Sunday, March 30, 2014

Have You Got the Whole Marketing Thing Figured Out Yet?

By the end of this year, I will have published five mystery novels since 2008. While I’m kind of proud of this accomplishment, I have to say that effective marketing is still a hurdle for me. Discussions with colleagues and my writers’ group over the years has provided some useful insights, but as with everything, things change.

My return to a full-time day job six months ago forced me to drastically cut the amount of time I spend on social media promotion and you know what? It’s okay. I’ve found that participation in the ten social media sites I belonged to had little to do with generating sales. Part of the reason was that most of the people who followed, joined, and linked with me are also writers eager to promote their books. How many of us actually reach readers? Are we doing enough? Are we doing the right things?

When I came across a blog by Anne R. Allen, listing seven ways writers waste time building a social media platform, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she said, and feeling kind of relieved because I wasn’t doing most of it anyway. In Allen’s view the following are time wasters:

. Racking up thousands of Twitter followers
. Madly promoting your ‘Like’ page on Facebook
. Gathering a huge list of names for a newsletter
. Participating in expensive, grueling blog tours
. Blogging everyday
. Blog hopping
. Worrying about your Klout or other social media rating.

Allen provides reasons about why these things are often useless time sucks. Of the seven, the only one I tried was promoting ‘Likes’ on FB, but again, most of the Likes came from other writers doing the same thing. I’ve never been overly interested in checking out my ratings, and stopped using Klout because it was just annoying. Two blogs a week have always been plenty for me. My other blog focuses on fraud and was created to help keep people informed and aware of the importance of protecting their personal information. It’s more of a personal service thing than a buy-my-book thing.

Allen also identifies the promotion strategies she believes works these days, which is freebies and book sales through places like Bookbub, E-Reader and News Daily, if you can afford them. She also points out that the online world reinvents itself every couple of years. I’m not sure it happens that quickly, but it does change. The real challenge and time drain is trying to keep up with it all and find what works.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Interesting Info on the State of Publishing

Author Jane Friedman is a woman after my own heart. She loves stats and charts, and recently shared five of her favorites on her blog. By the way, she is also the co-founder and co-editor of Scratch Magazine, which focuses on writing and money. She’s also an editor at Virginia Quarterly Review and was the publisher of Writer’s Digest for more than a decade.

For me, the charts didn’t provide any earth-shattering information, but basically confirmed what I’ve read elsewhere. Basically, it comes down to this: 

 By the end of 2012, nearly half of all print and ebook sales were happening online. In fact, bookstore retail share dropped from 31.5% to 18.7% by the end of that year.

.  Sales of adult print books peaked between 2008 and 2009, however, children’s books are still holding their own. In other words, they still rely heavily on physical stores for sales.

.   Mobile and tablet devices are growing more popular while e-readers are lagging well behind the pack. Friedman’s right when she states that this has had an important impact on where and how we buy books, let alone how we read them. 

Ebooks are far more profitable for publishers than print books. The standard rate of royalties is 25% but will it remain so? Apparently, Hugh Howey of is stating publicly that royalties will have to go up. He has raised an interesting point. After all, how long will authors put up with 25% when Amazon pays 70% to indie authors?

The link between metadata and sales is clearly defined. This means that books that are specifically tagged, for instance, will have an easier time finding readers than a work of fiction that is put under the category of ‘General Fiction’. Properly tagged books sell more often in both nonfiction and fiction. It’s a no-brainer, right? 

If you want to take a look at the colorful and easy-to-read charts, you can find them at

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mystery and Horror in a Fluffy White Wrapper

A somewhat misleading post title to introduce a short story appearance.

Yes, Mardi Gras is over, but a dead body is something you'll always have, right?

Mystery and Horror LLC accepted one of my Mr. Sugar and Mrs. DiMarco stories for their spring anthology, MARDI GRAS MURDER. All the stories center on Mardi Gras; most are set in or very near New Orleans. Mr. Sugar lives (other than in my mind) in an unnamed Midwestern small city, and Mrs. DiMarco lives down the street. Mr. Sugar is a gay, neutered, white Persian cat; Mrs. DiMarco is only human. She has the deadliest throwing arm and the bluest language in the neighborhood, but she and Mr. Sugar have bonded.

"Mr. Sugar vs the Cake Thief" teams the two again to solve a mystery the don't even know exists.

They're just that good.


Available through Amazon in print or Kindle format.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hard Times for Harlequin

Anyone who’s read or written romance knows that Harlequin has been the most recognized brand name for decades. For years, they ruled the roost when it came to publishing and selling romances. But the tide has turned. In fact, over the past five years, Harlequin reports a loss of nearly $100 million in sales. This is important for all traditional publishers and authors to know, because the reasons speak to the e-book and self-publishing revolution in every genre.

Digitalbookworld’s article quotes the reasons for the downfall directly from Harlequin’s findings and they probably won’t surprise you. Harlequin cites increased competition from e-books, self-publishers, and Amazon. Harlequin also used to dominate direct-to-consumer marketing through catalogues and mail-order options. Well, online sites like BookBub have adopted the direct-to-consumer angle big time by offering thousands of free and $.99 romances, making Harlequin’s $4.99 prices seem expensive. Adding to Harlequin’s woes is the reduction of physical shelf space and the increased availability of movies.

