Greedy Businesses Target Self-Published Authors

Sleazy salesman pointing

It is not difficult or expensive to publish on your own, but a lot of would-be self-publishers dont know that. As a result, whole nests of snake-oil salesmen have hatched to separate unwitting writers from their money. Most of these writers will never make back the money that is being bilked from them, and even those who do are often wasting their hard-earned cash.

As I prepared my presentation on self-publishing for The Writers’ Union of Canada’s cross-Canada professional development workshop, Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps, I became aware that taking advantage of the naïveté of first-time self-publishing authors (or “indie publishers,” as we are also known) has become a growth industry.

Quite a few of the businesses involved in this field of endeavour used to be legitimate, contributing members of the traditional publishing establishment: printers, literary agents, book publicists and the like. With their incomes from traditional sources now eroded by the same technology that permits anyone and everyone to publish anything and everything, quite a few of these formerly upstanding companies have turned their attention to “helping” unsuspecting authors to get their books published… for a fee.

Many writers who set out to publish their manuscripts independently or to get their out-of-print books back on the market have no idea that it costs almost nothing to make their novels or non-fiction works available for sale as e-books, and that for about $500, they can get a respectable-looking paperback up for sale online. It is upon these unsuspecting souls that the newest incarnations of the film-flam artist have set their sights, offering self-publishing packages that can cost thousands of dollars. and promising little in return that isn’t available for free or at very little cost elsewhere.

These authors are being convinced by ads and on-line pitches that self-publishing is a technically challenging undertaking, requiring expertise. Paying for technological expertise is not, in fact, necessary because self-publishing sites such as Smashwords are extremely user-friendly. Nonetheless, from the beginning to the end of the publishing process, these highway robbers lie in wait — urging offset-printing services, for example, upon writers who ought to be printing on demand instead. (Offset- printed books are ones that are printed in large numbers on huge printing machines machines that are now increasingly sitting idle all over the country in the wake of the move online of so many magazines, books, catalogues and brochures. Print-on-demand (POD) books are printed on much smaller machines, one at a time, when the book is ordered. Single copies of books can be printed immediately, so no extra trees are wasted, and authors have no obligation to buy a certain number of books as part of the self-publishing option — or to warehouse those books in their basements. Today, the difference in quality between offset-printed and POD books is negligible.)

Other self-publishing authors are hoodwinked into paying companies to “promote” their books on social media ­ a strategy that is nearly ineffective unless it is part of an overall marketing plan. And the costs for overall marketing plans themselves  (also available from a host of sources) can be outrageous and unnecessary. (I have just been looking at one company that lists one of its services as “Amazon Optimization” through the creation of “keywords.” If you’ve written the book, you can pick seven words to help readers discover it, as you will be prompted to do by Amazon itself when you post your book there. That is all that “keywords” are. Snake-oil salesmen love to throw technical terms around, but most of them are easy to translate into plain language.)

Still other companies offer book distribution packages that are actually available to everyone at very little cost when they publish books online with Smashwords, Kindle, or other self-publishing outlets. (You can get expanded distribution from Amazon, for example, that includes bookstores, libraries, etc. Your royalties per book are smaller than with direct sales to purchasers, but there’s no need to pay up front.)

We are also seeing increasing numbers of expensive, needless gimmicks such as seals of approval to indicate production quality in published e-books (this one charges $125 per title. How many readers do YOU know who are choosing to buy books because they have a formatting seal of approval?), and costly competitions for awards that very few can win (and who knows whether the winners gain any sales traction from their prizes?).

Who Is Doing This?

Entrepreneurs

While there are some great resources out there — people with editing and publishing backgrounds who are charging reasonable hourly fees for their services — too many book-publishing coaches and self-publishing managers and others who go by similar titles are no more than fly-by-night operators with no significant credentials. They offer to help you get your book edited and up on Amazon for several hundreds or thousand dollars when you can do it very easily for free or at very little cost.

Printing Companies

Dozens of printing companies that were established to print books for real publishers have huge off-set machines now sitting idle. They need you to help them pay the overhead, so they have re-branded themselves as publishers.  In truth, the only traditional publishers they resemble were formerly known as vanity presses. These companies are selling packages of print-only copies of your book (usually no e-books are offered) for $800 or $900 or several thousands of dollars. They do not know much about promotion and the fine print on their websites state that after you’ve paid the big bucks to buy several boxes of offset-printed copies of your book, they will help you build a website (wow!) and put you in touch with a marketing company to help you promote your book (where you will pay additional fees, of course).  One printing company whose site I visited said they would even put you in their catalogue. Now tell me, when was the last time you bought a book because it was listed in a printers catalogue?

If you are selling to a specific, known market (such as the residents of a small town whose history youre writing) you may decide to go with offset printing because the per-item production cost will be lower. But if you are not certain that you are going to sell the books you are required to purchase when you work with a printing company, using offset is a false economy. These printers who are now calling themselves publishers also say they offer editing: I would advise you to ask who the editors are, and to request their references and credentials.

