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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Five Words to Inspire A New Novelist

Sorry for the delay between my last post and today's. My wife and I had an anniversary and I just started a new ms that I wanted to make some headway on. Above all, I hate to post when I don't have anything useful to say.

Today's post is borrowed from my LinkedIn Writers' group. Members were asked, "What five words would you pass along to inspire a new novelist?"

Here are some of the responses:

-- Write, read, write, read, WRITE.
-- Know where your story starts
--
Keep writing, word by word.
--
Reflect, dream, contemplate, experience, create.
-- C
haracter, sensory detail, discipline, courage.
--
Know why you are writing.
--
Patience, perseverance, assiduousness, politeness, professionalism.
--
Write what you may know.
-- Never, ever, ever give up.
-- You are your own competition.

The thread is still open on LinkedIn. For you LinkedIn members, it is located here. (If you're not on LinkedIn, the writing presence there is growing.)

Each of the above words is wise and inspirational in its own way. Many emphasize patience and persistence and keeping going despite the challenges you may face. Others reflect on creativity and inspiration.

My personal opinion is that it is of utmost importance to keep writing, whether you feel like it, or whether others show their appreciation, or not.

@Inkyelbows on Twitter reminds us:

Only 10% of writers keep at it & because they do, they're successful & known -even if not talented. http://bit.ly/dAerRH

And here is yet one more inspirational thought -- a favorite quote of mine:

‎"Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true." Leon J. Suenes

So if you're feeling down, overwhelmed, under-motivated or just plain worn out, consider the inspirational words of other writers above, and keep on writing!

That's it for today.

I'll write my next post when I can. Writing a first draft of a ms is sort of all-absorbing for me.

Cheers!

John

P.S. If you want to know more about me or my writing check out my website.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Prevailing Wisdom - Begin at Home

There's been a lot written in blogs, on self-publishing websites and in other media lately about how important it is for self-published authors to build and maintain a professional web presence. Use FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter to build your social media platform and get the word out to the world. Join online self- or indie-pub groups to eNetwork.

I agree with all of this advice!

But I also want to remind writers to take advantage of the marketing and promotional resources they have closer to home. And although I haven't seen the article myself, I'm told that Yahoo Infinity Newsletter agrees.

Here's what I have done to try to build a grassroots following for my books in my area of the country:

-- I contacted my local newspaper prior to release of my first book, and have kept them in the loop with various email updates concerning reviews, appearances, accolades, etc. ever since. From this simple effort, my books have benefited from three nice articles -- all with photos -- announcing the publication of my books and describing their plot lines. One article contained an "Interview with the Author" and answered those questions readers might have about why I wrote these books and what was in them for the local readers. The article spanned more than half a page.

-- I also branched out to regional newspapers. I sent signed paperbacks to their book reviewers along with a cover letter detailing why I and my books would be of interest to their readership. I followed each mailing up with an email announcing that the book was on its way and providing web links to book reviews, my website, my author FaceBook page, etc. From this effort I have received two short (8 or so column inches) articles in one regional paper and a promise of a book review from the same paper in the coming weeks.

-- When USA Today online picked up a link to one of my reviews, I emailed all the local and regional papers again to let them know other newspapers were taking notice.

I know . . . you're probably thinking all of the above isn't very creative. And it isn't. But after each article, there was a spike in local sales of my books.

Now I know that my book will not become a best seller strictly on local sales. But it's a place to get people reading your book. And if they like it, maybe they'll tell their friends . . . and so on. It's the kind of thing that used to happen before mass media took over the information channels.

I also have had a couple more ingenious ideas on the local front. Those have borne fruit as well.

-- I emailed one independent reviewer who had read and liked my book to ask if he would consider sending a "Letter to the Editor" of my local paper. I was hoping for something like: "Hey. Check out this local author guy you've got in Red Wing, MN. His books are worth a read." The actual letter that was written turned out to be fantastic! The headline on the Letter as printed in the paper was: "Read a Top Author in Your Midst." Pretty cool. And again, a spike in local sales.

-- I emailed another independent reviewer who liked my books and asked if she might consider allowing my local paper to reprint her review in its Book Review section. She was actually excited at the thought. She edited the review to the length specified by the newspaper and submitted the review to my local paper through me. That review ran this past weekend: "Review: You Must Read Betcher's Latest." I haven't check my local sales outlets, but I'd be willing to bet on another spike in sales. And there was also a spike in visitors to my Author website this weekend. I doubt that was coincidental.

