Are You Selling What I’m Buying?

If you’re an author today (or any sort of entrepreneurial business person) this is truly a wonderful time to be alive.  The freedom and power given by the internet is unprecedented.  But for authors, all that power comes with great responsibility.  How to you make yourself heard, rise above the masses, and sell books without becoming a ‘MY BOOK IS NOW .99 ON AMAZON!!! RT THANKS!’ jerk?  Good question.

For myself, this is the simple formula that seems to work best (inspired by Austin Kleon) —

  • Do good work
  • Make it interesting
  • Put it in front of as many eyeballs as possible

In a moment I’ll explain each of those parts in more detail, but for now let me give an example of how this was recently successful in a RL event.

The Athens Writers Association had its first ‘Writers Read’ event and I wanted it to be a big hit.  So I picked good people and they (and I) practiced our readings and worked hard to bring our best (‘Do good work’).  Then I made flyers, put stuff up on the website, etc — all with the idea to make it alluring and exciting to people (‘Make it interesting’).  Lastly, I contacted local papers, and spent a whole day going to nearly 30 places around town to distribute flyers (‘Eyeballs’).  It was exhausting.

But it was SO worth it.  We had a giant crowd, and everyone who came seemed to love us and wanted to hear more in the future.  The excitement was palatable.

So what does that mean for you (and me) online?  I think the same rules apply.  Allow me to explain —

Do Good Work

People, this is the catch.  Right here, right in the beginning.  You want to put out good work, really good work if possible.  All the other time and effort you put into to advertising and marketing is pointless (in my mind) if you’re not pointing people to something they are going to love.  You’re just the matchmaker — you believe your book and this reader are destined for each other and you just want them to meet.  And just as you wouldn’t set up a good friend with someone you thought was unworthy, don’t set your beloved reader up to fail by giving them a bad book.

‘Bad book?  Wait a minute,’ you say, ’My book’s not bad’.  No, maybe not.  But you want great.  Not flawless, not perfect (because we are human and what have we touched that we could not imagine more perfect somehow?), but great — really fucking great.  As good as we can make it.

 Make It Interesting

This is where some ‘Mad Man’ magic mojo can help (by writing copy, not by sleeping with models BTW).  The simplest way to think about this is just to remember what made you in love with the world of your book, be interested in that character, or want to know more about a topic than you were finding (think: ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask’ or Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing).  Also check out my Amazon description posts for more suggestions.  It the end of the day, my advice is to spend a medium amount of time (more than five minutes but less than five years) on advertising, make it fun, and be confident.  Since I’ve release my first book, I’ve probably apologized to no less than five people — it’s too short, I usually write fiction, this book is just to ‘test’ self publishing for a future ‘real’ book.  What the hell?  These weren’t people who were unhappy, mind you.  Meanwhile, the people who have read it all love it.  Point is, I need to be more confident, and so do all of you.  If you have made a really good book, your advertising should (honestly) be able to confidently recommend your book to people.  They’ll love it; they’ve been waiting for it.  Now you just need to —

Put it in Front of as Many Eyeballs as Possible  

I’m still working on this part, but I think paid advertisements are one of the least important parts of the puzzle.  Sure, you have to spend money to make money, but be careful how you’re spending money.  To reference back to the title of this piece, I can tell you for a fact that I’ve never bought a book because I saw an ad for it online.  No FB little side ads, no banners, nothing.  Now, I’m sure a lot of people do buy that way, but my audience is probably more people like me, and ads turn me off pretty hard.  So is this the fall of capitalism?  No way; let me tell you how I do buy books (and games, music, etc) —

  • Heard the person speak (either in person or on the radio)
  • Read their blog and loved their ‘voice’
  • Read a review
  • A friend recommended something they love
  • Had met the person in real life
  • Searched Google or Amazon and the key words brought me to the perfect book (i.e. Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard)
  • Was given a gift by someone who loved the author

One of my favorite shops in Athens, GA is The Native American Gallery.  I only go there five or six times a year, but I’ll happily spend a lot (for me) when I do.  I probably just wandered by the first time, looking for presents for others, and just fell in love.

