Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Stand Up For Yourself

14 April 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A few weeks ago, at our weekly professional writers lunch, a writer mentioned a private listserve he’s on with other writers, all of whom are traditionally published. According to him, that list has been discussing an abusive editor, one who is tearing apart her bestsellers, making them revise their books repeatedly while telling them that they don’t know how to write.

. . . .

I knew the editor in question, and she went after me viciously in October of 2011. So viciously, in fact, that I immediately attempted to terminate my contract with the publishing company.

Let me tell you what happened, then let me tell you what I did, and then I will expand this essay into something everyone can use.

October of 2011 was a bad time for me.

. . . .

Publishing in the United States was changing quickly, and it often felt like the ground was shifting under our feet. We had cash flow issues because of the estate (see the link above) and because we had started three new businesses before Bill died. My stress was off the charts.

I still managed, somehow, to write a novel that I was quite pleased with. For once, I managed to hit every note I had promised in the proposal that sold the novel. The novel was risky for its genre, but the editor had approved the proposal and all was fine—I thought.

Then on the afternoon of October 18, 2011, the editor called me from a conference I had had to cancel out of due to my health and the estate issues. I thought she was going to update me on a book the company had just published—sales figures or something—or maybe convey something about the conference.

Instead, she wanted to talk about the book I had turned in. She didn’t ask how I was (and remember, she knew that I couldn’t attend for health and personal reasons) or anything. Instead she lit into me and my work as if I were a beginning writer.

She told me that I couldn’t write very well. She told me I knew nothing about the genre I’d been publishing in for fifteen years. She told me that I might think I was a good writer, but I wasn’t, and I needed to shape up.

I was stunned as this torrent of abuse continued. It went on for fifteen minutes before I could get a word in edgewise. I should have hung up; I was too sick and emotionally exhausted to think of that option until after the call ended.

. . . .

I drafted a letter to the publisher of the company. I cited everything the editor said in this and previous conversations, said I had concurrent notes so I wasn’t trusting a faulty memory, and then demanded to be released from my current contract.

Because I’ve been in publishing a long time, I did not do this angrily or stupidly. I told the publisher of this company that I would repay my advance and, on the book that was currently in production (not the one I had just turned in), I would repay all expenses the company had incurred to date.

. . . .

In my letter to the publisher, I cited my credentials, my publishing history, and my business and financial history, so he knew who he was dealing with.

He knew this was not a bluff.

I also told him that his editor was not doing her job. She was having subordinates do much of the work for her, if not all of her work for her.

I sent the letter as an email and as a certified letter, then sat back to see what would happen next.

What happened was a prolonged negotiation with the vice president of the company, a much higher ranked person than the publisher I had initially addressed. I still had several books under contract, one in production, plus the one I had turned in, and three more to write. I was going to cancel the contracts on all of these and repay the advances.

He reminded me how expensive it was.

I told him that I would not work with a company that approved proposals and then turned down a book that followed the proposal to the letter. I also told him that I had been misled about the company’s focus. I had not realized that it expected me to follow rules of a subgenre I would never ever write in. I usually avoided companies and book lines that required such things, because that’s not how I write.

He assured me the company did not expect that. We went back and forth for some time, and came to an understanding. I would switch editors for the book in production and the book I had just turned in. I would have no contact with the first editor.

If I was still dissatisfied, we would part company before I started writing the next novel I had to finish for them.

The new editor was just fine. A gem, in fact.

. . . .

Which brings me back to that professional writers’ lunch a few weeks ago. I asked the writer who is on this listserve what the writers who were being abused by this woman had done.

He said they hadn’t done anything. They were signing up for more books and taking the nastiness—the you-can’t-write, you-are-worthless comments—and sucking it all up, trying to continue forward. And unsurprisingly, several were having trouble finishing novels.

I had to clarify: You mean no one has asked for a different editor? No one has withdrawn her book? No one has left the company?

. . . .

In publishing, when someone in charge of your book does not respect you or the book, it shows in the book’s treatment. I fired an agent of mine shortly after she told me her bestselling client wrote smut. It wasn’t literature, it was crap, but it sold, she said. And then she laughed.

She said that to me, another client, about a client who earned millions for the agency. Imagine how she talked to the client’s editor. Imagine how she talked about me.

Respect matters, and writers should demand it.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

One of PG’s rules for business and life is not to deal with jerks.

The only exception is when PG has been in court and the jerk was on the other side of a case. Then it could be fun.

Blogs, Guest Blogs, and Blog Interviews

15 February 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 Previous posts covered a lot of the passive marketing techniques, so go back and take a look at those, starting here.

By active, I mean techniques that will take a lot of time from your writing by forcing you to write something other than your normal worlds or by repeatedly taking writing time to do something that is not writing. Other active techniques will cost you a lot of money, as well. I’ll be discussing all of these.

And yes, I know, the passive techniques mentioned in the previous posts also take time and sometimes take money, but usually they’re a one-and-done project. (Once you’ve designed your cover, you don’t need to redo it every week—unless you’re repeatedly screwing up.)

