, free tool–especially if friends and family are buzzing about your book! And if all else fails, a webcrawler will eventually catalog your blog or shop page. It could take several weeks or months for that to happen, though.

Paid Advertisements

Social Media

Social media can work for you despite having a small initial reach or audience.

  • Promoted Status Updates
  • Promoted Website Links
  • Promoted Pages/Profiles

These are done through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can set your own budget per day, and set the number of days the promotion will run. These are most effective when used with a sale or giveaway.

Ad Networks

These are low cost options that reach many people, and are great for an author who has just launched their first book, or a seasoned author with a slim advertising budget.

I ran an ad campaign simultaneously with Google and Facebook. You can read about my experience here.

Concierge Advertising

This is for authors trying to break into the big leagues! You are set up with a consultant who will tailor an ad campaign just for you. Unfortunately, these services come with strict qualifications and/or a hefty price tag–some starting at a couple hundred dollars. These services target readers specifically, and if you have a large amount of positive reviews that can drive sales, then using a service like these can catapult your book into a bestseller slot.

Book Promotion Newsletters

These can be a low-cost option for promotion, and can start as low as $10. But they usually have strict guidelines your book must fall within in order to participate.

Most of these require your book have at least 10 reviews and a 3.5+ rating prior to submission.

Special Promotions

Giving away your book free for a limited time is a great motivator to pick it up, especially if it’s new and doesn’t have many reviews. If you are writing a series, your first book is a good candidate to offer for cheap [or even free] whenever you can–this drives people who like it to pick up the remaining books in the series, and is known in marketing terms as a Loss Leader. [But it only works if you have two or more books released for the series.]

  • Contests
  • Giveaways

The chance to win something is a great motivator! People love free stuff, even if it’s a copy of your book. You can offer a simple lottery-style giveaway, or you can require certain terms for entry. On Facebook a popular strategy is to offer a single chance to win for a “like”, and a double chance if they share the contest status. This spreads your message organically, encouraging others to enter while promoting your book or page. How much that prize costs is up to you–a free e-book doesn’t even cost you shipping! [Note: Make sure you read the rules of the sites you plan on running your contest on so you can make sure it doesn’t accidentally violate one of them!]

Other Writers

These two options are great if you are willing to do some legwork, and are often free! Don’t be too discouraged if people don’t get back to you right away–they often have large backlogs of requests to go though, so a reply time of several weeks isn’t unheard of.

Summary

As I said earlier, using all of these will drive sales; but for some self-pubs things like concierge advertising are a pipe dream. That’s okay–there are plenty of free and low-cost options here that will help you out! Mix and match the ones you feel will work best with what you have, and you will still bring readers to your book!

I know–this was a long, serious article. Have a cute kitty for your patience!

Valentine’s Heartwarming Sale

Atlantis: The Visionary Continent is on sale this Valentine’s Day weekend!

From February 12th – 14th, Volume #1 will be available for FREE, while Volume #2 will be on a countdown deal, starting at $0.99 cents on Friday, then ending back at its original price on Monday morning.

Each volume is illustrated and includes bonus content at the end! If you’ve been putting off picking up a copy, then this weekend is the time to curl up with a warm mug of cocoa and start [or continue] your journey to Atlantis!

Note: Promotion end time is 2/15/2016 12: 01 AM PST

Free E-Book Offers, Scammers, and You

It has recently come to my attention that an unscrupulous website is using one of my novels as bait to phish data and garner illicit revenue from unsuspecting fans!

SVU detectives can't even believe it!
I know, right? Rude.

This brings up a subject near and dear to my heart. That subject is how humanity can suck, and Sucky Humanity + Money x Anonymity + The Internet = Scammernado Central. So I decided that it might be good to have an entry detailing all the ways people on the internet can be jerks when money is involved, and how you can protect yourselves from them.

The scum of the internet rely on people being one of two things–desperate, or uninformed. If you are desperate, I cannot save you. But on the other hand, knowledge is power, so here we go!

Sailor Chibimoon knows what's up!
Knowledge looks like a cute bell. Work with me here, people.

Note: For the purpose of this entry, I will be using the term e-book. You can replace it with anything: MP3s, Programs, or Apps–and it will still be applicable.

First of all, I won’t get into antivirus software, malware monitoring programs, script limiters, or adblockers*, because if you aren’t using one already then this post won’t convince you to. Plus, these sites can still trap you by manipulating you into disabling these features, or by being designed to work around them. [Still, it doesn’t hurt to have them. I highly recommend you pick at least two.]

Powers!

