What’s in a Cover?

Of late, I’ve had several of my fellow writers tell me my book covers don’t reflect the genre, or they need a bit of work, or that they could be better — more like the top selling indies in the genre.

All of that may be true and may be part of the reason I’m not rolling in the dough after 3 years of being an independent author-publisher.

So I’ve been having myself a major think. Significantly enough, the above comments came on the heels of my having listened to the two modules in Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula 101 course on covers and blurb writing.

Mark Dawson’s cover designer and artist, Stuart Bache, in the module on covers noted there are two different approaches to book covers: genre similar and genre standout. If you take a look on Amazon or even a walk through a bookstore, you’ll quickly see what is most popular. Genre similar. Why?

Because people are in a hurry, as the thinking goes, and what a genre similar cover does is tell the potential reader this is a sci-fi novel or a romance or a mystery or a thriller. Then other factors begin to influence. Title. Author name. Blurb.

However, if I’m specifically looking for a science fiction novel, a genre similar cover does nothing for me because I already know I’m looking for science fiction. I’m standing in the science fiction section of the bookstore. Or I searched for science fiction on Amazon. I think that is something that’s important to keep in mind.

Bryan Cohen, who presented the module on blurb writing, said that Mark Dawson’s own survey of his readers, asking what actually got them to buy the book, said it was the blurb — by a 5 to 1 margin — over the cover. Why? Because Dawson’s covers are all genre similar. There is nothing to distinguish his covers from any other author’s in the genre.

As a reader, not a writer, but as a reader, what do I look for when I’m looking to buy a book? Me. Not some survey, or industry standard. Me. What do I look for? After all, I’m the reader I know best.

I think that is an important question to ask. So I expanded my think to include the actions I went through to buy my last few books. And what I came up with for me is:

Unless the cover is truly a standout cover, it’s the title that draws my attention. Or the author’s name. When looking at the search results.

I haven’t been in a brick and mortar bookstore in quite awhile, so I limited myself to how I go about looking for a book on Amazon. This is the procedure I came up with for how I, a 64-year old guy, looks for a book to buy. Keep in mind younger men may do things differently, as most likely do women.

  1. I select the Kindle store.
  2. I key in the genre or sub-genre I want to read.
  3. I scan the search results.
  4. I pick a book.
  5. I read the blurb.
  6. I take a look at the reviews.
  7. If I’m still interested, I “Look Inside”.
  8. If still interested, I buy the book.

Those are the steps. Now let’s look at an example.

At step 2, I keyed in “private investigator mystery series”.

The results I got — minus cozies that got in there and box sets and sponsored ads — were the following in order on the first page:

The Mystery of the Secret Parents – Dan Taylor

 

 

 

Easy Prey – Dan Ames

 

 

 

Murder with Sarcastic Intent – Dan Ames

 

 

 

The Observer – T. Patrick Phelps

 

 

 

The Kill List – David Archer

 

 

 

Haggard Hawk – Douglas Watkinson

 

 

 

Tackling Death – Bud Craig

 

 

 

Double Fake, Double Murder – Dallas Gorham

 

 

 

Hidden Agenda – David Archer

 

 

 

After scanning the list, I ruled out Murder with Sarcastic Intent because the cover hurts my eyes, it’s that garish to me.

From the thumbnails, you can see genre similar prevails. What caught my eye was the first book: The Mystery of the Secret Parents. The cover is somewhat standout, the colors catching my eye. It doesn’t convey genre very well, but then I already know it’s a mystery because that is what I searched for. The title is a good mystery title. Not thrillerish. Just a good old-fashioned mystery.

So I clicked on the book and read the blurb, which was okay. So I looked at the reviews. There were some that threw up red flags for me, but I decided to “Look Inside”. Once I did, I said, Nope. Not for me. Back to step 3.

The only other book on the page of search results that caught my eye was Dallas Gorham’s Double Fake, Double Murder. The cover was a traditional murder mystery cover, which is what I like. The title conveyed the same idea, so I took a closer look.

The blurb didn’t particularly grab me. Too much selling in it. The reviews, though, were pretty good, so I took a “Look Inside”. Sad to say, I wasn’t impressed, and passed on the book.

Analyzing my process, I came to the conclusion that for me — genre similar covers without an eye-catching title — don’t pull me in from the search page. Notice, I passed on Dan Ames’s book with the genre similar cover and lackluster title. Which was the second book on the list.

What caught my eye, were the two covers that were somewhat different. With the title being the clincher.

If a standout cover and a snappy title are what catch my attention on the Amazon search page — where I’m already  looking for a genre specific book — then why would I want to put boring genre similar covers on the books I write? I think the answer is obvious: I don’t.

To my mind where all of this genre appropriate cover advice goes south is that I’m not looking at a mix of genres and trying to find the genre I like. Which the cover would identify for me. I’ve already passed by that step by searching specifically for the genre I want to read. No one seems to have grasped that.

Now the danger in having too standout of a cover, is it can turn people off. As did Ames’s Murder with Sarcastic Intent.

Circling back around, as I’ve noted in previous posts, there is a lot of group think that goes on with people. There is a lot of thinking invading self-publishing that comes from traditional publishing. Which may be appropriate for the Big Corporate types, but not for us indies.

Even when I regularly visited bookstores and looked at books on a self, I went to the genres I wanted to read. And I passed by all the genre similar covers, unless they had a standout title, or a familiar author name, and picked up the book with the standout cover.

So are my covers hurting my sales? It’s possible. Or is some other factor at play here? Such as my doing virtually no advertising?

I’m inclined to think the virtually no advertising may be the actual culprit here, not the covers.

Of course the only way to know for sure is to do a test. Slap a few genre similar covers on my books, do nothing else, and see if I get better sales results. That test I’m considering. It might prove to be very interesting.

As always, your comments are very much welcome. If you’re inclined, take a look at my Amazon page and see if you think my covers are a problem. If you think they are, let me know. I genuinely want to know. But do look at them as I did above, in a long list of books in the same genre. Just so we keep things the same.

