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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Choosing Your Self-Publishing Format(s)

Among the many decisions you will need to make before self-publishing your book is the format or formats in which you wish to make your book available to buyers. Here are a few thoughts for you to consider when making that choice.

eBook?

Certainly the least expensive -- and least prestigious -- publishing option is going the electronic route. If you are willing to put in the time, you can actually publish your book at no cost at all! Wow! That sounds attractive. And in some ways, it is.

You can get your book "out there" to the buying public in many formats -- Kindle, ePub, PDF, html, plain text, you name it -- all without any-up front cost at all. You can work with printers (or some call themselves ePublishers) like Smashwords.com, Amazon Digital Services, LuLu, and many others. Google will be launching Google Editions this fall for digital books. And Barnes & Noble has its own digital site in the works.

When you ePublish, you don't even need to have a cover . . . though I would highly recommend you put together the best front cover for your book that you can. Online buyers are just as swayed by appearances as brick and mortar buyers are.

All you need to do is follow the publishing instructions on one or all of the above sites (or many others) and *snap*, your book is published and available for sale. You will collect a percentage of all sales receipts. The percentage will vary from site to site. But given that the books you sell actually cost you nothing, any percentage might be attractive.

One downside of digital publishing is that not every potential buyer likes to read books in digital formats. The magnitude of this potential "negative" is determined mostly by your target audience. If you plan to sell $.99 paranormal romances, eBooks may be your very best option. On the other hand, if you have written a Mystery, your target audience is typically age 40 and over. A substantial proportion of your audience may not want to buy an eReader of any type and may not even like to surf the web. ePublishing won't help you out with that target demographic.

Trade Paperback (Perfect Bound)

If you have decided that you need your book to be available in some sort of paper format, the Perfect Bound Trade Paperback is the most common choice. The standard sizes for non-picture books are either 8.5" x 5.5" or 9" x 6." You can go non-standard; but it will limit the number of stores willing to carry your book.

There are a number of decent printers out there who can produce high-quality trade paperbacks at reasonable costs. The cost will vary based mainly on the number of pages in your finished book.

You can go POD (print on demand) or order an offset print run of a specific number of books. POD printing helps curb your upfront costs. But buying in bulk (more than 1,000 copies) from an offset printer can save you on the per-book cost. The decision really rests mainly on your confidence level that your book will sell out those initial copies you purchased for inventory.

Another thing that many POD printers will do for you is to handle distribution of your book. In other words, you don't have to have it sent to your home and then re-send it to the buyer. The POD printer will connect up with Amazon or someone else, and then print and distribute your book as demand dictates.

One downside of POD printing is that the books are usually non-returnable by the bookstores who might want to sell them. Those stores are used to being able to return any books they can't sell. And the wholesale percentage discount to the retailers may be lower than that for batch-printed books (maybe 25% vs 40%).

If you do decide to print your book on paper, I highly recommend that you also make it available in digital format. Some readers actually prefer digital -- even in a middle age demographic.
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I certainly can't cover everything related to this topic in one post. But I hope I have given you something to think about with the above info.

Cheers! And thanks for checking in.

John

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An Open Letter To Amazon.com

Dear Amazon.com:

I am a self-published author of several books for sale at Amazon.com. During the publishing and early marketing of my books, it has become apparent to me that there is a major barrier between my writings and my audience.

Book buyers have no realistic way to rate the quality of the large volume of self- and indie-published books on your virtual shelves. This is a problem for me, and for Amazon, since few reader's will purchase self- or indie-published works with no reliable reviews or rankings to validate their quality.

I write this missive to suggest an easy, inexpensive and effective solution to this dilemma.

THE PROBLEM

The advent of Publish on Demand printing has made authoring and printing one's own book a task that nearly anyone can achieve at an affordable price. This is a fantastic thing for society and culture in general. Interesting and evocative stories will be told; histories and memoirs will be written; opinions and arguments will be made widely available; all in greater depth and detail than was before possible for the average person.

So why is there a problem?

Many of the books that are self- or indie-published will not possess professional-quality appearance or content, or will address topics so individual (like family histories) or obscure (such as Oklahoma farming methods during the Dust Bowl years) as to be of little interest to the vast majority of book buyers.

