Sunday, February 19, 2017

Self Publishing - What Not To Do Part 3

The last two weeks, I wrote about the worst way to self publish your books. The problem basically boils down to signing over your publication rights to a so-called "self publishing" publisher, which is technically anything but.

I've spoken to more writers who signed on with "self-publishing" publishers than I can count. These writers - like all writers - are universally smart, earnest, focused, dedicated, skillful writers. They have great ideas and great execution. They reasonably believe that the best focus for their limited time is the books they are writing, not the mechanisms to bring those books to the marketplace.

Unfortunately, this is a big error in judgment. Because they aren't driving their own writing/publishing/marketing vehicle, their books are just one more set of titles in a company that has hundreds or thousands of authors. And at whatever sales level these authors create, their so-called publishing company takes a critical portion of the money off the top, yet they still don't help those writers sell books. How can you tell?

Easy. When you find a compelling "self-publishing" company, go through their catalog and write down the titles and authors of their books. Pick out dozens of them. Or hundreds of them. Now look up those same books on Amazon. What are their sales ranking? (Remember, a sales ranking of #1 means the top-selling book at Amazon. A sales ranking of 100,000 means that 99,999 titles sell better. The lower the number, the better the book sells.) When you look at the sales ranking of all the books you've written down, you'll quickly see that most are over 500,000. Many are over a million. Some way over. That tells you how successful/unsuccessful the publisher is at selling books.

How can authors who signed over publication rights to a company that pays no advance and yet doesn't sell many books ever hope to compete with the real self-published authors? The simple answer is that they can't. Because real self-published authors have a full-time, or even double-time, person working exclusively on the publishing and marketing of their own books. Themselves. Their efforts are rewarded by being able to keep all of the profit. And their efforts aren't diluted by having to focus on other writers.

Self-published authors who have complete control over their work are nimble and faster and more motivated. They don't have to get any permission to make this little change or that adjustment in their story or on their book cover. When they see a promotion opportunity, they can jump on it. When a group, corporate or social or otherwise, asks for their participation in an event and they need to show up with 100 books, they can immediately accept. And every one of these things that they do puts more money in their pocket, not someone else's pocket.

Of course, many writers think that they don't have time to figure all this stuff out. So just pay the money, and the next thing you know, their book is for sale on Amazon. Yay. They're in the big time. Never mind that their books might not make any money.

Further - and this is a big point - these writers look at "real" self-published authors and see that most of them don't make money, either! Same for New York-published authors. So who cares what approach one takes?

I can't argue with that. As I said in my caveat at the beginning of this rant two weeks ago, if you're happy with your choices, great.

But because only a small percentage of writers earn a good living from writing, it's worth it to take a close look at them. Some of them have established long careers with New York publishers. It's a tough gig - the Authors Guild reports that the average New York-published author makes $17,000 a year - but it can be done. And an increasing number of authors earning a good living are self-published. But, as far as I can see, all of those self-published authors are true self-published authors, in control of their own career, with no other people between them and their readers.

The bottom line is this. If you want to have a chance at joining that small percentage - authors who earn a good living - wouldn't you choose one of the approaches that they all use? Yet many writers choose an approach that no successful authors use. Why?

Is figuring out how to be a real self publisher hard work? Absolutely. It takes a lot of research to learn what is necessary to truly self publish. Writing your book was hard work, too. As was studying for and developing your previous work career. You wouldn't have turned over control of your previous career to someone else to make all the decisions. You did it all yourself, going directly to the people who paid you money for your services. And your efforts and focus on every aspect of that career were important to your success.

Like any research project, start by Googling your questions. Then expect to read a hundred blogs on the subject. Plan to purchase several books on the subject. Join writer's groups. Attend their meetings. Ask questions. Get involved. Do the same stuff you did when you got into your first career. Education, apprenticeship, practice/study/practice some more/study some more.

If you're going to self publish, I think you should use as your role model those writers who are successful. Please don't fall for a slick website. The reality is that those companies are good at only one thing: Taking money from writers who have stars in their eyes and an unquenchable desire to see their books in print on a bookshelf right now. Consider the benefits of delayed gratification. You will benefit a thousand times for the moments when you paused to learn more before you jumped into deep water.

You did a great job on all the research to write your book. Put in a relatively small amount of research to learn the most effective way of bringing your books to market. Either get yourself a New York deal with a decent advance or be a REAL self publisher. The first is a very unlikely possibility, and the second is a reasonable, workable approach that has rewarded thousands of writers.

