Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Overshare Is Now Available!

My new book, Overshare, went on sale in Amazon's Kindle store early this morning, and because it's such an unusual book and I'm really pulling out all the stops...okay, as many stops as I get some momentum going with it early on, I'll be periodically reporting on its progress here.

I first introduced the book and offered a free excerpt from it
here, so readers could see what's so unusual about it for themselves. In terms of promotion, I'm primarily focusing on two selling points for the book.

The first is that it's a new kind of ebook, and in that sense, experimental digital literature. On the strength of this aspect, I've reached out to influential bloggers whose area of focus is ebooks, new forms of digital media, and experimental lit with advance review copies. There's been plenty of talk around the interwebs lately from people asking when we're going to start seeing new kinds of digital "books", and when authors are going to start exploiting all the possibilities digital media have to offer.
Overshare forms a direct response to those questions, and I'm hoping it will inspire some of these bloggers to discuss whether or not it succeeds in this regard, and why or why not.

The second selling point is the book's very timely and topical subject matter: online privacy as it relates to the use of social media. With recent security lapses on Facebook and the omnipresent news stories of online stalking and bullying, most people who use social media have some degree of concern about what they're putting online. Plenty of real and virtual ink has been spilled on email and social media account hacking as well, but Overshare focuses on a much more disturbing point: that in the course of ordinary use of social media, users typically expose far more about themselves and their lives than they realize or intend.

Due to their very nature, which is to encourage maximum communication and the creation of huge, linked networks of people, social media have the insidious (if unintentional) tendency to lure us into a false sense of privacy and security.
Even if you never post any of your private or financial details online, Overshare demonstrates that people can tell much more about you and your life than you probably realize when they take in the full picture of your online activity: Facebook, twitter and blogging. Add some wish lists from Amazon or eBay, some Likes, your Friends lists and shared links, and a total stranger can know as much about you as most of your real-life friends do.

Remember how, as a teen, you'd get an instant and complete picture of a new friend the first time you stepped into his or her bedroom? The sum total of your social media picture is like your teenage self's bedroom, but scaled upward geometrically by the sheer volume of information you (and others) make available online about yourself and your life. I'm emphasizing this aspect of the book in reaching out to people who regularly use social media sites and also like to read.
This is only the first day Overshare has been available for purchase, so there's not much else to tell at this point. Stay tuned...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My New "Book" - Overshare

At the bottom of this post, I've provided a link to a pdf excerpt containing the first five chapters of my new "book", Overshare.

For quite a while, many bloggers and digital media mavens have been asking when authors are going to start exploiting the possibilities ebook formats have to offer, and when they're going to start redefining the meaning of the word, "book". My new "book", Overshare, is my answer to those questions. I put "book" in quotes, because this novel takes a form unlike any other ebook you've ever read. I'm calling it a social media novel, because its content consists exclusively of simulated screen shots of the protagonist's public social media updates. This makes reading the book a voyeuristic experience, and has the added bonus of making the read lightning-fast since most of the content consists of images and one- to three-line status updates.

Through this book, I hope to explore today's omnipresent concerns about online security and privacy, and inspire the reader to re-examine his own use of public social media. Perhaps, just as my protagonist Michael Ayres, some readers will find they're revealing far more about what's going on in their lives than they intend. Here's that link to the first 5 chapters of Overshare in pdf format. The file is large, so please allow several seconds for it to load. Here's a link to buy the full book on Amazon.

Enjoy, and please do come back here to comment. Because this book is so different, I anxiously await any and all feedback. =')

I've Added My Indie Catalog to the Amazon Prime Lending Library

If you're an Amazon Prime member and you have a Kindle or Kindle Fire, you can now borrow any of my self-published Kindle books for free under the Amazon Prime Lending Library program!

Just turn on your Kindle or Fire, go to the Kindle Store, and look up Adelaide Einstein (comic fiction, chick lit), Snow Ball (dark, comic mystery), Shorts (collection of shorts and flash fiction) or From Concept to Community (nonfiction, about strategies for maximizing traffic for a new online community on a shoestring budget, using as an example).

Here's a link to the Prime Lending Library page on Amazon, where you can get more information about the program and instructions for checking out and returning books.

I'll be adding my new book, Overshare, to this program when it's published, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Indie Author Guide Webinars!

I've been a guest speaker for numerous webinars and have found them to be an excellent way to deliver presentations. Now that my book, The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use, is coming up on its one year anniversary since release, many of you are hoping to get your books available for sale in Kindle format in time for the holidays, and thousands of folks will soon have completed NaNoWriMo manuscripts and will be looking for next steps, I've decided to launch a series of my own webinars.

The webinars will be offered online, and will be presented with a mix of presentation materials and live chat. No special equipment or phone-in will be required of attendees, and you don't even have to download any software!

The foundation of my new webinar series is a free, monthly, hourlong Q&A session. This monthly webinar is intended to serve as a supplement to my book, and therefore questions based on specific content from the book will take precedence. However, anyone may attend to get answers to any questions they may have about self-publishing, ebooks, author platform and related topics. The first of these webinars is already scheduled for Sunday, October 2 from 6-7pm PST (9-10pm EST). Register for the free Oct. 2nd Q&A here.

I'm planning to continue this free, monthly Q&A webinar at the same time on the first Sunday of each month, and will promote each webinar in advance on Twitter, Facebook, here and elsewhere.

In addition to the free, monthly Q&A, I'll be offering more in-depth, webinar training workshops on specific topics of interest to self-publishers.

First up, based on a high level of interest in the topic, will be a webinar on Simplified Kindle Publishing: Step By Step. In this webinar you can get plain English instructions in: how to get your manuscript properly formatted to meet Amazon's Kindle specifications, convert it to Kindle format using free conversion tools, preview the resulting Kindle book (with or without a Kindle) and what to do if there are problems in the file when you preview it.

This presentation is similar to the one I gave at the Writer's Digest Business of Getting Published conference earlier this year, but its content has been revised, simplified and brought totally up to date. If you've got intermediate or better Word skills (can apply paragraph formatting, know how to use Styles, know how to insert a Table of Contents), you can do this!

The registration fee of $24.99 admits you to the 90-minute webinar (approximately 60 minutes of instruction followed by a 30-minute Q&A), during which attendees will also be given access to a free, pdf download of the entire presentation. Why pay for professional conversion services when you can learn how to do it yourself for a fraction of the cost? Get your book out there in Kindle format in time for the holidays, and never pay for professional ebook formatting or conversion services again! This webinar will be held on Sunday, October 9 from 4-5:30pm PST (7-8:30pm EST).

You can register for the Simplified Kindle Publishing Workshop here. Don't delay, as registration is limited to 100 participants. For those who can't attend at the scheduled time, a recording of the webinar will be made available at a discounted price after the presentation.

NOTE: the instruction given in the Kindle Publishing webinar will be specific to Windows PC users, please do not register for it if you are a Mac or Linux user.

The next webinar workshop will be on the topic of Leveraging Amazon: a survey of all the free marketing and platform tools Amazon offers its authors, how best to use them, and step by step instructions for setting up your Amazon Author page. This webinar will be offered in November, details to follow.

Additional, upcoming webinar workshop topics will include Getting Started With Author Platform, Getting Started With Social Media, and Low- and No-Cost Book Marketing Opportunities. Again, details to be posted here as they become available.

