I spent some time on the phone with a lady this morning that runs one of the bigger groups for independent booksellers in the south. It was one more in a long string of conversations that have led to this post. My goal here is two-fold. One, I want to educate everyone, readers, booksellers who might not know, and authors, on the mathematics of a POD book and why the current situation sucks. The second goal is to reach out to all of those same groups of people and work to find a solution. Here toes nothing.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use one of my own novels – Heart of a Dragon. This book is available in hardcover and in trade paperback, so I can show you the realities of pricing and distribution.
Out books are printed and shipped through Lightning Source. Lightning Source, of course, is associated with Ingram, but we’ll ignore that for now. Numbers:
Heart of a Dragon – Cover price $12.99 Trade paperback.
Heart of a Dragon – Cover price $24.99 Hardcover
Lighting Source has been very good to us. There is a calculator on their site where you plug in the type of book, the number of pages, and then experiment with prices and discounts so you find a point where you can make a little money and your author also makes money. It’s easy to use.
We have been discounting our books at 40 percent, hoping this would encourage independent bookstores to order from us. I know most of them use Ingrams or Baker & Taylor, and so, I thought giving this discount would at least help. On the above book:
$12.99 – 40 percent discount – we make $3.98 a book. This is split 50/50 with our authors. The rest, we split among the company and the book designer we work with. in other words. Not much.
$24.99 – 40 percent discount – we make $4.53 a book. Same deal.
That is what we make if we manage to sell a book through Ingram. What I’ve been told is – they do not pass this discount on to booksellers. They short discount it – probably no better than 15-25 percent in any case. Why? Because we don’t allow returns. To explain that. If 100 books are ordered, and we accept returns, and only 30 are sold, the other 70 are returned to Ingram, probably damaged at least lightly, and shipped to us, and we have to buy them all at cost. We have no warehouse. It’s a problem. So, we don’t allow returns.
The reality is that Ingrams WANTS you to discount your books 55% and accept returns. If you don’t accept returns, and still manage to get up to 55% you might start to see some bookstore returns, but here’s the thing. For us to make the same amount on the books prices have to go up considerably.
HC – $32.99 – 55 percent discount we make: $4.39
TPB – $17.99 – 55 percent discount we make $4.29
Then, if we were to take returns, we risk having a pile of these laying around….
If people order directly from us, we can offer the deeper discount to THEM. There may be a point in the middle where all this meets up. We may have to raise prices slightly to give bookstores 50 percent without returns. Currently, what we have done (effective the end of June) is to lower our discount to 20 percent, cutting out ANY sales to bookstores through Ingram, but lowering the cost at B&N and Amazon and directly through us and raising the amount per sale that our authors will receive. We don’t want to be for sale only on the Internet, but that appears to be where we’re heading.
What will fix all of this? A Network of independent publishers creating a single source for booksellers to order from that is simple in the way ordering from Ingram is, but that does NOT cost a chunk of the profit to use. Also, and those of you who have published through NYC know this, if we offer returns we have to change our accounting. We have to keep a “reserve against returns” on print book sales for at least six months, meaning you wait longer to get paid for your books, and if they are returned, don’t get paid for them at all. Then we have to have big “damaged book” sales and try to unload them at $5 – $10 a copy to cover print costs.
Another possibility is to make the information on POD books – cover art, description, price available in stores for customers willing to wait for delivery to their store. Maybe laminated product cards?
It’s ridiculous that we can’t find a better way for this to work in this digital age. Print on Demand has changed the availability of books, simplified the math and shipping – but not addressed the distribution. The old model is designed to work well for people using standard, off-set printing, where you pay huge chunks of cash up front, order print runs in larger numbers, dropping the per unit cost, and allowing that 55 percent discount and returns, hope to do better than break even. The really big companies can drop their per unit ridiculously low – and do – by printing literally hundreds of thousands of best-selling books that end up deep discounted, and still make money (while killing thousands of trees) Those of us working through Print on Demand channels need a new method of aggregating the available titles and making them available to libraries and independent book stores in a way that does not inconvenience them out of the game. Dealing with each of us separately does that.
We also need a way to get people into those stores requesting the books, because, in the end, that is the only way to get them to take the extra trouble – and who can blame them for that? I’m open for suggestions, and would love to hear from other publishers using Print on Demand – how you work it, if you take returns, how bad has that been? If the higher prices don’t matter – I would love to know that too. I am trying to make this print line a success..
I don’t know if what we need is a joint catalog put together by independent publishers, a network of e-mail and direct mail programs reaching out to bookstores, raising our prices and caving in…but I aim to find it.
Here’s how America works. It seems to be the same in every industry, and every walk of life, and we are in a particularly good seat at the moment to watch the entire process unfold yet again. Someone invents something, makes something, or something that already existed somehow gains new traction and becomes a “thing”. The minute this happens, the gears start turning. While the originator of “the thing,” and the first few copy-cats out the door will do well, eventually people wanting to capitalize on “the thing” have to branch out. Suddenly there will be services to help you do what the originators did. There will be books about why it is successful, and how to emulate that success – mostly be people who have not done so, and – if they COULD do so – would BE doing so. Marketing schemes will rise. Consultants on how to do that marketing will rise. Analysts will roll out the adding machines and we’re off to the races. Half of what we spend our money on (and this is a conservative guess) could cost a lot less by simply cutting away the layers of industry that have been built around the original “things” – and the greed of the long string of leeches living off of them. This, of course, is a habit it’s hard to break. People have to work, and in among all the leeches, there are genuinely helpful, knowledgeable people trying to help. None of that is the point.
