blogging, book promotion

Writing DaysZ 1

Wake at 5:45 AM, look at the woman, awhile, decide to let her sleep, turn on the coffee maker, wash the night away, pour coffee, open the computer and bring up my latest WIP.

Bob vs the Aliens

This story grew out of a running list of things that irritate me. Figured an alien perspective on humans would justify my annoyance.

Annoyance #1, Racial Prejudice

+++It was an otherwise ordinary day when the Aliens landed on Earth. God’s Muslim soldiers murdered unarmed civilians, Christians blackmailed souls, businessmen sold weapons and cornered resources while politicians denied everything as Humankind collectively looked up to see strange beings dangling from little umbrellas. No ships. Just Aliens descending in brightly colored spandex suits. They had coarse black hair that their men wore closely cropped and tightly curled and that on their women hung straight down past the shoulders in braided mop-like strands. If they were men and women. It turned out each had both sex organs and employed them simultaneously during unpredictable but noisy mating seizures. They had slanted eyes, large noses and pale white skin. They were three feet tall and fat. It was later learned that each suffered some physical or mental handicap. They had been genetically altered to represent Earthlings.
+++By chance, Bob Whatt became the first man on the street to be interviewed about the Aliens. A very average looking man even when seen up close, Bob was selected to represent the average man from a crowd of ordinary people watching TVs through Davison’s Department Store window on Peachtree Street. “Tell us your reaction to this historic event, Sir.”
+++“Surprise of course. And shock. Then suspicion.”
+++His reaction surprised and shocked Piper Wellington, interviewer for the European news website, Socialism Revisited. She arched into the offended pose of a news personality confronting social injustice. “How can you be suspicious? Don’t they seem much like us?”
+++“Exactly my point.”
+++A commotion erupted at the window behind them before the astounded Piper could override such a negative view of people and near-people. The TVs had gone off. This was the moment power failed throughout metropolitan Atlanta, an event nearly as significant as the arrival of Aliens but considered ho-hum at the time because the whole world routinely suffered blackouts. The significance of Atlanta only became apparent in the days ahead as the blackout spread and the power never came back on.
+++Bob traveled the lecture circuit speaking at funerals but, because of the interview, he received an invitation the next day to Valdosta, Georgia to speak at the weekly WTF! meeting. Different behaviors and beliefs threatened WTF!’s cloistered view of God’s world as They shared it with Him. Surprised and shocked by the appearance of the Aliens, they were deeply suspicious.
+++“Have you seen them!” Roy Ledbetter, tall, gangly, amiable and easily disturbed, punctuated by stabbing his ice cream cone at Bob.
+++“Nope,” Bob admitted. “You?” They were sitting in White’s Only Ice Cream Shop, Serving 34 Kinds Of Vanilla.
+++“I’ve seen them on TV! They’re ugly as sin!”
+++“Ever notice sinful women can be beautiful?”
+++“What?”
+++“Just saying, Roy, don’t believe everything you see on TV. If beautiful can be sinful, maybe ugly can be good.”
+++Roy stared at the Confederate flag on the wall behind Bob until certainty returned to his face. “You sure got a way with words!” He stood and nodded appreciatively. “See you tonight!” He went out the door hardly noticing an Alien held it open for him. Probably every town had one by now. The Alien waddled over to Bob’s table and wafted its armpits at him.
+++All Bob could think of was, “Old Spice?”
+++Obviously pleased, the Alien pulled out a chair and sat down. “You may call me Old Spice. I greet you,” he sniffed, “Rubber Tire In Sun.”
+++Bob waved the waitress over. “Give Spice here whatever it wants. I’ve got to go to- “
+++“Take me with you,” Spice interrupted. The round face smiled like a man-in-the-moon cartoon.
+++“I am going to the restroom.” The Alien looked uncomprehending. Or normal. “We humans do that in private.”
+++“Oh.” The round face elongated to a clown’s frown.
+++There is something disconcerting about a face that expressive, Bob thought. When he returned, he sat across the table from a stern visage that made him think of Winston Churchill.
+++“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary,” Spice quoted. “It fulfills the same function as pain. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” When Bob did not respond, he added, “Well, what do you think?”
+++“You sound like a politician.”
+++“But, do you agree?”
+++I’ll let you know after I know what you want.”
+++Exasperated, the Alien slammed its double dip ice cream cone on the table with predictable results.
+++“Your temper just cost you two dips,” Bob smiled at the obvious. “What do you want?”
+++“I want to go with you.”
+++“The restrooms are behind the bar,” he pointed.
+++“No! We …Aliens do not use restrooms.”
+++“Remind me not to accept any overnight invitations.”
+++“What I mean,” Spice dipped a stumpy digit into his ice cream and licked it appreciatively, “Is that I want to go to the meeting.”
+++WTF!? You Want to go to a WTF! meeting? In this town?”
+++“As your guest.”
+++“Those people hate you.”
+++“They do not know me.”
+++“That’s why they hate you.”
+++Spice’s left eye rotated inward while the right eye glared accusingly at Bob. “Well, that does fit our profile of humans. Is it racial prejudice?”
+++“Yes,” Bob laughed. “And please keep both eyes pointing in the same direction when you talk to people. You look like an idiot.”
+++Spice “Hmm’ed.” The inward eye seemed to be making a mental note. “Why an idiot?”
+++“Sorry, more human prejudice. I just said you look funny and stupid by comparing you to someone who is. I wouldn’t say that of course, if I were face to face with a real idiot.”
+++“Because they wouldn’t understand you,” Spice nodded understandingly.
+++“No. Because I would.”
+++Spice’s right eye spun inward to join the left one for a disconcerting moment, then both eyes popped forward to look knowledgeably at Bob. “According to Braincrib Notes, humans fear people who are different. That is why they are prejudiced against them. They may even hate them, until they get to know them.”
+++“No. WTF! hates people different from themselves even after they know them. It’s part of their own identity.” Bob shook his head in disbelief. “You guys have a lot to learn.”
+++“Good. Then you understand why I must go with you.”

