The characters that I create are parts of myself and I send them on little missions to find out what I don’t know yet.
~ Gail Godwin
Since I aspire to being a published writer, and will be eventually when I get some time and some butt glue to keep me in my writing chair, I haunt lots of writing sites and blogs and discussions to keep learning more about the business. Recently I came across a link to a post from Jane Friedman, one of the gurus in the indie biz talking about marketing, digital tools, and such. She was basically summarizing presentations at Digital Book World (DBW), and while I think JF has tons more experience than I, I found myself wanting to quibble with some of the conclusions (4 Lessons for Authors on the Current State of Publishing).
1. An author’s online presence is more critical than ever to long-term marketing strategy.
I don’t disagree that it is important, but hardly “critical” or even the greatest challenge in publishing. The changing nature of the marketplace from traditional to indie or self, the shifting weight from paper to digital, these are tectonic shifts. Self-marketing? Nowhere near as important as the primary role of the writer which is to write the best book they can first. JK Rowling wasn’t exactly burning up the digital world nor was her publisher when Harry Potter broke all the sales records around.
I think more accurately that being online with a solid, clean digital presence is the minimum, and a lot of people do screw that up, no disagreement there. I also disagree entirely with the premise that traditional publishers should advise their authors how to do online engagement — not least because most of them haven’t figured out anything remotely like “best practices”, so following their advice would be kind of painful. Far more likely is for groups of authors to figure it out, if only the Authors Guild-like organizations would get off their “woe is me” complaints against Amazon and focus on actually helping their members.
Take for example the suggestion by one presenter that the digital page of the author show up on the website (good) but prior to going to Amazon. Actually, the metrics work against that recommendation — Amazon is likely to show up higher if someone searches for author + book + title anyway since Amazon is a bigger site, but the metrics are that every extra click you put between the reader and the buy button reduces the likelihood of a purchase. This is why Amazon patented the one-click purchase button — no friction between you and the sale. Same with Prime Membership — shipping is free, no need to calculate it, just click and it’s shipped.
I do like the suggestions re: the power of WordPress though.
3. Learn to find your readers, go where they go, and speak their language.
Also known in normal business parlance as customer research, I was surprised Friedman didn’t highlight how many authors do what the experts suggest (find your readers, track them online, go to where they hang out) and then do the worst thing they can possibly do — market themselves like spammers on steroids. There is nothing more annoying to me than to have someone contact me to say, “Hey, I see you read X and reviewed it on Amazon, how about reading my book, Y” which sounds fine, I know, but they don’t do it well. I get emails that are badly written, often completely unrelated to the book I reviewed, and has nothing whatsoever that I’m interested in. Like most online people, we’re complex individuals…I have reviewed Bey Blades for Jacob, self-help stuff in a genre that I’m not normally active in, mysteries, historical, romance, non-fiction, etc. If the expert advice was to track me, their results would be pretty scattered. It is merely a starting point. But equally, going into a forum on discussions of, say, single parenting and then posting about your book on single parenting is a really good way to piss people off. The dark side of marketing is marketing in places that are not designed for marketing. Innovative? Sure. Spamming? Most definitely. And so I think there should be huge red flags around this section to warn the less-aware reader.
4. Pricing is the industry’s Achilles heel.
I love the work that “Author Earnings Data Guy” is doing, some really transformative analysis. Obviously, like any data analysis, the result is only as good as both your data sources and your assumptions of what is relevant or not. Correlation is not causality, and the casual data person often mistakes the too, but DG is doing some solid work. With better data, that would only improve. I’m not sure I agree with all of the methodological approaches he takes, but it is arguably solid. (Like many types of analysis, you can weight or include certain factors or exclude them, not sure if I would do it exactly the way DG does, but it’s likely personal semantics more than there being “one right way”, almost a philosophy of analysis question, not a criticism). However, I think the analysis does have one key flaw in it, which is the same problem all types of analysis of this sort too — extrapolating from the group to the individual case.
