The Things That No One Talks About

I first started publishing in 2011. It was an exciting, vibrant time when the sky was the limit and the world was your oyster.

A couple of well published cases of writers started making a lot of money got a lot of publicity from the news. For us, the writers still submitting to publishers, self-publishing was an ever more attractive option.

I published my first book in January 2011, and I have watched this industry grow and evolve. While there are still a lot of positive stories, negative stories have gotten a lot more screen time recently. People are saying the self-publishing space is too crowded, people are saying the deck is stacked against them.

At first, those types of stories only came out during the months of the northern hemisphere summer. This is the time where traditionally not as many books are sold as in the months after Christmas. People were seeing a downturn in sales and started wondering if the industry was declining.

However this year the negative stories seem a lot more pervasive.

Newsflash: it is hard to make a living as a writer.

It seems like the industry’s boundless positivity has finally caught up with reality: most writers won’t succeed.

So here are a few things that nobody talks about. This is not a negative post, just an attempt at putting a few things in perspective.

1. People talk about 2009 or 2011 as being the golden time of self publishing. As if when you published back then, your manuscript would instantly turn to gold. But nobody talks about is that there are a lot of us around, myself included, who did not get easy sales and did not make millions. We were doing just exactly the same thing as new writers are doing now: figuring out what works what doesn’t.

But nobody talks about those writers. And nobody talks about the complete lack of services or knowledge that was available to people self-publishing at that time. At the time when I came to self-publishing forums, it was still extremely common to see people with the most horrid covers on their self published books. While it is still happening, most people realise that as soon as they come to forums and see the covers on the books of the writers who are selling well, that these are things that need to be fixed first before you can sell. The tools to do this are so much more easy to find. The many ways of marketing your book are also easy to find out about. So no, for the individual writer it has certainly become a lot more easy to put out a book of quality that will have a chance.

2. While we’re on quality. Nobody talks about it. It’s considered downright rude to tell another writer that their book isn’t very good. Good is a sliding scale anyway and what is good to someone is complete rubbish to someone else.

But even with gorgeous covers, there are too many books that fail the most basic concept of quality. No it’s not that they’re free of grammatical errors, it is that they fail to tell a story that enough people want to read to give the book viable market.

Now to be honest, this also applies to traditionally published books. But because in a traditional publisher a lot more people look over the book before it’s published, someone who wants to publish this book through a publishing company has to convince a lot more people that the book is worth spending money on. With self-publishing, the only person who is going to make that decision is you.

While writing by committee is in general not a very good idea, marketability by committee is almost mandatory. When you self-publish, you bypass this process, and you may well be publishing a book in which the first three chapters are so insanely boring to most readers that nobody will go and buy the second book.

So at the risk of being crucified by the comments, I will say that a lot of self-published writers spend far too little time in their early careers figuring out how to write books that more people want to read. This is not about grammar and it is not about editing except to say that you could be helped by developmental editing, but even a developmental editor will not fix your story. You have to learn the craft of storytelling.

3. The marketing slide. If you have a book that doesn’t sell, marketing may make little difference or it could make a lot of difference. Books that require absolutely no marketing and just sell themselves are quite rare. Books that cannot be made to sell with any amount of marketing also not terribly common although more common than the first.

Most books fall somewhere in the middle, where some marketing is required to make them sell on a continuous basis. With every book, there is the point at which the return just isn’t there in terms of money and time spent.

4. There is no magic trick. Yet, we see new and less successful writers searching for the one trick that will make them a bestseller. The one secret that they can do that will suddenly drag their books out from the bottom of the charts. The one marketing trick that will make them a lot of money. Many of these people start becoming bitter when they don’t find that trick, and some of them will never stop looking for it. They blame the bestsellers for holding it back, they hang onto the skirts of those that they perceive as more successful than them and hope that some of the magic will rub off.

In a way, they’re right: there is a magic trick. It is called: write a book that writers want to read. It is called: do the work. It is called: learn continuously to write better fiction and serve your audience better.

But sadly, that is not the trick that these people are looking for. They want an easy fix, and they demand that it be given to them by those they perceived as more successful.

There is no magic trick.

