Having a Case of Self Pub Remorse?

January 13, 2015

There’s no shame if you’re raising your hand. Publishing is fecking hard work, and I have twelve years experience and a team of hundreds backing me up. I can imagine how delicously hard it is to be a team of one trying to get a book into the marketplace. Whom do you turn to? How do you promote? Feh.

Over the years, I’ve talked to many authors who have self pub remorse, and their comments are almost universal: “I never expected it to be this hard.”

Yah. It is hard. That isn’t to say sales can’t happen, but it’s time consuming if you expect to sell any books. And while you’ve learned to boatload throughout the self pub process, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to see if publishers would be willing to take over your load. Heck, even Amanda Hocking threw in the towel and signed a four-book deal with St. Martins…so you’re in excellent company.

HOWEVER, chances are you aren’t Amanda Hocking,who knew how to promote ’til the cows came home, so  there are some important things you oughta know about how editors view these queries on self pubbed books.

The Eight Ton Elephant in the Room

The first thought that comes to my mind is WHY? What are the reasons the author decided to stop going it alone. Sure, I can speculate, and I do, because my first thoughts focus on what I can do for the author’s book that the author hasn’t done on their own. It’s important that authors know the specific reasons for chucking in the self pub towel because they’ll then be able to define their expectations of a mainstream publisher.

To say, “Oy, I’m tired!” doesn’t help your cause. Write down the specifics of what made selling your book difficult. The list could look something like this:

  •  Marketing/Promotion – I have no real idea how to do this, and I’ve poured countless hours into the effort with no discernible sales.
  • Distribution – Well, I did it through Amazon, so they’re taking care of “distribution,” but I can’t get my books into the stores.
  • Editing, cover design, page/book layout – I feel overwhelmed and broke.

In other words, you spent hundreds or thousands, and the damn thing didn’t sell. Okay, I grok that. But more importantly, I look at the outside reasons why it didn’t sell.

The Query Letter

An author sent me a query letter the other day about her self pubbed book. I looked at the content, which was meh. It’s something I’ve seen a thousand times already – which could be one of the reasons it isn’t currently selling. So, her first fatal mistake is that the story didn’t sound compelling. It could be the case of it being a truly dull story, or it could be the author didn’t know how to write a mouth-watery synopsis. Strike one.

The letter went on to tell me how well received her book was and the huge sales it enjoyed. Hmm. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to smell a rat. If the book is selling so well, then why is she querying me?

Sales History

First thing I did is check Bookscan. Admittedly, Bookscan is far from reliable, because not every store reports their sales to them. Nor does it include Amazon sales. But it does give me a general indication of the sales. In this case, the Bookscan numbers were a grand total of 2 units sold.

Then I checked Amazon, where I noticed the title was ranked at 8 million and only had a couple reviews. Now I’m trying to reconcile this against her claims of “well received” and “huge sales.” The book had barely been out a year. So there’s an obvious disconnect between what her query letter says and what I’m seeing. I mean, it’s possible there was much gushing, and maybe she sold lots of books at talks and such, but I’m just not seeing it, nor did she make any reference to that possibility. Strike Two.

Platform

But I took one last chance at finding her platform. This could tell me how she promoted her book. A quick google of her name showed diddly squat. Put that together with the low sales and few reviews, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t an active author, and she’s looking to me to take over where she’s been exquisitely challenged.

But here’s the rub; taking on a book that’s already been published is a big responsibility on my part because the book isn’t new. There has to be something that tells me this book will sell well. If the author doesn’t provide it, then what conclusions can I draw from what I see? Strike Three…she was out.

If you’re looking to try to get your book with a mainstream publisher, then help yourself out by thinking like an editor. With all the queries on unpublished works that editors receive, why would an editor choose yours? Being able to defend you and your published work will help bridge the gap and possibly elicit a sale.

However, all that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the chances of a publisher being interested in your already-self-pubbed book is extremely low. Most self-pubbed authors I know start fresh and go to publishers with a brand new book. It may be the publisher will pick up your self-pubbed book, but that book must have something to offer them in terms of marketability.

Your bestest friend is the practice of putting yourself in an editor’s Sorels (I woulda said Manolo Blahniks, but I’m squatting on 7″ of snow). If you can look at your query from an editor’s perspective, it may help you decide whether you’re better off making a clean break by writing a new book, or whether your self pubbed book is really something that would make a mainstream publisher jump on top of her barstool and offer free drinks for everyone.

 


Jimmy Fallon – You Rock (I think)

September 6, 2013

TesticlesOk, so I have to tell you about my wild week. I awoke to my beautiful author, Melissa Haynes, telling me about Jimmy Fallon’s show Tuesday night and his segment about THE 10 TITLES NOT TO READ. WTF, sez I. Well, guess who was #1? LEARNING TO PLAY WITH A LION’S TESTICLES.

