book promotion, book sales, Literary Agents

Collective Marketing

A while ago, I made the following post on the Facebook SciFi Roundtable group:  

I’ve seen the question raised: how much do you hate marketing your books? I’ll put it this way: If you believe you can effectively market my books, I will split the royalties with you. Fifty-fifty. Not a me-pay-you-and-maybe-you-can-sell-my-books deal. A simple fifty-fifty split, after the sale.

Let me know.  

It got a few responses, ranging from the “Yep, me too” variety to the “There’s no money in marketing books” type.

For the record, I wasn’t expecting anyone to take me up on my offer.  And no one did.

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We’ll teach you how to market your book!

Join our service and realize more sales!

We’ll show you the secret tricks to make Amazon’s algorithms work for you!

Do you get these sorts of ads? I do, and fairly often. I’ve even tried a few of those services — did my best to follow their instructions, kept an open mind — and never once made even my minimal investment back. But, hey, maybe that’s my fault.

Maybe my books suck.

Maybe I did it wrong. 

But here’s the thing: In the old days, authors had agents who sold books for them (to publishers) and earned a percentage (usually 10 to 20%) of the royalties. That model seems to be nearly gone now (or, at least, very hard to access. I tried for over a year to get an agent for my first book, querying almost fifty agencies. But that’s another story.). So, instead, we do it ourselves these days. Self-publish, self-market, self-medicate. Amazon is making plenty of money; editorial services and book cover services are probably doing okay (at least on a job-by-job basis). But authors? Mostly not so great. There is a whole industry designed not to sell books, but to sell services to authors who want to sell books.

Here’s looking at you, Bookbub

And that brings us to Bookbub. They have, for some time now, been the most successful of the email book marketing services. The gold standard. Readers sign up (for free) and get weekly emails promoting a list of books selling at a discount. The list changes constantly, and you can set some preferences in terms of genre and price points.

Authors apply for spots on these lists, and they pay Bookbub for the privilege. (There’s the key difference: in this model, authors pay the agents to market their books.)

For instance:  if you want to have your science fiction novel listed at the free price point ($0.00), you will pay $519 for that listing. This, according to Bookbub’s website, will result in an average of 29,900 downloads. If you list it for $0.99, the price of the listing goes up to $754. Different genres and different price points result in different fees. Listing your book for $3.00 or more could cost you over $2500, depending on genre.

So the service is not cheap, but they claim to get results — and most of what I’ve read agrees that they are effective. Bookbub doesn’t break down stats for the various price points, but they do report an average sold figure — excluding the results for free listings. For that Sci Fi book of yours, the average number of sales generated is 2,040 copies.

So let’s crunch the  numbers. Assume a $0.99 price point. If you are running a promotion through Kindle Direct, then you can earn a full 70% royalty on all sales made during that promotion (minus their delivery fee, which is a few pennies per download), so say you earn 67 cents per sale. If you achieve the average number of sales (2,040) you will earn $1,366 in royalties. Not bad. Subtract what you’re paying BookBub, $754, and you’ll make $612. 

So, still not bad, at least when compared to the negligible returns most of us see. And you might do better. That’s only an average. (Or you could do worse, ’cause that’s how averages work, natch.) In addition, your book gets some notice, and that aint bad either. But remember, you’re out the $754 whether you knock it out of the park or hit a weak dribbler to third. Bookbub takes their cut before the promotion even begins.

So, Is it worthwhile? Most of the time, absolutely. We’re still talking about pretty small numbers. I would be delighted, frankly, to be making $612 per month on book royalties, but it wouldn’t represent a radical change in my finances.

What’s more to the point, did you notice that word “monthly?” I know of people who work in exactly this manner — crank out a book a month, run Bookbub ads, build up a following, get noticed by the Amazon algorithms and then fame, fortune, and endorsement deals. Personally, I can’t imagine producing more than a book or two a year at the very most, so this wouldn’t for me. 

Besides, there’s another problem:  Bookbub advertising spots are very much in demand, and Bookbub is highly selective. I’ve submitted Spark three times — once for a 99 cent promotion, twice for free promotions — and been rejected each time. The problem? My book doesn’t have very many reviews on Amazon, they said — I should wait until I get more, they said — and maybe consider pricing the book at a lower price point, they said (and yes, this was the advice that Bookbub gave me, even when I wanted to price the book for free, because it was obviously a form-rejection letter). The internet rumor mill estimates that Bookbub accepts fewer than ten percent of applicants, and they prefer people who are already famous and have hundreds of Amazon reviews. In short, the more you need them, the less likely they are to accommodate you.

