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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Amazon sales secrets you’re probably missing

When you scan your book sales page and stats, it can be pretty dry, depressing and really not tell you much except what happened in the past. I’m more interested in what will happen and how I can make it so. There’s more information on Amazon than you’re currently using, but it’s all right there if you look. You can use this data to become more profitable. Delve deeper to divine what’s really going on with your readers. Here are some ideas about discovering who your readership is and how to reach them:

1. Categorize for Visibility

Yesterday I mentioned optimizing your books’ visibility by examining your sales and how your books are categorized. You may be invisible in a large genre category, but if you can drill down and pinpoint an appropriate category you could make your book a bigger fish in a smaller pond. In a category that is too general, you’re in a sea of books and harder to find. But don’t just look at the stats and numbers Amazon supplies at Author Central. There’s much more you can do. Let’s go further than the usual cursory glance at graphs, numbers, green up and red down arrows.

2. Surprise: Paperbacks versus Ebooks Revisited

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

Micro-publishers are often told that ebooks are the crux of our business and that’s where our focus should be. I agree that’s true in general but that doesn’t hold true for all books.

Naturally, we often compare sales of one book to another. Each of us probably has a good handle on which of our  books sells most and least, if only for curiosity’s sake. Now compare each ebook against its brother in paper. I discovered one of my books in paperback, Self-help for Stoners, outsells the ebook version. I’ll hold back on making easy jokes about why this would be (Okay: Paper makes for good rolling after you read it. Happy, Stoner Stereotype Brigade?)

The why is just guessing and doesn’t matter, but the what is significant to me. It tells me the revamp and reload I’m planning for Self-help for Stoners (also discussed in yesterday’s post) is worth my time. A new edition in paper will be worth the effort.

The same thing is happening with my writing and publishing guides. I’m sure this is so because they are reference books. According to a recent study, students still prefer paper reference books to ebook texts. Since they sell better in paper than ebook form, I plan to reformat Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire

When I revamp these paperbacks, I’ll sell them in a smaller size. They’re currently huge honking trade paperbacks. I couldn’t get them down in size on my first attempt, but the next edition will be more like a thick 5 x 9. If the software won’t cooperate, I’ll call on a friend who is a book designer to help. With a smaller format, I’ll be able to bring the price down and sell more paperbacks. (Expect the format change at the end of summer to coincide with release of my next guide on writing and publishing. Don’t wait! Get them now or grab the ebooks. People are loving them.)

3. “Frequently bought together”

Crack the Indie Author CodeFrom your sales page topped with your author bio, click through to see what’s selling under the “Customers Also Bought” list.

We spend a lot of time, energy and free giveaway days trying to get on this list on other author’s sales pages to increase our books’ visibility. When Self-help for Stoners came out, over time it became clear that readers found me through my connection with director Kevin Smith. On the Self-help for Stoners sales page, Amazon still has my book paired with his book, Tough Sh*t, under “Frequently bought together.” However, on my main sales page, Kevin’s not on the author list anymore (discussed in #4). I noticed him dropping away as other authors took his place.

If your book is paired with another author’s, you could work together to promote both books, either through advertising together or doing a podcast for mutual benefit, for instance. 

4. “Customers Also Bought Items By” 

On your main sales page on Amazon, look at the list of authors under this category, down the right sidebar. Number one for me as of this writing is John Locke. That makes sense since Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus are funny and fast-paced crime novels with contemporary references. (I’m suddenly self-conscious about constantly plugging my books here, but since it’s my damn blog and I’m drawing on case study experience — poof! — I’m over that self-consciousness. I’ll hold on to all the other neuroses, though.)

Here’s the current screenshot from my sales page:

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 3.07.29 PM

If the same authors turn up consistently over time, that’s a stronger indication you share a common niche and audience. The Guy Kawasaki occurrence here is no doubt because he just came out with APE and that’s the identical reader demographic who would go for my Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire.

How is this useful and what does it tell you?

Aspire to Inspire eBook JPGThinking about the authors on your page could give you an idea where your readers are coming from. For instance, if you did a blog tour and soon noticed a familiar author on your sales page list, it would serve you well to guest blog for them again or host them on your blog.

It’s rare in book marketing that we can identify a causative marketing solution. That’s positive feedback that is actionable. (Is “actionable” too jargony?) Usually, when we see our sales go up and down, we can’t link it to a particular event. For instance, maybe your sales today came about because of a recent press release or maybe it was that giveaway you held two months ago. Who knows? Establishing causal relationships between promotion, publicity and sales is rare unless you’re doing a measurable campaign (like a rewards program, for instance.) Whenever you can identify something that worked, do it again!

I know a couple of authors on my “Customers Also Bought Items By” list personally. I suspect they show up here because they’ve been kind enough to promote me. I’m especially pleased to see Chuck Wendig on this list. I don’t know him. All we’ve exchanged are a couple of funny tweets and I’ve read a couple of his books. However, we both wrote funny writing advice books, so that’s undoubtedly the common audience.

From what I know of the other authors, it suggests to me that I’m hitting male readers somewhat. I reach writers who read about writing and publishing, of course. However, from that list, I suspect most of my readers are female, between thirty and fifty-six, well-educated and into suspense with romantic elements. It’s my crime novels in the Hit Man Series that will make the splash with most of them.

What this analysis could reveal

I want to know who reads my stuff so I get more ideas about how to reach them. That helps me target bookBigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle reviewers who have demonstrated that they tend to like similar work by authors on my “Customers Also Bought Items By” list. It might also help me choose which blogs to apply to for a guest post. If the authors on this list have already guest blogged there, that’s a clue. I might also request guest blog spots from some of the authors on the list directly since we already have readers in common.

This awareness is most helpful by finding those authors most like you. Watch success and emulate it. What might I learn from these authors whose audience overlaps with mine? I could learn a lot from figuring out where my fellow authors appear, which book reviewers adore their flavor of madness, how they handle their blogs, their book releases etc.,….

