Greetings all, it’s been awhile. Lots of good news, and there will be a longer newsletter (subscribe here). But first, three items of major import:
As of 11 May 2018 I have received my doctorate in U.S. History from Kansas State University. Here is one picture of me getting hooded by my committee chair, Dr. Don Mrozek:
The next piece of news is that I will be at Smallville Comic Con in Hutchinson, KS on 23-24 June 2018. We will be at Booth #44:
Last but far from least, the next Vergassy Universe novel, Aries Red Sky, is available for pre-order from Amazon. Feel free to pick up a copy so that it will download on its release date, 24 July. Also, if you prefer audiobooks, a producer has been hired for the book with an expected completion date of 10 August on ACX.
That’s all for now! Hope you are all doing and have a chance to pick the book up.
News Item #1: An Unproven Concept is now on sale. It will also be promoted by Free Kindle Books and Tips (a promotion website that comes highly recommended).
Please go to their FB page and give the promotion post a like to increase its FB reach.
News Item #2: Acts of War and Collisions of the Damned will shortly both be available for circulation with the Mid-Continent Public Library system in Kansas City, Missouri. This should also make them available for inter-library loans elsewhere in the United States.
News Items #3: On 31 January, I successfully defended my dissertation. Barring a few minor edits and rework of the conclusion, the long twilight struggle against academics is now over. Not quite a “Tearing down the Berlin Wall…” moment, but it’s definitely up there!
There have been several developments in the indie publishing world as of late:
First, Draft 2 Digital is making a major effort to establish themselves as a major distributor competing with Amazon’s behemoth. A few weeks ago, there was the announcement of a new audiobook service that, unlike Audible, does not have a sliding royalty scale based on exclusivity. As someone who sells at cons, you best believe that caught my attention as I could theoretically get CDs pressed to sell at the booth and still have my books distributed on Audible, Itunes, etc.. No, I haven’t looked into it yet as I’ve been a mite busy, but I’ll probably get around to it soon.
These changes are big news for those who are considering “going wide” and eschewing KDP’s exclusive agreement. Why would someone do this, given that KULL will pay you for page lends? Well, perhaps because there’s been a rush of articles on how KULL’s pot (which is fixed) is being scammed, clickfarmed, and otherwise cheated in a way that hurts honest authors. This blog, in particular, got widespread attention among indie authors and content sites. Although I think there are completely legitimate ways that an author can bottle lightning and suddenly have a whole bunch of page views, I can see the author’s larger point that this looks suspicious as hell.
In any case, Amazon has announced that they are revamping the way borrowed pages are counted. If you’re in the KDP program, you should probably check your book’s pages and monitor to see if the new platform changes your page counts. Hopefully, this makes scamming the system far less lucrative, and also allows honest authors to have higher payments.
Just got through with Planet Comic Con. Good show, lots of new and old fans. If you’re just checking in from a panel or having grabbed my business card, feel free to poke around. The tags below should let you find things fairly easily with regards to writing, promoting, and other thing of interest to independent authors. Happy reading!
I am deeply skeptical of many folks who call themselves “experts.” It’s based primarily on having many people who have purported to be one, then quickly demonstrated that their dog and pony show (“Now with smoke and mirrors!”) was mainly poodle with a dose of equine excrement. This goes double for the publishing industry, as one only has to touch a hot stove once or twice to start being suspicious when The Great and Powerful Azbazzam tells you “Don’t worry, child, my magical spells make THIS burner different.”
Then there are the times that, holy cow, you realize you’re dealing with a real Pro from Dover. No, not in the Hawkeye from M.A.S.H. sense (see Azbazzam above). No, I mean in the “Sailor Malan is flying lead, Douglas Bader is running the second section, and they’ve got Johnnie Johnson and Stanford Tuck on their wings”-sense. For those disinclined to click on the links (yet are probably going “Context!”), this is a World War II aces Dream Team for the Royal Air Force (hence Dover).
The latter sort of event happened last night when Topeka Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) had Ms. Julie Trelstad come and speak about publishing and marketing. Her interview she did with the Topeka Capital Journal is here. While I will admit there were many things that she talked about that I already knew, I think she gave probably one of the best Q&A about the publishing industry, self-publishing, and marketing that I’ve seen in a long time. Indeed, the only way it could have been better would have been A. a longer time to talk and B. Chris Kennedy in the room.
Some things that came up that I think should definitely be expounded upon (I won’t bludgeon you with my full notes):
Author Rights: I’ve mentioned having one’s head on a swivel elsewhere based on a near painful experience with a certain press. I cannot put this in stronger terms: Get a lawyer before you sign anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, having to deal with your rights. Indeed, contracting without a legal ward of protection is basically the equivalent of jumping into a Taliban compound with 500 pounds of pork and a “Ready to Die 4 Jesus” T-shirt on: Not only highly imprudent, but likely to be extremely painful. Don’t believe me? Check out the fun at All Romance Ebooks at the macro and the “I think I’m going to need a lawyer and therapist”-level. Intellectual Rights / Property Lawyers are a separate breed for a reason.