Sometimes when you hang around for long enough and participate in enough different things, you will find something that works really well for a little while. It may be a new promotion site with a particularly engaged audience that buys a lot of books. It may be a particular ad platform that suddenly starts delivering some good results. But not only are these tricks often short lived, they rarely make or break a writer’s career. What does make or break a career is for a writer to throw themselves into learning how to apply themselves best to their chosen tools.

There is no magic sauce. Don’t waste your time looking for it. Definitely don’t antagonise people by demanding that they give it to you.

5. There is a perfect living to be made from your fiction without ever having a bestseller. There is even a very good living to be made without any of your books ranking anywhere in any top hundred listing in the Amazon US top lists. Ever.

In the first place, the world is much bigger than just that particular market. In the second place, you often have to run promotions to hit those charts with regularity. Promotions require you to mark down your book.

You make a lot more money from selling at $4.99 than at 99c, although it is much easier to rank with the latter.

If it’s about money in the bank, and ultimately, it always is, then worry less about rank and more about the dollars and cents on your sales dashboard.

6. What goes up must come down. It is very rare that book starts selling and keeps selling at an amazing level for very long time. I think we can all name those books in our genre and count them on the fingers of one hand. There are many more books that did well for a while, and then disappeared from sight. There is nothing wrong with that. But let’s acknowledge that it happens. So ride the highs and then put away money for when sales are less. Manage your income through advertising your backlist during the time that you don’t have any new releases.

7. The good part. Around the year 2000, I ran an Internet business selling non-fiction books on very specialised academic subjects. At that point in time, this was a gold rush. I bought books new from publishers or as batches secondhand, I marked them up and sold them on online platforms which were only just starting to gain popularity.

It was in the pre-Amazon days, and people were looking for places to buy rare books. There was one time that I flew to New Zealand to buy two books in an auction, which, when I sold them the week I got home, funded my entire trip. I was constantly thinking but what if these book buyers learn how to look online for themselves and find these bargains?

Which of course they did.

Not only that, but selling print books and carting them to the post office is heavy and time-consuming business. There is a lot of investment needed in terms of storage space, stock, furniture to put the stock, accounts at the post office, for running this type of business. Our entire house was full of books. In my best year I sold multiple six figures, but most of that went into buying new stock. A lot of it also went to the post office.

You need almost no investment when you self-publish online. Even my online book business never saw as much investment as some other business types, because I did not need to rent a shop, although I considered it, and I never needed to employ any people.

Self-publishing is at the low extreme in terms of the capital investment slide. The only stock you might need is a handful of copies of your books to give away to people you meet or maybe to sell at cons. You can even choose not to do this.

The other prior investment you need is a decent website and editing and covers for your first books. It baffles me that people even complain about this investment. Make no mistake, self-publishing is extremely easy to get into compared with just about any other business.

It is also extremely easy to get your money. We are dealing with a couple of large retailers who pay regularly and pay on time. All you need is a bank account and Bob’s yer uncle. You may need some tax numbers, and again self-published authors complain their heads off about this, but it is nothing compared to what you need to set up a business with a storefront.

Not only that, but you don’t have to chase non-paying customers. The only fraud you’re going to have to deal with is that of those annoying serial returners on Amazon. They’re not even costing you any real money.

So step back, and appreciate how easy this business is.

8. You need to keep changing and reinventing yourself. You need to keep learning. If you keep doing exactly the same thing year in year out, you die. You need to keep improving your fiction, you need to keep on top of underlying trends, you need to give your readers something new to look forward to all the time. You need to make sure that you’re not caught unawares by certain trends or closures of certain businesses like we have just seen with Pronoun.

One of the main advantages that we have over businesses with employees and offices in New York is that we are agile and can completely turn around a business strategy in the matter of days.

This may well be the golden time self-publishing, and it may well be, as doomsayers say, that it will only get harder from now on. It will get harder because everybody is doing it, but it also means that the rate of attrition is going to be huge. Many people will try self publishing but give up after they have found that it’s hard work.

And frankly that has never been any different in the world of writing. So don’t fear, if you’re doing your work properly and you’re learning and you continue to learn about business, and have persistence, then I guarantee but you will have a reasonable career.

