I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “It takes money to make money.” This is true even in publishing – maybe especially in publishing. This post isn’t going to harp on the recent scandal involving the YA author who bulk-purchased her book in order to inflate sales numbers. Nope. This is about the cost of marketing and the never-ending pressure on authors to spend more and do more.
Any author out there will tell you marketing is one of the most challenging aspects of being an author. It’s hard to get your book in front of readers, and in most cases, word of mouth is not enough. I once had a book hit #98 (paid!!!) in a very competitive Amazon category. It was an amazing day! And, I hadn’t spent a single penny in advertising! But, in most cases, rising to the top of a any list, especially a bestseller list – and staying there – requires a tremendous amount of hard work and sometimes a considerable financial investment.
While some advertising is inexpensive, in order to create the type of buzz that puts your book on a bestseller list, you will likely need to place multiple ads in multiple places – Facebook, Amazon, Bookbub, Goodreads, and paid blog tours. All of this ads up and while the investment in your book might be worth the cost of paid advertising, some authors simply do not have the money to give their books that extra boost.
There have been times when I have been fortunate enough to invest in extra paperbacks and swag for giveaways. I have been able, at times, to participate in paid blog tours. I’m lucky to have been able to put aside money to pay for my own domain, though a self-hosted site is not something I have been able to invest in yet.
There have also been times when our family has been struggling to pay our bills, so even the minimal cost of buying a paperback copy of my own book has been out of reach. I can remember a time several years ago when we didn’t have internet service for two weeks, so the idea of paying for a book tour or an expensive book cover was simply unimaginable.
When I see posts by authors (or worse, book promoters and PR services looking for a buck) telling authors that if they are REAL writers, or if they take their careers seriously, they MUST invest lots of money in their writing career, it’s infuriating. When I see smug posts by authors bragging about how they made a few sacrifices (dinners out, new fall wardrobes) in order to go to a conference or invest in multi-author opportunity, because THEY actually take their writing seriously, unlike wannabe writers who waste potential advertising dollars on their silly water bill or feeding their kids…. well, my blood just boils!
Most of us aren’t wealthy. We are doing the best we can with what we have. What might be an enormous sacrifice for one author, might be something another author takes for granted. Just because an author can’t take a class or attend a conference doesn’t mean they don’t take their writing career seriously. Some people don’t have extra money, no matter how much they cut back or how many hours they work. Being scolded by other authors, or being put down by marketing experts as being “not serious enough about your career” doesn’t help. Yes, we know publishing books is a business. No, that knowledge doesn’t help us pay the bills or feed our kids.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending money on advertising – if you have the money to spend. I think it is wise to invest in your dream, but only if you have the money to invest. No author should feel obligated to spend money they don’t have. Authors should spend only what they reasonably afford, whether it’s on advertising, editing, or book cover art.
The sad reality is that it DOES take money to get noticed. The bestseller list often comes with a cost, particularly for indie authors. The bestseller list is reserved for very few books. Not every book will become a bestseller, no matter how well-written or well-promoted it may be. And, you know what? That’s fine. Not every book is going to receive an award, and that’s fine too. But, I hate to see people give up on creative pursuits because a few jerks have convinced them that writing or art is only for an elite few. No one should give up on writing just because they think they can’t afford to do things the “right” way. And, no one should feel like they aren’t a REAL writer just because they can’t afford to pay top dollar for advertising and promotional services.
When your dream is bigger than your budget, what can you do? Some people will tell you to hold off on publication until you can afford the $1000 editing package, the $500 book cover, the blog tours, and the swag. And, you know? I can’t disagree that it’s important to have a good editor and an eye-catching book cover. But I can tell you that spending massive amounts of money does not guarantee you’ll end up with a bestselling book.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to cut down on (or even eliminate) publishing costs:
Happy writing and publishing, everyone!
Oh yes. I’m feeling a bit ranty this week, which would explain the frequent blogging, I suppose. I’ve penned similar posts in the past. Hell, you have probably blogged about this too. I think nearly every self-published author has. Well, it’s time to say it again:
I am self-published and I am a REAL author.
