Archive for category Self-Publishing

Selling Books—The Struggle is REAL but Not New & What to DO!

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Lane Pearman

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Lane Pearman

I know a lot of authors feel overwhelmed in the digital age of publishing and that is perfectly understandable. But today I would like to pan back and maybe offer a refreshed perspective to keep you pressing.

Today we face the challenge of creating a brand. But you might be thinking, “What exactly is a brand?” There is a lot of misinformation floating around so that is a reasonable question to ask.

A brand is the power of a name to drive sales. Our name alone compels action.

No easy task. Overcoming inertia is critical for any author who wants to make a living doing this writing thing. In an age of instant? This is going to take a while, but hopefully I can help 😉 .

But first…

The Struggle is NOT New

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Publishers have always struggled to help authors create a brand. This is NOT a new thing. I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. According to the BEA (Book Expo of America) statistics of 2004, writers had a 92% failure rate. Only one out of ten traditionally published authors ever saw another book in print. 92% of all books published sold less than a thousand copies (traditionally and nontraditionally published).

Why I like using 2004 statistics is this is two years before most of the major social media platforms gained traction. Facebook, You Tube and Twitter all emerged in roughly the same two year period.

But before social media? It was a nightmare for publishers to help authors create a brand (unless they were non-fiction authors). Nonfiction authors had far more access to platform building activities—public speaking, conferences, media, newsletters, or their own personal practices. The local news was far more likely to interview a doctor about his new weight loss program than they were to talk to a novelist about dragons or spaceships. Media was almost solely the domain of the NF expert.

Why this was so vital was that audiences suddenly had direct access to a writer who might be able to make his/her case and influence behavior. Maybe you weren’t normally a “reader” but that interview on NPR was so cool you just had to buy the book and learn how Hitler really escaped the bunker and the Russians lied about finding him.

Whatever.

But for fiction, more often than not publishers had to rely on some confluence of the stars to hope that a new book sold at least respectably. Sometimes writers could launch successful grassroots movements as was the case with The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. But, many writers tried this and most of them failed. Grassroots movements are lightning in a bottle even today.

But sometimes it worked. And that was cool because then publishers could offer the writer another contract and the brand slowly was built with a volume of titles. Go to any used bookstore and who takes up most of the shelf space? Writers with multiple multiple titles.

All of this to say that brands were excruciatingly difficult and slow to build.

Perspective

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I know a lot of writers get discouraged today, but we must learn to balance reality and expectations. If we go back to the “good old days” what we have is this.

A book written on a typewriter. Revisions involved scissors and tape. Then we had to research at libraries. That little detail you need for your story? No opening a new tab and googling real quick. Nope. Back to the library. Want to learn about police procedurals? Yep, call the department you are writing about and see if you can schedule an interview. No tweeting, Anyone here Atlanta PD? I’m an author with a question #LEO

Then we had to buy a Writer’s Market every year and pray the information hadn’t changed, but most of the time it had. I swear agents changed agencies more than my mom changes her mind about where to eat lunch. Then we had to type out a stack of queries, put in mail…then wait.

Out of fifteen queries, likely five would be returned with, No longer at this agency. Three might come with No longer looking for X type of book. Another five just would never respond and the other two? Well one would probably be a form letter misspelling your name and the other would be a handwritten note suggesting we stop writing altogether.

Oh and every agent would demand “no simultaneous submissions”, but they could feel free to take six months to get back to us…if ever.

Just getting published was about as close to an act of God as we could get. And even then? That wasn’t the end of it. Generally it took about a year to eighteen months for the book to be in print. We got paid once, maybe twice a year.

If we add up the sheer volume of TIME involved in the old way, why are we griping that we have been self-published three years and aren’t yet J.K. Rowling?

I have mentioned the problems with Millennial Authors (these are writers who have “come of age” during the digital revolution and they could be 22 or 67). I know the “old way” wasn’t better, but it does lead me to believe that writers of the “old days” have better tenacity because they didn’t enter the profession in the Age of Instant.

Yes, our first book might only sell a handful of copies. But guess what? In the “old days” odds were we would only sell a small number of copies as well (refer to statistics above). But, unlike the “old days” we can keep writing more books. We can keep at it until something sticks or until we decide to move on.

Back to the Brand

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Brands take time to build. Only now, with social media, the task is far easier than it used to be. We can build our own platforms and create our own brands and we don’t have to pray for lighting in a bottle the same way we used to. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we are still working toward that magic, only now we have more control.

We don’t have to pray our local paper writes about us, or we score a radio interview so the outside world can encounter us. We can start cultivating our audience on our own. Yet, we still have the challenge of creating a brand.

Remember, a brand is when our name alone compels action whether that action is buying a book, commenting on a blog, reading a blog, sharing a post, RTing a tweet. The more we can compel action on the part of others, the stronger our brand will grow.

Traditional marketing, advertising and direct mail operate linearly. I send X to Y. Best Buy doesn’t expect that when I get a coupon in the mail I will then share it with all my friends.

Social media, conversely, operates algorithmically using the power of exponentials. Content flies out along countless vectors as opposed to ONE (which is why it is all but impossible to measure efficacy of social media in the same detailed way).

Someone reads my blog and tweets or posts to FB and that post then travels along infinite vectors I may never see.

Why is this important? Because our goal is to have a dialogue with others, generate interest and excitement that compels others to share. The problem is that a lot of writers are treating social media the same way as direct mail.

Buy my book!

Please retweet!

Sign up for my newsletter!

Instead of giving, they are taking and we are frankly worn plum out from takers. Every one of us has an inbox filled with newsletters we didn’t sign up for, ads, marketing, and on and on and they all WANT something. We feel like we’ve fallen into some swamp pond and staggered out covered in leeches.

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Thus, if we default to generating self-serving content (ads, marketing, self-promotion), we shouldn’t be surprised when creating a brand feels like trying to perform brain surgery from space with an egg beater. If we engage in traditional marketing tactics, we have use of ONE vector (us to other party).

This means we are beholden to the same dismal ROI (return on investment) numbers of all direct mail which is about a 1%-5% ROI. This means we better have 100,000 twitter followers to get any traction since we have to reach those people directly instead of with the help of a network.

If we don’t want to be on every social site and spending our time building up massive numbers (instead of writing), then we need to go back to the content. We can create stuff others want to share because social media is basically Show and Tell for adults 😉 . If we do this, then reaching 100,000 people is far easier since we are not singlehandedly reaching them via one road. Additionally, content will be viewed at a far higher rate since it is “spoken for” by a third party people know, like and trust.

Do this long enough and your “following” might be smaller in overall numbers, but those followers will be engaged which will make all the difference in the world. These are the followers we have cultivated to look forward to hearing from us because we are a brand.

Ads, marketing and promotion have little momentum without the engine of the BRAND.

In the end, don’t get too frustrated. Publishing has always been a slow business. Only now? It’s just slower in different ways. It also feels slower because everything else (besides writing the actual book) is pretty close to instant. So make sure you aren’t being unreasonable in your expectations. It is a heck of a lot faster to publish that book on Create Space than it is going to be to build the audience dying to read it. Just keep improving and keep pressing and keep perspective.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we have gotten a little spoiled with instant? That maybe it makes us unreasonably hard on ourselves? Do you want to set fire to your e-mail?

If branding and blogging and all that jazz has you overwhelmed, please pick up a copy of Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World or check out the classes I have below. I even have a Social Media Master’s series where you get three classes for the price of TWO. All you need to know to ROCK your book brand.

