Wednesday, August 31, 2011

John Locke's Simon & Schuster Deal

I'm just fresh off the plane and I know I need to talk more about bios but something occurred that I've been waiting for so long on that I have to post on this.

Simon and Schuster signed John Locke to a print-only deal. This is HUGE for indie authors that are having success in the ebook world, and quite frankly it was something I didn't think I'd see.

I love that traditional publishers are starting to think outside the box and this is a win-win-win for all parties involved (readers, Locke, and S&S). Now, of course it took someone who could sell 1,000,000 books in less than half a year to get such a deal but once one pebble falls, others are sure to follow.

Bottom line...traditional publishers really shine in the bookstore model, so having them do what they do best, while giving the author freedom to play with ebooks (where the big-publisher really doesn't bring any "value add" and in fact can be a deterrent as their prices can be pretty high) is something that really makes sense to me and is a great advantage for the author.

I'll be keeping my eyes out to see if more of these "creative" deals start springing up. Just one more reason why there has never been a better time then now to be an author.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Earthquakes, and Hurricanes, and Wild Fires, Oh My...

For those who may have been wondering if I dropped off the face of the planet. Well I sorta have. I had a planned 4 day trip to Death Valley with Michael who needed to do some hands on research for his current book. Just minutes before we left the earthquake hit our area. No real damage but spooked the heck out of the dog who refused to come back in the house (we all went outside in case another one was coming.

As Saturday approached (our planned return date) it was pretty obvious that our flights would not make it through. I couldn't even get to the airlines via phone to rebook so I finally just said screw it and got new one-way flights home for Tuesday from San Francisco so we could travel a bit.

Since Saturday we've been roaming the Sierra Nevada Mountains and visiting Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. There is a wild fire in Yosemite that is burning a number of the residences of the park rangers. One of the roads into the park is closed and about 1,000 fire fighters are woking to contain the blaze and they are evacuating some areas that have never been evacuated in the past.

I will be heading home today then tomorrow take off again to DragonCon so I'll start posting again in a bit. I'm sure you are more interested in marketing and publishing tips then hearing about my adventures but I thought I should at least stop in and tell you'll what's been happening.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bios...Is yours working for you?

One of the things that you'll use over and over again (on your blog, in the back matter of your book, during author interviews) is your bio. Yet most are sorely lacking. I'm the first to admit that I was guilty of writing a "less than desirable" bio in the past - but that's why we are here - to learn from my mistakes and hopefully do better in the future.

First you should recognize that you need more than one bio. I actually suggest 3:
  • Super short - for twitter (160 characters)
  • Medium - 500 - 600 characters
  • Long - 500 - 700 words
Your bio should change over time. Every few months I look at the bios of myself, my authors, and Michael to see if they should be revised. Did you just release a new book? Get an award? Cross an important milestone?

I'll come back another day and discuss the super short and medium but for today I want you to think about your "long form". It should:
  • Give the reader insight about you
  • Be engaging
  • Be truthful and heartfelt
  • Tell a story
I'm going to pick on Blake Crouch for just a second. (I love you Blake but you illustrate my point well). He's a great writer of hardcore Thrillers and in some cases they get a bit on the "disturbing side" as many works of that genre does. Here is Blake's bio from Amazon:

BLAKE CROUCH is the author of DESERT PLACES, LOCKED DOORS, SNOWBOUND, and ABANDON, which was an IndieBound Notable Selection, all published by St. Martin's Press. Blake's latest thriller, RUN, his first indie release, hit the Amazon Top 50.

His short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Thriller 2, Shivers VI, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and other anthologies.

In 2009, he co-wrote "Serial" with JA Konrath, which has been downloaded over 500,000 times and topped the Kindle bestseller list for 4 weeks. That story and ABANDON have also been optioned for film. He is currently at work with JA Konrath on the novel STIRRED, the conclusion to his Andrew Z. Thomas series. Blake lives in Colorado. His website is

Blake took the "establish credibility route" - which is fine. He mentions his books, and how successful they have been - but this really doesn't "pull me in" or endear me to him as a writer. Readers like having a personal connection with people they read and Blake didn't give us enough about "him" to do this. I read an interview once where Blake mentioned that when he was young his parents were pulled in for a conference when little Blake wrote a paper for school that was "disturbing"...What a great insight!! What a fun story for someone who writes about serial killers and grisly murders. Blake, why isn't this in your bio?

To illustrate the "tell me a story" aspect of the bio let's look at Michael's

After finding a manual typewriter in the basement of a friend's house, Michael inserted a blank piece of paper and typed: It was a dark and stormy night and a shot rang out. He was just eight years old. But the desire to fill the blank page and see what doors the typewriter keys would unlock wouldn't let him go. For ten years Michael developed his craft by studying authors such as Stephen King, Ayn Rand, and John Steinbeck...just to name a few. During that time he wrote ten novels, and after finding no traction in publishing, he gave up and vowed never to write creatively again.

Michael discovered that never is a very long time, and he ended his hiatus from writing after a decade. The itch returned when he decided to create a series of books for his then thirteen-year-old daughter, who was struggling in school due to dyslexia. Intrigued by the idea of writing a series with an overarching story line, he created the Riyria Revelations. Each of the six-books were written as individual episodes but also included intertwining elements and mysteries that develop over time. Michael describes this endeavor as something he did "just for fun with no intention of publishing." After presenting the first manuscript to his daughter, he was chagrined that she declared, "I can't read it like this, can't you get it published?"

So began his second adventure on the road to publication, which included: drafting his wife to be his business manager; signing with an independent press; and later creating a small press. After two and a half years, the first five books sold more than 60,000 copies and ranked in the top twenty of multiple Amazon fantasy lists. In November 2010, he leveraged his success and received his first commercial publishing contract for three novels from Orbit Books (the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group, USA). In addition, Michael reached international status with foreign right translations including: France, Spain, Russia, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

Today, Michael continues to fill blank pages and has three projects under development: A modern fantasy, a literary fiction piece, and a prequel to his bestselling Riyria Revelations.

2010 Fantasy Book Critic #1 Indie Fantasy (Wintertide & Emerald Storm)
2010 Iceberg Ink Award Best Read (Avempartha)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 25 (Wintertide & Emerald Storm)
2010 Bookworm Blues Overall Best Reads of 2010 (Avempartha)
2010 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy (The Emerald Storm)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 12 Novels as of First Quarter (The Emerald Storm)
2010 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (Avempartha)
2010 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (Nyphron Rising)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 5 Novels of Second Half of 2010 (Wintertide)
2009 Winner of Book Spot Central's Fantasy Tournament of Books (Avempartha)
2009 Speculative Fiction Junkie's Top 5 Close Contender(The Crown Conspiracy)
2009 Top 10 Books by Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews (The Riyria Revelations)
2009 National Indie Book Award Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)
2008 ReaderViews Annual Literary Award Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)
2007 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)

The Crown Conspiracy (October 2008)
Avempartha (April 2009)
Nyphron Rising (October 2009)
The Emerald Storm (April 2010)
Wintertide (October 2010)
Percepliquis* (January 2012)

Theft of Swords (11/2011)
Rise of Empire (12/2011)
Heir of Novron (1/2012)

*Limited edition release

Michael's website:
Michael's blog:
Michael's twitter:
Michael's publishers: &

I love this story about when he was a kid, not just because it is true, but it really makes me "like Mike". I can picture him typing on the page. Thinking he just did something great, and scrunching up his fact to figure out what comes next and licking his lips as he starts the next line. It's personal.

