Indie Publishing Is Dynamic

Updated

Introduction

Traditional publishing has its benefits, but so does indie publishing.

However, those benefits are meaningless if you don’t take advantage of them.

One of the great advantages of indie publishing is the opportunity to swiftly respond to the many changes that arise throughout a book’s life, and to give a book an extended lifetime that far exceeds typical shelf life.

How’s the Weather?

Even in the publishing industry, the weather is unpredictable.

Many factors come up, including those that are beyond your control.

  • Kindle changes the way that series books are displayed in search results.
  • Just as you begin your big promotion, one of your first reviews stings like a bumblebee.
  • The subject of your nonfiction book experiences a major change just months after it’s published. Now it’s outdated.
  • Amazon discontinues the 4-for-3 program, starts discounting paperbacks, or stops putting them on sale.
  • One of the main subcategories that you selected is suddenly eliminated.
  • Someone raises a valid complaint about an issue that you failed to anticipate.
  • Readers convince you that you needed more editing help than you realized.

As an indie author, there is much you can’t control, but there is much you can respond to swiftly.

Product Page

Many features on your product page are dynamic:

  • The cover. Just upload a new one!
  • The blurb. Easy to revise. You can even format it through Author Central.
  • The keywords. Wise choices improve discoverability. Hardly selling? Change them up.
  • The categories. Be careful, though. If you’ve built up good visibility, a change could cost you.
  • The reviews. You can rarely change them, but it’s dynamic in that there is always the potential for a customer to leave a new review. (It works both ways. If things are good now, a bad one can spoil it. If the last review stings, in time a new one may be favorable.)
  • The editorial reviews. Get a great review quote from a relevant source and it can spice up your product page.
  • The biography. In addition to trying to find what works, if you leave this unchanged, it can become outdated.
  • The author photo. Strive to look the part.
  • The page count. You could add content. For a Kindle, adding a paperback makes this more accurate.
  • The customers-also-bought lists. The more effective your marketing, the more sales will help with this.
  • The list price. Having doubts? There’s one way to find out.
  • The sale price. Amazon often changes the sale price of print books. You can’t count on the selling price (but for CreateSpace print books, you’re paid based on the list price).
  • The recent blog posts on your Author Central page. Amazon displays the three most recent posts.
  • The book itself. Republishing is so simple, we could interrupt this blog with an auto insurance commercial.
  • And much more. Expanded distribution adds third-party sellers. More print sales leads to a few used books for sale. Author Central and Shelfari offer book extras. There are customer discussions, which are (and should be) quite rare except for popular authors.

But Not Everything

A few things are static:

  • The title. Choose wisely. Changing the title requires republishing a new book.
  • The author name and ISBN are fixed, too, unless you republish.
  • Customer reviews. A bad review is a permanent public record, so do your best to perfect your book from the beginning.
  • The publication date. (Though there was a period recently where republishing a Kindle changed this date.)
  • If you comment on a review, as soon as the reviewer or anyone else replies to your comment, if you change your mind and delete your comment, it will say, “Deleted by the author.” Amazon means the author of the comment, but everyone will assume it’s the author of the book.
  • Print books remain on your Author Central page forever. (A Kindle book, along with reviews of the Kindle edition, can be removed by unpublishing. But if you republish later, those reviews may reappear, although you may appeal to Author Central.)

What Does It Mean?

It means two things:

  1. You’re not stuck with things the way they are now.
  2. Don’t get too comfortable with things the way they are.

Here are some examples of how you can benefit from a dynamic publishing environment:

  • Monitor your three most recent blog posts. At any time, a customer can look at your Author Central page. What will this combination of posts look like to a customer?
  • Advance review copies can help to get a few early, honest reviews. If you’re planning a big early promotion, this can help to offset the possible misfortune of an unexpected critical review from one of your first customers.
  • On the other hand, if you get several glowing reviews, nothing critical is balancing them, and your book hasn’t yet established a healthy sales rank, this may seem suspicious to customers.
  • Making the blurb more clear or revising your book may render a review less relevant. This offers a little protection against the foolish person out to sabotage a book: The comment motivates you to improve the book or even the blurb, and now you suddenly have a better product (or packaging) on the market. Turn a negative into a positive.
  • Sales super slow? Try changing things up with a new blurb, cover, keyword, category, author photo, biography, or list price.
  • That strong urge you feel to respond to a review may have consequences that affect your book for it’s entire life. Some mistakes aren’t easy to fix. If instead you revise the blurb to address an issue raised in the review, if you later realize that doing so was a mistake, you can revise your blurb.
  • Adding quality books to the market similar to those you’ve already published helps your customers-also-bought lists help you.
  • When Kindle adds new features, like the recent Countdown Deal, you can take advantage of them immediately.
  • Updating the content of your book is easy. Just republish.
  • Keep writing and marketing. Even if things are going well now, you never know. The best way to prepare for the unknown future of your book is to write similar books and spend some time marketing effectively.
  • Got a couple of bad reviews? (1) If there are valid points, update your book. (2) Drive traffic to your product page through effective marketing. This helps you get some sales even when the product page isn’t appealing much through discovery on Amazon.