-- I asked yet another independent reviewer if they would consider sending a Letter to the Editor of a Twin Cities newspaper. She was happy to do so. That letter was very complimentary of my books. But the newspaper chose not to run it. HOWEVER, a week or so after the reviewer sent to Letter to the Editor, I received an email note from that newspaper's book reviewer saying that my book was "in her to-be-read pile." Considering the hundreds of books submitted to that newspaper for review every day, I am confident that the Letter to the Editor was instrumental in drawing the newspaper's book reviewer's attention to my book.

-- One other thing I have done is to send emails to successful authors in my geographic area to see if they might be willing to write me a jacket blurb. Most of those emails have (predictably and understandably) gone unanswered. But today, I received an email from one of them with a blurb for my book cover AND a very complimentary email as well. What a mood lifter!

I've run on long enough with this post. You get the idea. Get your book into your local book stores (and arts associations) and let local media know what's going on as often and from as many sources as you can manage. Keep your web presence. But attack from local ground as well. It's a resource well worth pursuing.

That's it for today. Cheers!

John

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Exhibiting at a Book Fair

Today's post has to do with selling your book at a book fair or festival. I haven't actually done this yet. But I have a festival coming up. And I've attended a few. So I thought I'd share my plans.

In October, I will have a table at the Minneapolis RAIN TAXI BOOK FESTIVAL. That means I get one of thirteen zillion, three-foot wide tables on which to display and sell my wares . . . er, books. Here are some of the challenges I can foresee and how I plan to address them.

Get my table noticed from a distance. There are going to be multiple l-o-n-g lines of tables just like mine at this fair. Everybody at every table will be selling books. I need to do something to distinguish my table from the others, and hopefully, to attract buyer notice at a reasonable distance. I know you're probably thinking that an organ-grinder and a monkey would be just the ticket. But I'm pretty sure I'd irritate all the exhibitors around me, and probably PETA, too, if I chose that route.

I'm still mulling this over. But I have a particular affinity for Diet Mountain Dew. It's my morning coffee and my afternoon tea. One of my books also features Diet Mountain Dew as an integral component of my hero's plan to save the U.S. from nuclear disaster. (No kidding. If you had read the book, you would understand.) So I'm considering placing a one-liter Diet Dew bottle on a chrome pole with a battery-powered light (or two) inside it, and standing the pole beside my table. If it's tall enough, it just may pique someone's interest.

Making my table look good close-up. Once readers get close to my table, I want to make sure that my table display looks classy, professional (in contrast to my Dew light) and approachable.

Part of my plan is to have a selection of tablecloths along with me . . . different colors and styles so I can select the best one at the last minute to make my table look better than everyone else's -- or at least, better than someone else's. I'll probably have red, green, cream and brown/tan options available . . . all fairly formal, but not lacy. My hero is a man of action, after all.

Naturally, there will be several stacks of each book, of varying heights to indicate that sales have been made. I'll also have an 8" x 10" color poster displayed in a plexi-glass, standing picture frame, featuring Author and book cover pics, together with a short bio and a one-sentence description of each book (targeted at this particular audience, of course).

I'll also have a nice table-fan of take-away glossy bookmarks containing all crucial book and contact information.

And I thought I would lay out on the table, a laminated sheet (8.5" x 11") containing choice blurbs from book reviews. If I'm busy talking to another buyer, the next person can bide their time by checking out my list of reviews -- just in case they doubt my talent as an author. (You never know.)

Human contact. Perhaps the most important part of my "fair strategy" is to present an approachable presence at the table. I will be either standing or sitting on the edge of a wooden stool during the entire fair. I won't be sitting down in a chair. I don't want people to feel like they might be interrupting me if they approach my table.

I will have a couple questions designed to engage passersby in friendly conversation. And I will have a one or two sentence synopsis of each book at the ready.

I will know WHY THE READER SHOULD BUY MY BOOKS, and be able to convey this information concisely.

I WILL NOT be pushy or try to force anyone to engage with me if they don't care to. But I will open the door to conversations, and hopefully, book sales.

