C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Kindle Unlimited: Connection and Market Correction?

Kindle Unlimited is up and running at Amazon. For about ten bucks a month, readers can read a lot and authors will get paid if 10% of the book is read. Across the writerverse, we are speculating. Is it good news or bad news?

I suspect it’s good news. Here’s why I’m not worried:

1. There are other subscription services and there wasn’t really much outrage about them. Questions, certainly. Usually the question was, “Is this new thing I’ve never heard of legit?” Since it’s Amazon, the question is often, “Why are they out to destroy the world?”

The answer is, they want to own it, just like every other company. Competition and all that. That’s all of us. We’re all selling something, so let’s keep calm and bang a gong. 

2. Those other subscription services have failed to usher in The End Times. This is one marketing idea among many. Some of the loudest concerns seem to be raised from a section of the marketplace that generates no new ideas. I’m suspicious they are decrying Amazon’s potential for success because they’ve failed to remain agile and open to new ideas. New ideas are always scary, but being scared and playing a defensive game is no way to score. 

3. Amazon often knows what it’s doing. They test and survey ideas and probably didn’t come up with this just last week. They want reader and author participation so they want to make the new service profitable for Amazon and for us. If it doesn’t feel good, too many authors will drop out. A lot of authors left KDP Select’s Clause of Exclusiveness. This will probably bring a bunch back, to test the waters if nothing else.

4. You can limit your participation. It’s just for those titles enrolled in KDP Select so, just like always, any 90-day commitment you may choose today is only 89 days long if you change your mind tomorrow.

5. Anyone who subscribes to this service is a hardcore, enthusiastic reader. Different rules apply to power users.

The parallel to piracy is obvious. Some authors worry about pirates, but there is evidence that pirates are power users. They take a lot, but they also tend to be power buyers. Ultimately, I most want to connect with readers who want to read the next Robert Chazz Chute book. Power readers are more oriented to author brand and less so to particular genres.

To build 10,000 true fans, I need to find those people who say, “I liked the autistic boy versus the apocalypse. But I wonder how that voice shows up in Murders Among Dead Trees or his crime novels?”

6. Subscribers who will go for this deal are a subset of the reading public. It’s not for everybody. Many will stay away because they’re already paying for a gym membership they don’t use. They’ll prefer to buy books one-by-one because they’re already stressed out and guilty about they’re TBR pile.

7. If you’re making money from other platforms, stay diversified. If you’re unknown, this is another avenue to consider to become better known.

If you’ve already got it made, there is an argument that you might make more money if you lived in a plane of existence that doesn’t include Kindle Unlimited. If that’s you, you may need to work your massive email list harder, diversify further, sell direct or use a few dozen other strategies to stay relevant.

However, we have no data on that group yet. The good news is, they’re in a good position to finance adaptation.

8. When Amazon innovates, it makes me more hopeful because it’s more pressure on other platforms to up their game. The market is changing, but once again, it’s Amazon that’s innovating and trying new things to reach readers, not trad publishing or the other sales platforms.

If I were CEO of another sales platform, I wouldn’t be sleeping well. I’d be offering bonuses to my creative teams to be creative. Come up with new tools and plans to boost market share. KU is pressure that may squeeze a diamond out of their competition’s butt.

9. However, I’m not “all in” for Amazon. Some people think that. They don’t know I’m moving more of my books across many platforms and I don’t have anything in KDP Select at the moment.

I am in favor of experimentation.

I’ll have another couple of books ready soon. When they are ready, just as before, they’ll go into KDP Select and therefore into Kindle Unlimited automatically, too. I’ll see how they do and make more decisions from there.

We need more data, but cautious optimism seems reasonable at this point. Let’s try it out, maybe find more readers. Let’s write more, read more and worry less. In the end, it’s all about you, you, you and the readers you have not yet met.

Me B&W~ Robert Chazz Chute is a suspense novelist who does not tend to be Zen about anything so, in light of today’s post, maybe there really is nothing to worry about in this one, tiny regard. Otherwise, we can be sure the universe is indeed out to get us. And it will.

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Writers, Publishing and Entitlement (with jokes in parentheticals)

This is not a story about titles. You’re thinking of “titling.” We digress today from the relentless cheerfulness and positivity of this blog to have a look at how some in traditional publishing still see us.

But first, since what’s to come triggered a memory of indignity, a story from the trenches: 

I was once a sales rep representing several publishing houses. Hang in there for the big honkin’ point at the end.

Once upon a time I worked for an oh-so-serious publishing house in downtown Toronto. We published oh-so-serious books that were sometimes hard to sell. No surprise. We were Canadian, after all. Worse, we published books that had to sound Canadian, or vaguely British, and not even of the 20th Century. (Told you this was an old war story.)

