Paginations

self published

My view on authors tweeting/retweeting – you may not like this…

Big time preface – YMMV. Everyone’s does. There are authors that do nothing but tweet book links, and they do fine. There are authors who aren’t even on Twitter, and do fine. And the converse – authors doing nothing but tweeting book links not selling a lick, and authors who aren’t tweeting aren’t selling.

Before you say, “Hey, I’ve seen YOU sending book links on Twitter, you hypocritical jackass”, relax. Yes I’ve tweeted about my books, and yes I’ve retweeted others’ in the past. But if you scroll through my stream (if that doesn’t sound icky, I’m not sure what does), you won’t find anything outside of price change announcements or new review mentions for a very. Very. Long. Time. I actually gave up hawking my own crap on Twitter well over a year ago after doing some of my own experimentation. Know what I found?

It. Doesn’t. Work. 

Again, YMMV, and feel free to dismiss my conclusions. But my A vs B comparison test, for my works, was very definitive. I spent over a month doing on/off weeks of tweeting/not tweeting. At the end, I tallied the results, and found absolutely no change in sales volume. The number of books I sold per day was no different between the weeks I tweeted the hell out of them and the weeks I stayed totally silent. No difference at all, not even a blip. My book sales have zero degrees Kelvin to do with tweeting about them. And that also relates to retweets. How? Because during those weeks I tweeted, I got retweets – just the nature of the medium. And during the weeks I didn’t tweet, I received (duh) no retweets.

Oh, and along the way, way back when, I probably pissed off a goodly number of Twitter followers who took me out of their lists or unfollowed me, and any future messages, like my upcoming cure for the common cold and tomorrow’s Powerball winning numbers, will never be seen by them. I’ve also lost them forever as a possible reader.

Now the reason I figured I’d put my thoughts to ‘paper’ is that I’ve been in contact with a fellow author, a woman who writes well outside my genre, and I’ve been watching what she does. Very interesting. She retweets other authors’ book links like a possessed madwoman, and with a purpose. She wants retweets of her own, which is understandable. And she gets them, in droves.

She herself has just over 10,000 followers on Twitter. She’s been on Twitter, according to the stats, only since this past summer, yet has over 74,000 tweets – an impressive online volume of over 300 tweets per day. Per DAY, folks. I don’t think I have time to inhale a breath 300 times per day (no need to correct me medically here…). She receives between 10-20 retweets of each of her own book links, each time, which is at least two dozen of her own tweets per day. And that’s impressive, so many people retweeting her links. It’s because she’s retweeting theirs, which makes sense. So she’s on average receiving 240 to 480 mentions of her book, per DAY, on Twitter to who knows how many hundreds of thousands of Twitterites, her own 10k followers notwithstanding. That’s a massive volume of Twitter mentions. Like mind-boggling. Her book is being mentioned maybe 500 times per day. So how does that translate to sales? She must be rolling in it, right?

She has one novel published, and it’s priced at $.99 (not that that has anything to do with it, but it needs to be mentioned because she’s making less than 35 cents royalty on each sale). Her current rank on Amazon (most of her tweets are Kindle; I’m not ruling out BN/Kobo sales, but they are certainly a small parts of the pie historically, and by nature of the links she sends).

Current rank on Amazon in the paid store: 310,167

Self-published authors know exactly what that ranks means. For those of you who don’t obsess in watching the KDP reports (ahem), I’ll tell you: not a whole heck of a lot. My guesstimate on sales volume would be around 2 to 3 copies per week, so maybe a dozen sales in a month. (Check out Edward Robertson’s quickie formula, which is quite accurate from what I’ve measured myself). This book is in a popular category and has an average ranking on Amazon of 4.5, with no 1-star reviews.

