Monthly Archives

March 2017

Who Should Be Giving Writing Advice?

In the last year or so as I’ve been switching onto a more indie-focused writing track, I have read COPIOUS amounts of advice.

(This is me, only a lot thinner, younger, with more hair, and better skin, and…OK, it’s not me at all, but the expression on her face pretty much captures how I feel.)

There’s a huge market out there for people who are offering help to writers.

Very often it turns out this advice is coming from someone who, when I look them up, has only published two self-help books (on how to write a bestseller…with no evidence that they’ve ever written a bestseller themselves). As I’ve purchased a few of these books, I’ve noted that they’re full of generalizations. They won’t tell you exactly where or when to advertise or what venue to publish in. Part of that is because that seems to change with alarming speed. What works one month may not work the next, so if they get specific, it will date their advice/book.

So it tends to be a frustrating world out there. I am certainly not a big success story, so to some extent, that invalidates my giving advice, too.

But my first piece of advice is this: Check out the source of the advice.

See whether they’ve published anything. See whether they’re even in your genre. Do they write novels? Or books on how to write novels?

Are they one-sided? Do they recommend ONLY one method? Does their advice FEEL wrong?

I’ve seen advice out there that makes me cringe. I suspect that there are people out there holding workshops who spew out the most ridiculous ideas, and it doesn’t matter to them because they’re getting paid, right?

The most egregious example of this I have is a cautionary tale about a newbie writer I met back in 2010 who, at lunch during a writers conference, told all the strangers sharing the table with her that….

1) she was in the writing to make money and if her (only) book didn’t sell well, she was just going to quit writing;

2) because she was sure that she was going to be a success, she’d gone ahead and–as was recommended to her in a workshop–spent $10,000 setting up as a LLC to protect her in case she was ever sued; and

3) she wasn’t sure what genre her book was, so she’d just picked a random agent off the list to speak with, but they were sure to like it because it was going to be a blockbuster. (The agent informed her, after listening to her pitch, that it was chick-lit).

By this point, the other people at the table (and I) were sitting there with our mouths hanging open. The woman involved delivered all this information with supreme confidence that she would soon be too wealthy to care what we all thought. It was…

…well, someone had told her to do all this stuff. In a writers workshop. Someone had told her that she needed to spend all that money to legally protect herself in case her book got published. (NOTE: you can get an LLC for FAR LESS MONEY THAN THIS, but you don’t really need one.) Someone told her that she didn’t need to research her potential agent, or know anything about her genre, and that she would make big bucks straight out of the gate.

When I talk about Researching for Historical Fiction, I start off by telling my audience about my writing. Because I want them to know that I HAVE written and published Historical Fantasy. I’m not just pulling these weird recommendations to use Street-View and Facebook out of my butt.

And yet I suspect that there are a lot of people out there giving advice who have no chops at all. Instead they see a market full of writers who are desperately seeking that snippet of advice that will make them millionaires…and they take advantage.

So before you take advice, look at your adviser’s writing record. See what they have published, and where. Check their reviews and people’s comments. Don’t follow them off a cliff.

(NOTE: Self-published is perfectly valid. There are a lot of self-published authors who are doing really well. Personally, I prefer the idea of hybrid publication, because I don’t put all my eggs in the same basket, but that’s a personal choice for each writer. If you desperately want to pursue only traditional publishers, then do that.)

Anyhow, all of this is to say that if you’re going to take writing advice, make sure it’s from a valid source. Not the random internet guy.

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Indie #8 Marketing Efforts

Beyond the newsletter, it’s a challenge for an indie writer to know how to market their books.

Make no mistake: There are a bunch of people out there making a fortune. A lot of them are making a fortune selling books that tells other people how to sell books.

I’m actually on a few newsletter lists from these people, and they always have pat answers as to what will give you your first 10,000 readers. And what to do to make your newsletter pop. And what promotional tools (usually theirs) you can use to accomplish that.

The problem with any marketing technique (I have a degree in Marketing, BTW) is that it’s very difficult to figure out why it worked. And whether it will work next time. And what it will work for.

I ran an experiment this past weekend. The last time I promoted a book sale (months ago now), I used several of those sites that send out daily newsletters to readers promoting books that are on sale. A couple of them had small charges, but the bulk of them were free.

And…I used those same 7 services over the last several days. How many 99 cent books did I sell?

5

Yep, just 5

Even though those were decent marketing vectors a few months ago (and well worth the time I spent to get a book in their listings), this time they were a dud.

(For comparison purposes, I did NOT run my own newsletter last weekend, because I wanted to see what kind of bump I would get without it.)

One of my readers mentioned that she had herself taken off all those lists. She just couldn’t keep up with all the daily recommendations. Me? I generally delete them unopened. So while they were useful months ago, they’re losing any value.

This is one of the horrid things about marketing. It’s not a hard science. It’s wibbly-wobbly at best. And therefore it’s hard to know where to put your time and money.  After all, those 7 resources cost me a total of $30 and my return was a total of $1.35 (or so…one book sold in UK).