So, where does that leave us? Certainly, there are other book marketers out there in the BookBub mode. I’ve used them (and written about it here  and here .) None of these services are as big as BookBub. They don’t charge hundreds of dollars up front, but they also don’t suggest that they will generate thousands of dollars worth of sales. Some are even free, but, well, they tend to generate commensurate numbers, if you get my drift.

Which brings me back to my original subject: marketers. I’m still waiting for some marketer to respond to my offer: a 50/50 partnership. I write. You market. Half the royalties on actual sales go to you, half to me.

I expect I’ll be waiting for a long time.  

Meanwhile, here’s a serious question:  would it be possible for us, as a collective, to replicate, even in some small measure, the Bookbub model? Instead of paying Bookbub for access to their list, generate a list of our own? Send out our own newsletter? Even if it was significantly less effective than theirs, we’d still be saving a lot of money by not having to fork out $700 (and up, up, up) to Bookbub every time we advertised.  I have no expertise, no knowledge about what might be involved or how long it might take to build up a list. No doubt others have tried this, but since there are (at least) dozens of us, each with our own varied contacts and resources, might we have some leverage they do not?

Is this a pipe dream? Probably. But until you ask, you never know. 

So I’m asking.

Any ideas?

 

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Literary Agents, publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Submit Today!

Looking GlassHaving a short fiction to submit, I took a fresh look at what’s out there in the way of getting it in front of readers. Googling “current fiction publishers” returned the usual half-million results. But a site that noted “a full list of publishers accepting manuscripts directly from writers” had already done much of the work for me.
Here are two current (May, 2018) sources.

Free:
Erica Verrillo’s
https://PublishedToDeath.blogspot.com/p/calls-for-submissions.html
lists hundreds of markets. 217 Paying Markets for Short Stories, Poetry, Nonfiction; 36 Paying Markets for Fiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction; Speculative Fiction Magazines Accepting Submissions; 163 Literary Magazines Accepting Reprints; even a spreadsheet with 300 places to submit.
Erica also provides a list of Upcoming (June, 2018) Calls.

$5 per month
https://Duotrope.com/  currently lists 6,863 active fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art publishers and agents. I chose Duotrope because they successfully helped the Writers Co-op advertise for story submissions for our upcoming anthology, The Rabbit Hole. That, and, paying for updated information implies a contractual obligation on their part to keep their information updated.

Researching publishers that are actively calling for submissions and submitting Happyaccording to my preferences and their guidelines is, well, a fun and hope-full part of this business.

 

If you will, please tell us in the Comments section how you find outlets for your work.

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book promotion, Literary Agents, publishing, scams

Your Publisher May Not Be A Publisher

computer-virus-rev-1-300x200 Each and every day brings an exciting pronouncement that so and so has been published. It’s a thrilling announcement, one which envisions a bright future for the impending literary scion, and one that is, so often the percentages died aborning, wrong.  I’m not going to slam self published authors – at least not today – rather I’m going to help clarify some terms. They are important ones to know if you’re serious about your craft. The word “publisher” dates back to the 1500’s. It originally meant “one who announces in public.” which makes complete sense even today. The more modern interpretation,  “one whose business is bringing out for sale books, periodicals, engravings, etc.” dates back to 1740. Whether or not a publishing company pays an advance to a writer they do, or are supposed to, provide certain services for a fee based on sales, or, to be clear, work on commission. No legitimate publisher charges an author up front monies for anything.

Those services, in a nutshell, are promotion of the work, marketing, licensing (when possible), and distribution. Included in that will be the arrangement of some interviews and other forms of personal publicity which are designed to sell the author just as much as the book.

Should sales, or projected sales, warrant it the publisher may suggest the author ascertain the services of an agent. That person will take over the job of selling you and all your intellectual properties to the unsuspecting world all while trying to get you a better publishing deal than that piece of shit you signed (every agent just laughed here, every author just whimpered).

Good news, no reputable agent will charge an author any upfront fees either. Bad news, like unicorns and South American hockey teams, they are difficult to wrangle. If, as noted in the previous paragraph, you find yourself in need of one many publishers will offer suggestions but no more than that. It’s in their best interest for you to succeed, not to interfere  or micromanage your life. They have other shit to do.

Consider all of the above bullet points to refer to when you’re talking to publishers.

Now, which companies aren’t publishers?

Amazon KDP
Book Baby
Create Space
Draft2Digital
Ingram Spark
Liberio (recently out of beta testing)
Lulu
Nook
Smashwords

All of the above use the phrase “publish your book” but use it very carefully. They mean the phrase literally. They are all, with a variety of different options available to writers, print on demand services. They do not vet your writing in any manner, other than for formatting or decency standards (if they have those). If you write a book claiming that Iron Sky, my favorite movie series involving space Nazis, is a documentary, and that numerology proves it, no one stops you. You just hit send and off it goes to the Internet. Where it goes after that depends on how much money you want to spend. None of the companies listed above are going to have a single unpaid intern lift a finger on your behalf. That means all of the tasks I noted above are now yours.

