Branding Through Cover Art

Nancy J. Cohen

Series branding can be just as important as author branding. What’s the difference? Author branding tells who you are and what kind of stories you write. For example, my works blend elements of murder, mystery, romance, and humor. Readers know they’re in for an entertaining yet suspenseful ride with a satisfying ending. I also write stories set in Florida, and this tropical flavor adds a layer of depth to my work.

Currently, I’m working to revise and reissue my earlier mystery titles. I hired a new cover designer and liked her idea of putting a collage together of photographic images. Similar to an art sheet from a publisher, I filled her in on what might make an appropriate scene and what elements it might include. I looked at the images she subsequently sent me and picked ones that seemed perfect.
All went well until she put them together in a cover mockup. My stomach sank. It didn’t work for me. The images were fine. So were the colors and title placement. But the whole didn’t speak to me as a cozy reader. Where was the humor element? The fun factor that would make me smile and want to buy this book, like these covers below?

ManicureMM    Shear Murder

And so I did a search on Amazon for “cozy mysteries.” The overwhelming majority of them were illustrations, not photographs. I’d given this designer a list of covers that appealed to me, but she didn’t seem to “get” the genre. My original cover artist, who’d had to bow out for personal reasons, had sent me a mockup of a cover that I’d really liked. Looking at them side-by-side, I had a bad feeling about the photo-based imagery. It wasn’t right for the genre.

Even if I rebranded myself by having all my reissued titles have similar designs, would these more realistic covers attract cozy readers? I didn’t think so. It certainly wouldn’t appeal to me. As a cozy reader, I look for a certain style. Normally, you can identify a cozy just by looking at the cover. And so I regretfully parted ways with designer number two. I approached my original artist to see if she was available again, and to my joy she said yes. We’re back to fixing the details on the original cover, and I feel much happier about the process.

What is the lesson learned? It’s not only about your author brand. It’s also about reader expectations. Readers can tell from the cover what type of story to expect. Go for a change if you want to broaden your readership. But if you want genre appeal, stick to the tried and true. Flowers never did it for me as a romance reader. I still like the old-fashioned clinch covers. Remember the old gothics, with a woman in a gown running away from a spooky mansion? You could tell at a glimpse what genre it represented. So yes, your cozy or thriller cover at a glance might resemble others in the genre, but that’s what readers want and expect.

Whichever route you go, plan for series continuity via the same font, author name and title location, series logo, design style and color statement (i.e. pastels or bold and bright).

Does reader expectation figure into your cover art or does this aspect not concern you?

Profits of Doom?

James Scott Bell

Cassandra, prophetess of bad tidings

There’s a bit of a buzz (meaning less than a meme, but more than idle chatter) about declining profits for indie authors. If I’m tapping into this correctly, there are more than a few writers who’ve experienced  significant drop offs in their Kindle royalties. Some attribute this to the Kindle Unlimited program. Others say it’s the massive entertainment options that compete for our attention. 

Or could it be that the ever-increasing number of titles sprouting like steroid-laced Kudzu each day offers too doggone many choices?

That is the view of Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who has (perhaps reluctantly) donned the robes of a Cassandra. On his blog recently he issued this prophecy:

The gravy train of exponential sales growth is over. Indies have hit a brick wall and are scrambling to make sense of it.  In recent weeks, for example, I’ve heard a number of indie authors report that their sales at Amazon dropped significantly since July when Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited… Some authors are considering quitting. It’s heartbreaking to hear this, but I’m not surprised either. When authors hit hard times, sometimes the reasons to quit seem to outnumber the reasons to power on. Often these voices come from friends and family who admire our authorship but question the financial sensibility of it all…. 

[E]very year there will be more and more books for readers to choose from. Unless the number of readers and the number of books read by readers grows faster than the number of titles released and ever-present, there will be fewer eyeballs split across more books. This means the average number of book sales for each new release will decline over time unless readership dramatically increases, or unless we see an accelerating pace of transition from print reading to screen reading.

He was challenged on his assertions on the Passive Voice blog. To one commenter Mr. Coker responded

[I]f you’ve got a better method of describing the big picture dynamic, please share. I’m open to suggestions. If ebook readership (both a function of the number of ebook readers and the number of ebooks read by readers) is spread thinner across an ever-growing, ever-accessible number of books, and the growth in ebook supply exceeds the growth in consumption, then what happens? Very simple question. Does the average new release get more readers or fewer?

I’ll take a stab at answering. I don’t believe that ebook readership is “spread thinner” because of an “ever-growing” number of titles. In fact, readers never choose from the whole universe of books. They filter their choices through author favorites, recommendations, genre preferences. They usually stick to certain places they like to shop for their books. Rarely, if ever, do they pull a Captain Kirk and blast out into the great unknown seeking new life and new civilizations. 

Thus, an expanding universe of content does not have a proportional negative effect on readership. 

