Business, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Networking, Publishing, Writing Business

How To Survive The Recession: Author Edition

Image by Peggy_Marco via Pixabay

Just a few weeks ago, there was an article that published a survey of the world’s top economists and 80% of them said that they believed this current recession is going to last for 1 ½ to 2 years.  They also predicted a double dip recession where things would look like they were recovering only to “dip” again.  Sadly, this isn’t your typical recession where things look bleak and then slowly improve.  This thing is going to take a while which will be catastrophic for companies that were already struggling before this recession hit.

If you are an author who is contracted with a publisher that isn’t doing well, now may be the time to start securing your future before you find yourself without an income.  Below are six tips that will put you in the driver’s seat during this recession.    

Tip 1: Update Your Online Presence

This includes your website, social media accounts or blog, if your information is outdated, or if there are any broken links, then you need to correct that.  If you’re looking for an agent or freelancing you should let people know.  Your professional online presence needs to speak to the type of people you are looking to attract.  If you don’t know who that is, then you need to sit down and figure that out.      

Tip 2: Start Leveraging Your Network

Hopefully, you’ve been socializing online and have made a few author friends.  I’m also hoping you’ve joined groups and maybe even started one yourself?  If so, congratulations, you have friends in the industry who can help you out.  Hopefully, these people are professionals who can help you find publishers, agents or just good editing software. 

Your network should also be able to help you avoid scams which is important since there’s been a recent rash of con-artists impersonating well known literary agents and major publishing companies

Another thing a good network can even give you is the latest gossip on who’s paying authors and who’s not.  An excellent example of this was the Ellora’s Cave controversy where authors shared stories about late or missing payments all over social media.  A short while later, after a lot of drama, the company folded.  Keep in mind, there is strength in numbers, and this is especially true during a crisis.

Tip 3: Diversify

Most successful authors write in multiple genres, usually out of boredom but some do it to create multiple streams of income.  For example, if romance is no longer selling then they can count on their sci-fi or thriller novels to pick up the slack.  

Also, authors who are signed with a traditional publisher may want to look to self-publishing or work-for-hire opportunities in order to supplement their income.  It’s basic financial sense to not depend on one source for your livelihood.   

Tip 4: Raise Your Expectations From Your Partners

If your publisher isn’t selling books successfully, then it may be time to look for another publisher.  I know authors who’ve published with companies and even during good times the company struggled to sell books across the board.  To make matters worse, there’s always an excuse which usually includes, Amazon, the internet, or problems with the printers but you can’t afford to keep accepting excuses.  You’re running a business and your publisher is supposed to be a business partner and partners are supposed to carry their own weight.  This might mean buying back the rights to your work. If that’s not possible, then you may have to start over with a new company or even self-publish.     

Tip 5: Gold Digging

In a recession it makes sense to research the company you want to do business with.  Be sure they’re making real money and have more than just a handful of employees.  Big companies generally do well in a recession in fact, most of them see economic meltdowns as an opportunity to buy more IP (intellectual property) or entire companies.  It’s the large companies that are still buying and not cutting back, and that’s where the opportunities lie for authors.

Tip 6: Increase Your Marketing Effort

It should go without saying that during a recession you’ll need to increase your marketing efforts.  That can mean increasing the amount of queries you send out, to expanding your social media outreach, or running more ads for your business.  Even if hard times haven’t hit you yet, that doesn’t mean that they won’t hit the people you do business with.  As a business owner, you need to keep your options open.

A Final Word

Recessions don’t have to be scary, remember there are people who make their fortunes during tough times and there’s no reason why you can’t be one of them.  Instead of seeing a recession as an apocalyptic disaster, see it for what it is; a time where sectors of the economy get shaken up.  We have to keep in mind that as things shift we can actually find ourselves in a better position than before.  The publishing industry will figure this out, and before you know it, we’ll all be complaining again about how boring the industry is and wishing again for a little excitement.       

Business, writing, Writing Business

Safety For Writers Part 1: Online Security

Image via Pixabay

I wrote this article because of the uptick in hackings targeting small and medium-sized businesses. Since many countries have entered their respective COVID-19 quarantines, it’s made things worse because most people are either continuing their education or working on the same networks that aren’t well protected. Most home networks are designed with convenience and not safety in mind which can open the door to malware, scams and identity theft.