Ironically, this is exactly the same thing I heard as a new bright-eyed and bushy-tailed writer at my first con: the ones who succeed are the ones who do the work and persist.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

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Single Opt-in And Double Opt-in–What Should You Use?

Recently, the email marketing company Mailchimp announced that the default setting of their signup forms was going to be single opt-in. A lot of people who use email marketing were up in arms about this. Why and what should you use?

In most email list providers, double opt-in is the default. It works like this: when a subscriber enters their email address in the signup form, they get an email asking them to confirm. There is a link in that email that they have to click in order to confirm that they want to be on the list. In single opt-in this does not happen. The process might take you to a page that says thank you, but at that moment, you are already on the list.

As you will understand from the above examples, it is much easier to get a lot more addresses when using single opt-in. Less hassle, less chance of an email going unopened, forgotten or undelivered. So why use double opt-in?

Before I go any further, I am going to tell you that I use both, so I am not advocating one over the other, just that there are situations where you want to use double opt-in and situations where single opt-in will do.

According to its advocates, double opt in reduces the chance of someone accidentally or maliciously ending up on an email list. It may be hard to understand the sort of sick people who enter other people’s email addresses on email lists just because they can, because they have time and obviously nothing better to do. It is also amazing what sort of robotic entering processes exist for entering email fake addresses in all kinds of places where emails can be entered.

It really boggles the mind why people would do things like this, but the fact is that it happens.

I have experienced this. I have an app that allows me to run competitions where you give away a prize and people can increase their chance of winning by getting other people to enter in the competition. There are obviously apps that generate fake email addresses on free services like hotmail and gmail and automatically enter these into the competition so that the original entrant (the owner of the app) can have more chance of winning the prize. I am sure these apps are sold at forums that shall not be mentioned, but as owner of the competition, you can spot it easily when you get thousands of entries within a short time period that all point back to the same address and that all use the same syntax.

So, yes, robotic entries happen. It is a risk of single opt-in forms.

If you are with an email provider that charges you per email address, as most of them do, this can potentially inflate your costs. Because all these bogus email addresses don’t need to be verified and because they are normally valid, meaning that if you send an email to them they won’t bounce, if you send an email to your list and include addresses like that, your open rate will plummet.

The potential for misuse of a single opt-in system is huge.

On the flipside of the coin, I don’t know how many email lists I have tried to subscribe to where the confirmation email never arrived and I therefore could not get material I wanted. Also, filling out forms like entering captchas on a tiny mobile screen is a pain, so people would just prefer to do the one click subscribe.

I use a single opt-in form for internal signups and confirmations*, for example in the process where people want to change their email address or put themselves on the ARC list. It seems silly to ask these people to reconfirm their intention, because they’re already on my list and I do not want to risk losing any of them because they can’t jump through the hoops.

So in short, yes, I think you should use double opt-in as default, but also I think that it should be the default option on your mailing list subscribe form. A lot of people won’t have the technical gumption to find out how to change it or won’t even know that they should. This move by Mailchimp seems to encourage artificial inflation of people’s lists and cannot be seen as anything other than a money grab.


* I use Mailerlite which allows the option to enter a tick box on the single opt-in form. Since bots can’t tick boxes, the chance that you’ll get a flood of junk subscribers is vastly reduced.

Here is the box:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 16.49.31

Here is how to turn it on:

Screenshot 2017-11-17 16.50.06

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The scheduling of editors and cover designers

Someone on Facebook asked me to talk about scheduling of releases with special emphasis on scheduling designers and editors.

The question was: since I talk about publishing three or four books year, how do I make sure that cover designers and editors fit in my schedule, because some of them need to be booked well in advance?

I have to admit, that I am probably one of the worst people to talk about this, because I don’t have a rigid publishing schedule. I will not formally announce a publication date of my book to my readers unless I know for certain that it can be ready by that date. Amazon penalises you when you don’t make a pre-order date. You can release your pre-orders earlier, but if you need to delay a book, you lose the ability to do pre-orders for a year.

The subject of pre-orders is one for another post, but you can think of pre-orders as a type of publishing schedule, and a pretty rigid one at that.

In the past year or so, I have not been putting up any books for pre-order for more than a few weeks, and then only when they were done.

Why do I talk about pre-orders when the question was about editors and cover designers?