* = This may seem like I am going against myself, but malware can come from infected ads that even the webmaster or content provider does not realize are infecting people. You can whitelist providers you trust, or you can consider making a donation to a site you enjoy while blocking their ads. The choice ultimately lies in your hands.

General Safety Tips

  • First and foremost–trust your gut! If something seems like it is too good to be true, it often is. If e-books that would normally need to be purchased are being offered for free through an unfamiliar site or service, then the cost is made up in other [usually unscrupulous] ways.
  • If a website is asking you to sign up for something else in order to receive a free e-book, then it isn’t free. Only download e-books from authorized retailers!
  • If you see an unfamiliar website or service offering paid content for free, look up the name of the site plus a keyword in your favorite search engine, such as going to Google and keying in the search string “notreallyfreebooks.com+scam”. Often you will find links to watchdog sites in the results–these have ratings and testimonials that can help you decide if it is legitimate or not. Best of all, you can see that info without needing to sign up for anything!
  • Email the author! I probably would have never realized my book was being used as bait if not for a concerned reader pointing it out to me–an author will always be happy to point you to legitimate places where you can purchase or sample their book. Always.
  • If you hover over a button or link on a website, you can usually see a preview of the url that you are sent to when you click it. If it leads anywhere off the site you are currently on, it could be an Integrated Affiliate Advertising Redirect–also known as a Forced Click. If it’s not disclosed, then this is usually a sign of shady business practices, and should send up red flags!
  • If you have to click a link or button, or perform an offsite task to “unlock” or “decrypt” a file, get out of there!

Lies!
Lies!

Click Fraud and Affiliate Links

Affiliate links are links through which website owners send their visitors to access products and services they would normally look for. The innocent ones will reward the webmaster for sending you to a site you were going to anyway. For example, DIY blogs often include Amazon affiliate links to buy the materials needed to create a project they are detailing. If you click that link to go to Amazon, the blogger will get a small reward when you purchase the items. You can buy your materials in one convenient place, and the blog might be able to remain ad-free through that reward revenue. Everyone wins! But if you don’t want to click that link, you don’t have to in order to enjoy the post. Most places that are on the up-and-up have programs in place to make sure that someone can’t sit there and click a link over and over to artificially inflate the amount they get paid. Some people use click farming to get around it, employing people to click site links at a low wage. This is usually done in countries where labor is cheap.

However, aggressive advertisers and companies make affiliate links dangerous. They will pay well per click, but force the webpage user to sit through an ad or promotion–or even worse they may install malware on the their computer without them realizing [or authorizing] it. The webmaster then has to trick their visitor into clicking on the link, since no one is going to willingly watch an ad they can’t close or go somewhere where they might pick up a virus. A method that has popped up to get clicks is the “Free File Site”.

The site will advertise something that is not normally free, as being free through them. Once you are on the site, they will force you to click their affiliate links in order to receive the file, or a download link leading to the file. The fun thing about these sites [from a legal standpoint] is that they do not get in trouble for hosting copyrighted content, because they do not actually provide it! Once you click the download or unlock link, they are done with you. All they needed to do was trick you into providing that click.

Archer Glitter Gun gif

Special Offers, Surveys, and Malware

In addition to tricking visitors into giving them money through force clicked affiliate links and ad revenue, some sites will take their deception further. They may require you to fill out a survey, apply for a free trial of a service, or “accept a special offer”. These things give the webmaster or affiliate a bonus–your information.

Information is valuable! Social Security Numbers [SSNs], bank account info, and credit card numbers are all primo bits of information. You’ve probably heard time and time again to never give these things out. But what most people don’t realize is that people who seek this data network, and even innocuous things like your name, or an email address are valuable commodities.

For example, you go to BadSite B, and they have you take a survey where they ask your name and email address. “Oh well,” you think. “What’s a few pieces of spam mail? My filters are awesome–I’ll never see it.” So you give it to them. Using that information alone, they can bring up aliases and usernames for you–they can find your social media, and glean things like your exact location, age, phone number, photos of you, and plus your current and past addresses. That is scary by itself, but if the owner of BadSite B talks to the owner of BadSite A, where you were required to apply for a credit card a few months back to obtain a “free” book, it gets worse. She has your name, definite billing address, and the last four digits of your SSN. She either buys the missing data from BadSite B, or she sells her data to him. Either way, someone is opening a new credit card in your name and going on a shopping spree! And that is just a best case scenario–with a little more data, they also have the ability to become you.

You don’t even have to willing agree to give them data, either. They can just quietly infect your computer and steal it slowly over time–passwords, login info, your search history. This is done through malware and viruses. These things are written to install silently and only need one click to get in. They hide in ads, and masquerade as files you may get access to for completing “special offers”. Once they are in, they are complicated [or impossible] to remove–if they’re even detected at all!