The book publishing and distribution business is going through the same sort of growing pains that the internet has gone through (and to an extent, continues to experience) as it has expanded from the "information hiking path" to the "information super-highway." Much of the information available on the internet is tremendously useful and enlightening. A much greater proportion is of little value to most people. The sheer quantity of information available is simply too great for anyone to process without the help of an organized system.

In the case of the internet, for good or bad, search engines do the organizing for us. We can "Google," "Bing" or "Yahoo Search" any subject we wish, and the search engine will deliver to us at least some information related to our request. Search engine developers continue to refine and improve on search logic for the purpose of returning to the searcher more relevant and more refined search results. But at least the system is in place. For the most part, with a little creativity, we web-surfers can sift through the internet's vast mounds of information relatively quickly, easily and effectively, and find the answers we seek.

PRESENT SOLUTIONS INEFFECTIVE FOR BOOKS

Unfortunately, at present, there is no analogous way for potential readers to sift through the huge mounds of newly printed self- and indie-published books. The reader (read as "potential book buyer") has only book covers, jacket blurbs, sample passages and reader reviews to aid her in distinguishing the published gems from the rubble. (Kirkus and The New York Times don't review self- or indie-publications.) Such tools might seem sufficient, until one considers that there are a million or so new book covers and blurbs to view, samples to read and reader reviews to consider every year.

No single reader can process this huge amount of information. The result is self-pub gridlock.

Amazon and many other web-based businesses have implemented an aggregate reader rating system to address this volume problem and to aid those seeking new books (or music, or auto parts, etc.) in ranking the quality of the product. For instance, Amazon has its "Star Rating" for each product it sells.

For many products, customer ratings are useful tools. If lawn mower 'A' gets Five Stars from its prior purchasers and lawn mower 'B' gets only Two Stars, the rational buyer will strongly prefer mower 'A' in making her purchase. Unfortunately, this sort of customer ranking/rating system, while inexpensive and accessible, is not effective in the case of self- and indie-published books for two main reasons:

1) Most of these publications seldom get enough customer ratings for the ratings to be useful. The mountain of newly pubbed books is too high for the lone product to gain traction. So there aren't enough reviews of many books to be meaningful to the potential buyer.

2) As soon as their books are published, most self- and indie-published authors, if they are smart, will begin "padding" their customer review ratings. Friends, relatives and acquaintances of the author will all weigh in with their Five Star ratings and their glowing reviews. (This "padding" routine seldom happens with lawn mowers.)

Now I'm not saying that this "padding" practice is in any way dishonest -- or even inappropriate. Everyone is entitled to utilize all legal marketing tools to promote their book. And all readers are allowed to express their opinions as to the book's nature. But this rating method is just not unbiased enough to be helpful to book buyers.

THE NEW SOLUTION

If only there could be an unbiased review ranking system to allow book buyers to sift the wheat from the chaff -- wouldn't that be great!

But how could such an unbiased rating system be developed without great expenditure of time and resources? There are so many new books!

If only the customer could be assured that reviewer rankings were not unduly biased by the ratings of the authors' friends and relatives -- if only, buyers could know that the reviewers were truly independent! If only there were a RATING SYSTEM in which the reader's could have confidence!

Herein lies the solution . . . a legitimate, unbiased, informed system to sort through the newly published books for all of us -- readers and authors alike.

Dearest Amazon, the information and resources to construct such a system are ALREADY IN YOUR DATABASES. Here's how you could establish and implement the "AMAZON SELECT INDIE BOOK INDEX."

THE AMAZON SELECT INDIE BOOK INDEX

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Amazon customers read tens of thousands of newly-published books. A large number of those books are self- or indie-published. Many of those same Amazon customers, voluntarily and without remuneration, post their unbiased "customer reviews" on the Amazon website. All Amazon needs to do to create the SELECT INDIE INDEX is to separate the qualified independent reviewers from the biased ones.

I'm sure, Dear Amazon, that your market analysts and computer programmers can come up with something even better than I propose. But my suggestion is that you create your new rating system based upon the ratings of only those Amazon customers who read many books and submit many reviews. This process would negate the "friends and family effect" that plagues self- and indie-pub customer rankings, and would establish a whole new, bona fide, independent system for book rating.

You already know, Dear Amazon, how you could identify these "qualified" or "certified" book raters. But I will explain so all may understand.