Until next time, happy reading!

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The Parasitic Middleman

During a Gold Rush, Sell Shovels.

In 1848, Samuel Brannan ran through the streets of San Francisco with a glass bottle filled with gold dust, yelling gold had been discovered out at Sutter’s Mill.

He is generally credited with starting the California Gold Rush. And became California’s first millionaire. Yet he never panned or mined for gold.

A few days prior to his hype with the bottle of gold, having learned gold had indeed been discovered by the American River, he’d bought every pickax, pan, and shovel he could find. In nine weeks, by selling his goods at exorbitant prices, he made $36,000. That’s equivalent to the economic status 18.5 million dollars would bring someone today.

Many icons of American business got rich in the Gold Rush and never touched any gold, except to take it from the miners.

Levi Strauss had a dry goods business by which he did quite well for himself. He also sold miners the forerunners of what became Levi jeans. He eventually left California, went home, and became exceedingly wealthy selling jeans.

Phillip Armour opened a meat market in Placerville, then took his profits back to Chicago and founded Armour Meats. And increased his wealth many times over.

John Studebaker sold wagons, made money, and returned home to make wagons for pioneers and later on Studebaker automobiles. I remember those cars and I still love them.

Henry Wells and William Fargo started a bank for miners, at least the ones who made some money. Today, Wells Fargo is a leading American bank.

During the California Gold Rush, the middleman, the merchant, the one who offered services, that’s the person who really made the money. Not the prospectors.

Fast forward to today and a different kind of Gold Rush. The indie author/publisher revolution. There are thousands of writers and hopefuls and wannabes all clamoring for the dream of writing and publishing the Great American Novel. That one book that will let them quit the day job and retire to the Bahamas.

Sounds a little bit like the Gold Rush, doesn’t it?

Today’s indie authors are the prospectors and an army of service providers are making money hand over fist off of these poor and sometimes naïve dreamers.

So who are these service providers who’ve convinced so many, many writers they can’t live without their services? Let’s name a few of them.

Sellers of Writing Software Programs. Seriously? I need software to write my book? Whatever happened to pencil and paper? Or the keyboard and the word processing program on my computer?

Now I’m not going to say Dragon, Story Mill, Easy Writer, or Story Weaver can’t help you write. But before you spend money, maybe money you don’t really have, ask yourself if you really need a software programmer and his toy to help you write your book. Just think of the thousands of writers before you who didn’t use such programs and got along just fine. Some using an ink pot and a steel dip pen or a quill even. Maybe you can too.

Grammar, Spelling, and Editing Software. I see some value to this. But honestly, can’t people do a better job? Give me one serious beta reader with an ear for cadence and a knowledge of grammar and who can spell. I’ll pit that person against an army of programmers and software running simply on rules.

Formatting Services. When I started in the indie writing business. I’ll admit I was loathe to spend money. First off, I’m not rich. Secondly, I already had the California Gold Rush scenario in the back of my mind. So I spent $25 for Legend Maker to make my ebooks. It’s a simple program and requires only simple formatting of my typescript. In less than an hour I can format my text and in less then 10 seconds get an epub and mobi file. Now if I had to pay a formatter for my 20 books… Hm, probably a lot more than $25.

Cover Artists. Yes, we all need covers. But seriously, have you taken a look at indie book covers lately? They are so genre similar, they all look just the same. Like the ticky-tacky houses and people in Malvina Reynolds’s song “Little Boxes”. It is no wonder Mark Dawson’s readers said the incentive to buy his books didn’t come from the covers — but from the blurb! By a 5 to 1 margin! The lesson here is simple: don’t spend big bucks on a cover. Spend time crafting your blurb.

Professional Editors. Recently I’ve heard all manner of arguments as to why I need a professional editor to edit my book. It’s as though the editor is going to teach me how to be a better writer. But editors aren’t writers. They’re essentially critics. They served a need for traditional publishing to make sure a manuscript, if accepted, was salable. In other words, that it met the publishing house’s criteria for salability.

Which means, an editor is not primarily a teacher of writing — but a fixer for the publisher.

Now I’m not saying an editor can’t be helpful. But if you need a content editor to massage your manuscript into something that is genre and reader acceptable, maybe what you really need is time spent learning the craft of writing.

Stephen King shows us the path to becoming a writer: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t see the word editor anywhere in there.

The indie movement is direct from writer to reader. The reader will tell you what he or she likes. So recruit them to be your “editors”. Not some academic or someone the Big 5 laid off. Trust your readers. If they don’t like your book, no amount of work from an editor is going to help it.

And I can’t see spending money on a line editor. Find a beta who will do that for you. Preferably someone older who knows how to spell.

We indies broke free from the tyranny of the corporate publisher. Why do we want to saddle ourselves with all the crap the corporations imposed on us? Makes no sense to me.

Review Services. Kirkus is making money off indies to the tune of $500 per review. Wow. That’s incredible. So are outfits like Reader’s Favorites. Pay them money and get a review. They won’t guarantee a 5 star review. But honestly, you think they want to give less than 5 stars and have disgruntled writers bad mouthing them?

I’m not saying these services can’t help sell books. But are they truly any different than the now discredited practice of buying 5 star reviews? Organic and honest reviews by readers are what really sink or float a book. And to get them takes time.

Discount Book Marketers. These outfits are more prolific than mushrooms after a rain. For a fee, they will tweet your book and post about it on Facebook and send it out to their mailing list (along with scores of other books). The problem I see with these outfits is that they encourage indies to constantly offer their books for free or 99¢. And in the long run that trains readers to expect from indies nothing but free or 99¢ books. Very bad for business that mindset.

I’ve come back to the position that if I don’t value my work, who will? If I offer everything I write on the cheap, what does that tell readers? If I barrage my mailing list with free offer after free offer, how can I expect them to buy my books? I’m competing with myself by offering them free books! Not a good business practice at all. Save your money and stay away from these folks. This writing business is really about building a reader base. Not selling books.