I am NOT belittling her or making fun of her sales. I’m not naming names – she may even be a he, so there. I’m just illustrating using a real world example (and my own experiment) how the medium of Twitter just ain’t what authors think it is. This woman, for all her hard work online (300 tweets a day? Good Lord…), is pulling in maybe four bucks a month in Amazon royalties. And that sucks. My opinion, should she (or he!) ever ask, would be to quit that craziness and spend that 300 tweet time per day writing another book, but she (or he!) hasn’t asked. (As an aside, she’s doing this manually and does not have an automated system to retweet certain people or lists or keywords. Don’t ask me how I know…I just do. There are ways to tell…)

Why doesn’t it work? Just off the top of my head, my first conclusion is that a lot of authors online are followed by…wait for it…other authors. It’s a great community, but we’re all writing and trying to sell. Don’t bombard each other with your own book links. We’re all too poor to buy books, and I mean that in two ways: money and time. My Kindle account is rife with books I haven’t gotten to, and may never get to, because my priority is writing the next one. (I can’t read a book while in the midst of writing – otherwise my thoughts, ideas, dialogue, etc. pull too much from that work.)

Another conclusion – Twitter is a volatile medium, one not truly suited for effective commerce. In order to be seen as much as possible by the widest audience possible, an advertiser (don’t kid yourself, authors – you are advertisers) needs to send many messages throughout the day in order to hit the right target when that target is watching. Which is why you see the same TV commercial several times each evening on the same channel – consistency and repetition in the message. So what happens is that advertiser is overdoing it to those who spend a lot of time on Twitter, and those messages are ignored (or the tweeter is taken out of a list and never looked at again) just so Johnny who checks his feed once every other day sees the message. (In other words, you’re pissing people off.)

I will mention my books from time to time, usually in conjunction with a sale price, or a mailer promo, or maybe when receiving a new review (I do like to crow whenever I have the chance, be warned). But I’m not the type to tweet incessantly, and probably never will. Because it simply doesn’t work.

Feel free to disagree, vent, call me names, whatever. But I’d love to hear your thoughts, or perhaps your results…

steve

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My podcast interview with fellow author Robert Swartwood. It’s cool, I promise.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of being ‘interviewed’ by Robert Swartwood, author of several novels, including The Calling, The Serial Killer’s Wife, Man of Wax, and No Shelter (one of my favorite reads of 2011, with a funny story behind the pseudonym – one which you’ll only know if you listen.) We chat about:

  • How he and I first met (nothing of a romantic nature, I assure you)
  • My thoughts on Smashwords (why I use them as little as possible, and why you won’t see me send SW book links)
  • Our discussion on ebook pricing, the $.99/$2.99 price points, the value of higher pricing, and Amazon as the big bad guy in the room
  • The crap and/or offensive material being published, and what a potential barrier to entry might do to clean it up
  • A little about my Gabriel series, along with a brief sneak preview of my current (non-Gabriel) work in progress
  • And finally, a chance to win my complete trilogy, Gabriel’s Journey, by leaving a comment on Robert’s blog by midnight Monday the 2nd

It’s around 40 minutes long, so if you’ve always wanted to hear my voice (for whatever strange, potentially creepy reason) hit the Play button and continue writing. Here’s the link to Robert’s site:

http://www.robertswartwood.com/insights/in-which-steve-umstead-and-i-talk-about-important-things/

Leave a comment on Robert’s blog, I know he’d love to hear from you guys.

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The Taleist survey is out: “Half of self-pub authors earn less than $500″. I ask, so what?

I read a very interesting article this morning (OK, most of an interesting article) in regards to the recent Taleist survey of self-published authors. I was one of the 1,007 respondents and received my comp copy of the survey results yesterday, but haven’t had a chance to read through it yet. However, the Guardian has, and posted this article, with the somewhat-negative headline of:

Stop the press: half of self-published authors earn less than $500

The article starts off as a bit of a wet blanket, though not the sky-is-falling doomsaying one might expect from that headline, so I’m here in defense of the poor, downtrodden self-published heathen.

Disclaimer: I have been very fortunate over the past year and am on the other side of that half, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Three things I take out of this article – one is an assumption, one is my thought on the self-pub/traditional income subject, and closing with a stat Taleist came up with.