It is because the availability of editors and cover designers can be quite unreliable and can throw your publishing schedule out of whack. It can happen that after a talk with my editor, I realise that I need to do another draft and change few things around that will make the book better. I want to be able to have that opportunity. I don’t want to have to release a book that has flaws just because I said I’d make a particular deadline. Similarly, I don’t want to get into trouble for delaying a pre-order because the book cover is not ready.

When do you get covers?

Recently I have been designing my own covers, and those are usually done before I even start writing the book. I find it helpful to be able to look at the image to see what sort of feel the book needs to reflect. I know a lot of people who get their covers done long before they start writing the book. It is a bit more tricky with editors, because they can only start working on the book after you have finished it.

Even then, I would only put a book up in my public publishing schedule—which means I announce a publication date to my readers—once the first edit has been done and has not revealed any major problems that I need to work on.

I think if you want to keep a fairly regular three month schedule on which to publish, the key is to bank material. Because stuff goes wrong, people are late and problems arise.

When I first started publishing, I had no material other than the books I was working on, and I would publish them the very second they were done. I don’t do that any more, and hang onto books until such time that releasing them is going to be beneficial to me.

For example, I am now holding back the publishing a book that is done because I know there is going to be a slack time later in the year. I have just secured a Bookbub on one of my other titles, which will keep my sales going into December, but since I am going to be away the entire month of January, that is going to be a slow period, and so I delay the publication of the book until immediately after. This also gives me the time to have a draft of another book done, so that when I return in February I can hit the ground running.

I think that really is the key to publishing regularly: to make sure that you have some material in reserve that is done and ready to go. That way you’re not dependent on the speed at which cover designers and editors work, because you do not want to be that annoying person on a too-tight schedule harassing them. That will make sure that they don’t want to work with you again.

Some cover designers, like Tom Edwards who I use for my Ambassador series, have a full schedule months in advance. In this case, I would order the cover long before I start writing, I would plan to work on a different project while I am in the pipeline for this cover, and I will do the same with editors. I have to main editors, but I also keep the names of others on file in case the editors I normally use can’t do my work within the few months that I have allocated for it.

I schedule my new releases about three months in advance, which is when I announce a date to my readers, and I don’t announce that date until I am 100% sure that I can make it.

If you want to publish on a very rigid schedule a year or more out, you’ll have to book these people much further in advance, but you also have to make sure that you can actually deliver the material to them. Writing is a bit of a fickle thing, and some people are able to do this, but I know I would not. Not only does life happen, but sometimes the book just won’t gel and you need to spend more time on it. In this case, I feel it is useful not to have such a rigid schedule. I can say with reasonable certainty that I will publish a new book within the next three months, but I am not always sure what it is going to be. If I have to book ready that I’m thinking of releasing, great, but if not, I like to have something else in reserve.

Remember, with publishing schedules, there is only one person doing this to you and that is you yourself. So whatever your choices in working with editors or cover designers, you are the one who makes the choices. If you want a particular designer, but they are booking five or six months in advance, then it is your choice to plan yourself around it, or to choose someone else. I would go with the more awesome cover.

Remember that nothing in this industry says that you have to publish like clockwork every three months. The world will not come crashing down if you publish a book two months after another book and then you have a break of four of five months before you publish the next. Just make sure your books are awesome. That’s more important than making the date.

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Is there still a point to use free books?

In Self-publishing Unboxed, I mentioned that I don’t use permanently free books any more.

People have asked me when I would recommend using free books, and when not to use them.

Free books are excellent for giving away samples of your writing. People will download the free book and then will read the other books if they liked it.

But if you have a permanently for a book on Amazon or any of the other retailers, you will find that after initial burst of downloads, the number of people downloading your book reduces quite a lot.

When that happens, you will have to advertise.

And with advertising comes a cost. Also, there are only so many venues where you can effectively advertise your free book, like ENT, Freebooksy and, if you can get it, Bookbub. Eventually you’re going to run out of places to advertise, and it will be harder to get free downloads. You can ask fellow writers in similar genres to post about your free book to their mailing list, but you have to work harder and harder to give your free books away. There are people doing this very successfully by the way. But don’t expect the fact that you have a free book to just lead to higher sales by its self.