Whenever a reader leaves their book review Star Rating on Amazon, any Amazon customer can look at that reviewer's other book reviews to evaluate that particular reviewer's experience and independence. If the book reviewer has only reviewed a single book, well, that reviewer is probably of the "friend and family" sort.

But if the reviewer has previously reviewed scores, or even hundreds, of previous books, that reviewer is a good source for unbiased, independent opinion. Although readers cannot realistically be expected to search through all the reviewers and their read/review histories, Amazon's computers can do it in a heartbeat.

So Dear Amazon, as an author and book buyer, I believe you and I and millions of book buyers could gain access to a wealth of high-quality self- and indie-published books if you would only implement this new rating system to aid us.

We hope you are able to do so soon . . . before Google or B&N beats you to the punch!

Thanks for listening and I hope we can continue to do profitable business together well into the future.

Cordially,


John L. Betcher

Monday, May 24, 2010

Interview with Author/Blogger Wanda Shapiro

Today I'm visiting with literary blogger and self-published author of SOMETIMES THAT HAPPENS WITH CHICKEN, Wanda Shapiro.

I've got lots of questions. So let's get right to it.

1) How did you decide to write Sometimes That Happens With Chicken? Was there a message you were anxious to convey? Or a publishing void you wanted to fill?

I don't write for fame or fortune and even though Chicken ended up having several messages, I didn't set out to convey them. I write because sentences come to my mind and I feel compelled to write them down. I guess you could call it a calling. I know that term is usually used in religious terms, but it's the closest word I can find for the interior drive I feel to put words to paper. Writing novels simply feels like what I'm supposed to be doing.

2) Did you query agents or publishers before deciding to self-publish your book? If so, what sort of responses did you receive?

Before I was ready for the full-on query process, I casually queried one agent who was a friend of a friend. He was not nobody and he showed some interest in Chicken but I managed to offend him almost immediately. Having offended that agent felt like kismet when I got a call a few weeks later from a small press wanting to publish my book. A friend of a friend had emailed him a copy of Chicken and he called me immediately. He called me a genius at dinner and in subsequent conversations made a very strong case why his tiny press was better for my book than Random House. It was a very heady time in my life and before I had time to send any queries, I had signed a contract with this small press and received a small-press-sized advance.

Then this heady time turned into a writer's nightmare. The editing process was already underway and I had met my cover-designer-to-be, but the economy and the general state of the publishing industry was taking a huge toll on small presses and mine was one of the ones that was forced to suspend operations or face economic disaster. I got a call no one wants to get but I was released from my contract and free to pursue publication again.

I was gearing up for the query process again, and not looking forward to it. I was left with my small publisher's arguments against the big publishers rattling around my head and every writer's dream - a book deal with Random House - had started to lose its appeal. Coincidentally, and thankfully, I started researching self-publishing around that same time because I thought it was an option my husband should consider for a non-fiction book idea he was working on. I read Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon and even though Shepard advised against self-publishing fiction in the first few chapters, I got a glimmer of an idea that indie literature could actually work.

I did several more months of research before I made my final decision, but I never queried another agent and no publisher ever had a chance to reject Sometimes That Happens With Chicken.

3) What marketing strategy or strategies do you believe have been most successful in promoting your book thus far? How do you measure "success" in this context?

Unlike with non-fiction where you can leverage the keyword long tail, marketing fiction is all about word of mouth. So for me, success lies in seeing the word spread beyond my immediate social network. Thanks to the amazing connectivity provided by today's online world, I started seeing that happen in the first week after I launched my site. People I don't know are hearing about me and getting interested enough to talk about me and my book. That's success when it comes to indie literature.

4) Editing is always a challenge for authors who self-publish. Did you have help with your editing/proof reading? Did you hire a professional in this area?

I believe solitary editing of one's own work in preparation for publication is impossible. I didn't hire a professional but I did put together a team of intellectual volunteers some of whom coordinated with me on the hard edit, others of which came in for the various rounds of copy editing. And it was a long process! I didn't start the copy editing (for things like typos and spelling mistakes) until the hard edit of the book was complete. For that I worked closely with my husband, a former college professor. There were many issues we had to talk out, debating the merits of many edits down to the sentence and word level. I lost track of how many rounds is took us to finish the hard edit of Chicken, but it was around eight. After that, the copy editing took another ten or so rounds of eyes (when you count all the volunteers). But keep in mind that I set the bar very high when it came to every aspect of this process. I was shooting for professional quality production values which I could not have achieved alone.