One might call it a “discoverability” issue. But again, I don’t see a causal effect here. As I’ve emphasized over and over, by far the best discovery tool is word of mouth, which is based upon the writing itself. The more quality you produce, the greater the word of mouth. This will happen no matter how vast the sea of options out there. Add to this the author who wisely becomes an “ownllist” writer, and there is no reason to believe that we’re only going to see profits of doom henceforward.

Mr. Coker also says there is more quality now in indie books, making competition tougher. I do think he’s right about that. There are a number of reasons this is so, including more trad-midlist writers ditching the old system and jumping into the new. I think, however, Mr. Coker overestimates the breadth of the effect. Quality is always the toughest thing to produce in any enterprise. We have more of quality indie books, true. But not nearly so many that it makes competition any more formidable than it’s always been.

The writers who do the best in the future are going to be just like the writers who’ve done the best in the past. They will write books  readers love and keep that their primary mission.  

For those writers I still say there is good money to be made and deep satisfaction to be enjoyed in self-publishing. In fact I wrote a book about that. (In the interest of full disclosure, and adding to the anecdotal evidence, my own revenue has ticked upward in each of the last four months. I don’t have my novels in the KU program).

I therefore agree with Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, who says in a post at The Guardian: “Many of the association’s members are earning significant salaries now. I’m not talking here about the outliers, like the Kindle millionaires, but the many who are earning enough to leave their day jobs, feed their families, pay their mortgage, afford comforts and luxuries. And let us not forget that sales doesn’t just equal money, it equals readers. It’s one of my great delights to witness what this does for their confidence in themselves and in their work.”

One last thought. Mr. Coker surmises that, “Some authors are considering quitting.” Well, those are precisely the authors who should quit. This has never been a profession for the easily discouraged. As David Eddings has said, “Keep working. Keep trying. Keep believing. You still might not make it, but at least you gave it your best shot. If you don’t have calluses on your soul, this isn’t for you. Take up knitting instead.”

It’s always been the case that the successful writers are the ones who can’t not write. Who exhibit persistence, discipline, production of words. Who write even in the face of serial rejection or dismal sales. These writers keep punching. As the old boxing guys used to say, you always have a puncher’s chance.

Can you accept that? Then politely tell Cassandra to put a cork in it…and get back to the keyboard.

How to Launch a Self-Published Book

James Scott Bell

Ah, the book launch. The nerve-wracking bane of the author’s life. Will my baby make it out there in the big, dark, roiling tsunami of content? Will all that love and attention I’ve lavished on my project finally pay off with some actual readers?
In the traditional world it’s getting harder to launch. Publishers are stingy with marketing dollars. Unless a publisher puts some real money behind a title, it’s not likely it will register as more than a sonar blip in the ocean of books. Your single copy is likely to be shelved in a store (remember those?) spine-out. Your publisher has to pay for better placement, and that’s usually reserved for the A-listers.
Book launch parties and bookstore signings can be fun, but are often depressing. All of us who’ve been published traditionally know the feeling of sitting in a bookstore, stacks of our books on the table, watching browsers amble by with a look of pity in their eyes as they go off to find the new Stephen King. We put out bowls of candy and colorful bookmarks, and end up eating both of them ourselves.
In the new world of self-publishing, however, you have control over the launch. So what’s the best way to go about it?
Last week I came out with my newest book, How to Make a Living as a Writer. The launch was a success. The book hit #1 on Amazon’s Writing Skills list and #2 on Small Business.
Let me offer you the simple formula I use.
1. Write the best book you can
No-brainer. Every time out, do your best writing. Study the craft. Keep working at it. By far the biggest factor in a writing career is producing quality. This is the unavoidable law of all business. You can’t sell what consumers don’t like. Ford put a ton of money behind the Edsel, a famous flop named after Henry Ford’s son (even though it sounds like something you take to cure rumblings in the stomach). The public did not like it. So they did not buy it, despite all the fancy ads. Don Draper himself could not sell Edsels.
Thus, if you give your writing 90% of your concentration you’re on absolutely the right marketing track.  
2. Publish your book
I favor having direct accounts with the major retailers. Others opt for a one-stop distributor like Smashwords or Bookbaby. Some use a combination of the two. For example, some go direct with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and then via a distributor for other sites. It’s up to you, of course, but the extra effort to upload directly is not onerous and in return you keep all the profit.
What about going exclusive with Amazon? You can find plenty of debate about that online. If you’re just starting out, however, you need eyeballs on your book. The Kindle Select program is one way to accomplish that. C. J. Lyons, self-publishing megastar, put it this way:
Newer authors with limited readership probably have nothing to lose by granting Amazon exclusivity while they use Select to build their audience. Select becomes a tool to build a presence on the bestseller lists, reviews, and solid sales figures, along with an income before expansion, much in the way that smaller presses can serve as a stepping stone to larger publishers.
One more note: Amazon now offers a pre-order option. I have not used it yet, but will probably try it out soon. (Any of you who’ve had experience with this option, please tells us about it in the comments).