Ok, a little about the  title.  We made a very conscious decision with this title – even after long barky discussions with our distributor about changing it. They were afraid we may offend someone. Huh? This coming from the same fabo distributor who distributes GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP? Hello? Long story short, I held my ground because it’s the very heart and soul of the book. and it’s a South African saying that means to take foolhardy chances. And hey, isn’t better to take foolhardy chances than to take no chances at all?

Ok, so that’s exactly what we did here. Talk about playing with a lion’s testicles…

So now we have Jimmy Fallon mentioning the #1 title to millions of viewers. Holy sweetbreads. Can we make lemonade out of this? Well, I guess I shouldn’t have worried. The book apparently sold out on Amazon/ Canada, and Amazon/US. Melissa’s blog blew up and she’s inundated with people emailing her to say how fabulous it is.

Our site has blown up as well, with LEARNING TO PLAY WITH A LION’S TESTICLES being the #1 search. Additionally, Becky Mushko’s Peevish Pen site blew up with her review of Melissa’s book. So lotsa people have inquiring minds…

So I contacted the producers on Jimmy Fallon Show with a very tongue in cheek email about how we all had a huge giggle over it all, and prompted all sorts of attention, and that it only seemed fitting to have our author (who is freaking drop dead gorgeous) on the show to redeem herself. I explained the title’s origin and how it was obvious that everyone connected with the show had mastered the art of playing with a lion’s testicles, given the popularity of the show.

The show’s booking agent contacted me and said my email was one of the most entertaining of the day, and we’re now in discussions about having her on the show! OMG. Holy pickle livers!

So here’s the segment in all its glory. I can’t help but wince a bit because Melissa’s book is so amazing. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to laugh because life is too short to get your Vickie Secrets in a twist. That said, I hope we kick ass with this.

Let this be a lesson to all you wonderful authors out there – life is stranger than fiction, and you have to be ready to ride the big wave. Yes yes, I’m mixing metaphors. So sue me. Or better yet, send my name to Jimmy Fallon…


Have You Planned For Success?

February 4, 2013

sorels

I never thought I’d see the day where my daily shoes would be *Sorels. I’m a SoCal native, and my shoe choices leaned more heavily toward Rainbows or deck shoes. Socks? Phht, we don’t need no steekin’ socks. It’s SoCal, baby.

Then I moved to Pittsburgh, and the idea of wearing Rainbows or deck shoes became pure fantasy during the months of October-March/April. Had Baby Daughter not spent a year in Boston, I wouldn’t have known about proper footwear in frigid weather because I hadn’t planned for it. I know squat all about cold climes, and believe me, it’s all about the planning, baby.

The same can be said about your writing career. Most writers get an amazing idea and increase their BIC index (Butt In Chair) to 24 hours a day in order to bang out their tomes. But at some point, you need to take stock of what to do after writing The End. This is where reality slaps you upside the head and you realize This. Is. A. Business. And successful businesses take planning.

So you need to ask yourself, “Am I a Rainbow gal walking around in Sorel Land?” If so, then you might want to consider these points:

Writing/Research

I reject many manuscripts because the authors didn’t do any research. I remember reading one story where the main character was taking a romantic moonlight stroll along the Amazon River. I nearly broke  a rib laughing. I’ve been to the Amazon and the last thing anyone (with a brain, that is) would do is stroll outside at night. Not unless they were interested in seeing how long it took for the mosquitoes to drain your blood supply. Research, baby.

If your character has MS, then you better research the snot out of MS because you’d be amazed at how vital and active many MS patients are.

Stamp this on your forehead: If you don’t research, then you haven’t planned for success.

The same goes for writing. My last post said something about authors whose writing skills are still at the remedial stage, then they don’t need a good editor, they need to learn those skills. And it’s true. You can have a great story idea, but if you write like you barely made it out of 8th grade, then no reputable editor will take pity on you and offer you a contract. They’ll kick you to the curb. Quickly.

Being an expert in your craft should take precedence over your desire to be published. Sadly, I see the opposite in large quantities.

Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t learned how to write, then you haven’t planned for success.

Editing

I know I beat this particular drum to the point of excess, but it bears constant comment because not all editors are created equally, as I mentioned in a recent post. If your book is poorly edited, then you are going to suffer the ultimate humiliation of having everyone tell you how many mistakes they found.

You must, must, must be absolutely certain of the kinds of editors your publisher hires. Do they have experience from solid houses, or did they serve a small internship and were set loose to wreak havoc on unsuspecting books? Be especially aware with e-publishing because these houses  oftentimes have a much smaller operating budget, and can’t afford to hire experienced editors. Keep your focus on those who have been in business for at least 2-3 years.

Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t checked out potential publishers’ editors, then you haven’t planned for success.