5) What advice would you like to pass along to the readers at Self-Publishing Central who are trying to decide whether they should self-publish?

It's not a decision to be taken lightly. If you're going to do anything in life, it's best not to do it half way, and self-publishing is no different. If you're going to do it right - with a high quality product and a well planned launch - it's going to take a lot of work and it won't happen overnight. You can't rush a quality product to market and most likely you will have to learn how to do things you've never done before. Anyone can publish a book but if you really want to sell books you have to wear many hats. Not all writers want to be a publisher and an editor and a publicist and a brand manager and graphic designer and a typographer and a webmaster, but that's what it takes to be an indie author.

6) I know that your book has not been for sale for very long -- but are you pleased with your self-publishing experience so far?

As a publisher, even at this early stage, I've received enough feedback to have full confidence in my indie plan. I believe I will publish many novels and I believe I will be able to make a living doing so. It's still a little early to tell how long it will take to turn this pipeline into a career, but any doubts I had are in the past.

As a writer, I couldn't be more pleased. My work is being well received across a wide demographic and an audience is beginning to grow. Since my website launched in February, I've been compared to Hemingway, Hitchcock, Salinger, and Burroughs. Not many debut novelist can say that, no matter how their book got published.

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Thanks so much for your insights into the self-publishing biz. I know I've learned a lot. And I'm certain some of our readers will, too.

Wanda has a great blog at http://www.onegirlonenovel.com/index.php/the-plan/ Please go and check it out.

Readers -- thanks for visiting. Hope to see you again soon.

John

Friday, May 21, 2010

Make Sure Your Self-Pub Research is Current

There's a lot of advice on the web concerning whether self-publishing your book is advisable, or even viable.

Some articles quote tales of unscrupulous printers/publishers who rob you of your rights to your own book.

Others speak of the poor quality of materials and printing in small printers or POD outlets.

Still others quote statistics of how few copies self-published books sell, and how high the costs of self-publishing are.

My advice to you when you are weighing all the available opinions regarding self-publishing is that you choose your mentors carefully, and make sure their recommendations reflect the current realities in the publishing world.

Just one example:

SCENARIO #1

I self-published a small volleyball coaching book in May of 2009 -- exactly one year ago. My thorough research of the publishing environment at that time led me to the conclusion that I should use a small, independent printer to print the book, and I should design my own cover. I also had to obtain my own ISBN (nearly $200.00) and figure out how to insert a bar code on the book cover.

The total cost for me to order a first run of 500 copies of the book and get it listed on Amazon.com and Kindle, more than $2,000.00, plus monthly listing fees of $39.99 thereafter. Amazon reported the sales to me and I shipped them to the buyers. My take per book, around 50% (until you take the monthly listing fees into account). Then I usually lost money each month due to low sales volume -- which I had expected all along. It was not a mass market book.

SCENARIO #2

Less than one year later, in March of 2010, I self-published my first fiction novel, THE MISSING ELEMENT, A James Becker Mystery, using an entirely different methodology. This time I used Amazon's CreateSpace.com as my printer. I was able to adapt one of their stock book covers to a look with which I was satisfied -- maybe not thrilled, but satisfied. CreateSpace provided my ISBN and bar code for free. And POD printing quality has been, in my opinion, very good -- at least comparable to the small printer I had used a year ago. And the proofs look exactly like the real book. They're not all in pieces, as you might find with a small printer.

The total cost for me to get my book on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle? Less than $200.00. My percentage take on all Amazon sales, 32% of list price NET OF BOOK COST. I don't have to carry inventory for those sales. And I don't have to do the shipping myself. My book is even eligible for FREE SHIPPING OVER $25.00, so it saves my buyers money. And because I let Amazon set the price, they have discounted it 28% making the book attractive to even more buyers. My cut is still based on my original list price -- so the lower Amazon goes with the selling price, the better, as far as I am concerned.

I can still order my book at a delivered cost to me of about 31% of list, IN ANY QUANTITY, leaving me plenty of room to offer bookstores their expected 40% cut.