On Amazon, I tend to only get free downloads if I have advertising going, on Kobo, the free books are right at the bottom of the rankings, so people will only find them when you point them to the free book, and this is the same at Google play. Apple is the only retailer that still shows free books to readers in a place where they can actually find them, but unfortunately, a soon as you make your book free on Apple, Amazon will make it free, too.

When I say that I no longer use free as a tool, that is not entirely true. I definitely use free, but I give away free books in exchange for people’s email address so that they can be on my mailing list.

This is a huge advantage, because now you know who your readers are.

I started doing this when I noticed that all the downloads on the retailer sites were through activities of mine. If you’re going to have to pay to get people to download your free book, you might as well pay for a place where they need to leave your email address to get the free book.
I uploaded my free books on Instafreebie and Bookfunnel and required mandatory email signups for people to download their copy.

I will occasionally make a book free for month or so, but I won’t leave it like that, because the downloads diminish when your ad campaigns have finished, and there is no point leaving the book free if you are driving all the downloads.

In short, free is useful when there are external mechanisms that will direct new readers to your books. If you are the only one directing the readers, you should dictate where people download it. It might as well be in a place where you can get their data.

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Relaunching books–when does it make sense?

In a previous post, I said something about the wisdom of relaunching your book when it is your first book and you’re beginning writer. I cautioned against spending too much time and money on a book that still has significant flaws because you may need to learn more about the craft.
But there are definitely situations where relaunching your book makes a lot of sense. When would that be?

In that post, I also mentioned that the time to relaunch your first book would be after you have written a couple of additional books. When you are certain that you have learned enough to write an engaging story that people want to read, that is when you go back to the first book, and use what you have learned about writing, editing and cover design to fix up the book, especially when you have a second book in that series ready to go.

This is the most common way in which we see people successfully re-launching books, but it cannot be done in a vacuum. Just re-launching a single book is probably not going to be terribly effective, but it is a lot more effective if it goes hand-in-hand with the launch of a second book in the same series.

So what would be the best way of going about a relaunch?

If you have a first book that is just sitting there gathering digital dust, the cover is not terribly ideal, the editing was not that great, you may want to take it down if you plan on writing a second book and then relaunching both as s series.

Another reason to relaunch your book may be because you want to change the genre it is in. You may not be editing your book, but changing everything about the packaging to make it more in line with the new genre you are targeting. New title, new cover, new blurb.

Other reasons could include change your pen-name, re-organising your series of rebranding your covers.

Almost all of this type of stuff is done when you have a number of books and you want to fix up your first book or bring it up to speed with the other books.

Relaunches can be quite successful, but they work best if you treat the books like a new product. Change the title and change the cover and to make sure you have a whole series of books for people to buy.

This means not simply copying the new version of the book over the other version, but taking the old version down completely and re-launching as a new book with some ads and announcements to your mailing list.

Relaunching can work very well, but you need to have a plan, because just putting a new cover on an old book is unlikely to have much effect.

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Publishing as ESL writer

People ask: English is not my first language, can I make money as a writer?

My first reaction to this would be: hold the phone, who says that you can’t publish no matter what your first language is.

There are numerous traditionally published authors whose first language isn’t English. When you think of it, the concept of first language is a sliding scale anyway. If someone learns to speak another language in the childhood but then went to an English school, is that still a first language?

But let’s just suppose you did not grow up speaking English for any part of your life, and you live in a country where English is not a main language.

Can you still publish in English?

You are probably thinking of those cases where reviewers make nasty comments like: I don’t think this writer’s first language is English. They mean this as an insult, and just to be sure, it gets directed at writers whose first language is English, too. Not only that, it doesn’t always mean that there is something wrong with the author’s English. It’s often the reader’s perception of it.

English is a very varied language, and there are many different flavours. As an exercise, I once tried to write a story in Indian English. They use sentence constructions and words that are perfectly correct English, but are not used in the same way in some other parts of the world.

So, before you get hung up about English not being your first language, consider that English is a fairly wide spectrum and that the insult that English is not the writer’s first language gets levelled at native English speakers, too.

Now, of course this does not absolve you from having to learn English grammar and spelling. But I know many non-English speaking people whose English is better than that of people who grew up speaking English. So it is completely possible.