The second part of the bio shows Michael as an underdog that had to go to great lengths to get his books to an audience. It concludes with him finally "making it" and we all feel good whe we see a little guy win.

Finally we round out the bio with a list of his books (in order so people know what order to read them in) and awards that he has won (to give credibility) and last but not least ways in which his fans can reach him.

This is 588 words and when I have to "reduce it for space" I remove in order:
  • Awards (brings it to 430 words)
  • Out of print versions (392 words)
  • Reduce contact to just website and email (380 words)
So today's homework assignment...look at your current bios and see if they are working for you as best they can and if not do a little rewriting.

Monday, August 22, 2011

BISG July 2011 ebook Buying behavior

The Book Study Industry Group has been surveying book buyers on their ebook buying habits for the last few years now. In some of the preliminary pages that they released was the following graph:

Green line: % of people who read e-books daily/weekly
Blue line: % ebooks purchased (estimate)

I took away a few things from this:

  • First, as I've been saying for ages now there was a dramatic shift in ebook sales for Nov and the "good times" continued through about March where sales stabilized rather than increase dramatically month to month. I saw this first in my husband's Riyria Revelations sales, which went from 1,000 sales per month in September to 10,000 a month for Nov-Feb. November was the first month that most of the "top selling" indies saw their first significant increase in sales including: Hocking, Locke, and Konrath

  • Second, in 2009 ebooks had not crossed over to the mainstream in anyway and for most of 2009 (including the X-mas season) remained relatively flat

  • Third, April - June seems relatively level at about 13% - I suspect when we get this data next year it will show relatively flat until about October in which case I think we'll see similar rises as last Xmas season.

The report also reported that ebook sales in Q1 2011 showed 13% of total book sales (based on Bowker Pub-Track's survey of 6,000 US book buyers.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Competing with Yourself...Amazon Marketplace

Today's post is a quick little trick to earn yourself a bit of extra income. If you've read my post on CreateSpace Vs LightningSource you'll remember that one of the advantages about Lightning Source is you can set your discount rate low (20% which is 20% better than the 40% you get from CreateSpace). Now doing so will mean a few things:
  • Amazon probably won't discount your books (something to consider in your decision making)
  • Most resellers won't carry your books (as there is not enough margin)
But this presents an interesting opportunity for you in that you can offer a discount (and even provide a means by which people can receive signed copies...Amazon Marketplace.

Amazon Marketplace is a free program by which anyone (even you the author/publisher) can offer books for sale. They show up on the Amazon page as shown here:

When you offer deep discounts to the distribution chain, many sellers will beat you in price as they will be willing to offer the books at a pretty tight margin. But since you are only offering 20% discount most will list theirs higher than you can offer yours.

For Full Share I put my books in Amazon Maketplace for sale for $11.95. I make four listings:
  • New with signature
  • New without author signature
  • Used with signature
  • Used without author signature
They have an "individual plan" with no monthly fees which I recommend if you are not selling a ton each month. The fees under this plan are:
  • $0.99 closing fee
  • 15% referral fee
  • #1.35 variable closing fee
(If you sell more than 40 items a month you can opt for the Professional plan which has a $39.99 monthly fee and eliminates the $0.99 closing fee).

So for those that don't want to pay the $13.95 full list price for Full Share, they'll look under the "new and used" links and find the following:

  • $11.95 from Ridan Publishing
  • $14.32 from pbshops
  • $16.99 from BooKnackrh
  • $17.00 from bargainbookstores
  • $17.04 from Quick and Easy Marketplace
  • $17.65 from super_star_seller
  • $18.86 from Buye: Buy to Give
  • $19.21 from invise
  • $20.40 from any_book
  • $20.58 from brookebooks
So who do you think they'll choose? Yep - you and a nice perk is that Amazon charges $3.99 for shipping but if you use Media mail it will only cost you $3.01 for shipping (includes $0.19 for tracking) so you'll make $0.98 off of that.

So...let's break it down. If they buy the book from Amazon or one of the other resellers you'll receive:
  • $13.95 - 20% - Lightning Source print fee = 13.95 - $2.79 - (302 * .013 + .90) = $6.37
For any sold through the marketplace you'll receive
  • 11.95 + shipping - $0.99 - $1.35 - 15% - Create Space print fee - shipping cost = $11.95 + $3.99 - $2.34 - $1.79 - (302 * .012 + .85) - $3.01 = $4.33
Which is less - but it allows you to offer a discount for the books (many people won't buy without a discount) and they'll be attracted to the option of getting it signed. Plus, $4.33 a book is nothing to sneeze about - most authors make $0.60 - $1.20 on paperback books so you are still coming out in the plus column.

Of course you'll make the most when they buy direct - and you'll have the advantage of getting their email addresses. But that is for another time - so stay tuned.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What bestseller list can you trust?

The calculation for the New York Times Bestseller list is a closely guarded secret. In the past it was based off of sales to retailers (not books bought in the stores) so it was possible to hit the list by an aggressive sales campaign to bookstores. This meant that some not-so-bestselling books hit the list because buy-in is not the same as sell-through and the huge returns were not accounted for after the fact.

Also in the past, the NYT indicated that they did not take into account online sales, though I suspect they do nowadays because online sales superstars are now hitting the list (even some self-published authors even though the list description clearly states that self-published works are excluded.

In October 2009, the NYT started using Nielson Bookscan data which takes into account "actual sales" as recorded by readers actually walking out the door with books in their hands - but the BookScan data misses a lot of sales and is terribly inaccurate.

I'm not a big fan of the NYT list - it seems pretty biased to the the "old model" where bookstores ruled the book buying world.

Amazon, on the other hand, is based on real live actual sales directly to consumers, so this is the list I spend a great deal of my time reviewing. And the great thing about Amazon's lists is not only do they track the top 100 in multiple categories, but they also have the Mover's and Shaker's list that shows whose sales have skyrocketed in a short burst.

I watch the Mover and Shaker list a lot. It alerts me to recent trends and promotional aspects - for instance the way I first noticed "The Big Deal" and "Sunshine Deals" wasn't from an email announcement or noticing the links on the pages...but because the Mover and Shaker list had some strange movement (a bunch of books going from 1,200 - 3,400 suddenly showing up at 200 - 300.

To bet on the Movers and Shaker List you have to be ranked 400 or less and your change in ranking from one day to the next has to be significant. Ridan authors have been on the Mover's and Shaker's lists a lot. People who have made the list include: Michael Sullivan, Nathan Lowell, Leslie Ann Moore, and now Joe Haldeman.