Writing Courses. Writing courses have been offered since ever. Everyone who thinks he or she can write has at one time offered one. There are good courses and bad courses. Just like everything else.

However, I do think you are better off taking a good writing course than resorting to an editor for every book you write. Learn the craft of writing. If you don’t know the basics of storytelling, a writing course can help you with that. And that’s about all it can do. The rest of it is back to Stephen King. Read lots. Pay attention to what you like and don’t like about what you read. And write lots. Putting into practice what you’ve learned from reading.

Writing is hard work. Fun work, but hard work. Writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It takes time to develop the craft. A potter doesn’t throw a perfect pot the first time on the wheel. Take the time to learn the craft.

Marketing Courses. These are legion now. Many, many successful indies are putting together courses to teach their fellows the path to success. And charging big bucks to do so. And, as with anything else, some are good and some are bad.

One so called expert got her claim to fame by being a New York Times bestseller. The problem is, the book that did it for her was in a multi-author box set and her name wasn’t even in the advertising! Cheating if you ask me. Yet, she is a respected expert on marketing. Go figure.

Another novelist wrote a few books that apparently sold well or made number one on some list. Now he no longer writes fiction, just sells his course on fiction writing success. Ugh.

So be careful. Vet the person you are going to take a course from or buy books from or get advice from.

The best advice for the money I’ve gotten to date was free. A blogpost by Australian indie novelist Patty Jansen. Wish I’d had that information 3 years ago. You can read it here.

Not everything that shines is gold. Not everything of value costs big bucks, although sometimes you do get what you pay for. We indies are the prospectors. So remember this: the worst time to buy a shovel is on your way to the gold field. Get it before you leave home and take it with you.

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

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Writer TS Paul – Does He Really Break The Rules?

This past Friday, I listened to Mark Dawson’s podcast which was an interview with indie sci-fi and paranormal writer TS Paul. You can catch the podcast on the SPF website and I’d encourage you to listen to it.

The initial hype was that Paul is a short story writer who’s crushing it with sales. Sorry, folks, that’s false advertising. Paul primarily writes sci-fi novellas and shorter paranormal novels. The visions of waltzing to the bank on my short stories quickly vanished.

The interview then went on to show all the things Paul did that were “wrong” and yet he still managed to reach a point where he’s seeing a half-million a year in sales.

Obviously, TS Paul is doing something right. So what is it?

Last week I wrote about The Writer’s Magic Marketing Machine and presented indie sci-fi and fantasy author Patty Jansen’s road map to success. Very simply, it is:

  • Write well
  • Write lots
  • Write in series
  • Publish often
  • Build a mailing list

As I noted last week, this is standard indie advice. Virtually all the successful indie authors do the 5 points above.

Dawson and his cohort, James Blatch, were dumbfounded by Paul’s success. They couldn’t explain it. On reflection, I think Paul’s success is very easy to understand — and, in fact, I’d say he’s doing most everything right.

First of all, TS Paul writes lots. A short story a week and 31 books in a couple years. Writing lots is crucial for every indie author who even hopes of being successful. It’s the key to not being forgotten.

Secondly, he writes in series. This is also critical for indie authors. Because indie readers are series readers.

Third, he publishes frequently. Publishing often keeps your name in front of readers and helps to pump up the Amazon algorithms.

Fourthly, he knows his audience. He targets the YA crowd. There is no sex or bad language in his books and the covers appeal to the eye of a young audience. I’d also hazard a guess that the shorter lengths of his books appeals to the YA folk, who primarily read on their phones.

So what does he do that is actually controversial? In the big picture, not much. He doesn’t believe in freebies. So he doesn’t give away his books. But he’s not the only writer in that camp.

He doesn’t do a lot of advertising, although he does more now than when he first began. About a $1000/month on Facebook.

He doesn’t have a mailing list. However, he’s not alone here either. What he does have is an active blog and Facebook page. Effectively, they are taking the place of a mailing list. Through his blog and Facebook page he keeps in touch with his readers and lets them know of new books.

The most controversial thing, in my opinion, about Mr Paul is his cavalier attitude towards the quality of his writing and the physical product.

He doesn’t give a fig about typos or bad grammar or lousy formatting. He says so in the interview. And the critical reviews testify to his devil may care attitude. It also appears his writing style is not all that stellar, according to the reviews.

I noticed in looking at his offerings, quite a few book blurbs note the book is newly re-edited and formatted. So maybe Mr Paul cares more about what readers think than he’s willing to admit.

The mystery for me is how a brand new nobody writer can go from $150/month in sales to over a $1000/month in the span of a few months — with no advertising. Paul didn’t say. Blatch didn’t ask. Too bad.

Based on what Mr Paul did say, my thought is that his friend, the popular author Michael Anderle, who encouraged Mr Paul to start writing in the first place, gave him a boost. Just a guess, but if correct it shows that who you know is still a very powerful means to success.

The bottom line is, TS Paul is doing everything he should be doing — except writing well and producing a quality product. But in spite of all the criticism he’s received, and there is a lot on Amazon, he’s laughing his way to the bank.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Spice In The Writer’s Life

Today, the Big 5 Publishers want writers to write one thing. If I write private detective murder mysteries, that’s all the Big 5 want me to write. Why? Because they want a known commodity in their stable. Especially if my mysteries sell.

For a very long time now, writers have gotten around that particular publisher restriction by using pen names. Or by going to a different publisher. Although as publishing houses merge, that option is vanishing.

Of course, the independent author/publisher has no such constraints and can publish whatever he or she wants. Although “conventional” wisdom argues that it’s easier to create a “brand” if one publishes only in one genre. I think branding is hogwash, but that’s a subject for another post.

The question is are there multi-genre authors? And the answer is a resounding — YES! In fact, there have pretty much always been multi-genre authors.

