Sunday, November 29, 2015

Your Novel Doesn't Sell? You Can Change That. (Part Seven)

This is the penultimate post in my series about what to do when the love of your life (your novel) has been disappointing you...

G) Continue writing books in the same genre, and, if at all possible, have all of your books be in a series. (Note that the series need not be the type where the books have to be read in order, as with a trilogy. The important thing is that readers get to revisit the world of characters they've come to know and care about.) Books in a series reinforce each other. Books in a series give readers a subliminal sense that each book is more important than they would otherwise think if it were a standalone. Books in a series need only be sold to a reader once, and, if that reader loved the book, they will likely buy the rest in the series.

Multiple books are critical to success as a writer. Despite the few exceptions you can think of, nearly all successful authors have written multiple books. All other things being equal, (and assuming an author's books fit these conditions I've been writing about), the more books an author writes, the more successful he or she is.

Think through the basics of your series before you bring even your first book to market (Or before you change-up and re-market your first book).

Two more things to do: Make certain that your book covers communicate the "series" aspect. You want certain graphic aspects to be shared by all of your books, same size titles and font, same design theme, etc. The other is to have a "series identifier" in the title. The goal is that when readers of one of your books see another, they immediately recognize it as part of a series with which they're already familiar. To get a visceral sense of these series identifiers, spend some time looking at the "author pages" on Amazon of your favorite authors and see how the titles and graphics relate.

Stay tuned for the final installment of what to do about an under-performing novel.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Your Novel Doesn't Sell? You Can Change That. (Part Six)

This is Part Six in my ongoing series about how one might fix a novel that is languishing.

F) Once your book is published at an affordable price ($4 or less on Kindle), you need to get reviews, especially consumer reviews on Amazon. Amazon reviews have become one of the single most important things for a writer's career. The more reviews your book has, the more significant it will seem to potential readers, and the more it will sell. In fact, if you have a great, pro cover and lots of reviews, it absolutely will sell in some degree, which is no small thing considering that hundreds of thousands of books on Amazon have never sold a single copy. How can you tell? If the book doesn't have a "sales ranking" number, it has never sold. Of course, once your cover and reviews convince someone to buy your book, it is the quality of the story and its editing that determine if they spread the word and buy your future books.

The problem is, reviews for new authors don't happen spontaneously. Most estimates say that you will only get a spontaneous review on Amazon for every 200 - 300 books you sell. In the beginning, it is very difficult to sell 300 books! Do you know 300 people who will buy your book just because you are their friend? I certainly didn't when I started out.

And the unfortunate reality is that most people - even those who adore a novel - will not write a review. They simply don't think of it. They may love your book so much that they write you a glowing email, but they don't think to write a review. Unless you ask them. Then, many of them will be eager to write a review and do whatever they can to help.

So you need to ask for reviews. (Yes, I know you're an introvert. All writers are. Why else would we choose to spend thousands of hours alone, toiling away on a novel? But we have to learn to do some of those things that come naturally to extroverts. Like sending out an email to someone, even - gasp - a stranger, and ask for help.)

To ask for reviews, simply write (don't call on the phone because that puts people on the spot) and politely ask people you know, people you've heard about who read or belong to local book clubs, book bloggers, people you meet at book-related events, etc., if you may give them a signed review copy in exchange for review consideration. Stress that there is no obligation. Many people will be happy to help. They can write in their review that they received a free copy in exchange for honest review consideration. (Note that this is another reason to join writers groups, critique groups, and book clubs, as they become good possibilities for book reviews.)

Here's something to remember about asking for reviews. If any publisher wants a review in Publishers Weekly, or Library Journal, or Booklist, or dozens of other review journals, THEY HAVE TO ASK FOR IT. Reviews aren't automatic for anybody. Publishers send out ARCs (Advance Review Copies) and ask for a potential review. So asking for a review isn't groveling, it is the norm in this business.

Stay tuned for the seventh and penultimate serving of ideas...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Your Novel Doesn't Sell? You Can Change That. (Part Five)

This is Part Five of my series on what you can do if your novel isn't selling.