Joe's Forever War first hit the list on 8/12/2011. I don't have a list of all the times it was on as titles tend to bounce on and off the list but here are some snapshots I found:
  • 8/12/2011 - #9 moved from 529 to 377 (40% increase)
  • 8/13/2011 - #93 moved from 410 to 378 (8% increase)
  • 8/17/2011 - #37 moved from 404 to 318 (16% increase)
  • 8/18/2011 - #56 moved from 354 to 297 (19% increase)
There are a few milestones I look for with any title.

  • 1,000 - once you reach this you're doing well enough that the Amazon engine of recommendation and also bought are starting to pay some dividends.

  • 400 - eligible for Mover's and Shakers - usually once you hit this level it is easy to stay in the 200 - 500 ranking as you are getting more exposure through the Amazon engine

  • 100 - The big time, if you hit this list you are really doing something. Most indies and self-published authors only hit this with price breaks (most are $0.99). There have been a few $2.99 on the list but they are usually second books in a series. There has only been one author that I've seen that hit the list with $3.99 and that is J.R. Rain who did so with books #3 and #4 of a Vampire Series. I'm still waiting for a fiction $4.99 book to hit the list - there have been a few non-fiction one by John Locke the other by Seth Godin.
Sadly, no Ridan author has hit the top 100...yet. I few got very close:
  • Full Share by Nathan Lowell - 117
  • Soldier of the Legion by Marshall Thomas - 148
  • The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan - 102
As we price our books at $4.95 it's a bit harder for us to get onto the list - I'm sure if I dropped one of the popular books to $0.99 then it would get on the list but that would be trading income for a high ranking and I'm not willing to do that.

So, I'll continue to count on the Amazon lists for my "finger on the pulse" of the books that are selling well - they have the biggest share of the market and their data is based on actual sales and I like that rather than some obscure algorithm.

Here's to hoping all of you will one day find yourself on one of those lists.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Agents as Publishers

Today's post is "by request" as someone asked me to comment on the recent trend of agents becoming publishers. There are some that say it is a conflict of interest, that an agent should be working to place their work with a publisher and not acting as a publisher themselves.

To be honest...there is a part of me that feels that way too. It's kind of a matter of serving two masters. I think that most successful people find something they are good at and do that thing very well. To be trying to walk both sides of that may be difficult to balance. But my biggest problem is not with conflict of interest but rather do they have the skills required to make a book a success...and that generally comes down to marketing.

I know that in today's publishing environment agents are scrambling to find out what part they can play. I think there is much that they can do that fits squarely with their training and strengths. For instance, agents are used to reading a book and seeing the good and bad things about it. For indies, I think there will be a huge market for content editors. Those that can give critical feedback that can take a book that shows some good potential and making it great.

So for new works...I think an agent can be a great content editor which is one of the major jobs that a publisher does (or should do). But it's not all that is necessary. But...if you need substantial story editing and even copy editing, then getting it from an agent who takes a cut might make more sense then spending several hundred or thousands of dollars to get the book launched.

But, in most cases where this comes about is not for "new titles" it is for back list reverted works and that is a horse of a different color. Because this book has already been edited and is "good to go" for the market. So here's what's left:
  • Formatting - either for ebook, or print, or both -- ebook formatting is amazingly easy so much so that I personally think people should do this themselves...or if they pay someone else to not pay more than $100 - $200.

  • Cover Art - something the agent will probably be outsourcing. Since this will come out of their pockets - then it's not such a bad idea. (Although I've heard of some "arrangements" where the author is being asked to pay for this ... then what is the agent doing for their cut?

  • Marketing - well now that is where the rubber meets the road. This is not a business of, "if you build it people will come". Well - this may be the case for some very popular books but if they are so then why were they dropped? And if this is so what value add is the agent/publisher bringing? Marketing is key to a book's success and I've proven five times now that once I concentrate a little marketing loving on a project (that is well written) then getting sales of tens of thousands of books is background is marketing. I understand how to build a brand, how to promote, how to get people excited and I work pretty hard at that. Will an agent do the same? Will they know what to do? Will they be successful?
If the answer is yes - then I say sure - go with an agent/publisher - after all they are just taking 15% and a royalty share of 85% is pretty generous and a book sitting idle and unavailable isn't doing anyone any good. But they better be doing things to earn that 15% - if they are just slapping on a cover, formatting, and getting the book "for sale" then do as Dean Wesley Smith suggests and pay for "day labor".

Anyway - that's my two cents on the matter - comments?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Agents Verses Intelectual Property Lawyers

There's been a fair amount of talk on the Kindle Board, and also in a phone conversation I had with another author as to whether you should use a lawyer or an agent. As with most things, the answer depends. The argument I've heard is why spend 15% forever when you can spend a fixed fee. It's a valid point in SOME circumstances but I think there is still a lot of value in having an agent. Let's look at some typical scenarios.

Signing with a small press
In this case I actually suggest: neither
Whenever I hear an author talking about their agent just got them a contract with xyz, and xyz is some small fry publisher , I scratch my head. They really don't bring anything to the table in this situation. The contracts are pretty straightforward. Yeah they'll ensure nothing truly terrible is in there, but they won't be able to negotiate more money (most small presses don't even give advances) and their royalties are usually at or above big-six percentages.

While one would think that a lawyer should look over any legal document - you have to consider cost / risk. That's what a contract lawyer does - looks to eliminate risk. Let's look at Michael's first small press contract with Aspirations Media. We got the contract in and I went to my local Bar Association and several Lawyer referral sites - the estimates I got ranged from $500 - $1500 to review the contract. This wasn't to negotiate the deal, just read all the clauses and point out anything worrisome. But the publisher was only printing up 2200 books (had no plans for ebooks - it was a while ago), and Michael would make $0.75 a book so...even if he "sold out" the first print run he would only make $1,650.

So in this case we "did ourselves" - looked at the contract with a critical eye and asked for changes for some of the things that concerned us the most - mainly under what conditions the rights reverted.

A Medium or Large Publisher Approaches You
This came up on the Kindle board the other day, and what prompted this post. The first thing I want to say about this is...don't do it alone. The fact is, the contract that you'll receive "all by your lonesome" will look nothing like one you'll receive if you're represented. This will be in terms of both money and the clauses (whether they are weighted heavily toward the publisher or the author).

If you have a single book, and it is pretty focused (say non-fiction educational), yeah a lawyer might be the best way to go. It's a fairly one time transaction, the lawyer, if they do a lot of these will know the "going rates" and get the offer increased if he/she thinks its a low ball offer and the likelihood of follow on venues (foreign, movie rights, merchandising) is small.

If you have a series, say fantasy, science fiction, or a thriller than I would suggest an agent. This is body of work with more "legs". The first thing the agent will do is use their connections in the industry to get multiple offers. One of the biggest reasons to use an agent is they have contacts with many editors. Having an existing offer is leverage they can use.