The point of this post is that Publishing – as an industry – is a perfect example of old school exclusivity, and a somewhat crumbling tower of layers it is going to have to shed to carry on very far into the future. In the old school model, it’s hard as hell to get a book published. They liked it that way (still like it that way) because it makes them seem somehow god-like and important. It gives them the leverage to control people and “things” that they could not otherwise. The same is true of agents. Somehow it has reached the point where authors vie desperately for the attention of these folks – writing what they are told, when they are told and absolutely terrified of doing anything else. The rulers of the industry would like you to believe that all of this is based on the quality of the work- that the agents and editors choosing the books being published are the cream of the crop from all possible sources – that they have magical powers that make their judgment calls the cornerstones of literature. Let’s be frank – those cornerstones support Fifty Shades of Crap and enough books NOT written by the celebrities whose names grace the covers to carpet a very large city. Maybe a country. There may have been a time when publishing was largely based on quality – but it is currently based on cash.
Marketing rules publishing. Hype rules marketing. You are more likely to see a pop-up picture book from Stephen King than a well-distributed book by a talented newcomer. Self-publishing and independent publishing is on the rise, but in many cases the sames rules are applying. Someone creates a “thing” and a million people rush to copy it. Ten of those million manage to do something that makes them money, the rest either rush off after the next thing, or branch out into the new surrounding industries. Those who succeed become gurus – despite the fact that becoming a “thing” is not something that they could recreate, or teach. Consultants build empires. Editing services by people with absolutely no credentials to BE editors are around every virtual corner. Services asking you to pay ridiculous amounts of money so your book can be “published” run by people who know absolutely that you have no more chance of success with them than you do without them, but that their dog will get Kibble if they convince you otherwise. A lot of these “publishing services” are run by respected agents and others whose place in the new schema is on rocky ground. These are people you would hope would be working in the best interests of their clients, but history says no. They are working in the interest of cash.
There is a great blending, as well. Agents – once very important, integral parts of the process, are mostly another blockage in the system these days. They have very limited outlets for work they can sell. If they are successful, they have clients they rely on, and the rest get little time, little consideration, and a lot of delay. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard authors say they’ve written dozens of proposals and sets of sample chapters that never got past an agent until they nearly quit writing in frustration. The odds are that agent is hedging bets by stringing them along, but is really hoping to get off the phone so they can talk to a successful client. It’s business. Another thing to remember is that, in most cases, agents are not editors. Editors, these days, have very little chance of buying something new that they really want – unless the deal is very much banked in their favor, or the product in question either is, or appears as if it might be “a thing.” Don’t count on this old standard route to get you where you want to be as a writer. Remember – despite what the Internet seems to believe – that not everyone can write. If you are good at it – you have a talent – a gift. Don’t sign that gift over to people who have no intention of helping you nourish it…and don’t spend all your time dashing after gurus. Study the market – study the new paradigm. Ask questions. There has never been a better time for talented writers, as artists, to stand up and change things.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to get through those old barriers, agents are now picking new clients from the self-published authors on the bestsellers lists – which obviously means less time for all of those people who made use of the services that helped them write their novels, edit their novels, write query letters for their novels – and submitted them in tight packages following said agent’s posted guidelines. Yeah, it’s like that. All that money wasted – all those services that really aren’t. Do you really need an entire book to show you how to write a query letter? Is there really anyone out there who can so influence your book / project / talent with their “proven formula” for ANYTHING that is more than another crutch to hold you up while the slow-moving wheels of publishing grind on past your efforts without a sideways or backward glance? Probably not. Still, I have a whole shelf of books on formatting and writing. It’s what we do.
Distributors – instead of being a convenient way for publishers to reach booksellers, they are now set up to make it more difficult for any but their chosen clients, or those who bow down to ridiculous demands, to get a product out there. They bully stores by only offering good deals in return for exclusivity. The bully publishers by demanding things like returns – knowing full well that just a couple of over-ordered titles could put a smaller business OUT of business.
And it’s all crumbling. As it crumbles, keep your eyes open. If something is a “service” now that was not there before, and it’s associated with “publishing” but really doesn’t seem to be… remember it’s how America works. A thousand businesses wills pop up for every new “thing” and they will prey on the 999,990 who don’t manage to immediately copy the “thing” for profit. The few that DO make it will be held up and pointed at to prove that ANYONE can do it – and there will be no articles written about the other 999,990 – it’s bad for too many businesses.
Things I’d like to see when the smoke clears:
- Authors publishing the books that move / inspire them instead of what an agent/editor says they should write.
- Editors and (if they make the cut) agents who respond promptly and remember that they work for the writer.
- A distribution system that allows indepe
ndent publishers and sellers to interact fairly.
- More transparency on the financial side of the industry.
- A more cooperative world where – rather than huge advances, what authors want is steady, sustained income and impact – and where publishers don’t try to squeeze the majority of the profit out of those who created it.