Digitalbookworld offers a link to Harlequin’s report on their financial troubles, but there might be more to the story. There have been a number of blogs and articles written by former Harlequin authors complaining about the publisher’s unfair contracts and small royalty payments. It does appear that a number of Harlequin authors have jumped ship to self-publish their work. I don’t know what Harlequin contracts say, but I do know that rights and royalties are an increasingly contentious issue between publishers and authors elsewhere. It looks like Harlequin will have to make big changes to survive either in their contracts, their pricing, their marketing, or all three. Will they survive? We’ll have to wait and see.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Will Exposing a Bully's Identity Stop Attacks?

This week, I’ve been reading a number of articles about authors who’ve been subjected to death threats from people on Amazon forums. Both Ann Rice and Charlaine Harris have been threatened, as have others. In fact, the problem's apparently so prevalent that freelance editor Todd Barselow organized a petition asking Jeff Bezos and Jon P. Fine to remove reviewer anonymity from Amazon reviews. The petition states that there’s been an incredible amount of bullying and harassment that’s taken place. Barselow believes that removing anonymity will prevent much of the harassment, especially by those who are creating several sock puppet accounts and using them to trash an author.

I can see where he’s coming from. I used to participate in Amazon forums all the time. They started out friendly enough, but as more self-published authors starting participating in forums to promote their work, others started to get ticked off. Amazon’s response to the problem was to create specific forums for self-publishers. Of course, some authors still made the mistake of promoting on other sites and thus the attacks ramped up. According to Ann Rice, anonymous bullies have made it their mission to bully, harass, and threaten certain authors.

Bullying has been in our culture for a long time, so much so that here in Canada we have Pink Shirt Day, which was started several years ago to promote anti-bullying strategies. Of all the bullying and harassment stories I’ve seen and heard over the years, anonymity isn’t the issue. In fact, most bullies have face-to-face contact with their victims. Even cyberbullying isn’t necessarily carried out under a cloud of anonymity among teens. If anyone believes that reviewers who are forced to reveal their true names will stop, then I think they’re being na├»ve. Now, Amazon’s situation may be unique, as it’s a gathering place for people from everywhere who will likely never meet in person, however, exposing identities could backfire.

A piece in the examiner looks at the issue from the reviewers point of view. The author of the piece asked reviewers to speak up about the petition and several responded with good points. One reviewer stated that she reviewed erotica and didn’t want her family and friends to know. Another reviewer said what I said above, it could backfire and trigger more bad blood. Let’s be clear, not all anonymous reviewers are jerks and trolls. Some value privacy while others feel it’s the only way to give an honest review without having the author come back to start threatening them or their families, which has happened. It’s a sticky issue, isn’t it?

Since I left the Amazon forums about four years ago, I’m not sure how bad things really are. I am, however, an Amazon reviewer who uses my own name, but I stay away from discussing or trying to justify my reviews. As far as forums go, I’ve found plenty of good ones at Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Kindleboards, where disagreements arise, but because they’re moderated no one is allowed to threaten, berate, and harass anyone. One can freely agree to disagree without having to worry about threats to their personal safety. Surely, Mr Bezos makes enough money to be able to hire moderators for his forums? Disagreement is fine. One-star ratings are fine, but threats of violence and personal attacks are not. Maybe Mr. Barselow should be petitioning for adequate moderation.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Book Review Inequality Still Happening

For a number of years, I was a member of the U.S.-based organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC). During that time, I received regular newsletters updating me about events and other noteworthy items. One of the interesting projects they had going at that time (I was a member from about 2003 to 2010) was to take a look at the ratio of reviewed books written by men and by women. SinC asked volunteer members across the country to monitor book reviews in their local magazines and newspapers. Granted, the information gathering was informal and the findings perhaps anecdotal, yet year after year they found that male authors were reviewed far more frequently than women. Based on various stats, however, the ratio of men to women writing crime fiction was much closer than the reviews reflected. As I recall, various executive members, (possibly the president) notified some of the publications where the discrepancy was most obvious and over time things improved.

Due to financial constraints, I discontinued my SinC membership, so I don’t know how much progress they’ve made since then. But I was really interested, and somewhat appalled, to read that the preference for reviewing books written by men is still prevalent with some publications, and in other genres besides crime fiction.

A piece npr books discusses the annual findings of a women’s literary organization called VIDA. VIDA spends eight months of every year tracking not only who’s being reviewed in major publications, but who is writing the reviews. They’ve found a clear disparity between men and women. For instance, The Atlantic, The London Book of Reviews, The New Republic, and The Nation, not only have 75 male reviewers to 25 females, and this split is exactly the same for books reviewed. I strongly doubt there are three times as many men writing novels as there are women. What’s particularly disturbing is that these stats haven’t changed in four years. You can read the piece to see how some publications have responded to VIDA’s findings, but the bottom line is that inequality is still there. No one is suggesting that publications insist on a 50/50 split, but 72/25, and in one case 80/20? Come on. This is 2014. If these publications want to stay relevant (see my Feb. 23 blog), then isn’t it time they better acknowledged the contributions of women writers?