A series also has more potential for subsidiary income: foreign translations, movies, etc. A series has the potential to create a "career" and having an agent to help build it to its maximum potential is, in my opinion, well worth the 15% they will take. A lawyer will work the single transaction and then they are done. The agent has the connections to get additional revenue streams.

You've experienced self-publishing success and want to go traditional
In this case I think an agent is the only smart way to go about this. If you're already earning, you won't have to the query-go-round to find an agent. Pick the ones you are most interested in. Prepare data on your sales, and make some phone calls. If your sales, or rankings are good, I suspect you'll find several people willing to represent you (especially today as authors with an established platform are very marketable).

In this case there agent can bring even more to the table. Most are used to acting as content editors. They'll read the work - suggest changes to make it more attractive (something that an indie author will find expensive and hard to find). It could be that you had a "great start" with good sales, but a little tweaking can turn a good novel into a great novel.

Again, they have many contacts at multiple publishers so armed with a "hot commodity" can make some phone calls and get the ball rolling. This is exactly the situation with Michael's Riyria Revelations series. Our agent put together a proposal, gave it to 17 houses with a deadline to respond with interest in 17 days. She immediately had 7 publishers expressing an interest. Approaching publishers once you have success certainly accelerates the process form the standard approach.

In tomorrow's post I'll talk about agents again but this time "by request" as someone asked me what my take was in the agents as publishers trend.

Friday, August 12, 2011

5 Steps to Building a Platform When You Hate Selling Yourself

The following post was originally written as a guest blog for Michael Hyatt's blog on Leadership. This single guest spot generated:
  • 186 Facebook likes
  • 215 Tweets
It also forced me to write the blog following a "method" that Michael has devised and I found it really helped to create a very focused post. Even though it was posted about a month ago, it still is generating a lot of traffic to my site 5th highest of all other sources and just a smidge down from twitter!

So here's the blog as it originally appeared:

I hear the following from authors all the time, “All I want to do is write. I hate promoting myself. I’m no good at it.” The result is they don’t work on their platform, hoping somehow that the whole notion will somehow just go away.

A Man with His Head in the Stand - Photo courtesy of Š, Image #10656911

Photo courtesy of ©

Putting your head in the sand is not the answer. It’s no longer a question of if an author needs a program, it’s now part of the writing business and can mean the difference between success and failure.

But fear not, I’m here to tell you that it’s not only easier than you think, but you should know that someone with your attitude is actually well-equipped to do well.

I’m going to let you in on the most important, and most often overlooked aspect of social networking: It’s not about selling. It’s about participation. It’s about being a member of a community. It’s about connecting with people who share your interests.

Those that use social networking merely as a venue for saying, “Buy my book, buy my book,” are missing out. Nobody likes to be sold to. What people gravitate to is those who give of themselves.

Here’s what you need to know about getting started in social media.

  1. Observe. Start out by joining and watching. Pick a venue to get yourself started. It could be twitter, an online forum, or a site dedicated to books like GoodReads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing. You don’t have to do anything at this point other than watch and learn. Be a sponge and absorb what is going on around you. Get a feel for the place. Wait until you are comfortable.
  2. Participate. When someone makes a comment that you agree with, support their position. Expand on it. Give an example from your own life that illustrates the point. If you disagree, do so respectfully, offer supporting information for your opinion.
  3. Contribute. Once you are comfortable talking with others, it’s time to go to the next level. Start contributing. If you read an article that people in your group might find helpful, post a link to it. If you read a book by someone in the group and liked it, tell others. Be supportive. Be helpful.
  4. Form Relationships. This is what social networking is all about. Make this your “end game.” You’re not participating to sell your books. You’re here to make connections. If a fan writes a nice review, thank them. Most don’t expect to hear from authors. But after hearing from you, they’ll remember you even more. They might even share with their friends “how nice you are.”
  5. Provide Information. Let the people in your group know about what’s going on in your life. Do you have a signing coming up? Is a new book being released? Have you posted a sample chapter for free? Did a magazine publish one of your short stories? This isn’t selling; it is informing. You aren’t telling them to buy; you are letting them know what you have and leaving the decision to them.

Notice that I never once asked you to sell. That’s what’s so great about social media, you don’t have to. Become a person that others like, be one that is helpful, let others know that you have products (books) and the sales will come.

Now I know what you’re likely to say next, “But Robin, that’s a LOT of work. I don’t have time for all this. I want to write.” I understand, but is writing ALL you do? Of course not. What if you cut out some TV? Is having your dream of being a writer worth your spouse helping a bit more? Can they do the grocery shopping or get the kids bathed and ready for bed?

By trading off on non-writing tasks you can make time to devote to this. The only thing that will hold you back is your belief that it will be a chore. If approached differently, this would be so, but if you follow my steps you’ll find you actually look forward to your time online.

When you receive a great review, tell your network, and they’ll celebrate with you. If you are struggling with a chapter, talk about it and you’ll get words of encouragement. You may just find the opposite is true, that spending time online can be very addictive. Does that sound like such so terrible?

Question: What do you need to do next to take your platform to the next level? You can leave a comment

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Discoverability...picking the right title

In my continuing series on discoverability I turn now to titles. I was reading a great post by Kevin McLaughlin where he lays out 6 things you need (You can read the full article on his site - which is worth a read but as they say in the Princess Bride...."I'll sum up".

  1. You must have a great cover.
  2. You must have a great blurb.
  3. You must have an outstanding sample.
  4. You must have a good price.
  5. You must have a compelling book.
  6. You must write other books.
He makes the very astute observation that when someone first comes across you:

"That’s all you have for advertising – just your cover and title."

Many people put a lot time an effort, as they should, into creating a great cover - but do you put just as much time into thinking about the title?

Most authors come up with their book’s titles very early in the writing process with no thought about marketing. It could even be, that at the time they were planning on publishing it through a big house and figured they would take care of that (and they will). But if you are self-published, or have a publisher willing to work with you on title then you should be thinking about this.

When I come up with a title the first thing on my mind is: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which basically means how likely is it to find your title using Google. For instance, one of Michael’s early books had a working title of “Wizards” but I would never release a book with that title. It is much too broad and would be nearly impossible to get dominance. If you type Wizards into Google right now there are 83,900,000 results. We selected the titles for Michael’s books very carefully. For instance if you Google Nyphron Rising, it returns 7,400 links and while I’ve not gone through all of them, I did looked through the first 10 pages (100 entries) and each one was related to Michael’s third book. This title has great SEO. Even if all you remembered was the Nyphron part you still get all entries related to Nyphron Rising.

The other issue with title selection has to do with what it conjures in people’s mind. I’m currently helping a new author with his thriller book. It is a about a female CIA agent who is after a criminal who starts off with a simple crime and escalates the stakes with each one. At each crime scene a card is left behind saying, “This was my xx crime, the next one will be bigger.” Taped to the card is a stick of gum (the first crime was stealing that pack of gum). The author’s title is, The Bubble Gum Thief. I really don't like this conjures (for me) a kid's book featuring Scooby Doo or Encyclopedia Brown Boy Detective. So I would definitely re-title this before release.