Who are some of these writers? Let’s name a few:

H.G. Wells, Georgette Heyer, Iain [M] Banks, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ken Follett, Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Arthur Ransome, Isaac Asimov, Dan Simmons, Anthony Trollope, Doris Lessing, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, John Updike, Walter Tevis, Jerome Charyn, Ardath Mayhar, Lucius Annaeus Seneca

And the list goes on.

So why do writers write in more than one genre? I can only answer for myself. The reason I write in more than one genre is so that I don’t get bored.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. It shakes things up, it broadens our horizons, gives us a larger perspective on life.

I have a wide range of interests. My reading reflects that range and I talked about that last week. And so does my writing. Because I basically write what I like to read.

Currently, I write private detective mysteries, post-apocalyptic fiction, dieselpunk alternative history action/adventure, and horror (both psychological and supernatural). In the future, I have plans for writing space opera, historical science fiction novels, cozy mysteries, fantasy, and non-fiction, as well as more of the above.

Of course the rub comes when we talk about marketing, because not all readers are the same. Some just devour romances, or mysteries, or mainstream novels. Others do read more than one genre. So with readers having their expectations and writers wanting to do their thing, what’s the answer?

For myself, I have to write what I’m interested in and what I like to read. I also have to take into consideration that I rapidly lose interest if I have to do the same thing over and over again. I love Tina and Harry in the Justinia Wright mystery series, but if I only wrote about them I’d soon get bored.

And then there is the idea machine. It never stops and is constantly stimulated by everything going on around me. Just the other day, while preparing lunch, I got an idea for a post-apocalyptic novel and a forbidden love novel. That happens all the time. Do I throw those ideas away? No. I save them and often sketch out the idea so I don’t forget it. Because even though at present I have four projects I’m working on, I won’t always have those four projects and I’ll want to start a new one.

Hopefully my readers will like all that I write because they like my style and relate to my worldview. Hopefully. However, I realize a good many will not. And that’s okay.

Another reason writers might write in more than one genre is to capture a larger share of readers. If I write mysteries and horror and science fiction, I have three large reader audiences, as well as those who might cross over. More readers, potentially means more money. And most writers write because they want to tell stories for a living.

Please take a look at my novels page and see the range of what I write. Hopefully, if you haven’t already, you’ll find something to pique your interest. And hopefully in the next year or two some of the other ideas that are in the cooker will be ready to serve up for readers’s enjoyment.

Lawrence Block writes mysteries and thrillers. But over the years he’s begun and ended many series. He says all he can through a character and moves on to a new one. Frustrating as it is for me the reader, it’s what Block has to do to stay fresh in his chosen genre. Which really isn’t any different than a writer who writes in two or more genres or simply switches genres.

Let me know if you read more than one genre and know of authors who write in more than one. Your comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The Male Reader

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Do Men Read Fiction?”. The answer is, yes, they do. However, they may not do so to the degree women do — or, they may simply not admit they do. Because in America, reading is for girls and sports is for boys.

I’d like to revisit the data Kate Summers presented in her article for the Spring 2013 issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly. And I’d like to do so in the context of fiction writers and the male audience.

So what in general do men like to read? The three top genres according to a survey of 11th grade males were:

Adventure  81%

Humor         64%

Horror & Science Fiction  57%

One might question extrapolating from 11th grade males to adult males. From my own experience, I can say I don’t read fiction as an adult that I didn’t read as a boy. The genres, nor the subject matter hasn’t changed all that much — if at all.

What I’ve seen of late, especially amongst male indie writers, is the use of female protagonists in great numbers. In fact, I’m finding it difficult to find male protagonists anywhere in some of my favorite genres amongst new writers and new books.

I have nothing against a female protagonist. Certainly in the period from the twenties to the fifties, they were welcome — because there were so few. Today, the situation seems reversed. It’s difficult to find a strong male lead. I think that is why Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is so popular. He’s a strong male lead who allows men to fulfill some of their fantasies.

Perhaps the new wave of men writers have been seduced by the myth that men don’t read fiction. So they write what they think their female readers want to read. Or perhaps this new wave of men writers are of the opinion men want to read books with strong female leads. Perhaps.

However, the data would suggest otherwise.

Above I cited the top genres men like to read. Those genres do not occur anywhere near the top for female readers. Women prefer these genres:

Romance (no surprise here) 68%

Realistic Fiction Dealing with Relationships 65%

Mystery 59%

Realistic Fiction Dealing with Problems 57%

Humor 51%

So right off the bat, men writing science fiction with strong female leads, for example, have immediately narrowed their market. They aren’t tapping into their potential male audience, nor their potential female audience. Women tend not to read science fiction and, as we’ll see in a bit, men tend not to prefer female protagonists.

This is not to say men shouldn’t write science fiction with strong female leads. I’m just noting that in the quest for market share, one should be at least aware of what each gender reads and prefers. Why pick a narrow segment of readers, when a broader one exists? Especially for those crucial first few novels.

So what gender of protagonist do men and women prefer? Summers found in her survey of books cited as favorites by men that the gender of the protagonist was

Male — 64 books

Female — 8 books

Male & Female — 8 books

Men, it seems, tend to prefer books with male protagonists. Contrast this with the female readers surveyed

Male — 32 books

Female — 24 books

Male & Female — 6 books

The women surveyed were more evenly divided, although male protagonists also had the edge with them.

Another piece of interesting information Summers uncovered was that of the 60 authors the men in her survey chose as their favorite, 57 were men and 3 were women. On the other hand, the women’s favorite authors were 44 male and 19 female. Quite clearly, men have an almost total preference for male authors. While women are more fluid, but still prefer male authors over female.

I found this data quite surprising and the more I ponder it the more I’m convinced that this is a good day and age for men writers and protagonists who are men.

Which isn’t to say women authors don’t have a voice, nor is it to say women shouldn’t be protagonists.

What I think this data shows, is if we want to attract men to fiction we need to write what men want to read.

