Happy Anniversary!

Three years ago this month I self-published my first four novels. The Morning Star, Festival of Death, The Moscow Affair, and Do One Thing For Me. I was excited and filled with anticipation of good things to come. Now, three years later? Well, let’s just say reality is sobering. Not that I regret the past three years. They’ve been a grand learning experience.

The Good

I’ve self-published 20 books so far. And am looking at launching a new series in the beginning of 2018 and perhaps a second series later next year. I’m doing what I always wanted to do — write books and see them in print.

Today’s digital and print-on-demand technology makes self-publishing easy. It also gives me complete control over my work. There is no corporate bottom line that must be met. The only person who affects my success or lack thereof is me.

I firmly believe in the free market. I don’t believe in any gatekeepers other than the reader. For far too long editors at the big corporate publishers made or broke the careers of writers. The annals of publishing are replete with horror stories of the damage the big corporations did to writers. Now we are free. We no longer need them. And that is a very good thing.

Writers, for the first time in history, have all the tools at their disposal to produce work that rivals or surpasses anything the publishing industry corporations can put out. And writers, for the first time in history, can make far more money than ever before by publishing on their own.

This is a great day for writers and I’m very glad to be alive to see it. For myself, I’m not making great money at self-publishing. But I am making a little bit. And my books will be available until Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble go away. Which probably won’t be for a very long time. Most likely longer than the 20 or so years the actuarial tables give me. And they will be under my or my heirs’s control.

The Bad – or What I Learned the Hard Way

Unfortunately, self-publishing is a bed of roses — complete with loads of thorny stems. That is, there are both positives and negatives to it.

If I could do it over again, I’d spend two years learning the business end of self-publishing — before publishing anything. Because self-publishing is publishing your own books. And to make money, significant money, at self-publishing — one needs to know business.

The writer needs to know his or her audience and then develop a strategy to reach that audience. If he or she doesn’t, then failure will result. That is, few or no sales.

I’m not saying the writer must write to market. Although that’s what most writers have done for the past couple of centuries if they wanted to make money. But even if you are writing a literary novel or a mixed genre novel, you still need to know who might want to read the book. Dean Koontz writes multi-genre blockbuster-type novels. Nevertheless, even though they contain a bit of romance and a bit of the thriller and a bit of sci-fi and a bit of horror, there is one genre that sticks out more than the others. In Lightning, I think it’s the science fiction. In Midnight, it’s techno-horror. As an indie author, if you write that sort of novel, knowing your primary genre will aid in your marketing.

Of course for every rule there’s someone out there who didn’t follow it and went on to make lots of money. But generally speaking, most of us need to understand business and follow good business practices.

Right now I’m playing catch-up and learning the business end of the writing business.

The Ugly – or Hazards and Pitfalls

Wherever money is to be made, the piranhas, and sharks, and bloodsuckers begin closing in. They operate on the supposed saying of P T Barnum that a sucker is born every minute.

Sometimes age is an advantage. I’m 65 and for over 50 years I’ve been reading books and magazine articles on writing and publishing. I’ve taken creative writing classes and courses. I went the traditional publishing route with my poetry. I can honestly say I’ve observed a few things in my time. And the most important is that there is nothing new under the sun.

Today, I see new and wannabe authors being taken in by the middlemen. Everything from expensive covers to expensive formatting to expensive marketing or writing courses to the latest and greatest software. The vultures are circling and trying to take your money.

Now some folk have the money to spend on all this stuff. Still, I don’t think they should. Most everything a writer needs to know or get can be gotten for free or for a very minimal fee.

There are so-called experts who want to teach you how to write a bestseller. Yet they don’t earn their living by writing fiction. If what they have to teach is so wonderful, why aren’t they writing bestsellers themselves? I’m amazed that writers who take these courses don’t ask themselves this question.

Or what about the successful fiction writer who no longer writes fiction. He, instead, makes his money selling his course on marketing fiction. Why? Because it’s easier to teach than to write. For that person writing is not his passion. Making money is.

Or what about the folks who say you have to have a professional editor go over your manuscript? Or a professional cover artist produce your cover? Hundreds of writers spend tens of thousands of dollars every month on these extravagances when they have no idea if their book will even earn them one dime.

You don’t need a professional editor. If you know how to write, know how to tell a good story, all you need is to proofread your manuscript. But you don’t know if you can write a good story? Then find someone you trust who will be honest with you and have him or her read it.

People say don’t use your family. I say use them if you have a family member who cares enough about you to tell you the book stinks if it in fact does. Kazuo Ishiguro threw away an entire book when his wife told him it stunk. I’m lucky. I have my daughter and my sister. Both can be and are brutally honest. I trust them to tell me if something isn’t working.

Don’t get sucked in by the money grubbing middleman. Edit your own book until you know you can make money. Then hire it out only because it gives you more time to write.