Respectable Book Reviewers

Reviewing outlets such as Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews have established branch services that are charging unwitting self-published authors upwards of $500 for a single review (Im surprised that The New York Times and The Globe and Mail havent jumped onto this bandwagon yet). The idea is that if you get a good review of your self-published book, you can use it to convince booksellers to stock your book. (If you get a poor one, you eat the money you have spent.) The trick is that most booksellers won’t stock your book anyway, because self-published books are nonreturnable.

You can also pay to have your book review included in a variety of in-house publications where publishers, agents etc. can contact you if they are interested. Humpff.

Keep in mind that your average reader doesn’t know the difference between a Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Review and one your aunt Elsie wrote and posted on Amazon. A $500 review is largely a waste of money.

Book publicists

I believe that book publicity will, along with editing, become an area of specialization that self-publishers need in future. But for now, there are a lot of people out there who say they are book publicists who have no actual experience in the field, or access to the media outlets that might promote your book, and they are overcharging for the services they do provide. Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to get noticed if you have written a novel anyway, even if you’re traditionally published; non-fiction writers usually have a better hook for interviews. And even if the book promoter is well known to the media, there is no guarantee that he or she will make any special effort to get your book noticed, no matter what you pay. Remember that if a book publicist has not read your book and fallen in love with it, that person cannot help you.

A few book-promotion companies will tell you that, for a price, they can help you become an Amazon bestseller or even get you onto the New York Times bestseller list. To do this, they use a complex system that involves a whole lot of purchasers, funded by you, all buying your book all across the country all on the same day or in the same week, which drives your numbers up in the right places. But this kind of access to best-seller lists is not sustainable and authors often end up paying more to get on the lists than they earn back in royalties.

You do need a great promotion plan – one size does not fit all — and here a creative and honest book publicist can help a lot. Remember that at this point in time, getting self-published books into bookstores, or onto radio or television, or reviewed in major newspapers or magazines, is nearly impossible… because of the attitudes of the gatekeepers of those organizations. At the same time, social media is an almost useless promotional device. Any book promotion company that wants your money for these kinds of initiatives had better offer you some proof that they can do the impossible.

Literary agents

Well, you know how I feel about most literary agents. The ones I dissed five years ago are largely out of business now or have found new ways to earn their keep from unsuspecting authors. Check their websites for further info.

Publishers

Even some publishers have turned to mining self-publishing authors for a few quick dollars. Some will take your money and publish your book with a slightly different imprint than their other publications (so those on the “inside” of the industry still know you are self-published, and will still lock you out, unread).

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, had harsh words for enterprises of this nature. Writing in the Huffington Post in January, 2014, he said:

The vanity approach to self-publishing, as witnessed by Pearson/Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions (operates AuthorHouse, iUniverse, BookTango, Trafford, Xlibris, Palibrio, others…), has shown itself to harm the brands of all traditional publishers. I predicted this last year. The Author Solutions business model is wholly dependent upon making money by selling overpriced services to unwitting authors. Their business model is expensive at best, and unethical at worst. It’s about selling $10,000+ publishing packages to authors who will never earn the money back. The model represents the antithesis of what the best and proudest publishers have always represented. Great publishers invest in their authors. The money flows from reader to retailer to publisher to author, not from author to publisher.

Dont Be a Cash Cow (for anyone but yourself)

The best books are not published for nothing, of course, but most of the work can be done at very little cost. The best places to invest your money are directly with a book editor, a book designer, and a book publicist, each of whom loves your book.

In each of these areas, make sure you are getting your money’s worth. You need someone who knows the business and can provide solid references. You need to check those references. You do not want to be one of a hundred books and authors in a money-making assembly line.

The writing and self-publishing community is unbelievably generous with its knowledge and its skills. Almost everything you need to know about self-publishing is available online for nothing. All you have to do is ask the right questions in the Google box. At the very minimum, check out the publication costs on Smashwords, Amazon, Kindle and Kobo before you hire a consultant. In other words, before you pay good money to anyone to get your book up for sale, find out what the work they are going to do for you is going to cost them. Don’t let yourself be bamboozled.

It has already cost you a lot to write your book  – particularly if you consider the time you spent when you could have been doing other things, like climbing the corporate ladder. Invest what you must to get the best possible book to readers. But don’t waste money until after you attain bestseller status. Then, you will be able to afford it.

Self-Published Writers Make (Lots) More Money, New Data Suggests

HoweyData released earlier this week provides stunning evidence that self-published authors in several popular genres are selling many more books and making a good deal more money than most of us had previously suspected. Their success in comparison to traditionally published authors may be a wake-up call for everyone in the publishing business, from first-time writers to the biggest of the Big Five publishers. (It certainly has been a wake-up call for me: I’m dropping prices on my e-books as we speak).

Until now, the only evidence for strong sales of indie vs traditionally published books has been anecdotal reports from individual authors, many of whom seemed to be making a disproportionately large amount of money compared to the rest of us. These authors were considered to be “outliers.”

