Sunday, January 2, 2011

Decison Point #2 - Master of your Domain

This is a continuing series of posts regarding which path to publishing is right for you (self or traditional). There is a lot of polarizing comments right now that claims one is better than another. I contend that it really depends on what you are looking for. In my last post, I discussed time and the dramatic differences between the two choices. Today, I'd like to talk about control.

I lecture once a month to a group of just over 500 writers in the Washington DC area. (No they don't all come to the lectures this is just the size of the group as a whole). Anyway...they are always shocked to hear that the author has no say (or little say in):

  • Published Title
  • Cover Design

Other things they also don't have control over, but are less shocked by are:

  • Price
  • Format
  • Back of the book blurb

In some cases, the author may get a right to refusal, but more often than not they are given some "consultation input". This basically means you get to see it before it goes out and comment. In many cases, they are going to be "pretty far along" and substantial changes will not be possible so you might tweak things here or there.

All the items listed above are the exclusive purview of the publisher (as well they should be), because they are CRITICAL to the financial sucess of the book. How much you are willing to give up control on these issues might be a determining factor in which path is right for you.

If you go traditional, there's good news and bad news. The good news is you'll have a team whose job it is to worry about things like this. The bad news, is you have to live with what they come up with (and be happy with that). A lot will come down to how much you "trust" their opinions. When Michael was with a small press (AMI), we disagreed on several of the points above. Quite frankly, we had more marketing experience then they did. In that case, loosing control was a huge frustration that we had to "live with". When publishing through Ridan, all that vanished. Now that Michael is signing with one of the big-six, that control will be gone again. Will it be a problem? We'll let you know, but a lot has to do with how confident you are in the other's abilities. Michael's publisher has a track record of turning out NYT best sellers. Since they have more experience and a proven track record it should be easier to "go with the flow".

I already talked quite a lot about cover design in my last post. And price, format, and blurb deserve their own posts so today let me focus on book title.

There are many factors that go into title selection: length, memorability, googleability, names of other books, and referability. You probably "slapped" a title on your book without a lot of thought towards these items and "it stuck" so you got wedded to the idea. If you are self publishing then you SHOULD take a step back and consider the title carefully.

  • Length: shorter is better. Long titles are really hard for people to keep in their minds. One of the worst titles (and this came from a traditional publisher) is "The Gursney Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" even now, to add it to this post I had to do a search to find the correct name. When I bought this book it took me and a clerk 20 minutes to find it because all I could remember is Potato and Pie.

  • Memorability: Victorine Lieske is an indie author that is selling very well right now. I was discussing her success with my husband over lunch, and though I've seen the title of her book hundreds (perhaps even a thousand by now) times I could not for the life of me remember the title. I could vividly see the cover (props to her on that - it is simple and memorable) but the only thing I could remember is that it had the word She and was 4 or 5 words. I kept thinking it was "What she wants". The actual title by the way is "Not What She Seems". She's doing too well now to consider changing the title, but I think she could have come up with something a bit better.

  • Googleability: Yes, I know I made up this word (and probably not the first to do so), but what I'm talking about here is the ability to dominate a search. Type in any of the following into Google: Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising, Emerald Storm - you'll find them completely dominated by Michael's books. This was not an accident. We chose titles that we could dominate. The first title for Crown was "Heir to the Throne" at the time it Googled poorly, and even today it would be a hard title to get significant mind share on. I think we did well with the change. The first author that we brought on at Ridan was Bryce Anderson who wrote something called "Body of Knowledge" it took me FOREVER to convince him that we could not continue to call the book that. (Do some googling and you'll see why). We could not convince him to go with any of the "good google names" and ended up with "Finding Reason" which is better, but not great. Here is a case where I should have pushed harder, and because I did not the book suffers.

  • Names of other books: Before selecting the name of a book, type it into Amazon and see what comes up. I'm working with an author right now whose book was titled by him as "The Fallen" which fits his book like a glove - but...is also the name of another very popular fantasy by Lauren Kate. Not to mention the name of several other "less noted" author's books. Book titles are not copyrightable. There is no controlling body so the same name can show up on virtually dozens of books. Leona Wiosker is a writer friend who recently came out with a book called "Secret of the Sands". As soon as she told me the title I recognized it as the same one as another indie work (by Rai Aren and Tavius E.) I'm sure that promotion efforts that she does is sometimes leading people to buy the wrong book. They are both "indie" and have trouble getting mind share so which one will become dominant? I don't know, but why choose a title that you know you'll have a problem with. Now, that being said...Wintertide is Michael's fifth book and we went into this with eyes wide open that there was already a book entitled this by Linnea Sinclair and another one by Megan Sybil Baker. We decided to go with it anyways. The main reason is neither of these books are really "active" Their Amazon Ranks were consistently over 1 Million which means they sell a book once in a blue moon. I actually tracked them for awhile using Titlez to verify the infrequency of sales. So, dispite the fact that two other books had this name, we kept Wintertide, confident we could dominate this title. Sure enough, type Wintertide into Amazon and Michael's book comes up first. We still don't have "Google dominance" but the book has only been out for 2 months and I've not really worked on pushing it higher yet. Come back after I do and I think you'll find it taking over that spot as well.