I'm very excited about this great opportunity to provide you with the tools and skills needed to self-publish and promote your books as effectively as possible, and hope to "meet" many of you in my webinars soon!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Keep Your Characters In The Driver's Seat

Have you ever been watching a movie or reading a book in which a character does or says something that doesn't fit with who that character has been set up to be, and you're left annoyed, wondering why the character behaved or spoke as such? And then the plot continues cranking right along, and if the story's very funny or involving, or there are lots of explosions and cool special effects, you keep watching or reading, but with lower expectations. This is what happens when plot drives character, instead of the other way around.

A common example of this problem is the story that would never get off the starting blocks at all, were it not for some illogical action on the protagonist's part. Otherwise level-headed and pragmatic CPA Polly suddenly decides to ditch the security and status she's come to love in her career, move to the other side of the country and open a cupcake shop---not because she's always yearned to be more of a free spirit, dreamed of being a professional baker, has always wanted to move far away, or any other good reason based in logic or her life cicumstances, but because doing these things will open the door to a series of madcap adventures and romance with a cute industrial restaurant supply sales rep who lives in the new city.

You might wonder why the author doesn't just start the tale in the new location, with Polly getting settled in and looking for a good retail bakery space. The author thinks, in beginning with Polly's 'old' life, he's setting up the necessary background to create a "fish out of water" story and demonstrate an arc of character growth. But in reality, unless there's some very compelling reason for Polly to uproot herself in this way, her behavior and choices read more like authorial convenience than growth.

Perhaps even more annoying is the character who's been well-established, whom you've come to like and root for, right up to the point he does something that makes no sense whatsoever. Suddenly, this fully-realized, three-dimensional person becomes a puppet on a string, being forced to go through certain motions to get the reader or viewer to the next major plot point.

In a thriller, the sweet, kind, but mousy library clerk who's normally scared to walk to the parking lot alone at night nevertheless ventures into the dark basement alone when he hears a strange noise from the top of the stairs. In a sci fi novel, the by-the-book researcher who finds his lab has been breached doesn't report it to the proper authorities, but decides to launch his own, private investigation instead. In a romance, the strong-willed, self-sufficient, feminist heroine melts into a needy puddle of damp lace doilies at the sight of her beloved. In a mystery, the clever and resourceful hero could resolve a case of mistaken identity with a single phone call to one person, yet somehow the idea never occurs to him. I could go on, but do you really want me to?

The reason why this is so irritating to the reader or viewer is that our estimation of a story's believability is based on how well it jibes with our own, real-life experiences and knowledge. Even in a fantasy or sci fi story, we want the behavior of human and humanoid characters to match up with what we know of real-life people. And in real life, character ALWAYS drives plot.

Every choice that every real person makes every day is a product of who that person is. His motivations, goals, fears, desires, etc. are all rooted in his background and lifetime of experiences to date, and it's his motivations, goals, fears, desires, etc. that dictate his actions.

The cure for the author-as-puppeteer syndrome is to begin with well-drawn characters, and then keep asking yourself, "Given who she is, what would this character do when confronted with these circumstances?" as opposed to, "What does this character need to do or say to get the story to the next major plot point?" Even in an intricately-plotted novel, characters should never act...well, out of character.

I tend to start with a character and a set of challenging or unusual circumstances, and let character dictate plot. Whatever I believe the character would do next is exactly what happens. If you're going to begin with plot, then you probably need to work backward: rather than creating the character and then asking yourself what she needs to do or say to get to the next plot point, start with an assumption that the character is going to do or say whatever is necessary for the sake of plot, then ask yourself what kind of character would do or say that thing. In so doing, you create the illusion that character is driving plot.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What To Do With Your Stale-Dated Prose

Ah, progress. Had telephones existed in Verona of old, Romeo and Juliet would've been able to synchronize their plans perfectly and avoid all that mistaken suicide business. Consider the movie, It's A Wonderful Life: if security cameras had been mounted in the Bedford Falls Building and Loan, George Bailey and his scatterbrained Uncle Billy would've known in a matter of hours what became of the missing $8,000, and Clarence the apprentice angel would've had to find another way to earn his wings. Underwater radar and GPS technologies could've reduced Moby Dick to a short story. My point is, changes in technology and social norms can eliminate certain kinds of problems and conflicts, create previously unforeseen problems and conflicts, and more generally affect the way people behave.

Many writers and authors are jumping into the indie fray these days, dusting off old manuscripts and shorts that have yet to find a home with a traditional publisher, giving them a cursory once-over and forging ahead with indie publication. I applaud these efforts, and hope they continue. But a word of warning: that pre-publication once-over needs to a be a bit more thorough if your material is contemporary, but more than a few years old.

If your upper-middle-class dad gets lost when he hits the road in his brand-new SUV, the reader will be wondering why he doesn't just use his car's (or phone's) GPS to get back on track. Similarly, if your characters' pop culture references include The Oprah Winfrey Show and the post-divorce exploits of Lady Di, those references are dated and the reader will notice.

You may think, "So what if the reader becomes aware at some point that the book was written years ago; it's not like they're going to stop reading it, or think it's a bad book just because of that." I don't disagree, but with all the distractions of the modern world's wonderland of electronics, technology, social media and noise of all kinds, it's already a big enough challenge to get and keep your reader's attention. Anything that takes the reader out of your story world for any reason is to be avoided, even if it's only for the moment or two it takes the reader to mentally observe, "Nobody uses Thomas Guide road map books anymore; this story must've been written a long time ago." Far worse for the reader is the supposedly contemporary story in which the central conflict or source of tension would be easily eliminated with some modern (and common) convenience or other, like caller ID or the internet.

However, stale-dated prose doesn't necessarily require an extensive rewrite. It just calls for the author to manage reader expectations. The simplest fix is to insert subtle cues and signposts in the beginning pages that will let the reader know your story takes place in the recent past. This may be as simple as editing to highlight the anachronisms, rather than merely observing them in passing. If you make a point of the fact that your protagonist works in the Twin Towers in New York, the reader will immediately know the story must take place prior to 9/11/2001 and therefore won't expect to find anything that happened, was invented, or was popularized after that year.

Stories that were intended to be of-the-moment when they were written will probably require a more extensive edit to update or eliminate dated references. For example, your story about the impending doom of Y2K will no longer work as the straightforward thriller you had in mind when you wrote it. You can either take it in the direction of satire or comedy, or change the threat to something people are still worried about today: 2012, anyone?

Finally, don't lose sight of editorial repercussions. If you decide to change your protagonist's paranoia about Y2K to paranoia about 2012 for example, make sure you update all such references throughout the manuscript to maintain consistency.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Publisher, Sell To Thyself!

I'm always astounded by the hard-sell and oversell antics of some indie authors. While I often advise indie authors that they must be able to take off their Author hat and put on a Publisher hat, the thing is, no matter which of those two hats they're wearing they should always have a Reader beanie on underneath.

While I wouldn't ever advise a writer to engineer his or her fiction to suit a given demographic, this is definitely required when it comes to nonfiction. You must do this in order to identify your target audience and ensure your book contains the information or reference material that audience will want. But having said that, I'll go on to say that even fiction authors---even literary fiction authors---would do well to give a thought to the reader as they lovingly craft their prose. You want to see your vision brought to vivid life on the page, certainly, but you don't want to confuse or bore your readers in the process.