You may be wondering what makes me think I know so much about this stuff. Just that my observations come from 16 years of publishing, the fact that I make a good living from this business, and the clear knowledge that I could not have succeeded had I done any of the things I'm warning about.


I know writers who made the mistake of paying money to such companies, eventually realized the folly, reconfigured their approach to take back control, and began to do very well. So if you've gotten your books hitched to other people and given others control over your writing life, it's not too late. Read the fine print on your contract to see what is involved in taking back every right you gave them. Maybe you can republish under new ISBNs that you own. Maybe you can do new, professional covers, and get proper editing. With effort, you can probably take complete control over your new writing career, just as you did with your first career.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Self Publishing - What Not To Do Part 2

Last week I said that there is a very simple way to cut through the hype and hyperbole on a publisher or "self-publisher." This is the most basic, obvious way to judge if a publisher or so-called "self publisher" company is worthy. It's so basic that we often overlook it. Apply this test to any and every publishing services provider.

Ask them for the names of their authors who make a good living from their books.

That's a simple question with a simple answer. "John Doe and Suzie Doe each made $50,000 last year publishing with us. And Mary Roe made $100,000 with us in each of the last six years."

I've posed this question before. No one has come up with any names of successful writers using these "self-publishing" services. NO ONE. Do they exist? For the good of writers, I hope so. But I have yet to hear of one.

Does that mean that self-published authors don't ever make money? Of course not. Thousands of authors who put their books out with real self-publishing - their own businesses with their own ISBN numbers and their own marketing and control of all aspects of their own books - do very well. Some make over a million dollars a year. Many, many make over $100,000 a year. Countless self-published authors make $50,000 a year.

Do any of these authors sign up with one of the internet companies that has a slick website promising self-publishing success, promising that they'll handle all of the details, promising that they'll give you all of these amazing benefits for only $50 or $199 or $499? Plus, because your writing is so stellar, they'll allow you to participate in their advanced marketing/editing/promotion package for only $999?!

Gag, choke, cough, give me a break.

Again, no one has yet given me the name of an author who makes a decent living working with one of these publishers. Maybe there are some one-book wonders, writers who bought the "self-publishing" service and then uncorked a bestseller and made a bunch of money in one year. But I've never heard of them. And as for writers who, year after year, do well? I'd be astounded. The reason is that if anyone can successfully sell books (which of course a writer has to do himself or herself, because the companies provide no help), they would quickly switch over to real self publishing so they can make decent money instead of giving a percentage to a company that did nothing other than add the book to their internet catalog.

So, if you are a successful writer earning $50,000 or $100,000 or more income by publishing through one of these companies, please reveal yourself. Let other would-be writers see the rewards of working with the "self-publishing" company you use. Let other writers explore your sales rankings and appreciate the professionalism of the book covers the "self-publishing" company put on your books. Let other writers see your reviews and media coverage and distribution and learn from your success. You would be doing the world a big favor if you could show us that in fact there are self-publishing service companies that really do provide a worthwhile service.

I've asked this before, but no one has responded. The simple truth is that successful self-published authors do it all themselves so that they have complete control. It is that control that allows them to succeed. Without control, if you have the world's greatest idea about your published books, you have to try to contact someone who has control at your publisher. Someone who can make decisions. Someone who is willing to implement your idea. Of course, that person may be on vacation. Or playing golf while you are waiting for a return phone call or email. And when you get a response, it may be negative. Sorry, we don't do that...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Self-Publishing - What Not To Do

In last week's post, I mentioned several reasons why self publishing is a logical default approach for new writers. What I forgot to do was explain what self publishing is and isn't. So this post is a clarification.

A clarification that could properly be called a rant. The rant comes from the frustration I've witnessed in dozens of writers I've met over the last few years who've signed their publication rights over to a so-called "self publishing" publisher. This post and perhaps another or two won't be very much about the best way to self publish. It will be very much about the worst way to self publish. Thus a rant. A warning.

(First, a qualification. If your only goal is to get your book printed and up on Amazon so you can know that your kids and grandchildren and neighbors can read your story, then ignore this post. If you don't care about selling significant numbers of books or finding a substantial audience of readers, ignore this post. If you have no aspirations for a career as a writer, ignore this post. And please know that there is nothing wrong with the simple desire to take the easiest approach to getting your book printed and up on Amazon. That "easiest approach," whatever you determine it to be, needs no comment or critique from me!)