In the beginning, with your first book in English, you are probably going to need an extra layer of editing. You will need an editor who is clued in about your native language and the common mistakes that people make when writing English.

I would recommend that you read a lot in English and absorb the right phrases and terminology through books that you love.

One thing you should never do is apologise. When you publish a book to the best of your ability and have used a native English speaking editor, don’t tell anyone that English is not your first language.

Why not?

Because people are going to put copious amounts of extra nitty-gritty attention into looking for flaws (that mostly aren’t flaws at all) and all you’ll do is put words about English not being your first language in people’s mouths when they write reviews. You will end up with stupid comments like “I enjoyed this book despite the fact that it was written by someone whose native language isn’t English”. Seriously, don’t even give people a reason to say dumb stuff like this.

Even in the self publishing world there are many writers who neither live in an English speaking country nor speak English at home. Some of them are very successful, some of them have published under an English sounding name. If you want to be like them, that is totally possible.

Initially, you may need to work a bit harder on your prose, but there is no reason at all why you can’t take part in the fun.

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Should you pay for Amazon or Bookbub followers?

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of promotions coming up that help you get followers on Amazon or Bookbub.

“Followers on Amazon?” you ask. “I didn’t even know that was a thing.”

Yes, you can follow an author through the little button under the “buy” button that says: do you want to hear when this author has a new book out and on the Bookbub site it is pretty much the same.

So, when you have a new release, the site will email to all the people who have clicked that button that you have a new book out. That’s a good idea, right?

Well, many authors ask, how do I find out how many followers I have on Amazon? Can I see who they are?

The answer is: you wish.

Bookbub does show you how many followers you have, and how many of those are in the US, but again you don’t have access to their email addresses. If you have more than thousand followers in the US, you can get access to a pre-order announcement service to those followers, but you have to pay for it. Sounds like a money grab? You betcha!

When Amazon sends out a notification that you have a new book, you can definitely see it, especially for pre-orders. They will send out one email to your followers when the book is on pre-order, and they will send another one it is available for sale.

However, they don’t always send out emails (my last three books were ignored by Amazon), and you have no control over when this email goes out.

Bookbub is a lot more reliable about sending emails, but again you have no control over when this happens.

So, you are going to spend money to put my people into this nebulous pile of email addresses that to the list owner may or may not use when you have a new release?

You can probably already tell that I’m not a fan.

Furthermore, if you advertise for these “likes”, a lot of the clicks to your profile are going to be polluted with people who haven’t actually bought your book and who don’t care about what you’ve written, they just wanted to enter the competition. It’s much like taking part in cross promotions where people have to sign up to your list in order to win a prize. With the huge disadvantage that you don’t get their email addresses.

It’s not that I think it is an entirely stupid thing to do. Nor do I think it’s something that will harm you (except you may spend money for not much gain). I think that if you going to pay to get cold leads, as these are called the industry, then actually get the cold leads and get your hands on their email address so you know who they are and you can send them what you like when you like.

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Should you go with a small press?

This is a question that often gets asked: what are the benefits of going with a small press?

First of all, there are a number of different definitions of the word small press. Some people define a small press as one that is not one of the big five publishing companies in the world. By that definition, a small press can be quite big.

But mostly, when people ask about small presses, they mean operations that are run by just one or maybe two or three people. They put up a website, advertise themselves as being open for submissions, and then are flocked by aspiring writers. Should you follow those writers?

There are a number of reasons why people like the idea of a small presses. It’s personal and there is a good chance that you will have some input in things like cover design, while having assistance in the nitty-gritty of publishing for those tasks that you don’t necessarily want to learn yourself. You don’t want to find an editor, you don’t want to have to worry about cover design, and you don’t want to do the marketing. But you have submitted your book to the big presses and agents already, and they all said no. So what is left? The small press sounds attractive. You can still say “my publisher”, so if traditional publishing is your aim, you appear to have fulfilled it.

But before you go any further, have a look at what your aim is.

Many people just want to be published by someone other than themselves. They like approval from the industry. However with a small press—or maybe a better word would be micro press—how much clout this approval carries will depend on the reputation and activities of the person running it. How well connected are they, how well respected are they, how good are they at getting your book in front of other people?