It's even more critical to keep your Reader beanie on nice and snug when you go to don your Publisher hat. This is necessary because among other things, you still must identify your target audience, regardless of whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, in order to develop an efficient and effective marketing plan. You need to figure out who's most likely to be interested in your book, and where and how to reach those people. But this doesn't mean that once you've done so, you should go all full-bore, Mad Men, Marketing Exec From Hell on them.

Author and Publisher you may be, but you're also still a human being and a consumer. You still shake your head in annoyance at the pile of junk mail, junk email, junk fax and even junk Facebook and Twitter flowing into your life on a daily basis, don't you? So why on Earth would you ever risk being counted among the purveyors of that junk?

How is it possible that the Author who chuckles to herself at over-the-top marketing hype in advertisements for weight loss aids will nevertheless splatter "MY BOOK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!" in gigantic, flashing red letters two inches tall on her author website?

How can the Author who complains about all the pointless piano-playing cat videos his Facebook friends post to his wall go on to blast all his Twitter followers with twice-daily reminders of his book's current availability and sales rank on Amazon?

Why does the Author who's sick of all the spam comments left on her blog turn around and post a so-called review of someone else's book in which she devotes as much time to plugging her own book as talking about the book she's supposedly reviewing?

Yes, you must get the word out about your book. But you most do so with some consideration for the people on the receiving end. When in doubt about a given tactic you're about to employ, put yourself in the shoes of a non-writing, non-publishing, ordinary consumer and imagine how your tactic will be received under those circumstances. Don't overthink it, just go back to the Golden Rule: advertise how you'd want to be advertised to.

Monday, July 25, 2011

6 Dialogue Traps To Avoid

Dialogue is an area where many writers struggle. This is pretty ironic when you consider that words are writers' stock in trade, and unless a given writer is mute, he or she has been plying that trade since about the age of eleven months. Yet while most of us communicate normally and without much difficulty in our everyday lives, for some reason many of us have a tendency to go all flowery, choppy, melodramatic or wooden when it comes time to put words in our characters' mouths. Avoiding the following dialogue traps will go a long way toward making your dialogue more natural and believable.

1. No two people talk exactly the same. In believable stories, as in life, each person will have his or her own rhythms of speech, pet phrases and regional or family expressions. This doesn't mean each character should broadcast his geographic or cultural background with every sentence, however. It just means that if, by about a quarter of the way through the book, a reader can't tell your characters apart merely based on their dialogue, you haven't made each character's "voice" distinctive. The important thing here is to be subtle when drawing those distinctions. If you're not sure what this means or how to go about it, here's an exercise to try: the next time you're in a crowded, public place, pay attention to the bits and pieces of conversation floating all around you. Notice how different people express the same thoughts differently.

For example, where one person might say, "I called Sally," another might say, "I phoned Sally," or, "I rang Sally." Where Joe (in his forties) says, "That whole night was a waste of time," Jake (a twentysomething) might say, "Two words: epic fail," and Steve (an ex-military man) might say, "FUBAR, all the way, man." Thinking about your characters' backgrounds, histories, and even biases and motivations when constructing their dialogue will help in making their voices distinct from one another.

2. Life is not a movie. While heated exchanges, adamant diatribes and weepy heart-to-hearts all have their bit to contribute in various stories, they should be used sparingly if you don't want your novel to read like a soap opera script. If you're prone to succumb to melodrama in your dialogue, try reading it aloud. If the words feel or sound unnatural coming out of your own mouth, they shouldn't be coming out of your characters' mouths, either. Of course there's some wiggle room here if you're writing something historical, a fantasy, sci-fi, or anything else with purposely unusual language.

3. Men and women communicate differently. This really boils down to a single, simple concept. Speaking in gross generalizations, the masculine communication style is based on utility, whereas the feminine communication style is about socialization.

In the masculine, words are used to accomplish some goal. The goal is usually imparting necessary---and that word, "necessary", is key here---information, but it can also be to quickly size up a person or situation, or to establish or reinforce the pecking order (e.g., teasing). Generally speaking, believable masculine characters talk less than feminine characters, and get to the point pretty quickly. With feminine characters, a given conversation need not have an intrinsic point: the point of the conversation may simply be for the feminine characters to hear and be heard, and feel validated by one another as a result. But having said that, I'd caution against too much mutual navel-gazing on the part of your feminine characters, lest you bore your readers.

4. In general, the words should not draw attention to themselves. Dialogue should never take your reader out of the story, for any reason. If your reader must reach for a dictionary or fire up some device that has access to Wikipedia in order to understand what the heck that character is talking about, that reader is being pulled out of the story world.

While particularly intellectual characters may employ five-dollar words at times, try to err on the side of conservatism in that area. If you can substitute a word or phrase that's better-known, though still only rarely used in everyday conversation, make the change. Similarly, if a given character wants everyone to think she's worldly and well-traveled she may pepper her speech with foreign words, and that's appropriate. Just make sure the foreign words are familiar to most readers, or that their meaning is adequately conveyed through context.

5. Dialogue that's used for exposition will sound stilted 99.99% of the time---so don't do it! As a general guideline, characters should NEVER say things to one another only for the purpose of conveying necessary information or background to the reader. If a given character might just as well open his bit of talking with, "Well, since the reader probably doesn't know anything about particle physics, let me give you a thumbnail sketch of string theory," then you're doing something wrong. Find a way to get the expository into your story in other ways: through actions, settings, and so on. Consider the following example.

Michael was physically and mentally abused for years at the hands of his mother and as a result, he has a great deal of trouble extending trust to any females. This history informs the character and actions of Michael, but is not a central focus of the story at hand. When Michael visits a new girlfriend's home for the first time, one writer might include a confrontation between the two characters in which the girlfriend voices concerns about Michael's unwillingness to open up to her and Michael responds by spilling his guts about his mother. A better writer will have Michael flinch when the girlfriend removes her belt while changing out of her work clothes, when she playfully quotes an overbearing female movie or TV character, or when she reaches for the knife block while preparing dinner, and then have the girlfriend notice this.

6. When in doubt, read it out...loud. This goes back to trap #2, but it bears repeating.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Can The Subscription Model Work For Trade Publishers?

I recently read a Slate article about how the film industry is repeating the DRM and business model mistakes of the music industry, and of course saw many parallels with, and implications for, trade publishing in it. But unlike the film and music industries, Big Pub has plenty more market and cultural shifts to contend with these days than just the rising popularity and availability of digital media.

The once-mighty Borders has failed, proving once and for all that brick and mortar is no longer the ace in the hole it once seemed for trade publishers. Authors, established and aspiring alike, are seeing fewer and fewer reasons to partner with trade publishers now that it's become clear they can get their work to a readership more quickly, keep control of their intellectual property rights, and earn higher royalties to boot by going indie. As if to add insult to injury, Amazon seems poised to eat whatever's left of Big Publishing's lunch after everyone else has had a go at the trough. But it occurred to me that there may yet be some unexplored and promising territory for Big Pub, if they're willing to entertain an unorthodox idea: a subscription model of ebook content delivery.

Much like
Gamefly and O'Reilly's Safari Books Online, major publishers could offer a monthly, flat-fee subscription service for book-at-a-time access to all their ebook titles in various ereader formats. Note that I said access, not ownership. It would be a rental-type paradigm, and like Gamefly and Netflix could be offered at various pricing tiers according to how many titles the consumer is allowed to have checked out at any given time. Such a plan would enable publishers to maintain steady, ongoing revenue streams in addition to their existing sales channels, and would allow publishers to do an end-run around Amazon, B&N's Nook store, and Apple's iBookstore, too.