There are some folks out there who will tell us self-publishing isn’t legit because we bypassed the gatekeepers (agents and big publishers), but I didn’t write my books for agents and publishers – I wrote them for readers. While agents and publishers might not respond to a query letter, leaving you to wonder if they hated the idea of your book, or if they just never got your email, the readers are not shy about telling you what they think when they review your book. In the end, readers are the real gatekeepers.
There are also some people who say we’re not real authors until we can make a living from selling books. But I know a lot of people who work “real” jobs as accountants or nurses or car salesmen who still struggle to make ends meet. I’m pretty sure their financial issues don’t make them any less “real” as employees. Whether my book sells a million copies or just a few, it’s still a real book. If a reader – a complete stranger who I’ve never met online or in person – selects my book, reads it, and leaves an honest review, it doesn’t get more real than that.
Oh, and then we have the people who say, “With self-publishing, anyone can publish a book. There are no standards.” Okay, maybe anyone CAN publish a book, but how many people actually do it? Yes, there are lots of published books out there, and with self-publishing, there are some that slip through the cracks in a fairly unedited state. So what? That has nothing to do with your book. If your book is the best book you can write, that’s all you have to answer for. You are only responsible for yourself and your own books. An author with Harper Collins doesn’t have to answer for every book ever published with that company. So why are all self-published authors judged negatively because of a few poorly written books?
If you are a self-published author, please don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t a real author. For too long, I allowed the negative notions of others to influence me. I had a hard time truly accepting myself as a legitimate writer. As a writer, I never felt quite good enough. I always felt hesitant or embarrassed to talk about my books. While I can’t say I’m completely over this roadblock to success, I can say it is getting better. At this point, I don’t really care what anyone else thinks. I don’t have to answer to anyone. And neither do you.
If you write, you are a REAL writer. If you have published anything, you are a REAL published author. That is something to be proud of!
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a book on Kindle that promised authors they could make a million dollars selling books on Amazon. A quick search yielded dozens of titles promising writers they can easily become best-selling authors, or promising to teach them how to write a best-selling book in 30 days. There are even books that tell people that publishing a book is “easy money” and good way to generate “passive income” because their published book will continue to bring in a steady income month after month without the author having to do anything at all!
I can already hear the grumbling and grinding of teeth from those of you who know how difficult it can be to write a book, much less publish and promote it. I’ve read many well-written, engaging books (self-published and traditionally published) that were simply phenomenal, but never reached best-seller status. The authors who wrote these books are still toiling away at 9-to-5 day jobs, waiting for their “million dollars” to roll in. They aren’t holding their breath.
I don’t know why I’m still fixated on these self-publishing books that fill writers’ heads with dubious promises and bad advice. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Anyone who falls for those get-rich-quick promises deserves what they get.” It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who is only writing because they’ve been told it’s an easy money-making scheme. I do, however, feel very sorry for those writers who believe these books are going to help them achieve their life-long dreams. Most of these books that make flashy promises in the title are full of questionable advice, confusing ramblings about algorithms, and outright lies.
One of the things these books will promise you is that you can be a best-seller. Some specifically tell you how to hit the NYT list, while others will tell you what keywords to use so you can reach an obscure best-seller list on Amazon.
How do you become a NYT best-selling author? Well, according to some of these books, all you have to do is write a bunch of books and then release them strategically, utilizing your newsletter (with massive mailing list, of course) and free promotions to push your book right to the top! Easy, right? Not for me. Not for a lot of us. This method of becoming a best-seller only works (IF it works) for certain writers. For example, if you’re a novelist who writes standalone literary fiction, I don’t think this method will work for you. It’s not going to work for writers of historical fiction who spend hours upon hours meticulously researching. It won’t work for writers who have day jobs, children, or who value sleep because in order to write “a bunch of books” in a short period of time, you aren’t going to be able to do anything else but write! The advice in these books does not take into consideration those writers who take years to write one book. It doesn’t take into consideration feedback from beta readers, editing, or any of the other steps I would recommend before sending a book out into the world. Nope. This is strictly an assembly-line type of writing and publishing for short novellas that are part of a series. Sort of limiting, isn’t it?
