Sunday, October 27, 2013

In Publishing, Things Rarely Go As Planned

If you’ve been in the writing/publishing game as long as I have, you’ll know that there has been more change and upheaval than you can probably count. So, when I read two interesting articles about Amazon’s apparent failure to make a splash in the publishing world, I can’t say I was surprised.

Articles in and, state that the publishing venture Amazon announced in May 2011 hasn’t been as successful as they’d hoped. The plan was to provide competition to what was then the Big 6 publishers (now 5), however, but this hasn’t happened. In fact, Larry Kirshbaum, the man hired to make it happen, recently announced that he’ll be leaving Amazon in early 2014. Neither article faults Kirshbaum for Amazon’s failure to make the big splash they’d planned. As former head of the Time-Warner Group and later a literary agent, Kirshbaum certainly knows the American publishing scene but, as so often happens in publishing, unforeseen problems cropped up.

Both articles state that, in part, Barnes & Noble’s (and other indie stores) ban of any Amazon-published books has definitely hurt their bid to make a dent in the New York scene. Furthermore, a Department of Justice ruling earlier this year on e-book pricing, which worked in Amazon’s favor, further angered bookstores, publishers, and some authors. Consequently, Amazon apparently hasn’t been able to entice many big-name, bestselling authors to join them.

Interestingly, of the tens of thousands of authors selling their books through Amazon (both self and traditionally published), the publishing component of the company has yet to create a runaway bestseller. According to the piece, this is odd, given the amount of data Amazon has collected about genre, sales, readers’ tastes, etc.

This isn’t to say that Amazon won’t find a few stars down the road. Kirshbaum was able to sign several celebrities, including Penny Marshall, but apparently her book hasn't sold as well as they'd anticipated. Welcome to the world of publishing Amazon, where there’s plenty of hits and misses, and things rarely go as planned.

You can find the articles at:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 Mistakes Authors Make That Can Cost Them a Fortune (and how to avoid them)

Book marketing expert, Penny Sansevieri, shares 10 tips for success:

When it comes to books, promotion, and book production I know that it can sometimes feel like a minefield of choices. And while I can’t address each of these in detail, there are a number of areas that are keenly tied to a book’s success (or lack thereof). Here are ten for you to consider:

1) Not Understanding the Importance of a Book Cover

I always find it interesting that authors will sometimes spend years writing their books and then leave the cover design to someone who either isn't a designer, or doesn't have a working knowledge of book design or the publishing industry. Or,
worse, they create a design without having done the proper market research.

Consider these facts for a minute: shoppers in a bookstore spend an average of 8 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 15 seconds looking at the back before deciding whether to buy it. Further, a survey of booksellers showed that 75% of them found the book cover to be the most important element of the book. Also, sales teams at book distribution often only take the book cover with them when they shop titles into stores. And finally, please don’t attempt to design your own book cover. Much like cutting your own hair this is never a good idea.

2) Sometimes You Get What You Pay For

There’s an old saying that goes: You can find a cheap lawyer and a good lawyer, but you can’t find a good lawyer who is cheap. Though this is a very different market, it’s kind of the same thing.

Yes, there are deals out there and that’s not to say that you have to pay a good publicity person tens of thousands of dollars, but if you find someone who’s willing to market you for $200 or something like that, I’d be asking questions about what you get for your money because while $200 dollars isn't much, it’s $200 here and $99 there and eventually, it all adds up. So if a deal seems too good to be true, make sure that you’re getting all the facts. Just because they aren't charging you a lot doesn't mean they shouldn't put it in writing. And by in writing I mean you should get a detailed list of deliverables. Finding a deal isn't a bad thing, but if you’re not careful it might just be a waste of money so ask good questions before you buy.

3) Listening to People Who Aren't Experts

When you ask someone’s opinion about your book, direction, or topic, make sure they are either working in your industry or know your consumer. If, for example, you have written a young adult (YA) book, don’t give it to your co-workers to read and get feedback (yes, I know some YA books have adult market crossover appeal but this is different). If you've written a book for teens, then give it to teens to read. Same is true for self-help, diet, romance. Align yourself with your market. You want the book to be right for the reader, in the end that’s all that matters.

4) Hope is not a Marketing Plan

I love hope. Hope is a wonderful thing, but one thing it isn't is a marketing plan. Hoping that something will happen is one thing, but leaving your marketing to “fate” is quite another. Even though you wrote the book, even though you toiled hours making it perfect and even though you feel that you have enough people you know who will buy it and/or recommend it to friends, you still have to market it.

More often than not authors tell me that they can’t seem to get family or friends to buy their book. I know that sounds odd but it’s true and even if they do, that’s what? One hundred copies at the most? While family and friends do want to help, you shouldn't bank on them for success. So when it comes time to get your book out there, you need to have a solid plan in place or at the very least a set of actions you feel comfortable working on. Waiting on a miracle, a sale, or a sign from above will cost you a lot in terms of book aging. Once your book is past a certain “age” it gets harder and harder to get it reviewed so don’t sit idly by and hope for something to happen. Make it happen. A book is not the field of dreams, just because you wrote it doesn't mean readers will beat a path to your door.

