Checklist to Publication

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

I started writing in one form or another over 30 years ago. It included book reviews, magazine articles covering professional audio and video and operational and tech manuals. As marketing director for an international manufacturer, I was required to generate corporate reports and business plans. Some have said that my first venture into fiction were my business plans.

In addition, I reviewed fiction for 3 newspapers in Florida. I constantly read action-adventure novels (Cussler, Clancy, Fleming) and fantasy (Peake, Tolkien, Brooks). The reason I eventually tried my hand at fiction was because I got tired of waiting for the next Clancy or Brooks novel to come out so I attempted to write stories that would fill in the gaps between their books. If you read any of my novels you’ll see elements of all these authors peek out from between the words.

One of my motivations in blogging at TKZ is to share what I’ve learned with other writers, especially those that are just starting out. I try to cover the stuff no one told me way back when. If I can reveal the answer to a point of confusion or suggest a tip to a writer that’s just starting out, maybe I can save him or her valuable time and even possible rejection.

So my writing 101 series continues today with a checklist to publication.checklist_cleaned

Your manuscript is finished. You’re ready to find an agent/publisher or to indie publish.

First, you need to define your audience. It’s important that you know what type of person or group will go out of their way to find and pay to read your book. What are the characteristics of your target reader such as their age, gender, education, ethnic, etc? Is there a common theme, topic or category that ties them together? And even more important, what is the size of your target audience?

For instance, if your book is a paranormal romance set in the future in which the main characters are all teenagers, is there a group that buys lots of your type of book? If not, you might need to adjust the content to appeal to a broader audience. Change the age of the characters or shift the story to present day or another time period. If your research proves that a large number of readers buy books that fall into that category, making the adjustment now could save you a great deal of frustration later.

Next, you need to define your competition. Who are you going up against? If your book falls into a specialized sub-genre dominated by a few other writers, you might have a hard time convincing a publisher that the world needs one more writer in that niche.

The opposite problem may occur if your genre is a really broad one such as cozy mysteries or romance. You’re going to have to put a unique, special spin on your book to break it out of the pack. Or accept the fact that the genre and your competition is a wide river of writers, and you only hope to jump in and go with the current. Either way, make the decision now, not later.

The next issue to consider is what makes your book different from all the others in your genre. Do your homework to determine what the characteristics are of books that your potential audience loves. This can be done online in the dozens of Internet writer and reader forums. And you can also do the research by discussing the question with librarians and books sellers. Once you know the answers, improve on what your target audience loves and avoid what they don’t. In the early stages of your writing career, don’t be shy in seeking advice. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Just keep in mind that you can’t time the market, meaning that what’s really hot right now might have cooled off by the time your book hits the shelves. The moment you sign a publishing contract, you’re still as much as 12-18 months behind what’s on the new release table right now. Indie publishing can help, but there’s a motto in the business that applies to publishing: First to market wins.

Another detail to consider in advance is deciding how you’ll market and promote your book. Sadly, this burden has fallen almost totally on the shoulders of the author and has virtually disappeared from the responsibilities of the publisher. Obviously with indie publishing, it’s all on the author’s shoulders. Start forming an action plan including setting up a presence on the Internet in the form of a website and/or blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. Also, is there a way to tie in your theme to a particular industry? How can you promote directly to your audience? For instance, if your romance novel revolves around a sleuth who solves crimes while on tour as a golf pro, would it be advantageous to have a book promotion booth at golf industry tradeshows? If your protagonist is a computer nerd, should you be doing signings at electronics shows? How about setting up a signing at a Best Buy or CompUSA? Follow the obvious tie-ins to find your target audience.

Writing is hard work. So is determining your target audience and then promoting and marketing to them. Like a manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product. Doing your homework first will help avoid needless detours on the way to publication.

Any other “I wish I’d know that” advice?

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Keep Your Options Open

Omega ConnectionAllan Leverone

Note from Jodie: I just moved to a new city a few days ago and am up to my ears in unpacked boxes and chaos, so I’ve brought back my friend and two-time former client, bestselling thriller and horror author Allan Leverone, to tell you how he recently increased his author visibility and spiked book sales. Take it away, Al!

Thanks, Jodie. Great to be back at TKZ. My first book was published a little over four years ago, in February 2011. You may remember that as the chaotic period when the self-publishing phenomenon really broke through and turned the traditional publishing model upside down.

Between December 2009, when I signed my first contract, and February 2011, those changes swept through the industry. One result of everything going on was that I suffered a unilateral modification in contract terms by my publisher—changing the agreed-upon format of my upcoming release from mass-market paperback to ebook-only—a change that forced me to reconsider signing in the first place.