Unfortunately, the publishing house was close to a then-fairly-famous bookstore. The publisher would take authors out to lunch. On the way back from that hoity-toity lunch, the publisher would take authors to that bookstore to say, “We put your book on that shelf and aren’t we both so lucky to be fabulous swells? No promises on your next novel, but I’ll try to get you a government subsistence grant which I shall pen from my Swiss Chalet.” (Not the chicken restaurant. An actual Swiss Chalet. You get the classist dynamic.)

The publisher, a wealthy glitterati, was draped in diamonds even during the day, not knowing that was gauche and should be reserved for dining at night (with Queen Elizabeth.)

The author, a poverty-stricken member of the lowly literati, wore elbow patches on his ratty old sports jacket. Not to appear avuncular and professorial. To cover actual holes. The ink-stained wretches get the crumbs their betters forget to throw to the dogs. Traditional publishing hasn’t changed that much through the years. (This was the late ’80s. Now, there are no lunches with the wretches. Just ignored emails. Anyway, you get the income inequality dynamic.)

One terrible day, the bookstore tour backfired.

The nearby bookstore did not have the author’s book. We published it and it was not there. (Clutch those pearls. Here’s where it gets ugly.) The bookstore owner, infamous for being a dick, did not order the book in question in any quantity. They weren’t “out”. They didn’t order and didn’t plan to do so. (“Ev-er!” as we used to say.) The publisher was wounded and embarrassed, of course, for herself and for the author. (Soon the rage would be turned on me, your-ever-loving Chazz, so don’t feel too bad for her.)

The dick didn’t want that crap novel in his store, as was his right. He didn’t like the author’s work and he didn’t like the author personally. That was perfectly understandable. Nobody but snobs liked that author’s books and nobody but his mom liked the author. I especially didn’t like him after he threw (as we called it back in the day) “a hissy.”

I was the sales rep to that bookstore. I received the publisher’s anguished memo recounting her horror. The note ended with two words, “What’s wrong?!”

Since she was the boss and also the acquisitions editor for this boring book and this insipid author, naturally, we couldn’t tell her the truth. I wanted to express exactly what I’ve written here since I wasn’t being paid enough to lie. I campaigned for the truth. However, a cooler head prevailed and my immediate boss dragged his sorry ass over to the dick’s bookstore and grovelled to get it in stock.

I felt bad for him. And me. I’d already done my job. I tried to sell the dick a book and he said no and we moved on to the other 100 books in the catalogue because that’s what grown-ups do, even when they hate each other’s guts. (That bookstore is now closed. The dick is still alive. In related news, voodoo dolls do not work. At least they don’t work this far north of the equator.)

The first point is that no one can force any place that sells books into selling any particular book. Free will and freedom and eagles and moose and all that and whatnot. It’s a business and the author in question wasn’t a social fellow. The bookstore owner wasn’t a social fellow. Their poor sales rep (i.e. me) was in the middle and I didn’t appreciate dealing with either of them.

Do I regret my time as a sales rep for big publishing? I’ve learned more as a micro-publisher. As a micro-publisher, I finally found love. Thank you. 

And now…the point: A video to blow your mind.

Today I witnessed a spectacle of what The Passive Guy of The Passive Voice refers to as Amazon Derangement Syndrome. I’m about to provide you a link that shows a lot of things. I see derangement, certainly. Also, a sharp tang of smug even I have never aspired to. On the video you’ll see a lot of fear and other weirdness. Calling Amazon a monopoly when they are merely winning at competition, for instance, is pretty weird.

You will also witness entitlement. Make that Entitlement with a big E. As in, how dare Amazon not carry certain books even though they are available elsewhere? (It wouldn’t actually matter if they weren’t carried elsewhere, by the way. No bookstore carries all books. Not even online bookstores.)

Or how about this one: How dare Amazon sell Big Publishing’s books at the price that’s stamped on their books? The word “democracy” is floated out there willy-nilly. There is a distinct disconnect from reality. There are also a few lies or blind falsehoods and errors. I’ll let you figure out which belongs to whom. (See the comment thread — below — for help with that.)

For every problem Big Publishing has, they have someone else to blame. Well…one thing, actually. It’s always Amazon’s fault. Pay attention to the guy beside the woman who isn’t really moderating the debate. That’s Passive Guy himself AKA the rational one. The rest are very afraid and make few good points. When James Patterson wheels off into something about burning books, I have no clue what the #$@! he is on about. 

Here’s the video of the most lopsided debate ever.