At 7:20 AM the woman, still in her pajamas, kisses me on the head. The morning smells of bacon with breakfast. PBS radio is pointing out that we don’t know what Trump’s policies are and is explaining how calamitous those policies will be. I reach for my list. There, right below taxpayer funded opinions, is argumentum ad ignorantiam, arguing from ignorance. People who argue that because we don’t know something, whatever they say about it must be true, truly annoy me.

Annoyance #2, Argumentum ad Ignorantiam
… to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read the current draft, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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book promotion, book sales

How It Could Work

Okay.

So you have book coming out and you want to make a splash. Here’s something that could work.

Step One: approach everyone you know and beg/cajole/threaten them until they agree to read an advance copy of the book and post a review at Amazon.com. A hundred reviews would be good, but realistically? Aim for ten. This probably means settling for five. The main thing is getting some reviews up, because nobody likes a blank page.

Step Two: Time your release so that it coincides with your promotional blitz (or tsunami, or barrage, or whatever other noun implies an all-out onslaught) and set up an Amazon countdown deal, temporarily setting the price at $0.99 or (if you’re really serious) for free.

Step Three: Blitz time! Submit your book to a whole bunch of book subscription services: Fussy Librarian, BookZio, Genre Pulse, Bargain Booksy or Free Booksy depending, etc. There are a lot of them out there and the more the better. (Note: The king of them all is BookBub, but you’re probably not going to get accepted at BookBub until you’re at least James Patterson). Set it up so all of these services will be listing your book in their mailers and other promotional materials during blitz week.

Book Release

Step Four: Promote the hell out of your blitz on Facebook, Twitter, Googleplus, and anyplace else you can think of. Hand out flyers on street corners. Hire a skywriter.

Step Five: At the appropriate moment, release your book.

Goal? Well, one marketing guru suggests that in order to get Amazon.com’s attention, you want to sell at least a hundred books. And not cumulatively, but in a short period of time, say 48 hours. I’m not sure how he knows but this, he claims, will unlock the magic door, and Amazon’s own promotional machinery will click into action resulting in big time sales for you. Not millions (sorry), but thousands anyway. He claims to reliably get four or five thousand sales with every book release using this exact method.

Step Six? Write another book and do it again. You may never get on the bestseller list, but if you can write five or six books a year (ha!) and sell 5000 copies of each, well…it ain’t exactly easy street (especially after expenses) but it’s a living. And presumably, it gets a little easier each time. Easier to find reviewers, easier to get repeat sales, easier to get the attention of BookBub.