I loved Stephen King’s On Writing, but as much as my Maine town has in common with Derry, I can’t learn much from him about reaching new readers with a shoestring book promotion budget in the New World Ebook Order. In the author hierarchy, Mr. King is on a distant planet from little old me. Authors closest to me talk my language and we can relate to each other’s problems.

What this analysis shouldn’t tell you

Don’t avoid engaging your audience by relying on numbers and conjecture. The real fans will tell you what they like best (and, if polite, let you figure out what they liked less by simple deduction.) I don’t write what I’m told to write, but I listen. Readers have told me that, after reading the Poeticule Bay short stories, they want full novels about the creepy town in Maine everyone wants to escape. That bumped it up on my priority list. Others have emailed to request that I please get to that dystopian thriller with the autistic protagonist I mentioned once. I’m on it. Thank you for your encouragement and support as I prioritize what comes next from Ex Parte Press.

Love acknowledged and that said, I write what I’m inspired to write. This analysis is to figure out how to be found by more people, not to figure out what to Higher+than+Jesus+Front+1029produce before I’m found. I’m not interested in identifying my audience so I can try to write for, or pander to, any one demographic. That’s artificial and would yield sub par results (at least in my case.) I write for myself first and hope others enjoy what I enjoy. The writing, insulated from any audience but one, comes first.

This analysis gives me ideas about how to help readers discover my books once I unleash my mind viruses upon the world. In art (or Art, if you prefer) the customer always comes second. I don’t chase markets. I stay true to my vision. The market will chase me…eventually.

Me B&W~Robert Chazz Chute writes blog posts that are way too long. He even (by Thor!) writes about himself in the third person in that little bio thingy at the end of blog posts. He’s also the nut behind the All That Chazz Podcast. But perhaps, if you aren’t allergic, he’s your kind of nut. Find out at AllThatChazz.com.

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The Great Review Controversy, Take 2

From The Telegraph: A best-selling British crime writer, RJ Ellory, used pseudonyms to pen fake glowing reviews about his “magnificent genius” online while simultaneously criticising his rivals.

Read the link? Wasn’t that frustrating?

This time it’s a writer from the traditional side of publishing who has disappointed and embarrassed himself. As bad and individual as the act is, I’m relieved he’s not an indie author. Blame has been spread  around like confetti at a clown rally lately and I don’t want any more glitter in my jock. Will the fact that he’s traditionally published buy indies any more slack? No, but it probably won’t make things much worse for us. It’s so difficult to get reviews and build an audience that I find it disheartening to be painted with mile-wide brushes. I’m trying to make a living as a suspense novelist here!

Instead of distrusting five-star reviews — or automatically believing one-star reviews — I wish more people paid attention to reading samples. I encourage everyone to read book samples before clicking “buy” (even when, perhaps especially when, it’s “free”).

Reviews get too much weight in some people’s minds. My tastes aren’t necessarily yours, so why give so much power away to another when making reading choices? I read book samples to avoid unpleasant surprises. The first chapter usually gives me a glimpse of the quality and tone of what’s to come. Some people fail to exercise the reading sample option and then blame the author. “I wanted romance and this is fantasy! How dare she?” That’s like getting angry because the drugstore doesn’t sell coconuts.

Is Amazon really “Spamazon”? It’s the Internet. Is the fault in our tools or in ourselves? To confront the problem of bad reviews, fake reviews and attack reviews, we need to grow up, do our due diligence and keep things in perspective. You don’t believe everything you’re told. Fine. Enjoy those free reading samples and make better informed choices before the too-easy click.

Indies are mostly beautiful dreamers and bold, generous storytellers. We are not all evil scammers out to fool readers. Many of us tell entertaining stories with few resources and we perform this service for the equivalent of couch change. It’s churlish to make all authors collateral damage for the offences of others.

When the NY Times story about paid-for reviews broke last week, I was initially forgiving and didn’t take it so seriously. John Locke, for instance, may have paid for reviews, but he said he was open to honest opinions as well and he still wrote all his books which, nicely reviewed or not, a lot of people like. I wished he’d mentioned the paid-for-review strategy in his how-to book in the interest of full disclosure, but at first I figured his tactic just sped up his trip on the success train. However, when I saw so much negative reaction from potential buyers, I got sad. Unfairly or not, it hurt our reputation.

Then I realized I couldn’t approach Locke to ask for a cover blurb for my next book in The Hit Man Series. He was on my short list of authors I planned to ask for an endorsement. I’m not assuming he would have gone for it. I’m just terribly disappointed because of the damage done. (That cry of “I’ll never read indie again!” really got to me, silly as it is.) I read a few of Locke’s books and enjoyed them, but now his name is tainted with the “Paid for Reviews” badge. He’ll recover from this. Locke has a huge fan base who don’t care about this controversy. It’s probably too inside baseball for most and for people who are already fans, why would they care?

It hurt me and fellow indies, though (and we don’t have that big cash cushion to ride out the bad weather.) You know that saying, “Save a horse, ride a cowboy”? Indies need a bumper sticker, too: “Save an author, buy a book.”

Hm. That’s not near as sexy and catchy. Suggestions?

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Your blog does not matter

 

“Writers should not write blogs for writers!” some expert declared.

Instead, write for readers!

Small-town terrors and psychological mayhem in Maine.
These are the foundation stories of the coming Poeticule Bay Series of suspense novels.

I understand the argument, but what about writing about where your passion lies? I’ve written about writing for years now, drawing on my experience first as a journalist, publishing insider, freelancer, then as an editor and finally as an independent author who publishes his own work. I’ll be coming out with a book about writing later this year, so that’s one solution to the problem of writing for writers. But I keep thinking about that advice to write your blog for readers. I think I just figured out why it doesn’t matter.

Blog marketing does not matter. An author’s blog is usually something you discover after you’ve already found the author. Seth Godin’s blog is popular, but I found out about him through media first. Despite his high traffic, JA Konrath is sure that A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing doesn’t net him any new readers. He writes for writers and they come for his opinions and information, not his books. The readers of his blog and the readers of his books are two subsets of his readership with very little overlap. True, I read voraciously, but I still haven’t got around to reading any of his books. (Or John Scalzi’s or Chuck Wendig’s, either, though I love their blogs.) And what of all those successful novelists who blog little or not at all?

