Goldrush

We’re familiar with the California Gold Rush of 1848, or the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, or the Victorian Gold Rush of 1851 in Australia, or the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 in South Africa.

Today we are in the middle of another gold rush. It’s called self-publishing.

Every gold rush has a life-cycle that moves from low investment, high return to high investment, low return. The key to success is to get in big at the beginning of the cycle. When panning and placer mining are effective. Simple tools and big returns.

Amazon introduced the first Kindle on November 19, 2007. It sold for $399 US and sold out in 5 1/2 hours. On April 2, 2010 Apple released the iPad and sold 300,000 on the first day. These two devices were the game changer that spawned the self-publishing gold rush.

Authors such as Amanda Hocking, John Locke, JA Konrath proved self-publishing was a viable money making enterprise. Now the ability to become a millionaire was for the first time in the hands of the self-published author. No need for agents and no need to battle publishers over draconian contracts. The gold rush had begun.

All one needed in those early and heady days of self-publishing was to offer your book permafree or for 99¢. And write your series as fast as possible.

By the time I got involved with self-publishing, in late 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like the old Smith-Barney commercials, if you want to make money writing books, you have to earn it.

As with any gold rush, once the easy money is gone, the people who begin to profit are the ones who do so at the miner’s expense. These are the people who sell things to the miners. The infamous middleman.

We see it in the self-publishing world. Writers, hungry for virtual shelf space and recognition, are making loads of money for the middlemen. Everywhere I read about this, I read figures such as $500 or $600 (or more) for editing, $500 for a cover, a couple hundred for formatting. And the list can go on.

That’s a lot of pressure to put one’s self under coming out of the gate. To date (2 years of receiving royalties), I’ve made $533 with virtually no advertising. I made back my investment in initial website cost and copyright fees. If I had editing and cover fees for 20 books to add to my expenses, I’d have to seriously consider becoming a middleman to “help” writers instead of being a writer.

The people who are getting the “easy” money today are:

  • Editors (often self-proclaimed)
  • Cover Artists (many using nothing more than stock photos and Photoshop or Gimp)
  • Review Services (like Kirkus and Reader’s Favorite)
  • Other authors “selling” the secret of their success so you can be successful (usually by means of high-priced courses)

And success hungry writers, dying to leave their day jobs, are shelling out big bucks for all of the above.

So let’s be honest, shall we? The easy money is gone. We now have to earn it.

How We Earn The Money

The path to self-publishing’s success in 2017 is not unlike trying to drop the ring into Mount Doom. It’s simple, but not easy.

I am obviously not making big bucks writing. But I’m retired. I’ve already dumped the day job. My monetary goal is a bit more humble. Nevertheless, the path is the same for all of us.

Mindset. The first thing we author-publishers must remember is that we are writers and publishers. We must think business. And the first thing we must realize is that self-employment ventures generally take 3 to 5 years to get established — if they even survive.

The second thing is we are direct mail marketers. The mailing list has now replaced permafree and 99¢ books as the building block of our business.

Mail order businesses can’t survive without their mailing lists. And we author-publishers are at base mail order businesses.

Once we have that mindset, we can start to go places. There is no quick money anymore. But there is money to be made. Mark Dawson makes around half a million from Amazon. A nice bit of pocket change that.

My Plan For Success

Plan your work and work your plan. Based on my observation of what universally works for authors, coupled with sage advice from the greats, this is my plan to work:

  1. Write well. This should go without saying and yet needs to be said. Write a good story. Many writers forget to do so.
  2. Write lots. Prolificity is key. No backlist = no sales over the long haul. All successful writers, traditionally published and self-published, say this.
  3. Publish frequently. The reading public that buys indie books tends to be voracious readers. Feed their habit. Frequent publishing also helps to keep you in the forefront of the reader’s mind.
  4. Follow Heinlein’s Writing Advice. The master said it best. In a nutshell — persevere.
  5. Build your mailing list. We are essentially mail order marketers. I wish someone had told me this 3 to 5 years ago. It makes sense, but the reality was obscured by the early success of writers in the Gold Rush. Now that the easy money is gone, the mailing list is the direct marketer’s — and indie author’s — best friend.
  6. Don’t resort to gimmicks. Today there so many authors I never heard of who claim to be New York Times, USA Today, or Amazon bestsellers that the claim is virtually meaningless. There are so many authors winning so many awards, the words “award winning” are equally meaningless. I’ve read plenty of crappy best-selling and award-winning books. And some that are really good that made nobody’s list and have received no award.

That’s my roadmap to success. Which for me is pretty modest. I don’t need beaucoup bucks. Anything from $25K to $50K a year will be just jim dandy. Those of you who need more than that to quit your day job — well, it’s just going to take a bit more work. But you’ll get there.

