Saturday, April 28, 2012

Social Networking, the New Word of Mouth

I recently read a blog post, a retweet on Twitter, written this past fall (2011) and emphasizing that social networking isn’t built to sell books. It’s an interesting post with lots of stats and facts and irrelevant findings that concludes what sells books is not the internet, but good, old-fashion mass media—television, newspapers, radio interviews…books made into movies. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes at this point. In defense of the author, he was talking about traditionally published authors, which leaves me at a double disadvantage, first because not even near the majority of traditionally published authors have mass media available to them and as a self-published author I’m impeded yet again. The “thing”, he emphasizes, that sells books, even bad books can outsell very good books written by talented writers, is name/face recognition. He used, for example, works by Snookie and Kim Kardashian. 

But I need further clarification here. Which comes first, the author or name recognition? Based on the examples the poster put forth, I conclude “name recognition.” Being an author has nothing to do with it. Of course, all of us traditionally ignored for the “beautiful people” already know this. And how in the world could even “mass media” accommodate recognition of every author published in a year? And I’m just talking about the traditionally published ones; don’t even start thinking vanity and self-published authors. Hawking those recognized by the vast populace is simply good business to make money, and the people able to exploit mass media are backed by those with much deeper pockets than I have. For me, mass media is a non-starter.

Oh, and lets not overlook having my book made into a what? A movie? I beg your pardon? Does he mean have my book made into a movie as if it were a matter of personal choice? No one has opted to turn my stories into screenplays. I’d do it myself, but screenwriting is different from book writing, and breaking into “movie writing” is even harder than breaking into traditional publishing. I’m comforted that I’m not the only slacker out here. Most traditionally published authors aren’t rushing around making their books into movies either. But on a more serious note, no one would turn one of my novels into film. My books are pro South and the hey-day of Randolph Scott and Gary Cooper doing battle with corrupt carpetbaggers and marauding Yankees passed with the 1950s. You want a film about the South made into a movie, present the South in a bad light or one where we see the “evil of our ways.”

No, good books, like old soldiers, just “fade away” or become legend based on word of mouth and a readership that survives the ages.

I don’t think the blog poster’s findings surprised many of us authors, traditionally published or otherwise. We know the value of mass media, we know who gets it and we understand why, and we know we’d all love to have it—and most of us who’ve been around a little while know we never will. I was a little surprised, however, at his pooh-poohing our use of the internet. I think, from his context, he believes we’re looking for pie-in-the-sky, hundreds of thousands of sales in a month, but I’m not developing an internet presence under the deluded belief that Twitter or Facebook or this blog will serve as a substitute for mass media attention. I’m using social networking for just that: social networking. I’m looking for my readership.

Do any of you authors out there remember that pitch technique that evolved a number of years ago—a one liner that compares, then meshes your book with two familiar things to help an editor, agent, or even a reader understand what your story is about (i.e. “Alice in Wonderland meets Starwars”)?  Now does that give you some idea of what the prospective story is about? Me neither, but the technique was all the rage. Maybe it still is—I’m out of the pitching business. But I digress.

Regardless of my thoughts on the technique, I did give the description of my work some thought, and I now liken my work to a cross between the romance, adventure, and happily-ever-after of Zane Grey’s westerns and the dark beauty, violence, and glory of Frank Yerby’s Old South.

The Zane Greys and Frank Yerbys of this world are no longer desired by traditional publishers. They’re not deemed popular with the majority of book buyers and are therefore a bad investment. I get that. But there is a readership for those kinds of books, and there always will be. A niche if you will, one big enough to satisfy a tiny publishing house with a practical print run and books in digital format. That’s why I’m focusing on my social networking. I’m looking for that niche. And I do believe that once I’ve found those readers, I will sell more books than I’m selling now. Oh duh!

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, April 22, 2012

From Offset to Digital Printer

I’m aware that I have let more than two weeks lapse between posts and for that I apologize, but the delay was not without cause. I have completed uploading my first three books to Lightning Source (LSI) and am waiting for the proofs—each of which I will read one more time. There are reasons for such madness (I practically have these books memorized) and those are I made corrections to typos overlooked when the books were printed on an offset press years ago and I made a few content changes—clarifying questions asked of me by readers—nothing to change the story line.

For me, this is one of the beauties of digital printing. Typos, much like a dog and fleas, are present in books—you’ll almost always find at least one. If you’ve printed 2,000 books, you live with it, multiplied 2,000 times. If you’ve printed 100 books, you live with it 100 times and you’ve fixed the problem by the time you make your next order. I love it! With digital printing, you can print as few as one copy—albeit at a greater cost per copy—instead of waiting until you’ve sold an initial print run of 2,000, errors and all, before making revisions and ordering another print run.

The other beautiful thing about this particular digital printer (LSI) is that it’s owned by Ingram—the book distributor. Now bookstore owners can order my books at the request of the customer instead of having to tell the client “it’s not in the distribution system.” Hence the term “print-on-demand.” Now, I haven’t tried it out yet—I plan to get my local B&N to order all four when I’ve blessed the last three—but theoretically, that’s how it should work, right?