Those who want to do best at self-publishing, they found, would be well advised to focus on romantic fiction. Romance authors earned 170% more than their peers, while authors in other genres fared much worse: science-fiction writers earned 38% of the $10,000 average, fantasy writers 32%, and literary fiction authors just 20% of the $10,000 average.

I don’t like this one bit. Whether it’s The Guardian or the Taleist survey conclusions, this paragraph screams at me in a shrill tone. Apparently this is saying if you want to be successful, write into a successful genre.

Phooey. Write what YOU want, write what YOU enjoy reading, and above all, DON’T write for what is successful NOW. Ten years ago it was boy wizards. Two years ago, it was sparkly vampires. Ten years from now? It may be literary fiction featuring trolls and light sabers. Who cares. Write because you want to, don’t try to fit into a preconceived box that will make you ‘more successful’. That may work when choosing between jobs, but not when it comes to pouring one’s heart out onto paper.

Half the respondents failed to reach $500 in royalties in 2011, and a quarter of the books are unlikely to cover the direct costs of production. “Sobering” news, wrote Cornford and Lewis. “Who’d come back for more?”

So 503.5 respondents earned less than $500 last year. If every one of those had submitted their work to an agent, then on to the publisher, then on to… (you get the point), how much would they have earned? About as much as I earned for writing this post. Squadoosh. Those authors took a leap of faith and sent their work out into the world, and a handful (or several handfuls) bought it and read it. In that same time, going traditional, their book most likely wouldn’t even have been in pre-production by the end of 2011. And that’s assuming they would be accepted through the slushpile. What’s the percentage who get published traditional? Very low – let’s call it 5%. So of those 503.5 authors, 25.175 (okay, I’ll round off – 25) get the “deal.” The other 478 continue to lick stamps, send emails, and so on, without a dime to show for it. And those 25? If the stars align correctly, they may see a portion of their small debut-author advance before the year is over. This is always a frustration of mine when I see traditionally published bring up the ‘low income by self-publishing’ subject.

Which brings me to a much better 5% subject:

But money isn’t always the primary goal for self-published writers, they discovered, with only 5% considering themselves “unsuccessful”. The respondents were also still keen to continue self-publishing: nearly half plan to release more titles this year than they did last, and 24% have a whopping five or more works due for publication this year.

Of 1,007 respondents, over 950 consider themselves successful – by extrapolation, 478 of the authors who didn’t “cover the direct costs of production” finished 2011 with a smile on their face, toasted loved ones with champagne on January 1st, and considered themselves successful. And they’re still writing and publishing.

I consider anyone who takes that leap of faith incredibly successful, covering costs or not. Let’s keep this amazing ball rolling, friends.

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Typos, spelling errors, plot holes, oh my! Gabriel’s Redemption takes two shots to the chin

Those of you who know me (or as well as anyone can be “known” in an online, social media world) know that a huge pet peeve of mine is making an error. Whether it’s a typo, or a spelling error, or a missing dialogue tag, or misplaced apostrophe, or even a factual mistake or inconsistency, I can’t stand it. If someone pinned me down and asked what I thought my strength was as a writer, I’d say the mechanics of writing. Seeing an error in a book I’m reading literally and figuratively pulls me out of the story.

Why do I bring this up now? Because in the span of two hours last night, I received a message from a reader, followed by an email from Amazon, pointing out separate errors in Gabriel’s Redemption.

CRAP! The book that’s been out there the longest (albeit the one that was written first, before I had ‘grown’ I suppose), suddenly gets caught with errors. And that irks the hell out of me.

The reader pointed out an issue in a scene where someone who was knocked unconscious just seconds ago watched, with tears in his eyes, someone else being dragged from the room. I immediately pull up my Scrivener file, scroll down to that chapter, and spit out my evening coffee. Son. Of. A. Biscuit. So I go through my original files to see how the hell this happened, and there it is. There is one line that should have been struck from the final edit, but got left in, changing the entire scene to one with a major hole. Completely my fault, so I spit more coffee (by this time my wife is glaring at me and handing me paper towels with the look “you will be cleaning this up.”)