. . . .

A few years back, a dear friend of mine sold the first novel in her urban fantasy series. Her then-publisher (a big traditional publisher) paid to have her website revamped and linked with their website.

The publisher insisted that she blog. Her blogs needed to be about her books, the publisher said, or about something related to her books. Think about that: the blog had to be about her one book or nothing at all.

I’m not telling you who this is because not only did she leave the publisher, but she took back her website. The publisher-designed site was impossible to use from both the front and back end. And the publisher’s stricture on how to blog was ridiculous.

. . . .

If you are only writing fiction, however, blogging about writing is a very bad idea. First of all, millions of people blog about writing and publishing. Secondly, except for writing about your own process or your own work, you won’t have a lot to add.

. . . .

With blogging, you have to do two things:

1. Be consistent

2. Provide good content

Like anything else, it takes time to build an audience for your blog, but an audience will come, particularly if you follow those two rules.

You are balancing something though: you’re balancing discoverability for yourblog with discoverability for your published works. And those things aren’t always one and the same. So do follow your website numbers (and your sales) over time to see if your blogging is worthwhile.

Of course, if you enjoy doing it, then continue no matter how it impacts your writing. But if you hate it, don’t do it.

That’s the rule of thumb for all of these active marketing techniques.

Remember, they are not one-size-fits all.

. . . .

A blog tour, for those of you who’ve never done it, is a press tour in the blogging sphere. A writer writes a guest blog for a well-known book blogging site. Usually the guest blog also involves a book giveaway.

The Sourcebooks publicist contacted the bloggers, set up the giveaways, gave me deadlines and word counts, and then forwarded everything I wrote to the blogger. The blog would go up, and I was supposed to comment on the site or answer questions if I could.

Each blog tour lasted one month and usually involved a dozen different blogs. The publicist made certain the writers who were blog-touring did not write the same blog for each blogger. (That would be a disaster!)

The writers use the bloggers to promote the books, and the bloggers use the writers’ name (and giveaway) to promote the website.

. . . .

Sometimes a blog tour includes interviews and sometimes it doesn’t. Often, a blogger will ask to interview a writer about the writer’s work. This happens after you’ve had a modicum of fame. It’s also something you can trade with your writing/blogging friends, if you so choose.

The interviews seem pretty straightforward. The blogger sends you a series of questions via e-mail, and then you respond via e-mail. Sometimes those questions run for pages. Sometimes there are only two or three.

Like the guest blog, the interview promotes the writer, but it also promotes the blogger and the blogger’s website.

Once again, if you choose to participate in something like this, then you cannot just cut and paste your answers from previous questionnaires. The internet lives forever, and nothing goes away. Fans who follow your work will see that you’ve answered the same question the same way before, and that will defeat the purpose of doing this kind of promotion.

. . . .

When I was doing blog tours for Sourcebooks, I initially did them as an experiment, to see if the tours were worth my time. After saying yes the first time, though, I really didn’t want to insult bloggers by saying no the next several times.

That was a Catch-22 set up by Sourcebooks, because they had already asked the bloggers if they wanted me to guest blog. Instead of saying no to my publicist, I would be canceling existing blog tour posts—which, in my personal opinion, would have been a bad thing.

Here’s what I learned on my blog tours. I wrote about 10,000 words of free blog posts each time I did a blog tour, not counting responding in the comments (if I remembered. Sometimes I was traveling, and simply couldn’t respond). The bloggers provided space, and did promotion to their readers.  Sourcebooks provided the giveaways.

There is no way to know if the people who read my blog posts—with the topics often determined by the bloggers themselves (not me)—actually bought my books. I have no idea if the sales of the books went up because of the blog tours, because the blog tours, like so much in traditional publishing, occurred in the first month of publication.

So were my sales goosed by the tours? Or did the tours make no difference at all?

In talking with other romance authors who set up their own blog tours, I suspect the tours made very little day-to-day sales difference. There was never really a spike after visiting a single blogger’s site, even if that site had tens of thousands of readers.

But, remember, discoverability isn’t just about a single blog post or a single encounter with an author/book. Advertising—and that’s what a blog tour is—is more effective if your name/book title are everywhere at once. People see the name mentioned a lot and eventually, they’ll at least look at the book (if, indeed, it sounds interesting to them).

So, with that caveat in mind, a blog tour might be a way to raise your profile shortly after your book is published. If you can set it up yourself (or your publisher’s publicist does) and if you have the 10,000 words of writing to spare. And, if you’re doing it yourself, you want to foot the bill for the free giveaways, with no actual and obvious return.

. . . .

Interviews seem easier at first because the questions are there for you. But I find that interviews take me a lot longer than a 400-500 word guest blog. I’ve gotten very picky about doing e-mail interviews, and will turn down those of more than 10 questions. (Even ten is dicey these days.) Much as I like supporting my fellow bloggers, I simply do not have the time to spend three hours answering questions for someone else’s blog.