That’s how it could work. I think sometimes I come off as the maven of gloom around here, so I wanted to present a potentially winning scenario.

A Graph With Numbers To Give The Impression I Know What I’m Doing.

BUT (and this’ll surprise you) I’ve got some serious caveats. In the first place, getting even five reviews before release is a challenge (much less 100 reviews which is pure fantasy unless you are already well-established and have a dedicated team of readers.) And if this is your first book (with only a handful of reviews), enticing 100 strangers to buy your book is going to be tough. Plus, the method is not cheap. Most of those subscription services charge money for you to post your book, between 20 and 40 dollars usually (not counting BookBub, which charges a LOT more than that) so if you line up six of them, that could be 150 dollars easy. Yes, this is an investment, but if you’ve already paid a few hundred for a cover design and a few hundred for editorial services, well, it’s all adding up pretty fast.

 

A few weeks ago, I ran a smallish blitz on my novel Flight of the Wren. I had it listed five places, did a big twitter push, blogged about it. In the end, I sold 33 books over a four day period. So…underwhelming.

So underwhelming.

In addition, it did almost nothing for my visibility on Amazon. At my lowest (highest?) point, my sales rank went all the way to 15,000. It’s the best I’ve ever hit, certainly, but it quickly fizzled back to normal again within a day or two. So no lasting effect. Maybe the aforementioned guru is right, and you have to rack up at least 100 sales in 48 hours or Amazon’s promotional algorithms will simply ignore you. That’s a pretty damned discouraging number if it’s true. This is not my first time paying to get my book listed. It’s fun to see your book listed. It’s fun to see a sudden spike in your sales. But ultimately, the promotions haven’t resulted in further sales and I haven’t broken even, sales-wise, on any of these ventures. Probably better than GooglePlus or Amazon’s own pay-per-click promotions in terms of cost-effectiveness but still, not great.

Your mileage may vary, of course. Anyone? Any success stories you want to share? Anyone get a nice lasting bump in Amazon sales out of a similar promotion?

Anyone? Please?

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Welcome

It’s a Grand Game.

That’s what I keep telling myself.

Thoughts on a gray, ugly afternoon, when I long to be out in the garden. I’m not in a cheery mood.

 

images-3I never thought my book could be published, for a number of reasons. I’ve gotten past that. I’ve finally found a solution for what I always saw as my major problem, radically different tones in books one and three. I’ve nudged both sensibilities to a middle ground, and I think it works.

The marketing will be as hard or harder. What can I say except: we have to try to enjoy the experience in and of itself, as a game. Because, we all know it, the odds are heavily against us.

Here we are, on this crazy train, right? Maybe we’ll end up in a sweet place, maybe not. Set your sights too high and you’ll have your heart broken, I’m afraid. My definition of high would be a genuine career, earning anything (and I do mean anything) remotely akin to a living.

I hope none of us has paid one of the rebooted vanity presses for a (very likely) iffy edit, a formatting, a cover, and a few POD hard copies. I have a neighbor who bought such a package. At first I thought she had been legitimately published. I was thrilled for her. Then I googled the name of the small press publisher. Their charges run four hundred to well over a thousand dollars. I doubt she’ll make her money back. I asked her, what are you doing to promote it? I got a blank look in return.

Actually, a thousand ain’t bad. My father paid to publish his autobiography in the early eighties. The story in my family is that he spent ten thousand dollars to get himself in print. (Ten thousand thirty years ago. What would that be today? At least double.)

He may have sold a few books through the Swiss-American Society (his family immigrated from Switzerland when he was a child, and it was rather an interesting story, hardscrabble homesteading in Canada, mine disasters in Washington state, rough, they had it rough) but he had to give most copies away.

There is a ton of stuff on the web about promotion. I’ve been gathering it, for years, into a file. I’ll fish out the most useful items and dribble them in here from time to time. But my best advice is, have fun with this. Honestly, that’s my very best advice.

Here’s a more nuts-and-bolts tip: I’ve read again and again, take it slow and steady, keep writing, publish multiple titles, grow a following. That’s how Hugh Howey (Wool) did it. He initially offered his book in serial form. And, of course, he had a great story in a popular genre, and a lot of luck. I’m not writing in a popular genre, and I’ve never been particularly lucky, so I’d better settle for having fun. Frankly, that’s been my game plan all along.