The assembly-line publishing method isn’t going to work if you don’t have an audience. Most of these book-selling guides assume you already have a massive mailing list or blog following. They don’t tell you how difficult and time-consuming it can be to gain a huge following on your blog, or to grow your mailing list. You don’t make connections in the writing world overnight. All of this takes time. And even then, there is no guarantee that your book (or series of books) will reach best-seller status.
So, let’s tackle the subject of keywords. With the careful use keywords, it is possible to hit a best-seller list by only selling a few books. But how does that help you find new readers? Or generate enough income to quit your day job? While I would love to get the best-seller ribbon on Amazon (I would love it so much!), an even bigger dream of mine is to sell enough books that I can make a reasonable, steady income writing full time. Hitting a best-seller list from the sales of just a few books isn’t going to do that.
Another thing that really upsets me about these “how to be a best-selling author” books is the complete disregard for the craft of writing. Good writing takes time. While there are natural born storytellers out there who ooze talent, they still have to learn the craft. They still have to work hard. Writing is an art and a skill. In fact, it’s a complex, tangled collection of skills we learn and practice. For some of us, this takes years. We learn to write by reading often. Some of us learn by taking classes. Others learn by reading books about craft. We all hone our skills by practicing. I wrote millions of words before any of them were publishable.
Many of these books that talk about passive income and generating a steady stream of revenue are written by people who have never written a book prior to their how-to guide. How do they know their methods are going to work if they’ve never done it before? Besides, writing a how-to book is different from writing fiction. How can these people predict how long it should take a writer to complete a book or an entire series of books? To me, this is just a clear indication that these peddlers of poor advice don’t know the first thing about the craft of writing. And you know what else? They don’t care.
If I ever discover the magic formula to becoming an overnight-millionaire-author-sensation, I will be sure to let you know. Some self-published authors have reached the level of success we all dream of, though I’m sure they would tell you it wasn’t overnight. The fact is, it takes time to build a writing career. The best thing we can do is keep learning and keep writing. You never know – your next book might be the one that catapults you from struggling author to best-selling millionaire. People who don’t know you will say you’re an overnight sensation, but you’ll know the truth – that everything you achieved was through hard work, perseverance, and dedication to the craft. But you’ll never know where that next book will take you unless you write it. So, let’s get writing!
A year or two ago, I wrote an article called Five Easy Ways to Declutter your Email to help people (including myself) who struggle with an overwhelming inbox. Over the past week, I’ve revisited the advice laid out in this article because once again my email inbox has gotten out of control. It seems that every time I open my email, there are at least two dozen new messages for me to delete.
Over the holidays, I did a lot of online shopping and consequently, I landed on a billion different mailing lists. I unsubscribed from all of those. I also got serious about kicking actual spam (mail from unsolicited sources) into the spam folder where it belongs.
I was surprised to see that one of my biggest problems seems to be newsletters – specifically author newsletters. Over the years, I’ve subscribed to many newsletters. Dozens, I thought. Or maybe hundreds, if my out-of-control inbox is any indication. There are about a dozen of these newsletters that are from authors I dearly love, so I didn’t unsubscribe to these. I did unsubscribe to the others. In fact, I’m still unsubscribing.
I can’t remember ever having signed up for most of these newsletters, but I’m pretty sure I know how I got on these mailing lists. A couple of years ago, I participated in a lot of multi-author giveaways where each time you follow an author on Twitter, or like their Facebook page, or enter your email address, you get an additional entry in the contest. I even signed up as a participating author in a couple of contests and added many new names to my own mailing list.
But then I realized something. I hate sending newsletters. I hate coming up with a title that will make people actually want to open the email. I struggled to come up with content that would engage the readers – especially those potential readers new to my newsletter.
And that right there was the heart of the problem. Most of the subscribers to the newsletter were people who only signed up because they wanted to win something. According to the analytics feature on Mail Chimp, I didn’t have a very high rate of people opening the newsletter. Some people unsubscribed after they received my first newsletter. It was clear that the new “readers” I gained by participating in giveaways only signed up as a means to better their chances of winning a prize. They couldn’t possibly read the dozens of new newsletters flooding their inboxes, and even if they could, unless they were wealthy, they couldn’t possibly buy all the books being marketed to them.