I’m a dreamer, I know…but maybe that will be a “thing”.
The new face of publishing has really set the Internet on its ear. Pundits abound. Lists are everywhere. I’m not going to tell you I’m an expert. I’m going to say – I’ve been writing for decades. I’ve published a magazine, and I’m currently publishing 130 plus authors and 600 titles in a variety of formats. I’m going to tell you I’ve had good, and bad editors, agents, and publishers myself. In other words, I’ve been around the block a couple of times.
The current thing distressing me is the all-or-nothing attitude people seem to be taking toward self-publishing. There is the old school publishing model, agents, NYC, big advertising money and advances, reviews in trade magazines no one can afford… and there is the opposite, self-published books, priced to sell at .99 and making their way onto the best-sellers lists. I’m not in ANY WAY putting down that success. It’s remarkable, it’s eye-opening, and it’s very very cool.
Here is the thing though. Everyone is different. Some people have the charisma, energy, and skill set to market, blog, tweet, post on every available online outlet, design professional looking covers and go the distance. Some people just write. Some people can do a little of each. The new publishing paradigm is going to need to be be more diverse than the old one. Some will make it because of their ability to embrace the entire digital world and work it like a finely tuned instrument. Others will need help. Some will make it by luck. Others will have the endorsement and help of someone who already has the pull to raise someone up to a new level. We all have to work together, and the best part of this new digitally powered world is that there ARE options.
The new message:
You have to have a blog
You have to be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.
You have to schedule tweets, do giveaways on Goodreads, conduct blog tours.
The old message was:
You need an agent.
You will have to wait years to get noticed.
Almost no one will make it to the top, or even into print, but you pound away until it happens.
My opinion is – some of all of this is true, on different levels and in different degrees, for everyone. Do you need an agent now? No. Did you need an agent before? No, not really. I sold all of my novels myself. All. I have had agents handle the contracts, etc. for me, but I sold my books myself. Same deal now. I sell them myself. You don’t have to wait forever – unless you want to be published in NYC – same as before but now you have options. At the same time if you want a six figure advance from NYC you may need an agent with the right connections. Good luck to you. Why deny all the options others might choose? To validate your own choices? Blogs, Twitter, etc… Yes, no, maybe. If you are good at those and have time / bandwidth for them they help. If you are bad and try them anyway they are frustrating and soul-sucking. If you work with others, you can group some of that work together, playing on the strengths of those who can.
When all is said and done, all publishing will not be self-publishing. It’s as discriminatory a paradigm as the old one, leaving out all who can’t play the game, and I don’t believe the world will turn its back on all those authors who can write amazing stories, but can’t market them well if they choose to accept help. Crossroad Press and the model we promote can help. We are not greedy, we are not trying to get rich on the work of others. We are not NYC…but we ARE giving a lot of authors the breathing room to write, and for others we’re providing that bridge – that step up – that allows them to compete with a new digital generation. It’s exciting, and I believe it’s important. If I didn’t I would just be doing my own books..
The two things that remain true in publishing and writing have been around for a very long time.
1) Everyone wants to know the secret to getting published and becoming a bestseller.
2) There is no one way, or secret, and never has been.
The sooner number 2 sinks in and we all start working and building together, the better.
There are a lot of similarities between the marketing of an eBook, and the marketing of an audiobook, particularly if that audiobook is done as a digital download. There are also huge differences. Nearly everyone reads. They might not do it by choice, but you just can’t get through life without it. Listening to audiobooks is an acquired taste – an experience many have blockages against – prejudices preventing them from giving it a fair chance. I wrote recently about not making smaller boxes out of those you already have for marketing. Audiobooks are already constrained by their own box. There are fewer listeners than readers, though the audience is growing slowly.
There are fewer large, commercial review outlets for audio. The old-school audiobook community is a very literary community. While there are big markets for genre audio, the real attention goes to celebrity and award-winning narrators, NYC commercial authors, and publishers with deep pockets. Advertising, banquets, even a simple nomination for an award that is supposed to be for the best in the field – cost a lot of money. It’s an infrastructure built through the old publishing industry, where audio was expensive, very few titles were commercial enough to make it through the studio, and for those that were deeply involved, there was money enough to sustain all of the above. There still is – at the top – but the business is expanding, and if those of us doing audio at a lower financial level are going to compete, we’re going to have to have a bigger boat, and we’ll have to build it ourselves. Anyone know how to measure in cubits?
There is good news. New review sites have cropped up. There is a site – The Audiobook Jukebox – that aggregates reviews from other sites, and from blogs, and they index them for easy access. ACX – the program that has made audio possible for so many that it was not possible for before – has made the acquisition of review copies easy, and they actively encourage promotion through social media, blogging, networking, and other means, and they are knowledgeable, incredibly helpful folks.
That said, don’t put down your tools. We still need that boat and it has to be one big mother ICEBREAKER of a boat. We have serious walls to break down, and it isn’t going to happen overnight. I’m going to start with just a couple of points and see if we can work up some discussion.
1) Unless you have Deep pockets, do not concentrate your efforts on the old-school marketing techniques for audio. It’s a tough sell, even if you get yourself involved, and it’s unlikely you will overcome the “editors choices” and sponsored titles unless you are independently wealthy.