If you can’t design and produce your own cover, then find the least expensive pre-made you can find and use it. This is an area I fell down in. I didn’t understand cover design. Now I have a much better grasp of it. One book worth your while is Derek Murphy’s Cover Design Secrets.

The best resources are actually free. Kboards is indispensable. Loads of valuable advice in the Writers Cafe. There are many closed groups on Facebook for writers. Two good groups are The Author Helper and 20Booksto50K. But as with everything, weigh and evaluate all the advice. Not everything works for everybody.

I’m lucky. I’ve spent very little money procuring bad advice or worthless software. Part of that is due to my age. I’ve pretty much read and seen it all. Sure, the scammers give things new names. But it’s still the same old stuff. Don’t pay for it. Get it for free.

Summary

Three years ago I started self-publishing. I thought I’d done my research. In truth, I didn’t do enough. The indie world was changing just as I got on board. What I learned was old info that didn’t really help me much, because it no longer applied to the new reality. Now I’m taking a much more cautious and deliberate approach.

I am still convinced the indie way is the best way for writers. Why? Because you control your rights and you have the potential to make way more money than your corporately published counterparts.

I have no regrets going the self-publishing route. I’m learning from my mistakes on the business end. Hopefully in the next three years I’ll be making some significant (for me, that is) money from my writing. Being retired I don’t need much. Just enough to cover my expenses and maybe give me a thousand a month to supplement Social Security and my pension. If I can do that, I’ll be a happy camper. A very happy camper.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, happy reading (and writing)!

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The Author Helper & ReaderLinks

One of the first things you’ll notice as an indie author is that there are hundreds of people and businesses all vying with each other for your money. Ostensibly they will tell you how to tap into the gold mine that is indie publishing.

Some are legit and others are simply in it for the money, that is to take your money and put it in their pockets. Some are authors who have made it big and want to share the secrets of their success. A portion of those will only sell the info to you. Others will give you free info, as well as sell more in-depth information.

It’s a jungle out there and it’s only getting worse.

Today, I want to introduce you to two guys who are successful authors (that means they make money) AND are interested in sharing their knowledge.

The Author Helper

John Logsdon and Ben Zackheim are two guys who write fiction and also want to share what they know with the indie community.

I ran across their website, The Author Helper, when I took Mark Dawson’s Facebook Ads for Authors course last year. The website has good information. You should check it out at the above link.

I also joined The Author Helper Facebook group, which I encourage you to join because it is a great community with a number of successful indie authors as members. There’s nothing like being with successful people to show you that, yes, you too can be successful.

ReaderLinks

For the past several months I’ve been part of a beta group testing the replacement for the Author Helper plugin. The plugin was great, but had limitations due to the vagaries of WordPress. John and Ben decided the way to go was to build a website subscription service that offered all the advantages of the plugin plus so much more.

I count myself very fortunate to be part of the beta testing team and can tell you that this is one fabulous tool for authors to manage the business side of our little empires.

You need a Sales Tracker? ReaderLinks has it.

Do you want universal book links? ReaderLinks has it.

Need Tweet management and automation? ReaderLinks has it.

Want one place to display all of your books? ReaderLinks has it.

Street team management? ReaderLinks has it.

And that’s not all! There is much, much more. Head on over to the ReaderLinks website. Watch the video, and then subscribe. It’s launching soon. Get in on the ground floor. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

ReaderLinks and The Author Helper are valuable aids to help us promote our books and put money in our pockets.

Comments are always welcome, and until next time — happy reading!

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The Free Book Glut

Announcing all the free books in the latest author newsletter.

Free books are everywhere on the internet. The independent author-publishers are glutting the market with freebies. Why? Because writers are glutting the market with themselves and in the heat of competition to be seen, they’re giving away the store.

Now don’t get me wrong. I welcome the new technology that enables anyone who has a book inside him or her to publish that book once it’s been written. After all, this is the age of social media and books are a form of social media. They convey thoughts, feelings, imaginings, dreams, and hopes. And today’s technology makes it all that much easier for a writer and his or her audience to interact with each other. And I think that is a good thing.

What I am beginning to have a problem with, however, is the current mania of giving away books to try to secure an audience. I can’t help but think the practice is going to have long term detrimental effects on the indie movement. Here are some concerns:

  • The devaluing of books and thereby the writer’s craft. After all, if a book is free it can’t have much value — can it? And if a writer gives away his or her work, he or she can’t think much of it — can they?
  • The creation of the expectation that indie books should be free. Because, after all, the big corporate publishers don’t give anything away for free.
  • Glutting the market with more books than readers can possibly read. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much!
  • The self-delusion of writers, who are not very good, into thinking if they give enough away somebody will read their work. When in truth, they should find a different hobby or occupation. One they are much better suited at.
  • Writers deluding themselves into thinking if they give enough books away, people will love their work and buy their other books so the writer can live his or her dream and quit the 9 to 5.

The latter two points above not much can be done with. Those fall under the umbrella of self-realization. Unfortunately, even bad writers can become popular — which only fuels the problem.

