If You Don’t Enjoy Marketing, You’re Doing It Wrong

Snake-oilI can already feel the heat from approaching pitchforks!

But if you hear me out, I think I can convert at least some of you to the idea that if you don’t enjoy marketing, you’re doing it wrong. Let me explain.

Sometimes marketing can seem like a Sisyphean task. There’s always something you could do to promote your work, and there’s never enough hours in the day. Many writers are already hard-pressed with demands from the rest of their lives and have to battle hard to carve out writing time. The pressure to promote squeezes that precious writing time even further.

On top of that, many marketing tasks just seem unpleasant. Writers can often be introverts who don’t like pressing the flesh – either in cyberspace or meatspace – and the very idea of marketing is hive-inducing. I get that, I really do.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I think that if marketing is making you feel icky, you’re probably doing it wrong. If it’s too expensive, you’re definitely doing it wrong. And if it takes up too much time, guess what? You really are doing it wrong.

Stuff that can make you feel icky:

  • Book signings
  • Hanging out on Goodreads
  • Emailing reviewers
  • Spamming reader forums
  • Tweeting buy links
  • Posting to reader groups on Facebook

I don’t bother with any of this stuff. Some is completely ineffective (Twitter spam) and some is potentially useful (emailing reviewers) but isn’t worth the time cost. In certain genres, a Goodreads presence can be very useful, but if it makes you feel uncomfortable then you’re not going to execute effectively and should just avoid. Anyway, if you need reviews (or readers), there are easier ways. Continue reading

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Using Story Beats To Increase Writing Speed

cover-write-publish-repeat-finalYou may be familiar with the Self-Publishing Podcast – hosted by Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright – which has featured all sorts of people doing interesting things in the world of self-publishing. Well, now the SPP guys have released a book – Write. Publish. Repeat - and it’s fantastic.

Long-time readers of this blog might remember Dave guest-posting here way back in October 2011 about a serial fiction experiment he was conducting with Sean. The experiment was a huge success and Sean & Dave have since written a bunch more serials, including one for Amazon’s SF/F imprint 47North.

Sean also co-writes with Johnny, and together they’ve written a bunch more serials too (over a million words published last year alone), and all three of them are now making a living from book sales. In short, these guys know what they’re talking about when it comes to writing fast, publishing well, and building loyal readerships.

Johnny & Sean have now taken all the knowledge gleaned from both their experience and their podcast, and written a book about self-publishing that is, in my humble opinion, the best out there on the topic.

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Write. Publish. Repeat. last week, and I gobbled it up pretty quickly (my Amazon review is here). I had several lightbulb moments while reading it, and, no matter what your experience level with writing or self-publishing, I’m confident you will have several lightbulb moments too. Continue reading

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Greetings from Prague!

LMEEThere’s news of a monster sale and competition at the bottom of this post, but, first of all: I’m still alive!

Apologies for the prolonged radio silence, but finding an apartment in Prague proved trickier than expected. We thought we had a place twice before, only for the deal to collapse – either from the terms changing at the last moment, or other related shadiness.

But we have a place now and that’s the main thing. Internet connection should be hooked up this week, and then I can re-commence taking over the world.

While the apartment search was frustrating, all that pounding the pavement was great for getting to know the city. And what a city!

Aside from being so bloody beautiful, it’s easy to see why so many ex-pats have set up home here since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The rent is about a quarter of London rates, beer is about fifth of the price, and the whole town is just an incredibly inspiring place for creative types. In short, I’m pumped about getting back to work.

The disruption of moving and flat-hunting has set my writing schedule back a fair bit, but hope to make up some time by, uh… typing faster? First up (and hopefully before Christmas) will be Super Tramp – a near-future, mildly dystopian, and (hopefully) darkly comic tale of two homeless guys who get roped into a twisted reality show. It was supposed to be a short story, but I had way too much fun writing it and expanded the idea as I went along. I might even turn it into a series. We’ll see how it sells, and how I feel after editing.

