Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How Will Your Book Reach the Attention of Reader?


This is the seventh question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the past few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past six weeks:
5. How can you control the costs of publication?
6. How and Where Will Your Book Be Sold?

How Will You Find Readers?
There are hard targets and soft targets in the world of book marketing. Hard targets are bookstores, on-line sellers such as Amazon, and face-to-face scheduled book signings and events at bookstores. Soft targets are blogs, book review sites, social media, and word-of-mouth. The primary difference between them is that hard targets offer the book for sale (this includes ebooks) and soft targets present the author and a hopeful sale through a hard target at a later date.

In almost every instance a book sale is the direct result of some form of promotional action: blog, book review, word-of-mouth, radio interview, cover shot on a promotion site, workshop participation, and social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn. There are probably a dozen other ways of putting the book in front of a potential buyer. New opportunities that have evolved over the last ten years include maintaining an email list of potential buyers gathered from fan mail, letters, and even publisher's private lists.

Promotional Actions To Consider
Every author must have a blog site and a web page, period, full stop. Think of it as a way to practice your writing and analytical thinking. Weekly posts are excellent ways of reaching readers; often you get direct feedback that is helpful. This requires discipline but the upside potentials are excellent. You can also direct the reader to a hard site for books and ebooks.

Book Reviewers
Outside of the ones you beg from friends and then hope they post them on Amazon or Barnes and Noble there are thousands of reader/blogger/reviewers out there that just love what they do. Most don’t charge a fee but appreciate a free book to read (they then pass them onto libraries, senior centers, and retirement communities – or schools if children's books). They are well respected with huge followings, they can be found by Googling something like romance book reviews blogs (I just did it and hundreds popped up). Chase your genre, ask the reviewers and get their rules and regs. For submittals – be patient most are running months behind – or anticipate and get them a galley proof months before the book's release.

Enough is never said about your book. The more books you can put before readers the greater the chance for a comment or two, nothing stronger than a book recommendation from a friend.

Radio Interview
Also a recent development, radio book reviews and author interviews. We would all kill or seriously maim someone for a thirty-minute spot on NPR or the Book Channel, but remember there are hundreds of self-produced Internet radio shows out there that need your voice to help fill the time. Like book reviewers just do a little surfing – they will pop up.

Cover Shot
As your sales increase you may acquire one of the coveted Amazon or B&N web page references that are called, "If you like that book, here are some others." People often buy books in bundles, to have your cover sitting there is pure gold – make it the best cover you can.

Workshop Promotion
As you gain a reputation you may be asked to participate in a workshop on writing, marketing, design, etc. Don't pass up the chance and even though you will not be shilling the book directly, they will be stacked out front with the other presenters and you will be given credibility. And after the workshop the participants will think they are buying the book from a friend – not some web site or URL.

Social Media
There are books on this subject coming out daily. They are ebooks, paper, etc., all contain helpful hints on using these social site, participate but be careful. I have seen writer's sites turn out to show that they are grumpy and bitchy people, they offer too much about their personal lives that just makes me wonder about them – some have even turned me off. There is a problem with being too revealing to your readers. Talk about writing and tangential bookish things, offer historic quotes, images of book signings, pass on great happenings and event from other writers, just keep what you had for lunch off the internet – unless it was lunch with Michael Connolly, then tell all with a picture.

This is a three-day seminar in and of itself. Take the time to brand yourself, you are the author of the book, you are the storyteller that a reader has invited into their lives, even if only for ten hours. You must think of yourself as the face of the story, in promotion it is not about the current book you are selling, but all the others you have written and the others yet to be written. We are always writing the next book in our heads even while we finish the current project. This is the same with promotion; you are always selling the next unwritten book.

More Later . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How and Where Will Your Book be Sold?

This is the sixth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the past few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past five weeks:

In both self-publishing and traditional publishing models, the most critical stage is determining how or where your book will be sold. Sure, most of us want our baby in every bookstore and e-book marketplace that will take us, but that wish is very hard to accomplish. These decisions, ebook only or e-book/paper, must come early in the process of the book's journey. We authors want our books in independent bookstores, chains, and on-line booksellers. And we want them in libraries as well. For this we need book distributors.