So, for example, overall, one could argue that debut authors could benefit from a different pricing structure than established authors. Or, to put it more finely, debut authors should price lower at first and higher later. Except there’s no real basis to say “higher later”, it’s just assumed, not a lot of data to extrapolate total sales vs. short-term price points. Nor can it quantify short-term sales, or long-term price points. And there’s no crystal ball to test one method with one book and no time machine to go back and do it differently. What works in the aggregate rarely has anything to do with the single entry, the standard deviation for a single selection from a large data group is just too large. If that seems too esoteric an explanation, think of a simple author offering and the ability of other authors’ experience to estimate:
- How many copies are going to be sold?
- What price point will generate the most sales?
- Which venue will garner the most sales?
- Which format will garner the most sales?
How another author’s books sold has nothing whatsoever to do with whether your book will sell. The biggest variable is the quality of the story, the compelling nature of the prose. The ephemeral nature of “good book” that can’t be captured by the data. What it CAN tell big publishing is that overall, the majority of their authors would benefit from it. Could be 60% of them, but there’s no way to know which 60%.
Like the classic idiom that 50% of all marketing is wasted, but nobody can tell you which 50%.
The range of experiences from individual authors is just too great to pull out a lesson learned that says “do it this way”. What you can get is some ideas of some factors i.e. debut authors experimented with lower price points and some had success. Yet, by the same token, most of those debut authors may simply have had lower price points because they didn’t publish with BigPub. Another variable you can’t quantify (i.e. why BigPub thought the ones they chose were likely successes).
And so the “best practices” seem dangerous to me. I would fare more comfortable if analysis showed that playing with pricing allowed people to find a sweet spot — that would be a good practice to emulate — or that they said, “Here’s some things to consider” like a menu along with some things to “avoid” because no one has got them to ever work. More importantly though, like most writing advice, there is a danger that someone starts to interpret “some authors” as “most authors” and then “all authors” and then “this is a rule of publishing”. That’s what happens when people say “Never use a passive voice” or “never switch PoV”. It started off with people saying “few authors do it well” and morphed to become “you should never do it”.
Then again, maybe I’m just picking nits.
For those who read the rest of my blog, and not just the posts about writing, you know that I have a
anally obsessively compulsive rigorous process for setting goals and tracking them — think of it as like setting New Year’s resolutions but on steroids. But there are some areas where “goals” are great, yet they only work if you can break them down in to digestible — and achievable — smaller chunks.
So let’s assume you have a big goal of being an author. Under traditional publishing, the ultimate end was outside your control — in theory, you could hammer away at agents and editors with proposal after proposal and never “succeed”. Your digestible “bits” were process stuff, not a measure of your ultimate outcome. With e-publishing, and self-publishing more specifically, coming of age in recent years (if not months), you can change your goal into something that is actually achievable i.e. even if no one “accepts” your MS for traditional publishing, you can bypass them and publish yourself.
Yet, you might still want to have larger writing goals. Konrath’s website, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, included a sample of his writer’s resolutions from 2006 to 2012, and I wanted to highlight a bunch that I think are worthy of emulation because they are not all about process…note, with apologies to the master, that the headings are mine, as are the groupings:
- I will start/finish the damn book
- I will finish every story I start
- I’ll quit procrastinating in the form of research, outlines, synopses, taking classes, reading how-to books, talking about writing, and actually write something
- I will listen to criticism
- I will always remember where I came from
- If you’re a writer, you must be a reader. I don’t care if you read on your Kindle, or on stone tablets. Reading, and giving the gift of reading to others, is essential.
- I Won’t Self-Publish Crap. Just because it’s easier than ever before to reach an audience doesn’t mean you should.
- I will create/update my website
- I will keep up with my blog and social networks
- I will send out a newsletter, emphasizing what I have to offer rather than what I have for sale, and I won’t send out more than four a year
- I will do one thing every day to self-promote
- Look Inward. We tend to write for ourselves. But for some reason we don’t market for ourselves. Figure out what sort of marketing works on you; that’s the type of marketing you should be trying. You should always know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what results are acceptable to you.