Perhaps just as importantly, it would allow publishers to gracefully exit the ebook pricing, DRM and staged release debacles of the past, and finally be seen as offering a valuable service to consumers instead of being the big, greedy bad guys.

Gamefly charges the equivalent of the cost of one new game at retail prices for its basic subscription; trade publishers could do the same. At $10 - $15 per month I think plenty of avid ebook readers would be willing to sign up, because they're probably already buying at least one ebook at retail prices each month.

There are only 5 major players left in trade publishing, so even if you had to 'subscribe' to all 5 of them individually (since it's not likely they'd form some kind of collective service), you're still only talking approximately the same monthly fee as what plenty of people are already paying for their Gamefly accounts.

While publishers would lose money on accounts signed to voracious readers who currently buy numerous ebooks every month at retail prices, those folks are outliers. Most people I know don't buy ebooks at that rate, and most people I know don't read more than one book a month, either. Also, there would surely be a large contingent of people who sign up fully intending to wring their money's worth out of the subscription fee, but ultimately end up 'checking out' a book only every second or third month. Once you know the books are there for the taking any time, there's no urgency.

If you subscribe to Netflix, Gamefly or even a health club, you're probably personally acquainted with this phenomenon. I say this while gazing ruefully at the Netflix DVD I've had checked out for nearly four months now. Yep, I've paid the monthly fee for that movie three times over, and in fact could've bought the DVD for less than I've paid for this rental by now. But I still have no intention of cancelling my Netflix subscription because it's a convenience I'm willing to pay for. And maybe someday I really will end up checking out a new movie every few days, like I imagined I'd be doing when I first signed up.

Yes, there are technological hurdles to be overcome. And yes, there will be some considerable startup effort and investment. But those things are true of any new business model trade publishers might try to adopt. And heaven knows, the model they've currently got is no longer working so they're going to have to try something.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Indie Author Mailbag: "Can you tell me the best way to ensure the success of my book?"

In a word, no.

If I've said it once, I've said it too many times to count:
There is no one-size-fits-all, by-the-numbers success formula for indie authors. There is no specific template or blueprint that will guarantee lasting sales or readership for any book.

Assuming for the moment that your indie book is exceptionally well-written, immaculately edited and sports a compelling cover, it's just a matter of getting the word out about it and pricing it reasonably, right? Wrong.

Every author is different, every book is different, and every sales climate is different. Consider the (originally self-published) book which launched me into a life of publishing punditry and activism, The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use. This was clearly a simple case of the right book at the right time. Writer's Digest Books was happy to pick up the rights and republish the book in a revised edition because interest in self-publishing is at an all-time high right now and they viewed it as the only truly comprehensive how-to, nuts-and-bolts book on the subject.

Had I self-published the same book just five years ago, neither Writer's Digest Books nor any other mainstream publisher would've been interested in picking it up. The self-published edition of the book wouldn't have been very successful either since self-publishing was widely viewed as a fringe activity up until about two years ago, engendering dismissal at one end of the opinion spectrum and open scorn and ridicule at the other.

Let's take a look at some of the supposedly surefire success strategies for indie authors, as they apply to this book and my other, still indie novels.

1. If You Build A Quality Author Platform, You'll Succeed.
I cannot deny that for anyone seeking a mainstream publishing contract, platform is key. Mainstream publishers want to see a pre-existing audience, and the potential to grow that audience exponentially. However, even for me, a retired software engineer with web developer skills of considerable sophistication, no amount of web presence or social networking savvy would've made my book a success five years ago. Even today, no amount of platform quantity or quality would make my book a success if it were poorly written or didn't contain the specific information the target audience wants and needs.

With respect to my novels, platform has not, in and of itself, made much of an impact. Not only do I have a custom, professionally-designed author website, I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, I'm the founder and Editor in Chief of, I'm a Technorati BlogCritic, on the Board of Directors for the Association of Independent Authors, and...well, I won't bore you with the rest of this litany. Yet despite all this "visibility" and "web presence", my novels only do fair-to-middling business unless I'm actively and specifically promoting them. Why? Because the bulk of my platform activity pertains to serving the needs of self-publishing authors, not readers in general.

So yes, platform is important. But just getting your name and face and the titles of your books out there isn't enough. Your platform activities must be targeted, with each piece of the platform puzzle helping to support the others. At this point, if sales of my novels were to become a priority for me, I'd launch a secondary platform strategy just for them because I know my established audience for The Indie Author Guide is more or less indifferent to my novels.

2. If You Price Your Kindle Books At .99, You'll Succeed.
All of my indie Kindle books have been priced at .99 for over a month now, in a kind of pricing experiment of my own devising. Sales have ticked upward a bit, but not dramatically. It's definitely worth experimenting with different price points on your Kindle or Nook book, since it's easy and low-risk to do so, and you can see (and interpret) results of price changes pretty quickly. But it's a mistake to think that a .99 pricetag is the shortest distance between you and blockbuster sales.

3. If You Make Your Books Available In As Many Formats And On As Many Sites As Possible, You'll Succeed.
My novels are listed on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Createspace, Scribd, GoodReads, Shelfari, LibraryThing, and, covering the spectrum from hard-copy through ebooks and even audiobooks. Yet no one on the NYT Bestseller list is quaking in his boots from fear of me and my novels. Sales of The Indie Author Guide, on the other hand, have benefitted greatly from the book's visibility across multiple bookseller and book review outlets. Its availability through the Writer's Digest Book Club has made a big difference as well.

Yes, it's important to get your work out there and available through as many outlets as are feasible; just don't assume that doing so will guarantee significant sales growth.

4. If You Get A Lot Of Good Amazon Reviews, You'll Succeed.
My indie novel, Adelaide Einstein, has 47 Amazon reviews with an average star rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars. My other indie book, Snow Ball, has 16 Amazon reviews with an average star rating of 4.43. Adelaide has more and better reviews overall, yet it sells at a fraction of the numbers I see for Snow Ball.

When both books were first published in 2008, Adelaide Einstein sold better than Snow Ball. Now it's just the opposite. I can only speculate as to why, but if pressed, I'd say that the chick-lit and hen-lit genres into which Adelaide fits are somewhat played out, whereas the mystery genre to which Snow Ball belongs is less trendy. It could also be that Snow Ball's darker tone of humor is more appealing to readers in these trying economic and social times.

5. If You Do All Of The Above, You'll Succeed.
I'm already doing all of the above, and my novels aren't doing gangbuster business. But that doesn't mean the work and time I've spent on all of the above was (or is) a pointless waste.

Since you've read this far, I'll share a little secret with you. There actually IS a surefire success strategy that works equally well for any book, movie, game or music release. And here it is:

Capture the zeitgeist in your work, then maximize
your work's exposure.

Yep, all you need do is figure out what the majority of the Western world's populace will be interested in at a given point in time, create a work or product that serves that interest, time the release of the work to coincide with when interest in its content will be approaching a peak, and then make sure as many people as possible know the work exists.

It's that first part that's the tricky bit, the whole "right book at the right time" part. Then, for fiction at least, there's the matter of actually caring enough about the work to imbue it with passion and soul. But even if the Fates smile upon you, you actually have the right book at the right time and it's filled to bursting with passion and soul, the second part of the equation is just as important: maximizing exposure. So while none of the supposedly surefire success strategies is any such thing for books in general, couple the right book with the right time and #5 above, and you're well on your way.