(Second, a disclaimer. What follows is merely one writer's view of the world of publishing. It is not the one true vision. I'm not the one true expert. Take everything I say with a healthy skepticism.)

(Third, a caveat. If you are already a published author and you are happy with your current publishing arrangement, whatever it is, then don't read any of this post. It will just distract you from what you should be doing, which is working on your next book!)

Having said that...

To state what might be obvious but often isn't in a world filled with companies trying to sell "self-publishing services," self publishing is publishing yourself.

Over and over, writers fall for "self-publishing" scams. They pay money to a company that claims to self-publish them. This entire premise is false. If you self publish, that means you publish yourself. If you pay money to an outfit that claims to help you, you are more than likely buying snake oil.

Self publishing means that you figure out how to get your books to the marketplace and you have control over that. You figure out the mechanisms to get your books into paper form and ebook form and you have control over that. You arrange for your cover design, your editing, your formatting. You get your own ISBN number. You decide your discounts, your retail price, which distributors and retailers you will sell to, whether they be the likes of the behemoth Amazon or the corner bookstore or the neighborhood cafe.

If, instead, you pay money to one of the ten thousand companies that call themselves self-publishing companies, you are not really a self publisher. You give up control to another company. They own the ISBN. They control the distribution. They make the critical decisions. Pricing, marketing, distribution, promotions. In the rare event that you find a company that claims to still allow you to make these decisions, move very carefully. Why are you paying them money? What is the point? To make it so you don't have to learn to do the very things that dramatically enhance your ability to find an audience and sell books?

At this point, I should point out that if they don't ask you to pay them any money and instead only ask for you to sign over your publication rights, then that's the fee you are "paying" them.

In other words, one could logically sort out publishing scenarios and consider the two most attractive versions. The first is when a publisher pays you a substantial cash advance in return for those publication rights to your book. The second is when you bring your book to market yourself, keep all the rights, all the control, and make certain that all reasonable monies flow to your bank account and not the account of some other company that owns the ISBN number. (Technically, the owner of the ISBN number is the publisher of your book and will be listed as such in all appropriate databases, i.e., if you own the ISBN number, you are the publisher.)

When you give up control to another company, you'd be amazed at what you can't do. In most cases, you can't control much of the most critical aspects of your writing career. There will be a layer of bureaucracy between you and your book. If you want to fix mistakes in your paper book or ebook, good luck. If you want to get a bunch of books at a really good price to take to talks and book clubs and festivals, you're out of luck. If you want to have enough margin to entice bookstores with a full 50% discount and free freight, you will make zero money or even end up paying out of pocket for the privilege of selling to them. If you want distributors like Baker & Taylor or Ingram to take on your book, you won't be able to give them the 55% discount they require.

The list goes on. If you want to change course with your marketing, you have to convince someone else to let you do it. If you want a reviewer to consider reviewing your book, you have to convince them not to be affected by a possible stigma connected to the reputation of your so-called "self-publishing services" company. If you want the larger world of books - stores and media and conventions and conferences to take you seriously, good luck. Professionals in the book world often take one look at your "self-publishing" company and see that you got sold by one of those "internet publishers" who made your book available on Amazon and other internet sales channels, and they know you paid good money to an outfit to have them do what you could have done yourself for free. You become stigmatized by your choices that suggest you didn't do your due diligence.

In addition is the possibility that your actual publisher - not you, but the company who owns your ISBN number - maybe takes a chunk of the money off the top, money that should come to you. You paid them to set up what you could have done for free, and then on top of that you may have given them permanent rights to take a percentage of every book that you sell for what could be the rest of your life and the life of your children.

That same "self publisher" may sell their business and then a stranger you've never heard of owns rights to your books. Or the ISBN owner dies and that person's wastrel nephew inherits the rights to your books. At the very least, you have a major problem on your hands. At the worst... Well, as a writer, you can probably imagine the worst. And all of it is unnecessary.

Next week: A simple measure that will immediately tell you if a publisher of any sort is any good at all...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Three Big Questions About Novels, Three Possible Answers

I got an email from a writer. His three questions to me were:

1) How should I publish a novel?

2) How should I market and promote a novel?

3) What do you love about marketing and promoting? 