John Locke came up with a blogging strategy that helped him sell a lot of books, but he didn’t blog every day to do it. In fact, Locke blogged sparingly. He crafted each blog so he could leave it up for months and, using keyword searches and Twitter, drive traffic to his blog by going out and getting potentially interested parties. (Read Locke’s book on marketing to find out more about that.)

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

There is a caveat to these grand pronouncements. I’m not saying don’t blog. I’m saying that it’s unreasonable to expect a tiny engine to move that mountain. You need a website, but fairly static pages might do. Yes, I know (we all know by now, don’t we?) that a blog that changes often and has a lot of posts is smiled upon by search engine spiders and that boosts rankings. But that website you love so much isn’t the burning bush that’s converting believers. That website is where you send readers when you attract them by other means.

What should you spend more time on (and by you, I mean me)? Well, tomorrow night (Sunday at 9 PM) I’m going to have a chat on Blogtalk Radio with Sandi’s Tuttle. Tune in here. So there’s that.

Have a podcast, make personal appearances, show up on other people’s podcasts, do campus radio, do press releases (and make follow-up calls when they ignore you.)

Time for an angry tangent: A reader on a forum called on indie authors to send out press releases because she didn’t think we were brave enough or bothering to do so. She didn’t know what the heck she was talking about. Traditional media has a history of ignoring us because they don’t realize there are no gates to keep anymore. They’ll get over that. Too late, but they’ll get it. In the meantime, I’d love to sit down with that reader who thought we don’t do enough to help our cause and let her know all the things we do any given day, many of us after the full-time job is done. As if sending out a press release was a brilliant and heretofore unknown marketing strategy. She does not know the struggle. Indie authors are some of the bravest people I know in business. That grenade-thrower didn’t understand that just because you can read doesn’t mean you know anything about the writing biz.

Paranormal persuasion and scary stories (including two award winners.)

There are plenty of things you can do that could help your career more than writing a blog: Optimize your sales page on Amazon so readers can find you, for instance. Play with Amazon categories to get listed in the top ten of a subcategory to get traction. According to Klout, Twitter and Facebook help me reach more people than my blogs do (and my Goodreads blog presence doesn’t make a dent.) Becoming a star on YouTube could help more than a blog. If I’d starred on SCTV and become rich and famous at 22, I’d be better off now. (Time machine’s broken, so I’ll have to fix this the old-fashioned way: I’m going to need a DeLorean, a broken town clock and a bolt of lightning.)

What else can you do? You can do all the things you’ve heard about (or have already done): guest post, blog hop, do giveaways, comment up a storm, use free day promotions (to less and less effect), hold contests, pay for ads (though I rarely recommend that), send out more copies to reviewers, contact book bloggers, do signings, approach bookstores, make an app, cultivate powerful friends, save the life of a celebrity or write a book about cute cats.

Click to get Bigger Than Jesus here

So why blog? To serve the burning passion of a thousand stars going nova, I suppose. To express. To help. To have an active site for readers where I can send people who are interested in finding out more about me and my books and my process. On this site, I write for writers. On my author site, yes, there are plenty of links to my books, but mostly I talk to readers directly through my podcast. (Every week this summer and fall, I read a new chapter of my crime thriller Bigger Than Jesus for free. Those who can’t wait for the next instalment can get it all at once here.) Most of all, I write my blogs to discover what I think about things. (Like today.)

Do I expect any writers will convert to my book readership? A precious few, if they like my voice here because there’s some transfer of style in my other writing. No matter what I write, I’m a fan of twisting expectations, sneaky surprises and lots of jokes. I’ll expect most conversions will come when I publish the non-fiction books about writing. There are also niche blogging opportunities. For instance, I think if you’re a crime novelist and you blog about forensics in depth, you might gain interested readers from your blog to your books. Niche marketing is a buzzword, yes, but it does mean something.

The single most important thing you can do to help your career is write your next book.

If your blog is getting in the way of your book, then it’s time to take another look at your priorities.

And by “your”, I mean “my”*

To check out all the books by Robert Chazz Chute, click here.

*More on this tomorrow…

 

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Author Blog Challenge 17: How to talk with your graphic designer about your book cover

Well, not your graphic designer. I can only say how I talk to my graphic designer, but I think new authors might benefit from pulling back the curtain on the process. Everybody’s a little nervous the first time they outsource a book cover, but this guy makes it easy and I recommend him. As you’ll see below, I’m going to come across as a bit of a pain in the ass in this post.

Indie author and graphic designer extraordinaire Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design creates my covers. I can’t create a good cover to save my life, but I can recognize a good one. There are certain things that are pretty easy up front: cookbooks need phat, fat, sexy food (and a thin celebrity chef on the cover); green books don’t sell unless they’re about golf or lawn care; ugly isn’t different in a good way, it’s merely ugly and won’t sell. I worked as a sales rep for several publishing companies and got so I can recognize a bad dog. That said, I have no idea how Kit does his magic to create covers (magic herbs and tattooed Scottish elves are involved), but my covers look like they could have been produced in a traditional publishing house because Kit is the go-to guy.

I rarely come to Kit with an idea for the cover image. Instead I tell him about the book or send him some chapters or the whole thing (depending what stage I’m at with the book.) I trust Kit immensely because, when I’m in revisions, I really don’t want anyone to see it before I’m done and a red bow is tied around the manuscript.

What follows are excerpts from our emails (used with Kit’s permission, of course) to give you the gist of how the Bigger Than Jesus cover came to be, what I was looking for and how we arrived where we did. There were actually at least a dozen or so emails back and forth over a month because Kit supplied new art for my podcast and whipped up a cover for the non-fiction book I have in the works. Kit will use the new covers to update the banner for my author site, too. He’s a multi-talented fellow. That and we keep each other up to date on how we’re doing. Find allies, folks. Friends and coffee are critical.

