4/17/2014

Marketing: A Word from Bill Craig

Due to some mysterious technical difficulty I may never understand, my friend Bill Craig was unable to receive my direct invitations to become a contributor to this blog. So, I’m posting this on his behalf. Thanks, Bill, for taking the time to share your experiences!

Sometimes I see things which as a writer upset me. One of those things is when so-called small presses try to bully their writers into doing things beyond the scope of writing, such as voting for awards that the publisher controls so they can be viewed as having some sort of legitimacy.

Another thing, and this is something I am seeing more and more of, especially from certain genre small presses, is that they want to writer to put out blood sweat and tears to get them a product, and then let it sit on a shelf for years without ever doing anything with it. Sure this might have worked for publishing houses in the past, but now in these days of self-publishing that model is out-dated. Several friends have been going through similar issues.

I did a little work with a couple of them and had similar experiences to what the original pulp writers went through. Churn out the work, not get paid, and then it sits on a shelf, or rather these days in a computer file.

As a self-published author, I have control over my work from story conception to cover art. I do the interior design, get the story edited, make the necessary corrections, format it and get it out there. I market here aggressively and I network daily with readers and authors.

I do continue to work with on house because they do what the publisher is supposed to do, they market my new titles when they come out, and I generally produce 3-4 books a year for them. They took two titles I had self-published and got them selling, then when I brought them the Marlow series, they snapped it up and catapulted it to a best-selling series on Amazon.com

In the ever-changing market of indie publishing, sometimes the author has to take the time to do it themselves. If you don't know a lot about marketing, find someone who does and pick their brains, then apply what you've learned. Country music artist Taylor Swift was one of the first to use Social Media to propel herself to fame by using My Space to preview her music and build a fan base.

It takes hard work and perseverance to make yourself a success in this business. I'm a writer, writing is what I do, It's who I am.

—Bill Craig, Author

3/31/2014

DIY Scribe: A New Idea

If you’re an independent and/or self-pub author and you’re not following Scott Walker, you might want to think about it. Scott is the founder of Brain Candy, LLC—an entrepreneurial media firm in L.A. that founded the Runes of Gallidon (an online collaboration fantasy world), among his many other business ventures like Transmedia L.A., an so forth.

If you’ve not been keeping an eye on Scott my question would be why not? There are a number of very successful eyes watching him, eyes in the publishing world, names that shouldn’t need any introduction. Like who? How about the notoriously popular Passive Guy or Alliance of Independent Authors?

Scott has demonstrated his leadership success with his many other ventures, and being a writer as well as a start-up expert in his own right, he’s come up with a new idea. A start-up that helps authors create their own start-ups in the world of self-publishing. It’s called DIY Scribe (@DIYScribe, http://diyscribe.com) and while Scott’s being a bit closed-mouthed about much of it, we had an interesting e-mail exchange and what he did tell me sounds great!

My friends, I’m excited at the idea. The traditional methods of writing and self-publishing, and marketing our work to get noticed and get sales simply DOESN’T WORK. We can social media ourselves to death (meanwhile using valuable writing time) and it doesn’t seem to make a difference for most of us. The great stories we hear about self-published authors and their successes are notable exceptions, and that’s why we hear about them. I’m convinced there’s no way to promote ourselves to the best-seller lists. There has to be a more excellent way. Scott’s proposing there is no magic bean, that a long-term proposition is the name of the game. I think he’s right and, for one, have pledged to be one of the first to sign up.

That said, there’s no kickbacks or double dealing going on here. We all want success in our self-publishing ventures and my Spidey-sense is tingling about this. Something here sounds different and new and invigorating. So I’m letting our blog subscribers know about it first. And as Han Solo tells Chewbacca in The Empire Strikes Back: “Keep your eyes open, huh?” Good writing to you.

3/26/2014

Exponential Marketing Failure in Traditional Publishing

One of the big questions that comes up often from writers new to traditional publishing is: "Who's responsible for marketing?" Make no mistake about it my friends: we are responsible to market our work as authors. The days of publisher-sponsored book signings, distribution of review copies, and scheduling of author tours is long past. Unless you're a big name with a  mass following, it isn't going to happen.

The Problem

The problem is not that these days traditional publishers (including the "Big 5") will do next to nothing to promote the books of roughly 95% of its authors. In order to understand the problem, you have to know why they don't do this any more. The reason is simple: most of the traditional methods of book marketing don't work. There are a whole list of reasons I could cite why that is, but the top three are:
  • Market saturation
  • Cost
  • Immature traditional model

Market Saturation

It used to be the book marketplace was highly competitive. This was due to limited shelf space and reader demographics. You see there was a time where every square inch of a brick and mortar store was for sale. Remember when new authors were released and you would walk into a B&N or Borders to find custom-made displays touting the author and the next big thing? Then the e-book and the self-publishing revolution exploded onto the scene around 2008. No more competition! Consider the number of books published in 2013. More than 1.5 million! And better than two-thirds of those were self-published or published by small presses. And with Kindle continuing to hold a very large segment of that market, there are way more books right now than there are interested readers.

Cost

Marketing of any kind is expensive and traditional publishers, even the big guns, already have anywhere from $10k-$50k invested per book. These days, those that give you any sort of (in)decent advance expect you to spend it marketing. Never mind you might actually need to keep your lights on or food on your table. That's why they say in most cases that once you get published: "Don't quit your day job." That's very good advice. Trouble is, a publisher who isn't willing to spend a lot on marketing probably doesn't expect your book to do well because they know the odds. Yet they still expect you to spend your hard-earned dime to market a book they won't, even when they have as much vested interest in selling it as you do? Now someone please tell me how does that make sense?