It’s no secret that we are in a worldwide recession which has thieves and con artists coming out of the woodwork making life difficult. Sadly, this doesn’t look like it’s going to be a short-term event either. In fact, the NSA, in a series of public reports, warned U.S. business owners to be vigilant about hackers targeting certain software systems. This is unusual for them and it has me rethinking how I secure my data. 

Now before I go on, I want to inform you that I am in no way affiliated with any of the products or services I mention in this post.      

The Elephant In The Room  

Ask any security expert and they’ll tell you that people are their own worst enemy when it comes to online safety. They use terrible passwords, or worse, they just stick to factory default ones. So, what kind of password should we be using? Well, according to former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we should be using passphrases not passwords. His example of a good passphrase was: MargaretThatcherIs110%Hot. Now I won’t judge his taste in women but his passphrase is pretty solid, it has numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and even includes a symbol so this isn’t going to be easy to guess.    

Poison All Unnecessary Data   

Do you find it absurd how much information sites like Google and Microsoft want from users? When a user creates an account, they ask for your gender, age, and even your location. They claim it helps them personalize your experience when using their services but the fact is, they use this information to sell to 3rd parties. My one tip is to never give your real name or age, the only thing they need to know is that you’re an adult and won’t use their services illegally. Also, turn off all GEO tracking and ad customization, these things can lead to your personal information being exposed.  And if you’re using Google services be sure to delete not only the cookies on your Chrome browser frequently, but your search history as well.  

Are Your Devices Unsafe?  

Did you know that most software companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google stop servicing their products after a specific number of years? They do this because they can’t afford to keep updating and patching older software however, users are often unaware of this. That means you could be using an unsafe phone or computer which could be vulnerable to hacking. So be sure to check that your devices have the latest software to keep them running safely. If your device is obsolete and not being serviced anymore then, you’re going to have to upgrade to a new one.      

Antivirus Software       

When I first started using the internet years ago, security experts scoffed at the idea of purchasing antivirus software. They reasoned, the one provided by Windows or Apple were sufficient enough. However now, since most home business owners share an internet connection with family members, they are changing their tune. Before experts figured if users were responsible, then there would be no need for extra protection. But the reality is children and teens are often not responsible. If they access a shady website in order to download music or look at something naughty, your business will be affected if they inadvertently install malware. And no, Windows and Apple products aren’t the best when it comes to protection, don’t believe me? Check out this Youtube video by PC Security where they test Windows Defender against several different types of ransomware. To make a long story short, it inspired me to upgrade the software on all of my devices.

The most popular antivirus software on the market today are:

  • Kaspersky
  • Bitdefender
  • Norton

Email Hacking 

Recently, I revealed that my email had been hacked twice in the past 15 years and the woman that I was speaking to exclaimed, “Oh, I’ve never been hacked!” which is unbelievable. In fact, it’s a flat out lie, everyone and their mother has been hacked, every social media site, major retailer, banks, and even governments have been hacked. The media often calls them data breaches and that means if you’re employed or do business with any of these types of institutions then you’ve been hacked.   

However, most people associate hacking with viruses and trolling on their personal devices. But the word hacking just means to compromise a device to steal data, corrupt files or commandeer a device. Sadly, you can’t control how companies and governments protect your data which will always make you vulnerable and that’s why you have to be vigilant.        

If you want to know if your email account has been compromised, just head over to: https://haveibeenpwned.com/ and type in all of your email addresses.  

Also, on that same site, you can check to see if your passwords have been stolen. It’s worth finding out.     

What To Do If Your Email Address Has Been Hacked?  

The best thing you can do after you’ve been hacked is to get a new email address. I know the experts say that you only need to change your password which is correct, you should boot out the person and regain control of the account. However, you have to think about the long-term consequences, once your email address is on the dark web, it will be sold to shady marketers (a.k.a. spammers) and other hackers who may try to break into your account again. If this is a business account or official channel of communication, then it’s best to start over.   

That’s because a hacker may use your account or even spoof it to send spam or malware which will get your email address reported and blocked. This is why some people find their emails being sent directly to the spam folder because their email address has been officially blacklisted.