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! 

All you need is an internet connection!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on

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36 Comments

Author Animal Farm—New York GOOOOD, Self-Pub BAAAAAAD

Original image via Kabsik Park courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Original image via Kabsik Park courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Okay at first I wasn’t going to say anything regarding the latest Let’s Bash Self-Publishing rant over at HuffPo, but (like all “real” writers) I am in the business of serving my audience—YOU—what you want to hear and after about the tenth person who sent me Laurie Gough’s Self-Publishing—An Insult to the Written Word, I figured y’all might want my take 😉 .

For another angle on this controversy, I strongly recommend Fisking the HuffPo’s Snooty Rant About Self-Publishing.

Moving on…

Consider the Source

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First of all, am I the only one to see the laughable hypocrisy of anyone who writes for Huffington Post lecturing anyone about real writing? Huffington Post is a predatory business, a literary parasite that has made hundreds of millions of dollars by paying writers in “exposure dollars.” And, by doing so, has contributed to obliterating traditional journalism.

One doesn’t need credentials or to submit queries to editors and hope one day this “news” agency will publish said article for actual money. Nope. If a writer has demonstrated an ability to cultivate readers, then Huff has slots available. They truck in wagons of cash and the contributor is paid in clicks and feel-goods.

Additionally, Huffington is run by geniuses who say crap like this…

Um…bite me?

Um…bite me?

Did I mention that Huffington Post sold for over $300 MILLION?

Yeah, how about an article, Huffington Post—An Insult to the Written Word.

Wait, I did that already.

So apparently Gough believes real writing is only real when it has passed querying, editors, and a long list of “gatekeepers” but that apparently doesn’t apply to journalism which hasn’t been devalued at ALL.

*rolls eyes*

Very convenient.

Kobiyashi Maru

One of the reasons that self-published authors continue to take a lot of flack is that they refuse to play by the rules and that always pisses off those who like rules and those whom the rules have served.

Many of us started out playing by the rules then decided the rules sucked and so we decided to make our own rules. We found ourselves in a no-win situation and decided we no longer liked that game and decided to do things differently.

That is what entrepreneurs do. Entrepreneurs look at the market and what has sold, what is likely to sell, what they as consumers might like but does not yet exist and they act.

When I was an author starting out, anyone with one eye and half sense knew that social media was the next evolutionary step in human communication. I wanted to learn from experts. I bought all kinds of fledgling social media books and none of it applied to me as an emerging writer. I didn’t want to be in high-pressure sales. I didn’t like spam, so why would I serve it? I didn’t want to fundamentally alter my personality to have success. There HAD to be a compromise.

But in the existing literature? There wasn’t. Every book available was great for a business, but lousy for a writer who still had to have time to write books, probably work a day job and take care of a family.

I didn’t see what I wanted (and what I believed other writers wanted as well) so I created it.

But according to Ms. Gough I am not a “real” writer and I should have patiently waited until my work was blessed by Mount Olympus NYC Publishing instead of acting and filling a necessary and ignored need. Good thing I ignored that crap because Rise of the Machines has helped countless authors build platforms that have sold millions and millions of books.

The Long and Short of Publishing

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The elites who love to bash self-publishing are (to me) shockingly uninformed about the history of their own industry.

For years, traditional (legacy) publishers were the sole gatekeepers and this had a lot of disadvantages for authors and readers.

Because traditional publishing was taking on a large financial risk and had to also maintain high overhead, they obviously had to be picky about what works to publish (and still do). These works had to bring in a certain amount of ROI (return on investment). This devastated the literary landscape and drove many works to the brink of extinction.

For instance, in the 70s and 80s long epic works were all the rage. Readers actually liked a book so long you could take out a burglar with it. I mean, Clan of the Cave Bear could have been registered as a deadly weapon. But the thing is, paper is heavy so it is expensive to ship. It costs a lot more to print a long book (Duh).

Additionally, big thick paperbacks? Only fitting a few of those suckers on a shelf. Why sell three books for $9.99 when you can sell ten books for $7.99?

Basic math.

So, the trend became to cut works off after a certain word count. Many agents would take one look at a query and if the work was over 110,000 words? Forget it. It didn’t matter that it was the next Lord of the Rings.

They weren’t being mean, they simply knew that publishers were wanting shorter works because they could sell more of them and enjoy a higher profit.

But what if a story needed to be that long?

The other side also suffered. Short works.

Pulp fiction got its start with the much-esteemed Charles Dickens and this form of storytelling really picked up traction in the early part of the 20th century. This type of fiction gave the general public access the larger-than-life stories with exotic and sexy characters. Pulp authors also made a really good living, some becoming among the richest people in the country.

We can thank pulp fiction for some of the greatest literary geniuses of our culture. Edgar Rice Burroughs almost single-handedly laid the foundation for today’s science fiction. Then we have Max Brand, H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ray Bradbury.

With WWII we experienced paper rationing and the pulp magazine fell into decline as publishers opted for longer works with…a greater ROI.

Notice how these changes really don’t have much to do with the skill of the writer and have more to do with paper costs, shipping costs and ROI (PROFIT).

As publishing became bigger and bigger business, it had less to do with the story and the quality of the writing and more to do with, “Can we sell this?”

Oh, but maybe I am misguided and Snooki’s—It’s a Shore Thing is great literature I’ve overlooked. But hey, I am a troglodyte.

Again, this is simply wise business. A publisher might love a vampire book…but unfortunately they already had taken on three other vampire books and filled that quota for the year.

The beauty of the new publishing model is we are seeing a MAJOR resurgence of works that were all but lost. According to Ms. Gough traditional publishing is some great champion of literature, but I would challenge her to query a poetry book and see how far she gets.

Death by Elitism

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Every time I run across one of these articles kicking self-published authors what stands out to me is the almost repugnant level of elitism. It’s like they all hang out in places with finger sandwiches to feed their own BS echo chamber.

Elitism is a big reason that legacy publishing is suffering. Instead of working with the changes in technology and what audiences want, they have spent an exorbitant amount of time propping up a dying business model (probably with pinkies extended 😉 ). They continue to do business in a way where authors are paid the last and the least and where only the 1%ers truly benefit.

And sure, if you want evidence to support a theory that all self-published authors are hacks, there is plenty to be found. But, to assert that all self-published authors are drunken monkeys banging on a typewriter is myopic and completely ignores that some of the greatest works of our time are NOT coming out of NY. This assertion ignores how business-minded authors have changed the rules and created a game that works in their favor.

Remember, traditional publishing didn’t consider erotica a real genre until 50 Shades sold a gazillion copies 😉 .

Author Animal Farm

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Content creators hold no allegiance to any business that no longer serves their needs. But often what happens, is that these entities have created an idea that they have our best interests in mind, and to question that is some form of subversion. That if we don’t do things their way we lack talent, ability and legitimacy.

In the book Animal Farm the animals take the farm from the human owner by force believing they can run the farm in a way that serves the animals’ needs better, and at first? All is wonderful. The animals are quick to create a foundational ideology to support this move and the mantra, Four legs goooood, two legs baaaaaad is readily adopted.

But then…

A hierarchy soon emerges and the farm is eventually run by the pigs and, as the story progresses, conditions for the animals working the farm grow worse and worse and worse. The animals contributing all the labor fail to ever really look at the evidence and ask the hard questions, and all (but the pigs) pay dearly. The pigs have created a system that works really well for them and any animal that doesn’t toe the line is considered an enemy to all.