Following hot on the heels of Super Tramp will be the revised, expanded, and updated version of Let’s Get Digital. I’m trying to figure out a way that purchasers of the original version will get the 2nd Edition for free – or at least as many of them as possible. If you bought it from Amazon (or Smashwords), that should be relatively easy and I’m trying to see if I can do anything similar with other retailers – but more on that in a future post. Continue reading

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Publishing Is Easy

publish

There are three primary tasks a writer must undertake to get her work into the hands of readers: writing, publishing, and marketing.

Out of those three, I respectfully submit, publishing is by far the easiest.

Writing

Writing a book is hard, and writing a good book is even harder – at least from the perspective of the inexperienced writer. Most people who think about writing a book never start one. Most people who start one never finish it. And most people who finish a book never polish it to the point where it’s ready for prime-time and/or never get it out the door for one reason or another.

To write a good book, you have to put in the time in terms of reading with intent, learning about the craft, gaining mastery of the tools at your disposal, and putting all that into practice with book after book (some of which may never see the light of day). It’s usually a long process and it’s understandable that there’s a high level of attrition.

Marketing

Marketing can be tough. Most writers don’t come from business or marketing backgrounds, and creative types aren’t generally renowned for taking to those disciplines naturally. It also doesn’t help that many of the traditional methods for marketing print books are largely ineffective at selling e-books (publicists, press releases, newspaper interviews, radio spots, television interviews, book signings), and that what is actually effective at selling e-books can often be counterintuitive, or at least swim against that traditional approach (heavy discounts, giving away lots of free copies, building up buzz after release instead of prior to publication, using media to make social connections rather than broadcasting a message).

Part of the difference in marketing approaches is down to there being thousands and thousands of points-of-sale for print books, and pretty much four or five for e-books. And part of the difference is down to the formats themselves and the often different paths to discovery. For example, it requires a huge investment, key relationships built up over time, and the printing, storing, and distribution of thousands upon thousands of print books to be visible to customers across Barnes & Noble’s store network, but a basic, low-cost digital marketing campaign can make your e-book visible on Amazon. Continue reading

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Amazon Makes Life Easier For Authors of Historical & Literary Fiction

visible1000pxThere are lots of reasons why self-publishing success stories tend to concentrate around writers of “genre” fiction, but it’s a mistake to assume that success is impossible if you write literary fiction or historical fiction (which tends to get lumped in with literary fiction, even though it’s just another genre… like literary fiction!).

The first is demographics: romance and erotica readers were the first to switch to digital, followed by mystery and thriller fans, leading to the success stories of Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, and John Locke.

I remember SF/F authors complaining (back in 2011) that their readers hadn’t switched to e-books yet, casting jealous eyes at the outsized romance audience. But as readers did move across, we saw people like David Dalglish and BV Larson breaking out, and the rest of “genre” fiction soon followed.

The rise of “genre” self-publishing was also aided by the mistreatment of the midlist by large publishers: falling advances, worsening terms, and the shifting of the marketing burden onto the author’s shoulders. With bigger names jumping ship and striking out on their own, the increasing selection of quality self-published books at very low prices (and often exclusively available as e-books) acted as a strong pull factor for readers of genre fiction to switch to digital.

Non-fiction has been slower to go digital for a few reasons. First, technical limitations of e-book formats and the devices themselves have made the digitization of anything other than straight narrative text troublesome – even the minor technical challenge posed by something like footnotes has yet to be resolved in a satisfactory way.

On top of that, non-fiction authors tend to be treated a little better by publishers, especially in terms of advances – so there’s less of a push factor encouraging authors to self-publish. This means less big name authors dragging print readers to digital with low prices and digital exclusivity, and, thus, a smaller reader pool for non-fiction self-publishers.

The case of historical fiction and literary fiction is a little different. Weak digital sales from large publishers, and the relative lack of self-publishing success in these genres, has led some to worry about the future. But I think something else is going on here. Continue reading

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Kobo Cull Self-Published Titles In Knee-jerk Response To Tabloid Clickbait

Kobo read freelyA media firestorm erupted in the UK on Sunday after a tabloid story about WH Smith selling “filth” alongside books aimed at children, which has resulted in Kobo culling huge numbers of self-published titles – most of which have no erotic content whatsoever.