Beyond the Product Page

Marketing is also dynamic. For example, social media used to be the craze. It’s still effective for some kinds of marketing, but not nearly as effective in general. A current trend is a content-rich website. It’s also good to try new things because doing what everyone else is doing isn’t always most effective for you.

Don’t rely on Amazon to sell your book. Even if you get 95% of your sales from Amazon, you should look beyond Amazon for help.

  • Amazon tends to help books that help themselves through effective marketing. The work you do to drive traffic to your product page helps.
  • Traffic that you direct to your product page can help you jumpstart sales when you first publish and can help keep sales going if your visibility in search results plummets or if you receive a couple of bad reviews (if you’re personally interacting, those customers may trust what they learned from you more than what a stranger posts in a review).
  • Getting your books stocked in small, local bookstores, selling from your own website, etc.—every added sales outlet helps you with branding, discovery, and improves the chances of selling books through some outlet if your Amazon sales suddenly drop.

Finally, don’t forget that authors are dynamic, too. You’re gaining experience as a writer and marketer. All writers continue to grow, no matter how seasoned they may be now.

About Me

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Should You Self-Publish?

20140118_184900

For most authors, the decision of whether to self-publish or search for a traditional publisher is a tough one. I wrestled with this decision (it fought like a crocodile) in the years leading up to 2008. Even after self-publishing multiple books in 2008 (I had one completely written and the material for several others already well-prepared), I continued to wrestle the crocodile for another seven months. Then sales of two of my books erupted and later the next summer I launched a series that became popular enough that I no longer questioned my decision.

That’s what you hope for, when you’re wondering which route to take. You’re hoping that a day will come when you no longer look back over your shoulder, wondering about the other road (that road you didn’t take is such a clichéd road, it really isn’t worth any anguish).

Not an Easy Way Out

Self-publishing isn’t the easy way out. It might seem that way at first:

You don’t have to find a publisher or an agent, you don’t need to write query letters, you don’t need to put a book proposal together, you don’t need to buy Writer’s Market, you don’t need to meet the right people, you don’t need to write sample chapters for a book that might never get published, you don’t need to make marketing commitments, and you don’t need to wait years hoping to get lucky.

You also won’t have to deal with a pile of rejection letters:

Self-publishing is a sure thing, baby! (Well, at least as far as getting published is concerned; whether or not you’ll sell a copy to anyone other than your grandma, that’s another question.)

But self-publishing is still a lot of work. You’re the writer (so you still need to learn the craft), you’re the editor (which means a great deal more work once the book is written), you’re the formatter (which means learning a new art and how to use the software to pull it off), you’re the illustrator (can you draw, too?), you are your own marketing department (put Executive on your name badge), and you are your only public relations specialist (if you fail at this job, you can kill all your hard work faster than your favorite speedy cliché).

That’s a lot of work for someone who just wants to write. It might just be easier to find an agent or publisher after all.

And you don’t really escape the pain of rejection… because anybody can post a critical review right in plain sight where the whole world can see it (stock up on thread to mend your bleeding heart).

You’re not Really Alone

It really isn’t self-publishing. It’s indie publishing.

You only do it all yourself if you choose to do so:

  • There is an abundance of free information available to help authors learn writing skills, editing skills, cover design skills, marketing skills, and publishing skills.
  • The CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing community forums have many knowledgeable participants to help out if you have a question.
  • You have the option of joining a writing group or organizing a focus group from within your target audience to help provide valuable feedback.
  • You can recruit extra pairs of eyes to help you proofread.
  • Services are available for editing, formatting, or cover design if you need to hire help. You may find affordable service at high quality if you do your homework well.
  • What you lack in financial resources you can make up for in time (it’s money, right?). You can choose to take your time to get it right.
  • You can find support from others, such as this wonderful WordPress community.

Changing Tides

It wasn’t long ago that self-publishing equated to hundreds of books piled in an author’s garage (though somehow I still have hundreds in my home office…).

For most authors, it was either traditional publishing, vanity publishing, or no publishing (and too often, the latter was the case).

Print-on-demand services like CreateSpace and e-readers like Kindle have revolutionized the publishing industry. Now anyone can  publish (and, believe it or not, there are even some authors who have their dogs publish, so if you hear this expression, there is a little truth to it—a photo book about dogs, surely; why shouldn’t it be written by, narrated by, and published by the dog?).

And hundreds of thousands of indie authors are publishing.

Self-publishing was ripe when it first came out. Many readers weren’t aware of the new concept in the early years. There were fewer authors and books, too. E-readers were new and quite appealing. The market was growing rapidly.

Then word started to spread about books with editing, formatting, and content problems. Many customers discovered these problems firsthand. Some review abuse from authors didn’t help the image (fortunately, Amazon has made great strides toward limiting this in the past couple of years). There were also some people (perhaps the extremists we will not label as authors) who had heard of amazing success stories, who were hoping to make a quick fortune with little effort (you can easily spot them because they have deep scars where they continue to scratch their heads).