Now I’m cleaning up coffee and my novel at the same time, and getting more and more angry at myself. How could I have let this slide? Tomorrow (Feb 2nd) is the one-year anniversary of publishing Gabriel’s Redemption, so it’s been out in the wild a year, being purchased by well over seven actual, honest-to-goodness readers, with a logic hole I could drive a truck through.

Finally get the coffee cleaned up, and wham. An email from Amazon:

Dear Publisher,

During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s): 

Typos have been found in your book. 

*loc; 742; “It reminder Gabriel of” should be ‘It reminded Gabriel of”.

Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it.

Pow, another shot to the chin! More coffee spit, and now I’m ready to chew my left arm off to punish myself.

I pride myself on having clean work, so these types of things really kill me…probably even more than a poor review. An author, self-published or not, should always be putting out the most professional work possible, and I missed stuff. Terribly disappointing.

I know there’s a prevailing thought out there that a few typos and errors are acceptable for self-published authors, and at $2.99 or $.99 or whatever, are to be expected. But that’s just not my mindset. To me, anything that could be corrected, should be corrected, and before someone spends money on the product.

OK, rant over. Where do you fall on the acceptable error argument?

 

UPDATE: Someone emailed me asking if I left out a word when I said “purchased by well over seven actual, honest-to-goodness readers”, like maybe I meant seven hundred, or seven thousand, or seven million (right…), which would have been funny and ironic in this post. But no, didn’t leave anything out…I don’t release sales numbers so that’s my way of being as vague as humanly possible…

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Building your Author Platform

Fellow authors, I’m going to take this time and space to chat a little bit about your platform. I’ll preface this by saying I am by no means an expert, as I’ve only been marketing my work for a few months, but I do have a long background in marketing my own company. In the “real world” (sorry if that offends any authors; right now my writing is a part-time gig, but perhaps in the future…) I started an online services company almost 10 years ago, and have been solely responsible for the marketing and advertising since day one. I believe our company has built an excellent reputation within the industry, both with partners and customers, and has a strong professional and friendly ‘brand’ in the marketplace.

You need something to jump off of!

And that’s what we’re talking about here with your author platform – you’re building a brand, and it needs to be done the right way…or not at all. One misstep, especially in today’s instant-access online world, could doom your brand and force you to start all over again with a pen name (if you even can).

Now that that doom and gloom is out of the way, what is a platform? Like a politician, it’s what you stand for; like one made of wood, it’s what you stand on; like a pool, it’s what you leap off of every time you perform. It’s essentially an all-encompassing marketing strategy for your novel, and maybe more importantly, for you as an author.

Almost anything marketing- or PR-related can be considered part of your platform; I will just mention four of the basics (and my tips and thoughts), and I hope at the end you and fellow readers of this will chime in to suggest more. I’m certainly not here to teach, just perhaps to plant some ideas…

1. Twitter – Odds are if you’re reading this, you’re already on Twitter, so me telling you “go sign up for Twitter” and how to do it would be a waste of keystrokes. It’s an excellent tool for networking, sharing, learning, promoting, being promoted, and much more. Honestly, so much more than I initially thought it was (I always thought of Twitter as being an outlet for NBA players to butcher the English language in 140 characters). However in building your brand, there are some dos and don’ts with Twitter.