3. Mailing list
The best way to announce a book is to an email list of fans. I’ve been building my list for at least a decade. So my message to you is…start now! Make it easy for people to sign up for your updates on your website. Use one of the services, like Vertical Response, Constant Contact, or MailChimp.
Yes, it’s slow going at first. You have to build a base by producing good book after good book. If it’s your first book, go to your family and friends. Send each person an individualized email. Don’t bcc everyone with a blanket announcement. Shape each email to the person and then ask if they wouldn’t mind spreading the word to their own circle of friends. Offer them a free copy of your book in return for this.
In the back matter of your ebooks have a link to your mailing list form. You want pleased readers to be able to sign up immediately. How do you please readers? See #1, above.
Be smart about your emails. You can’t just send out any old message and hope for the best. You are making a presentation. Every email is a chance to grow fan goodwill or … to have someone hit “unsubscribe.” Write, edit, and re-write those messages. 
I use text only, because I want the message to be personal, not graphics laden. The latter strikes me as too much of a “sales” look.
I make my emails short. People don’t have time to sift through War and Peace. I try to make them fun to read. I’ll include some humor, talk about the book a little, then provide links. I try to stick to only one or two calls for action in an email. One is probably best.
I promise my email list that they will always be the first to know when I have a new book. If you want to see how I do it, feel free to sign up here.
My timing is to send a launch email on the Saturday after the book goes live, because of #4:
4. Blog post
On Sunday, my regular stint here at TKZ, I’ll do a content-heavy post about the book. What I mean by that is it’s not just a sales pitch. I want to make the post about something of value to the audience for the book. The least effective way to sell is to be only about the sale. I want to give people proof that the book is worth buying. You can check out my post on How to Make a Living as a Writer here.
This is, of course, a popular blog, one of Writer’s Digest’s top 101 blogs for writers. The great bloggers here, and those who are now emeritus, have been building the brand for over six years. What if you don’t have a blog, or care to create one?
Then specialize in one social media platform. I chose Twitter. Secondarily, I have a Facebook author page.
5. Twitter and Facebook
So I will make mention of the book on FB And then plan some tweets for the week. During a launch week I’ll stick to a 90/10 ratio of real social interaction and “soft” selling. Normally I’m probably about 95/5 on Twitter. That’s really what social media is for. Build your presence around sharing good content and relational communication.
That’s it. That’s my launch plan. And I don’t have to leave home to do it.
I don’t pay for publicity services, blog tours, banner ads and so on. I’m not against these things if you want to give them a go, but for me the return hasn’t been worth the investment. Concentrating on the five items in this post is the best use of my time.
Down the line, of course, there are the deal-alert services like BookBub, BookGorilla, eBookSoda and the like. But remember your best follow-up action is writing your next book. You need to think in terms of 4 – 5 books that readers love before significant momentum starts to kick in. Keep that in mind and keep writing.

Feel free to share any other ideas you think are effective for a book launch, or marketing in general. What has worked for you, either as an author or a buyer of books? 