Yet the number of indie authors and indie books continued to grow, and support for them grew with it. Take tens of thousands of authors, add their families, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, and you can see that there is ample support for the concept of self-publishing. Many indie authors read indie books; many more people who know indie authors read indie books (and not just by authors they know). It’s not uncommon to search Amazon for “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform” to try to find a good self-published book to read.

Amazon and traditional publishers both did indie authors some huge favors. Amazon’s role is obvious: Thank Amazon for the beautiful red carpet. Every big traditional publisher must yearn badly for a time machine. How has indie authorship come to take so much of the current market share? Would the publishers change their e-book pricing strategies if they could dial the calendar back several years? Would they focus more of their efforts on the advantages of digital books? Would they try to get to market faster? Would they encourage their authors to utilize more marketing strategies that top indies have come to thrive on? You might sooner solve the Tootsie Roll riddle…

Traditional publishers have responded to the effects of print-on-demand and e-books. But they also have the disadvantages of being big business: especially, s.l.o.w. response time. Things continue to change, though. They are looking ahead, they have a great deal of publishing experience, and they have many resources. They haven’t disappeared; they just haven’t dominated the market like they once did. Definitely, don’t count them out.

Several bookstores, especially chains, might wish they could turn back the clock, too. So many indie books selling each year. Some bookstores have taken advantage of this opportunity; some have avoided it at all cost. It may have been silly for them to blindly stock several copies of every indie book. But there were some good opportunities to get some of this traffic.

The image of indie publishing seems to be rebounding. Customers have realized that they can filter out what’s good to read by careful study of the product page and Look Inside. Excellent content is good to read regardless of how it is published. Some indie books have exceptional covers, wonderful editing and formatting, and great stories, too. Indie authors have the freedom to provide content that traditional publishers would never have published in the past. An indie author can choose to write to a smaller audience; that smaller audience may appreciate this. Many indie authors provide personal experiences with their marketing, which helps to attract new readers. The best indie books are competing with the best traditionally published books.

Successful indie authors are opening doors for everyone else. Some are even turning down lucrative offers from traditional publishers (check out this article, recently referred to from the CreateSpace community forum). If you do sign with a traditional publisher, you risk having your digital or other rights tied up for a very long time (if you can get a little success, by that point in time you might do much better than the advance offered up front).

Success Still Isn’t Easy

Amazon and other companies are giving indie authors the opportunity to publish. But everyone won’t be striking gold. You might not even strike dirt.

There are millions of books available for sale. Only the top 200,000 or so sold one copy in the past day. Most books don’t even sell a copy per day, on average.

You put so much time into writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing (what you don’t do yourself, you still put time and money into arranging). You invest months, perhaps years of hard work, and you may also invest good money along with it. But sales aren’t guaranteed.

Sales are still hard to come by.

Traditional publishers and agents do have benefits to offer (you might also wonder if they are receiving fewer submission: are your chances better now?). They may be able to help with editing and formatting. They might help a little in the way of marketing, like getting your foot in the door for television or radio interviews, hooking you up with an effective publicist, sending out advance review copies, and listing your title in their catalogs. You’ll probably still be expected to market. You might receive an advance, though it may be $5,000 or less, not the big number you’ve always dreamed about. You have better prospects for getting your book stocked in a chain bookstore (then you get to learn the reality of returnability and big discounts).

No matter how you publish, the key to success is hard work combined with marketable content.

In the end, to the customer it’s the quality of the book that you’ve produced that really matters, not how you got it published.

Option Three

It isn’t indie publishing versus traditional publishing. Both have merit, not just to authors, but to readers, too.

Some authors are choosing both.

Traditional publishers can only produce books so quickly. Some authors write books faster than they can be published. Other authors write a few books that interest big publishers, but several other books that may not. One way to publish all their books is to traditionally publish some and self-publish the rest (sometimes, with a pseudonym). More and more traditional authors are exploring self-publishing.

On the other side, many authors are starting out with self-publishing, hoping to attract traditional publishers.

This can work two ways. If you self-publish a book that scarcely sells, it will be hard to convince a publisher to take up your book. But if you grow a large following and gain frequent sales and many reviews, a publisher may be interested in publishing a subsequent book (or even republishing the same book). They’ll want to be impressed with your success and your marketing platform, and it won’t be easy, but the potential is there.

Yet if you can build a large following and earn frequent sales on your own, why would you want to sign a contract with a publisher, tie up your rights, and take a big cut in royalties (even though a large sum up front would be enticing)? If you can be self-made, why give that up? It’s easy to fantasize about receiving a lucrative offer and turning it down, but if you wind up wearing these shoes, it might not turn out to be so easy. It would sure be a nice problem to have, though, wouldn’t it?

Other authors wonder if the grass may be greener on the other side. Some authors try self-publishing, then try to find an agent or publisher when that doesn’t pan out. Some authors land a contract with a traditional publisher, but don’t make what they were expecting, and switch to self-publishing.