My brother–who for the most part, is fairly tech savvy–had a virus on his computer for six months, and never knew until I found it while trying to figure out why he was going over his data cap every month. All he knew was that he was receiving several gigabytes of overage, often to the tune of a $300 internet bill! The virus recorded every keystroke he made through screenshots that were then uploaded to a file storage server. It took a new screenshot every five to ten seconds. It was so ingrained in his system that it would restore itself after a low-level disk format and operating system re-install. He had to change all his bank cards, put a freeze on his credit, and throw out the hard drive–losing five years of programs, save files, and pictures in the process. How does he think he got it? He was looking for a serial code for an old game he owned, but had lost his legitimate serial for and went to a shady site. It’s not worth the risk.

Some especially insidious sites will use all three methods–forced clicks, mandatory “surveys” in order to unlock a file, and said “unlocked” file that turns out to be an installer for malware that gives them unlimited access to your sensitive information.

Yeaaaaaah! Checklist.
Yeaaaaaah! Checklist.

How to Spot a Malicious Site: A Checklist

If a website is offering an e-book you would normally have to buy, for free–but they require you to do something that seems digitally unsafe to obtain it, then leave. This includes the following:

  • Asking you to click a link or button to “unlock” the file or download link to said file.
  • Asking you to fill out or participate in offers that require you to submit sensitive data. [SSN, Home Address, Phone number, etc.]
  • Directing you to a different website while browsing.
  • Appearing sparse or like a generic template.
  • If there is no contact information for the webmaster on the website.
  • Hotlinking to cover images from legitimate sites.
  • If all the comments or reviews are the same across all available files or seem to be entirely posted by anonymous people.
  • If the website is taking too long to respond, or causes your web browser to ‘hang” [Stutter, or freeze entirely]. This can be a sign that an unauthorized add on, widget, or program is installing itself without your permission.
  • If the website asks you to turn off or otherwise disable safety software such as running antivirus programs, malware monitoring services, firewalls, etc.

Using the information found here, hopefully you will not fall prey to these tricks. I want my readers to stay safe!

Yay!

Additional Resource Links

Watchdog Sites

Web of Trust

Scam Adviser

Spam 404

Free Online Virus Scanners

Virus Total

Where to Report Bad Sites to Search Providers

Google

Yahoo

Bing

Verified Safe e-book Retailers

Amazon

Google

Apple

Smashwords

Nook

Kobo

Further Reading

Integrated Affiliate Advertising Redirects/Forced Clicks

What is a Virus?

What is Malware?

Lolcat Rainbow Defense, Activate!
Bonus lolcat!

Grand Theft: My Intellectual Property

I know I said I was going to let my shoulder rest, but this is too important to wait on.

I was informed of a website where an unauthorized copy of my latest book, Atlantis: The Visionary Continent, Volume #2: Awakening, is being offered! I couldn’t believe it, so I had to go see for myself. When I confirmed it, I was furious. Livid. Enraged! Other synonyms for insanely pissed! The more I investigated, the angrier I became. It was being offered for free!

Me, after reading my email.

I fumed. The book has barely been out for three months! After a half-hour of spitting anger, I started getting over my shock and began to formulate a plan to deal with this. I ran a Google search, but there really isn’t anything regarding stolen e-books, except advice to not offer books as a direct download from your site. [Which I was not doing–they’re exclusive to Amazon at the time of this posting.] I found some advice regarding DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act, yo.] and decided to do a Whois search on the domain, so I could figure out who to send a takedown notice to.

This turned tricky fast, due to the culprit having a ton of domains that point to other domains, which then pointed to subdomains. I was going in circles. I took a closer look at the site to see if I could find any more info. 293 downloads? Anonymous people with no avatar posting very recent and generic comments? Something didn’t smell right. The work of other authors was on the site also, so I checked some of their listings–the number of downloads varied, but the pages were identical–right down to the comments.

I clicked through to the download page. I reached the instructions, and suddenly, the situation became clear. I quickly viewed the source code of the page, and discovered that my story wasn’t being offered illegally. They didn’t have the actual book–it was being used as bait for a phishing scheme!

Now, I know the classic argument is: “If people are looking for free copies, then they weren’t going to buy your book anyway, so you’re not losing sales“. This is a valid argument, except that what is actually happening is harming public opinion of my brand itself. That is much more difficult to recover from than a sales loss!