If you are going to develop the final book yourself and market and sell the book online through e-book purveyors such as Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo, and a host of others, the path is fairly clear. Follow the stages outlined in the previous blogs (1-5) and then load your book onto the various sites. There are also many people and companies in the publishing business that will help you through these steps for nominal fees. Sign up with the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), there are sources advertising in their monthly magazine as well as on line. Attend publishing seminars; many are associated with writers workshops and through regional writers groups.

In fact, self-publishing with only an e-book product is relatively easy. Many writers such as Amanda Hawking, Russell Blake, and Hugh Howey have made a very comfortable living doing just that. And their e-book platforms led them to lucrative contracts with traditional publishers as well. For most writers this is the best way to jump in and see what the water is like.

It's when we want to see our work on paper with hard and soft covers in bookstores that everything changes. Here are two important points to remember, 1) Most authors don’t know how book distribution works, and 2) Book-distribution is extremely difficult and expensive for authors to do on our own.

Traditional Publishing:
A contract with a traditional publisher includes distribution. They are not going to spend money on bringing your work to the market (editing, book design, cover design, etc.) without making sure that it's available. They have a sales force to put your book in front of buyers for chains and bookstores or they use a national distributor to get them to the marketplace. And remember that many distributors focus on specific genres or subject matter – match your book to the distributor. If there is one critical aspect of the process that sets the traditional apart from the self-published is their access to and their understanding of book distribution.

With a co-publishing arrangement where you the author handles many of the tasks (and costs) and your partners handle the marketing and distribution make sure that they have the experience necessary for distribution. Without this experienced partner in the process the book will flounder.

But the self-publisher can use the services of a book distributor to their advantage. This is critically important to the prolific writer with many books. Remember as a small publisher (multiple books) you will be able to offer the book distributor a bigger package for them to consider adding you as a client.

Be careful here, self-publishing costs can easily get out of hand. It is a matter of scale. Printing 10 to 100 books is expensive through the print-on-demand process (POD). It can easily be one third of the book's price. Add in shipping and then distribution percentages and the bookstore percentages, you can be quickly in the red. Every nickel must be watched. If you chose to distribute through your own blog or web site, these same numbers apply. The costs of shipping or mailing are rising; remember packaging and storage/warehousing as well. But again you will not be in bookstores except for your book signings and a month long consignment. It is very disheartening when they send your unsold books back – at your expense.

I suggest two venues that help the independent self-publishing writer. IngramSpark and CreateSpace. Each has their plusses and minuses. I suggest their web sites to better understand their models – each is different yet can produce the same result: An on-line order converted to a paper book that is sent directly to the customer. Ingram is one of the largest distributors of all types of books in North America (and the world as well), their Spark division allows the author a chance to get their books to the independent and national bookstore marketplace. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and has distribution across the world through their on-line portal. Seen as an enemy of bookstores though, most shops will not order your book for their shelves through CreateSpace. This is just one of those facts of life. Be in both.

Publishing is a fast-changing business; in fact for such a staid industry we are now at warp-speed. There are now hybrids of hybrids where agents are taking books not placed with a traditional house and producing books themselves with their own team of editors, designers, marketers, and channels to distributors. And most are going with IngramSpark.

More Later . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Can You Control the Costs of Publication?

This is the fifth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the last few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past four weeks:

Let's assume for this question that you decide to set off into the wilderness on your own, no agent, no traditional publisher, no distributor. Like intrepid explorers before you, here are a few things you are going to pay for yourself:

1. Story Editor – see question #1
2. Copy Editor - see question #1
3. Line Editor - see question #1
4. Book Designer - see question #2
5. Cover Artist - see question #2
6. Printer – Hardcover and softcover
7. Ebook Designer
8. Shipping – from printer to you to distributor, etc.
9. Distribution – Foreign and domestic
10. Promotion, Promotion, and Promotion
11. Marketing, Marketing, and Marketing
(And a bunch of others that I'm sure will hit your pocket when you least expect it)

I good guess would be somewhere between $2,500 to $10,000 to publish a book. The spread is a reflection of whether you even decide to go paper or stay with just an ebook. This can substantially reduce the costs in items 4, 6, 8, 9.