Unfortunately, since you can't know if you've captured the zeitgeist until after your book is published and you've maximized its exposure, you're pretty much stuck working every exposure and sales angle you can to find out. And even if your book hasn't exactly captured the zeitgeist, if it's a quality book in a broad-based genre, there's no reason you can't drum up respectable sales and interest through your efforts. But it will be an effort, you will have to pursue every promotional avenue available to you (given your personal time, skill and financial constraints), and there's just no way around that.

If you're looking for shortcuts or get rich quick schemes, you're in the wrong business.

Friday, June 3, 2011

All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Self-publishing, that is. Or at least, it can seem so. There are the breakthrough success stories at one end of the spectrum, bitter tales of sales disappointment at the other, and between the two, a generous smattering of testimonials from indie authors who aren't earning enough to quit their day jobs yet but are covering the rent or groceries each month with proceeds from their book sales. Suddenly, if you're not releasing a Kindle or Nook edition at the minimum, you feel like you're missing out on a huge opportunity. The pressure to rush to market is great, but you must resist it until both you and your book are truly ready for prime time.

Is Your Platform In Place, Focused and Growing?
Releasing your book before you've made it easy for readers to connect with you online, whether via a blog, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), or an author website, is a big mistake. Readers have come to expect authors to have an online presence of some sort, and not having one paints you and your book as a bit more fly by night.

I'm not saying prospective buyers will check for platform before making a purchase decision, but platform is what spreads the message about you and your work, pulling more and more readers into your fold and making those readers feel you care about their reaction to your work. Building a community around your work makes each subsequent book easier to promote, and creates a cheerleading section that will do a fair amount of promotion for you.

Is Your Book Still In Beta Test, Or Should It Be?
If you just completed your draft a week ago, I don't care who you are or how fantastic a writer you are, it's not ready to be published. Don't scrimp on the workshopping and rounds of critique, and don't let your sense of urgency about publication color your rewrite decisions.

Let's say the majority of your workshop/critique readers agree the second act needs a major overhaul, and a certain character needs to either be significantly expanded or cut entirely. Your heart sinks as you realize you're staring down the barrel of six weeks or more of rewrites, followed by another round of review, which pushes your publication date back by three months or more. It can be very easy to become so focused on your target publication date that you give short shrift to any feedback that could possibly interfere with that date.

Just keep reminding yourself: releasing a book that's not ready will lose sales and fans. And if it's your first book, readers aren't likely to give you a second chance. There's just too much else out there for them to choose from, and at bargain prices.

Have You Succumbed To The "Good Enoughs"?
Your manuscript is all formatted for print or ebook publication, and for the most part, it looks great. There are some inconsistencies in your formatting, like maybe most passages written in the voice of your protagonist's deceased son are italicized as you've intended, but a few have been left in standard type. Maybe most of your paragraphs begin with a .25" indent but non-indented paragraphs are scattered here and there. Maybe most of your line spacing is 1.15, but here and there you've lapsed into 1.5, and it's barely noticeable. Readers don't care about these things, right? Most of the book's formatting is correct and consistent, and that's good enough, right? Wrong.

You know a quality cover will elevate your book above the crowd, but you have no art or typography skills to speak of, don't have the money to pay top dollar for a professional design and don't have the time to search out a freelance artist you can afford. So you get your artsy sister to create a cover image for you, and it may not look like a slick mainstream cover but it's not bad. It doesn't scream "my sister designed this for me," and that's good enough, right? Wrong.

Again, don't let your sense of urgency about publication set an unprofessional tone.

Are You Prepared To Promote?
The book's been workshopped, polished to a high gloss, has a fantastic cover and attractive, consistent formatting, and you've got an author blog, Twitter account and Facebook page set up. Time to publish? Maybe, maybe not.

Are you prepared to invest the necessary time and effort to post to your blog regularly and acknowledge comments left there, to tweet quality messages and links, and respond to Facebook messages and wall posts? A neglected platform can actually be worse than no platform at all if it makes your readers feel snubbed.

Will you be able to do some guest blogging or write some articles to help get the word out about your book? Can you find the time to reach out to book bloggers and other reviewers, and are you prepared to send out free review copies of your book?

Platform maintenance doesn't have to be a fulltime job, and you can calibrate your platform activities to match your available levels of time and energy (e.g., maybe you can do Twitter or Facebook, but not both; maybe a static author web page is best for you because you don't have the time to blog, etc.).

What's important is that you're not going into publication with an expectation that once the book is out there, your job is done and all you need do is wait for the glowing reviews and royalties to start rolling in. Raising and building awareness doesn't happen by accident.

Are You Going To Make The Rest Of Us Look Bad?
Whether for any of the above reasons or something else, if you're not prepared to do a professional job of preparing your book for release and promoting it afterward, don't publish. While indie books and authors are gaining widespread acceptance, every amateurish indie book has the power to create or reinforce an anti-indie bias, and that hurts all of us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Publishers Be Crazy...Or Desperate

I just read this article about, a new joint venture being launched later this summer by Hachette Book Group, Penguin USA and Simon & Schuster. Per the article:

The site intends to provide information for all things literary: suggestions on what books to buy, reviews of books, excerpts from books and news about authors. Visitors will also be able to buy books directly from the site or from other retailers and write recommendations and reviews for other readers.

The publishers — Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group USA and Hachette Book Group — hope the site will become a catch-all destination for readers in the way that music lovers visit for reviews and information.

A couple of sentences further down, you'll read:

“There’s a frustration with book consumers that there’s no one-stop shopping when it comes to information about books and authors,” said Carolyn Reidy, the president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “We need to try to recreate the discovery of new books that currently happens in the physical environment, but which we don’t believe is currently happening online.”

There are three problems with Ms. Reidy's statements.

First, there is NOT "a frustration with book consumers that there's no one-stop shopping when it comes to information about books and authors," because in fact, there are several sites that offer one-stop shopping for author/book information. Perhaps Ms. Reidy just hasn't heard of such obscure, underground sites as,,, and

Second, nobody needs to "recreate the discovery of new books that currently happens in the physical environment," because for the average consumer, discovery of new books NO LONGER HAPPENS IN THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT. Once again, it's Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari and LibraryThing to the rescue here, not to mention genre-specific online communities like
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and format- and device- specific online communities like Kindle Nation Daily.

Third, Ms. Reidy and her compatriots don't "believe [this is] currently happening online." Why not?! How is it possible that publishers are THAT FAR out of touch with book buyers? I'll tell you how: traditionally, publishers have viewed booksellers as their customers, and book-buyers as the customers of booksellers. They have little to no idea what's bouncing around in the head and life of the typical consumer, because they haven't had to know those things to run their business at any time in the past---past being the operative word there.

So these three major publishers are sinking massive amounts of time, effort and money into a huge new initiative that I think just about any typical book-buying consumer on the street could tell you today is destined to fail. And how do you suppose they'll be financing this new initiative? Certainly not by reducing the prices of their books, or signing more new, unproven authors, or keeping books on physical shelves longer to give them a better chance of catching on, or giving individual authors more marketing money.