I say no more than I say yes. Although I admit, I still do the occasional short interview. I did one on the afternoon I wrote this blog post. That was a four-question interview and it took me 15 minutes. Will I get any book sales from it? I have no idea and I have no way to measure it.

Generally speaking, I’m doing the interviews as a favor to my fellow bloggers.

Now that I’m no longer published with Sourcebooks, I will probably stop doing guest blogs. They aren’t worth my writing time. I have other uses for that time that will aid discoverability. I’ll get to that in a future post.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Passive Marketing

8 February 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

But we all want to do more, and we all want readers to discover our work. There are ways to augment the good cover/good blurb/good story trifecta. Notsupplant it. You absolutely need those things. But you can add to it, which is what this series is all about.

I promised I’d move from passive marketing to active marketing. By passive marketing, I mean things that you can do with a little thought and often just with a push of a button. Things that will remain in place for years if you want them to, or things that can be swapped out without blogging, tweeting, or spending major advertising dollars.

. . . .

If you don’t know genre, you can’t do key words properly. Key words, for those of you who don’t know, are part of online metadata. If your book is in any online store, whether in paper or in ebook, your book will have key words associated to it.

The very first key word it should have is its genre. And then its subgenre. And then it’s sub-subgenre.  I’d write an entire post on key words if M. Louisa Locke hadn’t already done so, and so thoroughly that I don’t have to. (Thanks to J.M. Ney-Grimm for these links [from last week’s comments]) There are three posts. Here’s a link to the first.

The short of it all is this:

Amazon, for example, allows seven keywords that help readers find your books using the search function. Readers who know you will search by your name or a series name or a book title. But if the reader is browsing, they might be looking for other reasons. This is where keywords help. As Locke writes in her second post:

Just as authors have no control over which books vendors display in the front windows and on the display tables of their physical bookstores, so authors have little control over what books Amazon displays on the main Kindle Store Page. The one part of this first page that authors do have some influence over, however, is the search bar (found at the top of the screen.) Since many consumers have been trained by their use of Google and other web search engines to search for stuff using keywords, this is probably the most important place to start if you want to maximize a book’s discoverability.

She has a lot of suggestions on how to find the proper keywords. Please read her three posts and the comments, because she has done such a thorough job that I would only be duplicating it here. Go there, and learn.

. . . .

Notice that all three websites reflect the writers behind them. All three make it easy to sign up for newsletters—if the reader wants to do so. All three answer the basic questions:

1. What has this author written?

2. What order should I read in (if any)?

3. What’s new?

4. How can I learn about new books (if I want to)?

Some websites need even more data. When you’re writing in a series, you might want to how many books the series will/does have, when the next book is coming out, and how long you plan to continue the series. Get a sense of what the fans want to know, and provide those answers in your FAQ.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Avid Readers, Frequent Readers and True Fans

1 February 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This past week, with the pricing discussion, I realized that a bunch of assumptions about price—well known in retail—are completely new to publishing. Traditional publishers are so lazy about their pricing and discoverability strategies that they rarely think about what they’re actually doing. They just work reflexively—and indie writers have mimicked that.

. . . .

As writers, we have been “raised” in the business to believe that readers are one gigantic mass of creatures, all the same. Yet as readers, we know that’s not true. Just because Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl spent weeks on The New York Times bestseller list doesn’t mean all of us will like the book. Some of us will love it and some of us will wonder what everyone else saw in it, even if we bought it. Some of us will look at it and wonder who the heck would buy it at all. Some of us will buy the book after the movie comes out in October because we hadn’t heard of this major bestseller until New Regency Films started advertising the movie. (Because, y’know, traditional publishers don’t spend money on TV advertising. That would be so…last century.)

We readers know that’s how it works. We writers forget it.

And traditional publishers never think about it at all.

They treat all books by advance level. The amount of marketing dollars put into books varies according to the advance paid to the author, not how many fans the author has. In theory, advance and fans should correlate, but in reality, they don’t.

Traditional publishers don’t really pay attention to a fan base. Publishers sell books to distributors and bookstores, remember, and so target their advertising to those companies. When the chain bookstores took over the business, traditional publishers only had to convince a handful of book buyers to take tens of thousands of copies of certain books, based not on the author’s sales record, but on what was “hot” or a “great cover” or a “new concept.”

Independent booksellers bought what their customers wanted, but independent booksellers, who do not buy in bulk, have very little clout with traditional publishers.

. . . .

As a result, no one has broken down the retail side of the business with the idea of targeting the advertising toward the actual final customer—the reader.

No one has except, of course, the romance writers.

. . . .

Because most of the romance genre is mostly written by women and sold mostly to women, the notoriously sexist publishing industry of the 1970s and 1980s did not believe those books sold. Remember, publishing would target booksellers, not actual readers, and many bookstore owners refused to carry “that stuff” in their stores. I bought my romances back in the day at drug stores and through Harlequin’s subscription service.

It wasn’t until 1982 or so that romance began to make an impact, and that was because the romance writers started banding together and proved to the industry that their books sold. Romance Writers of America was founded in 1980 with this kind of advocacy in mind.

