peeps: Ray Mazza
Ray Mazza grew up in Connecticut and earned Computer Science and Physics degrees from Colby College. He also got a Master of Entertainment Technology degree from Carnegie Mellon. He now lives in Silicon Valley where he makes a living helping pump out hit video games (“lead designer and creative director” — among the many games he’s worked on, his favorite’s The Sims 3).
The writing bug bit him while he was in grad school, when he took a creative writing course and realized it was something he wanted to do. He says that his writing style is “mildly influenced” by screenwriting. “Reading about screenwriting has helped me write better descriptions, craft snappier dialogue, and keep the plot moving quickly,” he explains.
But what really shouldn’t be any surprise at all is seeing how Ray’s background in tech and entertainment plays heavily in his writing, such as with his sci-fi Day Eight Series of books, starting with The Reborn.
How Ray Got Started Self-Publishing
It took Ray five years of spare time and weekends to finish his debut novel, Day Eight. After that exercise, he had all 210,000 words of it in his hands, but he had read that publishers only wanted 100,000-word thrillers from new authors. So back to work he went, vigorously managing to edit his book down to 187,000 words. But it was still unsettling to Ray. “I didn’t want publishers rejecting my novel for its length, or worse, telling me to cut nearly half of it — it was all important to me and to the story.”
Besides that, he wanted his story “out there as soon as possible so that I could start getting feedback from readers.” The idea of poking along traditional publishing’s year-or-more timetable wasn’t cutting it for him.
So — surprise! — he decided to self-publish and released his story on the Kindle. His book’s length, however, still had him worried a tad; he also wanted to take advantage of Amazon’s KDP Select “free” promotion feature, but giving his whole book away didn’t seem like the smartest move. “So I split my book into three easily digestible parts,” he says, “and called it a serial novel (Day Eight became The Day Eight Series). This let me charge $0.99 for parts 1 and 2, give away part 1 for free from time to time in order to capture readers, and then charge $2.99 for part 3. This way, I get more readers from the lower price points and free days, and those who really enjoy it will pay a bit more for the final part.”
Smart. But coming up with that marketing plan wasn’t all that difficult. “Writing a compelling story was the hard part,” he reflects. “Publishing on Kindle was easy by comparison.”
Self-Publishing Tips and Observations
- “I made the cover by combining some stock photography from istockphoto.com — it’s a relatively cheap way to get strong imagery. I had friends read and edit it, and I used similar novels as guidance for the layout.”
- “The best thing I did was make use of Amazon’s KDP Select free promotion days (you get 5 every 90 days). Having done very little self-promotion, I had low discovery. Once I made The Reborn free for a few days (and had it listed on some free kindle book sites), sales took off. Thousands of people downloaded it in a few days. This lifted The Reborn in the bestseller lists, and had a ripple effect to parts 2 and 3. Additionally, it raised discovery in the ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ section.”
- “[KDP Select free promotion] only worked well because I had multiple books/parts. If I’d only had one book, then a lot of readers would have gotten it for free, but then they’d have nothing else to buy and follow it up with. I only recommend the free days if you have more than one book.”
- “Give your readers a way to contact you, preferably an email address. They will be the strongest advocates of your work. Respond to everyone who contacts you.”
- “Look for blogs that do author interviews, and offer to send them a free copy of your book in exchange for considering an interview or review. If you published on Kindle, you can buy gift codes to send out. Many of the bloggers who do author interviews have decent followings of devoted readers who will give your book a chance.”
- “With the rise in self-publishing, authors are developing more direct lines of communication to their readers via blogs, email exchanges, and social media like Twitter. This is de-formalizing authorship, but strengthening relationships between author and reader. Expect to see more statements from authors to their readers included in novels. In my case, I thank my readers, tell them a bit about my journey, and then ask them to leave me a review on Amazon if they feel my writing deserves it.”