If your book is in a series there are other things to consider. Can you tie them together in some way? When Orbit told us they would release Michael's six-book Riyria Revelations series as a trilogy the obvious question was - what do you call them? Michael took a step back and asked himself what was at the core of each. The first two books both revolve around stealing a sword. The second two books around a newly formed empire, and the last two about the lost heir of a forgotten time. To tie these together he decided to make each one be three words with "of" in the middle. Hence was born:

  • Theft of Swords
  • Rise of Empire
  • Heir of Novron
He proposed it to Orbit and they loved it and ran with it.

But what about the title of the series? How can you leverage this? Ridan inherited a few series (signed authors that were previously published) and their titles did little to nothing to enhance the series. Leslie Ann's Moore's Griffin's Daughter Trilogy is simply the name of the first book with Trilogy tacked on the end. Similarly Marshall Thomas's Soldier of the Legion Series is, once again the first book in with Series tagged on. Ugh! What were the previous publishers thinking of?

Again, looking to Michael's books his are entitled The Riyria Revelations. There are several things going on here. First "Revelations" is used to indicate that there are secrets and mysteries that will be revealed through the course of the books. And Riyria is the name used by the two main protagonists to refer to them as a single unit (Riyria is elvish for "two"). Riyria is also SEO friendly (75,300 - and again all relating to Michael's books).

Here's a big secret about B&N's search engine - it's pretty primitive. Selecting of categories doesn't help you out very much as it works primarily on titles. So...when posting your nook titles be sure to add a short descriptive phrase. For instance, if you search for: Military Science Fiction in B&N you get:
  • #1 - The Forever War
  • #3 - Solder of the Legion
  • #4 - March of the Legion
  • #5 - Cross of the Legion
  • #6 - Secret of the Legion
  • #7 - Slave of the Legion
Magic? Nope - I've just added, "a military science fiction adventure" to the title of each book. BTW - this is a "loophole" that B&N may plug at some point but for now it's worth using. But let's say they won't allow such "tagging" int the title in the future? Well if your series was named, "The Path Finder Epic" then you will still be found when someone types in that they are looking for Epic Fantasy.

Title choice is just one of a myriad of issues that has to be thought of from a “publishers” standpoint and not a “writers.” So if you don’t start out by changing your mindset early you’ll make a ton of small mistakes along the line that will all add up in the long run.

The morale of this story is use every tool available to you. Think of ways you can maximize every aspect related to your book. It is strategic thinking such as this that will help you get ahead of the pack.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Finally...BookStat Data

For anyone who comes to this blog regularly, you know I'm a number cruncher. One of the most difficult things to get a handle on in the publishing industry is some reliable data on sales.

There are many reasons for this.
  • Books are sold in many different venues
  • AAP data is released monthly but reports data from a VERY small subset of publishers as a whole.
  • There are thousands (maybe even tens of thousands of small and micro presses whose data is not reported at all
  • Top selling self-publishers are not having their data reported at all (the New John Locke, rick Murcer has sold more than 130,000 books but they are not recorded anywhere.
  • When do you count a sale? When the bookstore orders the books? Or when the buyer purchases them? How do you account for returns?
Some organizations go at this from the other side of the surveying readers. But this data is problematic as well. Do they tend to shop online or in stores? Do they use the Internet? The buying patterns of the sample data can heavily weight the information.

One of the reasons I went to BookExpo is to get a better grip on the data of the book industry as a whole. I attended a number of presentations that did help, but the one I was looking forward to the most was BookStats.

This is a 2 year analysis of publishing from 2008 - 2010 performed by BISG (Book Industry Study Group) and AAP (American Association of Publishers). The data was not ready for BookExpo in May, and they expected it to be ready in July. Well July came and went but it looks like the report is finally out as I'm seeing articles written about it.

I plan on getting my hands on the complete report - will cost me nearly $600 to do so but I think it will be worth it. Once I have the report, I'll give some further analysis but here are some fact that have been put out by the New York Times based on their reading of the data.
  • 2008 seems to have been the bottom as there has been expansion in each of the three previous years
  • 2010 Net Revenue for publishers was $27.9 billion
  • 2010 Net Revenue increased 5.8% over 2008
  • Trade books grew 5.8% to 13.9 billion (fueled by eBooks)
  • Juvenile books grew 6.6% over three years
  • Adult fiction grew 8.8% over three years
  • eBooks were .6% in 2008 and 6.4% in 2010 (a number which I still think is grossly under reported)
  • 2010 eBook sales 114 million copies
  • Adult hardcover and paperback were essentially flat from 2008 - 2010
  • Mass market paperbacks declined 16%
  • Hardcover books as % of trade books held pretty stable (37.7% in 2010 39.6% in 2008)
  • Trade paperbacks saw similar trends (37.8% in 2010, 39.5% in 2008)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Conversation with Rick Murcer

As I mentioned a few days ago, Rick Murcer has seemingly come out of nowhere and is now dominating the top of the Amazon 100. His two books:

I talked to Rick yesterday for several hours in a thoroughly enjoyable conversation that I hope we can continue. Here's what I discovered:

Rick Murcer is:
  • A gifted storyteller who is able to channel his vision to the page in a way that brings his characters to life and makes reader care about them as much as they do "real people"

  • A humble man both grateful and surprised by his recent success, who believes in God's blessings, and plans to give back to others less fortunate then himself

  • An experienced businessman and yet unfamiliar about the world of publishing, and quite frankly baffled by many of its idiosyncrasies (as well he should be – there is much that defies all logic)

  • A family man who works as a team with his wife, and is helped along by other family members (nieces, daughter-in-laws, etc.)
I LOVE stories about people like Rick and when talking to him I saw many corollaries to my own life.

  • We both come from Michigan, have held executive positions, and know the frustration of being laid off and over qualified for most of the jobs available

  • Throughout our conversations he constantly used "we" in reference to his wife and himself. It is obvious that they are both partners in his writing and share equally in its success.
  • Like Michael, he has had no formal training in writing, but has been a storyteller for his whole life. Rick wants to produce a quality product, is willing to continue to educate himself to do so, and improves with each subsequent book.
  • Has made more money than he ever dreamed, possible and yet has only begun to scratch the surface of his full income potential as a writer.
What I'm torn with when writing this post is how to classify Rick. On one hand, I have to put him in the outlier category (i.e. in the ranks of Hocking and Locke), after all, he sold 135,000 copies with two titles over just a few months…and that doesn't happen every day. It’s important to note that both Amanda and John Locke had multiple books (7 or 8 each) when they were at the height of their Amazon Top 100 runs. So it makes sense to call Rich an anomaly.

But on the other hand, Rick got there without the marketing prowess of Locke or the social network platform of Hocking. He reached the top doing things that just about anyone can manage – and he did it largely on his own (the support of his family notwithstanding).
It goes without saying that Rick has written two fantastic books that are obviously connecting with his readers. And this is true of anyone that is making good money in publishing – it all starts from a quality product that spreads by word of mouth. But what else did Rick do to get where he is? Let’s take a look and find out a little bit more of Rick’s story.