And because bookstores refused to carry many of these books, romance writers were the ones who developed all kinds of marketing techniques that many of you still believe you need to use now. Some of the techniques are absolutely valuable, and we’ll be discussing them in the future, like newsletters and fan-based activities. Some have seen their day, like bookmarks and flyers, and we’ll discuss those too.

But what you need to know, what’s important to know, is that the romancewriters are the only ones who have ever done a reader survey for the point of marketing books.

. . . .

A lot has been written about the true fan in the past few years, but let me quote former Wired editor and (as John Scalzi calls him) Web Thinker, Kevin Kelly, who, so far as I can tell, started this meme in 2008 or so:

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

. . . .

Why did I tell you all of this? Because, marketing one way to all readers—whether it’s free or expensive, whether it’s one type of book or another—ignores how complex readers as consumers really are.

When I talk about marketing strategies, I’m talking from this complex model, not the traditional publishing all-readers-are-the-same model.

The moment you stop thinking like traditional publishers is the moment your writing business will take off.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

What Kris writes about is also called market segmentation. Unlike publishing, the reality-based business world has used very sophisticated market segmentation for a long time.

Sophisticated market segmentation can create different products for different customer needs – running shoes for training, competition, off-road, under-pronaters, over-pronaters, etc.

Market segmentation can involve pricing and packaging – Store brand tissue vs. Kleenex vs. Costco’s packaging of 20 boxes of Kleenex into a single bulk pack. Store brand soda vs. Coca-Cola. Expensive perfumes vs. lower-priced perfumes.

Market segmentation can involve psychic or image needs – designer clothing vs. no-name, French vs. California wines, famous California wines vs. unknowns, etc., etc.

(PG knows he’s stepped into a snakepit with wines, but he will point to blind taste-tests that show most consumers can’t tell which wine is expensive and which is not. He also seems to remember hearing about tests where consumers were told the cheap wine was expensive and the expensive wine was cheap and most thought the cheap wine tasted better.)

Amazon and indie authors are a great example of how books can be segmented into various sub-sub-genres categories and keywords that go way beyond the crude BISAC categories.

Pricing and Discoverability

25 January 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The biggest mistake that indie writers make is the same one that traditional publishers make: they believe that just because something worked for one writer, it’ll work for all writers. I find it ironic that when there is such freedom of choice, writers glom together and believe that one way is the only way.

. . . .

Last week, I told you to set your prices properly, so that the books could be discounted. Many of you worried that Amazon (or B&N or some indie bookstore) would discount your book upon receiving it, and advertise it for the low price. Some writers even lower their prices to prevent that, proving that they have no idea how bookstores work.

Amazon will discount your price and, depending on the terms and conditions they have with you and your company, you might get a percentage of the discounted price, or you’ll get your percentage of the full price. These things vary according to the type of book you’re publishing, how you’re doing it, who you’re doing it through, and how the percentage gets paid to you. I can’t tell you if your book will end up paying you a full royalty or not.

Accept standard business practices. Amazon discounts everyone. If you don’t like the policy, don’t do business with them. It’s that simple.

If you want your prices to look low, and you want your customers to have choices, here’s how to do it without lowering any of your prices. Have a paper edition. Seriously. Take a look at this listing on Amazon for the Kindle edition of my novel, Snipers. You’ll see that Amazon lists the print suggested retail price of $18.99. Then you’ll see that Amazon lists the Kindle price of $7.99. And then, Amazon kindly tells you how much you’ll save if you buy the Kindle edition: $11.00. Amazon has done this for years, and readers will compare across formats because many, many readers like both paper and ebooks, and will base their purchases on price. (If the prices are close, then the reader is more likely to buy paper.)

. . . .

When loss leaders are used in actual retail environments, like grocery stores, the stores do many things that we as writers cannot do. For example, the stores put the free item at the back, so you have to wade through aisles of product to get to the free thing. That will increase sales of fully priced goods. We don’t have that placement option in an e-shop.

An effective loss leader displays the full price, so that the consumer knows what a great deal they’re getting. With luck, that consumer will already buy other items like the loss leader, so that price knowledge exists deep in the consumer’s subconscious.

Back in the day when traditional publishing ruled the world, we all knew that a book cost anywhere from $5 to $25. So a free book was worth at least $5 (mass market) or $25 (hardcover). Now, with so many people offering books for free, that special feeling you get from receiving a free book has pretty much disappeared, particularly with ebooks.

. . . .

Loss leaders should be scarce, to prevent stockpiling. This is where “free” has lost its power. With so many writers offering so many books for free, readers have stockpiled books. If I read every free book on my e-reader, I wouldn’t have to buy books for a year. (Don’t tell Dean that.) Fortunately for you all, I do buy books anyway.

. . . .

In other words, whenever you’re offering a loss leader, you’re taking a deliberate loss with the hope of later gain.