I'm sure the publishers would say this initiative is all about supporting their authors and marketing books in a cost-effective way, so kudos to them for good intentions. But while they may know book and author marketing today is all about author platform, they clearly don't understand that author platform is all about community, and community is about making personal connections and feeling like you're part of a movement. Which do you think a fan of Stephen King would rather visit: Stephen King's personal site and online community of fans, or the obviously corporate umbrella site, content will necessarily be vetted and vanilla, so as not to hurt the corporate images and reputations of its backers and to avoid offending any site visitors. Anyone who wants the raw, unfiltered version of musings from their favorite authors and opinions of others in those authors' communities won't bother with when they can get the straight scoop right from the horses' mouths elsewhere.

I hate to sound so negative and dump all over publishers like this, because it's a good thing that they're finally willing to try something new. But at this point, they face the same problem Microsoft did with its Zune MP3 player: Apple got there first with the iPod, and they did it very well. If you're going to enter the marketplace with a new product for which the demand has already been fulfilled by someone else (or several someone elses), then your product has to be so incredibly, amazingly compelling that consumers will feel they're missing out by not switching to it. Microsoft tried it with the Zune; I think by now we can all agree they failed to capture enough of the MP3 player market to even make Apple break a sweat. And Microsoft has decades of experience with technology and marketing direct to consumers.

So gets an A for effort, but a goose egg for vision and sustainability.

Publishers: maybe you're looking at this all wrong. Maybe instead of trying to supplant the Amazons, Goodreads and Shelfaris of the world, you should be looking for ways to leverage what those sites and communities are already doing, and doing very well: crowdsourcing.

Let them tell you what the readers want to see in print and ebook forms. Listen to consumer complaints about ebook release windows and pricing, and respond accordingly. Switch to POD book production so you can offer a much wider variety of titles at a much lower cost; grousing about the lack of variety and fresh, new voices from mainstream pub is so common as to be a pastime in reader communities. Stop chasing after blockbusters and start tuning into the pre-existing discovery network to locate your new literary stars. Keep your ears to the ground for breakout indie authors, and sign them, knowing they're already proven commodities. Get and keep a bead on technologies consumers are excited about (color ebooks, interactive book apps, etc.) and invest in those technologies.

Your role as arbiters of taste and gatekeepers is a thing of the past, and the position of Reader Community Leader has already been filled. Own it. Restructure your businesses and legacy thought patterns to embrace this new reality. Now, your role is to find out what consumers want in print books, ebooks and emerging media technologies, and give it to them. Period.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You Better Work It, Girl (or Guy)

I haven't posted anything here in a mighty long time, and you may be wondering what's up with that. I could just say I'm busy, which would be true, but that doesn't do justice to the question. Particularly since I'm supposed to be some kind of expert on author platform and whatnot, and as everyone who knows anything about author platform knows, neglect is a platform killer. Well, that's more or less true. But this blog isn't the only piece of my platform puzzle, and there's a bigger elephant in the room anyway: making a living. I'm sure most of you are hosting this same pachyderm yourselves, struggling mightily to get off the day job treadmill and shift all your focus and energy to writing-related pursuits.

For me, you, and anyone else who's trying to keep the elephant in peanuts and mud baths, it's all about multiple income streams. It's the exceptional author who sells enough books to earn a decent living on that alone. The rest of us need to hustle, ALL THE TIME.

Revenue Stream #1: Book Sales
It seems like new stories surface almost daily about this or that indie author earning tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars a month on his or her self-published books. Many of them are only releasing ebook editions, reducing their upfront publishing and distribution expenses to virtually nil. Volume---having lots of books in print---is one of the major keys to success here, since anyone who likes one of your books is sure to seek out the rest of your work. Pricing is another critical consideration, since plenty of readers are willing to take a chance on a new author at bargain prices but may balk at the same book just a buck or two higher. If you've got a body of work that includes ten or more finished, polished works, by all means get them ALL out there in at least ebook formats as soon as possible and bask in the rays of volume sales.

But if you're like me, you've got maybe one or two pieces that are ready for primetime and a whole mess o' stuff that needs varying levels of editing, formatting, or revision. Even so, it's worth prioritizing your stuff and, if you can get any of your stuff ready for publication in a matter of hours or days, publishing what you can. Every title you have out there is a potential revenue stream, and also acts as a cross-promotional tool for the rest of your published works. Which is why I finally cleared my decks long enough to release Shorts, a collection of my short works---something I'd had on my to-do list for months, but which always seemed to be pushed aside by more pressing tasks. Like my freelance work, for example.

Revenue Stream #2: Consulting, Services
Now that many of us have crested the learning curve when it comes to self-publishing in ebook and print formats, given enough experience and training, quite a few of us are in a position to guide and instruct our peers who are just starting out, or even to provide formatting, ebook conversion, consulting or other services on a fee basis. I've been providing author services for about 8 months now, and with the current groundswell of interest in self-publishing, it's no surprise that demand for my services far outstrips my availability. This is a good problem for any freelancer to have, but there's a major downside too: no time to work on my own projects.

It was always difficult for me to justify spending time working on my own stuff when I could be using it to earn money instead. And then there's the issue of burnout; as a freelancer it's very easy to get caught in the trap of working too much. With no set workday schedule or corporate framework, and the trunk of that darned elephant constantly poking around your desk and wondering where its next peanut is coming from, taking time off always seems risky. You find yourself working days, nights, and weekends too. Not good for you, or for your clients.

I just got out of this trap myself last month, when I decided to impose a set work schedule on myself which includes giving myself weekends off. I'm not gonna lie, I still work nights sometimes if I've had a particularly hectic, low-productivity day. And I'll still shift work to the weekends if I need to take days off during the week due to illness or something else, but the important thing is that I'm setting boundaries.

I've also tried to shut that darned elephant up by taking on the role of General Manager for Windwalker Media, the publishing and media company that runs the Kindle Nation Daily family of sites and regularly releases ebooks on topics related to ebooks, ereaders and the current and possible future state of publishing and digital media. I'm now a dedicated resource for WM for a set number of hours each month, which is a welcome arrangement in terms of providing me with some predictability while still leaving me with enough free hours each month to take on some freelance jobs or work on my own writing projects. But it's also keeping me busy.

Revenue Stream #3: Sites, Webinars, Online Classes
Most of you know I'm the founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat, which is a job with daily demands on my time and attention. At times I've seriously considered passing the reins for the site on to someone else, since it doesn't really earn me anything once expenses for site and content maintenance are factored in. But it's a labor of love, and it does help to keep me and my books in the public eye, however indirectly.

I've finally completed the 16-month process of getting all the lesson content posted to Publetariat Vault University, where Zoe Winters and I offer monthly lessons in self-publishing and author platform on a subscription basis. Since a number of people have requested it, I have it on my to-do list to create bundled 'paks' of related lessons for sale, as an alternative to the monthly subscription format. Again, between maintaining Publetariat, meeting my WM responsibilities and hitting my clients' deadlines for freelance work, it's a struggle for me to find the time for this. But I know that once I get those lesson paks posted they will form another new revenue stream, so I've got to find a way to make it happen.

I recently authored and presented a Writer's Digest University webinar on the keys to self-publishing success, and also authored an online course for WDU: Successful Self Publishing, which is all about the business side of being a self-publisher: setting goals, creating a project plan and schedule, figuring out what you can do yourself and what would be better left to the pros, and so on.