2) Do not separate your audiobook marketing from your eBook and print book marketing. Amazon has a new program called whispersync. While there are still pricing issues with this, encourage people to pick up the audio AND the eBook when you can.
3) Don’t be in too much of a hurry. Study your book. Figure out who would sound best doing it. Research voice talent and cast the best possible voice. This is critical. As a publisher, I made a few bad mistakes early on, and those books have suffered. Don’t skimp on editing. Listen to your book if possible yourself, and if not, find someone else with the time to do it. Test your voice talent across the range of characters. When you offer a sample to be auditioned, try to include as much diversity in that sample as possible.
4) Include your audio – and if possible your narrator – in marketing material. Talk about the experience of the audiobook while you are marketing. interview the narrator if you get a chance. In other words, network.
The old world of audio treated narrators the same way tie-in and licensed novel markets treat authors. You do the work, they pat you on the back, and you move on to the next project. The new paradigm calls for teamwork; it’s now possible for authors and narrators to share the risk, and the possible success, of a project. For that to happen, you also have to share the marketing…it’s likely that if they are not a major voice talent, the narrator will have a smaller fan base – but listen up. THEIR fan base all listens to audiobooks. The odds are only a small percentage of an author’s fan base does the same. Work together. Be creative. Try to do interviews, and always – ALWAYS include the synopsis, the audio sample, and (broken record again) one-click-to-buy link.
I open this to the floor but here is what I’m looking for. What are good ways to get more people to listen to audiobooks? Where can we turn to market that is not being covered now? What is the key to building the new audiobook infrastructure – not trying to retool the small, stuffy box that surrounds audio now, but to build something big – new – part of the digital revolution? More to follow shortly, upcoming video marketing tactics from https://themarketingheaven.com/shop/youtube-likes/ will enlighten you on some contemporary means of advertising anything these days with the luxury of video.
Next post will be a report on how some eBook promotions we have tried, and are trying, stack up – and why. You will notice that I have included two one-click-to-buy linked images in this post. The first, Aliens in the Backyard, is currently our best-selling audio title at Crossroad Press. This title will is narrated by Kevin Pierce, and will also be featured in that next post, so stay tuned. Trish & Rob MacGregor have written a number of very cool books, fiction and non fiction, and run a blog where they talk about Synchronicity. The second book – INTERMUSINGS – is a collection of stories that I’ve written over the years in collaboration with others. My co-creators include Brian Hopkins, Patricia Lee Macomber, John B. Rosenman, Rich Rowand, Stephen Mark Rainey & Brett Alexander Savory. The narrator – Mr. John Lee – is a world class talent and one of my all-time favorite narrators. His rendering of the story in this collection “The Purloined Prose” is worth the price of the book.
These stories represent decades of collaboration between author David Niall Wilson and a wide array of talented authors. All have been professionally published – some have been reprinted and collected. All are the result of two muses meeting on paper. Meet a modern day Don Quixote, fighting Y2K bug nightmares, and striving to save the woman of his dreams. Learn how Edgar Allen Poe might have found his tales. Face off on a lonely mountaintop with Lovecraftian nightmares. Join a young man in a ghostly race to save a relative from cancer. Follow a cross-wired detective in his hunt for a lycanthropic killer bent on ending every serial killer she encounters. See what might happen when two minds fall into “balance”.
What if Dr. Watson was the client…and someone who was dead – was not quite there? Visit a science-fiction future where artists capture images in crystals. What if government control over sex and reproduction got out of control? Listen as a piano man drops back into the nightmares of his past. Finally – a sailor on his way home finds a place even farther away than he ever dreamed.
These are the tales of Intermusings – previously published as Joined at the Muse. This new audio edition includes an Introduction by David Niall Wilson on the art of collaboration, and a sneak preview of the first chapter of the collaborative novel Hallowed Ground by Steven Savile & David Niall Wilson.
- Introduction by David Niall Wilson
- “A Poem of Adrian, Gray” – with Brian A. Hopkins
- “The Purloined Prose” – with Patricia Lee Macomber
- “A Wreath of Clouds” – with Stephen Mark Rainey
- “Moon Like a Gambler’s Face” – with Ricard Rowand
- “La Belle Dame, Sans Merci” – with Brian A. Hopkins
- “La Belle Dame, Sans Regret” – with Brian A. Hopkins
- “Ribbons of Darkness Over Me” – with Brett A. Savory
- “Death Did Not Become Him” – with Patricia Lee Macomber
- “Within an Image, Dancing” – with John B. Rosenman
- “Virtue’s Mask” – with Brian A. Hopkins
- “Sing a Song of Sixth Sense” – with Patricia Lee Macomber
- “Deliver Us From Meeble” – with Brian Keene
ALIENS IN THE BACKYARD:
In the early morning hours of March 28, 2011, Charles and Helene Fontaine experienced something that shattered their beliefs about the nature of reality.
One evening in 1981, Connie J Cannon was on I-75 with her young son, en route to their new home in Florida, when they suddenly found themselves on a military base, with a man in uniform holding a gun to her head as three Grays stood nearby.