Pay to Play: Someone in the audience mentioned that they’d been approached by “agents” regarding their work. These individuals wanted $$$ up front in exchange for services. This is a scam that’s almost as old as publishing, an it preys on people’s hopes and dreams. Like all such heresy, it should be scourged and purged. When confronted with such monsters, repeat the following mantra:
MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR, NEVER FROM!
MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR, NEVER FROM!
Bonus points if you’re saying that Gandalf vs. Balrog Style. An agent’s job is to sell your manuscript. The assumption of risk on their part is that they’ll be able to do it, which is why they take their 15%. The job of a publisher is to format your book, edit, and then print it in a manner that is appealing. That’s why they take their 30-40%. Otherwise, you’re better off paying someone ala carte and raking in the full % of your royalties, as either of those entities taking your money then using said Danegeld to find the next rube. Oh, don’t worry, they’ll be in touch the next time they need tribute, I mean, payment…but take it to the bank they’re putting as much effort in shopping your book as I am in trying to join the NFL. To drive the point home, your odds of getting a meaningful investment are about the same as hearing, “Now starting at defensive tackle for your Kansas City Chiefs, Jaaaaaaammmmeeesss Yyyyyyyooouuunnng.” (Both will also likely involve the same amount of human sacrifice and witchcraft. Or at least, that’s what the shaman keeps telling me.)
Seriously–do not EVER pay someone to do agenting or publishing. The former is unethical, and actually runs against several agent guild standards. If you’re looking for an agent, I know of an agency. (Full disclosure: I know one of its members after being her neighbor at a con for a weekend. Asking around, I have heard nothing but good things about them.) If you’re looking for a publisher, Chris’ link is up above. Both entities aren’t shy about directing you to other folks they trust if they’re out of spots. Also see if your state has a writer’s guild or author’s club, then ask them. But for pete’s sake, don’t shell out money that you will likely never see back.
Marketing is another thing that came up several times. I’m planning on doing another discussion of promo here soon, but as a quick hitter–there are cheap options out there. I’m not necessarily a fan of FB ads, but Ms. Trelstad did mention it as a way to get your name and photos out there in front of people of a similar genre. I can see that, but I can’t really recommend more than $50 or so.
In any case, if your writer group or library is looking for someone to have come, highly recommend Ms. Trelstad. TSCPL happened to get her through a personal relationship (read: a member recommended her to our awesome librarians), but she’s available on Twitter (@julietrelstad).
Besides the Grants, I also recommend Chris Kennedy. Chris, in addition to doing fiction, also has a book out that talks about self-publishing for profit. As you can see from the first link, he’s also a publisher that does public speaking about self-publishing and promotion. I’ve heard his talk, and if you have a large enough group of authors I suggest putting some money in the kitty to have him come talk to your group. It’s a good investment, and there’s a lot of stuff I picked up from his talk. Some of it I’ll put my own spin on below, but trust me, you need to hear how he approaches things from his viewpoint.
Lastly, there’s Jasmine Walt. You may remember Jasmine from an earlier post on my Facebook where I linked to her interview about becoming a New York Times bestseller (linked again). I’ll tell you that Jasmine gives me hope that catching lightning is possible, as she’s literally gone from publishing her first book in December 2015 to wreaking havoc on the NYT’s and USA Today booklists. (“Wait…wait…why are we reading your blog rather than hers?” “Because if you weren’t reading mine, you possibly would not have heard about her…HEY, HEY, WHERE ARE YOU ALL GOING?!”)
For those of you that remained, here are two of my tips about self-promotion.
Promo Tip #1: Networking
See what I did for about 300 words above this? That’s a big part of networking. No one I mentioned above asked me, “Hey, James, could you throw me in a promo blog?” Yet, since I’ve met all of them in person or on FB through mutual acquaintances or groups I belong to, I’m comfortable putting their names out there as authorities on making $$$ self-publishing. More importantly, they are good people, and one should always try to help fellow authors who meet that description.
So how do you network? Well, I’m an extrovert (I hear several of you going “NO SH*T, REALLY?!“), so this is sort of like asking a fish “How do you use gills?” If pressed, I’d say the first thing is that you have to put yourself in position to meet people. Before all the introverts recoil in sheer horror, social media makes this possible without really having to put yourself out there. Whatever your genre is, there’s probably at least one FB group that’s either a perfect or tangential match. Go ahead and jump into the group, lurk for a bit, then start commenting on things that you find interesting. Odds are that not only will you learn some things about your genre and what’s hot, but if done right people will start to consider you competent. Competent is good…as I’ll explain below.