And if we’re trying to look at publishing as a business, it’s imperative to put our money where it counts.

And Amazon keeps changing the rules (link here). With every new program from Amazon, authors seem to lose an edge. The Kindle Unlimited program has flattened promotional sales quite a bit. (Read through article). In fact, some people did choose to read my promotional book via KU last weekend, rather than purchase it.

But the upshot of the above problem is that bigger and more expensive promotions are losing some of their return on investment:  “The result was that promotion tools such as EReader News Today and Free Kindle Books & Tips became much less effective. Only BookBub remains reliably effective.” (From the above article).

And while BookBub is still effective, it is both now more expensive to get an ad and less profitable. So your ROI is much lower.  (The last time I looked, a BookBub ad for my genre runs about $650 for a 99 cent book…that’s a huge investment if you’re not assured you’ll earn that much back.)

So the efficacy of that type of ad is dwindling. (I honestly don’t open BookBub any longer. I just delete.)

I think in a lot of cases, readers are simply overwhelmed by the fire hose of promotions coming into their mailbox every day. So the question is…what’s the next big seller?

Me? I’m going to run a .99 cent sale next month, where all my self-pubbed ebooks will be 99 cents. So now you’re warned.

Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t.

Wish I had the answer!

Starting the Story in the Right Place

While traveling last weekend (which is why I didn’t post a segment of The King’s Daughter), I tried to read a historical mystery novel. It was the first in a series of several and I’d hoped I’d found a new Sebastian St. Cyr or Nell Sweeney. Instead I found a boring series of events and gave up about 25% of the way through the book.

My main gripe? Well, it wasn’t until 14% of the way through the novel that we had an inciting event. Until that point, I wasn’t sure what the plot of this book would be, or whether it just would be a long string of events.  In my mind, everything that happened in the first 14% (and first YEAR) of the novel could have been summed up in a few sentences. The novel would have been better served to start there, when the heroine finally found the suspicious letter that got her moving.

It’s an important lesson to learn.

When I first submitted “Touching the Dead” to Jim Baen’s Universe, there was another scene at the beginning. The editors there quickly pointed out that my story would be served better to start on the next scene, and anything important from scene 1 could be worked back in later. I did as they suggested, and they bought that story. Easy peasy.

After that point, I always tried to start with the dead body.

It doesn’t work for all my stuff, but I try to get there as quickly as I can.*

So it’s worth keeping in mind (for authors) that we need to tell readers up front what this story’s about and why we should keep reading. There needs to be a clear beginning (along with the middle and end.) And finding that beginning can be difficult.

I, for one, often write parts that end up being cut off.  For example, The King’s Daughter has TWO prologues. Both were intended to tell the reader that X was going to happen later in the book.  However, in the ultimate version, I will definitely cut one, and possibly both. The book really starts when the soldiers arrive.

I cut scenes off the beginning of a lot of my stuff. I feel, strangely, that I benefit from writing them, even if I know early on I’m not going to use those scenes. They help ME understand the backstory, and while backstory doesn’t always surface in the final product, it fills out the characters for me.

So my advice would be to go ahead and write your rough draft, starting it wherever you want, but keep your mind open to trimming that beginning off later.

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*My big exception to this is Dreaming Death, where the editor asked me to add a few days to the beginning of the story. It originally started roughly where Chapter Nine is now. I wasn’t wild about the change, but the editor asked and I delivered. Then the next editor was baffled why nothing happened in the beginning of the book and asked me to take most of it out. I tried, but since I was in the middle of moving to another state and under a very short deadline, I really couldn’t do that successfully…leaving me with a version of the book that is too front heavy for my liking. If I ever get the rights to that book back, perhaps I’ll change it back to the way it was. I liked that version better.

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And speaking of Dreaming Death and “Touching the Dead”, I plan on releasing an ebook version of three short stories set in that world, all of which occur before the novel itself. “Touching the Dead” is included in this, and is the first meeting of Shironne and Colonel Cerradine.

Shared Dreams should be out later this month, and will sell for 99 cents…so look for it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

(typewriter photo via Pixabay)

 

Reblog: Things an Author Doesn’t Actually Control

Reblogging this because a friend just got a nasty-gram from a reader because one of her books isn’t out in mass market paperback.  Since I am in exactly the same boat, I thought this old post was pertinent.

It’s interesting (and sometimes infuriating) to see some of the things that fans blame on authors. Authors who are traditionally published often have little control over their published properties. That’s simply part of the way that the business runs.

But authors still take heat for some of these things. Recently an author had a book released, and for some reason, Amazon didn’t release the ebook on time.

And fans sent hate mail to the author.

Can you really call those fans?

So I’m going to put down here a list of Things that Traditionally Published Authors Generally Don’t Control.*

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The Release Date

Yes, we don’t have much say over when our next book is coming out. Our publisher sets up a scheduled date and everyone races toward getting things done on time, but if we miss a crucial part in the publication process (say, for example, edits just take too darn long or surgery kept the author from getting a manuscript turned in on time) then the book might get bumped. Not to the next month, but to the next open slot in the publisher’s schedule….which might be 18 months away.