Because he was in the beginning stages of research, my answers were somewhat different from what I've blogged about before. Similar information, certainly, but new packaging.

Here is my response, slightly edited.

Dear Writer,

As for your first question, self-publishing is the default choice for most writers for two reasons.

First, the big New York publishers won't touch most writers because they don't have sufficient platform, i.e., the persistent rumor that Saul Bellow couldn't get a novel published after he won the Nobel Prize because the big publishers decided he simply couldn't sell enough books. But Paris Hilton can get a six figure advance. For most unknown writers, pursuing a New York deal is a waste of time and energy because the likelihood of a positive result is very small. And for those writers who do succeed in getting such a deal, 95% of them are dropped before the option on their second book is exercised. Once they are "orphaned," they are in a worse position than before they began the process. (Much of this information from a talk given at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference by Michael Pietsch, current publisher of Hachette - world's largest publisher - and former editor-in-chief at Little Brown.)

Second, small publishers won't give you any advance money and they still take 90% of your profits. (It is axiomatic that an advance is nearly always the only money a novelist ever sees from a traditional publishing deal.)

That leaves self-publishing. The supposed downside to going it alone is that you have to do all the selling of your books. But what new writers don't realize is that you always have to do all the selling of your books regardless of how you're published. Only when you claw your way into big recognition - Lee Child, Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly - will the publishers begin to hustle your work, but not before. And even those biggest of authors, all they do is work. There is no easy way...

As for your second question about marketing, my blog explains every step of how I have marketed my books and built my brand. (Click on the "On Writing" label in the right sidebar.) You have to write good books. Most of the time, those books need to be in a series. You have to have professional covers that all go together. You have to constantly get your books in front of thousands of readers.

There are a few one-book wonders out there, but they are very rare. And often times, it turns out that the whole concept is a fabrication and the author has written many previous books under another name, and the publisher is aware of, and focused on, that when they sign the writer to publish under a new name.

As for your third question about what I love about marketing, there isn't a great deal that any writers I know enjoy about promoting themselves. Although meeting readers - book clubs, library talks, festivals, etc, is always fun.

We are all introverts. Promotion is simply something you have to do in any business. Think about restaurants as a business model. Seriously. You have to have multiple good entrees on the menu to get people coming back for more. You have to keep adding to and adjusting the menu. You have to have good signage. You have to get the media to write about you. You have to get lots of reviews, and they have to be good. You have to have a theme or high concept to your presentation to set yourself apart from everyone else.  You have to be constantly involved in your community, whatever you perceive that to be, i.e., this is not a "Build it and they will come" enterprise. Maybe J.D.Salinger could do it 60 years ago. But I doubt it can be done today. Last, you have to be open long hours, i.e., there are few if any successful part-time authors. Successful authors generally work double time.

Here's a way to sum up what writers are up against and a good thing to keep in mind as you frame your plan. A writer needs to have an answer to the following questions: On any given day, Amazon has hundreds of thousands of free Kindle books available for download. So why would a reader pay money for my books? And what do I need to do to make that happen?

At this point, you are probably thinking that I make marketing/selling novels seem very difficult. That is probably true. That is also something that can help a writer be better prepared, and the better prepared one is, the better chance of success.

Good luck!


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Buried. Our Mountain Hamlet Is Under Siege.

At first, the snow was our savior in a world afflicted with drought. It will fill the lake and water the Central Valley farmland next summer. But right now, it's our nemesis.

All we see is white.

Multiple feet in the beginning of January. Ten feet a week ago. Two feet early this week. Six feet in the last 48 hours. Three more feet predicted by Monday. Yes, we live in a particularly snowy micro-climate near Echo Summit. But all of Tahoe is getting hammered. The West Shore particularly, from Squaw and Alpine to Christmas Valley, is getting buried.

Last week, we were snowed in for three days and were without power for 36 hours in one stretch in addition to two smaller stretches. We lived by candlelight and cooked on the wood stove. And we're among the lucky ones. Many others have been without power for much longer. (Given this weather and the number of trees that have fallen on power lines, it's amazing how well the crews do in keeping the electricity flowing to our houses and businesses!)

Two days ago, a huge ice/snow chunk slid down our roof and ripped off the support for the wood stove chimney pipe. No more auxiliary heat or cooking. Until that gets fixed, it's going to be peanut butter sandwiches when the power goes out.

The snow piled up so high on our new van that it caved in the roof. Decks and shallow roofs everywhere are in danger of collapse.