The setup is a common one, where the site offers a file: a program, MP3, video–or in this case e-book–and leads you to a page where you can download it. EXCEPT there is a catch–before the download link becomes available, you are usually directed offsite to apply for “special offers”. These look like credit card and loan applications, or free trials to subscription services. They ask for vital info, like social security and credit card numbers, home addresses, etc. More often than not, these are elaborate phishing scams where they use a person’s willingness to get something for free to convince them to give up sensitive info. You don’t get anything except a lot of spam email, and the hassle of having to freeze your credit and apply for a new bank account. Then if you can actually download the file, it’s usually not what was advertised–often it’s a Trojan designed to infect your system so these people can get more information from you. Then they either sell the data they collect, or use it for themselves.

Since the file wasn’t actually on the original website, I had no valid DMCA claim. I went to the root of the site to see if I could glean any info, when suddenly I was on… a legitimate cloud storage site? After poking around a bit, I discovered that the root site was set to redirect to a legitimate site–even though the file is clearly not on their servers. Why would that happen…?

The site is mocked up to look like a filesharing site, but it’s owned by the same person who owns the original site I found the listing on! This is an elaborate deception–this person thought this through, and wants to remain hidden. [Probably because the information they scrape and the malware and viruses they distribute are their main source of income.]

They didn’t even host the cover image themselves! It’s hotlinked from Amazon! The download link sends you to the fake filesharing front, which then redirects you to affiliates where you fill out the offers that will supposedly allow you access to my work. Well, as I said before, I viewed the source file and there is no download. Everything forces you to a file “locking” site that has a pretty bad safety rating itself.

File locking sites are commonly used for something called an integrated affiliate advertising redirect*, also known as a forced click. [Read more on them here.] When you click the download link, it forces you to view ads in an non-closable window, makes you apply for a “free” offer, or sometimes you’ll be told to take a “survey” before it lets you have access to the files you want. [Completing these actions supposedly unlocks the real download button or link.]

Every time you click the download link, the scammer running the fake site gets paid–sometimes even if you back out and don’t follow through! Not only that, but a savvy coder could use it to gain a click and steal your info. Several thousand clicks a day, plus sell-able or exploitable data? That adds up, especially the way this person has it set.

You see, at the end of this person’s setup, the user is presented with a blank white window. That’s it. No file. You are no longer useful. Your clicks and data have been taken. Get out.

It’s bullshit because it’s using my hard work to trick my unsuspecting readers into giving away sensitive information, and earning money fraudulently while doing it. Not only my readers–but anyone who might think it’s a legitimate source for free e-books! They scrape Amazon, using the allure of prose authors have slaved over as bait. They poison brands authors have worked hard to build in the mind of the people they trick. Not. Cool.

At first, it seems hopeless. How can I DMCA content these people don’t have? How can I go after them, not knowing who they are, or even knowing what country they are in? The person who set this up knows this. This is the cloak they wrap themselves in.

But me? What can I do?

Vocaloid. Specifically Hidoor Utopia by Miku
Vocaloid.  Specifically Hidoor Utopia by Hatsune Miku.

I know the affiliates won’t care–after all, they make money through the ad clicks. Web searches care, because the site is linking to content that could harm someone’s computer. They’ll pull the data, but it will be restored by the next web crawl. I could report the shady behavior to the domain registrar and get the domain revoked. That could work–for the amount of time it would take the person to figure out the domain is cancelled and buy a new one. So what can you do? What can I do?

For now, this is all I have been advised to say. I have several options, but in the meantime, I am going to focus on educating people. The more people that are informed, the less often these kind of sites will trick people. My hope is that over time, the profitability of these sites will drop, and they will no longer be worth opening. So share this post, [and the post linked above] and help get the word out!

Please remember you can ONLY purchase my books from Amazon.com! Volume #1 is $0.99 cents right now!

 

Thank you all for your support–stay safe out there!

 

*= What, you couldn’t cram “synergy“, or “omnichannel marketing” in there too?

 

P.S: If you are an author and want to check the site to see if your work is being used, please contact me through one of the methods on my contact page, and I will PM you the url.

Atlantis: TVC Volume #2 is Now Available!

It’s here, it’s here! It’s release day!

I am absolutely floored that I got it done on time. I didn’t hit my original end of summer deadline, but I did make my fall one, and it feels good. I hope you all enjoy volume #2!

As for me, I’m taking the rest of the holiday season off to rest and spend extra time with my family, then start on volume #3 in the new year. I’ll still post here, so don’t worry about that!

I’m wondering if there is enough time left this month for me to kind of half-assedly participate in NaNoWriMo. [I keep swearing I’ll do it, but I never have time.] Maybe I can do it for real next year…

*coughs* Anyway, I wanted to say thank you all again for your support and patience. An author is nothing without readers, and I truly appreciate all of you. heart

atlantis_volume_2

[Volume two can be found here!]