How do you spell SUCCESS?

I was at a regional  writing conference last year (and I’m pretty sure I’m swearing off the foolish things forever) where the authors who had traditional publishers—even if they never saw an advance*—behaved poorly around the crowd of indie authors who were in attendance. From my conversations with the two groups, both seemed pretty well versed in publicity and book promotion methods. Both were focused on craft improvement. In fact, the only difference I saw between the two groups was that the Indie authors were making money on the sales of their books. And the trad authors, well, weren’t. (*Interesting note: The authors who had gotten sizable advances from their publishers didn’t tend to act like jerks lording it over the indies but the ones who hadn’t gotten any money up front, kinda did.)

It seems to me that there are two ways to claim success in any given field:

  1. You either produce something of quality that has your peers (or the general public) raving,
  2. Or you are well-paid for the thing you’ve produced even if nobody breaks down your door to tell you how marvelous you are.

After thinking not very long at all on this, I realized that my idea of writing success involves getting paid for my efforts—at least enough to live on.  I don’t have to win the lottery, but I’d consider a thousand bucks a month still “hobby” status. (I’ve been a freelance copywriter nearly my whole adult life so it wasn’t

You'll notice this writer, typical of most authors--trad or indie--is clutching a fistful of singles...

You’ll notice this writer, typical of most authors–trad or indie–is clutching a fistful of singles…

that big a jump for me to see writing fiction as something I should be paid for. I tend to believe this, in spite of the fact that artists and authors through the ages typically weren’t able to support themselves on their earnings. No one is more surprised than I am to realize that getting paid for my work—even work that doesn’t sell gym memberships or Lexus cars—is a baseline expectation of mine.

And of course, before you ask—yes, I’d do it even if I never earned a dime.

Goes without saying.

So along those lines is of course the other big reason to write. In fact, probably the main reason. It’s the reason most writers all started out with, and it’s the one that sustains us through the brown bar of shame on our Kindle Reports, the one-star reviews and the $1,000-plus editor and cover design costs.

John Gardner said it best, I think, on the last page of  his book, On Becoming A Novelist when he wrote:

“The true novelist is the one who doesn’t quit. Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga or way, an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious—a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfaction no non-novelist can understand—and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough.”

So which is it? Do you write for money? Or for recognition? Do you have to have both to consider yourself successful? Or do you just write for yourself and book sales are irrelevant?

Love to hear.

Where Will You Be When the Dust Clears?

There’s an old joke where two guys are camping and they see a hungry bear and one guy starts lacing up his sneakers and his buddy says, “You don’t think you can outrun a bear do you?” and the other guy says, “I just need to outrun you.”

Seems to me this joke kind of describes where we are now as authors on the verge of being successful in this e-publishing enterprise.

I recently read “The Self E-Publishing Bubble” in The Guardian that made some predictions about epublishing and ebook authors that started to make me believe that if we authors want to avoid being the ones that get turned into bear sushi by the parameters of the new publishing industry, we have to be mindful about one particularly important directive: we have to not stop.  We have to not stop writing, not stop believing, not stop publishing. I hate to add my italics and boldface to all the sappy, soppy edicts out there that will tell you that persistence is the key, but sometimes the corny stuff is the truth.

Persistence is the key.

When I spoke at the North Georgia State College’s conference on e-publishing last fall, I admitted that there was some truth to the “tsumani of crap” that e-publishing was seen as by many bewildered readers. But at that time I had yet to see the glimmer of hope that that tidal wave might dissipate. In fact, nobody was talking about the glut of self-published books diminishing. We were all just trying to imagine literary mechanisms that might help readers wade through the enlarged reading inventory, like reviews they respected from their genre or, I don’t know, maybe something brand new that nobody’s ever heard of but is invented to handle this new world order of ours that nobody could’ve envisioned five years ago!

So the story—and I do hope you read it—quotes the NY Times saying a recent survey revealed that as a result of the supposed ease of e-publishing 82% of all Americans are now interested in writing a book. (Holy crap! You think we got a glutted market now!)

Only before we all go strangle ourselves with our USB patch cords, the writer, Ewan Morrison, goes on to say that the lack of sales (fewer than 100 a year for most writers) and dearth of positive feedback (This is not a business for overly sensitive souls) and the realization that you are, essentially, “writing for free” (OMG, I’m laughing here!) and general disrespect would prompt most new e-book authors to give up within a year and find another hobby. Especially if there was a day job involved.