Writing What You Love and Earning What You’re Worth

Many folks, including your humble correspondent, feel that this is by far the best time on earth to be a writer. In the distant past (you know, before 2007) precious few scribes were ever able to eke out a reasonable living from scribbling alone.
That’s all changed.
Every month more writers are added to the roster of those making enough lettuce to consider leaving their day jobs. But even short of that, many more are making a side income that is significant and steadily growing.
I love this! I love it that more writers can now earn a fair, merit–based return on what they write.
Today, let’s forget about the prognostications, vitriol, cries of doom, and hand-wringing over the future of culture in general and publishing in particular. Today I want to talk about being a professional writer.
For two decades now I’ve studied, analyzed, and practiced what works in this arena. I have determined that writers who make it almost always share these seven characteristics:
1. Love
An inner fire to make it as a writer will get you through years of cold reality. I suspect that the majority of writers who make it to full-time status love what they do. Writing is a part of them, a calling as well as a vocation.
It’s certainly possible to write out of sheer business-mindedness (I think, however, that this is much easier when you write non-fiction). Yet there’s a certain something that gets translated to the page by the writer who loves the work. I believe you can write what you love and, if you do so with the other characteristics listed below, earn a fair return.
2. Discipline
“One of the big lessons of sports for dedicated individuals and teams is that it shows us how hard work, and I mean hard work, does pay dividends.” – John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach
Love is not enough. Ask anyone who’s married.
Work puts legs on the dream.
3. Perseverance
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” – Randy Pausch, “The Last Lecture”
The true writer puts this thought in mind: I am going to write and never stop because that’s what I want to do. I will keep learning and growing and producing the words. I’ll keep carving out time to write, even if it means giving some things up. And it will always be too soon to quit.
4. A Sound Mind
By which I mean the ability to overcome emotions and see things objectively. To take some of the hard knocks that are part of the writer’s life and turn them into opportunities to grow. To keep yourself from exploding in a stupid or vainglorious way on social media and thereby harming your reputation.
5. Business Savvy
If you want to earn what you’re worth you have to approach writing and publishing as a business. A successful business makes a profit. To make a profit you need a plan.
Many writers and other artists shudder at this notion. Some even rebel against it. For them writing success is usually an accident.
I don’t want you to be an accident. I want you to think like an entrepreneur. Fortunately, the business principles you need are not that difficult to acquire.
6. A Support System
As author Peter Straub once put it: “Every writer must acknowledge and be able to handle the unalterable fact that he has, in effect, given himself a life sentence in solitary confinement.”
Every writer needs support from other people. Nurture relationships with fellow writers and communities of writers. Hang out with positive folks. Be kind to your family, even Aunt Betty who thinks you’re nuts for trying to be a writer.
7. Talent
This is the least important item.
First of all, it’s a subjective judgment. There is no final arbiter of what constitutes talent. It’s a little like what a Supreme Court justice once said about obscenity: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.
You do have to have some ability to string sentences together in a coherent fashion. This is a matter of education and the habit of reading.
Having that, you can now put the other six items on the list into practice. This is how you make it in this game, and why I have just released a book called How to Make a Living as a Writer.
We all know that digital self-publishing has opened up a vast universe of possibilities for the writer. But this book is not about self–publishing alone. It also talks about how to approach traditional publishing. I advocate multiple streams of income, so I also discuss the best practices for writing both fiction and non-fiction. I cover what a publishing business actually looks like, and how any writer can create an enterprise based on quality and production. There are sections on how to become relentless, how to set and meet goals, unlocking your creativity, how to write better and faster, how to choose the right ideas for projects, and a whole lot more.
In short, I am attempting to give writers the skills that will greatly increase their odds of making a good return on what they write.
For the ebook:
If you like your writing books in print, HERE YOU GO.
Carpe Typem!

Let’s Discuss the Latest on Self-Publishing Resources

Jordan Dane

Just a short blog post today from me, but I could really use your help. I’m interested in hearing from those who have good resources for self-publishing regarding formatting and sales ops. Since we have a wealth of experienced followers on this blog, I’d like to hear your thoughts to broaden my horizons. Self-publishing is a HUGE topic, but I’d like our chat to be focused on the questions below.

Here are some of the things I’m interested in getting updated on:

Format Questions

1.) Do you have format service companies or individuals you would recommend?
I’d like to find a one-stop company or individual who formats for all the major sales outlets: Amazon, B&N, ITunes, Kobo. Please share your experiences.

2.) What format add-ons do you recommend (as far as website links or features) that have worked for you? (ie website links, mailing list signups, retailer sales links, etc.) In other words, what marketing tools do you add to your formats that you would recommend?

3.) Within your format of text, are there navigational aspects or enhancements (bells & whistles) you would recommend to add to your content? (ie chapter list with links to easily navigate within your book, audio enhancements, etc. Some of these might be costly, but I’d love to hear any new ideas.)

4.) Does anyone have a special format service provider for Lightning Source? I hear the LS set up is expensive and corrected proofs must be reloaded. This could be cumbersome, but I hear the quality is good and LS does hardcovers with different distribution outlets. It’s something I’d like more information on.

Sales Enhancements

5.) Regarding sales outlets, are there any new players worth considering?
If you have a site, please post it and comment as to why you would recommend it. I’m thinking the sites mentioned above encompass the majority of sales, but if you’ve found other sites worth considering, I’d love to hear about them.

6.) Has anyone added sales/purchase capability onto their website where a reader could buy from the author directly? I’ve seen this done via a secured PayPal app, but had concerns on sales tax and shipping. I wondered how this worked (for anyone who has experience).

7.) I know promotion is a big topic, but for the purposes of discussion and brevity, what one promotional activity or service provider do you use without fail and would recommend to anyone?

Editing & Cover Design

I haven’t mentioned editing, because again that is a must have for any author and the cost can have a wide range, depending on services needed from line edits to book doctoring. I also haven’t asked about book cover designers. I work with Croco Designs and love Frauke Spanuth. But feel free to mention any other self-publishing services you’ve found helpful.

I bow to your infinite wisdom, TKZers. Please share your thoughts.

Writer Drops a Toad on Agent

It was the closing day of a writer’s event. At the end of a breakfast session, an agent and a writer were wrapping up a session about the ongoing changes in the publishing industry, and how those changes affect writers.

During the Q and A, most of the discussion addressed strategies for writers who were not yet published. I raised my hand.

“I’m wondering about writers who have already been published,” I said. “how do you think the changes in the industry are affecting our strategies going forward?”

The agent looked confused. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well,” I said,  “Many mid-list writers I know are interested in developing a revenue sharing model with publishers rather than signing traditional contracts. Or going the indie publishing route.”