CONCLUSIONS?

What changed between 2009 and 2010? Just about everything.

My point . . . when you are making your publishing decisions, make sure your info is current. A time frame as short as one year -- or an article whose author is even one year out of touch with this industry -- can render some advice nearly worthless.

I'm not saying there aren't some things that have stayed the same over the past couple years. You still need to watch out for scam publishers. I usually Google the publisher name and the word "scam" just to see what comes up.

Some POD printers are still asking you to sign over too many rights to them in exchange for their printing services. Read the fine print. (The way I published with CreateSpace, I can pick up my chips at any time and leave only their stock cover-art behind. I laid out my book interior myself, rather than hiring them to do it. More work, sure. But I can stick that PDF file into any cover I want to, with any printer, at any time.)

Some printers are still poor-quality printers. Check 'em out online for complaints and reviews.

And some distribution channels are still not really functional for self-pubs.

But the times are changing, and changing fast. So ya gotta keep up!

Have a great day!

John

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wanda Shapiro -- A One-Woman Random House

My post today is brief because you're going to learn a lot from following this link to Wanda Shapiro's (@WandaShapiro on Twitter) fantastic blog.

Wanda is self-publishing her book, SOMETIMES THAT HAPPENS WITH CHICKEN. Her approach is very studied and worthy of emulation.

So please check out One Girl One Novel at: http://www.onegirlonenovel.com/index.php/the-plan/

All the best to you, Wanda.

John

Monday, May 17, 2010

Is Print-on-Demand really a bad idea?

I just read this article, the title of which is "7 Things to think about before you go with Print on Demand."

http://bookcoaching.com/wp/advice-before-print-on-demand/

I'm all for thinking before leaping. In fact, there are those who would accuse me of over-preparedness.

But my reading of the "7 Things" article is that its author doesn't believe there is ANY good reason to POD publish. I disagree.

Let's look at a few realities that are, indeed, important to consider before you self-publish -- whether POD or via a traditional printer:

1) Don't be guilty of "author discrimination." POD publishing has made it possible for ANYONE to publish a book. The natural result is a dilution in the overall quality of the books being published -- when taken in aggregate. But let's not practice author discrimination by generalizing about the quality of writing in POD books. There are some POD's out there that would compete on every level with many NY Times Best Sellers. They just tend to get lost among the rabble. There are actually MORE GOOD BOOKS out there right now then ever before. Don't discard a book just because it's POD.

2) Publishing costs. "7 Things" says:

"These [POD] companies aren’t really publishers just because they take your book and create digital copies for you. They are printers.

"If they are printers, then they are really charging too much. And, they have control of your book and can charge you 40-50% commission before you get multiple copies of your book. If you go Print on Demand, it’s much better to go with a POD printer such as Deharts.com where you maintain full control of the book."

I'm not familiar with Deharts.com. But I have researched various traditional printers and their costs. Traditional printing is not cheap. And you really need to order AT LEAST a couple thousand dollars worth of your book before you know if you'll be able to sell any. The per book cost will not be cheaper than a good POD service. And the quality will not be better than a good POD service. The commission the author mentions should only be charged when your POD printer also markets your book. I don't pay a commission to get author copies of my POD book. My book has a color cover and is a 300 page 6 x 9 perfect-bound trade paperback. I pay $4.37 each -- in ANY quantity. Average shipping cost for my book is $.56 per copy.

Once your book has been printed and shipped to you, a traditional printer is out of the picture. But my POD printer also offers me sales connections. They're not mandatory. But they do cost something by way of commission, should I choose to pursue them. Usually my net take on books sold through my printer is about 30% -- twice what a large publishing house would pay me.

Even when my book is resold through wholesalers like Ingram, my take is still over 15% -- and I have no up-front costs in those sales. I don't need to worry about order-taking, or fulfillment, or non-paying accounts. That's what I pay the extra commission for.

If I want to take my $4.37 books and arrange my own sales channels, I am welcome to do so. And in some cases, that is a part of my sales strategy. But what I typically find is, retailers want a 40% discount off of list. Now with my upfront book cost of about $5.00 including shipping, and the retailer's 40% discount off my book's $15.95 list price, I make less than the 30% I would have made through some of my "printer's" wholesale channels.