There is a similar ideology that has formed around legacy publishing.

Legacy books gooood. Self-published baaaaad.

Many emerging writers are afraid to really look and see for themselves if this is actually true, or whether they are afraid of exercising agency. Structure is comfortable, free will is not. And any writer who wants to strike out and do things differently is no more an enemy to other writers or publishing than animals who questioned the soundness of working seven days a week for almost no food were enemies of their fellow beasts.

In the End

All writers have to do business the exact same way, regardless of the publishing path. We need to:

  1. Create something people want to buy.
  2. Find those people.

That’s it.

So be careful buying into the mantra, especially when those chanting it don’t even buy their own BS. If Gough really believed what she’s preaching, then why publish this article on Huffington? Why didn’t she query a regular print magazine?

She is doing the exact same thing she is blasting countless other writers for doing. She created an article and believed she could get readers. She is using new technology and new ways of reaching readers and all in a nontraditional way that I am pretty sure pisses off more than a few old school journalists.

She is aware of her market—that more people are reading blogs than print resources. She acted accordingly. She didn’t wait to be printed on shiny copy, she acted and went around more than a few traditional gatekeepers. She met the audience where they were with the kind of content they wanted and in the format they desired.

Um, hypocrite much?

Sure, there is a lot of crap that gets self-published but the genie is out of the bottle. What are you going to do?

It isn’t like we have some UNDO button to make it go back to 1999.

Legacy publishing has a lot of advantages but they are not a One-Size-Fits-All. Same with self-pub. In both, if we write crap we get ignored. Plain and simple. We just get to choose where we are ignored, in some agent’s slush pile or at #300,745,321 on the Amazon list. So to the elitists? This is the hand that history has dealt us so get to work on your own stuff and stop worrying whether or not I am “real.”

Because my opinion….

WHO CARES? Just pick the path that works for you and what you are writing and I say, “GOD SPEED! And BE BLESSED!”

What are your thoughts?

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! 

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! APPROVED USE FOR CHRISTMAS MONEY!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on

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112 Comments

The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know

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As we careen toward the New Year, many emerging writers have a goal to finally publish that novel and I hope you do! But the arts are kind of strange. We often get fixated on the creative side, without really understanding the business side of our business.

The publishing world is still in massive upheaval and it is a Digital Wild West. Old rules are falling away and new ones are emerging, but still? Knowledge is power.

In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I go into a LOT more detail and I highly recommend you get a copy if you don’t have one. I spend the first chapters of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work so you can make an educated decision as you are building your brand.

All types of publishing have corresponding strengths and weaknesses and this is a decision only the writer can make. Not all writers are suited for self-publishing. Not all books are good for traditional.

And so on.

But today, dear newbies. I am going to take you on a tour behind the curtain. Also for those who are NOT newbies, feel free to pass this to family in a “Take Your Clueless Friends Who Think You Will Make a Million Dollars as Soon as You Publish To WORK Day.”

Since this is a longer post that covers a lot of ground, I am going to demarcate into three sections. Read all at once or feel free to break it up. But since these topics all work together, I felt breaking them into separate days would affect overall integrity.

Part One—Nuts and Bolts of Publishing

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Martin.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Martin.

Legacy publishing is a very old business that has not really updated its business model since the biggest traffic snarl in NYC involved a runaway horse carriage colliding with a drunken fish monger. In the early days of publishing in order to encourage bookstores to carry books, publishers invented what was known as the consignment model.

Publishers would guesstimate how many books would sell, send them to the merchant with the promise that, whatever did NOT sell could be returned at no cost. The merchant only had to pay for books that sold.

Hint: NO OTHER BUSINESS TODAY DOES THIS.

Can you imagine a car manufacturer sending out fleets of new cars that customers could test drive all day long. Run up mileage, spill drinks in the console, but then if they didn’t sell the dealership could say, “Nah, we’re good. Can you send us different models from another designer? We really dig that sleek crossover.”

Because often that is what happens with books. People frequently use their local Barnes & Noble like a freaking library. They go into the adjacent Starbucks with a stack of books, read to their heart’s content and then leave a stack of coffee-stained books for the clerk to put away.

Now the spines are cracked, the pages wrinkled and no one is going to buy that book, but the bookstore isn’t out anything because they can rip the covers off and send them back. Ultimately the writer is the one who takes the hit. Kind of the publisher but really sucks to be the writer as we are about to see.

Because bookstores want to provide a “browsing experience” they don’t want to rely on the new and far more efficient way of doing business, which is POD (print on demand). They like having stock to show off, which of course they do because they are not really out anything.

And I get that we (readers) love a good browsing experience and we dig paper, but now that stores like Barnes & Noble are competing with digital and POD, is it any wonder they are struggling with such a wasteful and outdated system?

Part Two—Show Me the Money & How Writers Are Paid

Original Image via Wikimedia Commons

Original Image via Wikimedia Commons

There are so many things that get presented as “blessings” for writers when in fact, they are benevolently killing us. They are undermining us and making it harder and harder to make a living wage. We can’t criticize these sacred cows lest we look like jerks.

You ever wonder why people just assume that a published author is rich? That is because this used to be a profession that did rather well. Granted it was easier to be elected to congress than write for a living, but these “good ideas to sell more books” have eroded the Author Middle Class and created a Publishing Third World Economy.

You know what a marker of a third world economy is? My degree is in political economy. In a third world country wealth is concentrated at the top. There is little to NO middle class and the vast majority are working poor or poverty level.

Which brings us to…

Compounded Sales

Back in the days before the mega bookstore, there was a very strong Author Middle Class. This author wasn’t a gazillionaire, but he did really well writing for a living. The reason was that a smaller store like B. Dalton often carried an author’s backlist. If you are old enough to remember browsing these small stores, you might even remember that factor coloring your decision.

How I ended up hooked on any number of SERIES was that the bookstores stocked the series. I didn’t want a standalone book. If I fell in love with an author or characters, I wanted to be able to keep reading.

What this meant was that writers weren’t being paid royalties from ONE book, but many books. Even if the author didn’t write series, if the author had multiple titles, odds were pretty good that the store ordered those, so even with single titles, a browsing reader could be assured they could get more than one title from THAT author.

But there was a downside…for the reader. Books were more expensive. The store was not the size of an aircraft hangar and had no place to buy a frappucino and good luck being able to buy a figurine of a chubby cat reading Shakespeare.

The MegaStore is GREAT for READERS…and Writers of COURSE

Spawn writing his memoirs.

Good luck getting good placement BABY WRITER.

So then Borders and B&N came on the scene. I still remember how they were lauded. How they were going to improve literacy because books would be so much more affordable! They were “cultural centers” and “bookish hubs”. Writers will get so much more “exposure.”

***For those who don’t know, “exposure” is my trigger word.

But there was a problem. There is no free lunch. Those “deep discounts” came at a cost…to the writers. In order to discount the books the way they do, the mega stores don’t stock like the old indie bookstores unless an author is a household name guaranteed to sell.

Megastores are in the business of moving high volume. That is how they give the consumer the discount. Books, for the first time in history, had a far shorter shelf life than ever before.

Instead of books remaining in the store and giving the writer time to cultivate a fan base, the covers were ripped off and the books pulped.