Publishing Intent

Before you begin the query process, you need to have a dialog with yourself about your writing intent. Are you a hobbyist who’s simply having some fun? If so, then you should probably take trade presses off your list because they’re not looking for hobbyists. They’re looking for career writers. Instead, you could think about slapping it up on CreateSpace and see what happens. But the idea is that you have a realistic vision of your writing and arrange your publisher query list accordingly.

Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t analyzed your writing career, then you haven’t planned for success.

Marketing/Promotion – You vs. Your Publisher

With the advent of DIY publishing and the need to self-promote, many authors have forgotten a very important element in the equation; the publisher. They have a responsibility to you as well, besides assuming production costs. You need to find out exactly what they will do for your book once it comes out.

Do they send out physical ARCs to media and reviewers? Do they schedule signing events and interviews? Do they provide you with free books? Do they take out ads? Marketing and promotion differs for each house, and you need to know which houses will best enhance your exposure to the marketplace.

Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t found out what publishers do to promote your book, then you haven’t planned for success.

Distribution

You may love your editor like you love Twinkies, but if they can’t get your book out to the marketplace, then all the niceness in the world won’t make up for the fact that your book is circling the drain.

When I talk about distribution, I’m not talking about Ingram and Baker & Taylor. They are warehouse distributors who simply fulfill orders placed by bookstores and libraries. I’m talking about independent distributors who have sales teams that pitch your catalog to genre buyers. It means those publishers have store placement.

The same goes for e-publishers. I’ve run across many who only sell their e-books on their own sites. In cases like this, you need to ask yourself what is driving the marketplace to their website. In most cases, nothing. And so your e-book circles the drain. Your e-publisher should have your e-book available in every digital online site in order to increase your footprint.

Stamp this on your forehead: If you haven’t asked potential publishers about distribution, then you haven’t planned for success.

In short, if you truly honor yourself and your writing, then you must plan for your success. You can’t leave it up to the four winds or chance because the streets are littered with broken-hearted authors whose new mantra is, “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.”

*Sorels are deliciously warm and waterproof bundles o’ love. You can slog through rain or snow, and your tootsies will remain in Nirvana.

Book Promotion – Don’t Be a TV Commercial

January 21, 2013

charmin bear

Am I the only one squicked out at TV commercials? I mean really…do we need to have a moaning hottie stretched across a Scrabble board telling Mr. Jack in the Box “No Nookie”? Is this the most effective way to sell a breakfast sandwich?

And what about the girl making out with a walrus in order to sell Skittles? Makes me want to hurk up every Skittle that’s ever gone into my pie hole.

Please don’t even get me started on the Charmin commerical with the bear family who can’t seem to learn how to clean themselves. Their tag line is “Enjoy the Go.”

Enjoy. The. Go?????? Good holy Helvetica, Batman. May the Cosmic Muffin strike me dead if I ever find myself amused because it’ll be a sure sign that I’ve finally gone ’round the bend.

Spam-a-Lot

And sure, we can probably agree this is not an effective way to market a product. But we also need to consider the gimmicks used to market books. With so many authors going DIY, I’m seeing some equally squick-worthy attempts at promotion. Most come in the fashion of the ever-irritating SPAM email. “Hey, lookie what Jane Author has written! It’s the coolest thing since Hemingway!”

Uh huh. Spammy emails – often sent by vermin passing themselves off as internet publicists – are bug repellant, not enticing nuggets of joy.

Book promotion is about calling attention to your book in a positive way that entices readers to hop, skip, and jump to their nearest bookstore. Spam emails have absolutely zero effect, and all you’ve done is separated yourself from your hard-earned dollars to someone who’s laughing all the way to the bank. Spam publicists will tell you they send “announcements” to “targeted” audiences, but that’s hooey. They have large databases and simply spam them with a click of a button. Collect $500, move on to the next sucker.

Hopefully, there are personal aspects that you can draw upon that will create a bridge between you, your book, and your readers, and spam publicists aren’t the way to go.

Look For the Golden Thread

I know there are more limitations if you write fiction. Not like you can exactly promote yourself as the owner of a purple unicorn and three trolls, right? But are there some elements to your book that can serve as a kickstarter? Something that connects you to your story and, therefore, your audience? I always harken back to Mr. Surfer Dude and his challenges of trying to sell his DIY surfer dude SF/Fantasy. We helped him make lemonade out of some serious lemons, without having to resort to inane gimmicks. He never made millions, but he ended up having a ton of fun, met a lot of new people, and sold more books than he ever dreamed possible, considering his storyline.