Now Hugh Howey, one of those disproportionately successful authors — well known among avid readers and the publishing cognoscenti for his best-selling self-published fiction series, Wool — has made data available (and will continue to collect and update it, he says, at his own expense) that indicates that he may not be alone when it comes to successfully selling books online, particularly e-books. His report on author earnings (cleverly entitled Author Earnings: The Report) suggests that indie-published books are getting higher scores on reviews and selling more copies than those of small- to medium-sized presses, and that the gaps between positive review scores and sales are even greater when you compare self-published books with those from the “Big Five” publishers. The primary reason? Indie authors tend to publish e-books rather than paperbacks and other formats, and they tend to charge much less for them than traditional publishers do. And e-books are selling like hotcakes.

Howey’s figures are derived from an analysis of data collected by an unnamed writer “with advanced coding skills” who has created a program that can gather and break down data from bestseller lists at a speed that was previously impossible. The initial data collection and analysis looks at book sales on Amazon and includes three genres: Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance. These genres were examined first because they account for nearly three quarters of the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon, and more than half of the top 1000. Howey and his “data snoop” will look at the entire range of fiction titles in future reports, he says.

Among their findings so far:

  • In these three genres, indie authors are outselling the Big Five publishers. “That’s the entire Big Five. Combined.” [Words and italics Howie’s]
  • E-books make up 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the Amazon store, and 92% of the top 100 best-selling books in the listed genres are e-books
  • Although books from the Big Five account for just over a quarter of unit sales in these genres, they take half of the gross dollar sales — and the authors of those books typically receive only 25% of that profit
  • Indie authors, on the other hand, who keep about 70% of the purchase price of their e-books on Amazon, are earning nearly half of the total author revenue from genre fiction sales on Amazon
  • Self-published authors are, on average, earning more money on fewer books than are those with traditionally published books being sold through the same (i.e., amazon.com) outlet.

A Few Conclusions

The Report is long and complex (but not complicated). I encourage all serious writer entrepreneurs to read it carefully — and to stay updated with future installments.

One of the many inspiring and beautiful charts from Author Earnings: A Report by Hugh Howie

One of the many inspiring and beautiful charts from Author Earnings: A Report by Hugh Howie

(It is also very pretty. I am including an image here from The Report, with proper attribution and an embedded link but used without permission, so if it disappears, you’ll know why. Whether it does disappear or not, I suggest you go and have a look at all the other pretty charts in Howie’s report. They are impressive and illuminating as well as colourful.)

For those who don’t have time to read The Report straight through right now, I’ll extract some conclusions that became clear to Howie, as they must to anyone who examines the data he’s presented:

  • E-books from indie authors tend to be priced much lower than those of mainstream publishers
  • Readers are more likely to buy and review books with lower prices than higher ones
  • “Most readers don’t know and don’t care how the books they read are published. They just know if they liked the story and how much they paid. If they’re paying twice as much for traditionally published books, which experience will they rate higher? The one with better bang for the buck.” — Hugh Howey, Author Earnings: The Report
  • Most traditional publishers are paying authors only 25% of e-book sales, despite the almost insignificant overhead associated with creating e-books
  • Readers are buying many more e-books than they are paperbacks and other book formats, at least from amazon (which is the biggest bookseller in the world, by a huge measure — like it or not).
  • Readers are not buying traditionally published e-books as frequently as they are indie published e-books, because indie-published books cost less. Therefore, traditionally published authors are getting read less often, and are making less money per book sold than indie authors are.

This is important news for traditionally published authors.

It is also important news for major publishers, who are going to lose their authors if they don’t smarten up.

We won’t go into the impact all this is having on good literature, but Howie believes that the data suggests that “even stellar manuscripts are better off self-published.”

A call to Action

In addition to publishing The Report, Howie’s new website, authorearnings.com, invites authors from all sectors to work together to help one another “make better decisions” when it comes to publishing their books.

Howie says that the site’s “purpose is to gather and share information so that writers can make informed decisions. Our secondary mission is to call for change within the publishing community for better pay and fairer terms in all contracts. This is a website by authors and for authors.”

When you go to the site you will be invited to subscribe for updates, contribute to a survey and/or to sign a petition.

I for one will be closely following the activity on that site — right after I lower the prices on my e-books.

Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps – 2014 PD Workshop from The Writers’ Union of Canada

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 2.54.34 PMI am truly delighted

to have been selected as one of two presenters for Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps, The Writers’ Union of Canada’s cross-country series of professional development workshops for 2014.

My fellow presenter is the noted fiction author Caroline Adderson, who has five books of fiction for adults and several books for young readers to her credit. Caroline will be talking about the traditional route to publishing – how to find a publisher, how to prepare your manuscript for a publisher, working with agents and editors, and doing promotion once your book is out.

I will be talking about independent publishing – why you might want to consider it, even if you’re a traditionally published author (as I am)  – e.g., for getting your out-of-print backlist out quickly, and maximizing your returns on sales –  as well as how to actually manage the self-publication of a book. I’ll be talking about finding editors and book designers, how to publish cost-effectively, managing distribution and, of course, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about promoting self-published books.

With the help of John Degen, executive director of TWUC, former literature officer with the Ontario Arts Council, former executive director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and the former communications manager for Magazines Canada (formerly Canadian Magazine Publishers Association) – John is also a writer – we’ll also be covering contracts, royalties, and copyright issues, and discussing the current state of the publishing landscape from a writer’s perspective.