Conclusions

There are a lot of opinions out there on whether self-publishing or traditional publishing is better.

Personally, I think it’s the wrong question to ask.

What’s better for you may not be the same as what’s better for someone else. Other people’s lists of advantages and disadvantages can help you collect ideas for your own list, but your list of pros and cons will be unique.

I believe both options can be good, and so is “option three” (i.e. both).

Nothing beats the feeling of holding your book in your hands, knowing that you gave it your best, believing it to be done professionally. That’s what you should strive for. Whether you do this yourself, with help as an indie author, or via a traditional publisher or agent, the end result is still the same—you shared your passion with readers.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

What Determines If a Book Is Good?

good

What determines if a book is good?

The answer is a 7-letter word.

Unlike many conventional puzzles, plurals ending with -s are allowed.

The answer is not E-D-I-T-O-R-S. Although they may be able to help make a book better and they might be qualified to judge writing on many levels, whether or not a book is good doesn’t ultimately depend on the opinions of editors. There are, in fact, highly successful books that many editors don’t think highly of.

The answer is not R-O-Y-A-L-T-Y. A good book doesn’t need to be widely popular; a good book can provide value to a small audience. There isn’t a magic number of sales or royalties to determine if a book is good or bad.

The answer is not R-E-V-I-E-W-S. Even the most highly esteemed books receive critical reviews. So just receiving good reviews doesn’t make a book good, and receiving bad reviews doesn’t make a book bad. The number of reviews doesn’t make it or break it, either, as this depends strongly on the number of sales. The average star rating is not a good indicator, as opinions and systems for reviewing can vary wildly from one person to the next.

The answer is not P-U-B-L-I-S-H-E-R. Aside from the fact that this word has too many letters and the reality that for decades publishers have prevented many book ideas from ever being read, publishers don’t ultimately determine whether or not a book is good. In fact, there are many popular stories of publishers who have turned down books that later turned out to be amazingly successful.

The answer is not A-U-T-H-O-R-S.  Well, this depends in part on how you want to define a ‘good’ book. The author determines whether or not the book is good enough to share with others. The author also determines whether or not the book is successful; what one author considers a success, another might deem a failure. We’re not talking success versus failure, or how the author feels about his or her own book. A ‘good’ book should provide value to more than just its author.

The answer I have in mind is R-E-A-D-E-R-S. But not in terms of the total number of reviews or the average star rating; the answer is readers, not reviews.

Publishers think in terms of sales, investment, risk, net profit, and cost-benefit analysis. They don’t determine if a book is good; they strive to determine what will make them money. And they sometimes make mistakes with their predictions.

Different editors think in terms of writing style, storyline, plot, characterization, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. And each editor has his or her own set of opinions, and knowledge of various ‘rules.’ It’s possible for a writer to adopt a writing style or method of storytelling, for example, that creatively blows the ordinary rules right out of the water, while also producing a really good book. Ignoring the rules certainly doesn’t make a book good; and following any usual rules or guidelines, in itself, doesn’t distinguish good books from bad ones. (However, as you know if you read my blog, I do stress the importance of editing.)

Royalties and sales reflect how wide your paying readership is and how successful your book is business-wise. But what if tens of thousands of people read a book because you’re a very popular author, but later feel strongly that it didn’t live up to their expectations? All those sales don’t necessarily imply that the book was good. And what about the book that has a really small readership, but where most of the readers loved the book. Isn’t this book good?

What I Don’t Mean

I’m not saying that bad reviews indicate that a book is bad. Most readers don’t review books at all; surely, their opinions count, too.

I’m not saying that good reviews necessarily make a book good.

Again, I mean readers, not reviews. And I don’t mean all readers. No book pleases everyone, so it’s not possible for everyone to love a book.

What I Do Mean

If complete strangers discover a book and feel that it was worth the read—that if they had time machines at their disposal, they wouldn’t choose to go back in time and not read the book—then to these readers, the book was good.

If some wish they hadn’t read the book, this doesn’t make the book bad. Every book that’s had thousands of readers has some that strongly dislike the book.

Good, Better, Best

I don’t think it’s helpful to try to rank books. It’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges. If you love apples, can you fault the orange for trying not to fit the apple mold? Even if two books fall into the same subgenre, like romantic comedy, different authors and readers vary in their perception of just what a romantic comedy should be. So two different romantic comedies aren’t two kinds of apples, one is a lemon and the other is a lime. Two different books aren’t supposed to be the same; they were intended by their authors to be different.

What I feel is more important is the notion of improvement. I’m a fan of the compare-yourself-to-your-former-self concept. If we can all achieve this, surely the world will be a better place. If an author learns ways to improve, the author can make his or her book better.

Another factor is doing your best with the time and resources you have available. Strive to do your best each time, and as you learn and grow as an author, strive to become better. If you feel strongly that you should have done something different, then your book could have been better than it was.

