Over the weekend, you might have seen a writing-and-money topic trending on Twitter, #PublishingPaidMe, where authors started publicly sharing their advances. Such transparency is long overdue and—in this particular case—is meant to reveal stark differences between what Black and non-Black authors get paid.
Amidst these tweets, I saw a repeated call to action for Black authors: Before you agree to a deal, ask your publisher about their marketing and promotion plans for your book. Ask how they plan to support you. Ask, ask, ask. (Because their support falls short of where it needs to be, and publishers have to be pushed.)
Many prospective authors think seeking a publisher is passé because they (a) don’t want to go to the trouble, (b) see finding a publisher is a long, hard road, (c) prefer to self-publish their books in order to have “control.”
Most books don’t sell, but they’re more likely to sell with the editing and support a publisher can provide–even a small publisher. To get the best possible publisher/author match, Jane Friedman expects you so ask questions rather than saying “OMG, a publisher responded to my query letter, so the last thing I’m going to do is rock the boat by doing anything to ensure we’re in sync.”
This article is long because you have a lot of questions to ask about publisher responsibilities, book quality, bookstores, marketing, and interacting with readers. The article ends with a “cookie-cutter” example of a marketing plan.
All this is well worth a writer’s consideration before s/he rushes off to Kindle Direct Publishing or Lulu.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a novel about racism in north Florida in the 1950s.
In previous posts, I’ve noted that sites for name authors and sites for little-known authors are often quite different. The main difference is that prospective readers are searching for name authors’ sites and, I suppose, stumbling across little-known authors’ sites. Name authors can do less to promote their sites because people are coming there anyway.
Little-known authors seem to do better with sites featuring non-fiction than fiction because non-fiction usually focuses on subjects people are trying to learn more about and, in fact, are often just a portion of a larger site that promotes the business itself.
Fiction is a bit harder to sell because it’s tied so strongly to author name (or evolving notoriety), to reviews from major sites, and genre. Little-known authors seldom get reviews from major sites, so nothing “out there” is providing any help for their sites.
I’ve never sold books directly off my website because I don’t have time to handle a business where time spent getting paid and then driving to the post office with a book isn’t worth it. Non-fiction sites seem to be better equipped to deal with direct sales.
Some years ago, I gave up my original website provider because they had two versions of their website publishing software, ultimately keeping the version that was probably easier for them to support, but that had fewer features. The provider offered enough analysis of visitors’ behavior for me to see that the website also wasn’t earning its keep. By that, I mean, that there were too few click-throughs to my books’ links on Amazon and elsewhere.
My current site’s software is cheaper but has no analysis. But, based on the visitor counts (which aren’t too bad), I see little evidence that people are being influenced enough by the information on the site to buy the books.
So now, as the time approaches for me to decide whether to renew or delete the site, I’m leaning toward deleting it because Amazon algorithms and associated book advertisement newsletters have made it harder to sell books; I find that keeping the site is likely to cause me to run at a loss in 2020.
If you’re an author, do you have a website? If so, can you tell whether it’s helping you sell books or not? If it isn’t, do you keep it because it’s rather expected for authors to have a site–or for some other reason?
So, this weekend, I got rid of two of the pages on this blog and updated the “About Me” page. One new page will rotate through a series of excerpts from my novels. The other will have related pictures of all kinds. Right now, it’s showing examples of the page proofs for the dust jackets when we came out with the hardcover editions.
When I first came out with Conjure Woman’s Cat, my website included a page about conjure. I decided that after adding two more conjure novels to the series, I really didn’t need a “conjure page” per se. Initially, I thought such a page would attract people interested in conjure who would then discover the novels. I don’t think that happened.
That page is now a page for excerpts. There are three there now. I hope to remain organized enough to change them from time to time so that there’s always something new on the website.
My publisher tells me that Thomas-Jacob Publishing’s hardcover books are selling. That’s certainly good news. My colleagues at T-J and I thank you.
My website is always in a state of flux. Frankly, that’s because I never know what information there attracts readers and what doesn’t. I also debate (with myself) how long something should stay there. I want more people to see items, but I don’t want them to come out to the site a few weeks later and find the same stuff. I’m winging it on this but usually, try to include something new every week.