Appearing East, West and On A Computer Near You

The first installments of the tour will take place in Eastern and Central Canada in February, 2014. Dates and locations for the one-day (9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) workshop have now been announced:

  • Monday, Feb 3 Moncton, NB
  • Wednesday, Feb 5 Halifax NS
  • Monday, Feb 17 Montreal QC
  • Tuesday, Feb 18 Ottawa ON
  • Friday, Feb 21 Toronto ON

We will visit four additional cities – in Western Canada – in the autumn of 2014. Dates and locations for those are still to be announced. It is anticipated that the workshop will also be available for purchase in digital format after the series of live presentations is complete.

It is not necessary to be a member of TWUC to attend its PD workshops.

About The Writers’ Union of Canada

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 2.54.45 PMThe Writers’ Union of Canada is Canada’s national organization of professional writers of books, and has approximately 2,000 members. TWUC was founded 40 years ago to work with governments, publishers, booksellers, and readers to improve the conditions of Canadian writers. I have been a member of TWUC for a long time, and highly recommend joining – not only does it serve as a highly effective advocate for and promoter of writers with governments, the cultural industry and the public,  membership offers a host of wonderful advantages that range from a community of writers to dental benefits.  For more information, visit the TWUC website.

Although membership in TWUC is currently restricted to writers with “a trade book published by a commercial or university press, or the equivalent in another medium,” at its May 2013 annual general meeting, in a unanimous vote, members of the Union approved a resolution opening membership to professional, self-published authors. The resolution will be presented to the entire TWUC membership in a referendum, and will come into force with a two-thirds majority. For more information, view the Union’s June 1, 2013 media release.

In the meantime, I hope to meet you in person at one of TWUC’s PD gigs this year!

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #13: Host Your Own Reading/Book Launch

Me, reading at Secret Handshake Gallery May, 3013 at a triple launch co-hosted with authors Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman

Me, reading at Secret Handshake Gallery May, 2013 at a triple launch co-hosted with authors Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman (Photo: A. Resnick)

Make it an event to remember

So many books are being published now that most of us will wait in vain for a bookstore owner or an established reading program to invite us to come out and strut our stuff. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for anyone to invite us. For very little money, we can put on an event any old time we want to – to celebrate the publication of a new book, or just to celebrate being writers.

If you are new to writing, most of your guests will likely be family and friends who have not been to readings and book launches before. They will come to the event out of curiosity in part, but primarily to share your excitement and toast your achievement. Your number one goal as host should be to make sure that when they get there, they  have a fantastic time. (In fact, if that is not your goal, forget about doing it at all. This event is all about you,  but it is also not all about you, if you get my drift.) With some planning and some thinking, you can make those who attend your event eager to attend the next book-launch or reading: thereby doing a service to writers everywhere.

The first thing you need is a venue. You can hold your event anywhere. Last summer, I was well into the planning of a picnic-style book launch in a ravine park when a few well-wishers insisted that I think about the weather possibilities and hold it inside instead. (I still like the idea of an outside reading. I think I’ll do it at some point.)

What we did instead proved to be a great alternative. We held the launch at a small art gallery in Toronto which was very reasonable to rent for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon (it’s called the Secret Handshake Gallery on Mutual Street, and it is managed by the noted Toronto poet and artist David Bateman).

It had a kitchen, which was handy for preparing tea and coffee, washing fruit, and arranging plates of crackers, cookies  and dips. The same kinds of facilities would also be available in apartment-building party rooms, someone’s living room, the basement of a church, a community hall, etc. You don’t actually need a kitchen — think a room in a library, or the back room of a pub.

The next thing you need is a date and time. Give yourself plenty of lead time: you need to order books that will be available for sale, and you need to promote the event.

Begin the promotion three weeks or so ahead. Don’t rely on Facebook and Twitter: these sites are not too effective in attracting actual people to an actual event – although you will get lots of back-patting there, which always feels good. Check out where established reading series publicize readings in your area and submit a notice there (Open Book Toronto and Open Book Ontario are good examples from this region). You should also post notices on writers-organization events lists and in other arts publications. Your local newspaper or neighbourhood journal may also list your reading for free. If you are going to be reading at an art gallery or library, they probably have their own promotional methods – handouts and on-line items – and they will likely add your appearance to their list even though you are hosting it yourself, in the hope that you will bring people out to see other exhibitions or events they have on offer. And don’t forget that great “old-fashioned” method for spreading news: the email.

You need some kind of refreshments. These can be very modest: tea, coffee, juice, cookies, bottled water. Or you can get fancier and add wine, cheese, grapes, beer, tacos and dip, steak tartare and oysters – whatever you want, depending on your budget, your audience, the venue and the time of day. It’s true that people who’ve had a drink are much more likely to love your reading and buy a book than are the (tee)totally sober, but you have to figure out whether the potential payoff is worth it. Remember that you’ll need to sell several books to pay for even one half-decent bottle of wine: for economic reasons if none other, you may have to convince your guests to buy your books by giving an excellent reading rather than by lubricating them.