Which means, and you need to understand this, you are the publisher. It is now on you, and nobody else, to present your work to the wider world.

Now, for some help. since the majority of writers reading this blog are involved in sci-fi or fantasy, I’m going to share a list of scams sited on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) website.

As you cringe through the many instances of fraud, all of which have been adjudicated, you’ll note some common themes.

  1. Film deals were based on getting talent signed first, all you need to do is provide a little “seed money.” Just FYI, there is no such animal in the film industry. It’s financing first and then that money attracts names. If an actor or actress likes the author they may “attach” their name to the presentation, but they are under no obligation go appear, support, or otherwise do a damn thing. At least not until they have a contract and money. Not “or” but “and.” That’s important to remember.
  2. Authors were charged fees for services unrelated to, in wildly in excess of, what they needed. Yes, editors charge fees. But agents and publishers are not editors. At least not exclusively. When you’re ready for editing hire someone who does that, and only that, and you’ll save yourself agita and money.
  3. Celebrity endorsements. Be extremely wary of these. The number of faux agents I’ve seen touting them is amazing and, always, a lie. Just last week I reached out to someone I know to ask if she was really “cheering on an amazing author.” Her response, edited for profanity, was “no.” Unless you have evidence, photographic is best, you could end up getting a wonderfully threatening “cease and desist” letter from a lawyer who makes in an hour what you earn in a year. That said, they do happen. I have gotten them from Rosario Dawson and John Fuglesang, for example, but even then I’ve been careful not to use them in advertising or any other commercial venue. You can post them on social media, as I have, but anything else requires a contract. Simply put, “don’t worry about it, they’re friends” is bullshit.
  4. Reading, evaluation, and/or marketing fees. These are where your money goes to die. The SWFA has a litany of reasons why you should run screaming from the room if they’re mentioned. Simply put, they are designed for people to make money no matter what happens to you. And, far more often than not, nothing happens that benefits you in any way.

As a point of reference, all of these publishers have been deemed scams.

  • American Book Publishing (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Archebooks Publishing (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Helm Publishing (Rockford, IL)
  • Hilliard and Harris (Boonsboro, MD)
  • Oak Tree Press (Taylorville, IL)
  • Park East Press (Dallas TX) (formerly Durban House, formerly Oakley Press)
  • PublishAmerica (Frederick, MD)
  • Royal Fireworks Press/Silk Label Books (Unionville, NY)
  • SterlingHouse Publisher (Pittsburgh, PA–imprints include, among others, Pemberton Mysteries, 8th Crow Books, Cambrian House Books, Blue Imp Books, Caroline House Books, Dove House Books, and PAJA Books)
  • SBPRA/Strategic Book Publishing/Eloquent Books (Boca Raton, FL–formerly known as The Literary Agency Group and AEG Publishing Group)
  • Tate Publishing (Mustang, OK)
  • Whitmore Publishing Company (Pittsburgh, PA)

The list of disreputable agents is too long to recreate here, so click on the list to see if the person who claims you’re the next J. K. Rowling is there.

So what to do? This part is absurdly easy.

  1. Ask for, a minimum of five, references with direct contact information. Make sure you can reach every single one.
  2. If a celebrity is attached contact their management. All that info is listed on any authorized web site.
  3. Use this new fangled Google thing to search for whoever has made you this amazing offer, you need to act on now – NOW! DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!, and add the word “scam” after their name. You’ll be amazed how much time and money that little trick will save you.

Just like having a blind date at an S&M bar, caution is your friend. Be careful out there.

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book promotion, Literary Agents, publishing

The Heart of the Matter.

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A piece on Scribophile asks an important question:

_________________________________

Yesterday, I went to my first ever writer’s conference. It gave me my first exposure to meeting an agent face-to-face in a “speed date” of 10 minutes. I delivered my pitch. She cut me down to a stump with one question:

“Okay, so I get that you have _____, and you have _____, but, like, what’s your one thing that’s going to make me want to read this book?”

I stared at her stupefied for a moment. I wasn’t able to give the agent an answer that made her go, “Oh, wow. Yes! Please send me that book. I have to find out about that.”

She asked a simple, direct question that cut to the quick: this is a woman with not enough time for anyone, and yet she’s contemplating — maybe — adding a person to her client list, if she thinks the burden is worth it. She already puts in intensive hours working for her existing clients and poring over hundreds of other submissions. What makes me the needle in the haystack? Why am I so goddamn special?

_________________________________

This is the question I have for the hoards of books touted on Facebook. There are a thousand paranormal romances out there. There are a thousand of everything. And I already have stacks – hell, mountains – of books waiting to be read. Why should I devote my time to yours?