- Being a professional means you’re prolific, with many titles for sale, and that you diversify, exploiting all possible places to sell your work.
- I will help out other writers
- Self-publishing is an open source project. Add to the database.
- Find Your Own Way. Advice is cheap, and the Internet abounds with people telling you how to do things. Question everything. The only advice you should take is the advice that makes sense to you. And if it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to ditch it.
- DO NOT take any deal that’s less than what you believe you could earn in six years. If you’re selling 1000 ebooks a month, that means $144,000 is the minimum advance you should be offered before you consider signing.
- Ebooks are global. Doing poorly in the USA? That’s okay. There are plenty of other countries where you can make money.
- Sales fluctuate. Always. And there is often no logical or discernible reason why. Riding high in April, shot down in May, that’s life.
You can find the full post available at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Konrath’s Resolutions for Writers 2012.
I can definitely incorporate a lot of these in my personal business model, which is why I’m happy to highlight them.
Ebook Friendly did a list of the 50 most inspiring quotes about books and reading — here’s an excerpt of my favorites from their list.
Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. — Author Unknown
If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. — Maya Angelou
The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business. — John Steinbeck
There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book. — Marcel Proust
Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore? — Henry Ward Beecher
There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. — Joseph Brodsky
You can find the full list at 50 most inspiring quotes about books and reading | Ebook Friendly [* Source page expired as of March 16, 2017].
Hi, my name is PolyWogg and I’m an ‘writing RSS/newsletter’ addict.
There, I’ve admitted it. My first step in, umm, a 12-step program for sharing? Oh wait, I’m not planning to change. Particularly when I get golden nuggets of information like I did earlier this week.
One of the feeds I read is C.J. Lyon’s site called “No Rules, Just Write”. I don’t always agree with everything she writes, or find it completely applicable to me, but it is always interesting. This week’s freebie was a link to an ebook called “20 Creative Blocks And How To Break Through Them” (link expired) by Mark McGuinness and Marelisa Fábrega.
It’s interesting to wander around the web looking at various writer’s sites and see what they have to say about writer’s block. There are decidedly three camps — first there’s the group that says there’s no such thing as writer’s block. I call this the Nike group — they say you should just sit your butt down and write. It may not be fantastic writing, but you’ll write. Something. Dean Wesley Smith is definitely of this variety — arguing that professional writers write, only amateurs get something called writer’s block. By contrast, there are the members of the Passion group at the other end of the spectrum — the group that argues that if you are blocked, it’s because you are not really following your passion. For this crew, you get lots of little maxims like “do what you love”, “don’t worry about the quality”, “just let go and let it flow”, etc.
Mark and Marelisa are in the middle ground. They argue that creative blocks (i.e. writer’s block for writers) really have 20 different varieties, describe what they look like, estimate what causes them, and provide tips on how to overcome them.
Some of it I found interesting, and I’ll cover those first, before I get to one that I am really passionate about personally:
- I really like chapter 2, “Fear of Getting It Wrong”. Interestingly, Dean Wesley Smith would probably agree that the fear of being wrong stops people from writing, and the solution is not to be perfect but to actually be wrong (noting that you are also your own worst judge for your own work). Accept it, embrace it, move on. In fact, Mark suggests doing that as one of the solutions — try writing something wrong, i.e. the wrong version, the wrong tone, the wrong voice, the wrong PoV, etc. Cuz that might just open things up for you. Mark includes a section too in Chapter 15 on “Accept[ing] that it will never be perfect”, the more traditional approach;
- Chapter 4, “Creativity vs. Cash” is almost like “commercial vs. non-commercial” work but what I found interesting was an item from a reader who notes that they waste a lot of time doing things that are “unproductive” but which “feel like work”. Like checking social media sites. Lots of writers claim that they have wasted too much time trying to keep up on FB, Twitter, etc. I do so myself through my RSS feeds about writing and publishing. Yet most of the solutions ignore the fact that is not just that the writer enjoys it nor simply procrastinating nor being seduced by the social media, but rather that when they do it, they feel like they are working still, even though they’re not. It FEELS productive, although there’s no output, so long as what they were reading was related to writing, publishing, etc. That kind of “time suck” won’t go away easily because it feels like working; and,
- Chapter 6 includes tips on how to overcome the Inner Critic, including self-affirmation ideas such as printing YES! on post-it notes around your workspace, something I could probably benefit from more often, rather than holding back on my blog about some things.