As a consequence? The mid-list author (Author Middle Class) was nearly wiped out. Authors who’d made a very good living previously had to return to the regular workforce (I.e. teaching) because they no longer could live off their writing income.

I had a friend of mine who won a Nebula Award in science fiction. She went from making a regular income off ELEVEN titles, to making income off ONE title at a time.

Even though she was a respected and award-winning author, she had to give up writing full time (until Amazon).

***This was all until Amazon, by the way. Many of these authors who were driven to poverty actually now make more money than they ever did traditionally published and they no longer have to be pillaged by megastores and discount outlets. Which is why I get pissy when people act like Amazon is the devil.

Megastores make money with volume and offering the newest shiny. But books often are like fine wine. I said wine, not whine ;). They need time to mature.

The problem was that the very literary ecosystem that helped launch unknown books like The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood into legendary status…was destroyed. Traded for beads frappucinos. Borders and Barnes & Noble obliterated the small bookstore and took with it the earning ability of many writers.

The mega-bestsellers did VERY well. Ergo my reference to Publishing Third World. Wealth was redistributed and concentrated at the top and the middle class was eradicated.

Book Placement

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If you do not have an on-line platform, then Browsing Roulette is about the best you can hope for. But those spots in a bookstore are all negotiated in a writer’s contract. Those front slots on a table are premium real estate.

Same with displays. Ironically, though, the authors with the most selling power often get the best displays (remember the volume thing). But, George R.R. Martin is probably going to sell books. The writers who need that placement the most are the least likely to get it.

This isn’t personal. It’s business.

If I came out with a novel, I am going to sell a heck of a lot less than George R.R. Martin. Well, at least five or six copies less 😛 .

In seriousness, though it makes sense to display your heavy hitters. Problem is then that the newer writer no one knows then better hope her last name falls at the fortuitous eye-level because she will be spine-out on a shelf.

And if the time runs out and no sale? Off with that cover and the book is pulped.

Advances

Even though advances are now about as rare as unicorn tears, they are still worth addressing. Before I became a writer I bought books everywhere. Because it was not my profession I guess I really just never put any thought into how that writer was paid. If I bought a book at a used bookstore and it looked new, I assumed the writer was paid already. I had no idea what a remainder was (more on that in a moment).

I’d also watched movies and heard this term “advance” tossed around as if it meant money rained from the sky. In fact, as a new writer, I dreamed of all kinds of ways to spend my million dollar advance.

Advances are not free money. They are essentially a payday loan. It is money loaned to the author against the money eventually earned in royalties.

So if an author is given a $20,000 advance, he is not paid another dime until that book earns over $20,000.

Herein lies the pickle.

If an author doesn’t “earn out” the advance, odds are she will not be given another book deal. So, if you get that $20,000 and the book makes $19,700? No more deals. That’s why BIG advances seem like a good thing, but can actually wreck a career. It’s far easier to earn out a $20,000 advance than a $90,000 one.

Writers don’t have to pay back the advance, but if it doesn’t “earn out” it means the writer is not a wise investment for the publisher so the odds are not good for the author getting another book deal. Depending on the author or the book, they might get another deal. But with newer authors? Probably not. And first-time authors? Forget about an advance. Not happening unless your name is Kardashian.

This was a really big deal before the digital age because traditional publishing WAS the only game in town. So if an author didn’t make her quota? Game over.

These days, advances are pretty much a thing of the past. Any money most writers will make are going to come from US buying new books from them.

Tip: Digital pays the best royalties.

Print Runs

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One can tell how much confidence a publisher has in a book (author) by the print run. Low print runs mean the publisher is being conservative to hedge losses…but low print runs mean the writer doesn’t make as much. A standard print run for a new unknown author has always been around 10,000 books. But traditional tends to limit authors to one book a year so even if an author makes $2 per book, that is $20,000 before taxes.

Yes, J.K. Rowling is a billionaire but she is not the norm.

***Btw, all of this is VERY unscientific and very broad strokes to give y’all the gist.

This isn’t BAD for the new writer because it is way easier to sell out that 10,000 and then she will get a bigger run the next book and the next as her brand grows (if she doesn’t starve in the meantime).

However, higher print runs? We are in the same deal with advances. If you don’t sell out your print run, the remaining copies are remaindered. 

There are ways writers can buy a portion of their remainders to sell by hand and they can get a far lower royalty off remaindered copies that are then sold through wholesale outlets and used bookstores.

Usually if you see a new book at a used bookstore and it looks like this (pic below)? It is a remaindered copy. So don’t assume that a writer was paid a full royalty the first go. That isn’t always the case.

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Image courtesy of Angela Quarles

Yes, this is a great fabulous discount for the reader, but when I see this? My heart feels heavy and sad for the author. That is why I encourage readers to please try to buy new from the author. The reason is that those sales can make the difference in that author earning out the advance, selling out a print run and getting their next book contract.

Also rumor has it authors are fond of eating and paying their power bills, too 😉 .

Because used bookstores do not favor self-published and indie authors, most of their stock will be legacy published authors. This means you (readers) supporting who you like with a new sale becomes far more important to that writer’s future and career.

Royalties

Traditionally published authors are often paid yearly. Sometimes quarterly. That is negotiated. It is why you have an agent. So whatever the author makes, the agent makes sure the publisher pays, then takes 15% (pretty standard).

So writers are paid like farmers. Let your family know that your down payment on the yacht might be delayed.

***And writers today CAN make money, we just can’t do it the old-fashioned way which was to just write a book, get an agent then land a book in a bookstore and pray for the best. It involves a LOT more these days, but the authors who hustle can do well.

Part Three—Reviews Matter

I get that a lot of people buy used books or go to a library because they are on a budget. Been there so *fist bump*. You can still support writers in meaningful ways.

Even if you buy new, there is another way you can support writers you love. Write a REVIEW. A GOOD ONE.

As a writer I have a personal policy. I will never leave a negative review. Ever once in a blue moon I vaguely mention a work I didn’t like when teaching craft (though I never give names or titles). If people really want to google key words and figure out the book that I am referring to? Go for it. Maybe y’all will read it and have a far different experience.

But these days reviews are more important than ever. I am not going to put in a one or two star and tank the author’s overall ranking because fiction is subjective. That author just cannot please everyone and God bless ’em for trying.

For READERS. Reviews are more important now than ever before, especially for the indie and self-published author. The reason is that with the change in the publishing paradigm, the slush pile (unfortunately) has been dumped into the reader’s lap. There are a lot of bad books out there. But even then, that really isn’t all that big of a problem.

Want to know the bigger problem?

There are a lot of good books out there.

With the Internet and social media and the explosion of books there is SO MUCH content. This means consumers are overwhelmed with choices. Reviews help writers sell books because if readers see a book with no reviews or five reviews versus a similar title with thirty reviews? Who will they choose? Additionally writers gain access to promotional tools like Bookbub, but can ONLY do this with a minimum number of reviews.

Instead of sending me an e-mail about how much my book changed your life? Put it on Amazon and change MINE! 

Readers are essential to our success beyond just the sale. If you love our books, your promotion means a thousand times more than any ad we could pay for. Ads and marketing don’t sell books. Never did and never will. Only thing that sells books is word of mouth.

Beloved reader? You would be shocked how much regular people will pay attention to you. That review is worth your weight in gold to me for a number of reasons. Humans don’t like being first. So unless a couple of you are brave and review? Our books can sit with NO reviews and it is then unlikely to sell.