As of this moment that I'm writing on early Saturday morning, we have power and we are very thankful for that. But we are snowed in again. We can't see out our windows because the snow, even after the constant compression/settling, is up to roof level. Looking out our front door, we see a wall of snow. It's like shoveling a tunnel. I take small little scoops and attempt to throw them straight up ten feet.

Outside, the morning sun has yet to rise. But the forest is lit with flashes of light as they blast on Echo Summit, doing avalanche control, hoping to re-open the road. Seconds after each flash comes a house-shaking blast as the shock wave boom shatters the snowy peace in the forest. A friend who served two tours in Vietnam once visited during avalanche control and said he was having flashbacks.

I remember our first big snow year after we moved here. It was the winter of 92-93. I heard a ski resort spokesman on the radio. He said, "The good news is, we have fifteen feet of new snow! The bad news is, you can't get here from anywhere!" It's like that now, only more so.

For weeks, we've been continuously shoveling the walk outside our front door. But when the sun rose Saturday morning, this is what the view outside our front door looked like.

Someday, the rotary plow will come up our hill and we'll rejoin the world. Someday, the sun will come out and stay out. Someday, the songbirds will arrive again and sing their arias.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What Does Ten Feet Of Snow Look Like?

Last week we got ten feet of snow. As you can imagine, this was a classic good news/bad news situation.

The good news is that Northern California is no longer in a drought. The lake is back above the rim and filling nicely. The ski resorts have more white stuff than they dreamed of just a few weeks ago.

The bad news is some places on the West Shore and the North Shore still don't have power as I write this on Saturday, the 14th. Some people are still trapped in cabins and houses with unplowed roads full of snow and draped with downed power lines from fallen trees. The West Shore Post Offices are still closed. 

At our house, we were only snowed in for three days and without power for 36 hours. At first, living by candle light and cooking on the wood stove was fun. (Thankfully, we have a wood stove!) But after enough time, we began to tire of it. Snow removal became a full time job. The return of electricity and the rotary plow was much welcomed!

Now, the sun is poking through. Ah, sweet, warm, sunshine. Until the next storm...

After spending hours clearing snow, you give up for a bit.
I know one of our vehicles is under there someplace!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Atmospheric Rivers Can Dump 10 Feet Of Snow During One Storm

As I write this, the National Weather Service has issued stern warnings for Tahoe and the surrounding area. They say an atmospheric river is going to take aim directly at Tahoe beginning early Sunday morning. If the weather people are correct, come Sunday we will be struggling with massive rainfall, 6 - 12 inches over the next 24 hours.

The snow levels are expected to be high, 8000 - 9000 feet, which, considering the amount of moisture involved, is good for those of us who live here. Why? Because if an inch of rain falls instead as snow, you can get up to a foot of snow. If all this moisture fell as snow, we'd get 6 - 12 FEET. Ask a Tahoe local, and you'll hear that we can handle 4 feet of snow at once. However, 12 feet would be a bit much.

But imagine all that snow up at 8000 or 9000 feet. Those higher elevations could be hit with a major dump of fresh pow. So, skiers and boarders, consider what it will be like at the top of Heavenly, Tahoe's highest area (Remember that both Kirkwood and Mt. Rose are almost as high). On both the California and Nevada sides of Heavenly, the highest chairlift bases are around 8500 feet. The Sky Chair on the California chair goes up to 10,000 feet. The Dipper and Comet chairs on the Nevada side go up almost as high. Mt. Rose rises to 9700 feet and Kirkwood tops out at 9800 feet.

While Tahoe's lower elevations are flooding with rain, our upper elevations will likely have epic snow.

P.S. Over the last week, most of the ski areas got 6 feet or more of snow. They're about to get a substantial addition in a short period of time. Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Thanks That's Almost 30 Years Overdue

I often get asked who my influences are...

The answer includes many important mystery and thriller writers such as Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, and, of course, John D. MacDonald. Other important influences are writing teachers, and one stands out for me.

Back in 1986, a debut novel titled Red Earth, White Earth was published to critical and commercial acclaim. Written by a creative writing professor in Minnesota named Will Weaver, Red Earth, White Earth was about two young friends, one white and one Chippewa, and the way they coped with the struggles of Native Americans in a largely white society.