Men prefer adventure and humor by large margins. They also prefer male authors and male protagonists by very large margins. This is important data to keep in mind.

Lee Child became a best selling author with his Jack Reacher novels. Indie author Mark Dawson, who modeled his character John Milton after Jack Reacher, in the short span of three years went from nothing to gross receipts in the 7 figure range. That is something to think about.

Of course we can contrast that with, say, Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum novels, which are immensely popular best sellers. However, note the genres: Jack Reacher and John Milton are adventure/thrillers and Stephanie is mystery. The first ranks high with men and the second with women. Although Mark Dawson’s research into who comprises his audience has found the numbers of men and women who read his John Milton novels to be evenly divided.

When I took a look at the protagonists in my own stories and novels, I found a preponderance of male protagonists. That written, The Rocheport Saga is populated with many female movers and shakers. The Justinia Wright mysteries feature a female private eye and her brother as “Watson”. A combo protagonist. And, of course, the Lady Dru novels have a female protagonist, with a female and male as secondary protagonists.

As a writer, I found the Lady Dru novels to be the more difficult to write. I wanted to write a convincing female protagonist and joked about having to get in touch with my inner woman. Whether or not I was successful, I’ll leave you to decide.

So what can we take away from this data? First, we must keep in mind that Ms Summers’s survey was small. As was the survey she cited by Constance Schultheis. Small surveys mean there is a possibility of a high margin of error. More surveys are needed to verify or reverse her results.

However, when I look at myself and my reading habits — I tend to follow the same preferences that were found in the surveyed males.

Secondly, I think we can take away the rather obvious observation that men and women have different preferences when it comes to reading fiction. As writers, paying attention to those differences and identifying who our primary audience is will be critical to our book marketing success.

Thirdly, men do read fiction. We men who are writers should not shy away from writing for men. To do so will limit our potential audience and who wants to do that?

I don’t know if there is a one size fits all solution. If there is, my guess is that it would be a combination of adventure and romance, with a touch of mystery and a dollop of humor. One could possibly substitute for romance realistic fiction dealing with relationships, as half the male readers surveyed by Schultheis cited a preference for that category (as well as a high percentage of female readers).

Otherwise, we writers might want to simply focus on two approaches: one oriented towards a male audience and one towards a female audience. Indie authors will be able to pull this off much more effectively than traditionally published authors, as publishing companies tend to put their writers into straightjackets when it comes to genre.

I hope you found this article of interest and help. As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Where Has All the Money Gone?

One advantage of being older is that we oldsters have a perspective not available to youngsters. Now I’m not ancient. I’m “only” 63. However, my interest in writing and being a published author goes back as long as I can remember. It’s an interest and a desire that’s always been with me. I’ve actively followed the publishing scene for fifty years or more. I’ve ingested so many how-to books and articles I will never hunger for several lifetimes.

And I’m here to say, for all the change in the publishing world, nothing much has changed.

My friends Sarah and Alice commented on my last post and I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of loss as to how to proceed in what is perceived as a publishing maelstrom.

I want to repeat: nothing much has changed in 50 years.

Sure we have the internet. And I’m glad. But let’s take a little techno history ride. A ride that shows why I’m so enthusiastic about the present and the future. A ride that hopefully will give some perspective.

When I was in school during the ‘50s and ‘60s there were mimeograph machines. You typed a stencil, put it on the drum of the machine, filled the machine with fluid (always blue), and produced your printed document. Freshly printed paper was best because you got to smell the mimeo ink. Yes, we sniffed our test questions!

Then photocopiers appeared on the scene. Yippee! No stencils! No mimeo fluid! And you could even get color on some machines. Photocopiers were faster and cleaner and spawned a fanzine revolution. The editor only had to get the cover printed at the print shop. A new age was dawning!

I remember many fanzines from back in the last few decades of the 20th century and even slim books produced on the photocopier. It was certainly the best of times.

Then along came desktop publishing. Oh my! That took indie publishing to a whole new level. The things we could now do on a computer that had been impossible on a typewriter. Desktop publishing was almost as revolutionary as the printing press itself.

Then print on demand technology became practical in the first few years of the 21st century. Writers had now reached the gates of paradise. No longer did we only have the dreaded vanity presses. We could actually produce our own paperback books. We indie authors were able to go to a whole new level. But we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.

On November 19, 2007, Amazon introduced the Kindle. It sold for $399 and the initial lot sold out in 5 1/2 hours. Restocks weren’t available for five months. Author/publishers had achieved Nirvana.

What the future has in store, who knows? But over the past 50 years, I’ve seen nothing but better opportunity upon better opportunity. I’ll take my stories on epub and mobi any day over those old, faded mimeograph pages.

From my perspective, as a writer/publisher, I’ll take the plethora of options available to me in 2016 over the dearth of options that were available in 1965. For in 1965, I could only run the gauntlet of traditional publishing if I wanted the chance to have an audience greater than a few hundred people – at best – self-publishing. And have a quality product. Of course, there was always the dreaded vanity press. Back then. Today the vanity press is passé.

Another thing to consider. Back then, because the fiction magazine market had virtually dried up to nothing, novels were the only way to go if one hoped to make money. Novels are still the fiction writers best chance at the big bucks. But, due to epublishing, novellas and short stories are making a big come back. And I, for one, am very pleased. I love the short story.

However, with ease, comes the tsunami of fortune seekers. The get rich quick mentality. Not unlike the California Gold Rush. The first ones in, got the easy stuff. Those after, only made the middleman rich.

Not unlike the Kindle revolution. Those in first got the easy money. By 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like those old Smith Barney commercials from the ‘60s, if we want money — we have to earn it.

Today, in 2016, the middleman is alive and well just waiting to part the wannabe author from his or her money. And the desperate are easily parted from their cash.

But there is no need to be among the desperate. The Golden Age may have passed, but we are surely in the glorious Silver Age — and silver spends as well as gold.