Five years ago Rick had been Vice President for two different companies, and in his spare time wrote Caribbean Moon in about four months. As with many executives in economically challenged Michigan, he was laid off, and at fifty-four found himself overqualified. Even after submitting hundreds of resumes he saw no new job potentials in sight.

Rick had submitted Caribbean Moon to a few agents (12 – 15) and received some positive feedback but in April 2011 he decided to release it on his own. He invested just $185 on the cover, while the editing was done by his wife, niece, and daughter-in-law, he taught himself how to format ebooks and get them posted onto distribution sites.

His first day of sales saw 10-12 copies move (mainly to people he knew). He made some posts on cruise related boards (Rick vacations often via cruises and the book takes place on one). He also sent about 250 emails to a network of cruising and golfing friends that he had gathered over the years which picked up another 25-30.

Next Rick started interacting with other authors and readers on the Kindle Forums (The Spinning Wheel and Comfort Inn). He made a post to send free copies of his book and received quite a few emails right away. The post was removed, he didn't know that it wasn’t allowed, but gifted 50-60 copies to those who had asked.

By May, just as the second book was about to be released, he had sold 3,500 copies and had his first 400 book day. Somewhere along the way Caribbean Moon was in a promotion of $0.99 books that Amazon featured as part of a 2-hour sale. In July he started having 1,000 books days, and then 1,5000, and then had elven straight days each in excess of 2,000. By the end of the month he had a 4,000 book day and hit the top 100 on the same night that his granddaughter was born.

Two days ago he sold 6,300 books and yesterday he sold 6,800. Rick also raised the price of his second book to $2.99 and has seen no slowdown in sales. THANK YOU RICK! I'm always saying that people have to get off the $0.99 price when sales are good. Readers won't begrudge you making more money—anything under $5 is a bargain—and they want you to succeed.

Rick is obviously a prolific writer. His second book took about five months from start to finish, and he's working on Emerald Moon and expects to have it out by September. Once released, he has an email list of more than 400 people who have asked to be notified as soon as it is available.

I'm not sure Rick truly understands how unusual his story is. There are many people who have $0.99 books out and never make the top 100 let alone #2, or two in essentially the top 10. The fact that his second book is ranked so highly is a testament to his ability to weave a good tale. As I said, the ONLY way books get to this level of success is through word of mouth. You need to get the ball rolling (which he did through some direct mail, gifted books, posting on relevant sites), but after that the Amazon system kicks in via their best seller list, referring of books and also bought features.

I couldn't be happier for Rick. I love that so many authors are able to make a living in the new world of publishing. I don't think Rick will be submitting any more resumes any time soon. Will it last forever? No, probably not, everything has its day in the sun, but Rick has plenty more stories to tell, and his audience will build with each new release. There’s no reason to suspect that he won’t continue to earn a living from his writing for as long as he desires to.

I want to thank Rick for being so open and honest with me yesterday. Every story like his shows struggling authors what is possible—not what is probably—but what is possible. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, there is no better time than now to be an author.

More on Discoverability - Printed Books and BISAC Codes

In yesterday's post I spoke about selecting the proper categories for your kindle books. I wanted to discuss paperback books today.

For those that don't know the classification of print book is, in most part, regulated by the Book Industry Study Group. They're a trade association whose mission is to:

...create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry. We’re committed to the development of effective industry-wide standards, best practices, research and events related to both physical and digital products that enhance relationships between all trading partners.
They have a committee that overseas the BISAC Subject Heading List which classifies books. For instance Michael's Riyria Revelations fit into the following:
  • FIC009020 FICTION / Fantasy / Epic
  • FIC009030 FICTION / Fantasy / Historical
  • FIC002000 FICTION / Action & Adventure
  • FIC020000 FICTION / Men's Adventure
  • FIC008000 FICTION / Sagas
CreateSpace allows you to specify one BISAC code, Lightning Source three (but I'm not sure if an outlet like Amazon will make use of all three or just the first one.

If you are distributing books into bookstores you should make sure that the "primary BISAC" is on the back cover. For those that are traditionally published, when you review your cover design look for it near the left bottom of the back cover, and if it is not there, ask your publisher to add it. This is what tells them "where" in the store to place the book.

Michael's first small press failed to heed our warnings on putting a BISAC code on the book and "The Crown Conspiracy" was usually filed in the mystery section rather than fantasy....sigh.

It also probably doesn't hurt to place the BISAC in your book descriptions. Most readers don't know what they are or search for them but savvy readers, or those that work in bookstores might do searches on them to find new titles. Beside, it doesn't hurt and makes you look more professional. I would just place them at the bottom of the listing description.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Discoverability...picking the right categories

One of the most important things to consider when publishing your book is choosing your categories wisely. Because so many indie authors find that Amazon kindle will be their best sales channel, I recommend optimizing for it.

To do this you need to first know which categories have bestselling lists. I'm going to focus on science fiction and fantasy as that is the area I'm most familiar with. Let's start with kindle
  1. Open Amazon to the main home page
  2. From the list on the left side of the screen select Books->Kindle eBooks
  3. Under Popular Features, select Bestsellers
Under Fantasy I find the following:
  • Anthologies
  • Arthurian
  • Contemporary
  • Epic
  • Historical
  • Series
Under Science Fiction I find:
  • Adventure
  • Anthologies
  • High Tech
  • Series
But that's not the end of the lists, as Kindle eBooks also show up in the book section so let's look there as well.
  1. On the left side click on: Any Category
  2. Click on Books
  3. Click on Science Fiction and Fantasy
Under Fantasy I find:
  • Alternate History
  • Anthologies
  • Arthurian
  • Contemporary
  • Epic
  • Historical
  • History & Criticism
  • Magic & Wizards
Under Science Fiction I find:
  • Adventure
  • Alternate History
  • Anthologies
  • Graphic Novels
  • High Tech
  • History & Criticism
  • Short Stories
  • Space Opera
But that's still not the end of the lists. There are many "non" science fiction and fantasy lists that could fit my stories such as:
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Action & Adventure
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->Action and Adventure
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->Men's Adventure
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->War
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Romance
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Romance->Fantasy, Futuristic & Ghost
  • Books->Romance
  • Books->Romance->Fantasy & Futuristic
  • Books->Literature and Fiction
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->Action and Adventure
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->Men's Adventure
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->War
You want to pick list that are, of course, relevant but you also want to look for lists that are the easiest to dominate. In other words a list that you can be a big fish in a small pond. For instance, Michael's fourth book in his Riyria Revelations series was called The Emerald Storm. Like all of the books in the series that was an epic fantasy, but it also takes place on a sailing ship and there is a category, Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->Sea Adventures. If we look at the first page of this is the ranking of the books are: #1 - 25,832 and #20 296,445. The Emerald Storm is being taken off the market in just a few days but over it's life it's rankings have ranged from 284 to 16,784 so I could have the #1 best seller for sea adventures simply by selecting this category.