As a reader and a subscriber to a multitude of newsletters, I can’t keep up with them. I would like to support all these authors (and indeed that’s why I didn’t unsubscribe long ago), but I can’t. I don’t have the time to read all the letters and I don’t have the money to buy all the books that are being promoted. I feel a little bad about my unsubscribing spree. I don’t want to hurt any feelings by quitting their mailing list. I hope they realize I’m not quitting THEM. I still follow many blogs and I’m still available to promote authors on my blog. I’m just streamlining things so I can better utilize my time.
I don’t know how the rest of you feel about newsletters – sending them or receiving them – but I believe there is some misleading advice floating around in regards to author newsletters. The experts tell authors they absolutely MUST have a newsletter. Numerous articles tout the importance of expanding their mailing list. Authors should use their newsletter to find beta readers, announce new releases, or push pre-orders.
Does expanding your mailing list at all costs and by any means necessary translate to sales? I’m certain some of the names on the mailing list do eventually lead to sales. But out of all those completely new-to-you subscribers – people who only signed up to get an extra entry in a giveaway – how many of THOSE readers will open the newsletter you send them and eventually buy your book? I’m sure some experts would say that even one new reader or one new sale makes the effort worth it. I would say that is up to the author.
As an author, you have to ask yourself whether or not it’s worth your time to send out a newsletter. How long does it take to put the newsletter together? Do you enjoy doing it, or is it something you dread? Does it take away from your writing time? Do you have existing readers who already look forward to reading your newsletter, or do you receive zero feedback? Ask yourself these questions and then decide whether or not you think it’s worth it.
So, what do you all think? Am I completely missing the point here, or is there something important I haven’t considered? I’d love to hear your opinions on this.
Today, I did something I’ve been planning to do for a long time. I uploaded Better than Perfect to Smashwords. For the past several months, that novel was my only book (out of 8) to be exclusive on Amazon. In fact, since it’s publication in 2014, it has never been listed in e-book format on any other site. While this might not be groundbreaking news, I wanted to share this here and hopefully open up a discussion about Amazon exclusivity and the various sales channels that are out there.
My decision to remove Better than Perfect from Kindle Unlimited and Amazon exclusivity was based on a number of factors. One reason has to do with lackluster results during special promos such as freebies or Kindle countdowns. I don’t think it’s any secret that freebies no longer have the impact they once had. Back in 2014, I ran a five day freebie on Better than Perfect. I did not invest in any paid advertising, but still managed to give away over 7000 books. When the freebie ended, the momentum didn’t stop. The book ended up in the top 100 paid sales in the Women’s Humor category, which was very exciting. I earned over 30 new Amazon reviews.
Subsequent freebies with Better than Perfect and with other books have not been nearly as successful. I suppose you could say they haven’t been successful at all. Very few downloads. Little to no reviews. Freebies and special promos on Amazon just don’t pack the punch they used to. Many Kindle shoppers have come to expect free books and even if they enjoyed reading book one for free, they refuse to pay full price for other books in the series. For a standalone, like Better than Perfect, freebies almost never lead to additional sales at all.
Another reason I decided to end my exclusive relationship with Amazon is because I’ve become a little nervous about Kindle Unlimited. Revenues from borrows aren’t what they used to be. I’ve definitely seen a drop, and since an author makes significantly less from a borrowed book in comparison to a purchased book, it just doesn’t seem like a great deal to me. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not delusional enough to expect a massive stream of income from the other sales channels, but I do have some loyal readers of my Spellbringers series that rely on iTunes or B&N. Though most readers buy from Amazon, not all do. It’s nice to be able to offer my books to anyone who might want to read them.
Additionally, I’ve also read some alarming articles about KU (like this one). People have scammed the system, and consequently, authors have suffered. I’ve read about indie authors who noticed a huge jump in borrows and were later accused by Amazon of operating a scam. Amazon has threatened to remove their books from the site, and in some cases, they have done so. I’m sure these incidents are not common, but I don’t want to take my chances.