Authoring the course and webinar materials took quite a lot of time and effort, and the compensation was fair but far from lush. But I knew these would be priceless opportunities to keep myself and my book (The Indie Author Guide) front and center with self-publishers. WD really wanted to offer a webinar and course like the ones I created for them, and if I hadn't signed on to do them, another author would have. Sometimes prioritizing is more about maintaining your toe hold than it is about expansion, or immediate monetary rewards.

Do The Hustle
So yes, I have been most dreadfully neglecting my blog, and haven't updated my author website in months, either. But hopefully you can now understand why, and maybe pick up a few ideas for generating and working your own indie author revenue streams.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Want To Avoid The Perils Of Self-Publishing? Attend My Writer's Digest Webinar


More and more authors, aspiring and mainstream-published alike, are embracing the benefits they can enjoy through self-publishing. Retaining full creative control, earning significantly higher profits, being able to bring a complete, polished manuscript to market in a matter of weeks instead of months or years, releasing one's work in as many (or as few) formats as desired, and controlling one's own intellectual property rights are just a few of the considerable advantages indie authorship and publishing have to offer. However, there's no single, one-size-fits-all success plan for self-publishers, and there are plenty of costly mistakes to be made along the way. This webinar is about the questions and issues every self-publisher must address if he hopes to avoid these pitfalls, and reach his goals in authorship and publishing as painlessly and efficiently as possible.

Date and time: 4/28/11, 1pm EST (11am PST)
Length and price: 90 minutes, US$79
(Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 1 year.)

What you’ll learn:

  • How to identify your goals as both an author and publisher, and why this is such a crucial first step

  • The 8 most common causes of self-publishing failure, and how to avoid them

  • The 8 traits most successful self-publishers have in common, and how to cultivate them

  • The 5 crucial author platform skills every self-publisher should strive to master

  • Types of books and authors for which the indie path is particularly well-suited, and conversely, types of authors and books for which mainstream publication is still the smarter path

  • Where to go to get more help and information

Who should attend?

  • Authors and aspiring authors who are considering self-publishing, but want to learn more about it first

  • Authors and aspiring authors who have decided to self-publish and want to avoid the "gotchas"

  • Authors who've already self-published without much success, but want to try again, armed with the information needed to do better the next time


April L. Hamilton is an author, author services provider, blogger, Technorati BlogCritic, leading advocate and speaker for the indie author movement, and founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat, the premier online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints. April is also on the Board of Directors for the Association of Independent Authors. She's been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money and The Washington Times, and profiled by ABNA Books and The Writing Cast podcast. Her originally self-published book, The IndieAuthor Guide, has received favorable mention on CNET and recommendations from The Huffington Post and New York Times Magazine; the revised and updated edition, released by Writer's Digest Books, is currently available from booksellers everywhere in both print and ebook formats. April is also the author of novels available in both ebook and POD form.

Register here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Interactive Novels: Not So Much

I love books, but I am not a particular lover of paper. For years now, most of my "reading" (where fiction is concerned, at least) has been done via audiobooks. I am also receptive to ebooks, and feel that certain books actually offer much more functionality in electronic form than in hard copy: travel guides, tech books, pretty much anything where the ability to easily jump to a specific topic of interest is desirable. With the advent of the Vook and book apps for the iPad and iPhone, I've looked forward to seeing what an "enhanced" novel might have to offer. The answer to that question---at the present time, at least---is disappointment.

For my first foray into the world of book apps, I decided to go with an award-winning, best-of-breed title: Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition, produced by Padworx Digital Media, Inc. I'd read many glowing reviews of this book app online, and since I've also read the book in the old-fashioned, paper-pulp format, it was an ideal candidate for comparison and evaluation.

First off, let me say the book app is beautiful to look at and the music is both lovely and entirely suitable for the subject matter. There are interactive elements on many pages. In one instance, you must move a virtual lantern around over a darkened page to read it. In another, you can bring a background illustration into better and brighter focus by touching it. In yet another, you must move a crucifix necklace about where it hangs over the page in order to see the text beneath it. Sounds cool, right? Well, these interactive features ARE cool, but they also pulled me right out of the story.

The experience of reading the book very quickly devolved into an exercise of hunting for "easter eggs", the term used for hidden bonus features in computer programs, on DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. You can't always tell by looking at a given page of the app whether or not it contains interactive elements, so I found myself reading the text and then tapping all around on the screen to check for those elements. On the pages that don't have them, all the tapping is for naught.

The experience ends up falling somewhere between playing a video game and reading an ebook, but it's not a very good experience of either one. If the app were a full-fledged video game, I'd want interactivity on every page and I'd want it to be more extensive in terms of controlling my experience of the content. When I play a video game, I want my choices and actions to have consequences beyond causing formerly hidden images to display and being able to move objects around on a screen. Conversely, in an ebook, I want to feel immersed in the story world, to lose my awareness of the device on which the ebook is displayed; if you must tap or click all around on each screen to expose and enjoy the interactive elements, this is impossible.

I thought this might be a case of this specific book app not being my cup of tea, so I also decided to check out another much-lauded title, the War of the Worlds book app from Smashing Ideas, Inc. Again, as a literary classic I'd read previously, it seemed a terrific pick. And again, I was disappointed.

With the WotW app, the interactive illustrations are not as numerous as in the Dracula app, though they are just as beautiful. However, I still had to tap around on them to find the hidden goodies, which was kind of annoying and again, took me right out of the story.

I've pondered how this issue might be overcome, and I'm stumped. Even if some sort of indication were given as to the location of the interactive elements (as is the case for some of the Dracula app content), the moment you're tapping the screen and thinking, "Cool!" at whatever happens, you're no longer gripped in the terror of Castle Dracula or an alien invasion, you're admiring the technology.

The good news is, I think the book app is still very much in its infancy and publishers and developers just don't know quite what to do with the capabilities of the technology yet. My prediction is that where novels are concerned, the book app will find its full flower in a sort of purposeful hybrid of book and video game. And yes, the words will no longer be the stars of the show in most cases, much as it is with movies. Every year there are those few, standout examples of films that are worth seeing for the sake of the whip-smart and insightful script alone. The Social Network is an example of that type of film. But most often, moviegoers are satisfied to be thrilled by action, wowed by special effects, or cracked up by comedy.

Such entertainments are largely disposable, and while it pains me to say so, I'm afraid this may prove to be the future of literature. Every year there will be a handful of new books that are worth actually reading, simply as words on the page, and for these the experience will be one of good, old-fashioned theater of the mind. But for the rest, consumers will come to expect the play to be delivered not only pre-scripted, but with the cast, costumes, sets, stunts and special effects already in place, with the reader empowered to act as director of the entire production via its interactive elements.

But this raises another, and I think thornier issue: in the case of a completely original interactive book app (as opposed to the re-imaginings of literary classics examined here), assuming a team of people were involved in creation and production of the app, who is actually the Author? I'm not sure that title will be apt for anyone involved in such a project, since the consumer's eventual experience of the content will not be limited to the written words, but driven just as substantially by the multimedia and interactivity of the app. I suspect it's more likely that the person we used to think of as the author will be given a "Written By" and/or "Story By" name check in the credits of the app.

If I'm right about that, it's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there should be more and better opportunities for writers to see their works produced and brought to an audience; maybe aspiring authors should start querying book app companies like Smashing Ideas and Padworx right alongside agents and publishers. But on the other hand, those writers won't get quite the same level of recognition and prestige as in the past. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? As of yet, I'm uncertain.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Are Indie Author Book Tours Worthwhile?