This strategy works as intended only if you have more than one product, and generally more than ten. So, if you offer one of your books for free, then you are gambling (and I mean gambling) that readers will then flock to your other books and pay full price for them.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Passive Guy will add that ebooks and their online sale is still a new and developing area of commerce. It’s too early for very many well-established marketing and pricing principles to have been developed for this specific market.

That doesn’t mean there have not been and will not be numerous gimmicks that work and work well for the first few indie authors who discover them. However, as Kris says, when everybody uses the same gimmick, it’s going to stop working. Last year’s killer gimmick gets you nada this year.

Because of the universally-visible nature of the online bookselling market, an idea that gooses sales, even for a little while, will almost certainly be discovered by others, probably many others.

Unlike a grocer in Tucumcari who can work merchandising magic with some assurance that it will take awhile before the rest of the world discovers what he/she is doing, if Annie Author uses a new advertising or pricing or marketing technique and her book hits the top of Amazon’s bestseller list, you’ll see a million Annie copycats almost overnight.

Eventually, the ebook marketing world will settle down and we’ll have a good idea of what sales recipes are reliable.

While undoubtedly festooned with buzzwords, PG expects these recipes will be based upon a well-written book created for a group of readers the author understands. A reasonable price, a cover that looks good online and marketing messages that are likely to reach the book’s target readers will also play their role.

Blimp advertising and temporary tattoos of the book’s cover may have their day in the promotional sun, but the basics will be much simpler and longer lasting.

Branding 101 For Writers

12 January 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Readers identify these things as brands (in no particular order): Characters, Worlds, Series, and Writers. Readers rarely (almost never) consider a publisher a brand. There are exceptions—Harlequin has done a fantastic job branding its fiction. But most traditional publishers have not.

In fact, traditional publishers seem to have very little idea what branding is at all. They do branding on bestsellers, almost accidentally. Generally, the book’s designers have no idea how to brand anything. A few years back, Putnam decided to brand Nora Robert’s work, and the publishing trades made a big deal out of it.

But if you’re traditionally published, chances are your work has no individual branding—meaning, the branding is not tied to your writer name. The branding is tied to something else if branding exists at all.

Traditionally published writers of long-standing, like me, have books that look like mishmash of stuff, even if the books are in the same genre and same series. The lack of branding has hurt us. This is not an area where you, as indie publishers, should look to traditional publishing. You need to think outside their narrow little box.

You want your readers to identify your work as quickly as possible. You want them to find you easily. Hybrid writers who understand this are actually changing the industry. Their traditional publishers are starting to ask who their cover artists are and are copying the self-published designs of the hybrid writer, rather than the other way around. (Sad, isn’t it?)

. . . .

Every time you see a muscular woman with her back to the viewer, looking over her shoulder while brandishing a weapon, you know you’re looking at an urban fantasy novel. Genre branding is so ubiquitous that in some genres, it becomes cliché. Then some traditional publisher changes up the genre branding, and everyone follows suit.

I’m not telling you that you need to put that sexy mean babe on your urban fantasy novel. But…

The reason I use the phrase “indie published” instead of “self-published” is because if you write a lot and publish a lot, eventually, you will have a team helping you. Even if you’re only  publishing your own work, you have become an independent publisher.

And as an independent publisher, you must make decisions within your publishing house about branding.

. . . .

But if you’re a writer who writes in more than one genre, like I do, then you will need different branding for each genre you write in.

In other words, your stand-alone romance novel cannot look the same as your stand-alone mystery novel which should not look the same as your stand-alone fantasy novel.

. . . .

You must brand by genre. Readers expect it. They want to know what they’re picking up. For example, many romance readers read the genre to escape the difficulties in their lives. They have enough tribulations; they don’t want those in their fiction. They would be horrified if they picked up Sins of the Blood, without some clue that it’s a horror novel, not a sweet romance like Davy Moss.

You want to be discovered? Being discovered by genre is a fine way to do so. Make sure your tags on the various bookstores are correct as well. If you don’t know genre—and most writers don’t (even though they think they do)—then learn it.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Write More

6 January 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

[I]n the arts, all we have is our individuality. The minute you try to do something the same way someone else did—from composing a story to choosing a genre to marketing your work—you’ve failed.

The first rule of being an artist is to be an artist.

What you’re creating is unique, because it’s yours. Your job as an artist is to always strive to tell your stories in your way. Who cares if fat fantasy novels are selling right now? Who cares if none of your friends read romance?

Write your books.

And always work to improve.

Improve your language? No, not unless you don’t know grammar well—and that is the case for so many of you.  You never got grammar, punctuation, and spelling in school. Learn it, for god’s sake. Those are the tools of your trade.

Then learn how to make those tools dance to your tune. Not someone else’s. Yours.

You cannot think about being discovered if you don’t produce the work.

Every time we talk about discoverability, promotion, or sales, I always say that the best thing you can do to promote your writing is to write more.

How do people find your work? By having choices. Some people might like the cover on your very first novel, and buy it for that reason. Some people don’t find you until your fifteenth novel. Some people like your short stories or, as some of you have pointed out on a recent blog of mine, some of people find your fiction through your nonfiction.