What can we author/publishers do in 2016 to make a living from our writing? I’ve been asking myself that question for the past 20 months. I’ve read the blogs and books, I’ve observed what others are doing who have been in longer than I and who are making a living. I think there are lots of things we can do and the first is to have patience. The easy money maybe gone, but the money is still there if we’re willing to do a little spadework. Here are some further thoughts.

  1. Write well. This always has and always will be number one. The ebook revolution hasn’t changed the fact that while sloppy books will get published, the well-written ones will have a better chance at survival. Learn grammar. Learn how to spell (spell checker is fallible). Learn how to tell a story. Good grammar, good spelling, good storytelling are always in demand.
  2. Write every day. Treat your writing as though it were a job. If you aren’t writing every day, you aren’t serious about your writing. It’s just a hobby. Hobbies are okay, but not if you want to make a living.
  3. The indie formula is still alive and well. Namely, write lots, publish frequently, publish series, and write in a genre. Unfortunately, literary fiction, the stand alone novel, and fuzzy genre books don’t do that well in the indie market. If that is what you want to write, go ahead. Just realize you are setting yourself a higher hurdle to jump.
  4. Learn marketing. Whether you go indie or traditional, knowing how to sell your books is what will make you money in the end. Unless your name is Patterson, Michener, Dan Brown, Sandra Brown, or Sue Grafton, the publishing house isn’t going to spend advertising dollars on you. You are unknown. The money is spent where the publisher knows they’ll get many dollars in return for each ad buck spent. What’s more publishers never did spend advertising on new authors. For some reason there is a myth that is very popular about the supportive publishing house. They are in it for the money. If the writer can’t make them money, he or she will be kicked to the curb — because there is always the next one in line to take their place. So learn marketing.
  5. Be willing to spend some money to make some money. You don’t have to spend a lot, but you will probably have to spend some. Advertising isn’t free for the most part, although some is.
  6. Build your mailing list. This is the one thing I’ve learned recently that makes me wish I’d started two or three years ago laying the foundation for my writing career. Better late, though, than never. A mailing list is indispensable for indies. And also traditionally published folk. Don’t be dependent on anyone but you. Not Random House, MacMillan, Amazon, FaceBook, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords — not anyone. When you have your own mailing list of fans, then you can direct market to them, mobilize them, get them to work for you. It takes time and money, but no one seems to regret building a strong mailing list.
  7. Social media doesn’t sell books. Not directly anyway. Tweeting “Buy My Book” 20 times a day is going to get you ignored or muted. I’ve never bought a book from one of those tweets or from one of those companies that will do it for you. However, I have purchased books from people I’ve gotten to know on Twitter.
  8. Spending time on social media is largely a waste of time. It’s time you could be using to write your book or your next book. I’m not saying one shouldn’t be social or connect with people. One should. But spending hours tweeting drivel or playing games or what all, is time stolen from writing your book. Books will make you money. Twitter games won’t. Mainly because people buy books. They don’t buy Twitter game tweets.
  9. For indies, don’t bother about advertising your book until you have at least 4 of them. Indie readers like series, tend to be high volume genre readers, and don’t want to wait for the next book.
  10. For traditionally published folk, it’s the reverse. Advertise that book as if it will save your soul, because if you don’t earn back your advance — the publisher will kick you to the curb and take the next writer in line.
  11. Publish widely. And use Amazon. Yeah, I hate Amazon too. A giant monopolistic behemoth. But before you get on your high horse, remember 80% of ebooks are sold through Amazon. If you aren’t on Amazon, 80 buyers out of a 100 won’t see you. Can you really afford to give up that large of an audience? In addition, Amazon controls 2/3 of the print market. If you aren’t on Amazon, you basically don’t exist. And, yeah, I hate Amazon. They are like any other big company — they exist to make money. Period. But reality is reality. Publish widely and play with the 800 pound gorilla on the block.
  12. Draw up a business plan. Plan your work and work your plan. You are an author/publisher. You are your own publisher. If you don’t want the hassle of publishing, then try to run the traditional gauntlet. You’ll only get 10% and still have to do all the work as if you were an indie. This is reality. Magic doesn’t work in the real world. You need to plan for success.
  13. Don’t give up and don’t despair. Be thankful you don’t have to choose between Random House, the vanity press, or the mimeograph machine. There are over 4 million books on Amazon’s Kindle store. And yours are unique. Your readers are out there and want to be found. Learn marketing so you can find them. Be proactive. Don’t rely on magic. It doesn’t work.

This is the best of times and this is the best of times. Life is always easier for the other guy. You and me? We have to work. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. No silver spoon was in my mouth when I was born and none appeared when I started self-publishing. And the real kick in the butt? Oprah had retired.

So I’m learning how to market what I write. There are a lot of resources out there. I found one I think makes sense and am going to give it a try.

Believe in yourself. Treat the days of no sales as a challenge to build your fan base — because they are out there looking for you. Don’t let them down.

Circling back around to the title of this post, where has all the money gone? Nowhere. It’s right there. Ready to be traded for quality entertainment.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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Being Indie

In 2014 I made the decision to become an independent writer/publisher, or indie for short. Two factors weighed heavily in my decision. One was the difficulty of going the traditional route. The other being freedom.

I don’t write much on the writing life, because I don’t have much, if anything, to add to the veritable mountain of information that’s out already. Nor is my personal journey all that unique. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I am slowly correcting them. I’ve also done a few things right.

Today, I’d like to put out into the aether a few thoughts about being an author/publisher. These are my own reflections. For the writers in my audience, I hope you find something of use or encouragement. For the non-writers, hopefully you’ll find applications to your own lives.

Traditional Publishing

Sometime in the middle 1960s I got my first copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest. Let me be frank here, nothing much has changed in the traditional publishing world during these past 50 years. The most noticeable differences between then and now are these:

  • There are fewer publishers
  • An agent is virtually mandatory
  • The wannabe author has to secure his/her own editorial services
  • There is the internet

Everything else is the same. The same advice on how to write. The same adulation of critics, pundits, and publishers. The same narrow gate whereby only the few may enter. And once within the hallowed walls of authordom, the same lousy contracts and all the same self-marketing if you want to sell books.