Think about a shelf with ONE item. It freaks us out. There is only ONE.

Is it poison? O_o

Secondly, when you review us, Amazon favors our books in the algorithms meaning more people SEE our book. More people SEE it, odds are I will sell more copies. In the on-line world YOU have the power to get US that awesome front of the store book placement. The more reviews the better the algorithm. Better algorithm, more views. More views, more sales, more sales—>we make a best-seller LIST!

❤ ❤ ❤

You can also use your social media because it means more than ours.

Tweet a picture of our book. Put it on Facebook. People in your network ARE noticing. Peer review and approval is paramount in the digital age. And don’t support your favorite author on Goodreads as a first choice (AMAZON reviews are better). The reason is the regular reader (who does not one day want to be a writer) is far more likely to be looking at Amazon.

Support us on your regular Facebook page or Instagram or Twitter. Because when you post a great new book you LOVED your regular friends see that. When they get stranded in an Urgent Care or an airport? What will they remember? THAT BOOK.

They won’t be on Goodreads. Trust me.

So there is your year’s end peek behind the curtain. Sorry (again) it was so long but this is meant as a reference/guide. Readers, we love you. Honest. It is why we are so stupid to work for free so much. This is a labor of love in many ways. Writers, I hope this helps you understand your profession better.

So NO, your writer friend is NOT YET a millionaire, but you can help MAKE HER ONE :D.

What are your thoughts? Feelings? Are your eyes wide open? Would you like to add anything? Also, if you are overwhelmed? Please check out the classes I have listed below.

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! Fantastic as Christmas gifts *wink, wink, bid, nod*

All you need is an internet connection!

NEW!!!! IDEAL FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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101 Comments

Author Brands & Book Sales—Why Boutique is BIG

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Normally my blogs are all about telling y’all you are not a special unique snowflake. But yeah y’all are but don’t get a big head about it 😛 . We just need to discern the places we are not special (I.e. we all have to do the work) and figure out the places we are and then USE that, especially when it comes to creating an author brand.

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We’re now into the Digital Age, and the ramifications of a connected world are still being revealed daily. But, there’s one trend I’d be hard-pressed to argue with. The 20th Century was all about homogeneity. Madison Avenue flourished by telling us which clothing brands made us cool, which car made us special, what foods were “healthy.”

Information was controlled by gatekeepers and commodities restricted by retailers, thus homogeneity was the goal. Homogeneity was simpler and required less paperwork and thinking.

Generations bought Wonderbread because it was “fortified with vitamins” and “good for your kids.” In 1986? Hope you liked stirrup pants. There was a cultural need to “fit in” and be like everyone else, especially those who were the “cool kids.”

“Pillars of Same” Go Crashing Down

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With the advent of the Internet and widespread use of social media, homogeneity is crumbling. Individualism is now revered more than ever in human history (often to the point of being irritating, but that’s another post).

And, no matter how weird, off-beat, or All-American we want to be? There is a subculture to embrace our style. Mega-trends have lost their power.

What this means is that, as consumers are faced with more and more choices, they’re segregating themselves into smaller and smaller subgroups. Love tattoos? Minis? Tattoos of minis?

Can’t get enough of Jackson Galaxy and cat whispering? Are you Stay-at-Home-Mom who kicks butt on a Roller Derby Team each Saturday? It’s all out there, and most of us are a unique mixture that can’t easily be categorized.

Spawn is a part of the gaming, HALO, NERF and Shoes are Evil subculture.

Spawn is a part of the gaming, HALO, NERF and “Shoes are for Suckers” subculture.

What all of this means is that 20 years ago, we knew which table to sit at–Jocks, Preps, Nerds, Geeks, Good Kids, Band Kids, Kid Who Smells Like Old Carpet. The lines were clearer, namely because we had only a handful of networks and limited retail outlets to define our identity.

Now? We have the reins of individual freedom and we like it.

What Does This Mean for Publishing?

Big publishing has a number of limitations. First, their size. Second, massive overhead. Third? 20th Century thinking. They have to find the mega-trend to stay in business, but what does this mean in a marketplace that is rapidly shifting to micro-trends?

NY is less able to spot the micro-trends, because in a world of algorithms, numbers and spreadsheets, one relies on the past to predict the future.

Business is always looking backward in order to move forward. It’s like trying to drive our car using the rearview mirror as the main guide. Says a lot about where we’ve been, but gives limited information as to what’s ahead.

Indies Have Revealed the Micro-Trend

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We’ve talked about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, yet I will point out that I’ve met agents who turned down the manuscript. It was through E.L. James’ massive volume of independent sales that the micro-trend surfaced and then NY could turn this success into a mega-trend. A genre which received little to no attention has grown exponentially.

This was one of the reasons I recommended NY create e-book divisions as early as 2009 (REAL e-book divisions, not vanity-press retreads). Find a good book, give it a chance and see if the trend emerged. If not? The product cost less to produce and the writer could earn a higher royalty.

Even if the book didn’t sell bazillions of copies, writers didn’t have to sell that many books to make a healthy living and be freed up to write more books. Now instead of NY banking the farm on finding the ONE mega-trend, they could reap the rewards of countless micro-trends.

Which is exactly what Amazon has been doing.

Amazon doesn’t need one author to sell two million copies (not that they are opposed to it), but they can easily have 20 or even a 100 authors sell two million copies. The money spends the same.

This is Why Social Media is Vital for Authors

Social media is vital for keeping our fingers on the pulse of the public (code for “readers”). We can use blogging to define our brand then use content to attract those who share our “subculture” tastes (I teach how to do this in my blogging class 😉 ) .

It’s the main reason it’s death to be the All-Writing-All-The-Time-Channel. That’s a one-dimensional subculture that is overfished and quickly grows stagnant.

Also, any writer worth his/her salt is interested in a lot of things. 

The more we feed our subculture, the healthier it becomes, and the more loyal.

We are all seeking our peeps, our tribe, our “friends” in a world that has become explosively larger.

Modern humans are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of choices, and, as a response, we stick to what we know. Sure, in 1999 we LOVED the megastore because it was new and shiny. Almost fifteen years later? Mega stores are going extinct.

In fact, in 2012…2012! I spelled out a plan to save Barnes & Noble. They didn’t listen, but apparently Amazon did. B&Ns are going under simply because they failed to appreciate the power of being small.

THIS was in our local mall.

THIS was in our local mall.

Boutique is BIG

We’ll pay a bit more to shop at the corner market who appreciates our love for exotic sushi, GF hot dog buns, and foie gras. We can buy Wonderbread at a supermarket or go to the small boutique grocer that sells sprouted grains for those of us in the crowd of Wonder-Why-We-EVER-Ate-Wonderbread.

Everyone wins.

Boutique stores thrive, but so do boutique BRANDS.

But There’s a Catch…

To spot and nourish the micro-trend, we must be present.

This is one of the many, many reasons automation gives me a twitch. Micro-trends can earn us a healthy living. A single writer doesn’t need to sell as many books to keep the lights on as NYC does. Also micro-trends have the potential to grow up to be mega-trends.

Spreadsheets can’t tell us as much as people can. And, trust me, people have a lot to say. Numbers can’t tell us as much about the future as relationships can.

What are your thoughts? Do you love a world where you can define your own style? Create your own genres? Mix in your varied interests? Have you met people on social media with similar hobbies that you’d never have met in person?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 16th

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

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38 Comments

Why Your Book Isn’t Selling

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Original image courtesy of Juhan Sonin via Flickr Creative commons.