It was as if a toad had leaped from my mouth. “Indie publishing?” the agent asked me. “You mean, self-publishing?”

“Right, but not vanity publishing,” I said, beginning to sweat. “I’m talking about writers who want to keep a greater share of revenue than they have under their previous contracts with legacy publishers.”

“Legacy publishers?” Now the agent looked truly horrified. “That word sounds like something that guy Konrath would say.”

JA Konrath, in case you don’t know, is a pioneer in self-publishing who successfully transitioned from legacy–excuse me, traditional–publishing. He’s known for criticizing the practices of publishers in his popular blog, The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.

At this point I was prepared to dive into my coffee cup and drown myself, but the agent was just getting started.

I don’t remember her exact words, but they were something to the effect of “agents don’t want to give up their advances.”

Well, granted. But what about writers? What is best for us? 

I had unwittingly stepped into a raging discussion that’s been swirling in the media-publishing world for months. A bit of background: there’s something of a class system in the world of writing. The mega-bestselling writers are the darlings of publishers. The rest of us, not so much. Unless your first book is a monster success, you are more or less sent to the servant’s quarters. It used to be that publishers would give a writer time to develop and gain a strong readership base. That is less often  the case today. Midlist writers are being dropped; contracts are not being renewed. Advances are shrinking.

Then there’s Amazon, which offers writers–any writer–a decent percentage of each and every sale. Published writers who have been able to reclaim their backlist have been startled to discover that they can make good money from “new old” titles which had been languishing on the vine for years.  The prices for indie ebooks are being set by…gasp…the writers.  This process, along with the rise of indie publishing in general, is driving down the overall cost of ebooks.

Publishers don’t like to lower their ebook prices, and they’re fighting back. Amazon and publishers have gotten into several scrapes over pricing and distribution. Most recently, the tension boiled over into the Hatchette vs. Amazon kerfuffle. You can read more about that here. But the subtext of the fight is that journeyman writers suddenly have more options for publishing and getting paid for their work. These changes are putting pressure on the traditional publishing model, on pricing in particular.

I don’t have any strong beliefs about the merits of traditional versus indie publishing. I suspect that most published writers will become “hybrids,” pursuing the best available options. I do think that it is still better for unpublished writers to get traditionally published first–going through the process helps a writer develop her skills, learn valuable ropes, and establish a readership. But for writers who have previously been published and languished under the old system, the picture is different. If a previous book did not sell well, we’re haunted by those sales numbers forevermore. If it did sell, the publisher will collect the lion’s share of the book’s revenues, forevermore. 

At the breakfast meeting that day, the agent  wound up her response to me by saying, “You’re too early in your career to give up on traditional publishing.”

In fact,  I’m not in any way giving up on traditional publishing. As a published writer who will have a new manuscript to market in the near future, I’m simply trying to figure out the best strategy for me. Not the best strategy for the publisher. Not for Amazon. Not for an agent. If traditional publishing gives me a good deal on my next book, I’ll break out the champagne. If not? I’ll go indie. I don’t have any agenda attached to exploring all the possibilities. As they said in The Godfather, “It’s not personal. It’s business.”

How to Keep the Long Tail Wagging

There’s been a lot of blogspace this week dedicated to the “long tail.” If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, see my post here.

The long tail is simply a way of describing a line of product that remains available for consumers. For books, it is the backlist. It’s become a relevant topic because now, in the digital world, books are “shelved” forever.

Recently there’s been some commentary on how just having a long tail online is not any help with discovery. That much is true. You still have to provide a way for readers to find your offerings.

This is the big challenge for traditional publishing right now. It the “old days” (pre-2007), big pub got books into bookstores and bought prime real estate for the titles it wanted to push. If a name was big enough—like Stephen King—a reader could also find a lot of his backlist sitting on a shelf.

Unfortunately, this was not the case for the midlist writer. Usually their frontlist title went to a shelf, spine out, and if the book didn’t catch on the bookstores would be less willing to buy the next. The publishers, who are after all in business, would usually not “throw good money after bad,” and thus a writer’s second book got only minimal treatment. Then the author disappeared from the shelves. Career over or consignment to the backwaters of small publishing. 

Enter the Kindle and digital self-publishing. In those early years (what I call the Konrathian period), it was common to hear the naysayers opine that this was a blip, that only a very few authors would make any kind of money at this, and that it would unleash a “tsunami of crap” that consumers would be unable to wade through.

Well, we now know that early opinion is the bunk. We moved quickly to the Entrepreneurial period (see above link). Now every week it seems we hear about another self-published writer making really good money at this game.