But as I said, there is one thing I feel passionate about in this area and that is the claim by some writers that they just don’t have the TIME. And while there is a lot of value in what Mark has written, I completely disagree with one of his examples on page 18 about getting up early as a way to “make more time”. And I think it is a unicorn that only exists amongst those who had some success but don’t really understand how or why. Let me give some upfront context why…
There is a Harvard Business School legend about a professor who demonstrates time management to his students with the aid of a glass pitcher, some rocks, a bucket of gravel, a small pail of sand, and some water. He starts by filling the glass pitcher with the rocks and asking the students if it is full. They all answer in the affirmative. So he pours in some gravel, and asks them again if it is full. Again, they swear it is. So he moves on to add sand, watching it slowly fill in all the little gaps. This time, when asked, the students answer that there’s still room. And so there is, with the water filling the pitcher right up to the brim. When asked what this teaches them about time management, the students reply “No matter how full your schedule is, there’s always room for more!” He replies, “No, it teaches us that the rocks have to go in first or they won’t fit in at all.”
Interviews with newly discovered authors frequently stress that time management was key to their success. Which they illustrate by saying how they decided that writing was one of their rocks, and focused on it by getting up at 4:00 a.m. every day to write until they went to their day job (Mark notes the same himself).
This is no more an example of effective time management than an employee in an office who says they are really productive because they work fourteen hour days. Anyone can be productive if you can add hours to your day. But, unless you’re a natural insomniac, why would you decide that an adequate amount of sleep wasn’t one of your rocks? These people have added a rock to their pitcher by getting a bigger pitcher, not by managing their finite resource of time.
Depriving oneself of sleep is also one of the worst things a writer can do (perhaps rule #2 after “Show, don’t tell”), except perhaps in a rare short-term situation to meet a deadline. Long-term sleep deficits can result not only in changes in one’s behaviour or degradation in the cerebral cortex (something you might need if you’re plotting a complicated mystery!), but also impair the frontal lobe’s abilities for speech and creative thinking. The sleep-deprived individual (including writers) may have difficulty thinking of imaginative words or ideas, and instead default to repetitive words or phrases. This is totally separate from the effects on the rest of your day where your ability to multi-task will be weakened, even further reducing your time management skills and productivity.
The only trick to effective time management is (a) prioritising your rocks and (b) putting your rocks into your schedule first. If the author followed the success of those like Stephen King who say they write every morning until noon, for example, that could indeed be effective time management. But for those of us who are still earning a living through other means, it probably means we have to find another way to put our writing time into our schedule. Some authors have found ways to use their commute to focus on their writing, scribbling away on the subway or train (one of Mark’s examples for himself). Others will get up early, but also make an equal time shift in their schedule to go to bed early too so they are still getting sleep – they’re not adding hours, they’re just time-shifting their sleep a bit, giving them time in the morning uninterrupted when they are most creative. But this probably won’t work for the rebellious creative type — if they could easily restructure their day, they would have already. Instead, what they need to do is find time at various parts of their day (i.e. maybe Monday nights, Tuesday morning, Thursday afternoon, etc.) — flexible scheduling, not rigid scheduling. Otherwise they’ll rebel against the structure rather than seeing it as “creative scheduling”.