My debut novel hadn’t even been released yet and I was already questioning my decision to sign that first contract.

Should I hire an attorney and attempt to force the publisher to abide by the original contract terms? Should I demand they return the rights to my book based on breach of contract? Or should I suck it up and accept the change?

Eventually I chose the third option and the book was released almost a year later, and I was left with the challenge faced by all authors not named King or Patterson or Grisham.

How the hell was I going to attract readers to a book offered for sale by a virtually unknown writer?

My theory was then and still is now that avid readers don’t read books, they read authors, that when picking their next read, given the choice between an author’s name they recognize and one they don’t recognize, they will almost always choose the former over the latter.

This was a problem, and one thing that struck me as I read J.A. Konrath’s blog day after day, where he hammered home the point that ebooks are forever, was that this problem was only going to get worse. If convincing readers to choose my book was a challenge in 2011, it was only going to become more of a challenge over time, as the market became more and more saturated.

It was critical I raise my name recognition, so that I could become one of the authors whose names readers recognized and thus chose.

When I looked at the writers who were becoming successful in the Brave New World of modern publishing, I saw men and women who all seemed to have one thing in common, regardless of their genre: they took risks.

I decided I would become a risk-taker as well, and since making that decision I’ve approached the business side of writing from that perspective: to take chances when I felt it could be beneficial.

So when I read in October 2014 that Amazon Publishing was about to open up a brand-new venture called Kindle Scout, I paid close attention. I’m friends with some outstanding writers published through Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint, people like Vincent Zandri and J. Carson Black, and their experience with Amazon has been universally outstanding.

Do you know how rare that is in the world of publishing, for authors not just to be satisfied with their publisher, but actually pleased?

But there was a problem: Thomas and Mercer was closed to submissions and had been for a long time.

As someone looking for a way to get involved with Amazon Publishing, the benefits seemed obvious to me: Amazon is the world’s biggest bookseller and thus has a ready-made ocean of buyers out there, actively searching for quality books in all genres. Their targeted marketing is second to none, and unlike other publishers, they can directly control which titles their readers see, and how many readers see them.

So I studied the Kindle Scout program. It seemed fairly straightforward. I would submit a manuscript. My book would be featured in a thirty-day campaign, where readers (“Scouts”) could examine an excerpt and nominate the book for publication if they deemed it worthy. At the end of the book’s campaign, Amazon editors would consider the quality of the work and the number of nominations received, and within fifteen days would either accept the book for publication by their brand-new Kindle Press imprint, or would decline to publish it and return the rights to me.

It just so happened that I had a manuscript nearly submission-ready.

My theory was to take risks when it could be beneficial.

This was a no-brainer. I finished cleaning up the manuscript and submitted it into the Kindle Scout program about ten days after the program opened for submissions. Two days after THE OMEGA CONNECTION’s campaign ended, the manuscript was accepted for publication by Kindle Press and on March 3, was among the first ten books released by the brand-new imprint.

I believe I made the right decision. My experience with Amazon Publishing to this point has been nothing short of outstanding. The copyediting process was thorough, I have an Amazon rep who is friendly and smart and responsive, and best of all, the book is selling. I’m gaining readership.

Omega Connection

THE OMEGA CONNECTION has taken up residence in two bestseller categories at Amazon, Political Suspense and Hard-Boiled Mystery, and has consistently ranked between 5,500 and 9,500 at Amazon. These results over a six-week period are far better than I’ve ever achieved with any other book.

Is Kindle Scout for everyone? Of course not; nothing is for everyone. The program is not perfect. For example, unlike traditional publishers, Amazon expects Kindle Scout authors to provide their own quality cover art. As someone familiar and comfortable with self-publishing, this was not a problem for me; it might be a deal-breaker for some.

And as with any venture, it is absolutely essential you read and understand the contract before signing anything.

But if you’re willing to take chances, if you believe in your work, if you’re looking to sell books and raise your profile as an author, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least seriously consider the new Kindle Scout program.

It’s your career. Keep your options open.

Allan Leverone, Mar. '12

Allan Leverone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of eleven novels, including MR. MIDNIGHT, named by Suspense Magazine as one of the “Best Books of 2013.” 

A 2012 Derringer Award winner for excellence in short mystery fiction and 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee, Allan lives in Londonderry, New Hampshire with his wife of more than thirty years, three grown children and one beautiful granddaughter. 

Check out THE OMEGA CONNECTION or learn more at www.AllanLeverone.com. The CIA’s most secret weapon, Tracie Tanner, must stop a killer targeting defense contractors. Or die trying.

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