My late friend and author, John J. Koblas, used to have his van filled with boxes of his books to sell at every speaking engagement and signing event. And to whoever might happen by. He made an okay living—but had to hustle to do it.

In truth, very little has changed in 50 years. For all of the perceived change, so much has stayed the same.

Freedom

I value freedom. Robert E. Howard, in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, confessed the reason he wanted to be a writer was because of the freedom it gave a person. I couldn’t agree more.

A writer is a self-employed artist. A creator and a business person all rolled into one. Unfortunately, the business piece of the partnership usually gets forgotten. The writer leaves that to the agent; or, if self published, too often to magic. When Weird Tales had trouble paying Howard for his stories, Howard followed the money and moved on to the western and fight magazines. He was a businessman as well as an artist.

Any writer can tell you, if he or she is actually writing stories and books, the act of writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It’s work. It might be fun work, but it’s work nonetheless.

So why do so many writers—myself included—simply toss their books onto Amazon and then conduct tweet barrages to try to sell them? Or think blogging will get them noticed? Or hope that those 10,000 downloads of their free book will automatically turn into book buying fans? Because we want to believe in magic.

After being in indie author for over a year and a half, I’m here to tell you magic doesn’t work.

The freedom of being an independent author/publisher comes with a boatload of responsibility. The responsibility of being your own business person. Of being the one who directs your career, not some money-grubbing middleman (aka publisher) directing it for you.

The Black Hole

I read somewhere 3,000 books a day are published. I don’t know if that is true or not. But I’d hazard a guess it’s at least close to the truth.

Recently I went through a free course on book marketing with Nick Stephenson. Several times he mentioned writing into the black hole. In other words if you’re unknown, just writing books won’t bring you fame. They’re going into the black hole. Because no one knows you exist.

Marketing on social media is kind of doing the same thing. So is offering your book for free. There are lots of people out there who will grab anything for free and that includes books. They may never read those free books. Which means downloads of free books don’t necessarily mean readers, much less fans.

Dumping into the black hole isn’t going to do much to get you noticed. Remember, 3,000 books a day are being published.

Becoming a name, a recognizable name, is the struggle every author has had since authors first stepped onto the career playing field. And we are talking millennia here, folks. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides weren’t always famous. How many more classical Greek playwrights never became famous? We don’t know. Their names are dust. Anthony Trollope got the attention of a few critics with his fourth novel. He made some money and got a name with his fifth. It was Hugh Howey’s eighth book, Wool, that gave readers cause to sit up and take notice. Very few authors ever hit the big time coming out of the gate.

When I look at Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus or Goodreads, I see writers grouping together primarily with other writers. And that is not all bad. But it won’t necessarily get you out of the black hole. Why? Because we writers want readers to buy our books. There are more readers out there than writers. Somewhere along the line I think we forget that. Although, I do keep hoping Marcia Muller or S J Rozan will discover and plug my Justinia Wright mystery series and I will rake in the dough on the Oprah Effect. I do keep hoping. Magic is alive and well.

The sad fact of the matter is most of us will be swallowed up by the black hole. Why? Because name recognition is much more difficult to obtain then writing a book—and writing a book is difficult enough.

Marketing

To climb out of the black hole, we need to be business people. We need to plan our work and work our plan. We need to become proficient at marketing and self-promotion. And because many of us are introverts and shy, we see self-promotion as something akin to torture. And who wants to willingly lie on the rack or step into the Iron Maiden?

Nevertheless, we need to learn how to sell our books and ourselves—if we want to make a career of writing.

For myself, I’m 63 and retired. I don’t need to replace the dreaded day job. But I would like to supplement my income and get that Rolls Royce I’ve always wanted.

So how does one learn marketing? There are lots of ways:

  • Business courses at college
  • Observation of successful indies
  • Getting personal advice from successful indies
  • Reading marketing blogs
  • Reading books on marketing
  • Taking courses offered by indie writers who are successful or marketers who cater to indie authors
  • Trial and error
  • Paying a marketing firm (making sure you observe what they do so you don’t have to hire them ongoing)

I’ve observed successful indies, read a few of the marketing blogs, read a few books on marketing, have tried and erred, and am now taking a course.

What I’ve Learned

What have I learned over the past 20 months of being an indie author that I can pass on to you? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Write. For indie authors, less is not more. More is more. Readers of indie authors expect a lot of product. All of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  2. Write in series. Readers of indie works expect a series or at the very least related books in a universe or series characters. All of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  3. Have at least 3 books written before you start seriously thinking of marketing.
  4. Write in an identifiable genre. This makes it easy for indie readers to identify you. The genre doesn’t have to be large. It could be, for example, romantic space opera. While small, that subgenre is identifiable. Once again, all of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  5. Write well/Edit well. This should go without saying. Unfortunately it can’t. Pay someone to help you if you have to. Investing in yourself is always worth the money.
  6. Use social media to make connections with your peers. Don’t use it to sell. It’s a poor sales channel—unless you are paying for ads on the channel.
  7. Learn marketing. If you’re going to be an author/publisher, then you’re going to have to know marketing if you want to sell books. I wish someone had told me this 2 or 3 years before I started. This is critical. Marketing sells books. Wishful thinking and magic do not.
  8. Live by Heinlein’s Five Rules. If you are a writer, then you write. You don’t do anything else. Unless you’re an author/publisher and then you are going to have to also do the business end of things, like marketing, as well. But first and foremost, you write. Robert J Sawyer sums up the Five Rules very well. Do read them. Do follow them.

I hope this has been of value. Comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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One Year

A year ago I self-published four novels. That act was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had ever since I can remember. Now, on my one year anniversary as a published writer, I have seven novels, five novellas (three collected into one book), and a short story in digital print. Two more short stories will be out this month and next month I will publish my third book in the Justinia Wright, PI series.