So POD gives me choices I wouldn't have otherwise had, with less initial investment, less risk, and less hassle. Huh . . . imagine that.

3) Book Sales. "7 Things" cautions us to "make sure you can sell this book before you spend time and money with Print on Demand."

Personally, I don't find this admonition very helpful. If we KNEW we could sell our book, wouldn't that mean that we already had a contract to sell it? It's sort of cart-before-the-horse thinking.

I would respond that, since we don't know that our book will sell, we should minimize our upfront costs and not spend thousands (or tens of thousands) on traditional printing, when we could spend only a few hundred on POD.

I have a good friend who tells me about his experience self-publishing his book using a traditional printer.

"It's a million seller," he says. "I've got a million in my cellar."

I don't know about you, but I'd rather stick my toe in before I throw my whole self into the pot.

In summary, please go read the above article to receive it's author's unedited sentiments. Then you can for yourself decide if POD makes sense.

Disclaimer: I get no remuneration whatsoever from any POD company and will not benefit financially in any way from the content of this blog. It's all just my humble opinion.

Best regards.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How important is your media kit?


















I am a firm believer that first impressions make a difference. If the first thing a potential reviewer, reporter or blog host sees of your work is a crappy-looking-piece-of-junk Media Kit . . . well, good luck!

The image in this blog is the front cover (or first PDF page) of my Media Kit for The Missing Element. In terms of the visual arts, I'm not artistic at all. Can't even draw a straight line. And yet, I was able to create this cover in my word processing program. It's not Van Gogh. But it's eye-catching and gives the impression that I gave the matter of this first impression some thought.

When you create the inside of the Media Kit, you want to make the content as complete and as user-friendly as possible. You don't want to leave out important information, like your marketing/promotional plan, the book's info sheet, or a sample press release. But you can't really expect anyone to want to read the entire kit either.

My Media Kit is currently 16 pages long. To address the issue of accessibility, the kit includes a Table of Contents. If the reader wants to check out the "Reviews" first, s/he can skip ahead to that section. If a reviewer is pressed for time, they might appreciate the FAQ section, from which they can cut and paste author quotes, or even structure their review as part book review, and part author interview. Because portions of your kit might end up in the media verbatim, make sure the writing is tight and your editing is clean. Don't write anything in the kit in a less-than-professional manner. It might come back to embarrass you later.

When I send out a paper version of my kit, I have my local print shop laser-print it in booklet format. It costs me about $5.00 per kit in very small quantities (which is what I want so I can continually add reviews, appearances and blog mentions to the kit as they occur). It's a minimal investment if the look of the kit is sharp enough to get your book looked at, while others sit in a pile of look-alike white paper stacks.

A number of reviewers have commented to me that my Media Kit is very professional. If folks go out of their way to say something like that, you know they are taking notice -- they want to take a look inside that colorful cover. If that happens, you've already gotten their attention. If your interior is accessible and professional, too, you might just put yourself high enough up the reader's "to do list" to get a review published.

If you're not sure what to put in your Media Kit, check out the link in my blog post entitled: "My most successful marketing tip to date" from April 12th.

Hope my experiences with a Media Kit have been of some help in your quest for success.

Have a great day!

John

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An author's greatest challenge -- patience

Whether you are waiting for Simon & Schuster to finish editing, re-editing, proof-reading, and marketing your novel -- average of 18 months from completed novel to publication -- or whether you have just sent your book out to reviewers and are anxiously anticipating feedback, one of your most important attributes as an author will be tested to its maximum.

Of course, I'm talking about patience.

When are some times you need to exercise EXTREME patience?

-- Right now, I'm finding it hard to be patient enough to finish this post. I've got a number of family and work activities pulling me in multiple directions. So I'll have to wait to finish it until the weekend.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Okay. It's Saturday afternoon and I'm finally back. Wrote the paragraphs above on Thursday. Frustrating to wait to finish. But no good posting something half-done either.

-- Another time you need patience is when you have just "finished" your first manuscript and can't wait to send it out the (email) door to every agent in your genre. Of course, you're excited to get this monumental work of yours to the reading public. And you have a right to be. But slow down. If you really believe you've "finished" your book enough to send out some queries, try sending your query to only a few agents at first -- just to see what reaction you get. Once you've sent your query out to every agent under the sun, it's hard to fix those freshman query mistakes that we all make.