Nevertheless, the first three points we writers, as a collective, can do something about.

I ran across an interesting article with comments on the subject of book giveaways the other day. Here’s the link so you can read for yourselves: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/opinion-why-indie-authors-shouldnt-give-away-free-books/

When I first started self-publishing, the debate among indies was permafree or 99¢ for the series starter. Back before 2014 I think permafree made sense as there were not so many indie authors and free actually got traction. Even so, I said there was no way I was going to give my book away for free. The Big 5 don’t do it — why should I?

Then the tsunami hit. Starting in 2014, indie authors began coming out of the walls, the woodwork, the light socket, you name it. Indie authors were everywhere. To get traction, book services began springing up overnight offering to promote their books — if it was free or 99¢ — on Twitter, Facebook, and to their mailing lists. Of course, the services weren’t free. An author had to pay for those. Pay to give away books. Hm.

Yet, I could see a certain logic in the giveaway mania that was developing. The free first book in a series was a sample of good things to come. Give away the first book and build your mailing list and reap the harvest of good things. And that has worked for some.

However, seeing the glut of indie authors and the many, many hundreds, if not thousands, of books being given away for free — I’ve started re-thinking the free strategy.

For myself, I have to admit I’ve read few of the free books I’ve downloaded. That doesn’t mean I won’t read them at some point in time because I might. But I’m not reading them now. And of course that’s what all of those authors want me to do. Read their books now and buy all of their other books. Sorry folks. It ain’t happening.

Why? Several reasons:

  • Some simply can’t write.
  • For others, the style puts me off.
  • Some are okay, good even, but the price of the other books is too high. The writing isn’t good enough for me to spend that much money.
  • Some don’t have any books to follow up with from their freebie. So why offer the first book free?
  • I have over a thousand books on my iPad. And more on my computer. Most are free. Most are classics. That’s a lot of very good stuff to read. The freebie offerers are competing with thousands of good books no longer in copyright and available for free.
  • My time is limited. I write and I read. I read what my contemporaries write to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on. But my contemporaries have a lot of competition.

So if I, as an author and a reader, am not reading in any great number the free books I download — why should I expect people to read mine? That is a very good question. And my conclusion is that of the 1000+ copies of my books that I’ve given away, probably few have been read. I’ve garnered a few reviews, so I know at least 5 of those freebies were read. For which I’m very grateful and thankful.

As a strategy, giving away a free book in the traditional private detective mystery genre to drum up sales of my series and build an active and supportive mailing list doesn’t seem to be working all that well. I think I have a few fans developing and I’m very pleased. But nowhere near a thousand.

Granted, there may be things I need to be doing that I’m not to turn those folks on my mailing list into rabid fans. And in fact I know there are because I’m learning more and more on the business end each day. Hopefully in time I will turn my mailing list into that group of rabid fans.

My goal, though, is not to become a bestselling author. My goal is to build a sustainable and dependable income from my writing. I don’t need fame and glory. If it comes, wonderful. But I don’t need it. I’m not sure I even want it.

So I’ve been rethinking the free book strategy. And I’ve decided that I’m going to move away from it. In the long run, I think giving away books cheapens them. Makes them less important. It develops an expectation on the part of readers that indie authors should give away their books for free. And I don’t want to be part of that — because it’s self-destructive. Writers lose and readers lose.

Writers lose because if an author can’t make money to at least cover his or her costs, that writer will stop writing.

Readers lose because the vast choice currently before them will go away. And once again readers will be at the mercy of corporate giants deciding what they should read. And who wants that?

Readers will lose again because the cheap books will go away and the mega-priced big corporate offerings will remain. I mean $15 for an ebook? Seriously?

The glut of free books may satiate readers and may even turn them off from reading. And who wants that?

My new strategy is a modification of the free book approach. It’s the sampler.

On Saturday morning, when I go into the grocery store, there are all manner of nice ladies wanting to give me samples. Cheese, meat, dips, spreads, crackers, you name it. They don’t give me the whole product. Just a sample. If I like the sample, I’ll probably buy whatever it is to give it a further test drive at home.

When I buy a car, I get a test drive. A sample of the driving experience in that car. No car dealer gives away a free car. If I like the drive, I have to buy. So why not apply that to my books, which I worked very hard at producing?

That’s my new approach. Give a sample of my writing and hopefully whet their appetite for more. Give them the invite to buy. Because we almost always value what we buy more than what we get for free.

In the process, I also hope to weed out the freebie grabbers. Those readers who’ve grown fat on freebies and expect indies to give them more and more and more.

If a freebie grabber does snap up my sampler, at least they won’t have the entire book. Just a few chapters, that they probably won’t read anyway. If they do, they’ll have to pay to read the rest of the story.

So that’s the circle I’ve traveled. No free books to free books to no free books. Just a delicious tidbit. That test drive to hopefully get folks to buy.

After all, I’m a business and no business stays in business by giving away the store.

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