  • Referability - is how easy (or difficult) it is for someone to tell someone else to buy your book. All of the above go into this concept - length being the most important here. I've recommended "Gursney" many, many, many, times...and after awhile I just started saying "I highly recommend the Gursney Potato Pie book" - it was easier than typing the 48 (Yes 48!!) characters. Think about how people will tell others about the book. Will they "get close enough" so that the other person will be able to find it? What you are shooting for here is if they type something "close" into google they'll come up with your book.

Let's end by bringing this post back to what it was originally intended to do...help you decide whether you should "go indie" or "traditional". You may "want" control, but are you willing to take on the responsibility that comes with that? If you decide to go self-published then you must think like a publisher (because you will be). Don't base your title on some long held emotional attachment. Determine it with your marketing hat on. You've decided to keep the control...now use that power wisely to give your book the best chance it can at success.

Next post....Price.

21 comments:

Melissa Romo said...

Glad to find your blog (by way of J.A. Konrath). I'm close to finishing a first novel and am a marketer by training and work experience (MBA + 15 yrs on both the ad agency and client side). I've been circling the wagons for the past few months trying to figure out if I want to engage in the multi-year process of finding an agent and publisher, or go it on my own. Many people who know me have pushed for me to go on my own, given my marketing background. Incidentally, I have nailed a pretty good title and even bought the domain for it. It's short, original and memorable. I haven't sussed Google out, but I expect I can get some dominance if I give the title enough airtime on the various social media outlets, review sites, etc. On your next post about price, I found a disturbing article about Amazon's pricing policies last month and blogged about it. I'd be curious your take on this issue: http://thebookorbust.blogspot.com/2010/12/amazons-book-discounting-how-much-is.html
Lastly... I grew up in Chantilly! Nice to see someone from the neighborhood out here in the blogosphere.

Robin Sullivan said...

Hey Melissa, Welcome and I'll certainly checkout the post you mentioned.

As to self or not - Personally I say "do both". Start of self while you are pounding the pavement. I don't think publishers are as "concerned" these days about "first rights" cherry being broken due to self pub. If you are really concerned, do just an ebook so the first print right rights remain intact.

India Drummond said...

I'll definitely be digging into your older posts and reading what you have to say about indie publishing. I have a book coming out in April (Ordinary Angels) from an epub (Lyrical Press), but have decided to go indie on future books, partly because of some of the things you describe in the first half of your article. I never felt as good as when I took control of my own writing career. My first indie book, Blood Faerie (due out July 1st), has been such a pleasure to work on because I was finally sitting in the driver's seat. Great article!

corine said...

If you're stats are up today it was probably because of me, me and still me. I'm drinking up your words as they so perfectly answer so many of my questions en route to self publishing. Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge.

Robin Sullivan said...

Hey corine,
Glad I can be of some help. I really need to spend more time posting as I have WAY to much in my head and getting it down here will help spread it around to others.

Kate said...

Your blog is pure gold. That is not me kissing your butt, that is the honest truth. A lot of what you said I have done by looking at MY favorite books, like book titles being short. I've noticed a lot of the writers on createspace have long titles and it turns me off.
The google thing though, NEVER thought of that. I wish I had before I released Six Keys. With a lot of hard work I've at least gotten an amazon link when I google Six Keys now, but when you google it a lot of self help books come up instead of my paranormal mystery.
You have given me a lot of food for thought and I'm going to change the title of my next book to reflect that.
I think you've convinced me to raise my price point a bit, for now.
Thank you for writing this blog. There is a lot of valuable information in here and I've passed the link along to a few of my fellow writers.

Donna Caubarreaux said...

Excellent post. I did google my pen name and had to change it due to another writer having that name. Don't want to confuse anyone...

I'll be doing my title next. I didn't thank of that!

I've read your husband's work, and he is quite good.

Robin Sullivan said...

Thanks for dropping by Donna. I'm glad you have enjoyed Michael's writing - I can' wait for the final book to come out as that is where the series really comes together. Oh well just a few more months. In any event. I hope you find some interesting information here.

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