I love Amazon and I appreciate the opportunities they have offered self-published authors. (I also spend way too much money on Amazon on books and other products, but that’s a subject for another post.) Amazon is great!
But I also like Smashwords and some of the innovative things they are doing for indie authors. I like their distribution method and how easy they make it to get my books into B&N, iTunes, and other places without me having to do all that formatting. I like being able to give away free books at my discretion, without having to be exclusive. I can give away one book to a specific reader, or I can issue a coupon code for a whole month and share it with everyone. The choice is mine. They have attractive widgets I can use on my site so readers can be directed to Smashwords with one click. And I also like the fact that I can choose how much of a sample (if any) is offered to potential readers.
So, I wanted to ask all the authors out there: How do you feel about Kindle Unlimited and being exclusive with Amazon? If you haven’t put all your eggs in one basket, how have your sales been on other sites? Freebies – are they a useful marketing tool or a waste of time? I’d love to read your thoughts on this.
This post is all about procrastination. In fact, my purpose for writing this post is so I can avoid working on my poem-in-progress and/or editing the first draft of my completed novel.
Procrastination is an art. Well, it is if you work at it enough. All the things I ordinarily don’t want to do suddenly seem very important and quite urgent when I’m faced with writing. Housecleaning, laundry, organizing my closet – these otherwise loathsome tasks suddenly seem appealing when I’m face-to-face with an open Word document. The only time I really feel like writing, when the ideas are flowing freely, is when I’m at work at the day job. *sigh*
Last year, I decided that in order to devote time to my writing, I needed a dedicated space – an office or at least a desk in a quiet area. My husband, being the amazing man he is, bought me a desk for Christmas. He even bought me some office supplies to make my area more efficient and organized. He set up my desk in an upstairs nook away from the foot traffic and noise. I added some ornamental touches for inspiration, a few pens, post-it notes, and other essentials. And so my “office” was complete.
Still, no writing. My nephew came to visit the day after Christmas. And then my parents came to visit on New Year’s Eve. Rather than ignore them, I abandoned my unused desk to spend time with the family. The house cleared out over a week ago, the day before my youngest son’s birthday (which, of course, we had to celebrate), and then I got the flu. All very valid (but kind of flimsy) excuses for not writing.
Today, after having procrastinated as much as any human being can possibly do, I am sitting at my desk FOR THE FIRST TIME in complete solitude. I have two Word docs open – the unfinished poem and the train wreck of a manuscript. Instead of working on them, I am writing this blog post. At least it’s writing, right?
To anyone who is reading this post, thank you for participating in my procrastination. It might very well be that by reading this post, you too are avoiding your own writing. Well, enough! Get off the internet RIGHT NOW and write. Open up that abandoned WIP and write a new chapter. Revisit that sloppy first draft and start polishing it until it shines. Finish your poem, or your short story, or whatever you’re working on. Just write.
Now it’s time to take my own advice. I bid you all farewell (for now) and wish you success in your writing endeavors. Time for me to get back to work. I’m going to write.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about social media or book marketing topics, but I decided to come out of poetry-land to address the issue of Twitter-automation services. I’ve never used one of these services that promise to save you time by retweeting, so I can’t comment as a customer. I can only comment on my experiences as a recipient of such automated tweets and Retweets.
In my humble opinion, here are the most compelling reasons to rethink the use of some Twitter Automation services:
What do you think about Twitter? What time-saving services have you tried?
If someone asked me, I’d tell them I haven’t written anything in three months, but that isn’t entirely true. I haven’t written as much as I would like. I haven’t worked on the projects I feel I should be working on. But I’ve written. (A little.)
To tell you the truth, I’ve been down on myself lately. Between chronic pain, exhaustion, and other life challenges, I barely write at all. I spend more time sleeping than on my laptop, and when I am on my laptop, I’m usually scrolling through Facebook instead of writing.
Months ago, I set a goal to finish the fourth book (Nightbound) in the Spellbringers series. I wanted to finish the book by the end of 2016. It didn’t happen. I’m still only about halfway through. Every time I sell a copy of Unbound (Book Three), I feel guilty because I haven’t worked on Nightbound since early December. I’ve missed several writing goals and I’ve been very disappointed in myself. Unfortunately, I just don’t feel like writing it. I’m stuck on the plot and I’m having a hard time immersing myself in the world I’ve created.