I’m right now googling a book written by a former housemate. My brother told me twenty years ago that he’d walked into the Harvard Coop on a visit to Boston and found the guy doing an author signing of Murder in the Combat Zone. I lived in a group house with Herb for five or six years. Now I find on his Linked In profile that he studied creative writing at Cornell.

He never breathed a word about an interest in writing all the time I knew him but, neither did I. Rae was a computer person at MIT, Christopher was the perpetual PhD candidate at Tufts, I was making stripper costumes for the Combat Zone (which is why I remember the title of his book exactly, I had jotted notes for a thriller set in the Zone myself and I was jealous, and bummed). No writing went on in that house that I was aware of, but for Chris and his never completed dissertation. Herb and everyone else (we had many transients) were working for a computer-paper recycling co-op that my brother started. I’m curious as hell to know how well he writes, now that I see, my God!, he studied creative writing at Cornell. Maybe under Nabokov. Hold on. I’ll check on that.

Nope. Nabokov was there until ’59. Herb would have landed on campus in the fall of ’64. Vladimir wouldn’t have been teaching undergrads anyway. I can’t find a mention of Herb’s book anywhere. He apparently never wrote a follow-up. I guess the first didn’t sell. Big surprise, hey? This would have been the eighties, pre-ebook. Damn! You’d think a reseller would have a copy listed.

Well, we have ebooks now and they don’t disappear. This is something of a nightmare for those of us trying to get a toe in the door. I pump myself up with the idea that a hundred years from now someone may discover my nonsense and I’ll be a sensation.

I mean to be encouraging. Is it working?

This venture shows signs of developing into a formidable resource. GD’s first post contains very useful information, in Jousting Windmills. Thanks, GD. I may use a variation of that phrase on a piece comparing goofball me to Miguel de Cervantes and goofball Sly (my fast-talking cat) to Don Q. Who’s roly-poly Sancho? Sly’s own sidekick, my roly-poly froggie, of course.

We’ve got some good heads here (mine the least of them, providing comic relief). Dip a toe in every now and then. You’re going to be glad you did.

 

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blogging, book sales

This blogging biz

When I first started blogging, some 16 months ago, I was fortunate enough to be advised by Steve Jobs (OK, don’t ask – just a little gift I have). Naturally, our conversation, which you can read here, turned to branding. Steve was kind enough to give me a couple of tips to get me started, because an author these days needs a brand. Otherwise, as Kristen Lamb cogently puts it here, you’re invisible. And the brand is part of your platform, which is basically your presence on social media.

So where am I now, 16 months down the line? Well, one thing I can say is I wouldn’t have lasted more than a week at Apple. I mean, Steve, as you know, is pretty short-tempered (and in that respect, I’m afraid to say he hasn’t improved in the slightest). But at least he was ready to listen to my power point presentation about blogging, which in my case is a central part of my platform.

ppt jobs

Being the one and only Steve Jobs, though, he cut me off barely five minutes in. ‘Hang on. You say you’ve got two blogs?’

‘Yes. Journey of a Blogvelist and CurtisBausseBooks.

‘Why?’

‘Well, the first is just sort of miscellaneous stuff, you know, to build up a following. Because if you blog about your books all the time, it turns people off. So I’ve read, anyway. And if other people are like me, I can well believe it. But then I thought I wasn’t blogging enough about the books, so I set up the other one. But now we’ve got the Writers’ Co-op, which is about books as well, so now I’m making CurtisBausseBooks more miscellaneous and stopping Journey of a Blogvelist.’

‘Jesus, Bausse!’ Steve’s sigh of despair reverberated all round heaven. ‘You spend all that time building up a following and then quit?’

‘But building a following is one thing. Selling books is another. Look at this next slide.’

graph

Even Jobs was slightly shocked at this. After a quick calculation, he said, ‘That’s about one book sale for every 15 hours of blogging. If that was a bricks and mortar outlet, you’d be out of business in a month.’