Don’t scrimp on editing. This is by far the most critical stage of the book's production. Reread question one and think about your team and how to create the best manuscript possible. At every stage there are ranges of costs, sometimes you get what you pay for, check credentials, and experience. Most writers protect their editors but realize they too have to eat, so they recommend them prudently. Saving here can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.

The same for printing and shipping savings. There are now a number of print-on-demand (POD) houses, many locally, again get recommendations or call them and ask for samples. Never prepay a printer – never. And stay away from publishing packages, they will steal your money and do almost nothing for it. But I will tell you they have some of the best copywriters and dream weavers in the business – be extremely careful. And this is not a place to save money anyway. And a local POD means you can to your own pickup.

In addition there is CreateSpace, Ingram-Spark, and others that can help you produce a finished paperbook.

Co-Publishing – an old idea brought new
Some agents, writers, and even non-traditional publishers have formed what might loosely be called a publishing collective or association. Each talent brings to the table part of the many steps above. The author pays for the editing and promotion while the publisher pays for the cover, design, and publication. The agent may help with distribution and promotion giving direction and advice. The permutations are as varied as the talent of the individuals, some authors can do cover design (with guidance) and even ebook production. The arrangements are all laid out in their respective contracts and agreements. And it is critical to have a mutually agreed to contract before beginning. Just think what would happen if you pulled it off and the book made the bestseller list, huge sums of money pouring in – how do you split it equitably with each person having taken some risk (BTW – get a good lawyer as well, this is one of those unanticipated costs that pop-up).
Do not be discouraged. The opportunities are significant and well worth the effort. The days of just handing in a messy manuscript to an agent with a book popping out the other end are over. Self-publishing, co-publishing, associations, and even traditional publishing all go through the same steps, it is you the author and writer who now holds control.

More Later . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Do You Want to be Traditionally Published?

This is the forth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the last few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past three weeks:

Of course you do, we all want that publishing contract from one of the BIG publishing houses. That means that your work is outstanding, you have a fantastic literary agent, and you have the skills to keep producing a new work every six to nine months. And, by the way, you are thrilled that the manuscript you wrote will be handed over to these people and you will have very little control over the editing, the cover, and the future of the book itself.

These are some of the harsh realities of going the traditional publishing route. It is a tough road; patience and careful driving are required as well as a decent road map. But, for many writers it is an appropriate course and possibly even the best way to go to see your work in bookstores.

The traditional process is as follows (with obvious variations in every case).
  • Manuscript completed,
  • Manuscript edited,
  • Query letters written and sent to potential agents,
  • Agent likes the manuscript,
  • Agent signs you on,
  • Agent offers the manuscript to publishers,
  • You and agent agree to publisher's contract,
  • Publisher publishes the book,
  • You go to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Easy-peasy. Unfortunately this process absolutely never happens that way. At every level there are rejections, refusals, unanswered query letters, months of wait, and heart wrenching disappointments. This is the way it is. Consider that traditionally published books may make-up less than 20% of the total number of published books you understand the pressure on them to be selective and thorough.

The traditional publishing house does know what they are doing. This is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of self-publishers that have to learn a whole new business in addition to their writing. The traditional house will handle the final editing, design of the inside and outside of the book, printing, distribution, and promotion. Some houses pay a royalty against the potential book earnings, some don't, but for the writer it's hands-off. I have done both traditional and self-publishing and there are strong merits for both.

The key is finding an agent who can place the right publishing house with your book. Even the big publishers tend to print certain genres and themes. That's why there are smaller imprints within the large publishing house, each imprint may focus on a particular reader and their interest, i.e. romance, thrillers, history, children's, etc. And this applies to non-fiction as well. 