In 1979, Diane Fine was on her way from upstate New York to Vermont to see an obstetrics specialist for her high risk pregnancy, and experienced two hours of missing time. When she was finally examined at the clinic, she was told wasn’t pregnant.
In 1970, pilot Bruce Gernon was chased by something through the Bermuda Triangle and he has been talking about it ever since – to UFO Hunters, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the History Channel, the Sci-Fi channel, and all their foreign counterparts.
These individuals have never met. But they share something significant. In 2003, a Roper Organization survey revealed that 33 million Americans may be abductees. Aliens in the Backyard is their story.
Up front, again, this is me talking. I’ve been doing this a long time. I currently run a successful publishing house. I interface with, follow, and pay attention to hundreds of writers daily. It’s just what I think…
I don’t care what people tell you about Social Media Marketing. I don’d care if perky, smiling, very friendly online folks tell you they can get you X,000 of followers, friends, compatriots, groupies, etc…that you should do events, online blitzes, or any number of other things sure to turn you into the next Internet sensation. Most of that is crap. I’d go as far as about 95 percent. Marketing, like anything else, is work – and many times it’s hit and miss.
Yes, you should have a Facebook Page, particularly if you have time to use it (Not your personal profile, but an author’s page where you talk about your books, writing, and things you believe would interest fans).
No, you should not have a new page for every book, or probably even every series. You have a set number of people who see your marketing posts on Facebook. You have another group (probably with some cross-over) on your personal profile. Most of them won’t mind if you talk about your new book. Most of them will mind if you endlessly post links to it with no new content. If you take the “social” out of social media it’s nothing but an irritating spam-screen of dreck, and it will be duly ignored.
No you should not create an online “event” every time you launch a new book. The only people who will see your event launch notice are the same people who would see a thoughtful post on the new book with a link if you just put it on your author’s page. The more events you have, the smaller the box of folks who will agree to be irritated by it. Marketing is already hated in most cases. Fans seek out the new work on their own. Marketing is for people who are not yet fans, and pissing either group off is not the way to build your presence.
The key to successful Internet marketing has a couple of words associated with it. REACH and DRAW. The biggest key to marketing anything is to widen your reach. A thousand “likes” on your posts on Facebook aren’t half the use to you that 200 shares are. Those people sharing have different boxes that they play in, and if they share your posts, a lot of people who have never heard of you might see them. For this you need DRAW. You need interesting content- not too long – with the proper one-click-to-buy link in it. It needs to look interesting enough to stop a scrolling mouse. It needs to look worth the few seconds that clicking it entail, and once the person has clicked, it needs to very efficiently sell them your book.
To recap. Poke holes in your box and work from the inside out. Do not pummel your ‘friends’ with endless marketing posts. Do not make tiny boxes within your bigger box. The same is true on Twitter. Using some app that draws in smaller groups to talk is a good way to focus on a topic, but it’s not a good way to market…the only people likely to use that app and take the time already want your book. That is “maintaining” your box. If you want it to be bigger, you have to find ways to reach new faces – real faces. Those perky smiley helpful people will not do this for you. Mostly they will get you thousands of other hopeful authors looking at your posts wondering why you don’t buy their books – and a lot of fake people who never existed stroking your ego as your numbers skyrocket. Marketing – like writing – is work. There are no shortcuts.
And of course, a steady stream of new work. Write. ALWAYS have something new to talk about. Never sit back and spend hours selling the one book you already wrote. Keeping your name relevant, your work consistent in quality and output…these help build what – eventually – will be your fandom. If you need it by tomorrow, you are probably out of luck.
Let me preface this by saying I’m not a guru. I’m an author with around 30 years experience in and around publishing. I own one of the fastest growing and closest-to-the-cutting-edge publishing houses going. I pay attention, and I have thoughts. I can back my thoughts up with observation, experience, and common sense…but take all that with a grain of salt. What worked yesterday might not today, what works today could shift tomorrow with the release of some new tool…
1. Visibility is the key. By this I do not mean visibility to other authors, to your circle of friends, but visibility to people who have never heard of you and who are actual potential buyers for books. The key to building a readership and expanding it into crazy numbers is finding your way out of all the little ponds that try to entice you in to “share and market” and cutting to the surface of the bigger pond. If your book can be made visible to a very large number of prospective buyers, sales will rise.
2. Marketing services that do not provide hard numbers on what their service has done in the past for actual sales of books are shaky at best, and likely to be avoided. If you are offered marketing that promises more “friends” – “followers” – stat-counter hits on your website, etc., but no evidence of sales, move on. It is now an industry unto itself, this building of inconsequential numbers – half of whom don’t even represent real people, and the other half of whom are others trying to get the same group to buy their book. Invest your time and money wisely when marketing.
3. One-click-to-buy. (You will see clever examples at the top and bottom of this post) This is crucial in today’s market, and particularly for eBooks. There are millions of eBooks out there, many by talented, successful, famous people. You have to win your sales from the same pool of buyers as all the rest. If your book appears anywhere that there are potential buyers, make sure you come as close to one-click-to-buy as is humanly possible. People will not remember and search you later, they will move on. Take them to a product page. If you hand out cards, flyers, take out print magazine ads – include a QR code they can scan with their phone camera and buy. Miss no opportunity for a cover image with a one-click-to-buy link.