With the advent of self publishing, many small presses do very little that you can’t do it yourself, so why would you sign with them?

These presses are very author-centric, market and sell to the writing community. They often fall down severely on the marketing side of things. Usually these presses are run by people who do it for the love, who have a day jobs and who then juggle a number of authors in their spare time. They don’t have time to read up on the latest marketing techniques, because they’re too busy sorting out cover designers and meeting deadlines. Many are still focused strongly on print, and don’t have the resources to do all the things that you yourself could do for your books, simply because you don’t have nineteen other authors to worry about.

Many of the more successful small presses are focussed on the con circuit. They have tables at genre conventions and the main mode of selling is through these. I’m not saying that this is a good or a bad thing, just that this is what they do, and this method may not be what you envisaged for your books.

So: research the press and see what it’s doing to sell books.

If the small press has a reasonable history of publication, you are fairly safe in assuming that they will do the right thing by their authors. You can also safely assume that the press will do as it promised.

As a precaution, I would say also plan not to worry about money, because you will see very little of it. Most of the proceeds will go into covering the production cost, and there are so many occasions that I’ve had to chase up small presses for payment they never got around to making (“Oops, we forgot”) that I have given up trying. If you sell reasonably well as self-published author, you need to have a very very good reason to go with a small press. They need to offer you an advantage that you could not get on your own. Maybe the owner has awesome connections that could put you into contact with writers or publishers you have always dreamed of working with. Maybe the press is really good at getting books into local book stores, and you don’t want to go through that hassle yourself.

In any case, take a really good look at the contract. Ideally the contract should only be for a number of years with five being the most common. Ideally, the contract should only cover rights they are going to use. For example if the press deals with just print books, make sure you retain the e-book rights. If the press is very locally-focussed, make sure you retain worldwide rights to every country except yours. Make sure you retain your audio rights, make sure that in case the press does not meet their obligations and deadlines, you have a way to get your books back.

As I said most of these presses are run by only few people. Life happens. They get sick, get busy jobs, have to move, or have to deal with family crises.

So in conclusion, should you go with a small press?

It may be an option if you are totally uninterested in taking any form of control over your marketing or the production of your book. If you just want to see the book out there, and don’t want to optimise your income from it. It may be an option if the press is well respected and you want angle for an award. Or you want to be in the press’ community. Or if they can offer something that you cannot get by yourself.

However, if you want to optimise your income from your book, you want to be able to run promotions, or actually just run promotions full stop, or you want to publish a number of books in the same series and want to do it quickly, you will probably find it immensely frustrating.

A small press can be a good way to get a foot in the door if you are afraid of all the things that go into publishing. Research your press well to make sure that they put out a quality product. Don’t just go with anyone because they call themselves a publisher. Look at their product, look at the number of reviews that they have garnered for those books, look at the covers and how professional they look, buy one or two of the books to check the editing and most importantly, check the reputation of the owners.

However, don’t expect riches and don’t expect your book to appear on the bookshelves of every local bookshop.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can ask for advice.

Mailing lists–what about blacklists?

This is for people who take part in multi-author promotions that run a competition where people sign up to be in the draw for a prize. The competition organiser will send you a list of mailing list subscribers. In addition, the organiser may keep a spreadsheet with a blacklist for email addresses who have filed spam reports or have otherwise been abusive.

This would be a good thing, right?

In principle, yes. It happens that competition entrant who has never taken part in any of these competitions didn’t read the fine print, and suddenly they start receiving a whole bunch of emails from authors claiming that they signed up for that mailing list. It happens at these people fly into fits of rage and send abusive emails to everybody.

Yes, seriously, the rudeness of people cannot be underestimated, nor their inability to read (often not so) fine print.

You do not want these people on your list and you would be best to unsubscribe them.

But what about the people who did not email anyone but who, according to someone’s mailing list provider, reported them for spam?

In the past, when I have had such lists provided by competition organisers, I searched for a couple of the addresses, and half the time, I found that some of them are engaged and valued subscribers who open my emails and sometimes even reply to me, or they may even be on my advanced readers team.

So what is up with that?

Well, like opens, spam reports are unreliable. I have had people I know supposedly report me for spam while knowing that they would never have done any such thing.