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Ruminations on the Uptown Art Fair

I had intended to post Part 2 of The Wonderful Machine Age today, but my weekend adventure at Minnesota’s second largest fair spawned some thoughts I decided to share with you. Next week The Wonderful Machine Age will return.

The focus for the summer months (at least here in the northern hemisphere) has been on writing Rand Hart and the third book in the Justinia Wright, PI series and editing/rewriting The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4). As a result, book sales have fallen off the chart. Then again marketing is not my strong suit. I don’t really have a clue how to go about it. Encouragement, though, came to me from a Google+ post by JazzFeathers. She linked to an article: “None of my Marketing Seems to Work”. There are some good suggestions in the comments. Knowing that most authors struggle to get traction for their work is a consolation. I’m in a big boat and lots of us are pulling at the oars.

But I don’t think writers are the only ones struggling with how to sell what they produce. This past weekend my wife and I were at the Uptown Art Fair. It is the second largest fair in Minnesota, drawing 400,000 people over a long weekend. That’s more than live in the city of Minneapolis. Scores of artists paid big money to be there and artist after artist was trying to interest the throngs of people in his or her paintings, prints, drawings, woodwork, glass, metalwork, jewelry, fiber art, plants, and food.

I did succumb a wee bit to the cry of “Buy! Buy! Buy!”. Two tilandsias, a wooden box, a buffalo leather wallet, and a wooden serving spoon. Tilandsias are bromeliads and cousins to the orchid. They make great pets. They’re commonly called air plants.

After I got home and read the above referenced blog post, I asked myself why did I buy what I did? I like plants and the tilandsias weren’t expensive. The box appealed to my eye and contained buckeye wood. The buckeye is Ohio’s state tree and I was born in Ohio. A bit of sentimentality there. The spoon is made of cherrywood, feels good in the hand, and is pretty. I probably won’t use it as a spoon. Maybe a paperweight. The wallet, because mine was wearing out and I liked the looks of the buffalo one.

The lesson for us authors? Price is a factor. I confess, I don’t buy new books anymore from the Big 5 publishers. They are too expensive. I buy them used instead. I don’t even buy eBooks from the Big 5 because they too are way overpriced, IMO. There were many items at the fair I would have liked to buy. The price turned me off to almost all of them. Price is one reason why almost all of the new books I do buy are by indie authors.

Another lesson is eye and sense appeal. All of the items I bought at the fair looked good to me. “To me” being operative here. Not everything looks good to everyone. But our book covers have to look good to someone or no one will buy them. And ideally they should operate at an emotional level too. Also, the first few pages of our books should hook the reader by appealing to his or her emotions and senses. We have to make the reader care. I bought the box because of its emotional appeal, the spoon because it was smooth and pleasing to the touch, the plants because they looked cool, and the wallet because the leather was so soft and supple. These are basic appeals to our senses.

The only thing left to add is need. I bought what I did because at some level I wanted it but also needed it. Of course, in truth, I needed none of those things. Save for maybe the wallet. On the other hand, we all have aesthetic needs and needs for entertainment and pleasure.

Books fill the need for entertainment and pleasure. They also fill the need for knowledge and wisdom. Our books need to hook into those needs. Which means, of course, they need to be well-written and well-edited and in some way enrich the reader.

No food was purchased at the fair. Why? Because my wife and I walked over to The Tin Fish for fish and chips — knowing from past experience we were in for a treat. As it turned out we were disappointed this time around. The lesson here is that previous good experiences linger in the mind. And failure to deliver, produces disappointment. We writers need to be craftsmen and craftswomen. Delivering consistently good products to our readers so we don’t suffer the ire of their disappointment.

I’m not sure how to convert these ruminations into sales. Because ultimately even when the book is visible to the potential reader, readers don’t buy all the books before them. I set aside five other boxes to buy the one I did. I purchased only two tilandsias out of the hundred on the table. Ultimately it comes down to does my book look appealing to the reader. And ultimately that is a decision the reader makes.

Crispian Thurlborn posted a quote from Colin Firth on Google+. I re-quote it here: “I would rather five people knew my work and thought it was good work than five million knew me and were indifferent.”

We all want to make money from writing. The sad truth is the vast majority of writers throughout all time have not. And that includes us today. The vast majority of us won’t see very much money at all. So for now, I guess, while I focus on writing and producing good books, I’m going to be satisfied with those five people who know my work and like it. And if tomorrow I hit the best seller list that will be wonderful. If I don’t, I’m still having a blast writing and publishing what I write and pleasing those faithful five.