Blogs

I’ve seen some very effective marketing via author blogs. Blogs take awhile to gain an audience, so it’s best to have one going before your book ever comes out. One amusing blog began with the genre author’s journey of getting published…but that wasn’t the main fare. She has a wonderful sense of humor and her blog posts surround some inane, goofy thing she does, which tie directly into the type of books she writes. In short, she drew in potential readers through humor, but it ties in with her genre. So when she got a publishing deal, her book sold like hot cakes.

next15minutesI adore Kim Kircher’s blog, and not just because we published her fabulous book THE NEXT FIFTEEN MINUTES. I love her blog because it’s the perfect example of talking to her audience on  topics that connect her to them. Her posts always make me think because she finds the miraculous in her job as a bomb-tossing ski patrol Amazon woman. She ties her experiences on the slopes to everyday life – observations we can all apply to our lives. This is an example of everything done right because the tone of her blog is the exact tone of her fabulous book. And if you haven’t read it, run, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore and get a copy or three. Makes for the perfect Valentine’s gift.

I’ve seen a lot of misfires as well. Blogs that try to be too serious, for instance. Now, there are times when this makes sense; human trafficking would be very hard to make light, chatty posts. The trick is to match the your tone of your blog to the tone of your book, like Kim’s. Your book could have some very serious issues – heart attacks, for instance – but if your book includes a lot of things that are utterly hysterical, it’s perfectly appropriate to strike a lighter tone with your blog because it’ll pull in readers, who will want to read your book.

Seminars/Talks

These are delicious things because potential readers get to see you up close and personal. If you’ve discovered your inner hambone, I recommend these because a live audience is the best place to get instant feedback and wonderful questions. It’s also a lovely place to get more invitations to give more talks. Dropping seeds, and all that.

But take care. I’ve seen cases where the speakers were fabulous, but their books were disappointing because they had a completely different tone. More than once I’ve told authors to think about their talks. They get standing ovations for a reason, so they MUST carry that same tone in their books. It’s what their audience is expecting. And vice versa. Your talks and your book must be complementary, not war against each other. That’s as bad as a Charmin commercial.

Whatever form of promotion you choose to do, do it with dignity. Don’t be a dancing hamburger who’s crying about having no cheese. Don’t be the poor souls at Book Expo America, who wander the rows and rows of publishers wearing toilets on their heads, or dressed up as pickles (seen ’em, pinky swear) hoping an editor will leap out, screaming, “I MUST sign you!”

Analyze your personality. Are you good in front of an audience, or would you be better doing radio? Are you a talented blogger, or do you write magazine articles? Follow your passion…after all, you went so far to write your book, so you owe it to yourself to keep your dignity and promote smartly.


Blending it all together – there’s one important ingredient…

December 5, 2012

I wish I could say I took this pic, but I didn’t. However, it does look eerily similar to the road we live on, so I’ll go with that. I’ve never experienced Fall like this, and seeing the leaves turning colors makes me think Mother Nature has a flair for art as she blends all the colors together in such a way that it takes my breath away.

I’m sure if the Cosmic Muffin handed Mother Nature an edict that said, “Thou shalt make bitchen colors on the leaves during Autumn,” I’m sure she would have handed in her wand and stuck to determining whether she was eating butter or margarine. But I think the old broad does pretty well with the leaves. They all just fit together.

I read a partial manuscript the other day that has those same ingredients. In fact, I really wanted to reject the work because I’m concerned about the topic being too impacted. But I couldn’t help myself. In spite of the fact that it’s a category that’s been written about to ad nauseum, this writer sucked me in. She blended in pace, flow, character development into a lovely pallet of gorgeosity. And let’s not forget VOICE…which is a big ticket item for me. Just like those trees that explode red in Fall and make you pull off the road just to soak it in, this author has a distinct color all her own that screams genius.

The problem with saying a story blends together is that it sounds simplistic. I can’t put my finger on any one detail that says I must have this book. In fact, t I probably shouldn’t have this book because I’m not sure it has the legs to swim to the top of a very big heap. There should be a section in the bookstores and libraries titled, “Yeah, it makes no sense to read this book, but do it anyway because it’s all that and more.”

So much of writing is by feel. You can take lessons on how to create a tantalizing plot, keeping tension in all the right places, making sure your characters are delicious, but none of it means you’ll actually accomplish your goal. Why? Because taste is subjective. Just because I love something doesn’t mean anyone else will. That’s why I have a team who can bring me down to earth when I go all gooshy over something. They are my wet boogers who say, “Yah, Pricey, you love the book. How you gonna sell it?”

And that’s what it comes down to. Will it sell in Peoria? as the saying goes. Something can be wonderful, but if I can’t put my finger on the exact elements that will turn readers’ heads, then it’s a no-go. Even if you self pub it, you’re still facing the same hill of selling your book – probably more because you’ll be a team of one versus a team of hundreds.

So when you’re blending all your lovely bits together, be sure you understand your book’s marketability. It’s the last ingredient that’s the difference between “SOLD!” and “I really want this, but I can’t take it.”

 


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