This blog can't give a list of books to read and paths to follow - there's hundreds, all I'm trying to do is lay out the overall issues of self-publishing or go traditional. The Internet and the library and even your local bookstore (i.e. Barnes and Noble, etc.) have references and lists for agents and publishers. Spend a lot of time learning the process, go to writer's workshops, and talk to other writers. Every road traveled will be different.

I'm an impatient person and I also want to be involved with the final product. I don’t wish this curse on anyone, as a result for many of my books I self-published them. I took the time to learn this new and exciting industry and I have some skill in Photoshop and InDesign. But for most writers these skills are difficult to learn and master, it was hard enough getting the damn book written.

So, the decision is yours. But keep in mind that you, the writer, are like a farmer that produces the best corn in all of Iowa. But you still sell it by the bushel to a market that is inundated with millions of bushels of corn. You, the farmer, will be paid by the bushel but that bag of frozen organic corn at the local Safeway is sold by the ounce. That bushel is worth about $5.00, but sold in bags in the frozen section that bushel is now worth more than $250. There are a lot of hands out between the agent and your royalty check.

Next week: If you self-publish how do you control the costs?

More later . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Who Are Your Readers?

Readers Waiting for Harry Potter Release
This is the 3rd of 7 installments about what you, the writer, should ask yourself before publishing. The last two weeks we looked at your manuscript and what your book should look like. This next question, possibly even before you start the manuscript, is critical. Who are your readers and how do I find them?

Stands to reason in the non-fiction world that your market is pre-determined. You write about what you know: sales, marketing, yoga, cooking, road racing; the list is as endless as the shelves of bookstores. Let's say you are a lecturer on sales, your audience is at every speech you make, these are your people, you write for them, you talk to them, you sell directly to them, they are your readers. For the non-fiction author the reader is frequently one of your own colleagues.

This is why self-publishing non-fiction books is often more profitable and rewarding – the book goes hand-in-hand with a speaking tour, a workshop, or other type of gathering that pulls your reader to you. It is an affirmation of your expertise. The book comes from you and what you know. The fundamentals of the manuscript, photos, visuals, and other supporting documents are in your powerpoint – and with expansion the book forms. After acquiring some help formatting and book building, your self-help book on bee keeping has a ready market in the magazines, workshops, trade shows, and even on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

It's fiction though, with its dozens of genres from adventure novels to westerns, that cause the greatest difficulty. Let's look at one of my genres, the mystery/thriller. Here are just a few of the genres and sub-genres:
  • Techno-thriller
  • Psychological thriller
  • Political thriller
  • Spy thrillers
  • Medical thriller
  • Legal thrillers
  • Conspiracy thrillers
  • Military thrillers
  • Crime fiction
  • Detective fiction
  • Mystery fiction
  • Chic-lit thrillers
  • Cozy thrillers
  • Dystopian thrillers
  • Pulp thrillers
  • Steampunk and Science Fiction thrillers
  • And even these have sub-genres that people crave such as English, Swedish, and Japanese styles and locations.
Your job is to focus on the genre and then detail a strategy for reaching those readers. Amazon helps, as well as most ebook sites, but that's after you've written the book. Make a list of bookstores that cater to your genre, if it's children's books make a list of every store you can find. Look for clubs that meet at the bookstores, search for book clubs that focus on genres, surfing for similar authors to you also helps – their web sites sometimes list clubs and fan bases. Be organized you will need this information later.

I also suggest a blog. Look for other blogs in your genre, contribute and be nice and collaborative. Add to your own repertoire by blogging about what you know and even what you don't, make connections. And even use Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the others, I know they are a pain at times, but they can and do push readers to your book.

Finding an audience is the most difficult issue of fiction writing. It took Michael Connelly at least four or five books before he rose to the top. Cara Black has now written fourteen thrillers with Paris as the stage, with each book her sales and visibility has risen. And remember the audience, your reader, is not the same as the market or marketing. One is the Holy Grail, the other is how to find it.

More Later . . . . . . . . . . . .