The first page of the Men's Adventure list goes from 299 to 2,683 while the first page of epic fantasy goes 19 to 1,018. So if your epic fantasy appeals to men -- it might benefit you to use the Men's Adventure category when your ranking is too low to hit the epic fantasy list.

List popularity changes all the time. I recommend you watch the ranking ranges for the ones applicable to your books and change the list if you've fallen off one of the "harder to get on" lists - it might even introduce an audience to your books that wouldn't normally find it. For instance, if Emerald Storm couldn't make ANY fantasy lists - then I would probably classify it for sea adventure or men's adventure as then it would easily make one of those.

Sometimes a list that you want to be on is not available through the DTP interface. No problem. Simply make sure you have an open spot (i.e. only have 1 or none categories selected) and put in a ticket. They will set it into a category that you can't get to.

Be careful about DTP categories that don't have a best seller list. I have two great military science fiction writers: Joe Haldeman & Marshall Thomas. If you notice there is no bestseller list for Military Science Fiction (too bad because with my sales numbers for them would guarantee some dominance there). When setting up my title, one of the choices I COULD select Military Science Fiction as that best describes these books but if I do, then I miss an opportunity for hitting a bestseller list which is a high impact to my sales.

So what to do? For thse books I select:
  • Fiction->War
  • Science Fiction->Adventure
Remember that any lists "higher" than the one selected is automatically eligible. So using these categories actually make those books eligible for:
  • Books
  • Books->Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Books->Science Fiction and Fantasy->Science Fiction
  • Books->Science Fiction and Fantasy->Science Fiction->Adventure
  • Books->Literature and Fiction
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->War
  • Kindle
  • Kindle Store
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->Science Fiction
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->Science Fiction->Adventure
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->War
That's a lot of lists. For Leslie Ann Moore I could use lists such as:

  • Epic Fantasy
  • Romance Fantasy
  • Historical Fantasy
When her numbers are good as they are now then I keep her in the Epic Fantasy and Romance Fantasy as those are very relevant to her series. But if her ranking were to fall off these lists...then I would move to Historical Fantasy because that is a list that is easy to dominate.

A key element to success is getting on a best seller list - as many people use these to discover new authors. It even makes sense to "mix them up". There is usually more than one category that applies and since you can only use two then switch them every few months to expose your books to sub-markets that "fit" your book.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Think like a Publisher...even down to your name

This will be another of my drive-by posts, as I'm still buried deep in several projects. Luckily for me, Andrew Jack has done a really great interview with me and I can draw from that.

Andrew asked me what the single biggest mistake self-publishers make. A great question! I think the answer is they don't switch their mindset and "think" like a publisher. If you don't do this then you'll die from a thousand paper cuts as little mistakes will add up over time. The most notable area that are not taken into consideration are:
  • Title of Book
  • Name used by author
  • Pricing
  • Branding
My interview with Andrew used book title for an example, and you can go over there to see what I said on that. But let's look at something else...Name used by author.

J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, K.W. Jeter, M.J. Rose, A.C. Crispin...many people use their initials instead of their names. In most cases this is used to "hide" the sex of the author (usually women who are writing characters or themes that seem more masculine). Another reason to do so would be because many authors with your first/last name already exist.

For me, I'm not a fan of this technique - it distances the author and reader - plus it makes it difficult for fans or reviewers to reference the person. I never know if it is a he or a she and calling someone K.W. when writing seems cold and impersonal. In general, think long and hard before you do this. Having good reasons, and still doing so is fine - just make sure you have that internal thought with yourself.

Using Pen Names
Again used to hide your identity. In many cases, it is for one of the following:
  • Not wanting your friends/family to know you've written something: like Erotica
  • People forced to because of non-compete clause in a traditional publishing contract
  • People writing in multiple genres and don't wish to confuse their audience
  • People already named someone very popular
  • People trying to trick people into buying their book when actually looking for a more popular author, or to get their books "near" a popular author on bookstore shelves.
Again, this is putting a wall between you and your fans and if possible I say use your own name. But...if you think like a publisher you have to worry about discoverability and you may make conscious decisions based on this.

When Michael started writing, we searched on his name and were shocked. Did you know there are:
We couldn't use M.J. as someone was already using that (and for the reasons stated above), so I thought..well heck we'll just add the middle initial (which we did) but that still wasn't enough as there is already another Michael J. Sullivan !!

I happened to be on the phone yesterday, helping another indie author who needed advice on marketing of their books and she mentioned that she knows the Necessary Break guy. I laughed and told her that the next time they speak to tell him that Robin says, "He owes us money!!" That's because he's gotten a ton of sales through the name confusion. How do I know? Look at the cross-selling. My Michael is the #1 cross selling author with him and the first six books on his kindle "also bought list" are Michael's plus the other two show up later on, and most of the others are fantasy books that are in my Michael's genre. He's really benefited by the name confusion.

From a pure marketing perspective, we should have changed Michael's name before launching, but he REALLY wanted to use his own. The moral of the story is we thought long and hard before deciding what to do. We did our research, reasoned the alternatives and then made the decision. So think carefully about the name you will be with you from a branding standpoint forever

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Heavens to Murgittroyd...a new John Locke in the making?

Another indie author is hitting the tops of the Amazon rankings with $0.99 books. Rick Murcer has two books published through his own Murgittroyd Books publisher Caribbean Moon is #2 and Deceitful Moon #11. I'm always amazed with anyone who can hit these very high rankings.

Both are relatively new releases (first in March second in end of May). His blog has 9 followers and 3 posts???? Interesting...going to see if I can get him to do an interview.

EDIT: I just posted my thoughts after interviewing Rick Murcer you can read it here.

A sad day for enhanced ebooks...

As much as I love the ebook revolution, my eyes are looking to the horizon for what the next big thing will be and that brings me to ebook Apps. Ridan is actually in development for our first Appbook (Hope to have it out in a month or so) and we're working with our technology partner to brainstorm new features to add to this technology.

While what I'm doing with the Ridan App is exciting, it pales in comparison to what is possible with non-fiction works. Anyone who has seen The Elements or Al Gore's Our Choice can see the potential of the technology developed by early innovators and just imagine all the possibilities to come.

And's with a Colbert "Wag of my Finger" that I admonish Facebook who bought PushPop (makers of Our Choice), not to develop more Appbooks, or continue pushing the AppBook potential, but to essentially dismantle it and use those talented developers to add more bells and whistles to Facebook.

I concur with this article that Facebook bought the company's employees more than their products. I'm sad to see this development. I guess I should wait to see what Facebook does before I make judgements, but on the surface of things, this looks like a blow to a new technology that was looking very impressive.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shorter works

I wanted to talk today (in my small 30 minute allotted time about short stories).

Traditionally these have been sold to magazines (first in print and now a days online) and very genre specific. Often they are collected into anthologies and sold at the price of a full length novel. Historically anthologies don't sell very well.