It’s even possible that a debut self-pubber will smash through in a big way. As Hugh Howey recently stated:

[D]espite what some experts would have you believe, self-published authors are still breaking out with their first works. AJ Riddle and Brenna Aubrey are two examples, and the current bestseller lists on Amazon are loaded with new self-published authors you’ve never heard of. Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN sold a ton of copies and was picked up by Random House and 20th Century Fox. This was a debut novel, and Andy hasn’t published anything since. He succeeded through self-publishing faster than he would have landed an agent if he went the traditional route.

But most of the time real bank is being made by productive writers who are developing that long tail. Which gives rise to a few thoughts for my fellow scribes: 

1. Make sure the tail is worth wagging

Quality makes a difference. I’m not talking about some literary standard kept in a secret vault in an underground bunker below the offices of the New York Review of Books. I’m talking about making whatever you choose to put your keyboard to the best it can be. Don’t formulate this opinion on your own. Please refer to a post wherein I explain how to know you have a quality product. See also Jodie’s list of beta reader questions

2. Pay for a trumpet blast

There are several e-book deal alert services out there worth your investment. The reigning king is BookBub. A listing there is tough to land, but if you do it’s the best advertising money can buy. Check out their submission tipsand keep trying. Other good services are Kindle Nation Daily, BookGorilla, eBooksoda, Ereader News Today, and Pixel of Ink.

Keep trumpeting your backlist on a rotating basis with these services. Don’t worry if you don’t make back every dollar of your investment. A percentage of these new readers will be of value down the line, as repeat customers. 

3. Consider perma-free

If you have written a series of books, one strategy several recommend is making that first book free. That way there’s no cost barrier at all for readers to get started on the series. It’s a virtual guarantee that a percentage of the readers will go on to buy one or more of the related titles.

That’s happened with my historical series. Book #1, City of Angels, is free on Amazon. When I made the change last month, several blogs that announce freebies got wind of it––without any effort on my part. I saw a huge spike in downloads and the book reached #26 in the free Kindle store. There has indeed been a nice uptick for the other books in the long tail. My sales chart for all the other titles looks like the heart monitor of a patient going from stable to good condition.

Perma-free is a strategy that, so far, Amazon does not discourage. To qualify your book must be offered for free on Kobo, iTunes or Barnes & Noble. You can accomplish this via Smashwords, but I simply did it via Kobo, which allows you to set “free” as a price. Then you go to your book’s page on Amazon and hit the “tell us about a lower price” link and follow the instructions.

4. Put your marketing on auto-pilot

The first six months of this year have been, far and away, the best for my self-publishing stream. I attribute much of that to setting up a marketing calendar at the beginning of the year and simply following that plan each month. I spread out my paid placements, KDP Select offerings, social media and e-mail notifications so I know what to do automatically. 

5. Keep adding to the tail

Finally, and most important of all, keep adding content to the long tail. People can’t buy what isn’t there.

Do all this, and soon you’ll be able to say to your less-productive colleagues what the fox said to Otis:

It’s The Best Time On Earth To Be A Writer

Since 2009 or so, I’ve been saying to people it’s the best time on earth to be a writer. We all know why. Digital self-publishing makes it possible for a writer to earn real income outside the walls of the Forbidden City. And writers within the walls can start a separate stream of income on their own (provided they’ve wisely worked out a fair non-compete clause).

We’re far enough along now to know certain things about self-publishing. We know it is not a “gold rush.” We know you have to provide quality product, which generally means highly entertaining (fiction) or useful and unique (non-fiction). We know that the more prolific you are the better your chances of increasing your flow of income.

Now comes another report from Author Earnings, the enterprise started by self-publishing star Hugh Howey. Some of the findings in this most recent report are startling.

Self-published authors are clearly earning as much as traditionally published authors on the largest e-book sales platform in the world.

Note, this is not taking print sales into consideration. But still, it’s an astounding fact. Just think about how much the professional writing world has opened up in the six years or so since digital self-publishing began to take off.


[T]he parity we see in our author earnings charts between self-publishing and Big 5 publishing has a lot to do with the latter’s existing titles and not their new releases. How you decide to publish your manuscript today means looking at the difference in earnings due to recent works. Self-published authors are not just holding their ground with Big 5 authors when it comes to releases after 2011, they are out-earning Big 5 authors by a 27% margin.

This is huge, and comports with what I’ve found by both experiential and anecdotal evidence.

While the extreme outliers from both camps earn most of the income–similar to what we see in most entertainment industries–there is health and wealth down the long tail for self-published and Big 5 published authors alike. In fact, they almost perfectly map onto one another.

This is the real story. It is ever more possible to earn a living wage from writing IF––and this is key––you actually know how to write. This is a craft, after all. You can’t sell a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t suck (because if it doesn’t, it sucks).

I mentioned that my experience and my acquaintance with several self-publishing authors doing extremely well (I’m talking five figures a month) demonstrate why this is the best time in history to be a writer.  

As I step back and look at these writers, I notice that all of them were previously published under the traditional system. This doesn’t mean there aren’t non-trads earning at that level. Far from it. But it does mean that the circle I’m acquainted with all proved their writing chops first within the walls of the Forbidden City.