Some writers would say I should push through my writers block and write every day no matter what. Indeed, a big part of me has been berating myself for not taking that advice. With each day that passes, I feel increasingly guilty about not working on Nightbound.
A couple of weeks ago, I worked on edits on an unnamed novelette I wrote a year ago. I even submitted the story to my local critique group and received some very helpful feedback. But if you’d asked me, I would have told you I hadn’t been writing. Because it wasn’t Nightbound, so it didn’t really count.
Last week, I drafted and began writing a children’s book that I’m pretty excited about. But, that doesn’t count as writing either. Because it isn’t Nightbound, right?
Today I began a new project. I’ve written about 1000 words today. But that doesn’t count either. (Okay, so you know where I’m going with this…)
On one hand, I’m a little panicked to have so many unfinished projects hanging out in my laptop. But part of me is also happy to be writing. There’s no shame in not finishing a project. And there’s no shame in not writing.
Some people might disagree with me, but I don’t think you have to write every day to be a writer. I don’t think it’s necessary to finish or publish every story you write. It’s okay to experiment. It’s okay to scrap a project that isn’t working out. It’s okay to write just for the fun of it. And it’s okay to take breaks.
As writers, we’re often our harshest critiques. That is certainly the case for me. I’m much harder on myself than I would ever be on someone else. For now, I’m going to take it one day at a time. I’m going to work on being kinder to myself. And I’m going to try to enjoy the process of writing instead of being so focused on the end result.
Happy writing, everyone!
I’ve blogged about the topic of new and inexperienced publishers in the past, and for those of you who are regular followers of my blog (and probably sick of reading my lectures about using caution when seeking a publisher), I apologize. For those of you who are new here and might be new to writing, I hope I can help you make an informed choice when it comes to making decisions about publishing your book.
I recently read a post by a Facebook acquaintance who is setting up her own publishing company. She’s a very nice lady. From what I can tell, she seems very honest and dedicated. She’s written several books, has organized book signings, and even has her own online radio show. She has many admirable qualities. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t trust her with my books. Not in a million years.
This nice, dedicated, determined lady has almost no grasp of grammar or punctuation. Her Facebook posts are littered with grammatical errors and her “edited” books aren’t really any better. Her assurance that she has secured the services of an editor for her business doesn’t make me eager to check out her publishing company. If the editor for her business is the same person who edited her published books, I fear her new company is not going to be producing quality reading material.
Like I said, this lady seems very nice. It gives me no joy to make such dire predictions about the future of her new venture. I truly hope her publishing company is successful and I hope the authors who sign on are happy with their publishing experience. I hope no one involved ends up disappointed or disillusioned if things don’t work out the way they expect.
If you’re a new writer who is seeking publication for the first time, you have a wide variety of choices. It can be difficult to choose between a traditional publisher, an indie publisher, or self-publishing. You might be overwhelmed by the decision-making process. Or maybe you’ve already queried numerous agents and/or publishers and have received a batch of rejection slips. You might feel tempted to settle, to take the easy route, to answer the call of the brand new publisher who is enthusiastic, but not very experienced. After all, what do you have to lose?
A lot, actually. Handing over your book to a new or substandard publisher can damage your career and possibly ruin your reputation as an author. You could lose time, money, and maybe even your will to write.
Most people assume that someone who runs a publishing company knows something about publishing, but that’s not necessarily true. Anyone can claim to be a publisher. Anyone can set up a website. A publisher who has the best of intentions can ruin your book’s chances at success just as thoroughly as a publisher who is out to scam you.
Don’t be in a rush to sign with the first publisher who shows interest in your book. Don’t settle. Picking a publisher is a huge decision and not one to be rushed.
Today I completed 50,000 words, thus making me a #NaNoWriMo2015 winner. Winning NaNo was a goal I’d set for myself a few weeks ago, and I am definitely feeling a sense of accomplishment for having achieved this goal. I’m pleased that I now have 50K words toward my first draft, but the greatest takeaway from having completed NaNo is what I’ve learned during the process.