So the greater “cost per book” will have been offset by cutting out the wholesaler, warehouser, distributor, and any other middle man I’m not aware of. I know other authors have been using these advantages for a while, but for me, it’s like the light just went on. I’m proud of the jobs the offset printer did for me, but I’m proud of the book package LSI does also and the paradigm works so much better for me. As of today, I have paid roughly $230.00 in interest over the last four months on my books printed by an offset printer. For that sum, I could order roughly 40 books from LSI and more than double my money on each. Okay, I left out the shipping, but you get my drift.

Oh yes, and that “double my money” part. That means I have to get out there and sell them. I do that primarily at craft fairs. I’ve got an article on my website highlighting how well that’s working for me. It’s work, for sure.

Given that, my next great quest is my online presence, which will be my focus for the next month. My mentor is John Locke (he doesn’t know it), author of How I Sold 1 Million eBooks In Five Months. I’ve read it twice. I always knew it was about finding my audience; I was just never sure how to go about it. Now I have a starting point. Check him out. Oh, and if you do, I’m reading his first western—it’s pretty darn good!

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Changing Face of Distribution

Over the years, fellow self-publishers have cited distribution as the self-publishers biggest drawback, and today, traditional distribution is as pie-in-the-sky for a self-published author as it’s ever been. But, again, I knew the odds did not favor my getting a major distributor (and given the size of my print run, what would I have done with one anyway?). I was content to limit my market to Mississippi and eventually the states making up the old Confederacy. I did hope for a regional distributor. As it turned out, I was my sole distributor.

When I wrote my first business plan six years ago, my first stated annual goal was to pay off the print run of my then current book (and it followed, in theory, to pay off each “current” book annually). Today, I’m in debt with three books printed by an off-set printer, because I never met my first annual goal--or met that goal in any of the years following.

In addition to my annual goal, I stated two objectives:

(1) Produce a new title each year
(2) Increase my print run by 50% (from 2000 copies to 3000 copies for each new title)

I didn’t give a timeline on point (2). Of course, any incremental increase would have been linked to a growing readership. Well, my readership is growing, but not enough to increase my print run annually, but more to move what I already have on hand. I do still believe that my old books (and their critical ancillary readership) will help sell my new ones and my new books will help sell my old, but that takes time, and I’m not sure how much having a “real” distributor would have changed that.

A distributor must be provided books to distribute. I talked—or tried to make contact with—two regional distributors back in 2006. I was never sure, but I think they were the same distributor (over in Louisiana), which had started out under one name, folded, then began anew under a different name. Whatever, numerous calls were never returned and I never made contact with anything but the answering machine.

With print runs of only 2000 books, I was of no interest to the big distributors and why should I have been? Unless I sold lots of books very fast, I couldn’t afford to print more. It was a catch-22. There was no great conspiracy on the part of the “disembodied” paradigm to shut self-publishers out. It was simply a matter of sound business.

Okay, calling the big publishers cycle from print to distribution and back to the publisher a sound business practice might be considered oxymoronic. I’m scarcely knowledgeable on their business practices and expectations, but I do know that the big publishers print huge runs of thousands of copies of each book they publish, then get them, via the established distribution system, in stores across the country. Then, sometimes as soon as one month later, they accept the unsold inventory (which may be substantial) back from the bookstores and destroy it.

Self-published authors cannot afford to operate like that, at least I can’t. But book stores can’t purchase books, then just let them linger on their shelves if they don’t sell. Well, I guess they could, but before long they’d have no space for new ones and they’d stop purchasing. Now wouldn’t that cause a bottleneck back in old New York? Gee, they’d have to stop publishing until the inventory cleared out. Ain’t nobody happy at that point, including the readers. My point is that to be part of the established distribution system, the publisher must be willing to accept returns.

So the system was established “by them, for them.” There is no great conspiracy to cut the little guy out—the little guy simply doesn’t fit. And like all those thousands of traditionally published authors, many copies of whose books are returned to the publisher because they didn’t sell, I’d have great difficulty marketing my books a long way from home. Returns? Egads, what would I do with them? Well, that would be what I do with them anyway—get out and sell them in Mississippi, where I can, at least, promote them personally.

And what would have been the point in distributing my books a long way from home? The answer, of course, is to get my name/books out there. But with limited time to move my books, it was not practical, and would, more than likely, have proved a fiscal disaster. I will always maintain that an individual goes to a bookstore to buy a book, not sell one; the reader has to know its there. That’s where marketing fits in.

Getting my name out there is still hard, but expense is no longer a prohibitive factor. “Time” is, though. Recall that old adage, “Time is money”?

A quick note:  All my books are now up at the Kindle Store (see my December through February posts). I got the last one, which was my first book, The Devil’s Bastard, up this week. My goal for this next week is to have my three older books—the ones printed on an off-set press—up at Lightning Source. That will be the subject of my next post, the new distribution paradigm made possible by digital printing.

Thanks for reading,