Bad

When the author feels that he or she should have done better, that the book really wasn’t fit to be published, the author is judging that his or her book isn’t good. When no readers will ever feel that the book is worth reading, they are judging that it wasn’t fit to publish. (If there is a narrow audience who just hasn’t discovered the book yet, that’s different.)

A books that was written for the wrong reasons, which is lacking in effort, which no reader will enjoy, had ample potential to be something much better.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Which Part of Publishing Do You Enjoy Most?

joy

Here are some choices to consider:

  • That magical feeling when you get a book idea that seems like it could be the one. What a thrill!
  • When you’re on a roll with your writing, the ideas are just sliding off your fingertips, and the manuscript feels like an extension of yourself. Go, go, go.
  • You’re stuck on the storyline and you suddenly experience an epiphany. Aha!
  • A stranger offers free help or advice when you’re incredibly stressed over some formatting or other publishing issue. Thank you!
  • You press the magic button to publish your book. Presto!
  • The first time you see your book in print. Treasure it.
  • A fan asks you to autograph your book. So cool!
  • Someone you don’t know leaves a good review. Validation.
  • You meet a stranger who not only recognizes you as an author, but thanks you for writing your book. Prepare for tears.
  • One of those milestone moments: X sales, $Y royalties, Z sales rank. Pinch me.
  • When a fan asks you when your next book is coming out. You’re in demand.
  • Just the creative process itself. This lasts much longer, too.

The bottom line is that there is much to enjoy about publishing. So when editing, formatting, writer’s block, reviews, sales, or anything else gets you down, stop focusing on that little aspect and remember several good reasons to enjoy the book you’ve published. 🙂

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Read is a Four-letter Word

If you read, write, or publish and find yourself somewhat upset, perhaps you can take a little comfort in the realization that ‘read’ is a four-letter word. (And maybe the fact that reading, writing, and publishing are far more enjoyable than many other things you could be doing, even when these activities might frustrate you a bit.)

book

isbn

note

page

read

tale

text

type

word

copy

edit

find

full

left

mark

typo

view

free

give

list

sale

sell

body

line

poem

poet

bold

caps

dash

font

stop

blog

like

link

mail

post

send

stat

byte

file

HTML

open

Word

save

size

Fire

iPad

Kobo

Lulu

Nook

Sony

There are a few notable words that have more than four letters:

criticism

defects

feedback

plagiarism

rejection

returns

reviews

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

Authors, Don’t Write Books; Create a Whole New World

Image of Mars from NASA.

Image of Mars from NASA.

People don’t buy books. People buy the experience that a story provides.

So authors shouldn’t write books, and they shouldn’t market books. Authors should create a whole new world, and they should market the experience of visiting that world.

Don’t think of your book as a book. Think of the story as one part of the world that you created.

Don’t think of how to market your book. Think of how to get people interested in your world.

The world you create is far more than a mere book. It’s the world, not the book, which people want.

How do you do this?

  • Give your world life before your book is published. Spread the word about the world you are creating. Create buzz for it. Reveal the cover, blurb, and sample chapter in advance.
  • Design striking, relevant images for your cover, blog, social media pages, website, bookmarks, business cards, brochures, PR kit, all your online activity, and all your printed materials. These materials come in different sizes, so you need a flexible design. All the products should fit together. They don’t all have to be exactly the same, but it should be immediately obvious that they match. Everything prospective shoppers, readers, and fans see are a visual representation of your book.
  • Supplement your book with additional material. Post free bonus content on your website or an email newsletter to give fans an incentive to stay in touch. This might include maps, character sketches, or short stories or poems, for example. Not everything has to be free. For example, you can sell a short story that relates to your book.
  • The great thing about a series is that the world can last well beyond just one book. It also helps you create anticipation for each book in the series and steadily grow a following. You can make the first e-book permanently free or 99 cents to help lure readers into your world. An omnibus with significant savings can entice readers to buy the whole world all in one shot.
  • Sell, give away, or hold contests for additional products like bookmarks, special editions, t-shirts, buttons, or maps.
  • Create a highly marketable world and it will help attract visitors to your world. Some ideas are more marketable than others. Some writing is more pleasing than others. The packaging—cover, blurb, and Look Inside—are also very important in attracting attention to your world.
  • Find your target audience—especially, people who aren’t already in your following—in person and online, interact with them, and show them the benefits that your world has to offer. You’re not selling a book, but a roundtrip ticket to paradise. Introduce people to your world. Create a video trailer that depicts your world visually.

Self-publishing world

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

What Are Your Writing Goals?

Goal

How you define success, establish expectations, and prepare a marketing plan depend on your objectives.

So as you plan the new year and make writing resolutions, take a moment to consider your objectives as an author.