The writer’s worst nightmare. You researched, you wrote, you finished, and then published your book. You wait for the sales and……….*crickets*. This is something that can happen to any kind of author, traditional or nontraditional. We think we have a hit on our hands only to later be checking it for a pulse.

What happened? Why is the book just not selling?

The Market

Remaindered Titles

Remaindered Titles

In the not so distant past, there was only one way to get published and that was traditional publishing. Though many authors cheered when they were finally able to cast off the chains of New York, let’s at least respect that agents and editors might have known a thing or three about the book business.

Writers would often get vexed at the stack of rejection letters, believing they couldn’t actually write well. This was not always the case. Agents make their living off books they know will sell, which means they just don’t have the bandwidth left over to take on pro bono work. Yes, the book might be lovely, but they are agents, not charities.

A large part of their expertise is predicting market changes and trends. They look at what is already out, what is to be released, what is selling, what isn’t, what is saturated, etc.

This is where it can get tricky for writers. Yes, write what you love. We shouldn’t write for the market…but we have to write for the market.

*bangs head on wall*

Sometimes a book might not be selling simply because there are too many titles that are too similar. Readers just don’t want yet another sparkly vampire.

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If you are traditionally published, this could still happen. Agents are making an educated guess and sometimes they miss the mark. For the self-published folks? If the book is good, just leave it alone and keep writing. The great part about the digital paradigm is the book can remain there indefinitely and when the trends change? So could the sales.

The Product

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Bad Pun Dog

I hate saying this, but sometimes it’s the book. Obviously this is more the case with indie and self-published books. The problem is that the market has just been inundated with amateur writing. I go into this in more detail in Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Writers, but here are the Spark Notes.

Bad Writing

No one wants to hear they are not ready. Worse still? No one wants to hear the words, “You just are not a good writer.” Too many newbies want to skip the unfun training and go right to the title, “Author.”

Sadly, the slush pile has been handed off to readers. I can’t count the number of times I have gotten pages for a contest win and absolutely slayed the writing, only to get an e-mail back that the book was already for sale.

Shoot…me…now.

Even more common is that the writing is not per se bad, it just isn’t anything remarkable. Folks these days have a lot of competition for their time and attention and they simply won’t devote 12-15 hours of undivided attention to a blasé book.

Bad (No) Editing

Our story might be the best thing since pumpkin spice lattes, but if it is rife with errors it won’t sell. Additionally, editing is not simply looking for typos. That is line-editing. A good content editor will be able to help you shape the overall flow of the novel.

When I edit I can tell writers if they are starting the book in the correct place. Are there scenes that need to be cut because they are bogging down the momentum? Are there redundant characters? Are there plot holes? Is the ending a knockout or a fizzle?

Great editing can take a book from mundane to magnificent.

Bad Cover

There really is no excuse for a bad cover these days. Technology has come a long way and many experts offer fabulous covers at affordable prices. I would love to say people don’t judge a book by its cover, but that is untrue. Of course we do.

One thing many new writers don’t appreciate is that when you hire an expert, you are gaining a lot more than that one skill. Yes a graphic artist knows how to use Photshop (or whatever) but they also have a knowledge of what sells. 

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For instance, I have seen authors post images of their new book cover and cringed. The cover itself was lovely, but we have to remember how we are selling. That book isn’t going to be on a shelf where a potential reader is seeing a full-sized version. Likely it will be on Amazon and that beautiful full-sized image, when shrunk to thumbnail size looks like a Rorschach ink blob.

Do you see a butterfly?

No, I see Satan eating kale chips.

If a writer tells me they can’t afford to hire an expert, my response is they cannot afford not to.

Boring Title

This goes along with a bad cover. New writers are notorious for titles that we have to read the book to “get” the title. NO. The title is the hook and we will move on to other writers who don’t make us think.

The Platform

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Discoverability is a nightmare. There is a lot of noise and part of our job description now entails branding. This is all writers.

I recently had a distraught writer contact me. The author was recently dropped by a well-known agent because the book simply wasn’t selling. Yet, I could tell with a quick google search what a big part of the problem was.

The author didn’t have platform/brand capable of driving sales. Simply puttering around on Facebook isn’t enough. That isn’t a brand.

My first royalty check would have covered dinner if no one super-sized anything. Why? My book came out before my platform could drive sales. Once my platform improved? My sales skyrocketed.

What does it say in front of every big author’s name? Best Selling Author. Not Best Writing Author.

The writing alone is not enough. Frankly, it never was. Before 2006, writers had a 93% failure rate. Most first books sold less than a thousand copies (even traditionally published books). Only one out of ten published authors ever saw a second book in print. Most were dropped.

In the old days, we just had no control over the brand and the platform. Now, we do. And authors want to complain that it is too hard. Yes, it is hard and there are many reasons this profession is not for everyone.

Less Marketing/More Writing

AHHHHHHH!

AHHHHHHH!

Traditional marketing does not sell books. Never has. For more on why, check out Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books. I have had to unfollow writers on Facebook who do nothing but promote one book over and over and over.

They tweet non-stop about their book.

They even dedicate their blogs to selling books (and that is never the direct objective of a blog).

They deluge us with newsletters we never signed up for and can’t figure out how to escape.

Thing is, we don’t care about you or your book. We didn’t want to see that crap in our feed, we sure aren’t going to subscribe to a blog/newsletter that is nothing but self-promotion.

Writers often become the equivalent of that sales clerk in the department store who ambushes us with perfume.

Here is the blunt truth. The odds of breaking out with our first book are about the same as being hijacked by a terrorist after we’ve been hit by lightning while holding a winning lottery ticket.

Most writers are not going to break out with one book. Or even two. An author might never break out, but the odds certainly improve the more titles we have. This was always true. It’s why you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a James Patterson title.

Marketing and building a platform/brand are two completely different activities. But writers believe they are the same. They aren’t. If you want to promote and market without a platform, I suggest piling money on the floor and setting it on fire. Same end result and you can get to the self-loathing and binge drinking far faster that way.

There are no shortcuts.

Obviously there are many many other factors to why a book might not be selling, but these are the top offenders. Good news is most of this, we can do something about. In fact, I have classes addressing most of these issues (listed below).

What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

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Brave New Publishing—Amazon Testing Paying Authors by the Page

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

We live in a really strange time and technology has altered the publishing landscape into something we could never have imagined in 1999. The changes have been nothing short of science fiction. Well, buckle your seat belts because it is about to happen again. Just about the time we kind of get the knack of things, it seems there is yet another upheaval and we have to adapt.

This is why I wrote my social media branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.  My methods keep us from having to tear down and start over every time something in the tech world goes topsy-turvy and we can maintain brand momentum no matter what. But this time it isn’t social media throwing the curve ball.

It is Amazon.

I’ve worked hard to be balanced in all my opinions about publishing. Yes, New York had (has) its problems, but when many authors were railing to tear down traditional publishing, I worked hard to show that there are two sides. Amazon might favor authors and genuinely be on our side, but that could change so be wary. I detailed a lot of my concerns a couple years ago (2012!) in a post, Amazon—Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts.

Just so y’all know, sometimes I scare myself with my predictions because science fiction easily becomes dystopian fiction. Just a slice…

Amazon is the 500 pound gorilla in the room, only we can’t see it because it is hidden neatly inside a giant digital Trojan Horse. Don’t get me wrong, I buy plenty of stuff off Amazon, and they have done a lot to help shake up the industry and get New York hopping. Without them, I don’t believe we would have seen so many miraculous changes so quickly.