You’ll also find the comment thread over at The Passive Voice illuminating.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FAQs: What book promotion are you paying for?

I sent a close friend the gift of an ebook hoping that he would read it, enjoy it, possibly review it and maybe even spread the word to his vast network of connections. Instead, he sent me a scolding reply: “You’re paying people to read your books!” And by people, he meant him. Ouch. In my defence, I don’t know that he’s read it yet, so that’s my double fail.

Before anybody thinks he’s harsh, a little history and context: I understand that he felt fine paying for the book himself. Also, I got him his first job in book publishing. He’s still thinking about publishing from that perspective. I’m sure he didn’t want to sound mean. I caught him on a bad day. Also, I’m sure he’s worried about me and that’s why he was so undiplomatic and reactive.

However, he’s only thinking of me as a friend and writer. I’m also a publisher.

Publishers have a long history of sending out Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) to key reviewers, the sales force, bookstores and media. That doesn’t require an apology. That’s business and doing less is hiding your light under a shitstorm called, “Everything else that exists to read, do and enjoy.” Yes, you’re even competing against sex! Clearly, books are doomed!

How many ARCS go out from traditional publishers? Hundreds per book. I can’t afford to do that, but I do send out some that way. I wasn’t paying anyone to read my book. I was paying for advertising and promotion (to teh wrong target, I found out.) You can do the same thing for free by emailing a pdf, though if they can’t instantly stick it on their kindle, most people won’t bother with it. Chances are good they won’t get around to reading it even if you make it very easy for them so avoid handicaps where possible. That’s why I prefer to use Amazon’s gift option where possible and within budget.

About sending copies to book blogs

Check out the book blog first. Review the reviewers and their guidelines before you send anything. Many book blogs are awesome. However, I’ve encountered noobs whose site is nigh-illegible, their traffic is minuscule and their reviews give spoilers without warning. I’d rather let a blindfolded med student practice minor surgery on my tingly bits.

Services to invest in

In the previous post, I mentioned Bookbub is a worthwhile investment. The cost of advertising with BookBub varies depending on genre. Horror and science fiction is $70 to push a free ebook. Find the full range of pricing here.

I also mentioned the Author Marketing Club. That costs $105 per year for an annual membership and it’s worth it for the tools and seminars. My book descriptions look better than ever, for instance. The free submission tool got This Plague of Days at number one in Dystopian and Post-apocalyptic. The book sales widget looks awesome.

Where can you cut corners?

Anyone reading this is probably working on a shoestring budget. To make any money, we have to keep our expenses down to nothing or close to it. We blog and tweet and use Pinterest and Facebook and do Google+ and throw Tumblr in the air and shout out of windows because it’s free and we’re trying to engage new readers. I’ve used Fiverr for videos* (see my video/book promotion strategy here) and free apps from Apple and the Chrome Store. 

We get what services we can for free where and when it makes sense. We swap services and cooperate and consult and promote each other for free. We learn to format books and publish DIY wherever we can so we can keep something of what money might trickle in, knowing the odds are heavily against us. (That sounds bleak, but more indie authors are making a living from their efforts than the traditionally published so it’s not all bad news.)

About ineffective promotion services

Lots of advertising isn’t worth the expense. Some sites say they can promote your books and they’ll do so for a fairly low fee. However, you won’t get even that small fee back. Before you go with another of those sites, review the promoters. Reach out to the indie authors you know. Use your Facebook connections to gather intelligence and ask about other authors’ experiences and results. This is most valuable if their books are similar in genre, quality and look to your own. (In other words, don’t blame the book promotion service when a bad cover sunk the author’s efforts.)

I’m always looking for ways to save money so I can put it into pushing books. The other day I realized I was the only 48-year-old walking around a bookstore in old jeans with ripped up hems. I don’t buy new pants! Think what Bookbub advertising I could buy for the price of a couple of pants! And you know what? I wish I had a bigger budget because however you promote your books, you pay. (And I want new pants. I rocked this look in college but it doesn’t fly now.)

If you don’t pay in money, you pay in time.

Without the cash, you lose time with your family (okay, not always a bad thing). You will lose time going to the gym and end up paying with your health. Time is more important than money because you can make more money but the waking hours are all you get. Worse, if you aren’t careful, marketing cuts into writing time. Be careful. Hemingway was Hemingway, but he never had to share your problems.

Expect to pay something.

Can you go viral and pay nothing and still be successful?  It could happen, but to expect it is stupid. That’s not a strategy. That’s hoping something will happen to you instead of making it happen and that’s not the way to bet. Use AMC and Bookbub now at least. Then be clever and different and promote your brand with long-term strategies that will make a career.

Should I set a budget of $10,000 for a book promotion budget?