Which validates another thing I’ve been saying ever since I started teaching self-publishing workshops: if you are a new writer, and you do hope for a career at this, you need to put your books through a grinder that replicates what an agent or publishing house would do with them.

You need to be objective and you need to be hard. Heck, you may even need to reject yourself. I mean it. How many first novels have ever sold? Or sold well? Or should have ever seen the light of day in the first place?

Most first novels are like that first waffle coming off a lukewarm griddle. Chuck it and start a new one. If the new one tastes right, then keep them coming. Pile them high and don’t be stingy with the butter and syrup.

When I was first starting out as a writer, there was a stat I read somewhere that said the average yearly income generated by fiction writing was around $3000. This was sobering indeed. It wasn’t going to stop me, because writing fiction is what I wanted to do with my life. But it did have me planning to keep on practicing law for forty years.

Now that stat seems quaint in its irrelevance. That was a traditional-only statistic when print books in bookstores were the only game in town.

I have no way of knowing what the average income of productive fiction writers (meaning at least one novel a year) is today. But for a self-starter who knows his craft and is willing to write for the rest of his life, the future is a heck of a lot brighter than 3k a year.

There is also good news for writers who write for other than commercial reasons. If you’re into literary or experimental fiction, or if you have a subject you’re passionate about, you can now give those books life without having to pay four thousand bucks for a print run (and then suffer the indignity of ten boxes of unsold tomes in your garage for the next twenty years, until you finally give up and donate them to the library, which won’t take them because there are too many). 

Anyone can publish a book now and, if there’s quality attached, you can generate a following. It may be small but it will be heck of a lot larger than when you were unpublished.

Today the acton is with what I call the ownlist writers.

And for those writers who still desire to enter the Forbidden City, the gates are not closed. They are guarded with more vigilance, however, owing to the high risk of the business these days. The purse strings are tightening and deal terms can be fraught with peril. So caveat scriptor. Work with a good agent and get to know contracts. As my grandfather used to recite:

A wise old owl
Sat in an oak.
The more he heard,
The less he spoke.
The less he spoke,
The more he heard.
Now wasn’t he a wise old bird?

Keep your eyes and ears open, listen and learn about what’s going on in the book world, what to avoid, what terms to walk away from. Don’t leave your fate completely in the hands of another, ever again. Be a partner, not a patsy.

All writers should dip at least one of their quills in the rushing stream of self-publishing. As I said a couple of weeks ago, take risks and don’t be afraid to fail.

Technologies and markets will ebb and flow. Godzilla and Mothra will sometimes duke it out. But the game has changed forever. The future is now. And now is the best time on earth to be a writer.

Carpe typem. Seize the keyboard!

Why Marketing Is Like Motherhood


This past Mother’s Day I was reflecting upon this most honorable role and, suffused as I am with the writing life, my brain related the whole thing to marketing.
My lovely daughter-in-law is on the verge of bringing another Bell into the world. I find myself thinking back to my own first born. When Mrs. B and I were awaiting the appearance of our son, we set about to become the best parents ever. This is the pull of nature. It is as old as civilization, as robust as ocean tides.
Law student that I was at the time, I got into studying books. Today, there is a virtual mountain—nay, a mountain range of Himalayan proportions—of printed and digital advice on the art of parenting. It can seem as daunting as a view of Everest as you stare up into the clouds with only a rucksack and a walking stick.
So I remember well the day my wife and I took up the classic Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock. Though some of it was controversial at the time (and perhaps remains so), there was a famous axiom that begins the book, one that has comforted many an anxious parent facing the world’s toughest job:
“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”
It was a call to not stress about what every “expert” has to say, so much of it conflicting. In such cases you have a gut instinct that is, if motivated by love and tempered by wisdom, highly reliable.
And that’s the marketing lesson I want to mention today. There is a flood of material out there on what you must do to bring a book to the public, with so many sources asking how can you improve public relations? There are countless options, so many more than the “old days” of bookstore signings, talks at your local library, and sitting despondently next to Mary Higgins Clark at a conference.
The explosion of digital options—everything from paid ads to social media madness—can make choosing what to do seem as daunting as trying to solve the Hodge Conjecture with a hangover.
Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.
First of all, use common sense. Don’t go into hock to market your book. The single biggest determinant of writing success is….wait for it….the writing itself. You know this. You know that you have to concentrate most on writing good stuff, getting better at it and keeping it coming, if you want a long-term career.
Second, we are starting to see that a few marketing methods are better than others. Paid placement with BookBub, for example, is always good. Other email services, like BookGorilla and eBookSoda, will make you new readers. And that’s what you need to build an email list of fans. No matter how small it might be, it’s always good to be able to communicate with people who’ve bought from you before and have shown a willingness to do so again.
As for social media, it’s easy to get the ROI (return on investment) completely bollixed. If you spend the majority of your Twitter or Facebook time begging people to buy your books, you’ve done more harm than good. If your spend more time socializing than you do producing, your calculus is all mixed up.
Here’s a suggestion: Your time on social media ought to be one-tenth the time you spend writing on an average day. If you write for two hours, you get twelve minutes on social media.
There, I said it.
I think this is all stuff you really do know, even though you might have lost that native wisdom in the clamor of Do this! and Do that!
My suggestion is to pick up the book marketing analogue of Dr. Spock: Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book. Use it as a reference, not to try to do every single thing in it at once, but to consider the options and choose wisely.
Mothers bring babies into the world. Writers bring books. Love what you write, nurture your books, care enough about them to discipline them when they need it (that’s called editing) and then let them leave the nest.
And as they fly to market, don’t stress. Your love goes a long way. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you miss doing one thing, you’ve ruined your book’s chances forever. (You know, like if you don’t get your child into that expensive pre-school he will never get into Harvard. His life is ruined, and he’s only three!)
Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.
Keep writing the best stuff you can, choose a few marketing things to do, and it will all pretty much work out as it should. Adding stress doesn’t help a bit. To cut down on the stress of your website costs, take a look at the best free web hosting providers.