Internet service providers tend to be very nervous about spam, and while they filter out much of the deluge that washes across the Internet every day, they will also record false positives. Rather a lot of them, even.

So if you get handed a blacklist, I would absolutely remove people who have been in contact with members of your group and have sent them rants or abusive emails. But I would do nothing with people who have reported spam because they may not have deliberately reported anyone for spam at all. They may just have moved the email in the bin, and that can count as a spam report.

So let them come in, and give them an easy unsubscribe option.

If you have proper processes in place, your spam percentage will be quite low anyway, and it’s not worth worrying about if it means that you may also accidentally unsubscribe a good number of loyal readers.

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How often should you publish?

In the three year plan, I use the example of publishing four books a year. I did this because it is a comfortable publishing pace for me, and I think it should be very achievable at just a thousand words a day.

But how often do you really need to publish if you want to have a successful career?

There are some people who say that they want to publish every month or even every two weeks, and others who live comfortably off publishing a book a year or in some cases even less.

Both these approaches use very different mechanisms to keep sales going.

If you publish frequently, you will make use of the algorithms of the retailer sites, most notably Amazon, where this has the most effect. If you sell well on Amazon, and especially Amazon in the US, it can be very effective to publish shorter works frequently to keep your books being recommended to readers. Amazon thrives on a high level of churn. This is much less for other retailers, so if you sell well worldwide, it is much less important to publish as frequently.

But the frequent publishing method assumes two things.

In the first place, it assumes that you can produce books that people want to read at this speed, and keep doing it. Some people find it relatively easy, some people end up publishing shorter works, but most of us cannot write a book every month let alone every two weeks. We have lives, we need more time, we write in genres that require extra work like research into various aspects of the story. Writers of historical fiction or technothrillers or hard science-fiction will find it very hard to write that many books in a year.

Even writers of fantasy or people who write about real life things that they have to crosscheck to make sure that they got everything right. That stuff can take a lot of time.

And some people’s brains just don’t work that way.

So assuming you can put out quality books that people want to read, if you can write that quickly, a high speed of publishing is better than a slow speed.

Algorithms. You will hear people talk about 90 day cliffs and 30 day cliffs on Amazon, but the problem with getting fixated on things like that is that Amazon can change how it shows your books to prospective readers by changing one line in the code. They may not get around to doing that for two years, or they can do it next week. You cannot build a business on that kind of uncertainty.

However, it is always better to have more books, and to publish more frequently. It seems that three or four books a year is a comfortable pace for many people.

But what if you have a day job, or you simply can’t write that quickly for whatever reason.

Well there is always George R.R. Martin, and in a small way, we have our own self published writing equivalent in Mark Cooper, who makes a living and published his last book in December, but the book before that 3 years ago. All that time, he kept his income up through diversification and advertising.

If you write big and chunky books that people like to read, that get good levels of word of mouth, and you publish them in a series that people love, they will very often be happy to wait. Just make sure that while they wait, you have them on your mailing list so that you can let them know when the book is out.

If you don’t write a new book every two or three months, you will also have to be much smarter with advertising. You cannot rely on the retailer algorithms to recommend your books to everyone once the initial burst of sales from the release is gone. You have to advertise your book, you have to get inventive. Make bundles with other writers, run cross promotions, use the wide range of advertising options, including Facebook and AMS ads and try everything and continue to do it if it works. Make sure that your books are out on all platforms in all different formats including print and definitely audio, because the audiobook market is a completely different animal with a different audience.

So: how often should you publish?

The answer is: as often as you can while maintaining quality and avoiding burnout. This is going to be different for each writer, but if you try to push yourself too hard and put out books before they’re ready, you will lose readers. If you push yourself too hard and get burnt out, you harm yourself. If you don’t publish books and don’t advertise, you will lose your readers, so there is a balance in between publishing frequently and getting smart with advertising. Unless you sell so much that you can employ someone to advertise for you, you will probably have to choose between either of those activities. You can either spend a lot of time writing, and not that much advertising, or you can devote more energy to marketing and less time writing.

Somewhere in that equation, there is a balance that everyone needs to find for themselves.

The comments on this blog are closed because of excessive spam, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can discuss it or ask further questions.