‘But it’s not, is it?’ I retorted. To be honest, he was beginning to get on my nerves. ‘OK, it’s a lot of effort for hardly any return. But without it, I’d have nothing to show at all. And the thing is, you don’t blog to sell books, you blog because you enjoy blogging. And I quoted Britt Skranabek, who reached a similar conclusion on her own blog: When you write a blog post, don’t worry about its success—number of shares, views, likes. Write what you want to write from a beautiful place inside, then release it into the world. When you write a novel, don’t worry about its success—number of units, sales, dollars. Write what you want to write, not what you think others want to read.

Steve Jobs thought about this for a moment. Then he said, ‘Bausse, I wish you the best of luck. But one thing I can tell you is, if you want to get rich, you’re in the wrong business.’

‘Gee, thanks, Steve,’ I said, ‘but I knew that already.’


It might seem that this is another post about what doesn’t work rather than what does. But I would argue that the main purpose of a blog isn’t to drive sales – it’s to build connections, have discussions and showcase your writing. Indirectly, sales will (or might) follow, but a blog that’s too heavy-handed is likely to be counterproductive. That said, there are certain basic guidelines to an author blog (as opposed to just a blog) which Kristen Lamb points out here. And of course, you can save a lot of time by doing it right straightaway instead of following my example.

Every writer’s blog has a unique style: it’s your personality out there. And a couple of links to writer blogs that I follow will show just how different they can be: Kevin Brennan and Dan Alatorre couldn’t be further apart. Restrained, thoughtful, extrovert, wacky, humorous – all a matter of personal taste. At the end of they day, though, they’re trying to do the same thing.

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book sales, Uncategorized

The Long View (reviewed)

Like a book? Leave a review.

Simple as that, right? It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s a chance to make your opinion known to the world. Besides, it’s probably the single kindest thing you can do for an aspiring author short of a basket of warm muffins and a nice long shoulder rub.

But the sad fact is most readers don’t leave reviews. Some of us are naturally private with our opinions, or we think nobody is going to care, or we think it’s harder to post a review than it really is. There are no real numbers out there for precisely what percentage of readers leave reviews. Some authors say maybe as high as 5 percent. Some say definitely less than 1 percent. So if you, like me, are lucky to sell a few copies in a good week, reviews will be few and a long time coming.

And that’s a problem, because we all know reviews are important. So I’m going to share with you one method of finding more reviewers. It’s labor intensive and has a low rate of return, but it doesn’t involve pestering your distant relations and definitely doesn’t involve buying a bundle of spurious, interchangeable, two-sentence reviews at five bucks a pop.

Here’s how the game is played:
1) Go to Amazon and find books in a similar genre to your own, preferably titles with a lot of reviews.
2) Scan the list of reviews and pick out reviewers who have left contact information, preferably an email address. (Warning: damn few reviewers leave contact information.)
3) Send these reviewers a polite email request offering them a free gift copy of your eBook in exchange for an honest review.
4) Wait. But don’t hold your breath. Much like with querying literary agents, a large majority of your requests will probably go unanswered, so just move on to the next name on the list and don’t worry about it.
5) You got a positive reply? Hey, terrific! Send that kind soul a gift copy of your book post-haste, and then…
6) Wait some more. ‘Cause hey, they have to read it, right?
Only sometimes? They don’t.

HARD NUMBERS

Over the last six months I’ve sent out a lot of requests, and I’ve kept track so as to avoid annoying people with duplicate requests. A spreadsheet of some sort would be ideal.

Photo on 3-17-16 at 10.09 AM.jpg

My spreadsheets.

Anyway, as near as I can tell from my hen-scratched pages, my total numbers look something this:

Requests sent to prospective reviewers: 78
Positive Responses: 13

Reviews generated: 8

Yep. Eight reviews. And four of those reviews came from reviewers who reviewed both of my books, bless them, so the response rate is even worse than it looks. And this doesn’t even include a few dozen book blogs I queried directly.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that this whole experiment was an exercise in futility, and sure, in terms of effort/gain analysis, it was a flop. It takes a lot of time combing through reviews looking for prospects, and the success rate is dismal, but I got some good reviews out of the enterprise. This one, and this one, and this one, are all the direct result of my futile exercise.

And just between us, there’s nothing quite so gratifying as having a total stranger tell the world how much they love the book you’ve written.

So how about you? Where do your reviews come from? And how do you get more?

 

 

 

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book promotion

My Approach To Website Design.

So far I’ve got no success story to relate, only theories, so take the following with a grain of salt.