How Did I Get Here?

Even though I wanted to be a writer, I never actually did a lot of writing when young. Those early years saw a few poems, stories, and plays. A couple things were published and my high school drama class performed one of my plays. The early and middle decades of my life, however, are littered with far more abandoned then completed projects.

Lack of encouragement is a dreadful thing and harsh words are destructive. I had yet to read Rainer Maria Rilke’s first letter to the young poet. I looked without and not within. Encouragement and support are important, and I seek to be so to others, but looking within and knowing one must write in spite of what others say is vital. When I did so, I knew I had to write.

In 1989 I wrote a novel in the span of one year. The novel, however, was not good and after a couple rejected queries I put it away and turned to poetry. Poetry, I found, was something I could much better sandwich in and amongst my other responsibilities and day job on a regular basis. And I’m proud to say I achieved something of a name in certain poetry circles.

Ultimately, I found I wanted a bigger canvas. Painting miniatures was fun and fulfilling to a point. I wanted bigger worlds. I wanted to create worlds.

Consequently, I returned to my first love: fiction. I wrote and wrote and wrote one abortion after another. I always got hung up on plot. I’d never plotted a poem. I just wrote them. For some reason, I thought I had to plot fiction. Once I disabused myself of that idea, the stories and books have flowed out of my pen and pencil. I had found what worked for me — just write the story. I found I was in good company, as well. Ray Bradbury didn’t believe in intentional plotting. Create your characters, let them do their thing, and that’s the plot. Works for me.

Why Self-Publish?

Why self publish indeed? Doesn’t that smack of the old vanity press? Didn’t I need an editor’s approval? Someone to put that imprimatur on my work that signified it was “good”?

I thought long and hard about going the traditional route or to self publish. I’m old enough to be permanently scarred with the fear of the vanity press.

Yet the publishing industry as we know it is no more then two hundred years old. Thoreau’s book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was self-published after he couldn’t find a publisher in 1849. Anthony Trollope commented in his Autobiography that a publisher of one of his early books was willing to publish the book at his own expense. That Trollope notes this is significant. It means even in the middle 1800s publishers weren’t overly generous or willing to take risks on novice authors and that the author might have to defray the costs of publishing in part or in whole.

The world of publishing I grew up with was gone. Dozens and dozens of publishers no longer exist. One is left with the small press or the Big 5. The slush pile and its editor has been replaced by the agent taking on a new role — that of the editor.

Dean Wesley Smith challenges the myths that surround the publishing industry and agents. Every writer needs to read to his article on agents.

My personal experience with the writers I have known is that the publisher does not hold your hand, the publisher does not provide you advertising dollars, and if you do not sell and make them money — you are kicked to the curb. Publishing is a business. And too often a cruel business. Today a new author, even to be looked at by an agent, needs to have a platform (social media presence and blog or website, hopefully with lots of traffic) in place so that the agent can tell the publisher this person might be able to sell a book.

However, not only does an author have to have a platform in place — but the author’s novel must conform to arbitrary publisher and bookseller norms. A friend tried to interest an agent in her 100,000 word YA fantasy novel. The prospective agent she had queried flat out told her no one will buy a YA book of that length from an unknown author. The agent then suggested various ways to mutilate the novel to fit the norms.

Then there is the money. A lousy 10% at best from the publishing house versus a minimum of 35% and a maximum of 70% when self-publishing. I asked myself, Why if I have to do all the work myself do I want 10% instead of 35% or 70% and then give an agent 15% of that measly 10%? Why indeed?

And then there is Rilke’s advice to the young poet:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

And if out of this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.

My decision seemed easy. Why ask some agent or editor if my work is good? If I have to build my own audience, do my own editing, buy my own advertising, and hold my own hand — then why not self-publish and at least have a shot at making a pile of money?

So I did. I kicked the rules to the curb and took advantage of modern technology. Gutenberg is dead. Brick and mortar stores are dying. The Kindle and iPad are everywhere. I haven’t made piles of money. At least not yet. Then again I haven’t paid a dime for advertising either. Nevertheless, I am making some money. My marketing plan is this: when I have at least four titles in a series, then I’ll start looking at marketing on a big scale.

To pay for advertising on one or two books is the big mistake, in my opinion. With 3000 new books a day being published, one is easily lost in a sea of virtual ink. To market one book, with no follow up for the reader to buy, it is to my mind paying to be forgotten. At least in the indie publishing world.

But what about the traditional world? It takes a publisher two years to get your book in print. Perhaps less for a small press, but then they have little clout. If you don’t have something to follow-up right away, you’ll be lost in the traditional world too. Because it will take years for your next book to see print. And if your book isn’t a good seller, it will get remainder. A sure fire way to be forgotten. In addition, publishers don’t want to publish a follow-up novel in less than a year. They are afraid of you competing with yourself. All these rules. And who do they benefit?

As a self published author, I can publish as many books as I want in a year. They are never remaindered. After all, I’m the publisher as well as the writer. Robert E Howard once wrote to H. P. Lovecraft the reason he wanted to be a writer was for the freedom it gave him. I think Howard would have loved today’s self-publishing world — it is the ultimate freedom.

What’s Next?

I’m having a blast. I write every day. I write the best story I can. I put many hours into editing and proofing so I can put out a quality product. I am learning every day new aspects of writing and publishing. All I can say is I’m having the time of my life. And I’m my own boss.

During this next year I’m building inventory. More novels. More stories. Then I will get serious about marketing and develop a comprehensive strategy. I continue to read and learn what works for writers and what doesn’t.

I confess I have a golden parachute. I’m retired. Sure, I’d like to make piles of money from my writing. But if I don’t, I’m still a full-time writer. I write because I have to. I’ve gone deep into myself and found out I must write. I must create. My books have been born out of necessity. “A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity.” It’s the only way Rilke could judge a work and it’s the only way I can judge. No editor or agent say otherwise.

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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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