E) Get a dot-com website (not dot-net or dot-biz, etc.) that uses your author name as its domain name. If your name is not available in the dot-com format, use your name with the addition of the word "books" or "author" or something similar (i.e., johndoethrillers .com). If people hear about your book, one of the first things they do will be to Google your name to find your website. If you can't get a dot-com domain using your name in some fashion, consider writing your book under a pseudonym that is available in the dot-com format. (Note that this may change in the future, and there are now a few successful authors who are only using Facebook. But they are a tiny minority. For the foreseeable future, you need a dot-com website as the hub that asks for readers to contact you (from which you can begin building your email list), directs readers to your blog if you have one, your social media pages, and to your books' pages on Amazon. Note the use of plural "books" instead of singular. You are writing more books, right?

A website can be expensive, but it need not be. I took a cheap website design class at the local community college and did my own website. I pay Godaddy for domain hosting for several years at a time at a very cheap rate. And in the beginning, when I got confused, I visited the website teacher at the community college for occasional help and advice.

Stay tuned for Part Six...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Your Novel Doesn't Sell? You Can Change That. (Part Four)

This is Part Four of what you can do to change up your book to make it a good seller.

D) Get a cover designed by a professional book cover designer. You might say, "But my son knows Photoshop, and he can do amazing things with it." That's like saying, "My son is a great mechanic and is amazingly skillful with his hands, so I'm going to have him fix my teeth."

Yes, a professional book cover is expensive, anywhere from $400 or $500 up to $1500 or more. But this is your novel we're talking about, one of the most significant things you've ever done. Skip eating out for a few months if you must, but get a professional cover. I can't count the number of authors who've proudly handed me a copy of their new book and my first thought is to wonder why they skimped on a cover. Buy a used car instead of a new car. Do whatever it takes.

Here's a useful thought experiment. Imagine your book on a table with 20 current bestselling novels. Now imagine people walking by and, without opening any of the books, picking out the one that looks like it will have the best story. Will it be yours?

You might be wondering about my covers. Although I'm extremely happy with them, and I think my cover designer is amazing (Keith Carlson Graphic Design), I now see that I made a mistake in the beginning of having my name small because I was an unknown. I thought, "An unknown name is certainly not going to help get attention for books!" Multiple people told me otherwise, including, I think, the designer, but I didn't pay attention. (I often miss the obvious.) I've since come to realize that the author name should take the same, larger format on the first five books as it does on the next eight. More work to do, but it will be worth it. Even so, many times people come by my book exhibit and buy books having never opened them up to even read the first sentence. They say something like, "This book looks like it is really good." And then they buy it. I know, crazy! But it happens often.

Will a professional cover make your book a success? No. But a non-professional cover will almost guarantee that you won't find success.

Stay tuned for part five...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Your Novel Doesn't Sell? You Can Change That. (Part Three)

This is the third part of my series on what you can do if your novel doesn't sell. I've previously written about getting your novel critiqued and moving life-or-death trouble up to the beginning, preferably the first sentence. Next,

C) When you've rewritten your book, get it professionally edited by a book editor who isn't your friend or relative, then rewrite, then get another edit. You might say, "But my daughter majored in English and got straight As. She is a great editor." Sorry, this is like working with a critique group. In the beginning especially, the value of editing is connected to the fact that your editor is a professional editor who doesn't know you.

Note that editing is different from critique. Critique comes just after you've finished your first or second draft. Critique is about the big picture, the story arc, the characters and their motivations, the rising plot curve, the big reveals.

Editing comes after you've figured out all that other stuff and rewritten your book three or four or seventeen times. Editing is polishing. Editing is fixing all the little glitches, polishing the rough spots, making sure your POVs are consistent, that you don't have two chapter 39s (as I once did). Editing is making sure your words are spelled correctly. Editing is making sure that your book follows the dictates of a consistent style. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style says that numerals are okay in many places in your prose but that numbers should be spelled out in dialogue as people speak words not numerals. There are a hundred stylistic things like this.

Stay tuned for Part Four...