My initial email about the Bigger Than Jesus cover:
Hi Kit,
 I finished Bigger Than Jesus. I have some work to do yet on the manuscript. Uncharacteristically, I’m coming to you with an idea that I think will work for the cover and it’s kind of a John Locke cover (or a James Bond book cover from the ’80s.)
 
The story: Bigger Than Jesus revolves around Jesus Diaz, a Cuban hit man who wants out of the mob. There’s gunplay and a lot of duplicity and twists. Every chapter has a twist or an aha moment. At the heart of the story is a key to storage locker #408 with millions of dollars in it which could fuel Jesus’s escape and that of and his girlfriend, Lily Vasquez. Jesus doesn’t just love Lily. He worships her. <Spoilers deleted.> It’s kind of a Coen brothers movie in that whatever Jesus does… at every turn he’s thwarted.
 
She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested this idea for a cover: We need a gorgeous Latina for Lily. In one hand she holds a key (to a padlock) labeled 408. In the other hand, a SIG Sauer 225 (Jesus’s handgun) or a Beretta if you prefer. And around this gorgeous woman’s neck? A big gold cross hanging by a thick gold chain. Think Madonna/High Catholic ornate for this. Title: Bigger Than Jesus. Author tag: Robert Chazz Chute in my usual cherry red. I’ll just need an ebook cover to start but I’ll be needing a full front/spine/back cover for the paperback as well soonish.
 
I sent you a link to an article about making the author’s name bigger. As this is a thriller and I’m trying to build a brand for a series, I’d like to try that. I can always switch it up later, but let’s try big author name up top to make it look more brandy, less indie, more swagger. What do you think of that idea?
Ideas get bandied about. Kit does other work for me. Then:
Hi Chazz,
…as discussed, I’m attaching a few drafts of Bigger Than Jesus (covers) for you to have a look at…Sorry there are so many drafts, but it should at least give you a little variety. Of course, as well, at this stage they’re all pretty rough. As ever, if none of them are suitable, I’m more than happy to go back to the drawing board.
Note: Any of the covers Kit sent me, and there were six in total, would have been pretty great to great, but Kit is patient and doesn’t mind fine tuning. Sorry I can’t show you the other covers to see what I’m talking about and to compare, but the draft covers are proprietary until they’re paid for. My break down gives you a hint, though:
Kit! My man!

Whee! This is exciting! Bigger Than Jesus II.png has a nice Pulp Fiction feel. Bigger Than Jesus III.png is closer to what I was picturing to begin with and the model is awesome. I wish we had the model from Bigger Than Jesus III.png in the pose from Bigger Than Jesus IV.png. Bigger Than Jesus I (blur).png has a movie poster vibe, though I like the colours in the next, more cartoonish variation. But, the winner is…I think we should go with a variation on the last one, Bigger Than Jesus IV.png. 

So here are my thoughts for the variation on Bigger Than Jesus IV.png: 
1. Put my name at the top and bump up the size. Please put the title where the author tag is, not at the bottom. 
2. Love the key. Can we make the key shiny gold? 
3. Love the model. Can we make the cross she’s wearing gold and or bigger so it pops out? Hard to make it out as is. Too bad she’s not wearing red. Do you think we could make the gun gold as well so it pops? (Either that or lighten the background a little so we see the gun better? I’m worried the awesomeness of the cover will be lost at thumbnail size.) I’m playing off the Jesus-thing obviously, but I also don’t want anyone to actually think it’s a religious book. I want them to be intrigued with the juxtaposition of the gun and the word Jesus. As is, I think potential readers might skip over it if the “Jesus” pops out quite as much as it does.
4. Also, with the girl in the centre, can we make her any bigger? I think Bigger Than Jesus III.png will at least be the alternative cover for the future just as it is. 
5. I think the gold accents of the key, the gun and the cross will really make it pop. 
Doable? Thoughts?
Kit sent me the revised draft that was close, but I was still worried:
 
Hi Kit!

 We’re getting there. This looks pretty good, but I’m concerned it’s too dark. Especially at thumbnail size, I don’t think the image will show up well enough. Can we go with a lighter background and make the cross and key even brighter gold so they pop like the gun, please? I don’t mind if the shine is so bright it’s unrealistic (i.e. think Man with the Golden Gun movie poster.) The shinier the better. And a question: When I find someone to give me a cover blurb for this, do we just scale down the title a little bit so we can fit it in somewhere?
 Thanks, man. (Hey, she looks better in the red dress!)
And finally, by Thor I’m hard to please, but Kit is patient:
Hi Kit,

 Better, but I’m thinking the answer for this cover is more contrast. Up for an experiment? What if we make the background white and the text black or maybe cherry red? Can the cross be a shinier gold, or bigger, or both? The cross is still getting lost. I think it will pop more this way.
Success! Though we went for a white background in the end, Kit added a black frame which was not present in earlier drafts. White backgrounds tend to look lost in the retail catalogue if they don’t have a defined edge. Amazon takes .tiffs and jpegs, so Kit sent me a cleaned up version where he edited the fine points on the image I’ll never know about. That’s for the tattooed Scottish elves and Kit to know about.
This was the most protracted back and forth we’ve had over one cover, mostly because I’m picky and kept asking, “What if we made the key and cross so shiny the reader actually gouged out their own eyes to stop the searing pain in their retinas?” By contrast, the art for my book on writing (TBA) came together very quickly. Kit sent me four or five variations of the cover for that book and I pretty much just picked one and that was it, right out of the gate.) If you’re thinking you need a graphic artist for your book, I can’t sing loud enough about the powers of The Kit.
Oh, and here’s the cover. I love it.

Here’s the final draft of the Bigger Than Jesus cover.

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Self-publishers: Why I went multimedia (and why you should, too)

Movie of an precessing gyroscope. Generated by...

Image via Wikipedia

Boy, did I have an eye-opener this morning that left me spinning! I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when you write and publish and do your thing, you naturally assume everybody gets your message at the same speed and time. Well, I naturally assumed that.

