Sunday, December 29, 2013

The new informed writer

When I first started to think seriously about devoting my life to the pursuit of publication finding instruction was like walking through a desert. There was almost no information about how to go about getting published (this was prior to the internet). I remember buying my first issue of Writer’s Digest and literally digesting every page. I read the how-to articles over and over and marveled at the process of birthing a book into the world. When I realized I needed an agent I went to the local library (remember those) and took out a copy of the LMP (The Literary Marketplace) a behemoth of a book that listed every agent and publisher in the U.S..

I spent days painstakingly going over every listing, jotting down notes on which agent and publisher best matched my genre and style. After compiling a very long list, I devoted the next several weeks to typing personalized query letters to each one and sending those along with SASE’s. The cost was roughly sixty-four cents a piece. No small change when you’re talking hundreds of letters. I rented a post office box just for my query responses so that it wouldn’t get mixed up with my regular mail and carefully kept up with the latest agent hires and openings on editor’s lists.

When the one in a hundred positive SASE would come back asking me to send a sample or even the entire manuscript I would fly through the roof. I’d hastily print out a copy, address it, and drive down to the post office to mail it off. For days after, I’d lie awake at night with fantasies of getting that elusive telephone call that I had been signed and was about to get rich and famous.

One day that call did come and the next thing I knew I was signed to an exclusive contract with a major literary agency to represent all my current and future books. I was in heaven to say the least. My agent edited my rough copies and helped strengthen my plots and characters all at zero cost to me. Through the years we had several contract close calls and nearly signed with Random House. Then everything changed. The ebook revolution began and the once exclusive world of the published novelist became public domain.

Suddenly, there are thousands of newly published books and authors. Websites can track sales instantly. Search engines can show you where your traffic is coming from providing a better avenue to market your work. Services can provide SEO optimization, and select niche markets, and book trailers. Writers have to be on Facebook, Twitter, Utube, Linked in, and every other social media just to make a dent in the overpopulated marketplace. The days when writers put their books out there and went off to do a few signings hoping to sell enough copies to impress their publisher were over.

The informed writer can now use stats, and location, and all sorts of new and neat venues to promote their books to the world. Yes, it does take an extraordinary amount of time to get noticed but it is possible for anyone author to suddenly hit it big without jumping through corporate hoops or waiting years for their book to hit the shelf with a life expectancy of just a few short weeks (which never existed before in the publishing arena). Today’s informed writer has just as much chance of selling as many copies as any other signed writer.

I’m not certain if the LMP still exists or even if libraries will still exist in the near future. The internet now provides the informed writer with everything they need to create their own personal success. With a little research and a well-written novel nearly any writer can sell enough copies to call themselves a success.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Thank You, Anne Rice!

Feeling frustrated over the current bookselling market, I went on a rant last week about how so many writers are publishing books full of errors and poor plots and that they are tainting the indie book publishing revolution. I pointed out that roughly eighty percent of the indie books I sampled had grave errors and horrible stories. I vowed to never use the reference “indie” when referring to the type of writer I am. Well, I was wrong.

What changed my thoughts on the indie title? Well, a little personal online conversation with Anne Rice (Yes, the Anne Rice) gave me a new perspective. Mrs. Rice pointed out that in the inner circle of publishing that “indie” writers are a revered group. They alone are changing the face of publishing and are taking the power away from the big corporate decision makers. I was surprised to learn that many of the NY publishers and agents themselves are pondering going indie and publishing their own material, seeing a new golden gateway into the book reading scene.

Mrs. Rice also told me that:

 “I frankly admire indie authors and always have. Yes, it's a jungle out there, indie publishing, and there are people struggling to become gatekeepers, etc. and a lot of confusion. But it's an exciting revolution all right.”

She took her valuable time to help me realize that instead of becoming embattled and bitter, I must realize that it truly is a wonderful time to be a writer with a world-wide marketplace available at your fingertips. I struggled for years in the traditional publishing arena, went through a top agent and many close calls, still nothing ever moved forward or got published. Time just kept slipping passed.

Now, two years since my first published ebook and thanks to the indie publishing revolution I’ve sold thousands of copies of my nine ebooks, done interviews, and appeared on local media. None of this would have been possible before. True, the floodgates are open for anyone to become an author, but like everything else in life and art the best material will rise above the subpar. Getting discovered is the challenge all artists face, those will the unending drive to succeed will, whether labeled indie or not.

If Mrs. Rice reads this post I would like to thank her again for re-illuminating my mind to the wonder and excitement of this new publishing game. She gave me a beautiful psychological Christmas present. She told me that when she finished writing Interview with the Vampire in 1973, that she would have done anything to see it in print. She even considered self-publishing before the book was signed and history was made. Back then, self-publishing was a loathsome endeavor where failed writers turned their labors of love into family keepsakes. Mrs. Rice’s words of wisdom made me realize that indie publishing is a gift that I should be grateful to be a part of and relatively successful at. Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

No longer indie

Tis the Christmas season and where I live everything is covered in about six inches of snow. It would be beautiful if I didn’t hate the cold so much. Alas, it just gives me an excuse to stay inside and keep writing. I’m about ninety percent finished with my latest novel. A sci-fi adventure that takes place fifty years after humanity has driven off an invading alien force. I’ve been working on it for eleven months to the day and I hope to have it finished and available for sale by early February. I plan on a strong marketing strategy with a new twist. I am no longer labeling myself as an indie writer.