4. Do not get caught up in the madness of “shrinking boxes”. Example. You have a personal Facebook account, and a second “Fan” page where you promote your writing. Each of these has a set number of “viewers” – your ‘friends,” and those who ‘like” your fan page. I won’t get into the questionable value of marketing again and again to your friends, but I will say this. The two pages are enough. If you create “events” or ‘groups’ or a new page for every new book you ‘launch’ with a special launch party, those are smaller boxes carved from the same people you are already marketing to. You can ride the shaky ship on your Fan page of paying FB to ‘promote’ it, but experience has shown that mostly this gets you onto pages that are not even real people, or onto the timelines of people who scream “why did you post your spam on my timeline!!!?” when it was actually FB who did it. Promote your books on a single fan page. Announce events there too. Don’t invite your boxes to be annoyed with you or carve their numbers down to smaller, and smaller groups. Announce and promote on your fan page and actively encourage those who see the posts to share them on THEIR timelines, which actually engages their Box of ‘friends’ and legitimizes the contact by becoming more credible. You want to grow the number of people seeing your links, not shrink it.
5. Cover art. It is important that the cover of your eBook look as slick and professional as possible. Never sacrifice cool for efficiency. The title, and your name, should be visible at the size of a postage stamp. Clever fonts, really busy art images, things that a small circle find cool and the rest of the world will be offended by – avoid. At all costs. You want people to see – know what it is – be attracted. Do not buy into the notion that putting a fancy new cover on your book will sell more copies of the book. If your book has no visibility, and you change your cover, but you do nothing to change the visibility – no one is going to see the new cover and it isn’t going to matter at all. It’s important to HAVE a good cover, but as marketing tool cover art is secondary at best.
6. PR Services or “experts” – see tip #2. Do not shovel money into the pockets of self-appointed gurus. If they have built a huge following on Social Media, ask them to give you a percentage of those contacts that are actually readers buying books. Ask for a percentage that is just other authors buying in and hoping for sales. Ask for proof that you at least have real potential, with their help, to sell enough books to cover the cost of their service. The waters are full of sharks, but they are also filled with leeches. In the old publishing model, most of the money went to the publisher, then a percentage went to the agent, and the smallest amount went to the author. In the new model, people are trying to divvy up that old publisher’s cut and leave authors frustrated, poor, and yet hopeful enough to buy into the next scheme. Pick and choose very wisely when determining how to market.
7. Not everyone is a marketer, charismatic, popular, a good editor, etc. Don’t let others, whose skillsets and resources are very different from your own tell you you have to do everything yourself. Writers should be writing. If you spend more time fretting over and trying to push your books than you do writing the next one, then you are in danger of not being a writer at all, but being swept up in the new sea of people who want desperately to be writers but have no time to create anything. Publishers like mine are out there – places where a lot of the burden can be shared – where things like formatting, cover art, etc. are not words to tear your hear out over…and where all your money doesn’t funnel into other people’s pockets.
8. If you publish first in print-particularly with a smaller publisher – and that publisher does not a: do their own eBooks – b: distribute those eBooks widely – c: offer you the lion’s share of the royalties on those eBooks, don’t let them have the rights. If they farm it out to yet another publisher, and then split that diminished return with you – also not a great idea. Not every publisher is experienced enough to do anything useful with your digital rights. It’s not the same game – don’t let the fact a publisher has been making pretty books for years fool you into thinking that means they automatically know how to handle your eBook, or that you should let them. Ask questions. Get a good royalty rate. Check your options. Chances are if you have the skills and resources, you can make more headway controlling your own eBooks. There are levels of distribution, levels of compensation – and levels of professionalism. Just be careful. I’m an author – I built my company to be one I wouldn’t mind working with. I hate all the same things you do. (Yep, that’s a small plug – sue me, my blog).
9. Don’t rush out to give your books away. Yes, there are huge success stories for people who have done this. There are programs, like Amazon’s KDP program, that when used correctly and with a little luck can spur real success. For every book given away that actually improves an author’s situation, there are 10,000 given away that don’t matter a hoot. The pyramid is always there. Famous or highly visible people giving something away will give more than the next tier. Moderately successful people giving something away can make a splash and occasionally even launch into that upper tier. A book from someone no one has ever heard of, not promoted ahead of time properly, won’t give away many copies – and of those it does, won’t help spur sales. The thing that makes free books work the BEST is quality. If you can give away 10,000 books – and the book is read by 2k of those and not forgotten, and it’s really good – and those 2k people mention this, or even 100 of them stop by to review it- you might have something. If it’s riddled with typos, dashed off and forgettable – it will be forgotten. Not everything that has worked for others is going to work for you – same goes for your books themselves. Copy-catting is never-even on the best day-going to give you anything but a shadow of the success of the person you are copy-catting. Write your best book, and if an opportunity to give copies of it away smartly presents – go for it. Don’t make this you marketing “rule” though, or even if you do get fans, they’ll wait for all the books to go free.