In Closing… 

Before you unplug your modem and swear off the internet, just know there are steps you can take to prevent much of the scenarios I’ve discussed. The odds are in your favor if you are educated and are willing to put in the effort.

I hope you learned something new and if you have a tip to share then let me know in the comments section.  Next week, I move on to part two which involves protecting your network and communicating privately online.

Business, writing, Writing Business

Safety For Writers Part 2: Internet Safety

Image via Pixabay

Last week, I discussed basic internet safety for writers, and this week, I’m going to go a little further into the subject with more tips to help you protect your business and your clients from theft. But before I go on, I need to announce that I am not affiliated with the products and services mentioned in this post. So use them, or don’t use them, I don’t care.

Resetting Your Device

If your device is older or just not working efficiently, then most tech experts recommend resetting the device to the factory default. However, that’s not the only reason to reset a device, if you suspect that your computer or phone has been hacked, you may want to completely reset it to clear any malicious software. I started doing this years ago, and it is rather annoying, because it takes hours but if you value privacy, it’s a necessary step. According to tech guru and Youtuber Rob Braxman, “computers aren’t permanent” and he’s right, we have to change our mindset and go the extra mile if we want to protect our privacy and the privacy of our clients.

Wi-Fi Dangers  

Wi-Fi is a blessing because it makes communication effortless and convenient, however, it can also be a point of entry for hackers. Most home devices are hacked through routers with passwords that are either weak or nonexistent. Also many people working from home share a Wi-Fi connection with family members. If your router is capable, I would recommend trying to create a separate Wi-Fi network for your business devices and don’t mix it up with any personal network. Also, make sure this business network has a strong password that is changed frequently.   

Another tip to protect your online communication is to use a virtual private network or VPN. This type of service encrypts your connection and gives you some protection from prying eyes. VPNs are normally used by people using public Wi-Fi networks in cafes, libraries, or airports and are effective if used correctly. Today, most companies that have employees working from home are insisting they use VPNs. However not all VPNs are created equal, some are free and share your data, while some are just plain slow. It would be wise to learn the ins and outs of VPNs before putting any money down on a service.    

The ideal solution for most business owners would be to use a VPN router which will encrypt your data without the need to remember activating an app. They are a bit more expensive but worth the investment if you work from home and do business online.  However, if you’re going to do this please make sure that you understand how to properly set one up because the NSA has sent out a warning this month about the potential vulnerability of VPNs that are not set up properly.

Browser Danger  

One simple way to protect yourself from prying eyes is to make sure you use a secure browser. Your browser is constantly leaking data such as passwords, email addresses, and possibly even your I.P. address which is why you should never allow your browser to memorize your passwords or login info. Hackers can easily access this info because most browsers don’t encrypt the data.         

Chrome, Edge, and Firefox are the most popular browsers around but they’re not all the same. Chrome and Edge, for example, are both fast and easy to use but not necessarily private. Firefox, on the other hand, gives you some privacy but you have to know how to use the settings and install the right apps to keep people out. Below I list some of the more popular secure browsers:   

⦁ Tor   

⦁ Firefox  

⦁ Brave  

Branding Blindness   

Did you know there’s a prevailing myth that Apple products are safer than Microsoft and Android devices? This of course is false. The reality is Apple products are less likely than others to be hacked because they have a smaller share of the market. Microsoft’s Windows operating system runs on 80% of the world’s PCs. The same goes for Android phones which run on 75% of smartphones. They’re just bigger targets, and no less safe than Apple.    

Still not convinced? In 2013, Apple revealed a new biometric sign in option where users could simply use their fingerprint to log into their iPhone 5s device. Within 48 hours, hackers were able to break into those devices. So much for safety, huh? According to security experts, biometrics are actually worse than passwords because if your device is ever compromised, you can always change a password but you can’t change your face or fingerprints.    

So What Do We Do To Protect Ourselves?     