Here is a sample of writing goals:

  • To master the craft of writing. Spend more time writing, of course. Also, spend time reading classics and the kind of writing you wish to master. Seek feedback from readers. Search for writing tips.
  • To share your writing with others. Post writing on your blog. Publish a book. Publish poetry, short stories, essays, or articles online or in print. Market your written works to your specific target audience.
  • To support your writing hobby financially. Research which kinds of books you are a good fit to write, where there is a significant demand. Perfect your book to improve your prospects for good reviews and recommendations. Seek a traditional publisher or design a highly marketable cover, blurb, and look inside. Learn how to market your book effectively. Look for related jobs that you may excel at, such as editing or cover design.
  • To have fun. Write in your spare time as a hobby. Enjoy it. Be creative. Devote more time to writing and less time to marketing and other related activities. Find fun and creative ways to do those other activities so you can keep the focus on enjoying your writing. Don’t get caught up in stats or reviews.
  • To leave a legacy for your children. Involve your kids with your books. Make up stories for them at bedtime. Write special stories or poems just for them and publish them privately. Encourage your kids to assemble books and publish those privately. Mention your family in the acknowledgments or dedications section of your book. Specify how royalties will be awarded and distributed in your will, and provide information that will help your heirs understand and manage your books and author platform.
  • To gain accolades. Master the craft of writing and storytelling. Focus on perfecting your book idea and the book itself. Enter contests. Learn from your experience and enter more contests. Create a fan page and include a link to it at the end of your books. Interact with your fans. Attend writing conferences. Build connections among writers, agents, and editors. Develop a very thick skin because there is much criticism on the road to praise.
  • To try out a new genre or writing style. Don’t view it as an experiment. Have fun with it, but also take it seriously. Research what you will be writing thoroughly. Motivate yourself to master the new art. Do your best, as if it’s the only way you will ever write.
  • To share your knowledge or help others. Master the material you wish to share. Master the art of explaining ideas clearly. Master the art of teaching effectively. Research your specific target audience’s learning styles and background level. Perfect your article or book. Post relevant free content on your website. Post relevant content on other websites to reach people who aren’t already in your following. This can be an online article or a YouTube video channel, for example.
  • To get published traditionally. Research books that are highly marketable which are a good fit for you to write. Master the craft of writing your book in a way that will please a specific target audience. Make connections with agents, editors, illustrators, cover designers, and publicists. Receive advice from experienced, successful publicists and agents at the outset of your project. Subscribe to magazines and newspapers that are a good fit for your writing. Read and study those articles for several months, then submit your own articles for publication. Research how to write query letters and book proposals. Find a literary agent. Post your rejection letters where you will see them every morning to fuel your motivated self-diligence. Strive to improve. Never give up.
  • To become instantly rich and popular without any effort. Don’t write at all. Get a full-time job. Be frugal. Spend every spare penny on lottery tickets. Hope. Pray. Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t pan out.

Publishing help

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

“Pretty Good for Being Self-Published”—Insult?

Insult

There are many comments out there about self-publishing, both good and bad.

Let’s look at a particular back-handed compliment: “Your book is pretty good for a self-published author.”

Halfway through this remark you feel flattered. As you prepare to express a simple thank you, your cheeks turn red, your blood boils, and you think to yourself, “Hey, what are you trying to imply?”

It’s like a husband telling his wife that she did pretty good for a girl (a great line if you want an excuse to sleep on the sofa).

On the one hand, a self-published author is challenged with many tasks: writing, editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, etc. It’s no easy task for one person to master all of this, or even to perfect a complete book after paying for some services. An indie book that’s well-written and has a good storyline, but has a few extra typos and good-though-not-perfect formatting is a pretty good book. If one of the big publishers had picked this book up, it might have only a couple of typos and perfect formatting. So wouldn’t it be fair to say that it’s pretty good for being self-published?

Now we switch hands. If you read a book, it’s either pretty good or it isn’t. A customer shouldn’t expect to make allowances and settle for something less. If the customer sees an issue and deems it to be minor, it’s still a pretty good book; if the customer sees an issue and views it as a problem, it’s not a pretty good book. Ultimately, it’s each customer’s opinion that matters. After investing money on a product plus the time to use it, you have expectations for what to receive in exchange for your investment. The value of the product depends on the quality of the product in relation to the investment. (Making allowances for where the product came from is purely psychological on the part of the customer. If you try two colas blindfolded, you might be surprised at which one you prefer.)

Of course, it would have been less hostile to say, “I really enjoyed your book. Would you mind if I offered a minor suggestion?”

You can see the cup as half full: “It’s a pretty good book.”

Or you can see the cup as half empty: “For being self-published.”

Really, the choice is yours.

By the nature of the statement, the person is obviously biased toward traditional publishing. If you get someone who favors traditional publishing to call your self-published book “pretty good,” maybe you should smile about this instead of getting frustrated about it.

Another thing you can do is use it as motivation. If you already have a pretty good book, some extra motivation might lead to a really nice future. 🙂

The last thing you want to do is look unprofessional. Don’t let a remark like this lure you into looking amateurish. Building a reputation takes time and patience, but it can be lost as quickly as losing your temper.

There is plenty of negativity out there. Find the good in it. Find some motivation in it. Learn to cope with it. Learn to stay away from it as much as you can.