-- If you know that you're going to be self-publishing, and you won't be querying agents, you need to have patience before you publish your book. Believe me . . . it's not ready yet. How do I know? Because no writing is ever truly finished. There are always improvements to be made. Have another friend take a look at your manuscript and ask for their brutally honest opinion. I guarantee that, if your friend is a careful reader, and honest with you, they will find a bunch of things that you will be glad you never published as part of your book. Keep re-reading, editing, and improving your book as often as you can stand, garnering as many helpful opinions as you are able along the way. Then publish it.

-- When you've submitted a query, or even a manuscript, to an agent or publisher, patiently await their reply. In order to avoid wondering of they have received your book (both email and snail mail do have a percentage of failed deliveries), ask for a confirmation of receipt when you send your book off for review. Then if you don't get a confirmation after a reasonable delivery time, send a follow-up note "just to confirm, as mentioned in my earlier email." Otherwise, be patient. It can take months for some agents to respond to queries or partials. And they get hundreds and hundreds of emails a week. Don't clutter your prospective agent's 'In Box' with unnecessary reminders.

I could go on and on about times when patience is truly a virtue in the writing process. So my general advice is . . . the next time you feel an absolute need to do something quickly (unless you're under a deadline), wait at least a couple days; think about what you are about to do and how you plan to do it best. Then wait just a little longer before pulling the trigger.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading.

Please be patient for my next post, I'm still writing and lawyering in addition to this blog. And my wife likes to see me, too.

Enjoy the day.

John

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My most successful book marketing tip to date

I've been learning book marketing as I go -- navigating social media such as FaceBook, Twitter, Writer's Blogs; reading "How To" books on self-publishing; experimenting with my own website (which I am in the process of upgrading); approaching print and radio media outlets; publishing digital editions of my book all over the place; and employing many other less traditional marketing approaches.

The foregoing efforts have led me to a single, rather ominous, conclusion. Nobody really knows the best way to market your book in this time of publishing upheaval -- and by upheaval, I mean "opportunity."

I know it's early in the publishing process for me. My first book was published March 8, 2010 with no pre-publication marketing. I now know that was a mistake. But it just means I need to do that marketing NOW. So I've allocated my first year post-publication to intensive marketing efforts. Of course, I continue to write, and work my day job, as well.

To date, without a doubt my most successful marketing strategy has been identifying Amazon Top Reviewers and emailing them, asking if they'd consider reviewing my book.

Kirkus Reviews isn't interested in self-published books -- whether before or after publication. And "Kirkus Discoveries" costs hundreds of dollars to get one short review -- a review that everyone in the writing community knows you had to pay for, so its independence is in question.

This is how I approached the Amazon Top Reviewers:

-- First I found out who these Top Reviewers were. That information is available by Googling "Amazon Top Reviewers" or by clicking here: http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers

-- Then I started at the top of the list. Why not go for the very best, I say!

-- I read each reviewer's profile to determine if they were the right person to review my book. I didn't want to approach someone whose specialty is reviewing household appliances, for instance.

-- If the reviewer seemed right for my book and its subject matter, and if the reviewer had contact information posted in their profile, I figured I had a good prospect.

-- I then sent each selected reviewer a personalized email telling them that I was contacting them because of their reputation as a Top Reviewer on Amazon, particularly in the area of [mystery books -- insert your book's genre], that I had recently published [book name] and I was wondering if I might send them a complimentary signed copy for their review.

-- In each email, I added a link to my Amazon listing, so they could see the description posted there, and a link to my website.

-- I had also prepared a Media Kit, and attached that as a PDF to the email. If you don't know what a Media Kit is, I found this page very helpful: http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/mediakit.shtml I received several compliments on how "professional" my Media Kit looked. So I recommend spending the time to put a nice one together.

I sent out about twenty of these emails to Amazon Top Reviewers. That was about April 5th.

Almost immediately, I received seven requests for my book. Of those seven, three have posted reviews on Amazon so far. It's not uncommon for a reviewer to take months to get around to reading your book. So be patient. But my first one came back in less than a week. AND IT WAS FIVE STARS.