Ah, but every fairy tale has a dark side…

…once the competition falls away and Amazon burns New York to the ground? What happens to the writer? What happens when we fall asleep and it is safe for Amazon’s Trojan Horse to unleash the gorilla?

When NY is razed and Amazon has no real competition, do they have to keep giving us the same sweet royalty rate? And they already have a nasty reputation. They pulled that little stunt with a publisher who dared to cross them. Two years ago, they removed all the “Buy Buttons” off all the Macmillan titles. So, if Amazon will use the brass knuckles on a major publisher that crossed their path…what about us? The little guys? What happens when a writer miffs them and they unleash the gorilla?

Lord Acton so eloquently said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and that statement is as relevant today in 2012 as it was in 1887, because while industries change and technology changes, humans are timeless. So what happens when it’s Amazon’s turn to hold all the keys to the kingdom? Will they use them any differently than those they crushed to gain them?

Unlike NY, Amazon isn’t searching through all the millions of wanna-bes for a handful of investments. Anyone can publish quickly and cheaply. Writers are running to them! The problem with this is they get all the benefits of being a publisher without any real sacrifice.

A lawyer friend of mine noted that when writers publish on Amazon, we all agree to the same blanket contract. This gives Amazon all the perks of being a publisher without concerning itself with any of the traditional protections for the writer.

And, I understand that writers haven’t been treated all that great in the past, but we need to ask the tough question. Is this future better? Is trading one dictator for another a good plan?

When I wrote this, I had reservations about digital publishing. Granted I love it. When you write books on social media, traditional publishing just doesn’t fit and I would never have been able to publish at all without it. I also love the global distribution. But, the idea that our words are stored in the ether gives me pause. In this post I just cited, I mentioned the pace of expansion, how quickly Amazon was making money. Yes, a 57% gain in one quarter was awesome, but…

As a former salesperson, I knew there would come a time when that windfall would taper off.

What then?

I ran across this article yesterday on Gizmodo. Amazon is launching a new “idea.” They are experimenting with the notion of paying authors based off the number of pages actually read. Yes, it is a real thing. I had to look too. See HERE.

According to Gizmodo’s article:

“Beginning on July 1st, authors who self-publish through Amazon’s KDP Select Program will become part of a new publishing experiment. Currently, Amazon divvies up a pot of money to its native authors each month, based on the number of times their e-Books are “borrowed” through two separate Kindle services: Kindle Unlimited, a standalone, $9.99 / month subscription service, and the Kindle Lending Library, an Amazon Prime membership perk. In the new scheme, authors will be paid for each page that remains on the screen long enough to be parsed, the first time a customer reads the book.”

Before anyone thinks I am anti-Amazon or yelling “FIRE!”, I’m not. In fact, this is too new for me to even fully know how I feel. Right now this only affects books borrowed.

For all we know, this experiment remains in the realms of a narrow section of the overall Amazon model (the lending part) and the impact is not that large or might even work out well for authors. But I do think we have the responsibility to be watchful and if I am really honest? This trend scares me more than a little bit.

Why?

Because businesses are in the business of making money, not giving away money. If they can find a way to increase profit margin, they will. Sometimes this works in our favor. I.e. Efficient distribution. Sometimes? It gets a bit 1984 and paying us by the page seems way tempting to those who are in the business of running publishing empires.

Benefits of Being Paid by the Page

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Yes, I see the “benefits.” As it stands, a writer who publishes an awesome page-turner is paid the same per unit as someone who publishes a book unfit for human consumption. Additionally, writers who publish longer works are paid the same as authors of short works.

Under this plan, the author of a riveting 120,000 word epic fantasy will be paid more than an author of a riveting 50,000 word short. Authors of works so boring it would peel the paint from the walls will get paid the same, no matter the length.

To Amazon’s credit, this is actually a very fair way of doing business with writers.

But this notion of being paid by the page is concerning. Yes, it is all well and good when this “experiment” is part of a small slice of the Amazon publishing model, but what if this expands? What if the test “works so well” that it becomes part of the overall publishing model? In ten years, how will we be making our money? Off books sold? Pages read? A combination of both? Is this good or bad? I don’t know.

But, no matter what, we are wise to pay close attention. It is our future on the line.

Separating the Slush

I can see one major benefit from this notion of “paid by the page.” I think it might be the ultimate playing field leveler. Why? One of the largest problems that has faced the Digital Publishing Paradigm is the slush. In the traditional model, we had gatekeepers to separate “good books” from “bad books” or even simply delay “books that needed more work and weren’t ready”.

In the past few years, the slush pile has been offloaded to the readers. To combat this, we’ve seen the rise of sites like Goodreads to help guide readers to the good stuff. Book reviews and book reviewers have also tried to intervene. Yet, despite these noble efforts, we have also seen book reviews grossly abused (I.e. sock puppets inflating bad books and trolls tanking good books). We’ve also witnessed all kinds of algorithm abuse.

If we trace the trajectory of this idea, how long will potential readers rely on reviews? If I were Amazon, I would start promoting works based of rates of completion. Could we be witnessing the birth of an entirely new form of ranking?

My book has a 87% rate of completion instead of My book was #1 in Western Romance.

If we (readers) can judge off rate of completion, this could change everything. Sure Big Shot Mega Author with a gajillion-dollar marketing budget sold X books, but the book only had a 34% rate of completion. But Jane Newbie who has thus far only sold Y amount of books and has only her social media for marketing has a 97% rate of completion. Hmmm, this might impact my decision.

Ugh, but the dark side of this…

If rate of completion extends into BOOKS SOLD (not just borrowed) as a way of accurate promotion, how long until the world can see that no one made it past Page 50 of our book? Before, we simply had to sell copies of our book. Now? We also have to face another layer of judgement?

I mean, the good side is that trolls and sock puppets will no longer impact us the same and if we write really good books we are rewarded, but am I the only one feeling the need for a drink pressure?

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

The Writing Matters No Matter What

This is why for eight years I have worked very hard to train you guys for success in the new age of publishing. In the 21st century publishing world, we must have a brand and a viable platform. But, we also must write excellent books. It is why I have blogged and taught on all aspects of publishing. Social media is limited in power if the book is weak and vice versa. Our writing remains our greatest sales tool.

This first five pages are essential (and now it seems the rest of them are about to be PRETTY important as well).

As an editor, I can almost always tell all that is wrong in a book in 20 pages or less. Usually, within 5 pages I can spot all weaknesses and bad habits that are likely to repeat throughout the work.

I really don’t need to read the whole thing.

For instance, if a writer shifts P.O.V. so much I can’t keep up with who’s head I am supposed to be in? I am fairly sure this is going to continue. If a writer overwrites and drowns me in purple prose? Probably not going to start writing lean and clean after page 25. And, there are more red flags the book is weak, but we aren’t talking about those today. I HIGHLY recommend Les Edgerton’s book Hooked and I am also about to teach my First Five Pages class if you want some more hands-on instruction.

This is also why I have spent so much time discussing flashbacks lately and how to use them well. I know they are a legitimate literary device. I know they can be done well and are done wellBut, I also know that flashbacks used poorly are probably the single greatest reason a reader will stop reading. And, in a world where we are paid by the page? That becomes more than a big deal.