However even that one and only trick can be made more effective if you first find out what you waste time on when you’re supposed to be writing. In essence, finding where there is some soft sand that isn’t needed in the pitcher. For some it is social media; for Dilbert it was meetings with time-wasting morons. One successful author in Writer’s Digest swore the secret to her success was limiting herself to only three games of Spider Solitaire per writing period. Others have been more draconian and sanitized their writing computer (assuming that you’re lucky enough to be able to have two separate ones) by removing all games, disconnecting the phone, eliminating e-mail and internet connections except in the research stage, putting blackberries and smart phones in another room while writing, and locking themselves in a closet where their families couldn’t find them. The popular cliché is that the difference between those who aspire to being a writer and those who actually are writers is that real writers write, preferably every day, even if only for a few minutes. But you can’t write if you don’t make time for it.
Another way to make your attempts more effective is to examine your other rocks, perhaps the hardest review of all. Assuming that your life is already full, and that you are getting your 6-8 hours of sleep per night and it’s inviolate, the only way to put a rock into your schedule is to take another one out. There are a lot of website out there on how to simplify your life and a host of others on how to let technology solve it for you. You can decide which one(s) work for you. A single friend of mine was feeling a real time crunch when her ADHD-diagnosed son was around four years old. Her solution? She decided that she didn’t have time to wash all the dishes by hand every day so she went for a dishwasher. She also decided that she didn’t have time to cook fresh veggie meals every night, and so twice a week she went for more packaged stuff. While I hate the phrase “quality time”, one of her rocks was to spend more quality time with her son and the rock she had to drop was the time required to be “Super Healthy and Environmentally-Perfect Mom”. If you’re a fan of Dr. Laura, save your tar and feathers – the kid loved those nights most of all because Mom wasn’t as stressed or distracted.
Don’t get me wrong, I think most of Mark’s tips (time management, page 28; setting a regular daily routine, page 57; deciding on your priorities, page 62) have some validity. But there is a danger for many writers to think, “Oh, okay, I can solve my time management problem by just sleeping less”. That’s not time management, that’s avoiding setting priorities. I don’t think it is what Mark would normally advise, but I find it disturbing that he did it consciously himself as a solution.
My advice? Decide on your rocks and schedule them first (not necessarily at the same time every day), eliminate distractions, and figure out what you can drop from your to-do list to free up some time. But make sure you get plenty of sleep first.
On a discussion forum that I’m on, someone was noting a pet peeve of theirs was people who commit to doing a guest blog for their site and then flaking out with little or no warning.
I find the thread really interesting as it combines a bit of “professionalism” with “netiquette” with “marketing” with “writing”. In my day job, I deal with a lot of young professionals / millennials who have very different expectations of professionalism than some of us old fogies, and while this wasn’t specifically the sub-theme, in some ways it relates, at least in my mind.
We have a mental model of how people interact, and a lot of it is still stuck in the world of the tactile. Face to face, shaking hands, etc. And yet as the world globalized, we came to realize as business people that other cultures do NOT have the same expectations / roles in their rituals as a lot of us westerners. We even have a bunch of racist stereotypes hidden in business guides that resulted from these culture wars about how the “japanese” or the “chinese” do business, written as offensively to some business people in those cultures as some of the “poor blacks who find solace through music” stereotypes that permeated America for some time. Yet the reality was that our perceptions of how to do business changed — maybe not shaking hands is not a sign of disrespect, for example.
Like with globalization, the net opened up the world but this time to virtual commerce, and if we stop for a second, we’ll realize that if we offer guest blogs, then our blog is essentially an e-commerce site in that we’re offering to “sell” a guest some blog space in barter exchange for them writing a blog entry (plus some extra bits). What do the hosts get out of it? Content for our site, more visitors, an enhanced community network experience, and the knowledge / satisfaction we helped another author. What does the guest get? Visibility on our site, potentially more visitors back to their site, networking, and, umm, the satisfaction of writing an interesting blog on someone else’s site perhaps plus hopefully (!) some sales.