I have no book to sell yet. My focus for now is the promotion of my in-progress website, with an eye to the day when I have something on Amazon. I’ve looked at many author sites. There is generally a cover, maybe multiple covers/blurbs/synopses, a bio, probably a comments capability, not much else. I’m going in another direction.

I think a site should be a sort of fan magazine for your book. Like in the old time movie rags (haven’t looked at one in fifty years), behind the scenes stuff. Personalities, speculation, is so-and-so involved with so-and-so? Introduce me to your characters and their world. Don’t tell me what happens. Tell me why I should want to find out what happens. Better yet, show me.

I want to see playful energy. Lots to look at, lots to think about. I want visitors to my own site to say, Let’s have a peek at what that nut is up to this week. That means fresh material, constantly. A lot of work? For sure, but I don’t think of it that way. My site is my workshop, where I solve problems and explore possibilities. And I find it quite therapeutic. It makes me feel like I’m moving forward even when I’m not.

Okay, playful doesn’t pair with every genre. But energy does. However well conceived your blurb is, it takes more to impress me than, say, . . .

When Lizzie woke that morning, she never could have guessed that by noon, having hacked her parents to death with their best cleaver, she’d be frantically trying to dispose of a pile of bloody clothing. The kitchen cupboard had been empty of her special breakfast cereal. That was the kickoff to a very trying day.

Her father had obviously been unable to resist feeding the last of her homemade granola to Cupcake, the pet rabbit whom he babied outrageously, in contrast to the disdain with which he treated her. Only last week she’d discovered her new-bought Easter bonnet filled with her finest crochet-work and turned into a plush chaise in the luxuriously-appointed pen of the abominable animal. Cupcake, she’d hissed, Today you die. Was it her fault that the old man had interrupted the butchery, and that she’d blown a gasket and turned on him as well?

That may grab me briefly, but if you want to make the sale, stun me with a whole-hog (gotta say it, whole-hare) effort. The design of your website should communicate the richness of your conception, every inch displaying an attitude that says, out – way out – of the ordinary.

Less-is-more has never been my thing. I admire it. I’ve tried it. It always gets away from me. Like with my characters. My plot. My prose style. Everything I touch. My site is a maze of this-and-that detail. I want to drag your eye around my page, and give you a sense of what’s coming your way in the book.

Here’s a partial view of my sandbox: mimispeike.wix.com/mysite

(When it goes public, the name will change to MyGuySly.com. Some of the art will change as well. Much of what I have at present is helping me assess content and a layout.)

Screen Shot SUNDAY

My site has been created on Wix, where I’ve encountered many technical problems. Perhaps I’ve jumped in too quickly – I’ve yet to read the tutorials – on the theory that the functionality can’t be too different from Indesign, a print-publication program that I’m very familiar with. But it is different, and in very annoying ways. In a word, it’s clunky. Clunky as hell.

The huge problem with my free-form approach is that it will not reconfigure for small devices. Well, it will, of course, but the result is chaotic. There is a reason people head to WordPress and its templates. I may ultimately join them. A structured layout probably works best technically, but image-text-image-text, each element in its neat slot, a set-up more adaptable to a variety of screens, that does not excite me. If I go in that direction, I’m gonna mess with it, one way or another put my stamp on it, for better or worse.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think a bopping website is the magic bullet. In fact, then you have to promote the site that promotes your book. Once my on-line presence is in order, I’ll work on bumper stickers, posters, mailers, etc. My sister in Florida volunteers at a community theater group. She thinks they’ll display my poster. A lot of people should see it. Have I mentioned my idea to dress up Elizabethan and hand out flyers in Times Square? I talked that up plenty on Book Country.

I’m going to get this pie-in-the-sky business off the ground or die trying. I’ve been loving my quirky critter way too long, no way am I gonna stop now.

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 12.30.54 AM.png

Here’s the top half of page one of my novella. This look will carry through the whole, with variations.

The art will all be black and white.

The bar on the right will be footnotes and additional comments.

Alice in Wonderland had to wait a hundred years for an annotated edition. My thing is annotated on the spot.

The more I look at what I have, the more possibilities I see for a really exciting, strong look. I recall a page or two thirty-plus years ago in Print (magazine), a showcase for the best-of-the-best design and illustration. It was line art illustration, type used creatively, which I love to do myself, from (my recollection) an oversized edition of Alice In Wonderland.