On the internet, the challenge is that no one in a hundred years is just going to ‘wander by’ a URL.  The great news is that there are billions and billions of paths, leading people from one place to another.  And there are billions of people.  So start making connections — start a blog, guest on others’ blogs, send books out for review, contact sites to do interviews, and even put flyers all over your home town.

I really believe being an author today is summed up thus —

So do the great work I know you are capable of, make it interesting, and start sharing it with the world.  There are readers who just dream of books like yours.

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What’s Holding You Back?

The following is a guest post from a good friend and fellow Athens Writers Association member, Jennifer Innes.  Jen has shown an incredible amount of courage and persistence in going after her dream and I think we can all learn a lot from her.  Enjoy!   

I started my first novel at some point in middle school. This book was pretty awful, but main themes that would become the ties that bound my writing together were there and it was a good start to what would become an almost twenty year career in writing.

By 2002, I was pretty confident that writing was the path I wanted to take. It was my second year of college and I had to decide where I was going to transfer to and what degree I was going to pursue. I gave up on a lot of different career ideas but writing wouldn’t let me quit and so I went on to get not one, but two degrees in English.

Fast forward eleven years and you’d think I’d have a million books in print and I’d be world famous (okay maybe just moderately famous) but no, I let myself be held back from my full potential. Over the years I’ve written many books, well to be honest, I have half written many books. Almost every book I started sits on a computer drive, half completed, each project waiting to be seen to the end, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Typically life would happen and interrupt the writing process for far too long and then fear would set in.

The only four letter word that truly disgusts me is ‘fear’ because it controls most of my life. With my novels I feared completing them because I was scared of both failure and success simultaneously. I was afraid of these things because in either situation I would be powerless. I began writing as a child to escape the powerlessness I felt and as an adult I still try to escape those feelings which means I don’t finish the novels that want to be finished and I don’t pursue my dreams of being a published author.

But it’s not all a sad story. Several years back I met someone who would become a dear friend to me. He was also a writer and he was also afraid. Together we began a novel that we both were dedicated to and by metaphorically holding each other’s hands, we helped each other complete the novel, edit the novel, and now we are pursuing publication together.

When deciding how to go about publishing our book we settled on self-publishing but wanted to see if other people would be interested enough in our book to help fund some of the publishing costs. We started a Kickstarter campaign on Kickstarter.com for “The Beginning of Whit” to test the waters so-to-speak, and so far the response has been pretty phenomenal. Kickstarter itself was another one of those fearful things because “failure” and “success” are attached to any Kickstarter campaign. But we are pushing forward because the possibility of success will help launch our book and that would feel more amazing than sitting in my comfort zone avoiding failure.

So I ask you, what is stopping you from doing the things you want to do? Is it fear? Is it something you can overcome? Don’t waste twenty years like I did, do something about your hurdles today. I said to a friend once, “I’m my own biggest hurdle.” He said, “Then get out of your own way already.” What sound advice!

Please check out the Kickstarter for “The Beginning of Whit” at:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2121709675/the-beginning-of-whit-a-laugh-out-loud-urban-fanta

Jennifer’s blog can be found at: www.fanwritunit.blogspot.com

Find her on twitter: https://twitter.com/TheLameUnicorn

Find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JenniferInnesAndrewGrace

Publishing My First Book

Cover by Sarah Cerulean madnessofart@gmail.com

Cover by Sarah Cerulean
madnessofart@gmail.com

When I decided to get serious, to stop planning and start doing this year, my first goal was a writing one.  I decided to self-publish three books in the next year — crazy?  Yes.  But who wants to do anything halfway?