As anyone who follows this blog or reads Publetariat regularly already knows, my financial circumstances have been precarious lately. Because of this, I've concluded I simply can't afford to do the self-financed book tour I had planned to support the release of The Indie Author Guide. "But April," you may ask, "how can you afford not to be out there, promoting your new book? Isn't that what all us indie authors are supposed to do?" The answer, as per usual, is, "It depends."

First, let me break down the realities of small-time author book signings for you. By "small-time", I mean pretty much anyone who isn't such a household name that velvet ropes and barricades will be required for crowd control at the event. Having spoken to numerous local bookstore managers, I've learned they consider a small-time author event that sells 25 books to be a huge success. On average, ten copies is more typical, and isn't considered a disappointment. Given that the author is only earning about a dollar, maybe less, on each of those sales, even if the event makes it over the "huge success" bar of 25 copies sold the author's eventual profit from the event will be $25 or less. Remember, the author won't see dime one of that $25 for many, many months---and maybe not at all, if the book doesn't earn back the author's advance (on a mainstream-published book).

Let's go even further, and say every person who bought one of the 25 copies convinces two friends to buy copies, also. Net cumulative profit for the author is still just $75 or less, and this is under ideal, maximum-sales circumstances. Now subtract what you spent on gasoline traveling to and from the event, plus the cost of any snacks or drinks you purchased en route or while there. Your eventual profit probably stands somewhere around $60 for six to ten hours of your time. And again, this is a maximum-sales scenario we're talking about. It's far more likely you'll sell ten or fewer copies, in which case all your royalty proceeds will be consumed by expenses.

If that time would've been spent watching TV, napping, or otherwise devoted to leisurely pursuits, then a signing event can still be a worthwhile alternative for you. Even if it's not super-successful, it's getting you out of the house, giving you more practice in meeting with the public, and providing an opportunity to win over a few fans. It may also provide fodder for pictures and video to post to your website or blog.

But most indie authors have (and need!) day jobs, and mine is freelancing as an author services provider (e.g., editing, formatting, ebook conversions, etc.). I don't work a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday schedule. Since I still have young children at home who require my attention and supervision whenever they're not in school, I get quite a bit of my work done in the evenings and on weekends when they're on visitation with their father---in other words, during the hours when store managers like to schedule signing events. For me, the choice on a given Saturday isn't between burning through a few more titles on my Netflix queue or spending that time promoting my book instead, it's between earning hundreds of dollars or spending that time promoting my book instead.

Right now, I simply can't afford not to be working.

I'm going to honor my commitment for the first date that was set, at the
Montclair Plaza Borders from 2-6pm tomorrow, 1/8/11, but that's it as far as my book tour is concerned.

I'm also already set to speak at the Writer's Digest Conference in Manhattan the weekend of 1/21-1/23/11, where I'll be on a couple of discussion panels and will also be presenting a Kindle publishing workshop. My travel expenses are paid, but I'm on the hook for my own meals, parking at the airport, and any other incidentals. I've decided it's still worthwhile for me to do this because of the opportunity to meet up with not only my fellow indie authors, but also with the other speakers. The latter group includes several whom I've "known" through online interaction over a period of years, but have never met face-to-face. I'll be losing money on that weekend, most definitely. But it's hard to put a pricetag on the value of maintaining relationships in the business, or on the value of an opportunity to give more of my fellow indies some of the information or how-tos that can help them realize their dreams of publication. It's also a better promotion opportunity for me than a book signing because of all the national promotion Writer's Digest is doing for the event.

So when deciding whether or not to do a signing or speaking event, you have to weigh not only the matter of how much you stand to earn financially and in intangibles, but how much you will be required to give up in exchange. Sometimes, it's worth it. Sometimes, it's not.

*UPDATE* I did my stint at Borders yesterday, all four hours of it. I spoke to exactly five store patrons, and sold exactly one copy of my book in the store. It's interesting to note that three of the five patrons said they planned to buy my book online, where its price would be lower. Given that I enjoy talking shop and can burn through four hours in a bookstore without even trying any day of the week (and twice on Sundays), it wasn't a bad way to spend an afternoon. Still, it was obviously not a profitable event in terms of book sales, and for me, that time would've been much better spent doing freelance work.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shelf Life

When my first mainstream-published book, The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use, shipped to booksellers at the end of November, I started checking the Borders and Barnes & Noble sites almost daily to find out when the book would become "available in-store". I planned on making the pilgrimmage to all my local stores to see my book on the shelves, but with some ambivalence.

After all, why should I, an outspoken indie author who says brick-and-mortar sales aren't all they're cracked up to be, care if my book is shelved in physical stores or not? I imagined I shouldn't care at all...yet it seemed as if I did. At least, enough to visit the stores in person. I had to admit to myself that I did care, and I was kind of ashamed of that.

I imagined stepping into that first store, striding purposefully to the reference section, and being thrilled to find my book right there on the shelf next to all the others I'd so often perused in days gone by. I'd bring a camera with me, so I could enjoy that rite of passage so many authors I know have allowed themselves: having my picture taken, standing there in the bookstore with my book in hand, against a backdrop of shelves where several more copies of my book could be seen.

I further imagined coming back home to write a sheepish blog post about the whole thing, in which I'd have to come clean about still harboring some of those same mainstream publication fantasies as my peers who've remained steadfastly anti-selfpub, and who still view mainstream publication as the only publication that counts. Was it possible that in some way, however small and hidden from the world, I still believed it too? And if so, what would that mean?

I decided that having spent the majority of my years in a world where indie wasn't a viable option for the great majority of writers, and where self-pub was heavily stigmatized, it was only natural that my brain would become imprinted with such notions and as a writer, I'd internalize them without even necessarily being aware of it. But if this were the case, as Ricky Ricardo might say, I'd have some 'splainin to do.

Well, by now you've probably noticed there is no picture of me proudly brandishing my book posted here. The outcome of my little expedition to that first store surprised me.

As planned, I drove to my nearest store and walked in, camera in hand. I found five copies of my book on the shelf, and my reaction was one of, "Huh. So there it is. Yep. Right there." I felt no more excitement at seeing my book shelved in a Barnes & Noble than I might've felt eyeing my car coming out of the far end of a car wash. It wasn't a thrill for me at all; it was merely a confirmation, like double-checking to ensure a deposit I've made was properly credited to my checking account. I didn't bother having the picture taken, and as I was feeling more awkward than happy standing there, I left. And I didn't bother visiting any of the other bookstores on my list.

I felt WAY more excitement than this when I saw my first self-pubbed title listed on Amazon. THAT'S the moment when I felt like a "real" author. This was

Part of me feels sort of robbed of this nugget of joy I thought I had coming to me, but the larger part feels relieved to learn I can now say in all honesty and from personal experience, mainstream publication is not the be-all, end-all it's been built up to be for people of my generation and older. If it's been your lifelong dream to see your name on a book on a brick-and-mortar store shelf, I sincerely hope that dream comes true for you one day, and I have no intention of diminishing the importance or meaning of your dream for you. But if you've been of an indie mindset for any significant period of time you may be surprised to find---as I was---when that much-anticipated day of fulfillment finally arrives, your dream apparently changed at some point when you weren't paying attention to it.

Probably when you were busy self-publishing.