10. Write. You have to keep writing. You have to provide new things, and keep the words flowing. If you market the same book for a year, people are going to be so tired of it they will phase you out, and you’ll never even get them to look when you finally have something new. Write what matters to YOU – and not what you think you can make a quick buck off of because someone else did. Whoever that is – you aren’t them, and the situation that sold their book is not your situation. It’s a losing battle for a crown of mediocrity. If you have something to say – write. And read – buy books – keep your head in the game. Writing is both craft, and art. At the craft level it can make a living – at the art level it can make memories. I think you all know what is more important to you, personally – pursue it.
I hope – in some way – this has helped. If you made it to here – the first five who leave a comment will receive an Amazon.com gifted copy of my novel THE PARTING. I hope you win. I hope you read and like it. I hope you review it.
Find all 650 plus titles from Crossroad Press at http://store.crossroadpress.com or wherever eBooks are sold.
The good folks at Horror World (Blu Gilliand in particular) have interviewed me about Crossroad Press, the state of publishing, and my writing. Here is an excerpt …
HW: For something that started out as a way for you to get your own work out in the digital format, Crossroads Press has grown at a startling pace. Has the rate of growth surprised you? How have you had to adjust to keep up with it?
DNW: At first, it was sluggish. There’s still some resistance to eBooks, and now that the resistance is breaking down, there is a huge scramble of publishers, agents, etc. trying to tell authors they are the next big thing and to make money off of them. We started slow, kept our heads, remained fair, and as time passed, it started to steamroll. We solicited most of our authors in the first year or so. Most of our authors now come to us as referrals from our other authors, or through word-of mouth. We (very literally) end up with new relationships and properties every day.
So the quick answer to your question is, yes, at first it surprised me, but now I see it as business as usual. We are doing good things, and it’s catching people’s attention.
You’ve got a very flexible model as far as what you’ll take from authors, such as taking books from a series that started with another publisher. Why do you think traditional publishers find it difficult to see the benefits in such flexibility?
We started out with only a couple of “rules.” We wanted works from established authors, preferably with a backlist AND some new content, but either was fine. The other rule was that it is just pointless to let words rot on a hard drive, or in a closet. If you’ve written it, it should be out there. Also, authors are at their best when the rules are lax and they can write what they want to write – what feels right for them at the time. My own series, The DeChance Chronicles, was born of my frustration at the rules behind White Wolf’s World of Darkness novels (of which I wrote about a half-dozen).
Bigger publishers are market and numbers driven. They look and see that book two of something fell off from book one. They never consider it might be a marketing failure, they just drop it. If that happens, when a new “big” publisher looks at it, the first thing they will do is check numbers on that second book – which were bad – and say no. We believe in letting the books sink or swim on their own merit, and we also believe in our authors.
In your opinion, are traditional publishers on their way out? Are they going to be able to keep up with the radical shifts the publishing business is going through right now?
People are always playing the death knell for traditional publishing (we’ve heard it a few times for horror as well, I believe). The simple fact is…they have a lot of money. They still control the top echelon of popular writers. They have the most important keys to the kingdom…the ability to make a book visible, and the ability to pay people money up front.
Authors, as a whole, are an insecure lot. They want validation. I fall right in there with them. It’s rough, even in the face of an overall not-great-deal, to turn down a contract to publish your book. Money up front is a hedge against not being successful enough, and New York City still has money.
Read the entire interview BY CLICKING HERE!
I’m going to make this very quick, because I’m a day or so behind paying my authors – that’s what publishers do, by the way. They don’t charge their authors for “services” – they show faith in the work, and they share in the profit and success…
I now know of at least two, and possibly three “services” signing on with or being created by literary agents and/or agencies. These “services” volunteer to scan, convert, get covers, for, publish, etc. eBooks from author’s old backlist titles. For a price. Usually a BIG price. Let’s be clear, while they probably do what they can for their high-profile clients, they are doing no favors, marketing, or actual selling for most. Just taking money.
I have even been told that some are being pressured. They are being told that they can’t go do their own editions of books that agents haven’t thought about, represented, or cared about for YEARS – because originally that title was repped by the agent.
Let me tell you something – that agent better have a clause in their very old contract that says – eRights. Just like with a publisher, agents sign on to represent certain rights of certain properties. My old agent did some film negotiation, and did print books. Nowhere in our agreement did it say he had rights that didn’t even exist when the book was sold / published / first represented, and – my agent not being a crook – he never tried to claim that it did.
An agent’s job is to sell your books. To represent them to viable markets and find you the best deal. The agent suggesting you PAY to be self-published and then give them a percentage? What’s that about? I can give them references of at least three agents who know they’d have a better deal through Crossroad Press – and we would charge NOTHING for exactly the same services…so what is in it for the agents? You can bet they get a cut for everyone they opt in. Don’t let them strongarm you either. Even if they DO have the representation for your eRights, you don’t have to sign the deal they want you to – if they got your book a deal at Random House, it’s still up to you to say yes – or no. THEY WORK FOR YOU…if it ever feels differently than that, you should find a different agent.
If you pay thousands of dollars to have your old titles made into eBooks, you are being screwed. You are being screwed by frightened people whose existence is threatened by new paradigms in publishing. They can’t save themselves with this, but they can tie up and ruin successes that you might have. I’m not even going to pitch Crossroad Press here, I’m just going to say – don’t let them steal your rights. Publishers have been trying – but the AGENTS? They are supposed to be YOUR representative – it’s your well-being and success they are supposed to care about. If they have so little faith in your work that they feel they need to grab a couple of thousand dollars up front and run – they aren’t representing you at all any more, just themselves.