“After a long year of trying to sell self-epublished books, attempting to self-promote on all available networking sites, and realising that they have been in competition with hundreds of thousands of newcomers just like them, the vast majority of the newly self-epublished authors discover that they have sold less than 100 books each. They then discover that this was in fact the business model of Amazon and other epub platforms in the first place: a model called “the long tail”. With five million new self-publishing authors selling 100 books each, Amazon has shifted 500m units. While each author – since they had to cut costs to 99p – has made only £99 after a year’s work. Disillusionment sets in as they realise that they were sold an idea of success which could, by definition, not possibly be extended to all who were willing to take part.”

Add to the above an accepted formula for success in indie publishing (and it’s one that I believe in) that says inventory is key to making money, and you have even more reason to believe that most new writers will quit. Creating an inventory means you need to write a lot and fairly constantly (you certainly do if you want to build any kind of library of work while you’re still young enough to enjoy the profits outside the nursing home). Doing this with little to no money up front (“spec” we used to call it in advertising), when you’re exhausted from working a day job, probably a family demanding your attention and God knows what else a normal life requires of you, is going to be too much for most people.

Which is good news for YOU. Because YOU won’t give up when the rest of them do. Right? Because for every soldier who falls to the wayside, that is one less book in your genre you need to compete with. It’s one step nearer to the overworked reviewer choosing to smile on your book (if it’s good), and one degree closer to the reader discovering you. It stands to reason if the pile of available books is even a little smaller, your chance of being found is a little greater.

The interesting thing about all this—the thing that nobody is writing about—also happens to be the fly in the soup of the Guardian story and that is the fact that most writers that I know of (wait for it!) aren’t in it for the money. I mean it would be nice. What a dream, to get paid to write stories? But bottom line, you know you’re going to write anyway, no matter what.

And that is precisely why, when it’s all said and done and the dust has cleared and when e-publishing and Amazon and readers and trad publishing and all of them have done what they’re going to do and evolved where they will, YOU will be on the other side of it, quietly building that inventory, writing stories and publishing books for years and years to come.

I honestly cannot think of a better way to live my life.

Why local book clubs are the single, best way to sell more books online

Drum roll, please.
What is the one thing that all members of our writing/publishing industry—writers, publishers, legacy and indie—agree sells by far more books than any other method?
Word of mouth.
Ahhhh. You knew it wasn’t going to be something you could click on and just get.
No, word of mouth, like all things worthwhile, is not easy to create or obtain.
Marcella Smith, of Marcella Smith Associates, and a former Barnes & Noble executive has been quoted as saying that when it comes to selling books: “Nothing beats word of mouth. Nothing. These days, there is so much more book news in all kinds of media. I think it comes down to, ‘Who do you trust?’”
And we all trust our friends, right? I don’t even bother “sampling” a book if someone I know has already gushed all over it.
The question is: How to you make word of mouth happen? For your book?
I’m going to go with “book clubs.”
Nothing builds a writer’s brand better and faster than talking about her book to a group of people who are interested in hearing about it. All you have to do to make it happen is contact some book clubs in your area and suggest to them that if they read one of your books as a group, you will be happy to speak to the members about the book.
The reasons why a book club might agree are:
1. They are readers and most readers are keen to ask questions of the authors of books they’ve read
2. Everyone likes to be entertained or presented to
3. Most people like feeling proprietary about the books they read and the authors they discover
The benefits to you as an author are:
1. Once an author meets his readers he increases his “buy in” with them and increases the chances that they will talk about the book to their friends
2. It’s been shown that not only does the book club read and buy the book from the author but they tend to read everything that author puts out in the future!
3. Speaking at book clubs keeps books alive. Many books have been resurrected with a new generation or demographic of reader as the result of a book club embracing it.
4. Meeting with your readers opens opportunities for other avenues, related to your book or future books. In the November issue of IBPA Independent, columnist Linda Carlson told about an author who spoke at a club, met an attendee who was a writer for a magazine and ended up doing several keynote speeches and selling many, many more books.
5. Asking your new group of enthusiastic fans to post reviews of your book on Amazon.com, Goodreads and so forth will help boost your sales online.
If you go down this road, here are some things to keep in mind as you add book club presentations to your promotions tasks:

1. Be friendly and focus on connecting with your readers
2. Hand out bookmarks with new-book information
3. Always bring paperback or hardback copies of your book; if members bought it as an e-book, they may want a signed “real” book now that they’ve met you.
4. Bring a signup sheet to capture emails so your new friends will be some of the first to get information on upcoming releases

There is a strong belief in publishing circles today that one of the main things that can save publishing is book clubs.
They can do a lot for the author too, especially if they’re willing to “put themselves out there.”
Nobody said it was easy.
At least now you know what you need to do.