Aside: Note that I said comment not “spam your book link.” One, it’s probably against group rules, will get you banned, and then will make sure everyone remembers you as “Oh, that jackass.” Pro tip–people remembering you as “Oh, that jackass…” is not conducive to sales.
While social media networking is good, I’m still in favor of good ol’ face to face meetings. The first place to start is in your local community. Through face to face meetings, I’ve ended up in the local newspaper, had friends recommend my book go into the library gift guide (thanks Prolific Trek!), built a good relationship with an independent book store. Spreading the net wider, attending sci-fi and comic conventions (“cons”) introduced me to several authors and people I never would have met otherwise. (Con life article 1 and article 2 are good starting points for beginning that endeavor.) It hasn’t all been bread, wine, and circuses–but it’s certainly helped me get my name further than I would just selling books out of my car trunk. Which leads to…
Promo Tip #2: …At All Times
In boxing there’s an expression: “Protect Yourself At All Times.” In bookselling and promotion, the corollaries are “Be ready to sell at all times…” and “Be professional at all times…”.
Being ready to sell at all times is one that truly requires some prior planning. First off, have an elevator speech. In my experience, this should be something that’s memorable, explains what your book is about, and also employs a pop culture touchstone. Some individuals who follow this blog can, no kidding, recite 75% of my elevator speech from memory because they’ve heard it so many times. That’s the sort of “seared into people’s memory” you’re looking for.
Next to the elevator speech is having materials at hand ready for handout. Before I talked about having a good cover. Another reason to have good artwork is that it makes developing your marketing material so much easier. The go to thing I like to have are bookmarks.
Now about this point you’re probably going, “Holy cow, James…that’s a lot of bookmarks!” Yes, yes it is. Too many to start off with. At cons, what usually ended up happening was that we’d inevitably start to run out of one book type while being swimming in variants of the other one. Ergo, I simplified–there’s now one book mark for each novel, plus the bookmark that will take you to my Amazon author page.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d also have included the actual link spelled out on the back of my bookmarks. Also, when you get a complete set of books or even just three or more, multi-cover bookmarks are a thing:
Other things you can hand out include business cards and magnets. We both still have business cards with our QR code on the back and a book cover on the front, but in general we’ve replaced these with bookmarks due to the latter’s sturdiness and the ability to hand them out easier at cons. Magnets I usually include with each multi-book sale, as that’s a way for someone to continuously advertise for you via your book cover or associated artwork being on their fridge. We use Vistaprint for our magnets and business cards.
(Note: Yes, we do two separate sites for different marketing materials. As I’ve said elsewhere, the Vistaprint and Gotprint is this: “If you know what you’re doing, go with gotprint as they have better prices. If you want a design tool that will save you from yourself, got with vistaprint.”)
Finally, being “sales ready” includes having some hard copies of your book and the ability to take sales on hand. Our preferred sales register is Square. While I may not have cash on me, I almost always have a square reader on me and hard copies of my books in the car. You’d be surprised the number of people who, upon finding out you’re an author, will ask you if you’ve got one of your books with you. Keep your price reasonable and/or have a copy of some novellas as well, and “opportunity sales” will flow from the elevator speech, handouts, and professionalism.
“Wait. Wait. What is professionalism? You’re selling books out of your trunk like a crack dealer!”
Professionalism is carrying yourself in a manner that someone would never know you’ve only sold copies of your book to your mother, her best friend, and your bro/sister-in-law (who really owes you money so it’s a wash). It’s being able to handle someone being dismissive or rude about your book initially yet still selling them a copy at the end of the day. It’s walking into a bookstore where the clerk / manager don’t know you from Adam / Eve but convincing them they need two copies of your book on their shelves. Three parts confidence, two parts knowledge, and one part utter fearlessness. Why? Because at the end of the day, you lose nothing but pride in asking someone to take a chance on you. You’re an author, dammit, and you’ve got an excellent book with a sound cover that you’d put into the literary equivalent of the “Pepsi Challenge” with any well-known name in your genre. It’s saying crazy stuff like this:
“Am I as good as Harry Turtledove? Yes. More importantly, Harry Turtledove ain’t here. Even if he was, you wouldn’t be buying his book for $10.” (It worked…and they bought Collisions of the Damned to boot.)
Despite the bravado of the above, I still have that rather loud, insistent voice that states I really don’t know what I’m doing the first day of every con or the first minute I’m speaking. Know what helps me zip strip and duct tape that aspect of myself up? Getting out there and doing more stuff. Practicing with friends and talking to fellow authors. No matter how bad things may seem, someone else has a story about it being worse.
In any case, that’s it for tonight. More to follow at a later date, but hopefully the links up top will tide some folks over. Tell me what else you’d like to hear about in the next promo post via comments.