My blog posts and tweets have feeds on the website. I have no clue whether that’s bad or good. At the very least, those feeds represent “new material.”
Most days, I think that bookselling is more of a gamble than either an art or a science.
However, I think many webinars crafted for aspiring and emerging writers are taking a lot of our money for very little information.
How much does the webinar cost? $150. $250. $500? That seems to me to be a rip off from the outset inasmuch as those producing the webinar could sell the same number of tips in a paperback book or even a downloadable PDF for a lot less.
When you look at the number of facts in a webinar, you’ll quickly see that the number of words is very low when contrasted to, say, a pamphlet about the same material. Writers don’t earn a lot of money, so I wonder why we are being gouged with high prices.
Most webinars are not closed-captioned. So, if you’re hard of hearing–and if no transcript is offered–you’re paying for a presentation you cannot hear. That is to say, it’s worthless.
Webinars are linear. That is, they’re like a tape recording. You have to listen from beginning to end. That means you’re forced to hear the information you already know. Unlike feature films on CD, webinars usually don’t include a table of contents or any other way to access specific parts for the information you want.
When webinars include guests or panels, a lot of the introductory minutes are used up with that we used to call happy news chatter. That is, the participants introduce themselves, talk about each other’s work, and spend a lot of time (and your money) saying how nice it is to see each other.
If the information in a webinar we produced in print (or PDF) in a magazine format with subheads, you could quickly go to the information you don’t already know. That is, your eyes could see the entire presentation’s format in a fraction of the time it takes to laboriously listen/view the whole thing from beginning to end.
One thing many webinars don’t acknowledge is that some promotion techniques lend themselves more to nonfiction than fiction. So, they present promotion as an outgrowth of one’s business. This doesn’t work for fiction writers. Don’t get rooked into spending on a webinar focused on business owners who write books about their businesses when you’re looking for help with a novel.
Like many written presentations, webinars often spend a lot of time rehashing what aspiring writers already know. If the production included a table of contents, you could see how much of it was new and how much was old before you spent your money.
Frankly, I don’t understand the popularity of webinars. Other than the fact they cost a lot more money than the same facts in printed form, most of us can read faster than we can listen. We can scan a page of type in seconds, but a webinar moves along (relatively speaking) at a snail’s pace.
The advertising for webinars typically suggests that when you pay to listen/view, you’re going to see and hear secrets that are only known to those who created the webinar. Seriously, what a joke. Do you really want to believe some author you’ve never heard of when s/he says his/her webinar will turn your book into a bestseller? Let’s not be naive.
. . .we’re back to being content to write a blog, maintain a website, and keep up with an author’s page on Facebook.
I read an interview this morning with an author whose focus is memoirs and essays. The interviewer said he thought she tended to use an extraordinary amount of personal material in her nonfiction. And she said, when she cared enough to write about an issue, it was usually because she had personal experience with that issue and so all her fears, battles, and second-guessing of herself flowed into the essay making it very personal.
I’m afraid that would happen if I wrote a newsletter. The thing is, a newsletter–like most of an author’s promotional efforts–is supposed to be all about you (the prospective reader) and not all about me (the author).
So, a newsletter filled with all my personal demons really isn’t going to cut it. When I see interviews with emerging authors, I really want to see more about the work they’re focussing on rather than memories about their experiences in English classes when they first wrote fiction or poetry. I want to know about their work, not their demons.
I’ve written elsewhere about the mistakes nonprofit organizations make when they advertise events and focus their news releases on how worthy their causes are rather than on what the public will get out of paying to attend the events. While it sounds crass to put it this way, when most of us see a news story about a book or a concert or even about a product, our primary consideration usually includes asking what’s in it for me? Will I enjoy the event? Is this my kind of book? Do I really have a use for the product?
So, like other small-press authors who don’t have a heavy schedule of events to publicize, a newsletter could quickly degenerate into an all about me kind of thing. That seems presumptuous. And, if those receiving the newsletter make book selections like I do, they buy a book because it looks entertaining, not because the author had to take three Xanax a day to get the thing written.
Most small-press authors don’t have enough news to put in a newsletter, so considering starting one requires a lot of thought. If you send out a newsletter too often, people start thinking they’re getting SPAM. If you don’t send out a newsletter often enough, then they probably won’t remember signing up to get the thing. So, if an author isn’t prolific and/or doesn’t have a heavy schedule of appearances, it’s doing to be difficult thinking up enough news to justify mailing anything out.
Better to leave people alone, I think, and hope they find my blog or website or Facebook page.
“The world’s 11 highest-paid authors sold 24.5 million print books combined in the U.S. during our scoring period, logging $283 million. The prolific James Patterson takes first place, earning $86 million and selling 4.8 million books in the U.S. alone, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks 85% of the domestic print market.” – Hayley C. Cuccinello, Forbes
Most authors pay little to no attention to this list. We don’t expect or aspire to be on it because we don’t need that kind of money, don’t want to be public figures, write because it’s what inspires us and drives us, and really don’t want to be busy picking out red leaf lettuce in Kroger when somebody comes up and says, “Hey, aren’t you what’s his face?”
The worst thing about this list is that it gives many readers the idea that all authors make more than we do and are probably charging too much for our books. But otherwise, hearing that James Patterson, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Grisham are the top four authors on this year’s list isn’t surprising or exciting, nor does it provoke feelings of jealousy.
Every once in a while, I look at the advertising for book promotional sites to see what they’re pushing. All too often, I see that they provide studies and algorithms that will tell me what topics and plots authors should choose in order to make the most money. When I see that, I click on the X in the upper right corner of my screen and the site goes away. I have no interest in a list of hot themes and hot character types that the public is currently excited about. This is not to say that authors should pick ideas that nobody cares about and stubbornly write about them.
Most of us have our comfort areas, themes that interest us, character types that we love writing about, and locations that lend themselves to the kinds of plots we prefer. Most of us do our best work within our comfort areas and probably would fail miserably if we tried to write a novel that sounded like something any of the top writers on the list are writing. That truth has more to do with who we are than the fact we’d be in competition with a well-known author.
Some of my readers might think that I wrote the Florida Folk Magic trilogy of novels about racism in Florida during the 1950s because racism has become a hot topic again. But I didn’t. The racism I saw when I was growing up in the Florida Panhandle had been on my mind for a long time. While working on the first book in the series, Conjure Woman’s Cat, I had no idea that the topic was “trending.” I’m pretty sure that when Michael Wolff wrote Fire and Fury, he knew his topic was trending. Did he think his book would catapult him into the list of top-earning authors? I doubt it. I think his book did better than he expected. At the same time, my trilogy didn’t capture the attention I expected.
According to Forbes, Wolff’s book has sold over a million copies in the U.S. Most writers don’t think about sales figures like that. We do think about selling a few thousand copies of each of our books per year. That’s not easy to do for self-published or small-press authors. For one thing, we’re too dependent on Amazon though they certainly can’t be faulted for focusing their efforts on the books that bring in the most bang for the buck, that is to say, the top writers on the Forbes list. For another, reviewers tend to focus on books from large presses that everyone is talking about. That’s simple economics: what brings readers to your publication or website: reviews of books nobody’s ever heard of or reviews of books everybody’s talking about? Not a hard question to answer.
Most readers don’t have enough time to read everything they want to read. I sure don’t. So we all make choices: what books are the most likely to be worth an investment of our time? I read books from many authors on the top of the book selling lists because I like their books and they aren’t likely to disappoint me. But still, I don’t think it’s that hard to add a few self-published or small-press authors to my reading list for the year. Many of them surprise me: wow, these books are great. When I feel that way, I try to post positive reviews and tell my friends about them. I know those authors face the same barriers that I do when it comes to people finding out about their books.
Goodness knows, my opinion isn’t going to send an author’s book into the the James Patterson/Jo Rowling stratosphere of book sales. Yet, if we talk about the self-published and small-press books we like, more people will purchase them and keep those authors busy writing and finding readers who enjoy their work.
Author Melissa Bowersock provides a handy introduction to Lumen5 that you can use to get started making book trailers for your books. Fortunately, my publisher does this for me. But some of my books are self-published and somehow, I hadn’t heard of this app.
I think book trailers, along with author websites and updated Amazon author’s pages are among the promotional techniques that help indie (the word now means self-published) authors sell books. It’s part of your platform.
P.S. Bad news for Georgia’s independent authors. The Georgia Writers Association has announced that it is no longer accepting self-published books in its annual author of the year competition.
In case you’re not aware, Amazon’s Author Central is a FREE service. If you missed our very first tutorial on setting it up, see that HERE. If you haven’t already, read it. Do it. Then come right back here and I’ll show you how to merge your books. I heard that grumble. Yes, you need to merge your books. Here’s why.
Here’s a handy tip for using Author’s Central. If you’re an author and don’t have an Amazon author’s page, you’re missing a free opportunity for publicity. The page displays when a prospective reader clicks on your name on any of your book’s listings. The page not only shows readers all your books, but bio information and your latest blog post.
Naturally, as K. S. Brooks suggests, if you have multiple editions of a book, it helps to link them together on the page.
I’m slowly working on a new novel called Lena as a sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman. For reasons that might become apparent once it’s published, you’ll see why I’m moving so slowly on it. It begins like this: “So, Eulalie sang ‘Lady Luck Blues’ as she drove the 1949 clover green Studebaker pickup truck down that southbound road while creeks, wiregrass, longleaf pines, and sunny autumn afternoon savannahs slow-drag danced past the open windows and South Wind’s children teased her hair into sweet disorder. She was happy and heading for Willie Tate down in Carrabelle.” Unfortunately for Eulalie, the happiness isn’t going to last.
I rely on a lot of books and websites for source material about conjure. Unfortunately, Spiritual Information–featuring Voodoo Queen–will no longer have new posts. The author, who is older than I am, has become too ill to continue, and wants to retire after she finishes healing. The good news is that her blog will remain online as a reference. There’s a handy index of topics on the left side of the screen. A quick glance at this list will show you how wonderful this blog has been for those who want to learn more about the oldest hoodoo traditions from days gone by.
I appreciate the support of those of you who also followed my other blog “The Sun Singer’s Travels.” In trying to simplify (whatever that means), I’ve closed that blog. It was my oldest, having started on Blogger many years ago, subsequently moving here to WordPress. I’ll try to keep you up to date on this blog as well as my website.
This has nothing to do with writing, but my friend and Thomas-Jacob colleague Smoky Zeidel, who lives in a southern California desert community, has been posting glorious pictures of her vegetable garden on Facebook. I’m jealous. My tomatoes, banana peppers and jalapenos finally bit the dust with our cooler temperatures. I still have some hardy oregano and parsley. If you’re taking notes, the oregano and parsley won’t be on the test.
Like a new car, a new website looks sleek, clean, and is the envy of everyone who sees it. However, like cars that get older and no longer are washed or given scheduled maintenance and oil changes, websites start showing their age as well.
Last night on MasterChef, chef Ramsay told one of the contestants that his dish was confusing because it wasn’t cohesive and was more like a smorgasbord of flavors that didn’t go together. This is another way of saying that–like the old car–a website that’s messy, confusing and probably difficult for new visitors to figure out isn’t helping you.
When I set up my website (Conjure Woman’s Cat), I had great intentions. I was going to keep it squared away (a navy terms that means “shipshape”) rather than than letting it look like our old Buick or the top of the desk in my office.
I chanced upon a writer’s website article that basically said, if you’re website is screwed up, you won’t be kissing your books goodbye because nobody will be buying them. This caught me attention because sales have been lower this year than last year. Partly, that’s Amazon’s fault for establishing a new ranking system that’s biased in favor of bestselling books from mainstream publishers. Even though the rest of us are in the chopped liver category, it was obvious to me that I needed to clean up and streamline the website.
This has taken the better part of two days. It’s by no means perfect. On the other hand, it no longer has a garage sale kind of ambiance surrounding it. One thing I tossed out was a synopsis of each of my older books. This made the site too wordy and added pages. So, I’m featuring my two latest books and putting everything else in a catalogue of covers. Might be a mistake, but the result is certainly a lot easier to figure out.
In the business world some years ago, the word “agile” was often used to refer to companies that could change quickly with the times whether they needed new products or new ways of talking about their current products. I think authors need to be agile in this way in their presentations and promotions. While the books are the same books we published some years ago, we need to find new ways of capturing people’s attention.
So, I cleaned up my website an hour ago. So far, neither Oprah or Warner Brothers has called, but I can always hope.