I’m not buying new pants. 

*I have a new intro video at AllThatChazz.com, in addition to the intro video at CoolPeoplePodcast.com and of course, here at ChazzWrites.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Market A Spy Thriller With Zombies In 2013

MSG Cover

Armand Rosamilia is the badass author of Miami Spy Games and much more. Today he guest blogs on leveraging cross-genre marketing for more book sales and happier readers.

Is it a spy story? A thriller? A zombie tale? Yes. Yes. Yes. But so much more!

I’ve self-published many a novella and short story in my time writing, and they have been pretty straight-forward in regards to subgenre: the Dying Days series is about zombies, Skulls And Bones collection is horror, Keyport Cthulhu is Lovecraftian horror, Death Metal was a thriller, and the Birthday Series (writing as K. Lee Thorne) is erotica. Regardless, there were a few slight mixes of genre, but I could put a finger on each pretty quickly when asked.

Miami Spy Games? Not so fast. The fun, for me as a writer, is knowing I have a great publisher backing me up in Hobbes End Publishing. They set everything up and let me just write the story. I enjoyed that, and I got lucky with a great cover and marketing plan. But in interviews I get asked all the time what the genre is. My cheat answer? It depends on who I’m talking to.

Recently I was a guest on the Zombiepalooza Radio Show, and I talked about it and worked the angle it was a zombie story with spies and thrills mixed in. I’ve done interviews for websites that cater to thrillers and crime stories, and I don’t talk so much about the zombies. Obviously with a title like Miami Spy Games: Russian Zombie Gun, you can figure it out. But the focus on the spies and the thrills is the most important part.

This year, with so many eBooks and print books being poured into the already huge system of releases, you need to keep your head above water and see if you can get noticed. When I mention zombies to people, quite a few are turned off immediately. They have no interest, but if I hit them with the word thriller or spies, they might be. Or vice versa.

The key is to know your current target audience and see how you can hook them with something as simple as ‘yeah, I wrote a cool story about zombies.’ Adapt and market your book the way you need to in order to sell it.

67113_196559600480167_927925947_nIf you have any questions about the Miami Spy Games series, I’d love to hear them: armandrosamilia@gmail.com

Miami Spy Games on Amazon Kindle only $3.99!

 

Filed under: book marketing, Books, Guest blog post, publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

#Promotip: Use Rafflecopter to Manage Promotional Giveaways

Click here to grab Jo’s book on Amazon

My guest blogger today is author Jo Michaels. She knows all about using Rafflecopter, a free and powerful promotional tool you need to know about, too. Here’s her experience: 

I love Rafflecopter. It’s one of the easiest tools I’ve found to gain followers and provide quality contests for my fans. Besides, the icon is adorable. Rafflecopter keeps track of entries and creates a list you can export right to excel and even randomly chooses your winners for you amongst the entrants.

It’s a great tool for building an e-mail list (if that’s your goal) or getting followers on a multitude of platforms. As an added bonus, Rafflecopter allows you to choose other activities people can do like: tweet about the contest, post a comment or have a free entry just because you happen to be feeling all-powerful during creation.

When you log in, you’re guided down a golden path that’s as easy to follow as putting one foot in front of the other. It holds your hand and lets you take baby steps when setting up your contest. It’s an easy copy/paste to share the links with the featured/participating authors as well. Rafflecopter even embeds the contest to a FaceBook page from their website rafflecopter.com with a click of your mouse.

When I used Rafflecopter for a giveaway I did recently, I garnered over 100 entries. I gained twenty FaceBook page likes and ten new Twitter followers. It was a giveaway of an ARC of Lily (releases 10/30) and two copies of Bronya (free on Amazon from 10/27-10/31), the first two books in my Mystic series, and it ran for five days. The first winner was a new follower and the second was an established fan.

I’d have to say Rafflecopter has helped me gain new fans and provide rewards to current ones. I highly recommend using it to manage your giveaway.

Author bio: Jo Michaels writes full-time in her garage while imbibing copious amounts of coffee. Her inspiration comes from relationships, life, friends, passion and her incredible imagination. Jo uses her artistic talents and training to create stunning covers. The fight for achieving her dream drags her out of bed every morning to do what she does best: spin tales laced with high-octane emotion for readers worldwide. Jo has written six books, all self-published. Check out her website, blog and find her on Facebook at facebook.com/writejomichaels and Twitter, @WriteJoMichaels.

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Book sales on Twitter: One click doesn’t work

I’ve changed the way I use Twitter. I’m not about making rules for how people use social media. Twitter Narcs are

English: A pie chart created in Excel 2007 sho...

English: A pie chart created in Excel 2007 showing the content of tweets on Twitter, based on the data gathered by Pear Analytics in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

annoying. However, by the end of this post, I hope you’ll vary the way you try to sell your books. We’re drowning in the sameness of “Buy my books!” We have to sex up our tweeting.

Most book sales tweets have a crippling weakness that’s hurting sales. Twitter is so awesome everyone is using it to sell books in the same way. That makes it anti-awesome for your book sales. Using a one-click approach, sending me straight to Amazon without providing enough information or value, is not working. 

What doesn’t work well:

Title of book. Go buy it. Here’s the link.

What’s only microscopically better:

Title of book. Review: “Scintillating!” Here’s the link.

The problem:

Too many tweets are trying to make sales by just telling us to buy.

We’re so flooded with ugly tweets, it’s too easy to ignore them all.

What I’m suggesting:

Be more clever and change up the ask. Sure, promote however you want, but give me more to go on than generic messages like: “Great book!” “New post!” “Another new post!”

We need more showing, not telling, in those 140 characters. Give me a clue or hashtag the genre. I want to like you, but dress up a little and show me you care about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us.

Best:

Please pull me back to your blog and seduce me.

I’ll buy, but I need more to go on to make that first click toward falling in love with you.

On World Literary Cafe Tweet Teams this week, I didn’t try to send people straight to Amazon. I provided links to my blog posts, a cool graphic, and my podcast (where I’m giving Bigger Than Jesus away for free one chapter at a time). There’s added value to my audience that way.

Examples:

RT RChazzChute Hear the #thriller Bigger Than Jesus as a #podcast. http://bit.ly/TkBSGs #WLCAuthor (Or buy the book http://amzn.to/Nm6xj4)

RT @rchazzchute It’s a meme, baby! Self-help for Stoners #excerpt & #inspiration http://bit.ly/NNhBDI #suspense #fiction #WLCAuthor   

RT @rchazzchute Hear all the suspenseful #fiction & #comedy #podcasts http://bit.ly/OBRMeT #WLCAuthor #whatwaitsinlocker408

RT @rchazzchute #Thought for the Day: #Creation. http://bit.ly/TUTtVX and The Value of #Writing & #Reading http://bit.ly/Pd1JfN #WLCAuthor

RT @rchazzchute Just working on the next instalment in The Hit Man Series. (Excerpt of the hook to Chap.6) http://bit.ly/SPU7on #WLCAuthor

RT @rchazzchute Did Han shoot first? Catch 2 chapters of Bigger Than Jesus for the explanation. http://bit.ly/S8JgDm #suspense #WLCAuthor

RT @RChazzChute WIP Sneak peek! 1st there was Bigger Than Jesus. Next comes Higher Than Jesus. http://bit.ly/S5dHGT #crime #novel #WLCAuthor

RT @rchazzchute Quote Trailers http://bit.ly/OF1YPp & Quote Art http://bit.ly/NlwJM1 promote your books. #WLCAuthor 

More content and seduction is why Triberr works:

On Triberr, everyone on your tribe retweets your blog post summary (assuming they’ve read your post and have no objections.) Information spreads. Something in the summary captures the tweetosphere’s interest so they come to your blog. They find you helpful, funny, sexy or useful. Do that enough and maybe they’ll get smitten, click on a book link to the “Buy with one click” button.

True, if you don’t send me straight to Amazon, it’s more than one click to buy. However, too many tweets that look the same get ignored because it’s an overload of data without enough information or value. Will there be exceptions? Sure. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with announcements of book launches. I’m what you call, “pro-reading.”

But, please, join me in the campaign against Bland. Bland is so Beige and, as we all know, Beige is the Mitt Romney of the colour spectrum. It seems to be everywhere, but no one’s excited about it.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The ebook marketing experiment

Last week I announced that my short story, Corrective Measures, is free to anyone who wants one at Smashwords.com for the rest of January. It’s a look inside Jack’s mind. He’s a serial killer who has a complex

Click here for your free story!

relationship with God, his psychotherapist and the woman he wants to kill for an argument over a parking space. It’s quirky and dark and there’s even a subtle Sarah Palin joke in there.

But that wasn’t why I chose to make this ebook free. As discussed in Part I, I haven’t been happy with my sales so far. I have eight works for sale and I needed to harness the power of cross-pollination.

As I’ve often said, publishing is easy now. Being found is hard. I chose to make this ebook free because Jack and Dr. Circe Papua show up in my other stories. At the end of Corrective Measures, I discuss where these characters show up in my other work and basically advertise my podcast and what else they might like to buy. I’m hoping, of course, that if they like Corrective Measures, they might like my other stuff. That’s why I think every self-published author absolutely must be prolific. The worst circumstance is to have readers eager for more of your work and not having anything for them to buy. We’re all in a hurry. That’s why my goal for 2012 is to finish writing and revising three novels. (Two are in the revision stage. The other WIP is in the first draft stage.)

So what happened with the free ebook giveaway?

Sorry. Buried the lead. I promoted the ebook like this:

1. Twittered over three twitter accounts cool quotes from Corrective Measures. (“Your hair looks very…flammable.” Still makes me chuckle.)

2. Google+’d the post from this blog and also posted it on my author blog allthatchazz.com.

3. Announced in my Facebook timeline and my Ex Parte Press Facebook page.

4. Promoted Corrective Measures in my podcast that was released Friday across Stitcher and iTunes. Some people download the Self-help for Stoners podcast straight from allthatchazz.com, as well.

5. Made a couple of videos with iMovie that appear on my G+ profile, my author blog and on my Facebook timeline. (I also revamped my author blog with a new header—thanks again to my buddy Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com—and added fresh content.)

6. Asked for help spreading the word from my friends on Facebook.

What worked?

I have an answer, but before I tell you that, I should add that as I write this, the experiment is only three days old. Many of the people who took me up on the free ebook offer now have the story on their device, but they haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Some of them may never get to it. It’s too early to evaluate the worth of the experiment to e-publishers yet. But I do know what’s been most effective.

Okay, but no, really. What worked?

Contacting friends and family on Facebook by messaging them individually and asking them to spread the word through their Facebook helped.

How do you know it helped?

On Smashwords, the nearest maximum download count was 19 downloads on stories that have been up for over a month. Over the weekend, as of Sunday afternoon, 53 people have downloaded Corrective Measures and I have a fresh and fabulous review. I’m hoping for more reviews to help spread the word. I am encouraged that several people who liked it and sent me feedback are not my immediate friends and family. They are friends of friends, out there in the social media ripple effect, enjoying the fiction and enhancing my credibility with their participation and kind words.

How has this helped sales, though?

So far, there is one (lonely) new sale over the weekend of Vengeance is #1. That’s a short story, too, on sale for $1.99, that features the psychotherapist from Corrective Measures. (Whoever you are, may Thor bless you!)

One sale? Really? Do you call that a success?

Nope. I call that a start. I believe in my work. I’ve got seven writing awards and years of experience that suggest I have an inking of what I’m doing. My readership will find me. I’ll let you know how the experiment works out. I’m pretty relaxed about this process. I’ve started businesses before and I know what it’s like to wait for people to find me. When they do find me, we’ll both be happy. And like I said, it’s three days into the free ebook experiment. Bread needs time to bake. This is what it’s like before you get to the place on the path where you look back and wonder where the time went. Besides, I’ve got big plans for my novels and big plans for promotion that could go huge. I’m not worried. I’m excited. The key word to keep in mind while hunting down dreams is YET.

What can self-publishers learn from this?

I’m three steps into the race. Still, I’m sure of this much:

1. Put out a general call and it’s just an announcement in a world full of announcements. If you don’t ask individuals, everyone will assume that someone else will rise to the occasion. One to one is how messages get passed.

2. Give a lot to get anything. I’m giving away an ebook and free entertainment and a free podcast every week, but big deal. There’s lots of free entertainment available. I could get sucked into watching babies laugh on YouTube for an hour. I’m not talking about the free ebook as the “give a lot.” I mean try to be giving and kind all the time. I dared to impose on my friends because they are my friends. I’ve had interactions with them that were generally pleasant. I’ve promoted several authors on the blog over the last couple of years, but I don’t feel like anyone owes me anything. I approached the people I approached based on rapport and where I felt their interest might lie. I’m wary of bothering anyone with my requests for reviews and downloads so I won’t be repeating a similar experiment like this for a very long time. I also left some people alone because, even though they are friends and family, I do not presume that they are interested in my flavor of fiction. I didn’t ask anything of anyone who I thought wouldn’t be eager to help me out by spreading the word. I’d do the same for them. That’s what friends are for. As Patrick Swayze says in Roadhouse, “It’s nice to be nice.” That little syllogism is the basis of all relationships.

3. Build an email list. This is one thing I have not pursued and I have to get on it. When people express an interest or appreciation or leave a review, that’s an audience who will be interested in the next thing I write. I should be able to email them directly to say, “Hey, here’s more of that thing you liked! Yay!”

4. Get back to writing. This ties in with my resolution to have three more novels for sale by Christmas. You might have noticed that all this social media stuff takes a lot of time and effort. Well…yeah. It does. I’m not complaining. Actually, I enjoyed saying hello to Facebook friends and playing with iMovie was a blast. I love doing the podcast and these are now essential skills in this environment. For instance, this week I’ll record a commercial for a major podcast (hint: not mine). What would have intimidated me a couple of months ago is now something I look forward to doing. I know the tech now so the prospect does not leave me at all flummoxed. However, since November 1, my focus has been getting Ex Parte Press up on its hind legs. It’s been a lot of editing and promotion and learning administrivia and technical details. This is also fun, but it’s not writing new content. It’s not getting the novels done. In a previous post, I called this period The Worst of the First. I’ve burst through that stage now and the full-length novels will be easier to market (for a plethora of reasons to be discussed in a future post.)

I’m writing now more than I’m doing anything else.

My eyes are on the prize.

The prize is your mind. You’re curled up on a couch with the aroma of fresh coffee fading in the air. You’re reading my stories and, when it gets scary, you pull up the blanket to keep warm because the body and mind do not distinguish between the imagined and the real. Your mug cools, unnoticed. Your coffee grows cold and you still haven’t touched it because you’ve pulled my fiction over your head and you’re in my world. You recognize characters you’ve never met. This world feels familiar, but is slightly skewed. You chuckle in surprise. You believe. Fiction is a participatory magic trick. You are invested in one question, “What happens next?” Time stands still and you only come up for air when you realize it’s getting dark and harder to read. The quiet winter afternoon has crept by you. You twist the knob on the lamp beside you and the room floods with a weak yellow light. You should get dinner started. You’ve got things to do. You spare a regretful glance at the full mug of cold coffee.

You pick up the book again. You keep reading.

Just a little more. 

And once more, you are swallowed.

Filed under: My fiction, Publicity & Promotion, self-publishing, short stories, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: What really happens in book marketing meetings (Plus: What sells books)

Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s interesting to see the profession of book sales rep disappear. I was a journalist first and that’s evaporated. Later I was a book rep and that’s on the way out, too.  Book sales was somewhat romanticized. From the inside of the industry, book marketing isn’t romantic at all. Occasionally I hung out with authors and going to book fairs and sales meeting in nice places was fun. Yes, there were a few cocktail parties. Most of the year, however, you’re hauling so many samples around in your car, the shocks go. You spend a lot of time trying to get to the next appointment on time and worry about finding a good place to park.

I met some really nice booksellers. I also met many awful book retailers. The crux of that problem was that the young booksellers were doing it as a joe job and the older booksellers got into the job for idealistic reasons. No one tells aspiring bookstore owners that, not only are the big chains going to force them out of business, they won’t spend near as much time reading as they planned. Instead, they’ll spend an inordinate amount of time calculating the GST, paying the GST and trying to assist book buyers who aren’t informed book readers. (e.g. “I want to buy a book for my daughter I heard about on the CBC last month. You know. That one…? It’s by that guy? With the thing…? Surely you know that one!”)

So I dealt with the bored and disillusioned. Not exclusively! It’s just that those negative people are the sales experiences I remember best. That miserable bookseller in Owen Sound was an impatient sort who, when I dared to use the word comedy, corrected me and told me the book was “humour.” I’m surprised she was familiar with either facet of the concept. Then there was the condescending one north of Toronto who thought I was stupid since I was still enthusiastic. She beat that out of me quick. “Okay,” I said. “For the remainder of this meeting, I’ll power through the list and act just as pissed off as you appear to be. Happy? Am I smarter now?”

It wasn’t all bad. The owner of the now-defunct Frog Hollow Books in Halifax has a special place in my heart. She was a sweetie, had a great store and she bought a lot of merchandise from me gladly, even in the press of the Christmas rush. I wish that bookstore was still around.

What I find interesting in other people’s reports of marketing meetings is they say sales rep opinions  are valued. I hear of book reps getting input into the list, commenting on the marketing challenges and the dubious appeal of certain covers and so forth. Book reps on some planet get to turn something down and require changes in order to make a book sell. I repped sixteen publishers of various sizes and I can tell you, my input didn’t carry any weight. It wasn’t asked for, either. I was their traveling salesman. If the book didn’t sell, they figured it was my fault.

At a sales conference, the editorial team is selling their enthusiasm for the list they built. In my experience, if we dared to mutter about a lousy cover, we did so among ourselves. Voicing any reservations would be met with derision. We weren’t graphic artists, so maybe the cover proved to be lousy and many booksellers would tell us so as we made our rounds. However, in the context of the sales conference,we were getting flown out to someplace nice for one reason. We were supposed to sit there, take notes, and listen. The graphic artist and the editor got to have opinions on anything creative. Our job was to sell their old ugly dogs with the same conviction as the cute puppies. If we didn’t believe the dogs with mange and pushed-in snouts would sell, obviously we were idiots or traitors to the cause.