That didn't make books start jumping off Amazon's shelves. But now I had a bona fide quote I could place on FaceBook, Twitter, and my website, and that I could add to my Media Kit AND MY BOOK JACKET. Those early INDEPENDENT reviews gave my book a source of respect in the reading community. And that is something that money can't buy.

I continue to edit and update my Media Kit and POD book front matter as new reviews come in. I also continue to offer the book to various bloggers and media outlets for review. But the Amazon Top Reviewers got me started.

Of course, some of my other marketing strategies are working pretty well, too. But now you know my favorite -- and most successful -- one so far.

I'll post more of my strategies later in this blog as I am able to assess their success. This blog is all about self-publishing. I don't blather. If I post it, it's because I think someone may be able to benefit from the info.

Thanks to my new guests for following.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I was just named to inkyelbows' Twitter list of "highinfo - lowchat" tweeps. Inkyelbows also goes by ipadgirl and her real name, Debbie Ridpath Ohi. She is an accomplished visual artist --
some really great drawings and cartoons -- and an iPad guru. Follow her on Twitter @inkyelbows or @ipadgirl. And checkout her website and blog at: http://www.inkygirl.com/

She is a tremendous resource for any serious writer! No kidding. Thanks Inky.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Publisher Closes, an Author Regroups

The landscape of book publishing is changing forever. Pulp is increasingly giving way to silicon chips -- books to apps and downloads.

It's hard for authors -- especially new authors -- to get published by a reputable company these days. And harder still to get the book properly marketed.

But the story below is a sad roller-coaster ride that no author would wish upon another. Please read.

A Publisher Closes, an Author Regroups (Huff Post): http://dld.bz/cY4S

Borders to offer ePubs

Notoriously behind-the-times bookseller Borders is finally getting into the digital book market with its partner, KoboBooks.com. Borders will launch its online store in June.

One wrinkle that is important to the self-publisher . . . you're not welcome at Borders.

I sent Kobo an email asking how I might submit my eBook for publication with Borders/Kobo(which takes no shelf space or work on their part, of course). They stated:

"Thanks for contacting us about selling your work with Kobo! We are currently asking self-published authors and small publishers to approach Smashwords or Author Solutions; both are digital aggregators with whom we have pre-existing contracts. By going through either one of these services, we will be better able to process the high volume of self-published authors that are looking to sell their work through Kobo."

In all fairness, I checked out SmashWords and it's a pretty decent ePublisher. But they don't offer DRM -- which might be a deal-breaker for some authors.

Here's an article about what Borders has planned: http://ow.ly/1J4oL

Monday, May 3, 2010

Think Creatively

Hey, it worked for beer... Heffernan on Self-publishing: "small and crafty can beat big and branded," says Jason Ashlock of Moveable Type Literary.

http://nyti.ms/bbTMz2

Book Trailers Aren't Impossible to Make

Overwhelmed by the thought of making a book trailer? Find out how to do it in 4 steps:

http://ht.ly/1Giuh

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Digital is Changing Publishing Forever

Traditional book publishers are reeling under digital onslaught. Check out this article by John Hanna.

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6369.html

Innovative Marketing -- Amazon Reviewers

When you self-publish, it's always a challenge to get reviewers to read your work. Try operating outside the mainstream if necessary.

Amazon keeps a list of Top Reviewers. Start with No. 1 and work your way through the list, looking for reviewers who review your type of book. Email them and offer them a complimentary, signed copy for review if they will consider reading it and posting their review on Amazon.

If you get a good review, you not only get it on Amazon; but you may be able to use it on your book cover as well.

If your book gets bad reviews, well . . . maybe it's not that great. Might as well know the truth.

1,000,000 Self-Published Books a Year

There are more than 1,000,000 new self-published books in the U.S. every year. 92% never sell more than 99 copies. The average sales is 500 copies. If you decide to self-publish, you need a plan, as well as a measure of dedication, to succeed. Of course, your book's gotta be good, too. But applying some of the strategies mentioned from time to time in this blog, you can make your self-published title a success.

Agent Donald Maass Offers Help to Invigorate Flagging Prose

4 Techniques to Fire Up Your Fiction from Agent Don Maass:
http://bit.ly/arrq0X

The above article holds some terrific -- and specific -- advice for converting dull characters into human beings with depth and interest, and spicing up a lagging scene.

Strongly recommended