I’m not going to start naming names – but the agencies and “services” are not obscure – they are involving big agencies and big names, and I will say one thing.
The first two or three top-shelf authors who either break off and fly solo, or go with a newer, more cutting edge publisher like Crossroad Press? The whole thing is going to tumble. These people have had TWENTY YEARS to figure out what to do about the Internet…how long will it take them to figure out that they blew it?
Irritated beyond belief – sad for those already taken in – not happy in NC.
Most of the years while digital and audio have been growing, and print publishers, at the same time, shrinking, there has been a sort of “us and them” attitude involved. When “indie” publishing started to be the fad – gurus popping up all over with their savant secrets – this attitude persisted. You must do it this way, or you must go back and bow down to traditional publishing and do it their way. You can’t have it both ways. I’m here to tell you that not only is that not true, it’s harmful.
Over the last year I’ve seen a lot of different combinations of things put into play. Here’s what I believe – from what I’ve learned.
You should always retain your digital and audio rights if you can, but let’s face it – traditional publishers aren’t stupid. A lot of them are now locking in these rights and not letting go. That does not have to kill an established writer – it can work to your benefit.
A: Keep all your books, stories, screenplays, essays, etc. in play. Anything you can keep the rights to publish electronically – do that. Get the work out there in front of people.
B: If your publisher is holding onto the rights on newer works, play off of that. Many of these same publishers are willing to include marketing info for their titles in the back of eBooks published by the author, or even another publisher. EVERYONE makes more money if you cross-promote. If your book is getting front-run promotion from a NYC publisher, use that to market the works that YOU control as well. We have at least one author who received a very good promotional deal through his current traditional publisher, and is now selling like crazy (and making more money) on the works that the same publisher does NOT control.
C: Pay attention to your work, and your rights. Keep copies of the final files of things. Don’t write, publish, forget, and then later on wish you had a document file for your book. If it’s a backlist title, well, you know what I’ll say next. If you are established with a backlist…you should be contacting me, or someone like me. Someone who will scan the book, get you a document copy, not charge you to do that – and help publish your book.
D: If you get a traditional offer, and they are paying you well, take it and use that publicity to move the things you also control.
The playing field is never going to be completely even. Big Traditional Publishers have money. Authors (generally) do not. Authors create and write books, editors edit them, and publishers publish them. Except, these days, a lot of those hats are being shuffled and doubled up. If you can, learn from the marketing strategies – good and bad – of your traditional publisher. If you see something that works, give it a shot…don’t spend your mortgage money trying to follow the footsteps of a guru. If you don’t feel comfortable publishing and marketing your own work, there are alternatives. Crossroad Press is an alternative. There are others.
The key is – be more involved. Keep your apples in one hand, and the oranges close to the vest. Pay attention, track your rights, and keep your work active and viable. Opportunity, regardless of what they say in old cliches, does not come knocking…you have to spot it, recognize it, and act.
Now…go sell a million books and make me proud.
As we have worked, poked, and prodded Crossroad Press into something fluid – a publisher that works with change instead of against it and strives to provide opportunity where so many times in the past it seemed there was none, some important shifts have occurred. I wanted to take just a moment to talk about some of the things we can do and that we are doing with authors, their backlists, and their new material.
In the old days – if you wrote a series, you were at the mercy of your publisher. If they decided, for instance, after two or three volumes were published, that they no longer wanted to continue the series – odds are that series was dead. Getting a new publisher to take book three, or four of a series was iffy at best, and usually never happened.
At Crossroad Press, we are more than willing to take up a viable series that is already in progress and help the author to continue it. In fact, if you have books two and three of something that died long ago lying about…you should contact us. There is no reason you can’t continue to publish your series, and if the original publisher is actually still offering the earlier books, the two sets can only feed off of one another. Something to think about.
Another thing is those books you may have written on spec for a series, or a particular editor or agent, who decided to go a different direction, or just flat turned you down. No reason your work should go to waste. We’ve actually developed a couple of original series – The Tales of the Scattered Earth and O.C.L.T. to allow a lot of genre series books to be re-vamped slightly and published…again – this was not something that was going to happen under the old publishing models.
Cross genre books. How many authors write what they want to write, and how many write what they, their agent, or some editor they are trying to please believes will sell? How many have a novel, or two, or twenty, that has never seen the light of day? Why? If you are a successful horror author with a mystery and a fantasy and a young adult you’ve written that no one would touch because you are a horror writer? For God’s sake…contact me. I am willing to bet that if more authors were writing what they feel like writing, the quality would leap dramatically.
Lastly – old books you think aren’t good enough anymore, or are dated, or you just aren’t sure about. We have done one such title, revised heavily in collaboration with a second author – retitled – and back into the publishing mix. We have more in line. If you were forced to rush, or compromise, hated your cover, your title…guess what? We care what YOU think, and we’re here to work with you.
The world has shifted. Stephen King’s Roland would say – The World has passed on – Ka is a wheel, after all. Publishing, also, is a wheel. Don’t let it grind you under…wheels are for traveling. Climb aboard.