Now, if we look at netiquette (which is the reality of our online transactions, NOT the ethereal protocols we have in tactile world), we realize that on average overall relationships tend to be vastly more anonymous, more transactional than long-term, and most important of all? Far less secured — and I don’t mean in terms of access to credit cards. (And please, I’m talking about overall relationships, please don’t e-mail me to tell me how you met this really interesting person in Sweden 10 years ago on the net or your husband or your wife or found your long-lost 12th cousin).
If you offer me your book through Amazon, and I buy it, that’s pretty “firm”/secure because it is a simple transaction. If you offer me a spot on your blog, and I accept, that’s pretty soft. I know, I know, if you’re being professional, it shouldn’t be, but this is the online world. It’s more like an “option to buy” than a firm “purchase order”. Why?
Because if I’m the guest, I still have to do something to make the transaction happen. If we go back to the Mad Men world of hard advertising, “always be closing”, “telling isn’t selling”, etc., the transaction is still “pending”. We haven’t closed the deal, we just have an agreement in principle. In the real tactile world, people pretend that is pretty firm most of the time. Yet, as with say FutureShop or a car dealership, the minute that “customer” walks out the door without signing in blood, the reliability of that “deal” drops to the level of “possible lead” or maybe even “dead wood”. And after tons of conversations, dealers at both stores know that an agreement in principle is not the same as a sale.
The virtual world is full of people making commitments / over commitments / disorganization / websites launching with great fanfare by individuals and after ten posts going silent. Ask yourself — are you updating your own blog as often as you thought you would? Are you even keeping your commitment to yourself????
Add in the fact that your faceless entity on the other end who agrees to write a blog for your site may be (a) fully employed on the side, (b) busy, (c) afraid of failure, (d) deep in writing, (e) dead, (f) a complete flake, (g) changed their mind, (h) broke and can’t fix their laptop to access the net to read your e-mails, etc. and is too embarrassed to tell you any of those explanations. And then add in the fact that you have an agreement in principle, not an actual sale, it is not surprising when they don’t all deliver.
But a lot of that is our upfront expectation. At work, I obviously shouldn’t be expecting our millennials to be jumping up and down at the thought of last-minute overtime but I equally shouldn’t be expecting them to even accept it at all — some won’t. And that isn’t unprofessional, it is just a very different view of the employment relationship. One that differs from my “traditional” one. Not better, not worse, different. Because they are a completely different “customer” / “transaction partner” than I’m expecting / wishing they were, and I shouldn’t rely on them as if they were of the same “mental culture”.
What does this mean for those running sites asking / offering other people the chance to provide content in exchange for providing that content? Or dealing with businesses that offer e-services to us? Assume that not 100% of all “pending transactions” will close when you want them to, or at all. And have backup options ready to go in case they don’t.
For the writing world, magazines and publishers do it all the time — if the writer doesn’t deliver that front cover story or final chapter on time, they go with another cover story or fill the window with another author’s book. They’re prepared for their partners to perhaps not deliver, and have deadlines far enough in advance that they can substitute other material if needed.
Why aren’t we prepared like that? After all, we’re the ones that didn’t close the deal. And isn’t THAT unprofessional of us?
And for those of us hoping to participate as guests, the advice is simple — honour your commitments as if the deal has already closed, and you’ll stand out from the crowd of netiquette slackers whose commitment is more net-ready than world-ready.
Further to my two earlier posts about Search Engine Optimization and authors, I found an interesting article over on “The Book Designer” by Joel Friedlander that has six tips for SEO improvements. Of the six, four of them are a bit unusual (first two and last two) and worthy of consideration.
The first (anchor text) is actually helpful for others to use for you — get them to use some text and the name of your sitedomain in their actual link (i.e. click on “this great site about books at mybooksite.com” rather than click “here”). However, you can use it in your own in-site links too. The second (link juice) is also about how other, more popular sites link to you.
The third and fourth (title tag, first paragraph) are standard fare and I’ve covered in more detail earlier.
The last two (link out, link deep) are about giving links to more information or resources on the topic. You have to be a bit careful with those as you start to look like a link farm if you don’t have a lot of other text to go with it, but some good information.
Check out his article (linked above) for much more detail…