It’s hard to know exactly how many titles Kobo has pulled. What we do know is that Kobo has removed all 7,883 self-published titles distributed to their store via Draft2Digital, as confirmed in an email from D2D’s CEO to affected authors.

However, I think that’s only a tiny fraction of affected titles. Many self-published authors who distribute via the (much larger) Smashwords service have reported their books are no longer on sale on Kobo’s UK store, as have many authors who uploaded to Kobo direct, via their self-publishing platform Kobo Writing Life. And, indeed, it’s not just self-publishers that are affected. Lots of small publishers either use a distributor like Smashwords, or upload direct via KWL.

Those not in the UK will be unaware of the full extent of the problem, as only those with UK IP addresses can view the Kobo UK store. But when I ran a simple check of 10 self-published authors – none of whom write erotica or romance – half were missing from the UK store. Indeed, all seven of my titles have been pulled – which I uploaded direct via KWL – and I don’t write erotica (and don’t have any other pen-names).

In addition, Kobo’s UK partner – WH Smith – has closed their entire site. All that remains is a holding page with a statement, containing the following:

Our website will become live again once all self published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available. When our website goes back online it will not display any self published material until we are completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again. Continue reading

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Bloomsbury Seeks Deal With Author Solutions

bloomsASIThe publishing world has been turned upside down by ebooks and self-publishing.

All the old middlemen – agents, publishers, distributors, retailers – are scrambling to reinvent themselves, trying to remain relevant in a digital world. 

Self-publishing is big business. By my estimates, self-publishers have captured 30% of the US e-book market. And everyone wants a slice. Unfortunately, many organizations are prepared to do pretty much anything to make sure they get theirs.

Author Solutions is the market leader in the author exploitation game. That, however, was no impediment to Penguin splashing out $116m to purchase the company in July 2012. And it has been absolutely no barrier to a huge range of companies doing deals with them of one kind or another.

The latest edition to this gallery of rogues is Bloomsbury Publishing, who are famous for the Harry Potter series, but who are also known to UK writers as publishers of the querying author’s bible the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.

Its equivalent in the US would be Writer’s Market, and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook holds a similarly special place for UK authors. The publishing industry has always been something of a swamp, and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook was the most trusted resource to keep you out of the hands of unscrupulous agents charging reading fees, dubious editorial services, and vanity publishers.

What’s happening to the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is a perfect example, in microcosm, of the industry being disrupted and embracing shady practices to protect future revenue. With less authors querying, less even wanting an agent or traditional publisher, and more and more electing to self-publish, the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook decided to reinvent itself.

Bloomsbury made all the right noises at the start. Along with a bunch of other self-publishers, I was invited to write something for their new self-publishing micro-site, which would form part of the re-launched Writers’ & Artists’ website. I was interested, but first wanted to see how the site went – being a little suspicious of publishers moving into this space, given the history of such ventures. I’m glad I waited.

The centerpiece of the Self-Publishing section of the site is a “comparison service” of self-publishing companies. If alarm bells are already ringing, you’re on the right track.

Precious little information is given on the most viable path to self-publishing, the one that every single self-publisher I know uses (and I know lots of ‘em), namely, uploading directly to KDP and either uploading to Nook, Kobo, and Apple directly, or using a reputable distributor (like Smashwords or Draft2Digital) to reach the other retailers.

I don’t know of one single successful self-publisher who uses a “self-publishing service” to publish their books. The reasons are simple. At best you will have delayed sales reports, reduced payments, and less control over things like categories and pricing.

At the other end of the spectrum, where most of these companies reside, you will pay eye-watering prices only for your book to be poorly designed, poorly edited, have incorrect metadata attached (making discoverability and visibility an uphill struggle). You will be plagued by incessant phone calls and emails flogging overpriced services of dubious value, and you will experience trouble getting paid at all – if your book manages to sell anything, which is doubtful for the reasons mentioned.

When I tested the Writers’ & Artists’ comparison tool, I inputted answers that a typical newbie might. To no great surprise, the list of recommended providers was peppered with Author Solutions’ subsidiaries. No differentiation was made between the few reputable companies such as KDP, Smashwords, or eBookPartnership, and the much more numerous god-awful vanity presses like Trafford, Abbot Press, and Archway. Continue reading

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