There is plenty of positivity out there, too. Seek this. It’s easy to find, especially if you look for it.

* * *

Follow me at WordPress, like my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

A Different Kind of Book Marketing

New

Authors are trying to market their books. Yet this is only a fraction of the book marketing that occurs daily:

  • Many publishers, bookstores, and literary agents are trying to brand the notion that traditionally published books are much better. And why not? Many feel that it’s in their interest to reinforce this perception.
  • Many editors are striving to advertise common editing mistakes and the need to correct them. Indeed, editing is important. Exactly what is good enough?
  • Many cover designers wish to reinforce the importance of a good cover and to negate the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But will the benefits outweigh the costs?
  • Publicity consultants, e-book formatters, PR services, advertising agencies, professional review specialists, font licensers, contract attorneys… So many individuals and businesses have products to help you with your book. Which ones do you really need? You may need some, and it’s a tough call to make.

Do you see frequent remarks online pointing out problems with self-published books? That’s exactly what many businesses and individuals want. Some of the people pointing this out don’t have anything to gain by it; others believe that they do. The indies who point this out are shooting themselves in their feet; the overall perception of indie books does have an impact on sales.

Those in the traditional publishing industry, or who are closely tied to it, may also be shooting themselves in their feet when they blast indie books. For example, when they paint a picture of e-book formatting problems, it may deter sales of e-readers and e-books to some extent, affecting traditionally published e-book sales, too.

There are some indie books with formatting, editing, cover, or writing issues. The worst offenders aren’t selling much; they aren’t even discovered much in search results, since the bestsellers tend to be much easier to find. We know about them from customers who bought them by mistake and learned their lesson from not reading the blurb and checking the Look Inside (probably a more common occurrence with freebies), and it’s been reinforced by many people who, for whatever reason, like to point this out.

Nearly everyone in the book industry would benefit, whether they realize it or not, from painting a positive image of the best books, rather than focusing on negatives. Just knowing there are problems out there weighs on a reader’s mind. People like to shop for products where the experience seems positive. Indies, especially, should point out features of quality indie books. Marketing to help spread news of the best books helps everyone.

Just like authors need to market their books, editors need to market their services. The better way to go about this is to focus on the benefits of good editing, rather than describing the problems with poorly edited books. Here’s the difference: Painting a positive picture of books helps a little to stimulate book sales overall, whereas a negative picture deters book sales a little. The better books sell, the more demand there will be for editing and other services.

Similarly, cover designers should focus on the benefits of hiring a graphic artist, instead of pointing out the problems with lousy covers.

Authors shouldn’t just be marketing their own books, they should also paint a positive picture of books, e-books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark, Lightning Source, Kindle, traditional publishing, self-publishing, editing, cover design, and all things books.

Create a positive world that will attract and please book lovers of all kinds. This will maximize sales and services all around.

There isn’t a true distinction between traditional and self-publishing. Many traditionally published authors also self-publish; it’s becoming increasingly popular. What? Are they awesome at the same time as they are lousy? That’s ridiculous!

What counts, ultimately, to any reader, is how positive the reading experience is. A traditionally published book that provides a reader with a not-so good experience isn’t better than an indie book that wows the reader. Perhaps traditionally published books, on average, tend to impress readers more often. (Maybe not. Many indie books might be read mostly by their target audience with great pleasure, while some traditionally published books might be read by many readers outside their target audience. A personal marketing experience and fewer sales might, just might, on average result in a better reading experience. The pleasure of meeting and interacting with a small-time author has its benefits.)

But that’s not the point. The point is for everyone to sell more books by focusing on providing the best possible reading experience, and not for everyone to sell fewer books by focusing on the negatives.

Books that provide better reading experiences are inherently going to sell more. Advertising the negatives isn’t really helping anyone; books with those negatives tend to deter their own sales, as soon as word spreads. Rather, giving attention to those negatives is just hurting everyone, including those at the top.

The book industry is changing. Many publishers, bookstores, and agents don’t like it. Many fear it.

What they need to do is adapt; not complain about it.

The book industry is becoming inclusive. It used to be exclusive.

Publishers might still be inclined to play the exclusivity card. The proper way to try this is to market the benefits of publishing traditionally, not by marketing the negatives of self-publishing. Again, a positive experience for buyers helps everyone overall. This actually affects big businesses much more than it affects the small guys. If everyone loses 5% as a result of painting a negative picture, this hardly impacts the indie author at all, but 5% is huge for a big business.

There are benefits to publishing traditionally. Each author and book is unique. Some will benefit by publishing traditionally, others won’t.

Publishers could adapt toward inclusivity (and to be fair, some are moving toward this in small ways).

Amazon played the inclusivity card in a huge way: With CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), everyone can now publish a book.

Smashwords played the inclusivity card. Several other companies have, too.

This seems to be working well for them.

Imagine winding back the clock. What if Barnes & Noble or one of the big five publishers had played the inclusivity card before Amazon did? How might things be different today?

Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe there is a way for big businesses to become more inclusive without sacrificing too much quality. There may even be a demand for it. There are authors who would like something in between traditional and self-publishing, where you could get some benefits of both.

We can’t control what the big companies do.

We can be grateful for the opportunities that companies like Amazon, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark, Smashwords, and many others have provided.

And most of all, we can remember to market a positive image for books in general in addition to marketing our own books and services, realizing how creating a positive reading experience for buyers may have a significant impact on book sales overall.

Love books? Check out Read Tuesday, a Black Friday event just for books (all authors can sign up for free): website, Facebook page, Twitter

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Volume 1 (formatting/publishing) and Volume 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter

Turning Pro: Taking Indie Authorship to the Next Level

Pro

You would like to start out looking like a pro.

Many wise authors strive for this:

  • Searching for similar titles to see what may be highly marketable.
  • Asking experienced authors, editors, publicists, and small publishers for advice.
  • Doing research on writing, formatting, publishing, and marketing.
  • Trying to build a following before publishing.
  • Joining a writing group to improve as a writer.
  • Receiving ample feedback from the target audience.
  • Hiring a cover designer and editor.
  • Building buzz prior to a book’s release.
  • Writing a press release and distributing it to the media.

These are great things to do, and they can help immensely.

Yet, no matter how hard you try to nail your first book, you always improve and grow as an author:

  • After establishing yourself as an author, you have a fan base to work with and toward.
  • You find yourself reading a book, wondering why you didn’t think of that, or something you see triggers a design idea for your book.
  • A reader provides a helpful suggestion that you hadn’t considered.
  • You come across publishing tips you wish you’d known previously.
  • Once you have enough books out, you may start thinking more and more about becoming a small publisher.
  • New connections may open new possibilities for your books.

Unless your book is free or you donate 100% of the proceeds to charity, then technically you’re a professional author. But that’s not what I mean by professional. Rather, there comes a point in every writer’s career where you feel that you’ve made the transition from amateurish to professional. When you’re more experienced, wiser, and your writing has matured, you realize you’ve made some transition. This probably doesn’t happen just once, but several times over the course of writing.

Another thing I don’t mean is any distinction between indie and traditional authors. More and more traditional authors are also indie publishing, often with a pen name, which really blurs any line you might want to draw between them. It’s not how you publish that matters most to a reader, but how professional the book is. There are different degrees of professionalism even within traditionally published books.

As you grow as an author and strive to become more professional, here are some of the things you might consider:

  • ISBN options. When you start out, it’s hard to invest more than about $10 in an ISBN option. As your sales grow, you start to consider buying a block of ISBN’s. For example, in the US Bowker offers 10 for $250 or 100 for $575. As you start to think of developing a serious imprint and expanding your distribution options, this might fit your needs.
  • Professional websites. You may want something that looks more like a website and less like a blog. You might want your own domain name. You may add a site for your book and another for your imprint. At Facebook, you may add an author page or book page. If you create a Facebook page (i.e. more than just a Facebook account), it will have a Like option, and if you feed your WordPress blog into Facebook (but beware of this issue), those Facebook page Likes add to your follower tally (so do Twitter Follows if you feed your blog into Twitter). From your Facebook home, find the Create a Page option on the bottom-left. For an author page, click Artist, Band, or Public Figure; one of the options is author. (You can also make a page for your book by selecting Entertainment.)
  • Professional help. As your sales grow, you might consider investing more on cover design or editing, or even interior design. Although I’ve enjoyed designing my books, I’ve found a cover designer and had covers made for my most recent books and works in progress. I like the new covers much better, so I’m very pleased with this decision. I’ve also purchased illustrations and designs for book interiors.
  • Advertising. It’s difficult to invest in advertising when you’re starting out. There is a huge risk that you won’t recover your investment. You wish you could throw a little money out there to relieve you of the need to market your books, but it doesn’t work out that way. But once you’ve achieved some degree of success, you can better gauge your book’s marketability, you know you will have some initial support, and your current royalties can help cover your investment. You may be looking for ways that an advertisement can complement your marketing, such as a paid advertisement for a one-day book promotion.
  • Giving back. When you start out, you need a lot of help. As you gain experience, you have more knowledge to share and need less help. You might pay it forward, helping new authors through blog posts or who approach you with questions (whereas most people don’t like unsolicited advice). As you become more efficient with your own marketing, you might help a little to promote up-and-coming new authors whose work you like.

I’m presently collaborating on a publishing project with other authors to create a new series of math and writing workbooks. There is a creative element that will hopefully help engage children in learning fundamental skills. We’re getting professional covers for the series and professional illustrations for the interiors. We have a logo. We’ll use an imprint and purchase ISBN’s. We’ll be setting up a website. Our goal is to create a professional series of math and writing workbooks that meet the needs of students, parents, homeschoolers, and teachers.

Maybe a traditional publisher would like to have this series. But we’re indie all the way. 🙂

We’re hoping to launch the series in the spring or summer of 2014.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Volume 1 (formatting/publishing) and Volume 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter