Jan 122014
 
It was probably the English actor Edmund Kean (1787 – 1833) who uttered famous last words that have been attributed to others. On his deathbed he was asked by a friend if dying was hard. The thespian replied, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

Thus, we come to the subject of today's post, which is this: Writing is hard. You should know that already. (I should say, writing well is hard, but that doesn't sound as snappy).

But here's the other side: Marketing is easy.

Yes, I said easy. I can hear the sighs, nay, the howls of protest. "If it's so easy, how come my books aren't selling?"

The answer is almost always: Because writing is hard. You've got to have a superior product to sell, and that's not easy. It's not easy for anybusiness to create great products. If it were, everybody would be rolling in dough and tipping fifty bucks at Sizzler. 

Believe me when I say, quoting my own 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws: it takes quality production over time to make a go of indie publishing.

So why am I saying marketing is easy? Because marketing is not the same as that tiresome buzzword, Discoverability. If you remember that, your life will be a lot happier. 

Marketing you control. Discoverability is out of your hands. Don't brood about discovery. Write well, and market easily, and discovery takes care of itself. 

So why do I say marketing is easy? Because the things that work best for fiction writers are pretty much known. After you've written the best book you can, and given it quality design (editing, cover, description, key words), then you proceed to market. In my opinion, these are the top five ways to go:

1. Word of Mouth

This is, has been, and always will be the greatest driver of sales for any novelist. It is "passive marketing," because it is done by others on your behalf.

Beyond the book itself, you really cannot do anything to improve word of mouth. There was an attempt to do so a few years ago, when authors were buying 5-star reviews.But that practice was quickly flamed, and some authors suffered because of it.

So don't stress about this aspect of marketing. However, in the words of Bonnie Raitt, give 'em something to talk about.

2. Your Own Mailing List

I wrote about this here. Growing a list should be an ongoing enterprise. You should have a website with a place for readers to sign up for your updates. You should also learn how to communicate effectively so as not to annoy people. That's the subject of a future post.

3. KDP Select

If you're just starting out, the Select program from Kindle Direct Publishing is one of the best ways to get your work
out to new readers. You list your book exclusively with the Kindle store for ninety days and are allowed to offer your book free for five days within that period. The days can be used singly or in order. I advise doing it in order. Like I'm doing right now with my first Irish Jimmy Gallagher story, Iron Hands. Yes, it's free, so nab it. I'll wait.

Welcome back. Another option in the Select program is the Countdown Deal. Read more about that here. Currently, you cannot run a countdown and a free promo in the same quarter. If you're just starting out, go for the free promos first. Your main task is to get people to your work. 

How you utilize KDP Select with multiple titles is up to you, but I would advise keeping at least some short works with the program.

4. A Subscriber-Based Ad

Services like BookBub, BookGorilla, and Kindle Nation Daily may run an ad for your book. You pay for the privilege. But here is where many writers make a mistake. You should not view this kind of ad as a way to make money or "break even." You may, in fact, not make back your initial investment. This discourages many writers who may not take out another ad. 

But it's still worth it to do so because when you attract new readers a percentage of them will become repeat customers. Thus, the value of a your return is not dollar-for-dollar, but future income based upon the new readers you generate.

5. Some Social Media Presence

It's necessary to have some footprint out there in social media. But don't try to do everything. Pick something you enjoy and which doesn't gobble up too much of your time. Remember, social media is about "social" and not (primarily) about selling. See my notes here. There is a part of social media that's too hard for me to recommend: personal blogging. TKZ is a group blog. Trying to produce content by myself, at least three times a week, takes too much time and effort for too little return. The people who can do this are few, and I'm still not convinced the ROE (Return on Energy) is worth it. Choose wisely where you specialize.

Okay, that takes care of the marketing. If you have any further questions, you should consult Joanna Penn's book.

Now the hard part, writing. Concentrate most of your efforts here. Writing is a craft. It has to be learned, practiced, polished, criticized, revised, and practiced some more. It has to be wild and free on one side, yet disciplined and structured on the other.

Yes, you can write for pure pleasure, that's fine. You don't have to sell in big numbers if you don't want to. But if you're serious about gathering readers in ever increasing numbers, work at the craft.

Beethoven had to work at his music.

Picasso had to work at his painting.

Pete Rose had to work at baseball. He became one of the greatest hitters of all time with less than all-time talent. His problem was that he thought gambling was easy.

So here is your lesson for the day: Work on your writing and don't gamble.


Are you stressed out about marketing? What are you doing to counteract that? How about a writing self-improvement program?
Jun 222012
 

Some months ago I blogged about the eWorld’s potential to enliven the long-moribund market for short fiction. I’m not sure that’s happening, but neither am I sure that it’s not. What I do know is that I’ve ePublished a few dozen short stories, and while some of them have been about as much in demand as ice in Antarctica, others have performed in a spritely manner.

More recently I tried an experiment, making all the Ehrengraf stories exclusive to Kindle, and enrolling them in Amazon’s Kindle Select program. (There were ten of them at the time, written over a couple of decades, featuring the poetry-loving defense attorney who never loses a case.) I took them down from Nook and Smashwords (where they’d been selling like sand in the Sahara) and took the opportunity to give away the first story (“The Ehrengraf Defense”) for a couple of days. A lot of people downloaded it, and many liked the sample enough to go on to some of the other stories.

I’d already begun work on an eleventh Ehrengraf story, and when “The Ehrengraf Settlement” was finished, I immediately made it a Kindle Select title. And, with the great formatting assistance of Jaye Manus, I bundled all of the stories into a book, called it Ehrengraf For the Defense, and priced it at $4.99. (The bad news is it’s put the brakes on sales of the individual stories. The good news, which utterly trumps the bad news, is that Ehrengraf For the Defense is flying off Amazon’s virtual shelves. At the moment it’s my most popular title.) Besides selling a slew of copies, EFTD has been borrowed a dozen times by Amazon Prime members, who can borrow one book a month at no charge as a perk of membership.

As of today, I’ve moved a dozen other short stories to Kindle Select, available there and nowhere else. In the weeks to come I’ll be making some of them briefly available as free downloads, and if you follow my blog you’ll know when something’s up for grabs.

Because the stories I picked are all of the darker sort, I each “A Story From the Dark Side”, and if you pop that phrase into Amazon’s search engine, they’ll all show up on one page. Once again, I was lucky enough to get Jaye Manus to format them, and give them a uniform series-type look, and I think you’ll like the way they turned out.

And even as I write these lines, I know that some of you are furious at me for depriving Nooksters of the chance to read these stories.

So let me explain.

I’ve got nothing against Nook, and indeed I sell a lot of novels there. But I’ve never done well with short fiction for the Nook, and I’m not the first writer to notice that Nook readers just don’t seem interested in short stories. I’m not sure why this should be so, but the empirical evidence is persuasive. Whether my goal is to increase income or maximize readership (and the two are by no means mutually exclusive) it’s in my interest to do business where business is done. If I’m selling ten times as many stories for Kindle as for Nook—and the spread’s probably even higher than that—I’d be a fool not to focus on Kindle, where I can take advantage of the several benefits reserved for Kindle Select authors.

Along with the Nook partisans, there’s a small tribe of Amazon haters out there, who see that company as conspiring to take over the world. And perhaps they are, and so is Google, and so is Facebook, and so is eBay—and so is every other highly successful enterprise. Those of you who are appalled at the growth of Amazon, and want to save Barnes & Noble, might take a moment to remember a couple of years ago, when you were appalled at the increasing dominance of B&N, and wanted to save the great independent bookstores that they and Borders were putting out of business.

And, if you’ve been around a while and have a good memory, you may recall how those great independent stores became great in the first place—by doing everything possible to choke out the small neighborhood bookshops and dominate their local markets entirely. Sometimes it’s a dog eat dog world out there, and sometimes it’s the other way around.

End of rant.

I should point out, for anyone who doesn’t have a Kindle and doesn’t want to be pressured into buying one, that almost any electronic device other than a competing eReader (like the Nook) can be equipped with a free Kindle app. You can download one for your Mac or PC, your iPhone or Android, your iPad or iPod, and quite possibly your toaster oven. My eldest daughter reads everything on her iPhone, she prefers it to anything else including a printed book. The Amazon Prime borrowing feature is limited to Kindle owners, but a free app gives you access to everything else.

And here’s the list of Stories From the Dark Side:

A Chance to Get Even
Catch and Release
Dolly’s Trash & Treasures
Headaches and Bad Dreams
In For a Penny
Like a Bone in the Throat
Scenarios
Sweet Little Hands
Three in the Side Pocket
Welcome to the Read World
Who Knows Where It Goes
You Don’t Even Feel It

I don’t expect to make a book out of them. They don’t go together as obviously as the Ehrengraf stories, or the Scudder stories collected in The Night and the Music. By all means take advantage of the freebies when they come along. And, when you’ve got a spare 99¢ you’re willing to part with, and some spare moments that a short story would fit into neatly, well, click one of the links and enjoy.

LB


Mar 162012
 

Today I'm thrilled to host Scott Nicholson here at Murderati.  Scott is a friend and one of my favorite supernatural thriller writers (some people say horror; I think what Scott delivers masterfully is spooky thrills, the best kind!) 

If you haven't read Scott, I highly recommend you give him a try. Here's his Amazon page to browse, I guarantee there's something for everyone, and the price is right! 

Just added:  Scott will be giving four books away (free for Kindle) this weeked (March 17-18) at http://www.ebookswag.com , so it's the perfect time to load up!

And those of you who know anything at all about e publishing know that Scott has been at the vanguard of the e publishing revolution - I've been wanting to get him here for ages to talk about what he sees as the future. So for your enjoyment and hopefully enlightenment - here's Scott!

Subsidizing the Freebie

By Scott Nicholson

I’ve gotten out of the “writer babble” business for two reasons: (1) I don’t know as much as I thought I did, and (2) it’s all changing so fast that even the boldest predictions of digital evolution quickly become laughable.

I don’t even use traditional publishing as a reference point anymore, because that is so far removed from most writers’ realities that it may as well be Shangri-la or Hollywood. The indie vs. trad debate is now only meaningful for a small group of people, and they are all making way more money than you or me.

So you are in it, and if you are lucky, you made a nice little nest egg back when everyone was standing on the sidelines deciding whether indie was the way to go. Hopefully, you shook off the intellectual shackles that chained us to the agent speed-dating sessions at writing conferences and were hammered and locked into place by “publishing experts” with 20-year writing careers in the old system. You know the mantras: “Get an agent,” “Only hacks self-publish,” and “You can’t produce and distribute a book without the advice of publishing experts.” Basically, ego affirmation. Of course the experts didn’t want to lose their position of authority (and in the agents’ case, the intermediary status of being the first in line to get checks.)

But the gate was left open and the horses all got out of the barn, or something like that (come up with your own gatekeeper metaphor; I am writing this for free!) So now we have a market where the 99-cent ebook had a year’s run, and the pool was finally beginning to find stratification (crappy books sinking, good books nailing stable plateaus) when Amazon unleashed the latest version of indie roulette—the free ebook.

I'm on record as predicting the flat-text e-book era has an outside range of five years, at least for fiction—specialized non-fiction and manuals will continue to be valuable for their content alone. I believe e-book sales will continue, but certainly not with expanding profits for all involved. Now that there are thousands of free Kindle books available every single day, how long before readers come to expect and even demand free books exclusively?

Freebie roulette. Great for readers. Good for Amazon (maybe in the short term, but it is hard to figure the long term). Terrible for authors.

The market is diverse enough to support many different price tiers, but writers who want to survive in 2015 will need to make money off of free books, or they will soon quit writing.

I only see one outcome: ad-supported or sponsored books. At first blush, you'd think N.Y. has an advantage, since Madison Avenue is right there. But can corporations, with their large structures, be able to compete when indie or smaller entities can react more quickly to present conditions instead of protecting some imagined status quo?

J.K. Rowling can inspire a Pottermore built around her brand, and James Patterson, Tom Clancy, and Clive Cussler have already built factories around their names (and, yes, V.C. Andrews, you can roll over in your grave two or three more times for all I care, because this is all your fault). But most of us are not factories or we wouldn’t have to indie publish.

This points out the new era of the branded writer. And not just "writer," but "content creator" and even mere "idea marketer." A personality is more suited to building brand identification and audience than a publisher is. I say "James Patterson" and you get an image. I say "Random House" and what do you get? Randomness. We've seen it here locally: "Ray's Weather" is where you check the weather and "Todd's Calendar" is where you click to find what's happening in the region—and both are ad supported. You can get the free content elsewhere but you don't get the human personality attached.

I'm already experimenting with the ad model because I believe it is viable. I am counting on Idea Marketing being one of my foundational pillars. I am not quite sure what it all looks like right now, but I look at it this way—you don't need NY in order to give away tons of free e-books or to spread an idea or to build a social platform. You are the idea you want to spread.

Other authors will say “I’ll never sell out.” (Ironically, those are usually the authors who have given most of their incomes to agents and publishers…) I don't blame people for sticking with what worked in the past. It all goes to how invested you are in a certain system and how the alternative looks, and, of course, the turf where you’ve staked out your ego. Publishing-industry talk on e-books uses phrases like "managing risk" and "cautious adaptation." That is why those of us in the trenches knew Barnes & Noble was in serious trouble when most in the “publishing industry” only realized it recently when BN’s horrifyingly bad third-quarter reports came in. They are working off of old data while I work off the data I got an hour ago.

And my data says this may be the very peak of the Golden Age of digital publishing. The $9.99 novel may be dead this year, since three-quarters of the current bestsellers are low-priced indie books. As fast as major publishers yank their name-brand authors out of digital libraries, 10 new indies cram into that virtual shelf space. Maybe forever. James Patterson’s factory can’t run on $2.99 ebooks, but mine can.

But what happens when the $2.99 and 99 cents drop to permanently free? Where’s your sponsor? Are you willing to go there? It's not going to be as clumsy as an image of a refreshing Bud Lite popping up when the main character enters a bar (though it's not unthinkable at some point.) Can you see Jack Reacher with a favorite brand of soft drink, or Bella Swan wearing only Calvin Klein? At what point is your willing suspension of disbelief shattered? At what point do you realize the ad is the only reason the book can exist at all?

My informal polling on ad-supported ebooks yields statements like: "I'll quit reading before I put up with that." I also remember saying I'd never carry a cell phone, or be on Facebook, or give up my vinyl albums, or start thinking that maybe nuclear energy is the best short-range answer to our energy addiction. Or that I’d ever read an entire book on a screen.

I don’t know the answer, but I am deeply invested in the question. So, ads in ebooks. As readers and writers, what is your opinion?

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Scott Nicholson is the bestselling author of a bunch of books and also released The Indie Journey: Secrets to Writing Success, because some people still think you can buy the secret instead of be the secret. Follow him on Facebook, blog, Twitter, website, or newsletter.