And I was wrong. Again.

Last night I posted a little promotional trailer for my books. It wasn’t anything fancy nor was it specific to one book. I was just playing around with iMovie. I had never messed with it before and I didn’t even look at a tutorial or read a help topic. I wasn’t feeling great, so I thought I’d use an otherwise unproductive Sunday afternoon to do something fun. I’ve blogged about book trailers before and generally I take a dim view of them. Let’s be honest: most book trailers suck. In fact, I might argue that the little movie I made kind of sucks, but first, a review of my problems with book trailers:

A book trailer is a commercial. People don’t like long commercials and most book trailers go on way too long. Nobody watches a commercial and wishes it was longer except for the old Old Spice commercials (that showed wit) and the commercials for the beer favoured by The Most Interesting Man in the World. From my research, I found what most authors have found: book trailers don’t sell books. John Locke points out that little movies about your books appeal to the author’s vanity but don’t do much for most readers and do nothing to increase sales. Some say that if you’re going to make a book trailer, make it funny or forget it. Or spend some real money on it, go big or stay home.

Despite all that, I did make that trailer for my books. (It’s in the post directly below this one if you’re curious.) Given all that I’ve said, why bother with a trailer at all? I made it for a very specific reason. It’s posted on YouTube, but really, I’m sure that’s not going to do anything. I posted it on Google+ and Facebook, but that’s probably nothing more than an idle curiosity or for people who, I’m almost sure, already know what I’m up to for the most part. For me, the trailer had to be of specific use for Goodreads.

I put the trailer on my Goodreads author profile. There are many authors on Goodreads and it’s a great forum for book lovers. If you want to read reviews and find books you might not otherwise find, it’s the place to be. I was slow to adopt Goodreads, but now I love it. However, it’s not a good place to promote yourself as an author and when you do much of anything outside of your own profile, you have to be very careful not to appear spammy. Sure, you’re filled with joy at the latest review or publishing milestone, but venture out into the forums with that same joy and someone will call you out pretty quick for subverting the mission of Goodreads. It’s for readers, not for writers. (If, as an author, you want to advertise on Goodreads, there’s a proper route for that and it requires payment and mucho dinero.)

I was shocked and embarrassed to find that I’d already violated Goodreads’ etiquette. I got a really great review for one of my books and I thought it only polite to thank the reviewer with a note on the post. The Powers That Be don’t want authors to thank reviewers. I can see, in the big picture, why they don’t want authors to do that. Maybe reviewers would be less honest if they were self-conscious or trying for thank you notes from authors. Worse, authors might also fall into responding to bad reviews, which we should never, ever do. Mmmm…almost never ever.

So how does one distinguish oneself on Goodreads without running afoul of the Goodreads sheriff and the good townspeople? Be nice. (I hope that’s not an act, Dexter Morgan.) Engage. Act like a reader and be passive about your self-promotion. Keep the self-promotion to a minimum and keep it on your page, no one else’s. No spam mail and nothing that could appear to a reasonable person as a personal agenda. Crank the helpfulness and interest up to maximum and just be you. (Unless you’re a serial killer.)

Goodreads devotes a lot of instructional text to authors so we can learn the proper rules of comportment and etiquette on the site. If you don’t adhere, they might kick you out or at least make you feel bad. Most author pages look pretty much the same, so I made a trailer to put on my page (not to send out to The People of Earth, awaiting applause.) Some people are more willing to watch a little movie than read through your witty little bio and personal mind map of the dreamscape you intend to self-actualize. I hoped to distinguish myself by having a little movie where many authors do not.

(Yes, at the end of this post, I’ll tell you the shocker I got, but first…)

So I have books on Kindles and smartphones and e-readers thither and yon. And now I have video (be it ever so humble.) I also went with audio. Here’s where things get really interesting. Podcasts are the new radio. I hardly ever listen to old radio unless I’m trapped in a car in a snow bank in a snowstorm with two broken legs and cannibalizing a Lutheran in a coma. It still astonishes me when I say the word “podcast” and get a blank look. I listen to podcasts constantly. The wonder of internet radio allows me to get through all the mundane tasks, like washing dishes, doing laundry and spaying the neighbour’s cat with lawn darts. Blindfolded. (Me, not the cat. Where’s the sport, otherwise?)

Writing and producing and performing a podcast seemed to me the natural companion strategy to writing books. I wrote Self-help for Stoners, Stuff to Read When You’re High. Why not cross-promote with a weekly comedy podcast that features excerpts from the book? I called the podcast Self-help for Stoners and naturally the tagline is Stuff to Listen to When You’re High. It’s up on iTunes. The combination is an easy fit. I had a little background in radio. I’m not at ease on the mic at all, but I’m relearning those skills, like how to sound natural again.

The book is a weird hybrid I could easily draw from for a weekly comedy podcast. It’s mostly fiction with suspenseful elements, but there are funny stories, parables, exhortations, weird facts and brain tickles. When it’s preachy, it’s preachy on purpose and, I think, entertainingly so. There’s even a sci-fi story in the mix! It’s a collection that most publishers wouldn’t touch, but from my background in traditional publishing, I decided that those reasons were bad reasons. I had a book with a hook. (And no, you don’t have to be a stoner to enjoy the fun. Many people are surprised when they find some stories challenge the idea that being a stoner is even a good idea.)

If that sounds like a lot of work that has nothing to do with writing books, you’re right…sort of. I write full-time. This all I do, so I have more time than most. Yes, I know how lucky I am and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my family’s support. I tell them every day. As She Who Must Be Obeyed ventures out into the real world each morning, I say, “Win that bread and bring home that bacon, Ward!” She says, “Have a good day, June.” And then I skip (no, not metaphorically) back into the house and to my desk, into unreal worlds. The book feeds the podcast, but the podcast can inform the rest of my writing and, most important, touch an audience I would not otherwise reach. I podcast so the books I write may be read.

But what about you, you, you? Podcasts are everywhere on any topic you can dream up. It’s cheap promotion. It’s fun (mostly). You might make new friends and find a new readership. If you aren’t already podcasting, you should consider it. Or think about advertising on a podcast. That’s also inexpensive compared to traditional avenues. Podcast the same way you blog: talk about those things that ignite your passion, stimulate your skull box or tickle you silly. Get a friend to co-host and you’ve got a conversation. (I have no friends so I’m doing it solo. “But someday…” he said wistfully.)

But that’s not all. There’s Facebook, of course, though that’s generally more for tight amigos than business. Facebook has its problems as a business outlet (but this post is already too long and overuses the delightful parenthetical so let’s move on briskly.) Aside from blogging for writers and the self-published here, I also post on my Goodreads blog and on allthatchazz.com, the site for my readers. (If I ever say “fans,” drag me out into the street and reinvent the guillotine.)

Whenever I have down time (among the many tasks of formatting for ebooks, formatting for print, administrivia and…oh yeah, actually writing my books) I maintain three Twitter accounts. You probably know me from @RChazzChute on Twitter and such industrial films as “Whose Thumb is in the Fry-o-later?” @RChazzChute is where I meet most of my writing friends and fellow self-publishers. I got frustrated with Twitter’s whacky algorithm that slows me from following more people, so I went for more Twitter accounts.

@Expartepress (from my company name) is geared to readers and for activism. My pets are free speech, Occupy Everywhere and sovereign choices wherever no one else gets hurt, like eating Lutherans, for instance.

To promote the podcast, I let loose on @THECHAZZSAYS. I do an explicit comedy podcast, so when I have something edgy to say, it’s probably there (though some of you are already pissed off at me for the cat spaying joke. Most everyone who isn’t a Lutheran is okay with the cannibalism joke, however.)

So my target audiences are: Writers, Readers and the People of Earth With a Sense of Humour and an Interest in Fiction. It’s a small target but I can hit it.

What and how much is right for you?: Yes, multimedia promotion is a lot of work but don’t whine about the workload if you choose it for yourself.  Whining is unattractive.

I only do as much as I enjoy and the core writing always comes first. I wrote 11 pages of my new novel this morning, thank you very much.

Wait, wait! What about your terrible mistake? You said you’d tell us why you’re a complete idiot, Chazz! Oh. Right. Ahem. I’ve written this blog for some time. I’ve talked about my books and I’ve blogged about the craft of writing and editing extensively. I figured regular readers already knew what I was up to. However, this morning a fellow writer commented that the book trailer was cute. And…wait for it…up until she saw the trailer, she thought my books were all non-fiction. 

Ack!

Gulp!

Well, that’s humbling. I thought I’d already reached my immediate circle with my promise of suspense, fun, literature and frivolity. I failed to do that with someone who has guest blogged here and comments often. That’s not her fault. She’s a peach. The fault is mine. Maybe I didn’t talk long enough. Maybe I wasn’t short and pithy. Maybe the titles were misleading. For whatever reason I am not at this moment discerning through my haze of tears for fears, it took the book trailer for her to hear, “Hi, I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I think you’ll enjoy my fiction.”

If I can’t promote general awareness of my books, actual sales are farther off than I thought.

Her confusion is a signal to me. If it’s true for one, it’s often true for many.

Clearly, I have more promotional work to do. Much more.

You probably do, too.

Filed under: book trailer, Books, getting it done, Publicity & Promotion, readers, self-publishing, Social Media, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , , , ,

How serious is the hate for indie authors?

I’m feeling a tad depressed. I just read a bunch of posts in a forum from The People Who Fun Forgot. They were looking for ways to avoid even looking at indie authors’ work. Any indie exposure, it seems, might burn like a spicy plutonium chalupa with battery acid sauce. Some people held on to some perspective. For others, art was something to grumble at and be protected from while searching for “real” books from “real” publishers. How dare self-published authors offer something someone else might enjoy? Perhaps it’s promotion fatigue, but some people seem to think that just because they don’t like something, it’s automatically spam and valueless to anyone! Someone even suggested the establishment of a censor board to decide which indie offerings are worthy. I had to reread that several times. I’m still not sure if the intent was satirical. Gee, I hope that was a joke, but I don’t think so.

These angry posts and censorious efforts sound far more narcissistic than anything a self-publisher has ever done.

It’s a book, not  a crime. And if it be a crime, it is not a crime against literature but against personal taste. As in “individual”, one person’s taste.

As in, “Get over yourself, Butch!”

Another complainer said she was especially picky about offerings that were inexpensive. Wait! Wait! Why not be more picky about the much more expensive ebooks from traditional publishers? As John Locke says of his 99 cent ebooks, he doesn’t have to prove he’s as good as the traditionally published. Trad authors have to prove their books are ten times better than his for the prices they charge. Many of his readers certainly don’t want him censored. They’re grateful—happy, even— to receive such cheap entertainment. I eat 99 cent books like Tic Tacs. A 99 cent book isn’t a risk. It’s a Tic tac. If you like one, have more. If you can’t afford a 99 cent ebook, what the hell are you doing with an e-reader, anyway? If that’s the case, read at the library. In the job search section.

Being super picky over indie books doesn’t make you a connoisseur of literature. It makes you the sort of person whose company you wouldn’t tolerate in a stuck elevator for more than five minutes without considering how you could make strangulation look accidental. (If this is you, please consult your therapist. Next session’s topic: “Why do I feel such a need to be a petty bully over small things? And why do I feel such joy kicking the crutches out from under people?”)

I’m not for low standards, per se. It just seems absurd to insist a 99 cent book reach a higher standard. Every ebook gives readers a sample. If you don’t like the sample, you don’t have to buy it. And no, your time is not that precious. The President of the United States has time to read fiction for pleasure and you’re not working on a cancer cure, so get over yourself and read a few reviews on Goodreads if you need some help with your book shopping, for Christ’s sake!