  • Do your best to spell correctly – yes, it’s a limited space to type, but abbreviations are a given. Spelling words wrong may give a potential customer the impression your novel will be rife with errors as well. (Don’t get me started on your vs you’re…)
  • Do send interesting and useful messages – think about every tweet you send, is it worth someone’s time to read, did I help them in some way, whether informative, humorous, thoughtful? Will someone retweet it?
  • Do leave room for a proper retweet – count the number of letters in your Twitter name and add six. That’s the magic number for the characters to leave; that way someone can retweet your message with “RT @yourname:  ” without having to rewrite/truncate your message, and your name will be attached to the new message (more publicity).
  • Do have a well-written, informative profile – saying “I like kewl stuff, you shud 2!” as your profile doesn’t exactly lend itself to picking up quality followers. Talk about you, your work, what you do, who you are.
  • Don’t tweet incessantly about your book and your book alone – doing this turns your Twitter feed into a pseudo-spammer, and turns people off to any other message you may send. You may grab a sale or two, but no one wants to read nothing but sales pitches. I read somewhere that 10-15% of messages should be sales-related, the others informative or retweets of others, and that sounds like a pretty fair number.
  • Don’t ignore others – Twitter is a community at its very heart, and other authors are out there. Show an interest in their work, start conversations, join in discussions, and others will do the same for you.

2. Facebook – Many of the same Twitter rules hold true here; spell correctly, make your messages worth someone else’s time, don’t spam, etc. But on Facebook, your messages can be (and should be) larger and more personal. Don’t just link your Twitter so that all your tweets show up on your Facebook feed – people can spot that a mile away. Take the time to write in that 400+ character box. Make friends with other authors. Share their links on your feed, they may do the same.

3. Facebook fan page – I feel this is a must. This is where you set up your alter-ego, you as the author, not just you as the Facebook friend (honestly I barely use my regular Facebook, as it’s filled with people from my company’s industry, family, and oddly enough some high school classmates I haven’t talked to in 20 years). Your author page is a dynamic showcase of you, the writer. Post photos, cover art, excerpts from your work, links to blog posts. Generate interest in you, the author. Build your brand in a positive way. (Shameless plug – visit mine at Facebook.com/steveumsteadwrites and click Like!)

4. Blog – This may be the most in-depth and most important one of all for a writer. A blog is almost a requirement at this point! This is where you as the author can fully express your thoughts, feelings, information about your work, reviews of books you’ve read, links to other authors and blogs, links to where to buy your book, and so much more. Link your blog with Twitter and Facebook, subscribe to other blogs, post on them, and watch others reciprocate. Offer to host other people’s blog posts, interview other authors, network the blog with other blogs. Maybe most importantly, this is where you show others who you are. Your writing style, personality, knowledge (or lack thereof – be careful!) can all come through in what and how you write.

I had a discussion a few weeks back with a fellow author whose novel wasn’t being published until the end of this year. His plan was to wait for the novel to be released, then start a Facebook author page and start talking about it on his blog. I respectfully said to him he had it backwards – an author needs to have a platform in place right away, maybe even before he or she commits one word to paper. Building a platform is an ongoing process, and the more you can “build it out” the better off you’ll be later. You as an author are trying to create and promote a brand, to get the name out there, to establish that good reputation from day one.

In closing, I’ll state that establishing a platform to promote you and your novel is vitally important for independent authors, not only for those who plan to self-publish, but also for those looking for a traditional publishing deal. Traditional publishers are not a writer’s personal marketing department – on the contrary, they probably have hundreds or thousands of authors to promote. An indie author has a hard time breaking into anyone’s top 100, whether it’s the publisher, agent, or distributor. Marketing, effective marketing, will always fall on the shoulders of the author. Better start now.

This is a VERY basic list – I’d love to hear everyone else’s suggestions of additional methods of building the brand platform!

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E-books officially pass print books, no looking back now…

From time to time, in both my personal life and business ownership, I make decisions that don’t work out. Whether it’s to lay a tile floor (weeks of backache afterwards said that was a mistake), try to install my own fence (complete disaster), try a trade show outside of our business focus (waste of several people’s time and my money), or hiring the wrong person (yep…not so smart in that one case), I’ve put myself out there and given it a shot. Like Wayne Gretzky once said, he missed 100% of the shots he didn’t take. However, in the past few months I’ve realized that one big decision I made was the proper one:

I decided to self-publish my novel as an ebook.