Immature Traditional Model

Imagine you're a publisher. You have two authors with similar books (we'll go with thrillers since they seem to be one of the "biggies" right now). The authors have similar credentials and let's just say for grins they're both pretty equal in writing ability. Now say you're marketing people tell you one should get a $25,000 advance and other you should give $2,500. Now when push comes to shove, which author are you going to put your limited marketing budget on to promote? See what I mean? There's no rhyme or reason behind the traditional publishing model. Senseless!

What to Do?

First, write the best book you can and (I can't stress this enough) write what you want to write! Don't write to market. You'll regret it. Then, find the market niche where your work fits. Goodreads is a great place to experiment, as are places like Wattpad. They won't come to you if they don't know about it, and they won't know about it if you don't find them. Get your audience involved, find out what tickles their fancy, and then take your work straight to them. And be sure to give credit where credit is due to those authors more experienced you reach out to help you.

Do lots of research on book marketing firms and do your homework. For example, my ad goes up tomorrow morning 11AM PST at Christian E-Books Today for Finding Faith. I did my homework to find them, and selected them out of MANY potential candidates because I felt they offered me the best deal for my investment. Moreover, the site is run by Christian authors so I know they can appreciate my difficulties and empathize with my need to market.

Finally, don't trust your publisher to do much (if anything) to help you. All you can do is make sure they're pushing your book to the sales teams that will get you into the brick and mortar stores (which sure as hell isn't as important as it used to be save for specialty markets like Christian and independents/local interests). And if they promise any marketing efforts when you sign with them, get it in writing. Otherwise, you have no recourse if they fail to meet their obligation. At least if they screw it up or don't come through as promised, you can add a force majeure clause and a rights reversion letter.

Just as with traditional publishing, the advice I've given you holds true for self-publishing when it comes to marketing your work. In fact, you'll probably see there's not much difference any more on the marketing front. And that fact remains one of the main reasons I have little respect or faith in traditional publishing. Seems to me we can do better on our own. Good writing to you!

3/22/2014

Tools to Simplify Self-Publishing

In past months I’ve had a chance to add a couple of very cool software tools to my self-publishing arsenal. While I’ve discussed the online provider, Leanpub, through which I’ve been experimenting with a serialized novel based on the life of my grandfather, there are a couple of software alternatives. One is freeware and the other uses a paid license.

Sigil

If you’re not familiar with Sigil then I’d recommend it for creating books in the .epub format. This is important because many technical experts (yours truly included) predict  EPUB will soon become the official standard for all e-book platforms (including the Kindle). While the makers claim the tool is really more designed for the creation of .epub file format from existing HTML files, Sigil is a full-featured application that allows you to write your e-books, too. In fact, I’m testing it out right now to write Esprit de Corps, the first book in my new S.O.G. Series.

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Sigil definitely has a little learning overhead that comes with it, particularly as it relates to styles, but it has a great tutorial manual and it’s pretty much a turnkey operation. Besides the fact, learning how to apply styles to an HTML file is a great skill for any self-published author to learn. It’s not hard and it’s an inescapable fact that all e-book formats are based on HTML at their core.

Atlantis Word Processor

I credit this second discovery for converting document manuscripts from Word or RTF to .epub and even Kindle compatible formats to my good friend, Jack Cavanaugh. And shameless plug for Jack here: if you’re a writer and you want to see an example of great storytelling, read any of Jack’s books. You won’t be sorry!

Atlantis Word Processor can be had beyond the 30-day free trial for a registration fee of $35. Beats the price of Microsoft Word and the support is excellent. It also has all the features of a normal word processor (it’s a lot like Microsoft Word, actually) so you won’t lose any of those spelling or grammar tools on which you’ve come to rely. And conversion to .epub and Kindle (which is really .mobi) formats is a snap! This company even produces videos on how to use their software they post at YouTube.

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An extra benefit of paying the $35 for the product is you get a free license for ImagiPass, one of the company’s other software tools for managing and producing all those pesky passwords we have to track for our various sites.

Summary

It’s an inescapable fact working with tools like Sigil and Atlantis Word Processor is important. They can make your life as an independent author much easier, and they produce a better quality e-book format designed for most e-book vendors than doing it yourself or having to pay professional programmers the bucks to do it for you. I recommend you check them out—and definitely keep your eye on the future of the EPUB craze. Good writing to you!

2/16/2014

Pitfalls of Writing a Series

I know you're smart enough not to have pulled the bone-headed move I just pulled, but I thought I would write about this anyway .... just in case. Under the pen name of Dean Breckenridge, I have recently started a new action series about an outlaw named Wolf who is sort of a halfway house between the cops and the crooks and will help you out of a jam if you can find him. They're short, anywhere between 10- and 12,000 words, and they're selling briskly, which is nice, but while working on Wolf #6--due soon--I decided to review Wolf #1 to make sure I was keeping the character and his world consistent.

And, of course, I started finding things what I set up in #1 I either didn't develop in the following episodes, developed in a way other than originally intended, or forgot entirely, so as I start planning the next batch, I'm making sure to work those elements back in. Their
absence hasn't hurt anything, I don't think, and some of the errors are as small as forgetting that the refrigerator in Wolf's apartment makes a rattling noise, but details are important, and I want to carry those details from book to book because the environment has to be consistent (unless he finally buys a new 'fridge).

I don't know if you've ever had the same problem, but the solution is pretty simple. This stuff needs to be written down. In other words, I need a series bible for my own series. Who'd have thought? I created the darn thing, I should be able to remember stuff. I'm also working on the Rogue Gentleman series under my real name, and I'm starting a new series under the Breckenridge name while I give Wolf a break, so I'm writing a lot and there's a lot of material floating in the ether of my mine so, yeah, I shouldn't be surprised that I forgot about the rattling refrigerator.

But it still annoys me that I did. I suppose that's how we learn.