Write. Write a lot. Then write more.

. . . .

I think you should publish the very first thing you finish. If you want to be traditionally published, send that very first thing to editors who might buy it. If you want to be a hybrid writer or an indie writer, then publish that thing after it’s gone through a first reader and a copy editor. Get it out into the world.

You might not sell a single copy.

You might sell hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands.

The only way to know is to make the work available.

But first, you have to do the work.

That work is writing.

Write what you love. Tell the best story you can. Then, once you’ve finished that story, start a new story. Make it even better than the first.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Discoverability

28 December 2013

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

We all know that our industry—publishing—is going through a massive disruption caused by new technology. The disruption is in two areas—the production system and the distribution system.

It’s easy and cheap to produce a book these days. Understand that I’m not talking about writing one. I’m talking about the things that happen after the book is finished. Please be clear on that, because if you misunderstand that point, you’ll miss the point of the entire blog.

In the past, it took tens of thousands of dollars to produce an actual physical book. Then you’d end up with a warehouse (or a garage) full of books, and no way to get them to a customer.

In the early part of the 20th century, a lot of writers self-published and ponied up that large amount of money. But by the middle of the century, writers couldn’t get the books to market, even if the writers produced the books.

Traditional publishers created a lock on the distribution system that was pretty extreme. Books went from the publisher’s warehouse to hundreds of distributors all over the country, who sent the books to bookstores, grocery stores, truck stops, and drugstores. Any place that wanted books could get them.

That system was already breaking down when Amazon started up in the mid-1990s. The main part of the distribution system had collapsed by the end of the century, murdered by large stores that wanted centralized ordering. The day of the local distributor who knew what his customers wanted disappeared.

Books got delivered to bookstores and a few non-bookstore chains, like grocery stores. But the small non-bookstores that used to get a spinner rack of books? Those stores couldn’t order books if they tried. The markets contracted.

Traditional publishers responded to this contraction by getting rid of the bulk of their sales reps, leaving a small sales force that mostly sold to a handful of buyers. Traditional publishers changed editorial strategy to meet the new reality, trying to find books that would appeal to a mass audience, just as the mass audience in all other parts of entertainment was breaking into pieces.

If traditional publishers want to know why Amazon was successful, it was because Amazon distributed books to the people who wanted them. Amazon didn’t try to dictate who should get what book. (Nor did it chastise its customers for shopping elsewhere, something a lot of independent bookstoresstill do.) The shopping experience on Amazon wasn’t pleasant at first; it isn’t always pleasant now. But it is useful, and easy.

Thanks to Amazon and other online retailers, books went from the publisher to the online site to the customer. Note that this procedure cut out at least one middleman.

Combine all of that with the ease of production, and suddenly, midlist writers and wannabe writers didn’t have to go to traditional publishers to get books to readers. Even without the rise of e-books, even if the only change in the system had been the low-cost self-published paper book, writers still would be going direct in much larger numbers than ever before.

. . . .

Traditional publishers panicked about the changes in distribution, but did nothing to combat it. They didn’t increase their sales force, and try to take the books themselves to independent bookstores. They didn’t woo regional grocery chains (as opposed to national ones). They didn’t talk to museums or truck stops or department stores, any other place that used to take books.

Traditional publishers gave up without a fight.

Worse, they maintained their marketing strategy, as if the old 20th century system was still in place.

. . . .

Here’s a different way to think about your book, copyright, and intellectual property. Think of it as property.

Let me be more specific. Think of it as a house that you built. You already have a home, so you’re not building the house for personal shelter.

You put time and effort into that newly built house, not counting the costs of construction (which, in the case of writing, would be the care and feeding of the writer, the overhead [which is the computer time and the electricity], and on and on). So you have an investment in that house right from the very beginning.

When the house is finished, you could sell it. You would probably make quite a bit of money up front if, of course, you built the house right and you had the ingredients that people wanted, in a neighborhood they wanted. If you were good at house-building, you’d recoup your investment in that house, plus a percentage.

That percentage is your profit. It might be a few thousand. It might be tens of thousands. It might be hundreds of thousands. But that’s all you will ever get from the house, because the house is no longer yours.

Pretty simple, huh?

Now, if you rent the house, you won’t recoup your investment right away. It’ll take time to make the initial investment back and even longer to make a profit. Once you pass that profit threshold however, the earning continues.  Yes, you might have to do some maintenance here and there, and you’ll have to pay attention to the overall marketplace, particularly when it looks like the current tenant is about to leave. But the house will continue to earn for you as long as you own it and as long as you keep it on the rental market.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Old Ways

14 December 2013

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s how writers decide to market their books:

They read blogs and articles, which tell them the best thing to do. Or, they mimic what they’ve seen other authors do. Or, they try to act like big traditional publishers, by funding their own book tours and doing signings.

I’d say that’s no way to run a business, but honestly, that’s how traditional publishers have run their businesses for a long time.