The Selection

How did I chose these three books?  Well, A Caged Heart Still Beats is my second novel and the one that I was sending out to agents since before the Earth’s crust had fully cooled.  I’d sent out probably a hundred queries and hadn’t gotten even one request to read it, so either my query was horrible, the industry is just really tough right now, or they didn’t like the idea of a love story with a man trapped in a cage.  All I knew for sure was that none of them had turned in down after reading the whole thing — because no one had read the whole thing.  It’s a book I believe in and can’t wait to get into readers’ hands.  So that’s coming out in November.   Fall Street is my third novel; I recently completed the first draft and it will be out next spring.

But my debut release is a bit of an odd duck.  It’s a little self-help book about living your dreams.  I’d had the idea for a while and then I was looking back at the best self-help book ever The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, and he told a story about a young man named Jason Dorsey who ‘didn’t know what couldn’t be done’ and so wrote a book Graduate to Your Perfect Job in less than thee weeks.  So I decided to write my little book and share it with the world.  Easier said than done.

The Writing

All went well in the beginning.  I picked 25 ideas (divided into five categories) that I thought had most contributed to my happiness.  Over the next month I wrote out each idea, added intros, and felt pretty good.  Then my first reader (my sister Sarah) called out some weaknesses.  That’s cool, that’s okay (sniff!).  I rearranged the whole book, cut some stuff, added so new sections, and it became much better.   Now I just needed to finalize and copy-edit (again) the manuscript.

The Cover

Now, my sister is an artist and she’s designed covers for my friend Rob White’s book.  I knew I wanted her help on my novels but I (naively) thought I could handle the self-help cover on my own.  And I’m sure I could have eventually come up with something decent but, just look —

CAcover

I think we can all agree the one at the top of the page is better.  I’d struggled through six different covers (all using my ancient MS Publisher’s 80s-rific styles) and then one day while I was out, Sarah surprised me with the blue sky cover.  Thank the gods.

What I learned from this is that it’s very hard to make a cover that looks professional and good enough to sit alongside traditionally published books.  And even if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you have to keep working and looking till you find a high quality look.  I’d suggest at least finding a local artist or graphic designer to help you, and going for a true cover designer if you can.  It’s your book’s intro to the world and I didn’t feel ‘right’ about any of my designs but now I can feel proud of my book.

The Advertising, Formatting, Etc

I’m now hoping to format my book, both to become an e-book and a POD paperback, in the next weeks.  The cover needed a few last adjustments (the size of my paperback is a little narrower than the design above and I wanted the title a little bigger).  Everything I’m doing is out of Catherine Ryan Howard‘s wonderful book Self-Printed.  I’m still pretty lost about advertising, but I figure that is the next great adventure.

I’m proud of my book.  I’m (pretty) proud of my Amazon page.  And I’m proud of myself for taking my future into my own hands.  Because the secret, as Austin Kleon says, is —

Cover for My First Book!

I’m releasing my first book, How To Come Alive: A Guidebook To Living the Life of Your Dreams in October and I wanted to share the cover with you.  It was made by the talented Sarah Cerulean (my sister).  The book is coming along nicely and will be available in e-book and paperback formats.  It is a challenge and a call to all those who know that life is about more than junk food and reality TV and who are excited about making their dreams come true.

I’ll share more details about the process of self-publishing as it happens.

HowtoComeAlive_001

Yay! I love this cover!

Is ‘Release Day’ an Outdated Term for Self-Published Books?

I am planning the release of my first book at the end of the month and I have a problem — I don’t have a burning desire to email everyone I’ve ever met, Tweet 24-7 about my “GREAT DEAL! ON AMAZON! CHEEP!”, or prime my fans to buy it on day one or else, I’ll insinuate, they’ll not really my fans at all.  I’m not interested in any of those things.  I’m happily sharing my most inspirational songs on FB and mentioning my book as I do it, but I realized this morning that ‘release day’ just doesn’t mean that much to me.

And then I starting thinking — how important are release dates for self-published books these days?