I recently read in several separate articles that the stigma associated with labeling oneself an “indie” comes at a steep price. It causes immediate views of amateur writing and storytelling with pages littered with grammatical and spelling errors. So many new writers are publishing throngs of books that are no higher quality than first drafts and that the practice is starting to give a bad name to all the devoted indie writers who take the time to make certain their story is tight.

I’m not saying that these new writers don’t deserve a chance in the new literary ocean of manuscripts I’m saying that many of these books need time to mature and are sent out into the world way before they are ready. To prove my own point, I recently went on Amazon and read the sample pages of nearly fifty books that were published by indie authors. Some of these authors used fake publishing names to make the books appear legit, some had covers that they obviously made themselves, and some had Amazon rankings of more than a million.

Out of the fifty samples I read, only twelve had zero errors and a story that engaged me. Most appeared to be mere attempts at starting a plot and some were so bad that I couldn’t even follow what was happening. No wonder readers are more leery than ever about giving new authors a chance.

I say go ahead and read my sample pages. I’m proud of my books and the enormous time, energy, editing, and drafts it took to write them. I’m not publishing books to impress people or to get rich. I’m publishing books because that’s what I’m hard-wired to do. I’m all for the proliferation of art in any form and consider writing one of the most challenging. A creative person can write a hit song or paint a masterpiece in one day, but writing a novel takes tremendous time and devotion. I just don’t believe some of these new wave indie writers are giving their own work the commitment it deserves. Therefore, I am no longer going to refer to myself as an indie writer, but rather just a writer. I’ll let the readers decide if I’m worthy of that title.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The results of what may or may not work part #3

Okay, now that my latest promotions are nearing their ends I can safely post my opinions of each of them. As I said from the start, I was trying something new with these latest promotions. Instead of booking one-day sponsorships for large amounts of money on some very popular websites I figured I’d try more long-term placements for less money and see how they fare.

First I’d like to say that I have had some success with sites like Bookgorilla and Kindle Fire Department. Their one day sponsorships are expensive but I did get quite a few sales from them. If it’s all about exposure than these types of sponsorships do work, but you have to sell an awful lot of books to make back your investment. Most of my latest experiments with promotion cost less than $20 with only one costing more.

If you’re trying a bookbooster service (where for a fee your book is sent to dozens of freelisting websites) don’t bother. Although I did get a few emails saying my books had been listed, I saw nothing to indicate that these listing had any effect on sales. I’d say it’s better to contact the site yourself and manually input the data needed. I’ve found that these sites are way more willing to place your book for free if you inform them personally that you will be promoting their site on your own sites.

I also placed my books on the sites AskDavid, Goodkindles, and DigitalBookToday. These sites offer long-term placement. After two weeks on the sites I can say that my sales have increased. Here’s the kicker, though. The most expensive sponsorships have yielded the least sales while the cheapest investment saw the most increase. So, what’s the best you ask?

Believe it or not, I can trace the most sales through AskDavid, which is strange because I’ve read threads that say the site did nothing for author’s sales. At $15 for a lifetime placement of all of my nine books it’s a steal. The day I uploaded my material and the sites went live I saw an increase in sales of all my books (even one that hasn’t sold a copy in two months). For the money, AskDavid sets up a nice page that you can also promote separately yourself. This is just my own experience and opinion. The site may not work for you.

The worst sales came from DigitalBookToday. I saw almost no increase when the placement started, yet it was the most expensive sponsorship at a combined $100 for two spots on the site. It is a good-looking site with a pretty good Alexa ranking, but it just didn’t seem to attract readers.

The last site, Goodkindles, also increased sales but the book I sponsored, DROP OUT was only at the top of the site for one day. You can boost the book back up to the top one time after thirty days, and the book stays on the site archives forever if a reader wants to delve. At @ $20, I’d say it’s iffy. Though like I said, I’m looking for long term placements of my books.

All in all, I am a big fan of getting my books on as many permanent sites as possible for a minimal amount of monetary investment. I may never pay big money for a big placement on a big site again. Though the anticipation of results from a big promotion can be exciting, it’s usually a letdown when the results aren’t what was hoped or expected. I’ll stick to grassroots marketing for now.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The High’s

I’m beginning to reach a point in my writer’s life where it seems that every day a new little surprise happens. Sometimes it’s a sudden, unexpected boost in sales of my books. Sometimes it’s being asked to be interviewed by local media or writer’s blogs. Sometimes it’s communicating with a world famous author on a personal level (which happened recently). And sometimes it’s just discovering someone has placed a great review of your work. Here’s another five-star review.

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story! December 3, 2013
By jskilestn (Seymour, TN, USA) - See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Drop Out (Kindle Edition)
Realistic and detailed and inspiring to live life to the fullest. Will bring forth an assortment of emotions but foremost will be to enjoy life, press toward your dreams......and don't let anyone or anything stop you!


All of these highs of the writing life didn’t happen overnight. There were years of sacrifice and self-doubt. There were thousands of dollars spent on editing and critiquing. Hundreds of rewrites and rejections. Months of pure stagnation where nothing happened to further my writing career. But then just when thoughts of giving up meandered into my brain, I’d gain another blog follower, or book sales would increase, or I’d be asked to do an interview. And the high comes back.

My point is success doesn’t happen overnight. A writer may toil for years without experiencing one high, or a writer may experience a high on the completion of their first draft, or even first paragraph, dependant on your goals and expectations of the writing life. The high’s of writing are why we do it. Compare receiving a five-star review from a stranger to downing a bottle of vodka and I bet you’ll find the review-high a better buzz in the long run. You’ll also feel a whole lot better in the morning.