A lot of traditional publishing is based on “we always do it that way.” That was one reason why, in 1993, a relatively unknown Edgar-award winning author spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money producing a television ad for his book. He did so because he had the money, and his publisher refused to do the kind of support the author believed would make the book sell.

This author wasn’t a guy who simply believed in himself: he was one of the top ad executives in the nation. And he had worked his way into that position from the ground up. In other words: he knew his stuff.

That man? Not unknown any longer, and certainly not known only as an Edgar-winner. You know him as one of the bestselling authors in the world, James Patterson.

Am I recommending that you buy your own TV ads? No. I’m telling you to start thinking outside the box.  Patterson did, back in the days before indie publishing was easy or cheap. He started using Little, Brown, his traditional publishing company, as if it were his own personal publishing company. Now, Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little, Brown, says, “Jim is at the very least co-publisher of his own books.”

And it all started with that book, the one he advertised on his own.

. . . .

Traditional publishing often balks at bringing in new readers, claiming it doesn’t want readers of that sort or that readers don’t buy books that way. All the while, the publishers refuse to commission studies on how readers actually buy books, leaving that to government agencies or booksellers, most of whom don’t have the money to commission studies either.

Remember now, traditional publishing’s business model is based on velocity, and no long-term thinking at all. All of its marketing is geared toward that fierce urgency of now which I mentioned last week, because to traditional publishers, books spoil. They leave the shelf within a few weeks or a few months and then become (smelly) backlist titles that are taking up warehouse space. It’s tough for traditional publishers to realize that e-books never spoil; it’s hard for publishers to change their thinking.

. . . .

Let’s now move to TV. It worked for Patterson—who spent his career as an ad executive, who wrote and produced television advertising for other companies.

In other words, he knew what he was doing, and it sold his book. The key here, though, is that he knew what he was doing.

There’s no way to stress that enough. He knew what worked in the advertising market of 1993. He didn’t take his publisher’s suggestions. You know why? Because then, as now, traditional publishers did none of the sensible things that other big businesses do.

Traditional publishers don’t measure the results of their ad buys. They don’t look at the effectiveness of a sales campaign.

For God’s sake, they don’t vary the type of ad campaign to reflect an individual product. Instead, they only vary their campaigns by a vague sense of whether or not a book will sell. Then they slot that book into a pre-established set of behaviors, which “worked for other books of the same type.”

Um…no self-respecting ad agency would ever make a Nike shoe campaign look exactly like an Adidas shoe campaign, even though they’re both advertising high-end athletic shoes. Of course, Nike and Adidas have different ad agencies. But assume they had the same agency. That agency would work very hard to make Nike’s shoes look different from Adidas’s shoes.

But one publisher of thriller bestsellers treats those novels exactly like the competition treats its thriller bestsellers. Apparently, Clive Cussler writes the exact same book as Lee Child who writes the exact same book as Dan Brown. So that’s why they get the exact same advertising treatment—even though all three of them have different publishers.

. . . .

Because traditional publishers believe that marketing is something that is beneath them. When they do reach out and try to market something differently, they don’t hire an ad agency to do it. They don’t bring in outside experts. They don’t market test. They guess.

. . . .

Yes, your local bookseller(s) may hold a charity signing for you. Yes, you might even have a mutually beneficial local event. But it won’t make any real difference to your book sales, and it certainly won’t be worth your time.

Long-term booksellers know that. They know that only certain authors draw readers to a store. These booksellers are also respectful of the author’s time, realizing that well-known authors generally don’t have an afternoon to give to sitting in a bookstore. And I do mean “give.” Writers don’t get paid for those appearances, and the sales don’t make up for the lost hours of work.

Most traditionally published writers get paid a percentage of each book sold, earning as little as $2 per hardcover sale, and sometimes as little as 50 cents on each paperback sale. That money might not reach an author’s pocket for six months or more (if ever). So, sitting in a bookstore for two hours and selling even 20 hardcovers is only worth $40 to the author—six months from now. And if the writer had to drive to the signing, and had to get a hotel room (on her dime) and had to buy her own meals, well, she lost money.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG worked in a very large ad agency back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. In fact, it was the same agency that James Patterson ended up running. (Yes, it was slightly like Mad Men and, no, he didn’t know Patterson.) He has also been a marketing vice-president a couple of times.

PG will confirm Kris’ conclusion that big publishers are rinky-dink advertisers and marketers of their books. He’s not at all surprised that Patterson created his own advertising after seeing what his publisher had in mind.

The Fierce Urgency of Now

8 December 2013

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

We’re all familiar with the “fierce urgency of now.” We have experienced it all of our lives. It’s that feeling that we have to have something or have to do something right now or we’ll lose the chance.

When it comes to buying something, “the fierce urgency of now” used to drive our purchasing life. Back in the days of brick-and-mortar stores only, back in the days of appointment-radio, appointment-television, and appointment-movie attendance, the fierce urgency of now was a very real thing.

If you didn’t watch a TV show the  night it aired, you might never get to see that show. If you didn’t see a movie in the theater, you might never get to see that movie. If you didn’t buy a book when you saw it on a store shelf, you might never see that book again.