(That’s a simplification, but essentially, moving the publication date is difficult.)

((An author’s writing speed is another factor, although that’s not usually controlled by the publisher. Some authors can put out 4 books per year. Others put out one book every 7 years. It’s art, people, and not all artists move at the same pace. Be patient, please.))

Releasing ON the Release Date

This happens all the time. Books don’t get put out on their release date. Snags happen in Amazon’s or B&Ns ebook delivery, and the ebook doesn’t appear in the device on time.

This is INCREDIBLY frustrating to authors, too.

An author I know had a book come out in early February, and the nearby B&N still doesn’t have it on the shelf. They have 6 on order. I’ve asked. Those six are supposedly sitting in the warehouse, but for some reason, they’re simply not being shipped to the physical store. The customer service people don’t know why. I’ve been in to ask about it twice, and they’re supposed to call me when it comes in, but not having the books there two months later doesn’t help an author with first week/month sales.

Sadly, there’s little the author can do about it. We can email Amazon. We can contact our agent or our editor, who can contact someone else, but sometimes things just don’t get done.

Please don’t be angry at the author. I guarantee they want that book on the shelf, in the mail, or on your device.

The Price

If we’re talking about a traditionally published book, then no, the author has almost no say over the price. Currently, my older trade paperbacks are hovering near $15. I would LOVE to see them at $9.99. But it’s not going to happen.

I would love to have my ebooks go on sale. It’s not going to happen. I can ask, my agent can ask, but we don’t make that decision. Amazon points out on its page that these are the publisher’s prices, publishers have negotiated with Amazon, and the rest of us are stuck with the results.

So why not just give everything away for free?

Seriously? This is our job, and we should be paid for our work. Yes, we’ll post an occasional free thing. Yes, we like making things available to new readers. But we need to earn money, too. We have to pay our rent, and for genre fiction, at least, the best way to do that is via a traditional publisher right now.

Availability

This is related to all of the above. See where I  talked about the book that’s still not on shelves after almost 2 months? It happens a lot when a book comes out.

It also happens when a book is older. We cannot force Amazon to carry a book in stock. We can’t force B&N to carry all the books in our series. And we certainly don’t control used book sales.

(Martha Wells once told me an angry fan suggested that she was making The Element of Fire hard to find  so that she could drive up the price of the used books.  This is a ridiculous claim, first because an author doesn’t control the number of used books floating around and secondly because the author doesn’t get a penny from the sale of a used book. Ugh!–This was years ago, of course, before ebooks made out of print books easier to find.)

But there’s also a problem with that book that’s out of print. Being out of print doesn’t mean that the author can just put a copy up in their website. Since we’re talking about traditional publishing here, the author has a contract with the publisher for each book, and that contract determines who has the right to put the book out (in any form). Because publishers invested money in those books, they like to hold on to the right to reprint a book for….well, a long time. It varies.

But it often takes the author years to get the right to publish their book back. Sometimes it never happens (if it’s a particularly draconian contract–this is why we need agents).

And once the author gets those rights back, it may not be worth their while financially (or in stress) to try to self-publish a novel. Life may interfere and make a book unavailable.

Continuing/Finishing a Series

Yeah….this is problematic. If a publisher bails on a series, the author’s caught in a conundrum. We have limited options at that point.

A) We can convince another publisher to purchase the remaining parts of the series. This is MUCH harder than it sounds, because any publisher will know that they can’t control the books that are already published by another publisher.  (It would stink if they published books 4-7, but no one could get their hands on books 1-3 because the original publisher decided to let them go out of print.)

B) We can self-publish the remaining books. The downside here is that we’re never guaranteed that we’ll make a profit on this. The novella I published back in October is still not quite in the black. After a couple of tries at that, selfpublishing becomes a daunting prospect fraught with snowballing expenses and vast amounts of time sucked in. Not everyone wants to chase that rabbit.

Authors are in a Catch 22 situation here: people get upset if they never publish the next book, and yet the author may never see a payoff equal to the amount of money and time they put into it. (Essentially the publisher decided that readers weren’t willing to pay enough to read the author’s word to make it worth their while to publish more…and sometimes that’s proven out by the lack of response to a self-published book.)

What Can an Author Do?

These are just some of the situations where an author has limited control, but basically, all an author can do is ask people to buy their books.  Even if those books arrive a day late. Or are hard to find. Or are slow coming out.

We can ask people to buy, to review, to recommend.

What Can a Reader Do?

A reader can play the other end of the line. Buy the book, leave a review, recommend it to a friend. You can ask your bookstore to carry a book. You can suggest it to the library where you borrow books. You can suggest it for your reading group.

But please don’t write an angry email/blog post/review because of a factor that the author can’t control. Don’t write and tells us we suck because your kindle book cost more than $7.99.

That’s the sort of thing that makes writers want to quit publishing.

Publishing is hard. Be nice to your authors.

*Here are some other, excellent posts on the same subject:

Cherie Priest

Nicole Peeler (especially in regards to piracy)

Elizabeth Eulberg

Jeff Cohen

#SFWAPro