It sure didn’t feel like the powerful position some portray. Lots of articles on the publishing process mention the input of the sales team on titles. Not so in my experience. I watched editors and their minions show covers, talk about the books and maybe pass out review copies. True, we’d worry over price points. We’d look at the page count and comment that the heft of the book was light for the expense. (“People buy books by weight,” was a common bit of wisdom. “Green covers don’t sell it’s a golf book,” was the other bit. That was true, I think.) However, the publisher and their editors had already committed their resources to the books by the time we came into the picture. By then, they would understandably be reluctant to make major changes in their plans for two reasons: expense and ego. We weren’t going to change a done deal.

In the hierarchy of the book industry, the editors and publicists put themselves above the salespeople, especially if anyone referred to books as “product.” (Only a few did that.) Sales reps weren’t creative. We just did the grotty part with the filthy lucre that allowed the creativity to continue.

Many editors idolized some authors. Privately though, many put the authors at the bottom of the hierarchy. Yes, writers are the engine of the industry who provide the art to sell and a reason for editor’s existence. Perhaps it’s envy or resentment. Maybe it’s because acquisition editors see themselves as gatekeepers so they feel they made the authors.

In a less complex analysis, everyone’s the star of his or her own movie and authors come and go like background extras.

And some, being arty and human, are a pain in the ass. For instance, I sold Matt Cohen‘s books. For some he was an icon as well as a somewhat famous Canadian author. However, there was a bookseller nearby who didn’t care for his books and refused to stock them. When the publisher took the author out for lunch, naturally they stopped in to see how his books were selling. I soon got a angry memo. “What’s going on?!”

What was going on was not every bookseller is obliged to carry every book and the publisher’s embarrassment wasn’t a factor in the decision. The bookstore owner simply didn’t like Matt Cohen’s books. The proximity of our house to the store didn’t convince the owner. I despised that bookstore owner (a notorious and cadaverous blowhard.) I agreed with his right to stock whatever he pleased, however. Personally, I found Cohen’s books neurotic, but not in a good way.

At first my territory was Toronto (and in the summer, Cottage Country, too.) Later on, I worked for a book distributor so I sold books wholesale across the country as well as in downtown Toronto, Ottawa and all points north and east. I can’t say I ever felt like more than a minion. It wasn’t that the editorial staff was particularly unkind. It was simply that we had no creative input. That’s why I wonder about these reports I’ve read about the publishing process. When in-house editors tell authors, “Marketing didn’t like this or that,” are they really hiding behind the closed doors of those marketing meetings? Is it just a ploy to bring down the author’s expectations from the sky-high hopes, dreams and promises that originated in the editorial department?

Blah, blah, blah. You’re an author. You want to know what sells books. I’ll tell you.

I sold hundreds of books at a time. Some I read, but there wasn’t enough time to read them all. Instead I recited the catalogue copy and gave my impressions for each book’s appeal. If there was any kind of marketing campaign, I’d talk about that. It’s a gift to a book’s potential (and the haggard sales rep reciting the same spiel for the 100th time) to be able to say, “We think this one has a shot at the Giller,” or, “We’re putting a lot of work into getting this one on that particular CBC show you like etc.,…”

What sells books is word of mouth for a book with good writing that tells a compelling story. It takes a lot of incompetence on the publishing team’s part to overcome that. The other thing that sells books is the human connection between the book sold and the person who wrote it. What helped me sell the most books was meeting the author. Booksellers are on the frontlines of retail, far from the cocktail party action. They want to hear a sales rep’s funny story about meeting That Author.

One of the better people on the planet? One the sweetest people you could ever meet? Amy Tan. I sold her books. I sold a ton of her books. Utterly charming and genuine. When I met with booksellers, I didn’t talk much about her book. I sold her to them instead. We push the people we like harder.

When you get invited to a sales conference (if you ever do) or go on a book signing (arrange your own if your publisher won’t), remember to treat the minions well. Be nice. Be fun and memorable. The sales reps will remember you. The booksellers will hand sell you book.

Extra tip:

That’s why it doesn’t matter so much if a lot of people don’t come to your bookstore signing.

The customers may come or not, but the bookstore staff are always there.

Make a good impression and they’ll hand sell your book.

And the next.

And the next.

What really sells your books?

You do, through the force of your creativity, the shimmer of your personality and audience you cultivate.

Filed under: Books, Editors, getting it done, links, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, Useful writing links, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

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