So do you get anxious about marketing? Do you realize that’s not doing you any good?

Will One Bad Book Ruin Your Career?


I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get. – Anne Tyler
Back in the early days of sound movies, a handsome but unknown actor caught a huge break. He was cast as the lead in a sprawling Western epic under the helm of a well-known director. The studio began grooming the kid for stardom.
But The Big Trail tanked at the box office. So the studio cut the young actor loose. He was, as they say, “damaged goods.”
The only place he could go after that was “Poverty Row.” These were low-rent studios churning out B and C grade pictures, most of them real stinkers. Here the actor labored for years. In 1937 this actor made yet another B Western, Born to the West. I watched the film recently. It is, without doubt, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.
And the actor? A bit stiff and prone to goofy smiles. So add another floperoo to this guy’s resume. No way the actor, Marion Morrison, was ever going to be a star. Perhaps you know him better by his professional name, John Wayne.
But did these bad films ruin his career? Not when the right role and director came along. The role was the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach directed by the great John Ford in 1939. John Wayne knocked it out of the park.

I bring up the Duke as an object lesson for writers. If you go to a writing or publishing conference these days you’re likely to hear an industry insider say something like: “Self-publishing is not always the right move for a writer. Be very wary about doing it. One bad book can ruin your career.”
Indeed, this sentiment was expressed by an agent/panelist at the recent PubSmart conference. The omni-present Porter Anderson was, of course, covering it, and notes:
And in the course of the panel’s comments on self-publishing and how it can play into an author’s career, [agent Brandi] Bowles offered the opinion that if one self-publishes a book and it doesn’t do well in terms of sales, then some publishers might look askance at that disappointment if asked to consider publishing that author.
Bowles is joined by others in the more traditional corridors of the industry! the industry! in suggesting that if there’s a chance that self-publishing could make an author appear to be “damaged goods” to a publisher, then self-publication is, at least, a very serious option, a route not to be taken lightly.
This sparked outrage from at least one self-publishing attendee, who turned a mealtime with Porter into a persistent pronouncement of publishing pique.
So let’s step back and analyze.
In the “old days” (i.e., before 2007), a book’s success or failure had only one metric: physical copies sold (a rare exception would be made if there was massive critical approval in the right places). If a book tanked, those low sales numbers became a scarlet letter sewed onto the author’s jacket. Indeed, many potential long-term careers got nipped in the bud because a large advance was shelled out and dismal sales made recoupment impossible. That’s when an author could get slapped with the label “damaged goods.”
In those same old days, the only option after such failure was to go to publishing’s Poverty Row, smaller companies with fewer dollars and less distribution. Or the writer could give up the dream entirely. Getting another shot a the “big time” was usually out of the question.
I believe this is the context in which the agent made the above statement. But that context has now been significantly altered.  
First of all, the term career no longer applies only to getting published by a big, traditional company. Purely self-publishing careers are being established on an ever-increasing basis.
But let’s assume your dream is getting signed by one of the Big 5. If you self-publish a book, and it doesn’t sell a lot, you are still making readers. If the book gets good reviews, you are making a reputation. That’s all to the good.
If, on the other hand, your book gets hammered, you can always take it down. You can come back and try again. And again. Just like John Wayne.
Then, should you come up with a killer concept and you have continued to work on your writing chops, your self-publishing credits will not be a deal-breaker. Traditional publishers know (at least the ones who will survive know) that their distribution and marketing systems are different and can be exploited anew for the author who has learned his trade in the trenches.

Have you ever found yourself holding back because of fear of failure? Then listen to what the Duke might have told you: “You think you’ll have a career without taking some risks? That’ll be the day. Keep writing, Pilgrim, and give it your best shot every time out.”