I’ve looked for it on the web from book dealers, I find no mention of it. Could be it wasn’t Alice, it was something else. Faulty memory or not, that is the direction I’d like to push this in. Or, something half-way between the above quiet conception and rock ’em, sock ’em graphic hand-stands, that you want to frame and hang over your work area for inspiration.

The helter-skelter of my front page won’t do for a novel. It would be exhausting to read and exhausting to produce. Still, I certainly intend to expand the design vocabulary here. In modest ways.

 

 

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book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized

I’ve Looked at Publishing From Both Sides Now.

A few years ago, when I was relentlessly querying anything that moved trying to find a literary agent, a woman I hardly knew asked me a simple question: Why? As in what can an agent get you? What advantage do you imagine professional publication offers over self-publication?

At the time, the questions seemed a bit naïve, maybe even disingenuous. Publication had to mean something. It meant getting past the gatekeepers of the industry. It meant acceptance. It also meant professionalism. How could that not be better than self-publishing? One was rolling out a sleek new model on a showroom floor; the other was stuffing a note in a bottle and throwing it over Niagara Falls.

And yeah. Part of me still feels that way. I have been professionally published (and will be again soon) and I have self-published and let me tell you, there ain’t as much difference as you might think.

My first book, Spark, was published by Lycaon Press. It was professionally edited by the staff at Lycaon. Victoria Miller produced a first-rate professional cover. With the book’s release, I was launched on a blog-tour (six blogs? four blogs? I don’t remember) with interviews and excerpts and a couple of guest blog pieces. It felt so professional. I was part of a stable of authors. I received royalties and quarterly reports.

Well…yeah, technically. Although actually it took a long time before I got paid my first royalties. And—kaching!—let’s just say they didn’t exactly pay for dinner that night. And I don’t mean dinner at a nice restaurant, I mean dinner. Like whatever we happened to be having for dinner that night, my quarterly royalties probably didn’t cover it. And I don’t think my sales results were exceptionally bad. During March, the paperback of Spark was featured for 25% off at the Lycaon website. It sold eight copies, and the owner congratulated me on having a good month.

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Shelf esteem.

Just before publishing my second book, Lycaon folded up their tents and got out of town. So there I was. Two books with all the professional trimmings and no publisher. So, I self-published. You know the routine: Kindle, Createspace, etc, etc. I had an advantage, of course, in that I didn’t need to hire and editor or cover artist, but otherwise, I was right back at square one.

And that’s exactly how it felt. I blogged, and I tweeted, and I maintained a Facebook presence, but I was pretty much just a lonely little bottle floating in an ocean, with countless other little bottles all bobbing around with me.

When I first contemplated self-publishing, that is precisely what killed my enthusiasm for the idea. According to Amazon’s own figures, there are over 3.7 million books available in the Kindle Store. If you spent a brief 5 seconds on each title, it would take you over seven months (no sleeping) to browse the entire stock—and by that time, there would be several hundred thousand new titles to look over. While this is a boon for readers (maybe), for authors it’s horrifying. The odds of being plucked—even once—from this vast sea are, well, staggering.

As far as self-pubbing versus traditional, there are some differences. Free editing and artwork are very nice perks, and it does feel like more of a thing—you are professionally and officially published. But as for the rest of it, I haven’t seen significantly better sales from one approach or the other. Either way, it’s a long, hard journey. There are some advantages to self-publishing, too. For one, you can set your own prices (I was never happy with how much Lycaon was charging) and collect a greater percentage of royalties. This also comes in handy when trying to run a promotion or offer a discount. Or when handing out review copies—most publishers will make a number of Advanced Reading Copies available, but if you’re your own publisher, you can decide this stuff for yourself.

But it’s the ways in which the two approaches are the same that tells the real tale. Either way, you will be primarily responsible for spreading the word about your book, for having a platform of some sort, for social media stuff. And (sorry to be a wet blanket) either way the odds are not in your favor. Success requires luck and perseverance. And perspective. These days, success might require setting very modest goals and giving yourself a lot of time to achieve them.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. You wanted to write? So write. No one said it was going to be easy.

In case you missed it, yeah, I’m mostly talking to myself here.

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