Now for movies, the first weekend of release is imperative.  Even if a movie ‘has legs’ and keeps making money, a slow opening weekend has very real implications — the actor, the director, and a franchise may be judged against it for years to come.

And for TV shows it’s even worse — a slow start may lead to a fast finish.  Your whole future is riding on a quick and intense public interest in your work.

Now we return to books.  In traditional publishing if a book doesn’t get enthusiasm from the publisher’s sales team, the initial run may be reduced.  If the book doesn’t sell right away, it may lose what little advertising it had, its shelf space, and even be headed for the dreaded ‘remainder bin’.  And then, after only 12-18 months, your book might go out of print altogether and disappear off the face of the Earth.

But with a self published book, everything changes,  Yes, selling more books in a short length of time can help you jump up in the Amazon rankings, but that’s about it.  Your book’s not getting ‘remaindered’.  It’s not going not of print.  You and your book can be on Amazon till the end of time.

I’m planning on growing my fan base (I’m aiming for 100 followers to this blog by the end of the month!) and I’m going to keep writing and improving myself and I plan on my book ‘How To Come Alive: A Guidebook for Living the Life of Your Dreams’ to be the first in a series.  So ‘opening day’ isn’t a big day for me.  It’s like the first day you meet the love of your life — it’s special, but it’s only the beginning.

And you all, my great readers of the world, are the love of my life.  And our adventure is only beginning — no countdown clock needed.

How Often Should You Publish a Book?

CDcoming

Or perhaps the real question is, how often should you self publish a book?  If you’re like me, you use to think of book releases as these nebulous, once-in-a-blue-moon happenings (when the stars aligned and the book publishers were feeling frisky).  But now, if you’re a self published author, you are only constrained by how fast you can type and how many books your readers want to buy.  A lot of people believe every six months is a good time frame, but it differs according to many factors.  So here are five things to keep in mind as you get serious and start lining up a release schedule —

  1. What kind of books do you write?  Nonfiction (especially a series) can be released pretty often.  Imagine releasing a book about cupcakes in September and then one about Christmas cupcakes in November — fans of the first one might leap at the chance to own the themed one.  The same is true for a series of short fiction books (mysteries, erotica etc) — six months might be a good time frame.  On the other hand, readers of an epic fantasy series expect to wait longer for (and get more from) each book in a series.
  2. Don’t run out of books to release.  This tip comes from the awesome Catherine Ryan Howard.  It’s not a concern if you just have one book you want the world to know about, but if you’re planning a career you don’t want to release three books in 2013 and then nothing till 2017.  Especially for a series.  If you have books 1 and 2 written and book three won’t be done till end of 2015, release one in the fall of each year and then your readers won’t have a horribly long wait to get to your exciting conclusion.
  3. Release a book ONLY when it’s the best you can make it.  If it needs three more weeks, guess what?  Ask the publisher (that’s you!) for an extension.  You don’t want to blow a release date, but honestly, in the beginning you are the only one who is super-focused on that date anyway.  And it will feel much better to release the best book you can make.
  4. Don’t die.  Just checking to see if you’re still alive and with us.  But honestly what I mean is, don’t create a publishing (and publicizing) schedule that will kill you.  There will be a ton of work required to make each new release a success and you want to allow yourself time to write the next book as well.
  5. Think like a publishing house.  Is there a time of the year that works best for your book’s release?  Is it tied to a holiday?  Or does your novel have a theme like ‘love’ that would be great to sell near Valentine’s Day?  Is it about frogs and would be perfect to release on May 13th (National Frog Jumping Day — I kid you not)?  Even non-holiday books may have a better season to release them in.  Just remember — in general you should plan your release one to one-and-a-half months before the holiday you’re tied to (‘Free Birds’ releases Nov. 1st and is about Thanksgiving turkeys).  And, unless you’re selling self-help or fitness books, right after Christmas is not a great time to launch a new book into the world.

Good luck!  And remember, what you publish (great books) is always more important than when you publish.