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You Have To Work It – Part 1

The other day I ran across Michael Tamblyn’s October 2014 Twitter blast against Amazon. Mr Tamblyn is the new president of Kobo. I’m very sympathetic with Mr Tamblyn’s position. After all, I’m an indie author and it takes guts to go up against the 800 pound gorilla terrorizing the block.

I tweeted the article at the above link when I discovered it because I think we Indie Authors (and really all authors) need to keep in mind publishers and book distributers and booksellers (this includes Amazon) are not our friends. They are businesses whose purpose is to make money off authors to profit the owners of the business. Which was Mr Tamblyn’s point about Amazon and Hachette and by extension how Amazon may end up treating Indie Authors.

For centuries, writers have been given short shrift by book and magazine publishers. This is well documented and a search via your favorite search engine will produce reams of virtual paper. But some examples.

    • Low pay to authors
    • Publishers retaining the rights to an author’s work and binding the author to the publisher via restrictive contracts.
    • Remaindering books when sales are low. Often as soon as 6 months after publishing.
    • No marketing of the author’s work.
    • Limited print runs and even limited distribution.

For the most part, authors just put up with it because they had few to no options. Mark Twain started his own publishing company. Almost no author had those kinds of resources back in the day.

Then along came the digital age and self-publishing became a viable reality. Authors, who once upon a time may have never seen print, now had their work out before the public — letting the marketplace and not some editor determine the worthiness of the work.

At first, Amazon rode the wave and encouraged the wave. Now, however, they want to apparently control the wave. Which Indie Authors clearly saw last year in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and KDP Select programs. Money. It’s all about the money. No business is altruistic. Businesses exist to make a profit.

What we authors have to realize is we are a business, as well. It is about the money. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t charge a dime for any of our books. We’d give all of them away for free. We are a business and as a business, we authors need to look to our bottom lines. We need to jealously protect our profit margins.

Linda Gillard’s post is a poignant example of an author’s treatment by traditional publishing. She was dumped by her publisher because she didn’t make the house enough money. Now she self-publishes and makes money for herself. Authors need to profit from their work. Not the middle man.

I have no personal bone to pick with Amazon. The company often offers what I need at a good price. I don’t have unlimited funds. I have to watch my wallet. And because I have to watch my wallet, as an author I have to remind myself the company is not my friend. Amazon lets me self-publish because they want their share of the money I make on selling my books. Hence Mr Tamblyn’s warning. However if Kobo was in Amazon’s place, I wonder if Mr Tamblyn would have sent out those Tweets? You see, he stands to profit by wooing Indie Authors away from Amazon. Getting Indie Authors to diversify. And fear is a great motivator.

Right now I’m exclusive with Amazon and have benefited some from the borrows. But when one puts all of one’s eggs into one basket, one is at the mercy of the basket.

I agree with Mr Tamblyn and am rethinking my current exclusivity with Amazon. Maybe it is wiser to give up the income from the borrows in order to diversify in the marketplace.

There are many other avenues one can stroll down to sell one’s books. Smashwords, Lulu, Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo, Drive Thru Fiction, and more springing up everyday. Shoot, with all the social media channels out there one could sell direct from one’s website.

Today Amazon is the 800 pound gorilla. Tomorrow? Who knows? But we authors must remember business is about making money for the owners. And they don’t really care about us. Behind every wannabe author, there are always other wannabe authors.

Next week, in part 2, I’ll write about how I think authors need to proceed to protect and promote their interests. As always, feel free to comment and share your opinion.

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Making Money Writing

I have to admit, I’m not much into marketing at this point in my writing career.  Mostly because I’m too busy trying to get books written.  But Lindsay Buroker’s latest post on her first month’s earnings from her pen name project, made me stop and give this subject some further thought.  Mostly because what I’m currently [not] doing might be costing me some big money.

To pull in a little over $3000 as an unknown author in her first month, I’d say is pretty awesome.  Doggone phenomenal.  Nine days after releasing my first 4 novels I have a mere 14 sales.  Not even $35.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  I’m simply saying maybe I’m missing out on a bit more cash that I could be making if I did a few things differently.

One thing Lindsay mentions and maybe the most important thing, is her use of KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited.  Certainly Amazon stacks the deck in favor of those who go exclusive with them.  As an author I don’t like it.  I cry, “Foul!”  “Unfair!”  Yet if I was Amazon, it is exactly what I’d do.  It’s what traditional publishing has done for over a century.  Lock in a stable of money-making authors and — make money!

Right now, authors can make money right along with Amazon.  In the future, who knows?

The other thing that stuck out was advertising didn’t seem to do much.  I haven’t planned on paying for advertising.  From Lindsay’s experience, I don’t think doing so is worth the money at this point.

A great post by Ms Buroker.  Informative.

For now, though, I think I’ll continue along with Hugh Howie’s approach and just write.

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