If you want to prevent a hacker or thief from taking over your device or accessing your online accounts, you do have options. There are encrypted, hardware devices that can be plugged into your computer or phone that offer 2-factor authentication or 2FA. Often called security keys, these products prevent most unauthorized users from gaining access to your devices and online accounts since they are a physical object rather than a traditional phone number or email address which is normally used for two-factor authentication. So if an unauthorized person tries to log into your device or online account even if they have the correct password, they won’t be allowed access, because they still need the physical key.          

Listed below are just a few popular options:         

⦁ YubiKey   

⦁ NitroKey   

⦁ TitanKey    

Stop Syncing Your Devices    

I know this isn’t going to be very unpopular but syncing your devices can make you vulnerable in the event you are hacked or your device is stolen. I understand the love of convenience but if you have a business where your or your client’s data needs protection then syncing isn’t the way to go unless, it’s encrypted.     

Prepare to be Hacked   

Recently, I purchased a computer that runs on Windows 10S and even though they claim to have enhanced security (try not to laugh), they still advise users to store files on their cloud service OneDrive. In fact, most paid anti-virus software also offer cloud storage (for a price) just in case your device is ever compromised. They understand nothing is 100% effective and having a backup plan makes you less likely to suffer any significant losses after a security breach.   

Popular cloud services include:

  • Dropbox
  • GoogleDrive
  • Apple iCloud Drive
  • Amazon Drive

However, the best way to secure your business files is to save them offline to an external hard drive or server that is encrypted or password protected.              

Privacy   

It’s no secret that privacy is a thing of the past for most people. Emails, social media, as well as phone calls, are all being monitored and if your work depends on anonymity, then you will need private ways to communicate. Say you’re a writer who interviews government officials, whistle-blowers, or even criminals, then you need to keep prying eyes away from your work. There are a few apps that offer private, encrypted email services as well as messaging apps and you should definitely know about them.            

Sadly, these email services need to be used between other users for the messages to be 100% encrypted. So if you’re sending your email from an encrypted service like ProtonMail to an Outlook recipient, the email won’t be encrypted let alone private. However, if you’re paranoid or you’re interviewing someone who is, then these services are a Godsend. Here are just a few well-known ones, keep in mind these are all paid services:        

⦁ ProtonMail   

⦁ Tutanota    

⦁ CounterMail   

If you are live messaging a subject or recording footage, you might need something more than encrypted email. Here’s where encrypted messaging apps come to the rescue. Recently, in the U.S., journalists, and protestors have been using these apps to record the Black Lives Matter protests as well instances of police brutality. There is a concern that phones will be taken by law enforcement who may try to either access or delete the content.    

What makes these apps different than typical social media apps is they don’t save your data on their servers so even if someone sues you or law enforcement tries to obtain the data directly from the company, they won’t get anything that identifies you. Here are some of the more popular ones:   

⦁ Signal    

⦁ Briar   

⦁ Matrix   

I didn’t include the popular apps WhatsApp (owned by Facebook), or Snapchat, even though they offer encryption and private messaging because of the numerous scandals surrounding these two companies.   

In Closing…  

I didn’t write this post to alarm anyone, I wrote it to educate writers on how to protect themselves, and their businesses from those wishing to do harm. We’re living in a world that is quickly changing and the old tips and tricks just don’t work anymore. I hope you learned something new and if you have a tip to share then let me know in the comments section. 

Business, Indie Publishing, Inspiration, Life, Marketing, Personal, Publishing, Writing Business

Publishing In 2020: Figuring Out The Next Step

Publishing In 2020_ Figuring Out The Next Step

Pic by juanfer_erazo

The past few months have been a whirlwind for me, I don’t know about you. From COVID-19, toilet paper shortages to lost income, this crisis has me anxious and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Granted, this isn’t my first economic meltdown years ago, when I started writing professionally, the Great Recession hit and wiped out a ton of magazines and newspapers. I, along with many writers had to learn a new way of doing business in the digital age. But we managed and I believe we will succeed again.  However, economic disasters have a tendency to bring along change and I believe this new crisis is definitely going to bring about big changes for indie authors and here are just some of the things that I predict:         

More Publishers Will Fold 

Some traditional publishers still rely heavily on paper books and in November of 2019, Amazon, was already reducing the amount of books it was accepting into its warehouses.  Those publishers who relied on Amazon for the majority of their distribution were thrown into a tizzy.  Now ALL major retailers in the U.S. are reducing their focus on luxury items (yes books are considered luxury items) because of their struggle to maintain essential items in their stores. That means hardback and paperback book sales are going down for everyone.  Those publishers who never focused on digital products will be doomed.  Already, several employees got their pink slips at Harper Macmillan, while the CEO of John Wiley & Son’s, estimates they will lose 50 million dollars in revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis. Though the fourth quarter results aren’t in yet, it doesn’t take a genius to know times are going to be brutal in publishing.   