You might want to introduce a theme at your gathering that is in keeping with the subject of your book. When I launched The Whole Clove Diet, I invited people to bring Nanaimo bars – a sweet delicacy which figures largely in one of the novel’s comic scenes – in exchange for a free copy of the novel. Not only food, but decor, costume and music can be customized to suit the subject of your book.

Mary W. Walters, Kathleen Whelan, David Bateman

To my left (your right), Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman, co-hosts and writers extraordinaire (Photo: A. Resnick)

You need books to sell (and autograph). This may sound obvious but I cannot tell you how many readings I have been to (including my own most recent one) where fate hung in the balance until the very day of the reading: would the books appear on a delivery truck in time for the event or not? Don’t give yourself a panic attack: order the books well in advance. (Of course, this problem will not occur if  you are dealing only in e-books, but I am not sure that you can hold a viable book launch if you only have an e-book. I could be very wrong about that. Perhaps I just haven’t thought it through properly. Reader input on this subject is welcome.)

You also need a book sales table, and someone to sell the books for you (that’s what friends are for). You will need to provide a float. If your book is $15, have some $5s on hand to give as change for the inevitable $20s you will receive. You might also want to prepare a handout featuring the title of your book and a sales link or order form as a takeaway for those who didn’t bring enough money – or in case you run out of books to sell.☺

You need an itinerary. Plan to read for half to three-quarters of an hour maximum, and figure out what time you intend to start. I don’t recommend starting right at the time that the event begins. It’s a party: not just a reading, so let people mix and mingle for half an hour or an hour before you read. (This also gives the latecomers a chance to arrive.) Think ahead about whether you want music playing in the background while people socialize. If so, you’ll have to organize that in advance as well. (It’s pretty simple to bring a laptop computer with a playlist on it and a couple of speakers, but someone has to do it.)

You need someone to introduce you. This person will need to get people’s attention when it’s time for you to read, invite them to be seated, turn off the music, etc. During the introduction, this person should point out where your books are available for sale and announce how much they cost. When it comes to your introduction, you might want to write it out yourself and email it to your introducer ahead of time, just to make sure that all the points you want covered are covered. If the person who is introducing you might be insulted by your writing your own blurb for him or her to read, you could send a list of points to cover. Or else you could hope for the best, and fill in any oversights yourself when it is time to read.

Even if only one or two people show up, carry on. Poor turnouts happen to lots of writers, even those who are invited to read by established reading programs and bookstore owners. No matter how few there are, you should read anyway. Those people came all the way across town/around the world/down the street to hear you, and you want to blow them out of the water. Also, reading to a very few people will be good practice for when you become as famous as Margaret Atwood and you have people lined up down the block to hear you read.

(I encourage you not to read like Margaret Atwood does, however. She can get away with a deadpan delivery, but most people cannot. Further to this bit of gratuitous advice, in my next blog post I am going to talk about how to give a good reading. Too many writers don’t and there is nothing worse than a boring or inept reading. The only comparable experience in my life was a philosophy class I took at university where the lectures were delivered at 8 a.m. by a prof who leaned against the blackboard with his eyes closed, and spoke like Margaret Atwood reads. He seemed to still be half asleep – his half met my three-quarters and no knowledge was transferred.)

You need a photographer. (This is also what friends are for.)

You need people to help you clean up afterwards. These same people should take you for a drink after all the cleanup is done so that you can celebrate the celebration. For if you have done it properly, it is only when your well planned, well delivered, fun event is over that you will actually be able to start enjoying it yourself.

______________________

Note to my FaceBook friends: I’m taking a break from Facebook, which has lately been turning into more of an addiction than a pleasurable diversion.  If you think some of our mutual Facebook friends would be interested in this post, please post the link as I can’t do that at the moment. Thanks. – Mary

Do We Have an Obligation to our Books To Market Them? A Legal Precedent Involving a Family Shrine Provides Some Food for Thought

Kim Velk

Kim Velk

a guest post by Kim Velk

Note from Mary: I am delighted to welcome guest blog-poster Kim Velk, a regular reader of (and comment contributor to) The Militant Writer. Our exchanges via the comments and then email led to me to ask her to put her thoughts down on paper for the enjoyment and provocation of us all. (Update April 16: Kim’s first novel, UP, BACK, AND AWAY, is now available! Yesterday was publication day! Congratulations!) Here’s Kim:

In my day job I am a lawyer. And while I don’t practice corporate law, I have often found myself thinking of the fundamental idea underpinning the law of corporations – and never moreso than when I consider how I am going to approach the task of informing the indifferent world that I have a book (or soon will) that I want it to buy.

If you’re reading Mary’s blog, you are very likely in a similar circumstance: that is, trying to figure out how – or maybe even whether – you should peddle your book to a public that, let it be said, really doesn’t care. This is a not a happy place. The writing part was hard enough, but at least we signed up for that. This next part, this selling bit, that’s another matter. It falls somewhere on the scale between distasteful and odious (at least for a lot of us). Our writerly unicorn spirits aren’t equipped for the rough and tumble of the floor of the bourse! We wrote because we’re writers! We’re not ad men, or PR people, or entrepreneurs.…

Yet, even for those who are traditionally published, we all know (or have heard), that the big world of books demands author participation in the selling part these days. For the self-published (we the semi-despised, the rich pickings for those with author marketing services to sell), we are really on our own. No agent or marketing team for us. If our poor little books are going to go anywhere, we’re the ones who have got to shift them.