The fierce urgency of now governed everything, because space was limited. Bookstores had only so much square footage, and that square footage was devoted to the latest books. The amount of time a new book remained on the shelf—known as the turn—went from nearly two months to as short as two weeks (in the early 1990s).

. . . .

The fierce urgency of now has a completely different meaning in 2013. Thirty years ago, it meant “See this or miss it forever!” These days, it means, “Bring it to me the  instant I want it.”

And that difference changed our entertainment culture from a limited top-down monolithic culture to a seemingly unlimited consumer culture. In the past, we had to choose from what the gatekeepers offered us. Now, we can choose not only from all of the things (or most of them) that were published, produced, filmed (you name it) in the past, but also from a wide variety of things that never got vetted at all.

Our entertainment culture has become dynamic, but it’s also weirdly personal. When Dean and I started teaching twenty-some years ago, we would use certain movies as an example of good plotting because we knew that everyone attending our classes had seen those movies. Now, we can’t make that assumption.

. . . .

Right now, the large multimedia companies are grappling with this change. Their businesses are still based on velocity, so they need consumers to buy a new product within weeks, sometimes days, of that product’s release. In other words, the large multimedia companies still believe that the fierce urgency of now still operates on the 20th century model, and in book publishing at least, the traditional companies are very confused by the change.

. . . .

To make matters worse, consumer habits are changing. That change became evident over this past weekend in the United States. According to data compiled by IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, more people shopped online on Cyber Monday than ever before and—more importantly—more people shopped on Cyber Monday (as it’s now called) than on Black Friday. The revenue for Cyber Monday was 31.5% higher than the revenue for Black Friday.

. . . .

“You’re seeing more and more consumers shopping online instead of going to bricks-and-mortar retailers. People are under the impression that the Internet has cheaper prices and is more convenient, allowing you to avoid the crowds.”

. . . .

I wrote about the bestseller problem a few weeks ago—with all of the major publishers releasing their major titles within weeks of each other (sometimes overlapping). And it’s turning out as I predicted. Many guaranteed New York Times bestsellers are not New York Times  bestsellers with their current books. Some former #1 bestsellers didn’t even crack the top ten.

That velocity thing doesn’t work when everyone plays the game. Or maybe, it does work, and it shows which writers have succeeded in making their work a must-buy no matter what the season.

Indie writers are seeing the problems with velocity also. A lot of writers are complaining that “free” doesn’t work any more or that they can’t even get their titles into successful non-traditional advertising venues like Book Bub, whereas they used to get their titles into those places in the past.

When you’re the thousandth guy to jump on a bandwagon, then that bandwagon isn’t going to be as big a deal as it was for the first 100 guys.

. . . .

1. Let your readers know when the book is published.

2. When you publish the next book in the series, make sure the first book is advertised in the back of that book (along with any other genre-related books you might do and a link to your website).

3. Jump on the right bandwagon. When Downton Abbey became successful, a handful of traditional publishers shocked the crap out of me by actually doing correct marketing. They brought back some titles set in the same milieu as Downton Abbey, with new covers. They targeted their marketing to a different crowd—the PBS crowd here in the U.S.—and those books started to sell again.

4. Remember books don’t age. Just like music doesn’t. Just like movies don’t.

. . . .

In other words, just because your book isn’t successful now doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. Or, conversely, just because your book did well on its release, doesn’t mean its selling days are over. It can be revived, if you time things right, with the idea of discoverability.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

A couple of thoughts drifted into PG’s mind as he read this excellent essay.

As has been mentioned on The Passive Voice many times, the ebook/ecommerce combination is a disruptive technology (go here if you don’t know what that means).

One consistent element in all business earthquakes caused by disruptive technology is that the tech which changes the world is less-expensive than the technology it replaces and allows lower prices for customers. Personal computers were much less expensive than the computers they replaced. Music lovers could buy the song they really wanted for 99 cents on iTunes instead of paying $13.95 in a music store for a CD which included a bunch of songs they didn’t really want.

If indie authors are in the process of disrupting traditional publishers, one of the ways they’re doing it is by using lower prices.

The infrastructure necessary to support an indie author (laptop plus internet connection plus someplace to sit while you write) is much, much less expensive than the infrastructure necessary to support HarperCollins. So the indie author can sell ebooks for 99 cents when HarperCollins can’t afford to do so.

Another huge advantage of indie authors is that they are far more agile than traditional publishers. The book acquisition, development and release process takes months, maybe more, at a traditional publisher. Yes, they can rush out an instant book on Nelson Mandela, but doing so means going outside the normal publishing process and slows down everything else when it happens.

An indie author isn’t weighted down with a cumbersome production infrastructure and marketing process. If he/she decides cowboy zombie cooking erotica is the next big thing, the first book can be up on Amazon very, very quickly. And the second book can follow shortly thereafter. And it doesn’t matter whether a Barnes & Noble buyer thinks the book will sell or not.

The indie author knows that readers will decide.

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