Other logistics. I will have a change box with plenty of bills and coins so I don't ever have to turn a buyer away for lack of the correct change. I will also have a quick reference guide to provide me the exact cost of various combination sales of my books so I don't have to calculate it each time. (For example: 2 of Book A + 1 of book B = $X including tax).

I'll try to have someone come by the table to give me a break once in a while so I can hit the head or grab a bite. But if I can't arrange this, I'll try to make friends with neighboring exhibitors and see if we can arrange to cover one another's tables for short, but necessary, absences.

I may allow readers to register for a door prize of some sort (not my books -- I want them to buy those) to attract further interest to my table. I will notify them of their winnings via email, allowing me to possibly make an unobtrusive post-book-fair contact with them.

I will bring plenty of books, and have more in the car. I might not sell a lot . . . but I WILL NOT RUN OUT!

I might have a dish of wrapped mints available. Hmmm?

I'm sure I'll come up with better ideas as I continue to prepare. But those are mine for now.

Do you have any book fair tips you'd care to share? Please post a comment.

That's it for today.

Cheers!

John

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why Amazon's Bestselling Rank is Misleading

Today's post has to do with a number that I know a lot of self- and indie-publishers like to watch -- The Amazon Bestselling Rank for their book(s). So what does this number mean anyway?

The foregoing question is one of life's big mysteries. Amazon clearly has a methodology for developing this Bestselling Ranking. But they aren't saying what it is. Some folks have gone to a great deal of effort to reverse engineer what Amazon is doing with its ranking system. If you like detail, check out this link to Morris Rosenthal's article.

But if you just want the short version, I'll give it to you here.

The most important thing to know about Amazon's ranking system is that, for all but the top 10,000 ranked books or so, a book's ranking at any given time is totally meaningless in terms of how well that book is selling. I'll say it again. Totally meaningless.

Here's why.

If a book has been selling a copy every 10 or 20 days or so, if you check it 20 days after its last sale, it will have a ranking of maybe 700,000 - 900,000. But if you check the ranking for the same book an hour later, after it has sold a single copy, you might find it's ranking has moved up to as low as 70,000 - 100,000. Did you know that?

So if you want to really get an idea of how well a book is selling, you need to check numerous times over an extended period to get a true sense of its average sales ranking. The more frequently you check, and over the longer time period, the more accurate the true average sales/day ranking will be. But don't ever expect to see that average displayed as the book's sales ranking!

Another thing you might consider if you tend to rely on this Amazon Ranking is that it DOES INCLUDE sales of books through Amazon Marketplace, but it DOES NOT include Kindle sales. So a book that has great Kindle numbers may have a lousy paperback number, and vice versa.

And of course, the Amazon Ranking doesn't take into account any sales of books or ebooks made outside of its own system (meaning, not through Amazon and not through Amazon Marketplace). So a book may be selling great at Borders or Barnes & Noble or at gobs of Indie bookstores all over the country, but if it isn't selling a lot through Amazon, its ranking number will be very high.

Let me give you an example from my personal experience of how pointless this Amazon Ranking can get.

I have three books for sale on Amazon right now. All are available in paperback and Kindle. One is a volleyball coaching book that I published in May, 2009. The other two are suspense/thrillers I published in March and June of this year.

Since May, 2009, I have sold a total of MAYBE 80 of those VB books in paperback. About 50 were sold through Amazon. I've sold another 40 or so through Kindle. My current novels are both selling 100 copies or more in paper each month (not all through Amazon), and another 15 or 20 each in Kindle. Yet earlier this week, my Amazon Rankings for the two novels were over 700,000 and the VB book was at about 120,000. Why? I had just sold half-a dozen VB books in a space of two weeks. And most of my paperback sales had been through other channels.

Does that makes sense? Not to me.

Some NY Times Best Sellers have fallen down the list just because they're a few years old. Are they less worthy for the passage of time? I don't think so.

So here's my bottom line regarding Amazon's ranking numbers -- unless your book is in the top 10,000, or below 2,000,000 or so, they don't mean anything! So stop fretting over them. And don't judge other author's books by those numbers either. Please!

That's it for today. Have a good one!