5) Work it, or Not

There’s a real fallacy that exists in publishing and it’s this: “instant bestseller.” Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the industry knows there is no such thing as “instant” and certainly the words “overnight success” are generally not reserved for books. There is also the belief that a “miracle” will just happen to you when you publish. Personally I love miracles but they tend to not happen with books, sadly. Book promotion should be viewed as a long runway. Meaning that you should plan for the long term. Don’t spend all your marketing dollars in the first few months of a campaign, make sure you have enough money or personal momentum to keep it going.

Whether or not you hire a firm you must “work it” – meaning working your marketing plan, working your goals, whatever. Publishing is a business. You’d never open up a store and then just sit around hoping people show up to buy your stuff. You advertise, you run specials, you pitch yourself to local media. You work it. But what does “working it” mean? Well, it means that if you have a full-time job you find time each week to push the book in some form or fashion. You find time, you make time. You should be engaged in your own success, even if you hire someone to do this for you, you should still be involved. Sometimes it doesn't take much, but it does take a consistent effort, whatever that is. I have a friend who is losing weight. She’s lost 19 pounds over three months. Maybe that seems like pretty slow weight loss, right? I mean who wants to wait three months for a measly 19 pounds? Still, she’s ahead, she’s doing little things that make a big difference. Time will pass anyway. How will you use it?

6) Not Understanding Timing

While timing in publishing has essentially become obsolete, things like advanced reviews, advanced pitching and early sales into bookstores aren't the be-all-end-all they once were. Still, timing is important. While it’s true that sometimes older books can see a surge of success it’s not the rule. You’ll want to be prepared with your marketing early. In fact, you should have a plan in place months before the book is out. That doesn't mean that you’re sending 200 review copies out, that just means you have your ducks in a row so to speak and you know what your plan will be.

Also, timing can affect things like book events (especially if you’re trying to get into bookstores). Understand when you should pitch your book for review, start to get to know your market and the bloggers you plan to pitch. Create a list and keep close track of who to contact and when you need to get your review pitch out there. Though many things have changed in regards to timing, it doesn't mean you shouldn't plan. I recommend that you sit down with someone who can help you strategize timing so you can plan appropriately for your book launch. A missed date is akin to a missed opportunity.

7) Hiring People Who Aren't in the Book Industry

Let’s face it, even to those of us who have been in this industry for a while it still doesn't always make sense. Hiring someone who has no book or publishing experience isn't just a mistake, it could be a costly error. With some vendors like web designers you can get away with that. But someone who has only designed business cards can’t, for example, design a book cover. Make sure you hire the right specialist for the right project. Also, you've likely spent years putting together this project, make sure you make choices based on what’s right and not what’s cheapest. If you shop right you can often find vendors who are perfect for your project and who fit your budget.

8) Designing Your Own Website

You should never cut your own hair or design your own site. Period. End of story. But ok, let me elaborate. Let’s say you designed your own site which saved you a few thousand dollars paying a web designer. Now you’re off promoting your book and suddenly you’re getting a gazillion hits to your site. The problem is the site is not converting these visitors into a sale. How much money did you lose by punting the web designer and doing it yourself? Hard to know. Scary, isn't it?

9) Becoming a Media Diva

Let’s face it, you need the media more than they need you. I know. Ouch. But it’s the unfortunate truth. So here’s the thing: be grateful. Thank the interviewer, send a follow up thank-you note after the interview. Don’t expect the interviewer to read your book and don’t get upset if they get some facts wrong. Just gently, but professionally, correct them in such a way that they don’t look bad or stupid. Never ask for an interview to be redone. Most media people don’t have the time. I mention this because it actually happened to a producer friend of mine who did an interview with a guy and he decided he didn't like it and wanted a second shot. Not gonna happen. The thing is, until you get a dressing room with specially designed purple M&M’s, don’t even think about becoming a diva. The best thing you can do is create relationships. Show up on time, show up prepared, and always, always, always be grateful.

10)  Take Advantage

In this instance, I mean take advantage in the best possible way. There are a ton of resources out there for you. Seriously. Compared to when I was first in business almost 13 years ago the resources and free promotional tools that are out there now are almost mind-numbing, and the fact that so many authors don’t take advantage of them is even crazier.

Things like social media - I know it’s a time suck but you would be amazed at how many authors rock out their campaign by just being on Facebook, or Wattpad or even Goodreads. When I wrote a Goodreads article a while back I got some interesting feedback from people who said that there was a lot of negativity on there. Well, that may be so but I've never seen it and if I do, I ignore it. Point being, the stuff is out there. Find out for yourself what works and what doesn't. Yes it’s fine to take advice from other authors but you should still experience this for yourself before you decide if it’s right for you or not.