The answer, as far as my own thing is concerned, would be: for super-imaginative fun delivered with merry wise-ass style.

Were I to encapsulate the many joys of the renowned series of naval adventures by Patrick O’Brian (that currently enthrall me), I would say, A beguiling interplay of complex characterization, adventure with a touch of mystery, and a mind-blowing knowledge of the sea. I am mesmerized!

What about you? What would be your Heart-of-the-Matter response?

 

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, Literary Agents, Research, Stories, writing technique

A Path

Lots of great ideas here but they are only ideas unless we put the time, effort & sometimes money into them to make them happen. Take the idea of WritersCo-op.com becoming a kind of wiki created by writers who have something to offer other writers. That would take time, effort & eventually, money.

Time, first. Members can keep posting articles until we have enough to seed a wiki. Then effort. I think I can find writers to create a wiki but that must be done. And we’d probably have to pay a server host to maintain our site online. I’ve set up websites since 1998 and I know we could find a home on the ‘Net for our wiki at a cost we’d be happy with.

The beauty of this path is that we do not have to decide right now. We can keep on blogging as we are doing.
When we have enough blogs, or articles, we can consider turning the site into a wiki.
If we end up with a wiki, we’ll figure out a way to fund it.

We can become a site where any writer could log on and find information on just about anything they are looking for regarding writing – from creating stories, to practical working advice, to shopping for agents, working with an editor, the publishing process, marketing tips – all on one website created by other writers:
The WritersCo-op Wiki.

What do you think?

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book promotion, book sales, Literary Agents

Secret Agent Plan

OR

Five Four Three Two One Unique Ways to Get an Agent

Oh these sad and weary tales of woe.

Nope. Not this time. We’ve all been there and done that. Personally, I’ve read so many articles over the years about how to write the ideal query letter and get the perfect literary agent that I ought to be an authority by now. Unfortunately, like the typical ‘rules for writing’ article, most of them are little more than a list of things you shouldn’t do:

DON’T do mass, impersonal, “Dear Agent” queries;

DON’T query agents for genres they don’t represent;

DON’T make hyperbolic promises about your book being a guaranteed bestseller;

DON’T lie about all the literary awards you obviously haven’t won;

DON’T spell their names wrong.

There are lots more, but they all break down to the same basic piece of advice: be professional. A query letter is a business letter. Agents are in business to make money, so don’t waste their time with a lot of nonsense. Pitch the book, give your credentials, keep it brief. And edit for typos.

I think I’ve crafted some pretty good query letters in my day, but most great query letters end up in the same place as all the poor query letters: the reject pile. I don’t want to belabor a point that has been made too many times in too many places, so let’s just take it as a given that writing is hard, getting published is hard, making money is hard, yada yada yada. You can do everything right and still end up in the slush pile. In fact, most of us do.

Of course, most of us also keep dreaming. So when an article called “5 Unique Ways to Land An Agent” appeared in my email feed this morning, I had to look. Given that I am too cynical and hardboiled to believe that there are any magic beans in the publishing world, I wasn’t expecting much.

Guess what? There wasn’t much. Nothing against Meredith Blevins, who is a reasonably successful author and, I’m sure, a fine teacher, but I had to laugh at her list of five. I’ll summarize:

1) Get a writing degree. If you do (or hopefully did), you’ll meet people who can give you references and personal introductions and stuff like that.

2) Go to a writer’s conference, for the same basic reason.

3) Really. Go to a writer’s conference!

4) In fact, here’s one writer’s conference in particular that worked for one author she knows.

5) Go to New York and talk to agents in person. (The first time I typed this, I wrote “talk to agents in prison.” Sometimes the fingers just know what you’re really thinking.)

Maybe I’ve miscounted, but that’s really only three unique ways to land an agent. Unfortunately, two of them are nearly useless. Not a lot of us have the wherewithal to fly to New York or to attend graduate school (or even writer’s conferences, for that matter.) Her bottom line advice can be summarized thus: personal contact is always better than a letter. I have no doubt she is right. But also? Wow. Obvious.

So do these things work? Does a writing degree or attending writer’s conferences at least increase your chances of landing an agent? Maybe. I’m sure they can’t hurt. But I’ve known writers who have gone to plenty of conferences and never gotten representation, because it’s still an uphill battle against very long odds.han-solo-odds

I’ve had some big name agents request full manuscripts of mine, even had one offer rewrite suggestions—which I followed to the best of my ability and conscience—only to meet with eventual rejection. Not because she thought the book was bad, but because she didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth her time and effort

The bottom line really is the bottom line.

But put all that gloom and doom aside. I’d love to get your take. Have you succeeded in landing an agent? What did it take? Did it help? Are agents even the way to go in this era?

Discuss, please.

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