The novel, which was made into a movie, was an impressive story. It has stayed with me to this day, thirty years later. At the time it came out, I'd written a couple of novels, both of which are still in a drawer. When I learned that Will would be teaching a week-long workshop on novel writing at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota, I was probably the first to sign up.

The workshop was great, and Will's insight was so helpful that I remember many of his comments to this day. He was also kind enough to give me post-workshop input on one of my manuscripts.

Not long after that workshop, Will published a short story called A Gravestone Made Of Wheat. It was the story of a young woman who emigrates from Norway to Minnesota to marry a Norwegian American farmer. I've revisited this story many times and I still think it is the single most powerful short story I've ever read. A Gravestone Made Of Wheat was also made into a movie called Sweet Land, which was also good.

Will's other novels are great, too, and one of them, Memory Boy, has even been turned into an opera! (Just try to imagine Owen McKenna and Spot-meets-Verdi - Oooh, I'm envious.)

I've attended multiple workshops and writing conferences over the years. The week I spent at Will's workshop is still the high point of those experiences.

Will continues to teach outside of the classroom with his blog In The Write. In it you will find helpful tips on writing, an insider's look at the business, and trenchant observations about changes in the publishing industry.

Will Weaver is a serious writer of literary fiction. As a writer of entertainment fiction, my work is substantially different. Yet, I've always considered Will one of my major influences. I still hear his sage advice, I still remember his helpful critique, and I still value his early support of my writing.

My hat's off to Will, a great novelist as well as a great writing teacher.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Tahoe Dark Is Free Today

Today's the day. Tahoe Dark is Free on Kindle. Tell your friends. Here's the link to the book on Amazon:

ENJOY! and Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tahoe Dark - Free On Kindle On Christmas

In celebration of the Christmas holiday, Tahoe Dark will be free on Kindle beginning on Christmas and running until December 29th.

Those of you reading this blog might already have a copy in your Kindle or a print book on your shelf. However, you probably know other readers who might like to try my latest at no cost. If so, consider passing on this information to them.

In either event, thank you all so much for your continued interest and support!

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

He Said, She Said... Really? Do I Have To?

In the novel I was recently reading, one of the dialogues went something like this:

"Don't put lighter fluid in the wood stove," she said.
"You think it will explode?" he asked.
"Maybe. It's definitely dangerous."
"I suppose I'm playing with fire, ha, ha."
"It probably depends on how hot the stove is."
"And how volatile lighter fluid is."
"Are there different kinds of lighter fluid?"
"Good question. Either way, there must be safer fire starters for stoves."
"What about those wax logs?"
"I've never tried that. Do you have to start with kindling? Or can you just light them with a match?"
"I don't know, but I've heard that if you break them up when they're burning, they become an inferno."

At about this point, I'd gone back two different times to try to figure out who was speaking. There are few things more frustrating.

Yes, the dialogue could have been constructed to make the identity of the speaker more obvious. But this confusion happens to all of us readers. So why do writers do this? If you asked the writer, he would probably say it is obvious who the speaker is, and that those pesky 'he said, she said' dialogue tags are obnoxious. Sure, it's obvious to writer. But the rest of us are in the dark.

In an ideal world, the different speakers would have speaking styles so distinct that the reader could tell who is speaking just by the words. The problem is that the author knows who's speaking, so the author can't adequately judge how clear it will be to the reader. In addition, maybe the reader is fatigued, reading in bed, not paying careful attention to what they're reading. (I know, shocking to consider that, huh?!)

The bottom line is that when in doubt, writers should insert a 'he said' or 'she said' every now and then to help make it clear. (Or 'Joe said' or 'Susan said')

There are variations on the theme using action.

Susan was drinking a beer when she saw Joe open the door of the wood stove. "Don't put lighter fluid in the stove."
"You think it will explode?" Joe looked at the charcoal lighter bottle.

The writer can often utilize this, but it can become tedious.

He said or she said is largely invisible. And no matter how much you don't like it, it is better than making your reader get out a pencil and making her own dialogue tags in the margins.

P.S. Whatever you do, don't put in dramatic dialogue tags like he retorted, she barked angrily, he yelled at the top of his lungs. Those are over-the-top cliches and call unnecessary attention to themselves, distracting readers away from the very dialogue you are trying to perfect.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Writer's Dilemma: Making Sales Or Finding Readers?