Authors Will Quit 

Just as in the Great Recession, many authors will struggle and won’t be able to pivot. Even those who were successful may find it difficult to navigate the changes in this current environment. And those who were hoping and praying for a traditional contract may find themselves out of luck.  In fact, if you do get a contract, you may want to hire a good lawyer to look it over because chances are it won’t be the kind of contract that makes the author money.  In fact, I highly recommend authors be wary of traditional contracts after several authors have reported signing six figure contracts and only seeing a pittance of that. Like it or not, it’s the new math of the publishing industry.              

Authors Will Have To Learn New Skills 

Over the past few years, the tech prophets have been preaching about the rise of A.I. and voice technology.  Soon we won’t be using our tablets and phones for entertainment and when that happens everything from blogging to publishing will change.  In fact, we are being warned by marketing experts to start uploading audio and video to our websites in order to make it searchable by the new smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home devices.  This is similar to what happened during mobile revolution 6 years ago, when website owners had to scramble after the Google algorithms began deranking sites that weren’t mobile friendly.  Dubbed Mobilegeddon, many popular websites had to completely redesign their sites just to maintain their ranking in the search engine.  I predict authors will have to learn how to use voice technology for advertising, and general book marketing if they want to remain relevant in the upcoming years.            

Indies Will Have To Become Pennywise  

Experts are warning us that we are not in a recession but a depression which is worse.  That means businesses will have to become lean (frugal) in order to survive.  Sure, you could pay $5,000 for a book cover but is it necessary?  Only you can answer that question. Right now, I would hold off on buying anything unnecessary unless, you had a guarantee of an ROI.   

Authors Must Exploit Their Intellectual Properties  

It’s no secret that billionaire author J.K. Rowling made her money not through publishing books, but through the licensing of her I.P., Rowling, had her Harry Potter books made into movies, toys and an endless amount of merchandise.  She turned her books into multiple streams of income which built her billion-dollar empire.  We indie authors need to get business savvy like our colleagues and start maximizing our work. If we don’t, this new economy may crush us.    

The Competition Will Be Fierce  

In his financial forecast, John Wiley & Son’s CEO announced they were focusing on their digital products like courseware and online education to offset loses.  This means if other publishers focus on their digital products indie authors are going to have to be competitive in price, quality, as well as customer service. Hopefully, you have been working on your brand and already have a relationship with your readers.  If not, now would be the right time to work on that.  The one thing that indie authors have done right over the years is develop their brand. Most indie authors have mailing lists, social media accounts and even beta readers.  Meanwhile, most publishers don’t have any connection to their readers and rarely promote their books.  This might change soon and that’s when the paradigm will shift.  Indie authors may find themselves competing for ad space, social media and even influencer attention. This could drive prices up so high that authors may find themselves shut out of certain opportunities.  Remember work on your brand, if you want to thrive at a time like this.  

There Will Be More Disruptions 

Even if they find a vaccine or therapy for COVID-19, the damage to the economy worldwide has already been done.  People are already losing their jobs after returning from quarantine and it’s being predicted that if a vaccine isn’t found there will be more waves of infections. So just as we are emerging from quarantine, we may have to return if another wave hits.  For those with children, health problems and family members who rely on them, this will be a challenging time financially, as well as emotionally.  I recommend if you have a line of credit or can secure government loans or financial assistance, you may want to start looking into that now BEFORE things get dire.      

There Is Hope 

Before you quit and crawl into a hole, remember if you’ve been slowly building your business, you can ride this out.  Some authors are reporting strong sales because people are stuck at home bored and reading more books. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to go hard on the marketing right now if you have the time and financial resources.  Another approach would be to keep your head down and write more books.   