I don’t have advice on the best way to do that. (Waving at Mary here. Thanks Mary for your excellent advice on this blog). In fact, I haven’t even tried to sell a book yet and I may be altogether crap at it. The task looms in my immediate future, however, and as I have tried to face it, I have turned to the guiding light of, yes, corporate law.

That’s what I came here to share:  an idea that I hope may at least put some heart into those of us who quail before that dismal marketing endeavor. Courage, mes amis! The Privy Council worked out a little trick of the mind a long time ago that may come in handy for us now.

Legal Fiction Is a Mighty Fiction

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council served historically as the highest court of appeal from Britain’s colonies and it still serves in that capacity for “Crown Dependencies, the British Overseas Territories, and a number of Commonwealth member countries.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

I went to law school at McGill University in Montreal and as a result I was exposed to a lot of legal precedents generated by the English House of Lords and the Privy Council. (Canadians could still take appeals over to London until after World War II). A friend of mine took the French language corporations class (one of the awkward charms of the McGill faculté de droit is its bilingual nature.) She told me that in the first lecture, the very correct Belgian professor explained how, once upon a time, a family in India fell to feuding over who would have what duties and responsibilities for maintaining the shrine of a family idol.

No one was doing what he was supposed to do. Offerings were skipped, dust and dirt collected. “L’idole” was being shamefully neglected while the family feuded and pointed fingers. The dispute was at last carried to the Privy Council back in England. In a powerful flash of insight, some brilliant councilor required the litigants to take a new approach to their god. They were to “incorporate” it – that is, imagine it as having a body, a corpus, as being an entity unto itself, one that was separate from its keepers and one that was owed duties of care, loyalty, and good faith.

The councilor thus re-imagined an inanimate thing as a real, living thing, and one that required something like a guardianship. Its keepers were recast into what would eventually morph into directors of a corporation. As such, they were obliged not to look out for their own selfish interests, but for the best interests of the entity they served. Et voila – the legal fiction gave birth to the “legal person.”

Fast forward a few hundred years, and this idea has remade the world. Of course the history of corporate law is a lot more complicated than I just made it seem and any real corporate lawyer or legal scholar who stumbles in here is probably shaking his or her head over something I have said, but the Big Idea is what I wanted to convey and only for the limited purpose I’ve already described. (By the way, the occupy Wall Street protestors who railed against corporate personhood were really missing something basic in their attack. This trope of the mind [and the law] has made many things possible that might never have been achieved: universities, big events, nonprofits, you name it. Of course, it has also allowed lots of evildoers to hide behind their corporate structures, but that’s someone else’s blog post.)

One Way Forward

OK class. What does all this mean for us? I think it means that we might best approach the business of book marketing by, at least some of the time, separating ourselves from our work – by thinking not in terms of what we can face, or what we want to do, but what is our duty to the book? What is in its best interests?

Hmm. What might this mean? Doing what we can to see the book reaches its potential? Getting it to an audience for whom it will have some meaning, or to whom it will give understanding, joy, or entertainment? (We all gotta serve someone, like the song says, and this includes our new little rectangular or digital legal people.) Perhaps also securing for them some future? (They will live after us, even unto our children’s children.) I think this question of goals requires some soul searching for us all. Once those are identified, the next question is: how is this to be done?

As noted, I’m still trying to work this out for myself. One thing I hasten to add, despite all I have said here, is that the public imagination does not much separate a creator from his or her work. What we do by way of marketing will have repercussions for our books. This may mean forbearance in some arenas. As Mary has noted, if we turn off readers with a lot of ham-fisted hard selling on Facebook or Twitter, for instance, we are likely doing our books a disservice. We really have to think about what’s best for them – and the answers may not be easy to find.

Maybe we owe our creations a little bit of money, if we can scratch it together, to spend on marketing (if we can find a reputable vendor). Maybe we need to try to interest editors of various publications, or an agent who will take on the book or its writer. All that is TBD. The only thing that this concept makes plain is that doing nothing is not an option. Nothing = a dereliction of duty.

And in Conclusion…

We have sweated over these books, and lavished our care and our attention on them. (If you haven’t, never mind about everything I just said. Do yourself and the world a favor and just put whatever you have written back on the flash drive and leave it there.) For the rest of us, our books live now, and they are owed some respect – from us first of all. To be cringing or pusillanimous about introducing them, in the best way we can manage, to the world beyond our writing rooms is a disservice to ourselves, and maybe worse, to our creations.

Kim Velk lives in Vermont with her husband, two children, and a terrier.  She works by day as a lawyer.  Her first book, Up, Back, and Away, is about a Texas teenager sent back to England in 1928 (on a vintage English three speed).  It will be out on Amazon later this month.  She blogs at www.quartersessions.blogspot.com and www.lasthouse.blogspot.com

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #11: Don’t Give Up

Mary W. Walters Militant Writer(With a special P.S. for fiction writers)

This can be a very discouraging undertaking, this book promotion business.