I think "shorts" have a tremendous opportunity for indie authors especially those that think ahead. I'm turning my attention to Michael's big six release and one of the things that the publisher is going to be doing is making a Riyria Revelations Facebook Page. As it will start from zero I've been thinking what I can do to get followers which will be a signal to Orbit that Michael has a platform and is worth further marketing investment...enter a short.

I've asked Michael to write a short story with his main characters of the Riyria Revelations that I can give away to people who sign up to the Facebook Page. It will be a bit of back story of when Royce and Hadrian met Albert Winslow. For those that don't know Michael's work Albert is kind of their "front man" that operates in the world of the nobles finding jobs of intrigue to be performed for our pair of thieves for hire. This little piece of fiction won't take Michael long to write but gives me a lot of marketing opportunities for new readers to his world.

But...let's take it a step further. This short story, if written properly can also be the start of a longer work a little standalone story within the Riyria Revelations universe. No it won't be tied into the carefully constructed six-book story arc, but it will be a nice little stand alone going on another adventure with two characters that many fans have come to love. So when that novel is released I can use the short story as a $0.99 low priced entry into the $4.99 full length novel.

Many people use $0.99 to get eyeballs, and it definitely works. But if that $0.99 takes you six months or a year to write you're significantly impacting your revenue stream. Writing it in a week or so makes a lot more sense.

Moses Siregar has done something similar with his The Black God's War. It was just launched a few days ago (July 31) at $2.99 and is selling well. It is on at least two Best seller lists:
  • #89 of Kindle Epic Fantasy
  • #35 of Hot New Epic Fantasy Releases
His shorter Novella is currently free and #71 on the Free Epic Fantasy. It was released about a year ago and has sold for various prices (but on the low end). At 26,000 words I'd venture it took a lot less time to write than the novel followup. And he has used this year to get a name for himself, some good reviews (29 12 5-star, 13 4-star, 4 3-star). So low and behold when the novel comes out he hits the top selling lists right away and doesn't have to resort to $0.99.

So, as an indie author I want you to think about how you can use shorts as your "low price leader" and keep your longer, more time invested works at a higher price point. If you do write some shorts here are a few tips:
  1. Make it CRYSTAL CLEAR that this is a shorter work. That means putting a clear indication on the COVER as well as mentioning it in the description. If a reader thinks they are getting a full length novel then they will feel cheated.

  2. Think about branding them. Ridan will probably come out with a "shorts" line in the future and we'll come up with a "brand" (Name and layout) that identifies all our shorts together. Orbit (who is Michael's big-six publisher) has an Orbits short line - further proof that they are smart cookies over there and know how to maximize their income in the digital world. Amazon of course has their Amazon singles line further proof that there is some good business sense in utilizing this venue.
In the indie space, someone who is using the short well is Debora Geary who has something called Novel Nibbles. These are little $0.99 short stories that all carry this brand and have a little apple on the cover with a bite taken out of them. They are designed to be be something you can read while at lunch and its a brilliant move.

She's even turning this into a kind of a franchise. I don't know all the details, and hopefully I'll get her to do a guest post on this. But I recently saw one of the Ridan authors, Nathan Lowell came out with a Novel Nibble with, A Light in the Dark (Tales from the Deep Dark). It has the Novel Nibble brand but I noticed the publisher is listed as Durandus which I know is Nathan's own entity.

In any case, this title was released July 22, 2011 and I stumbled across it just a few days after its launch when I found it on a best seller list. It is currently ranked 674 and is on:
  • #17 Hot New Release in Books Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • #5 Hot New Release in Books Science Fiction
  • #3 Hot New Release in Books Science Fiction Adventure
  • #2 Hot New Release in Books Science Fiction Space Opera
  • #75 Bestselling Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • #20 Bestselling Books in Science Fiction
  • #5 Bestselling Books Space Opera
  • #11 Bestselling Books in Science Fiction Adventure
  • #2 Hot New Release in Kindle Science Fiction Adventure
  • #3 Hot New Release in Kindle Science Fiction
  • #85 Hot New Release in Kindle Genre Fiction
  • #15 Bestseller in Kindle Science Fiction
  • #9 Bestseller in Kindle Science Fiction Adventure
To maximize income your "low price leaders" should be something quick to produce. Think about your writing and how you can generate a short to lead people to your bigger, more expensive works.

Okay I'm way over 30 minutes but yesterday's post was shorter and it still took less than 1 hour.

Monday, August 1, 2011

First things first...

Okay, so I'm still under huge editing pressure so I'm not going to do a big involved post...but I do feel bad at the neglect of my blog for July. So I'm alloying myself 30 minutes to do a blog and the clock is running.

I've been asked to write a book on self-publishing by an imprint of Hachette Book Group. We are still negotiating the contract so it might not come to fruition but it has made me start thinking of the various steps to publication and this has led me to something that I want self-publishers to think of.

When you started writing your book, you may not have intended to self-publish. You wrote it the way you wanted it to be and realized that it would probably be content edited by the publisher. But then at some point you decided to self-publish so you probably went right to copy editing and formatting.

What I want you to consider is you have to take a step back and put your business particular I want you to look at your opening and do some serious contemplation on modifying it.

As a reader of slush material I'm all about the first sentence, paragraph, and page. I form a lot of my opinions on these and 99% of the slush I've read had not gotten past this stage. Probably because the author was thinking of "writing" and not "selling".

I know...I don't want to taint your art with such ideas as selling books, but if you are going to self-publish, and are doing so to make a good income (as opposed to strictly control issues) then you need to focus on this.

Let me point out a few things in the new world of self-publishing.

  • Everyone will sample first: Whether it is through a ebook sample download, or Amazon's Search Inside the Book, a reader is going to take a gander at your stuff first. Now more than ever it's important for you to come out of the gate with something compelling. If you start out your book describing the town that your main character lives in I'll probably be bored to tears and not download. you HAVE to grab them.

  • People Quote First sentences: I always spend a great deal of time on the first sentences of the book. Probably 20 - 40 hours over several days. Today readers and bloggers share first sentences and if written well enough this can be a little ad for you.
Let's use a real example...Here is the first sentence from Michael's first book, The Crown Conspiracy:

"Archibald Balentyne held the world in his hands, conveniently contained within fifteen stolen letters."
This leads to several questions in my mind:
  • What do the letters say that is so important?
  • Who were they stolen from?
  • What will Archibald do with them?
Let's take another example, which is one of my favorites. Well it's actually a first paragraph not a first sentence but you get the point

"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army."
This is from John Scalzi's Old Man's War and again I have a host of questions...
  • Was he being forced into the army?
  • Why would they let him in at that age?
  • Based on the title of the book do they only use the "old" as the young are too important?

Once you decide to self-publish, you should take a step back and look at your book with a VERY critical eye. You may have thought that your book was done, but now that you are the President and CEO of the company, you need to look at it through those eyes and in particular you need to focus on the beginning and make sure you are gripping the reader. You won't have the luxury of time that a author released through a publisher would have. They will be allotted more time to build up to a run, you've got to come out of the gates at 60 miles an hour.

Whew only 2o minutes maybe I'll give myself 40 minutes for the next post.