You know what I love about the break from traditional publishing? The range of price and the freedom of choice. The “flood” of new books is not something I’ll drown in. I revel in the onslaught. The hunt for a good book is part of the joy of reading. (You even get to read while you hunt, which was frowned upon when the prey was deer.) The search is part of the fun, like wandering through a bookstore and dipping into samples to see if I can find a treasure. And, it bears repeating, just because a book is traditionally published is no guarantee it’s going to be any good. Yes, they’ve got typos, too. (And remember all those books “by” Sarah Palin?)

What of all those indie authors who were traditionally published last week but decided to abandon that enterprise for greater creative freedom and the other allures of independence?

Are they to wear the scarlet letter, too?

I was shocked that people who you’d think were book lovers could be so down on free thought, cheap books, free speech and more choice. All those good and happy things were just too damned inconvenient for them, obstacles in their search for stuffy books only semiotics enthusiasts might approve. (And by semiotics enthusiasts, I mean people from 1980s English departments who worshipped structuralism and used literary criticism as a weapon to stab writers in the parts of the brain that connect expression to entertainment. They pretended to love literature and creativity that was a mask. They may have started out as readers, but by their third year, the joy of reading and literary escape was shamed and beaten out of them. Now they only read to tear writers down to feel good about themselves through petty power plays, bad reviews and the destruction of the world, one idea at a time. You know. Like Bond villains. With herpetic lesions on their anuses.

I don’t think these curmudgeons and snobs are the norm. Are they…?

If they are…I have to go make toast in the bathtub now.

Filed under: authors, book reviews, censors, e-reader, ebooks, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bookstores, buying habits, digital rights and the end of the world as we know it

I went cross-border shopping. In all our travels, I saw one bookstore and it was an empty, boarded up Borders. In the huge (and I mean huge) shopping centres we wandered through, there was not one bookstore. Not. One. I am not celebrating the shrinkage of the paper book market. I will miss bookstores and what they were. As their bookshelves shrink to bestsellers-only and mid-list authors find no (non-virtual) place for their books, we have lost shrines to knowledge and literature. When they’re gone (or when I have to travel many miles to get to one) I will feel the same nostalgia I feel now for friendly garbage collectors and milk men who brought their products to my door when I was a child.

How many years will it be before the economics of book production don’t make any sense at all? Economies of scale will, at some point, require that all books go digital unless they are specialty items for very high-end books, hobbyists with very low-end books or novelty items. Paper books are still big, but as the gifts, candles and coffee spaces in bookstores grow and book return times shrink, anyone can see where this train is going.

I still run into people who think a mid-list author should pursue paper book deals within traditional publishing to the exclusion of the electronic marketplace. Unless an author holds his or her e-rights, though, in most cases that math won’t make sense. John Locke held on to his e-rights. Locke stuck to what he was good at and the publisher acknowledged that by making the unprecedented deal. (Joe Konrath wrote convincingly that the deal was an admission of industry failure and was, in effect, a sign of End Times for trad publishing.)

Naysayers object, “Any self-published author would jump at a traditional deal.” Uh. No, that’s not true. A traditional deal will often yield the author about a buck after a book sale. Self-publish digitally, sell for just $2.99, and you’ll get about $2.00 with each sale. For those who would jump at traditional deals, authors may well make that decision for personal, emotional reasons, not as a pure business decision. The math doesn’t change but people are variable and are welcome to their (informed) choices. Video on demand, PVR and satellite replaced Blockbuster, but movies are still getting made.

As bookstores shrink and collapse, consumers are already turning away from the old model, even when it’s available.

For instance, I’ve noticed my buying habits have changed.

Here’s my shopping habit arc:

1. I bought books in bulk. Even though I sold a bunch, my many bookshelves are still groaning under the weight of shelves packed with books in double rows.

2. Then I bought half of my books in bookstores and half on Kindle. (I use my Sony Reader much less because it’s not wireless.)

3. If it’s a reference book, I’d still prefer to read it in paper for ease of use. I picked up a tech manual for my computer last week because I wanted instant answers.

4. If it’s fiction, it’s on my Kindle. I love that I can download so quickly and easily. It’s so easy, in fact, I don’t know when I’ll get to read all of my purchases.

5. I’ve pretty much given up on magazines because of all I can read on the web (on blogs, for instance.) There’s just as much expertise and good deal more depth in many blogs than magazines have space for.

6. Shipping: Paper books at a bookstore are more expensive. If I order them straight from Chapters or Amazon or download to the Kindle, I’m paying for the same products at a discount and the shipping is free, right to my door.

7. The local bookstore is for recon missions to find books I’ll order electronically. When our bookstores can’t afford looky-lou sessions and close, I’ll be doing that research exclusively by going through catalogues, watching for recommendations on book blogs and on sites like Goodreads. And my friends will tell me what they enjoyed. And I’ll say, “I used to get out of the house more.”

8. There will still be bookstores in the future. You’ll have to travel a long way to get to them and most of them will be specialty bookstores. The big inventory will be on the web. Just like now.

The eventual end of the common bookstore is not the end of the world. 

It’s only the end of the world as we know it. 

 

 

 

Filed under: DIY, e-reader, ebooks, self-publishing, , , , , , , ,

Self-publishing: The Couch Change Economy vs. The Great Personality Argument

How does a guy go from getting paid $85 an hour to taking the risk of self-publishing? It’s not such a big leap.

Last night, on impulse, I bought a little tub of Heavenly Hash ice cream for $1.99. 

That explains everything, huh? Okay. Let’s go deeper:

When a new tax hike hit my province last July, my business changed. I’ve been a massage therapist for 18 years. I have great clients I care about and not just a few who care about me. To accommodate the new tax, my hourly rate went up to $85 per hour. A bunch of my clients took it in stride, but several just couldn’t afford to come in for treatment as often. I live in a lovely, but economically depressed area. Since I work as a part-time therapist and that fee is before tax, $85 an hour isn’t quite as great as it sounds. When I did my taxes, the numbers confirmed what I suspected: I like my work, but it wasn’t paying. I needed to change something if I was going to have anything left over at the end of the month. I could go back to working out of clinics full-bore and full-time and make “real” money or I could explore other options.

Then I thought, “You know, I don’t have that much to lose now.”