If you’ll notice the blog title, e-books are a wave rolling over the publishing industry. The reason I wrote this post is some incredible news that was just released this morning via press release. Amazon announced that books for Kindle are now outselling all paperback and hardcover books combined. Read the full press release here.

Think about that for a minute. Done? Yep, all paperback and hardcover combined just got passed by instant-download, lower-priced (well, not in all cases yet), mass-storable, read-anywhere e-books.

So my conclusion? I firmly believe I made the right decision (for once) in going e-book. I decided not to try for the traditional route (and I realize e-books don’t necessarily equal self-published, or vice versa, but for the sake of this post, I’m using the lower barriers to e-book publishing as being at odds with traditional publishing). I didn’t want to query, and query, and query; hope to find an agent; hope a publisher said yes to a full read; wait 12-18 months before my book hit the shelves; and finally see the book pulled after two months, relegated to bargain bookstores.

I’m certainly not arguing against traditional publishing, or even print books in general. I’m just satisfied in my decision to go the e-book, self-published route. And like the e-book wave, there’s no looking back for me now.

Oh, and if you were curious, my self-published e-book is available somewhere in that massive wave…

What are your thoughts on e-books?

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I’m an author unwilling to talk about himself…

This just in: I’m uncomfortable talking about myself. The problem? It may be the only way to succeed as an independent author…

Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m an author.

[audience: Hi Steve…]

That’s about all I’m usually prepared to say. I mean, who cares who I am, what I do, where I’ve been? My wife, kids, family, friends, they know the answers (and most of the time don’t really care anyway) but now that I’ve jumped in to writing with both feet, I find it’s a necessity to promote my book as a product, me as a brand.

Yes, that’s how I view it. The book I wrote, Gabriel’s Redemption, is a product that needs to be promoted. I’m totally fine with that; I’ve been in some form of sales or another most of my adult life, and most of those years as a business owner. I could easily step up to a podium in front of a hundred industry professionals (my company’s industry, not writing!) and wax philosophically about the benefits of swim-up bars, beach waiters, and mojitos (bet you’re now curious what I do, aren’t you?) without batting an eyelash. However, if I had to stand up there and speak about me, who I am, there would be a plethora of “uhhhs” and “ummms” being uttered. It’s just not me. I don’t feel I’m important (or famous) enough for anyone to care.

However, I can’t keep hiding behind that veil of anonymity. For a self-published author to succeed, he or she must promote not only the product, but the brand itself – the author. And yes, the author is a brand. Say Stephen King, or Tom Clancy, or Stephenie Meyer, or Dan Brown (ugh), and a brand comes to mind. Not really a person (although in King’s case he’s done well for himself as a ‘face’ brand), but a name, a product line. And they’ve done that on purpose. Building a brand means promoting oneself as a name, and that name needs background. A story.

The reason I wrote this post is that I’m currently in the middle of completing an author interview sent to me by one of my great online friends. I just completed one two weeks ago, another two days ago, and I have two more in the near future I will be working on. Each and every one of them not only asks about the product, but also the brand. Me. And I’m forced to talk about myself. I have to tip my cap to Emlyn Chand, as her “twitterview” of me in February, after having been published for a matter of days, was the first time anyone had thought enough of me to want to interview, and it got me off the sidelines.

I’m not one to walk into a room and take over the conversation. I don’t normally think of myself as having an outsized personality, or dominant presence. But in these interviews, I need to! Building a brand means forcefully and truthfully relating who I am to the readers in order to let them know who I really am. How I came up with the motivations for the story. Showing them the face/person behind the name on the front cover of the book. And it’s damned difficult. No, I’m certainly not complaining – I am truly flattered that anyone would even consider the possibility of interviewing me (again my mindset is, who the hell am I?) but it’s trying to put words on paper describing myself that’s causing some angst…

I think I need a bigger ego…

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