Most of us didn’t set out to be book publishers, business managers, and self promoters – we set out to be writers. We wanted to communicate with readers, to tell a story, to express our dreams, hopes and nightmares. But however well or poorly we have done in the writing of our books, these days it is only the beginning. Even getting what we’ve written published is only the beginning. It’s the promotion that is the long, long haul and it can wear down the most determined and self-reliant among us, and devastate those of us who are lacking in confidence already.

For some of us, the writing is what sustains us: it is what we are meant to do. It is what gives the rest of our lives meaning. (I am one of those.) But a work of art (or wanna-be art) is only complete when it reaches its audience, as far as I’m concerned. And nowadays whether we are self- or traditionally published, the need to promote ourselves and our work eats up way too much of our writing time (such as it is in the first place, for most of us). And when it doesn’t eat up the time, it eats up our morale.

The Courage to Write

It has long been my conviction (like for 20 years or so) that it is necessary to have a whole lot of self-confidence in order to write a book. It takes gumption to complete any book, and as much courage as vision to complete it with any élan. When our self-confidence is eroded, we run into writer’s blocks, procrastination and all the other impediments that (in addition to our jobs and families and friends) can prevent us from writing well – or indeed from writing at all.

The problem, we are discovering as we put on all these new hats (publisher, publicity person, agent, bookseller), is that it also requires courage to promote a book or to promote oneself, and that our courage is threatened at every turn. Every time we check the sales stats on our books, or peek at the visitor-counters on our websites, our morale is likely to take a hit. Those hits affect not only our desire to keep promoting our books, but also whatever confidence we might have had stored up for writing the next book.

Some people probably decide to give up on promotion, but they are shooting themselves in their heads to spite their faces (or however the expression goes).  (Those who publicly announce that they are “giving up” or that they have been defeated are really only taking a new promotional tack. Check out this bit of self-promotion written under the guise of “being a failure” that recently appeared on the Salon website. Clever marketing.) To stop promoting means to disappear completely off the promo circuit, and the only result of that is  . . .  nothing. You sell even fewer books. And no one really cares but you. (The result is similar – or even worse, if that is possible – when you allow yourself to whine in public.)

Keep on Truckin’

In short, the only options are to a) move forward, and b) to sink without a trace. Which leaves only option a. And the only way to move forward is to “keep on keepin’ on.”

It helps to stay in touch with other writers who are doing the same thing we are, in places like this and other sites where people go to commiserate and encourage and share tips, rather than to promote themselves. (One might argue that I established this blog to promote myself, but I assure you that the strategy is not working. I have noticed no sales resulting from the blog, not even any clicks through to my books despite the 50,000 hits The Militant Writer has received, and therefore I claim innocence – albeit inadvertent – in the blog-as-marketing department.)

Ironically perhaps, I think it helps to be a writer in this strange new digital world of book sales – by disposition, writers are better equipped than most to take on solitary uphill battles where we slip backwards more often than we move forwards, where no one cares but us if we get anywhere, where giving up is really not an option: we do what we must do. It could therefore be argued that those who give up on book promotion are not real writers. :) (I am prepared to hear arguments that contradict this point of view. In fact, one of this blog’s regular readers, Kim Velk aka Woolfoot, is going to write a guest post on that very subject one of these days.)

It also helps to get enough sleep. Sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of evaporating self-confidence as well as care, and everything looks more do-able in the morning.

A Special Note to Fiction Writers

I have followed down link after link of tips on book promotion, as I am sure you have as well, only to find myself reading lists of strategies that relate primarily to non-fiction. Certainly some of the suggestions can be applied to fiction as well, but most non-fiction (with the exception of some creative non-fiction) is easier to promote than is most fiction: there is no doubt of it. Whether it is how-to, biography, history, memoir, even philosophy or psychology or economics, non-fiction always has an obvious hook that is more likely to interest the media – both social and traditional – than is a “made-up story.”

Because of this, perhaps, I was particularly disappointed to have wasted an hour of my life on a webinar entitled  “Create a Marketing Plan to Sell More Books” put on by CreateSpace, of all companies. (For the uninitiated, CreateSpace is the publisher of choice of most of us self-published authors who choose to create a paperback version of our books. You’d think they’d know that most of their customers are small-time authors, primarily of fiction.)

I was going to save you an hour of your life by telling you all the reasons why there is no point in listening to the replay of the webinar if you are a) a fiction writer and/or b) on a small or nonexistent promotional budget. However, another blogger saved ME another hour of MY time by writing a most eloquent explanation of why Brian Jud’s message is irrelevant to most of us. (Hint: Jud has been selling non-fiction, how-to books for decades and has built up a critical mass and a bank account to support the promotional tactics he suggests: most of them are far beyond the resources of most of us and irrelevant to any book with a literary bent. Take this suggestion of his for example: you should hire an accountant and a lawyer before you go to the bank to apply for a loan for the funding of your next book. All I can say to that is Hah!) Thank you, Ellen Larson, aka The Constant Pen and author of the sci-fi mystery In Retrospect, for an excellent summary and critique.