We will continue talking about “bending time” next post. We are going to explore non-linear plotting. My problem with the term “flashback” is we tend to use it to broadly and lump every instance of going back in time into one term. So we are going to unpack some works that seem to “flashback” all over the place, but we will see they really don’t. We will dissect this unique way of delivering story.

In the meantime, does this “paid by the page” freak you out too? Or do you think this might be the great playing field leveler we have all been waiting for? Sure, Big Shot Writer sold X books, but only has a 25% completion rate, where as Small Guy Writer sold fewer books, but has a 90% completion rate? Would this influence your purchasing?

Do you like the idea of being paid by the page? Do you think it rewards good writing? Do you think it is one more reason writers are going to need therapy?

I think it’s hard enough selling copies of books, but if I saw that those who bought only made it 50% through? It probably would depress me, but maybe I could look at the book more closely and fix WHY people weren’t finishing. Maybe it would be the world’s most accurate critique. Maybe I would be grateful. And maybe I am a Chinese jet pilot.

What do you think? This revelation is so new, I am unsure even what I think, so I would appreciate your opinions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Classes:

Before we go, y’all asked for it so here goes. I have two classes coming up. The class on log-lines Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line is $35 and as a BONUS, the first ten sign-ups get to be victims. IF YOU ARE QUERYING AN AGENT, YOU NEED A PITCH. I will pull apart and torture your log-line until it is agent-ready for FREE. 

Beyond the first ten folks? We will work out something super affordable as a bonus for being in the class so don’t fret. I’ll take good care of you. AND, it is two hours and on a Saturday (June 27th) and recorded so no excuses 😛 .

I am also running Hooking the Reader–Your First Five Pages.  Class is on June 30th so let’s make Tuesdays interesting. General Admission is $40 and Gold Level is $55 but with Gold Level, you get the class, the recording and I look at your first five and give detailed edit.

Our first five pages are essential for trying to attract an agent or even selling BOOKS. Readers give us a page…maybe five. Can we hook them enough to part with cold hard CASH? Also, I can generally tell all bad habits in 5 pages so probably can save you a ton in content edit.

 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Hooking the Reader & Sticking the Sale—Formatting Matters

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For those who are considering self-publishing, there is an element almost as important as the writing itself, but it’s a bit of an unsung hero. Formatting.

Presentation is vital. Chefs get this. Fashion designers get this. Car dealers get this. So should we. This is our art, but what makes us professional is when we care enough to send the very best.

We live in the best time to be a writer. Paper is going away. Not all the way, of course. Yet, with digital devices taking over every aspect of our lives, we need to think like business people. In sales, we used to say, “Fish where the fish are.” With the mass influx of smart phones, tablets and e-readers, the most likely place a reader will consume our work is going to be via digital. Also, when one considers we now have entire generations where paper is an anomaly? Digital is critical.

Writers often make the mistake of believing readers (consumers) are like them. We can believe they love the smell of a bookstore, the feel of paper *shivers*. This is short-sighted considering that only roughly 8% of the literate population would list “reading” among the top ten hobbies.

In fact, every novel that’s ever broken records has managed to do the remarkable—hook people who normally believe they don’t like reading (interest the fat part of the bell curve). From Harry Potter to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, these books captured the attention of “non-readers” and that’s why they broke bank and made history.

We have a tough job as authors. We need to convince people to pay money and invest a minimum of twelve hours to do an activity they believe they do NOT enjoy. Yes, we can help this with a great story, but we must also remove what’s called friction.

Ah, friction. I’ll give an example. I loathe shopping for clothes with the power of a thousand suns. One time I saw a REALLY cute top on Facebook in my feed (one of those paid inserts). I did what I normally would NEVER do. I clicked. At this point, they’d pretty much made the sale.

But then, I had to create a log-in and then approve the password and then when I returned to the site? The shirt that captivated me was nowhere to be found and there were too many pages to search through. I deleted my account and will never return. Likely will never click on another clothing ad.

Why?

The retailer made the sale too HARD.

When it comes to our e-books, potential buyers will often look to the sample pages and, if the formatting looks like it was done by a one-eyed marsupial with a meth habit? Pass. Or maybe the consumer goes ahead and downloads or makes the purchase. Formatting is crucial.

In writing, anything that interrupts the fictive dream is BAD JUJUIf our formatting is a train wreck, odds are the reader won’t finish, let alone recommend. Also? People can give nasty reviews that have nothing to do with story, so why take the chance when that ticked off one-star review is completely avoidable?

This said, our job is to make sure everything goes as seamlessly as possible. We have two choices when we self-publish. Since we are taking on all the roles traditionally handled by a publisher, we can either learn to do it ourselves or hire a pro.

Even if we outsource, learning to do this on our own can help us be better at hiring good formatters since we understand the lingo and what to expect.

I rarely do this, but Kait Nolan is one of the most professional people I’ve ever worked with. She’s put together a fun list of 5 Things To Do Instead of Formatting EBooks. As a huge fan of outsourcing? I’m inclined to agree with her list and she is a PRO when it comes to formatting.

Take it away, Kait!

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I have long been a proponent that formatting ebooks is not hard. I’ve talked at length elsewhere about why it’s important that you know how to do it (even if you hire out), and I even teach a class on exactly how to do it, step-by-step for those who have an industrious DIY spirit and want to learn. But despite all that, there is one incontrovertible truth about ebook formatting:

It’s a pain in the butt.

Formatting ebooks, particularly if you’re new to it, is a tedious and exacting process. Not HARD, but definitely time consuming. That’s where I come in. I format ebooks often, fast, and well–and you can hire me to take your manuscript and turn it into whatever form of ebook you want—from a basic “Meatgrinder” ready Smashwords file to every major file format available. Because I’m chained to a computer most days, I can generally offer quick turn around and ready answers to all your formatting questions. All that is to say that if you hire me, you can use your time for more important things.

  1. Instead of sorting out how you’re supposed to change out the 175,000 tab indents you used at the start of your paragraphs to correct paragraph styles, you can plot the demise of Julian Fellowes for daring to Do Something Horrible to the Adorable Bateses on Downton Abbey.

  2. Instead of digging into the code of the EPUB that Smashwords keeps rejecting to figure out what in the heck they’re talking about being wrong when the file clearly passes the IDPF validation test for EPUB 3, you can write a fanfic of the Olicity reunion that should TOTALLY happen in Season 3 of Arrow.
  3. Instead of beating your head against a wall trying to figure out why Kindle keeps indenting your block paragraphs even though they are set to block paragraphs, you can make a pie and enjoy it while watching the King of Pie Appreciation, Dean Winchester, in…pretty much any season of Supernatural (3 is my favorite).
  4. Instead of going through the whole nuking of your formatting to get rid of garbage code (and following that with tequila shooters because OMG), you can watch Pitch Perfect for the three hundredth time in preparation for getting Pitch Slapped in May. #AccaAwesome!
  5. Instead of getting an eye twitch trying to design an NCX table of contents from scratch, you can even be all responsible and stuff and use all the time you’ve saved to take care of the rest of your business concerns–promo, blog tours, writing the next book…or marathoning all of Firefly. Your call.

However you decide to spend all that freed up time, you won’t regret the investment in a professionally formatted product. So the next time you need a book formatted for publishing, look no further than The Forge Book Finishers for affordable ebook finishing.

~*~

headshot formal smallKait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, Kait’s hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.

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