That’s the “A-ha” moment. I believe in my writing and marketing savvy. It was time to bet on that and switch to writing full-time. This wasn’t coming out of nowhere. I’d held several positions in traditional book publishing and trained and worked as  a journalist. As a freelance editor, columnist, features and speech writer, my writing income rose to become a healthy chunk of my overall income. Last year I spent more time working on writing and editing than I did in health care.

Also—and this is crucial—I had five novels in my drawer ready to edit and bring to fruition.

Many authors propose books and only start to write them after they get someone to ask them to do so. (That’s a smart way to do it, by the way, but it’s not the only way.) I had opportunities to go that route. However, I had  no interest in doing so. I have a strong streak of I-want-to-do-it-my-way (which doesn’t always serve me best but, for me, that’s the only way it’s going to happen and sustain.) I hadn’t sent out any manuscripts at all! As soon as I completed one book, I rushed on to the next, giddy and getting high off the writing. Writing is always way more fun than chasing agents and editors. It’s an odd kind of procrastination, staying busy kneading dough but never actually finishing a loaf of bread so you can eat it.  I helped several authors get their books published, but was in no hurry to bring my own out into the world. I was waiting for something and that something was me.

This week, I finally caught up to me. I finished the last manuscript I needed to get written before I could move forward with my grand plans to go full-time as a writer. (More on my complex marketing plans in another post, another time.)

Soon I will jump into what I call the Couch Change Economy.  You could call it the iTunes Purchasing Model or more simply, impulse buying.

That Heavenly Hash ice cream I bought? It was a stab of nostalgia that did it. I grew up in Nova Scotia. In the summer my parents would sometimes take me to the shore in the evening to cool off and watch the sunset. An old clapboard ice cream shop with poor posture  leaned into stiff Atlantic winds just 100 feet from relentless ocean waves. That was the only place I ever ate a waffle cone with two scoops of Heavenly Hash. If the tub had been priced higher, I wouldn’t have picked it up and put it in my shopping basket. I haven’t tasted it yet. I may not even finish it all. But for $1.99, it’s a cheap indulgence that reminds me of a good time with a dead mom.

When a book is cheap, no one minds taking a chance on an author they don’t know if the book sounds like it might interest them. If you don’t like a cheap ebook, you aren’t going to lose sleep over the equivalent of the sum of coins you can find in your couch.

How low that ebook price must be is the subject of many passionate discussions. 

John Locke says 99 cents (and a marketing strategy) made him a million-book seller. 

Joe Konrath has run the numbers and says $2.99 is the “sweet spot.” 

Others object that these prices devalue the work and no author who believes in their writing should charge so little. While I understand where they’re coming from, that sounds suspiciously like The Great Personality Argument. You can have a great personality, but if you don’t arrive at the party smiling, freshly scrubbed, with your hair combed, few people will approach you to discover how smart and funny you are. In short, couch change pricing sells more books than pricing on arbitrary values the author holds for his work. An author can believe in their work all they want (and they should) but for the sale, what matters is how much the buyer values the work. Your ideal readers may never discover how great your book is unless you make the package very attractive at low to no risk. Pricing at couch change levels is the No-pressure, Get-to-know-you price.

As debt ceiling negotiations rage in the United States and nervous stock market investors watch in horror as economies go off the rails, this is an excellent time to be working in a non-premium market. Low-priced items are low risk. Low-priced items sell at higher volume. (And a massage therapist doesn’t ever work in high volume.) I’m optimistic—which doesn’t come easy for me—that this is the year to make the jump if I ever will. And so I’ve begun informing my patients that I’m wrapping up my practice. Self-publishing suits the kind of hairpin I am and the math makes sense to me, if not to everyone.

Most important, writing full-time is my unfulfilled dream. I don’t believe in heaven or reincarnation, so I get one shot at making my heaven here and now.

A client (who isn’t mean but does have sarcastic streak) asked, “So when do the millions start rolling in?”

“I may never make millions,” I said. “It’s quite a loss compared to the billions I make as a massage therapist.”

We both laughed because the working poor are, considering all the challenges we face, surprisingly good-natured.

But I think things will work out. I believe in my books. I’m willing to price my work low enough that readers will find me, take a chance on something fun and quirky, new and different. Over time, I believe they will believe in me, too.

And last, consider this:

I’ve written books for years, very happily, giving no thought to getting paid at all.

Filed under: authors, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, , , , ,

The “But At What Cost?” Miscalculation

John Locke has written a book: How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in Five Months.* (I recommend it) How_I_sold_1_million_ebooks_in_5_months

LA Times writer Carolyn Kellogg wrote a piece that asks, “At What Cost?” Here’s that nonsense argument and my bit of nonsense follows.

The upshot is, Ms. Kellogg thinks Mr. Locke undersold himself. He sold a million ebooks, but charged 0.99 for many of them. She says he could have made a million of with higher pricing instead of making do in the $300,000 range. (A figure that would make many authors swoon.) There are many interesting observations in the comments section of the LA Times article that pick apart Ms. Kellogg’s worries very well.

Here’s my take away: I had never heard of John Locke until now. He used 0.99 loss leaders to sell a shit-ton of books. Yes, he “only” made 0.30 on the 0.99 ebooks, but  low or no pricing allowed wary readers to try him out. And now many more people know  about him. And I bought his non-fiction ebook which details his success so far. And I bought it for $4.99.

Kellogg is saying Locke was an idiot for leaving money on the table, assuming he could have moved so much and so quickly with a middle man trad publisher involved. Why would she assume that, I wonder? There’s no basis for it. The new world is not the old world and hers is classic old world thinking.

Now you know, if you didn’t, who John Locke is. And now you’re thinking, maybe I should buy one of his books and give it a try. Maybe more than one, huh?

*Thanks to Joanna Penn for her post on Mr. Locke. I love Joanna’s blog and podcast, The Creative Penn. Subscribe if you haven’t!  

Filed under: authors, DIY, ebooks, getting it done, links, Media, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, , , , , , , ,

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

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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