As Ellen does on hers, I have been making an effort, based on my own self-interests, to make the tips I present here on this blog specifically relevant to fiction writers—even if the majority are also relevant to writers of non-fiction – and I will continue to do that. If anyone finds other sites that are specifically directed at promoting novels and short stories, please let us know. Thank you.

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #10: Turn Your Book Into A News Story

Book Promotion TipsAs we all know, all is not well in newspaperland: journalists are being laid off left and right, daily papers are getting smaller, quite a few of them have gone – or are slowly, painfully going – under.

People just don’t consume news the way they used to: by which I mean all at once, in one package, from one source, once a day. We no longer wait for the news to land on our front porches, or to arrive in a coin-release box at the end of the street: we go hunting for it on the Internet. Since people aren’t reading newspapers the way they used to, advertisers aren’t buying ads in them, which means that the papers have to cut and cut, and on it goes.

If you’re a writer (no one else much cares about this part), the situation appears to be particularly dire when it comes to books coverage. “Books editors” have all but disappeared, and finding a books page or even a single book review in a newspaper is less likely all the time. For those who have self-published, the situation seems even more discouraging (although we have to admit that no one forced us to self-publish): almost all of the books that do get reviewed are from traditional presses.

Perhaps A Silver Lining?

In considering the implications of the decline of the print media, I’ve made some observations that could perhaps add up to a window of opportunity for those of us who find ourselves promoting our own books at this particular point in time. The situation could be very different even two years from now, but at the moment, with a bit of creativity, we might be able to put these points to use in ways that may not only help us to sell books, but may also solve some problems for the people who are running the skeleton staffs of the world’s remaining newspapers:

  1. The print media have not disappeared completely. Lots of people are still reading newspapers on the subway, in coffee shops and doctors’ offices, on park benches and maybe even in their bathrooms.
  2. Most of us approach the papers we read differently than we used to. When I sit down with an actual newspaper these days, I tend to skim over items I’ve already read online (i.e., most of the news stories), and look instead for editorials and other opinion pieces, investigative journalism and those items known as “human interest” (to distinguish them from items of merely ferret interest, I suppose). I’m also more likely to read an article all the way through in print than online, because when I do sit down and open a newspaper, I’ve usually got a cup of tea at my elbow and have already mentally committed some time to checking out what’s inside of it.
  3. In addition to daily papers, there are weekly and monthly specialty newspapers, some of them subscription-based but many of them free: community and small-town newspapers, real estate papers, seniors’ newspapers, advertising flyers that break up the monotony with brief general-interest articles, etc.
  4. Since there are too few writers left on most newspapers staffs today, I am guessing that editors might be having a hard time generating items of local or general interest for the papers that do remain. Rather than ignoring it, if a compelling story falls into their hands that is already well written from a journalistic point of view (intriguing, apparently objective, answering the who-what-when-where-how questions, etc.) and that is about the right length for what they need, they might just sigh with resignation if not relief, and run it.
  5. Most people who are working on newspapers have an interest in writing and writers: many of them are would-be book writers themselves — even those who edit the automotives section or cover regional politics. An interesting subject line in an email might just attract such an individual’s  attention, and compel him or her to call you for an interview.
  6. A story about a book that appears in some section of the paper like “City News” or “Lifestyle” is going to reach a lot more potential buyers than is one that appears in a cultural silo, such as the Arts and Entertainment section or The Weekend Reader.

Two Plus Two = Just a Hunch

There has got to be a news story relating your book somewhere, even if it is only “Historic novel took took twenty years to write,” or “Nightmare inspired fantasy,” or “Author swears erotic novel is invention; husband begs to differ.” If there isn’t, maybe you can create one (“Book launch at swimming pool makes big splash”). (I’m sure you can be more creative: the more creative the better, in fact.)

Once you’ve written your news item, Google “daily newspapers Canada” or “weekly newspapers North Dakota” or “newspapers Roman Catholic” – whatever suits your fancy – and start sending out your story. In my brief experience with this type of endeavour to date, at least I feel as though I’m working on book promotion, even if it has so far failed to bring forth any fruit.

Who knows? If all else fails it might lead to another news story: “After 500 media releases without a single nibble, despairing writer seeks refuge in new novel.” Now that has a human-interest ring to it, don’t you think?

Update: After you’ve read this post, go immediately to the first comment below, from Marcus Trower, and read it. I was writing about my hunches on this issue in this post; he provides some genuine, practical advice from the field. THANK YOU, Marcus! (I’m hoping he’ll do a guest post at some point.) (I love the Internet.)

___________

I am looking for someone to do a guest blog post on book promo blog tours. Experience (with blog post tours) necessary. We want to know: How you set one up. What you do. What you offer other bloggers in exchange. What the outcome has been for you. If you can write such a piece, apply within (i.e., at mary at marywwalters dot com)

I am also looking for a few people to talk to about their experiences with video book promotion (YouTube or other) – either as the focus of the video or as a consumer of author videos. What is most effective  format? How long should they be? What should they be about – the book? The author? Does anyone actually watch these things? If you can help, contact me at mary at marywwalters dot com.

Graçias.