John

PS. If you're interested in buying one of my paperbacks, it's cheaper on my site than on Amazon. You'll still have to go to Amazon for a Kindle version, though. JB

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

PayPal's Magic "Buy Now" Button

Here's one more thing you can do FOR FREE to help market your book.

You know when your POD printer kindly sets you up with your own personal "Storefront" for your book, and it looks so great, but nobody EVER shops there . . . well, there's a reason. It's probably the most expensive place on the web to buy your book -- or at least tied for most expensive. Full price, plus shipping.

What those pre-fab storefronts tend to do is to derail the author from seeking out his/her own online selling location.

So here's the tip --

You already have an online selling location . . . on your website, or your blog or on FaceBook. You just need a "Buy Now" button from PayPal. Go to this link, follow PayPal's instructions and get one.

Sure you need to set up a Seller Account. How else would you get paid? But your account is good for selling anything you want in the future. And commissions are very low when you do make a sale.

I now have "Buy Now" buttons on my website for all my books. Since there's no middle man, I can sell at competitive prices and still offer FREE SHIPPING VIA PRIORITY MAIL! If you're selling digital books, have your buyers give you their email address when they buy so you can email them their book, after payment, of course.

Here's an example of how pricing works for one of my books:

-- The 19th Element lists for $17.95 and sells on Amazon at that price (free shipping over $25). My commission is about $5.00.
-- I offer it on my site for $15.95 with FREE PRIORITY MAIL SHIPPING. My cost of book is $6.00 delivered to my home. Shipping is $4.90. My net is $5.05, less about $.50 commission.
-- Buyer saves at least $2.00 over Amazon. I get any impulse buys from my site. And I still net almost the same net. It's actually a LARGER royalty than I get when I sell books through my local indie bookstore.
-- Adjust the price to give the best mix of royalties for you and value for your buyers.

Sweet!

If you're selling tree books, you do actually need to put the book into a Priority Mail envelope, address it and take it to a Post Office counter, if its over 13 ounces. But how many sales do you think you're going to make anyway? And if you sell A LOT . . . what a great nuisance to have!

Set up a mailing station in your home. Grab a bunch of FREE Priority Mailers from the Post Office, and a dozen $4.90 stamps, and you're ready to rock and roll.

Of course, if you noticed my post yesterday, you will know that you should also add a "Buy Now" option for a SIGNED COPY at additional cost. If the buyer chooses the SIGNED COPY for $20.95, I get an extra $5.00 for my autograph. And the buyer still pays less than Amazon, if they didn't have $25 of stuff to buy.

It sounds like a lot of work. But it's easier than you think. Check it out and cut out the middle man.

That's it for today.

All the best!

John

Monday, August 2, 2010

Offer Author-Signed Purchase Options

A few days ago, I was working away at marketing my novels (what else) when I received an email from Amazon telling me that I had sold one of the volleyball coaching books I wrote last summer. That's not so unusual. I sell a dozen or so of those a month. But when I checked my Amazon seller site, I noted that my commission on this sale was more than double the usual amount!

I thought, what the heck?! Did I offer international shipping or something stupid like that.

But no. I had implemented a marketing strategy for that book that was now bearing fruit. I'd just struck upon it so long ago, that I had forgotten all about this tiny marketing gem.

Last year, when I first signed up to sell my book at Amazon, I had also offered an AUTHOR SIGNED COPY as one of those "Other Buying Options" that Amazon hides under the "Add to Cart" area of your listing page. And someone had just ordered one of my author-signed originals.

Yes!

The whole selling process was really no different for my highly profitable author-signed book than for my moderately profitable unsigned version. So . . . why hadn't I listed author-signed versions of my new books?

I experienced a moment of veritas -- of undeniable truth. There was no reason I shouldn't offer author-signed copies of my new novels as well. So I have. Now, if you check the "Other Buying Options" for any of my books on Amazon, and you look hard, you'll find a copy of the book that is described as SIGNED BY AUTHOR.

Okay. Given the lack of exposure Amazon accords these "Other Buying Options," I don't expect tons of sales. On the other hand, it costs me NOTHING to have the option available. And I did edit my author website to mention the availability of the author-signed purchase option on Amazon. Who knows? And . . . why not?

I've got another easy and free marketing tip that I'll share with you next time.

But that's it for today.

Hope you have a great one!

John