I had an interesting conversation with another writer at the San Mateo Harvest Festival, where I was exhibiting books in November. (Note that I've been singing the praises of such festivals for years. In the beginning, I was the only writer. This time, there were 4 writers. All sold books! Did they pay their expenses or even make money? I don't know. But they made a lasting impression on readers! And that is what this blog post is about.)

Anyway, our question was whether a writer should focus on selling books or finding readers. The two concepts are different in important ways, and the other writer agreed that focusing on finding readers is more important than focusing on making sales.

Let's break it down. Selling books is obviously important, for it can help pay for everything, including the books the writer is hauling around in the trunk of their car. Selling books provides money for marketing and gives an author an important sense that they are doing something valuable. It also moves one toward quitting the day job, which, when it happens, opens up a whole world of possibilities, not the least of which is the time to write more books!

The ring of the cash register is a powerful reinforcement that one's writing is valuable.

By contrast, focusing on finding readers gives a writer a new way to look at their career. A focus on finding readers draws an author to libraries and book clubs and encourages one to send out review copies. None of those pursuits will generate much, if any, in direct sales. But they are powerful ways of building a career.

Finding readers is the critical part of building a writing career. The sales will follow.
Unfortunately, some writers try these things and then decide it wasn't worth it because they didn't make many sales.

Let me elaborate. Let's say you send out a bunch of review copies of your books. It will cost you the price of the books, plus the postage, plus packing, plus a lot of time in finding addresses of potential reviewers. And some of the people you send review copies to will not review them. Some will even turn around and sell them on eBay or on Amazon Marketplace. You will be tempted to feel outraged. You sent off a free book, and someone else turns it into money! Not fair!

But stop for a moment and think about it. Some of the reviewers or maybe even most of them will review your book and post the review on Goodreads or Amazon or in their local newspaper. There is nothing better for a writing career than reviews. And the ones who are trying to sell your book for a quick few dollars? They are giving you free advertising! Every person who sees those listings gets a small, subliminal impression of your book! Imagine a reader looking up your book on Amazon and seeing that 25 copies are for sale from Marketplace sellers. Without articulating it to themselves, they think that this is a popular book. How else did all these people end up with copies?!

Let's think about book clubs and library appearances. When I started out, I took every opportunity to participate in those whenever I could. Sometimes I would sell a few books. But usually it wasn't enough to do more than pay for gas. But here's a secret... While readers will forget the author of that bestseller they read 18 months ago, they'll never forget the author who came to their book club and talked books while he or she sipped some wine with them. Meeting people and spending a little time with them is the most powerful thing an author can do. It's even more important than the quality of your book! And when those book club members are trying to think of a book to give people on their gift list, they will often think of yours, simply because you charmed them in person. And when they order your book on Amazon, they'll tell the recipient that they met the author. Your book becomes special as a result.

Lets do some numbers. Imagine that you put the word out that you are available and eager to visit book clubs and libraries. (You do this on your social media and you send out an email to your list and you make it prominent on your website, and you put on nice clothes and take your book postcard into libraries and introduce yourself and tell them you love to visit book clubs and libraries.) After you have a few books out, you'll start getting requests. (The reason is that an author with a bunch of books seems like a "real" writer compared to the person with 1 book.)

Give yourself a goal of visiting 12 book clubs or library groups a year. The average group might be only 10 people. That's 120 people who will always remember you and your books. Now do that for 10 years. That's 1200 people. You might say, "Are you telling me this is going to take ten years?!" No. But what else are you going to do for your writing career over the next 10 years? This is a "why not" scenario.

When 1200 people potentially think of you every time they want a new book, that adds up to measurable sales. And many of those people will tell other readers about you. In fact, after a time, you'll discover that many people who were at those book clubs have become your cheer leading squad, telling everybody about this author they know.

What about all the other authors out there? As an author, you have almost uncountable colleagues who have published books and are hoping to sell them. But most of those authors won't take the simple steps of visiting reading groups and libraries, i.e., reaching out to readers. Most won't send out review copies. Most will just sit back with an attitude of, 'I built it, but no one is coming. What's wrong that I don't have readers?'

If, unlike those writers, you focus on finding readers, if you persist in this process, you will build an audience. And that audience will buy each new book you write. (Visit my other blog posts on writing to see the importance of writing multiple books and keeping a regular production schedule.)

Remember what Einstein said. Persistence trumps genius. Keep at it, and never give up.

Oh, and get to work writing on that next book!

We build a writing career one reader at a time. Get your books into the hands of readers, and they will spread the word...