However, if you are having a difficult time during this uncertain period, you should step back and take care of your own emotional and physical needs first. If your family or community needs you then your responsibility is to them. Your work will always be there when you come back.    

No matter what you decide on, remember you can survive this.  Your career isn’t over, the publishing industry will find a way out of this mess like it always does and life will go on.  Granted, it won’t be anytime soon but we will see better days, and this prediction you can take to the bank.     

Indie Publishing, Publishing, Writing Business

Audiobooks: The Next Indie Frontier

Image via Pixabay

Five years ago, I wrote a post about audio books and I’ve been wanting to write another since there have been so many changes in the past year alone.  When I wrote: Audio Books: What Indie Authors Should Know, producing an audiobook was expensive and time consuming.  Also, there was the fact that there wasn’t any real place to promote them.  In the article I actually said, “there is no BookBub for audiobooks,” but guess what?  That all changed in March of 2019, when BookBub announced their latest newsletter called, Chirp, which promotes limited audiobook sales to readers.  Neat, huh?  However, the feature is still in beta and you’ll have to join a partner  waiting list.     

As if that weren’t enough, Kobo announced their own audiobook subscription service for readers which costs $9.99 per month.  This is lower than Amazon’s Audible’s subscription fee of $14.95 per month.  So for the first time in a long time, Amazon has some competition when it comes to audiobook retail.  This is great for indie authors because the barriers to enter this market are slowly disappearing bringing opportunity to distribute audiobooks farther and wider.  Audiobooks have always been difficult for indies and here are just a few hurdles we’ve faced:    

Problem #1:  Production 

Just a few years ago, you had two choices when producing an audiobook and those were: DIY (Do It Yourself) or go through Amazon’s ACX.  This was because most professional narrators have a fee of around $200 – $400 per hour.  At ACX, they had narrators who were either paid based on a flat fee, or shared a piece of the royalties.  Many authors pressed for cash took the later and hoped for the best.  Today however, indie authors can find reasonably priced narrators (notice how I didn’t say cheap) or find a narrator who will agree to a royalty share at the following places without any exclusivity:      

Problem #2:  Distribution    

If you went through ACX, the terms were exclusive or you paid for expanded distribution with smaller royalties.  Since at the time, ACX was the biggest game in town, most indie authors went in that direction, naturally.  Making money with ACX was hard because you could only sell your books on Audible, Amazon.com or iTunes.  Many indies, myself included, didn’t see the point in even producing an audiobook when distribution was a joke. 

Luckily in 2017, Draft2Digital partnered with Findaway Voices to make audio production and distribution seamless.  So now that ACX has real competition in this arena and indies should be seriously considering getting into the market.  If authors start going elsewhere to produce and distribute their audiobooks, maybe Amazon will be forced to rethink their contracts at ACX.    

Problem #3: Marketing

As I stated in the beginning of the post, just a few years ago, there weren’t any major sales routes for indie authors wanting to advertise their audiobooks.  However, things have improved and now, there are more serious avenues that indies can pursue when promoting their audiobooks.  

For those who don’t have a big advertising budget, there are sites that will review your audiobook and even hold giveaways if you’re interested:

The Reality Of Audiobooks:  Doing The Math

What a lot of indie authors don’t understand is that it takes time to get an ROI on an audiobook.  Despite all of the hype that has been going around the publishing community in the last year, this is a lot of work.  One professional narrator said that authors have to sell about 100 ebooks to make just one audiobook sale.  So this is not a get rich quick scheme, in fact, despite the new opportunities, I would still caution indie authors to set realistic expectations when going into the audio market. 

Another point authors don’t consider is the complexity of a project, for example, some authors commission several narrators to read the female and male characters of their book.  If this is your idea, you’re going to have to pony up more money of course.

So as you can see, audiobooks are not the cash cow that some people are claiming.  I still think audiobooks are worth the investment but only after you’re making consistent sales on your print and ebooks.  I see audiobooks as a more advanced part of an indie author’s career.  This particular game isn’t for rookies because you can easily lose money in this type of project.  Nonetheless, the audio market is evolving after years of stagnation and those indies who are ready could find another potential stream of income and this is always a good thing in our industry.