When it comes to marketing, the mistakes can cost you more than anything both in time and money. Knowing what to do to market your book is important, but knowing what to avoid may be equally as significant.
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Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Place Where Writers are Respected

Do you ever feel like the whole word is writing and publishing a book? Given that well over a million books are published worldwide every year, I can understand why. So, I was amused to read a BBC article which states that one in every ten residents of Iceland will publish a book, and this is from a population of 300,000 people!

Apparently, there more writers and more books published and read in Iceland than anywhere else in the world. In fact, reading is so popular there that public benches have barcodes enabling you to listen to a story on your Smartphone while you sit. Not only that, writers can make a living there, which is odd given the competition. But here’s the thing. Writers are also respected. Whattt??? Every household receives a book catalogue which is thoroughly pored over. Books are a huge Christmas gift item and the country abounds with festivals.

Did you also know that Iceland has a Nobel Laureate (1955) named Halldor Laxness and that he’s so highly regarded in Iceland that his books are sold everywhere, including gas stations, and that people name their cats after him? High praise indeed.

Okay, so you might be thinking that well, it’s Iceland; what else have they got to do? Certainly that’s a point, but Iceland also has incredible geography and apparently a lot of talented people who write riveting books. Of course, with all those people writing and selling, there’s competitive pressure, which publishers definitely feel. Still, as a writer and a reader, I’d thrive in such a place.

Interestingly, the article made no reference to the self-publishing revolution, e-books or the competition from digital entertainment, which is a shame. I would like to know if Icelanders have made room for both, or if they’ve simply not embraced technology the way we North Americans have.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Celebrating Alice Munro

There were plenty of topics to write about this week, but as a Canadian writer who’s loved Alice Munro’s work for a long time, I couldn’t bypass the spectacular news that she’s won this year’s Nobel prize for literature. Hooray!! Sharing the sentiment of many Canadian authors quoted in the yahoo article below, it’s been a long time coming.

Her award is a big deal on many levels. Of the 110 Nobel recipients, she is only the 13th woman to receive this distinction, and the first Canadian woman to do so. Canadian-born Saul Bellow won the award years ago, but he only spent the first eight years of his life in Canada. What’s so special about Munro’s win is that she’s been recognized not only for the short story form, but for a body of work that focuses on everyday people in a small Canadian town.

I can’t honestly say that Munro inspired me to write, as I’d already begun my first short story attempts when I discovered her work. But her stories showed me how exquisite the short story form can be. I learned that that drama, conflict and a riveting read doesn’t have to involve crime and big events. In Munro’s world, everyday events are indeed important and created on layers of complexity and consequence.

In a way, it’s ironic that Alice Munro, described as a humble person who’s lived a quiet life, recently decided to retire from writing. It’s also ironic that her real life and her fictional world are a far cry from the attention she’s now receiving. Winning the Nobel simply isn’t the type of thing Alice Munro would write about. But real life has this way of throwing interesting events in our path.

If you haven’t read any of Alice Munro’s stories, please do yourself a favor and pick up one of her books. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done so, but I’ll be doing so real soon. This wonderful author deserves more readers, and readers—especially aspiring writers—need to know just how wonderful short stories can be.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Are Children Reading Enough These Days?

Research firm Nielsen Book recently conducted a survey of 2,000 British children and parents, and found that 50% of households now own a tablet (up 24% from last year), and that children are spending less time reading.

The study also reports that 32% of children read for pleasure on a daily basis and 60% read for pleasure on a weekly basis, which seems not too bad on the surface, however, the study suggests that there are warning signs for the future.

You won’t be surprised to learn that more children are spending time playing games apps and watching YouTube than reading. In fact, reading time was down nearly 8 percentage points from the previous year. The Nielson study suggests that there is a significant increase in the number of non-readers or occasional readers, compared with heavy readers. By the way, The Guardian article defines the different categories of readers. Also alarming is that the children appear to be dropping art, hobbies, and other extracurricular activities for more game time. This is particularly prevalent in the 11-17 age group.

Here’s an interesting comparison. In the 2012, study, Nielson Book asked children if they would like to read e-books. 21% said they already were and 38% stated that they wanted to. In 2013, 33% indicated that they were already reading digitally, while 28% said they would like to. So, maybe it’s not all bad. It appears that, given access to e-books, kids will read them. The article notes that parental influence plays a huge role in ensuring that kids adopt regular reading habits, and suggests that many parents could do more to help engage their children in reading.

One of the other points made is that this would be a great time to use video to talk about books, review books, and even form online book clubs for kids. These venues probably already exist somewhere, but might not be prevalent yet. The good news is that kids don’t seem to think that reading is less cool. It’s just that there’s too many other distractions. I’d say the same is probably true for adults.