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

Publishing In 2020: Figuring Out The Next Step

Image via 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 Property

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.     

apps, Book Promotion, Marketing, writing

Chatbots: How Authors Are Using Them For Marketing And More!

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Image via Pixabay

In the past three years, a new type of book marketing has emerged using internet bots which has indie authors buzzing.  Now bots have been around for years, but they were only available to those who understood coding or had deep pockets to hire someone else who did.   Today,  I want to explain the possibilities as well as the pitfalls of this new marketing tool.  But before we move on, let me explain what a bot is…

According to Techopedia, an internet bot is piece of software that is programmed to do automated tasks on the internet. This can include things like; answering questions, collecting data, selling products, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.  In an article from the Atlantic, it was estimated that more than half of all internet traffic now consists of bots.  So you’ve most likely encounter one either on social media or at a major retailer’s site.  Internet bots can be a life saver for small businesses, because they save both time and money.  Imagine having a bot greet a person who just signed up for your email list right on your website, or who answers questions on social media.  Now let’s take it a step further, image a bot conducting a giveaway or doing deep research on your behalf.  Neat, huh?  Well that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this type of technology.

The Publishing Industry Is Already Onboard

Last year, Harper Collins launched its own Epicreads chatbot for teens on  Facebook Messenger, they also have another bot called, Book Genie both bots offer book suggestions to readers.

 

Epic Reads Bot
Epic Reads Chatbot

 

The traditional publishers aren’t the only ones getting onboard with social media bots, indie author Nick Stephenson, has a bot of his own on Messenger as well.  His bot alerts you to new articles and free video training.

On the Self-Publishing Formula podcast, host James Blatch spoke with indie author Kerry Gardiner, who gave examples of how authors are using bots in order to;

  • Build up their email lists
  • Increase their social media following
  • Ask for reviews
  • Create choose your adventures for readers

She has a bot of her own which she created for her website called, BookBotBob.  On the site readers choose whether they want a free or discounted book.  Once the choice is made, the bot eventually moves the conversation over to Facebook Messenger.

Kerrys Book Bot
BookBotBob Chatbot

Kerry also has a course in which she teaches indie authors the in’s and out’s of creating a bot for Messenger.  (Not affiliated.)

The Pitfalls of Automating Your Marketing: A Warning

There are numerous stories of people who have used bots to automate their marketing and failed miserably.  The results include situations where bots spouted inappropriate gibberish at random people, to bots that got social media accounts deactivated for violating terms of service.  Remember, before creating your bot for a social media site learn about the rules because bots need to be approved before they can deployed on any site.  For example, did you know that on Facebook Messenger, promotional content is allowed for standard messaging but not allowed for subscription messaging?  Strange, huh?  To learn more, check out more about Facebook’s rules and regulations for developers here.

How To Create Your Own DIY Bot

Believe it or not, it’s not that hard to learn how to create a bot, because these days you don’t even have to know how to code to do it.  There are several services also that will allow you to create a basic bot for free (restrictions apply).  The service that lots indie authors are going gaga over is ManyChat because it’s a free site and easy to use.

Here are just a small list of resources which can help you to design your own bot:

If You’re Not Technically Inclined

If you aren’t technically gifted, you can always find someone to do the job for you.  Below, I’ve list several websites where you can find a freelance chatbot developer.

Final Thoughts

Marketing experts believe that bots are here to stay but there are others who believe that AI devices like voice assistants are the future, and will make bots obsolete very soon.  Personally, I can’t say what the future holds but if bots can help make our lives easier now then why not use them?  They are much cheaper than hiring an assistant and they don’t need rest nor do they give you (the boss), attitude.  If you’re an overwhelmed author who can’t find the time for things like social media or email marketing then bots may be the answer for you.

 

 

Business, Publishing, writing, Writing Business

Should Indie Authors Write According To The Trends?

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Image Via Pixabay

 

It’s controversial advice that’s been given to authors since nearly the beginning of the printing press, and that is to write according to the trends.  Most authors scoff at the idea citing that by the time they write this trendy story, and publish it, the trend will be over.  Sadly, they’re mistaken, it’s traditional authors who are restricted by the time constraints of corporate publishing.  Indie authors are flexible and have time on their side, if we don’t catch the first wave, we can always catch the next.

Besides trends are usually patterns, patterns that have repeated themselves over and over since the days of the Greek bards and campfires.  Let me show you…

Trendy or Familiar?

The first modern romance novel made its debut in 1740, it was called Pamela, by Samuel Richardson.  Since that time the story has been retold by generations of authors such as Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, Daphne du Maurier and even E.L. James.  But why?  Why do authors keep writing the same story and more importantly, why do readers keep reading those stories?  The prevailing theory is that the reader is trying to recreate or recapture a feeling.  That makes sense because according to Psychology Today: “When evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features, objective facts).”  This means readers gravitate towards the familiar but is that really a surprise?  If a certain book made you feel good about yourself or the world around you, why wouldn’t you want to repeat that experience over and over again?

Trends aren’t new to the publishing industry in fact, there are people who get paid big money to predict them.  There are patterns in every market whether it be real-estate, tech, or retail but if you are observant enough you can predict them too.

Everything Has Been Done Before—Everything!

Think your work is original?  Hardly, just ask any agent or editor who reads unpublished manuscripts for a living and they’ll tell you nothing is original.  They’ve seen werewolf billionaire erotica and even self-help books on sex in the afterlife.  Your book is probably not going to shock anyone let alone, surprise them.  Besides, they’re really not looking for originality, they’re looking for profitability.

Trendy or Cyclical?

Since the days of Homer and the Bible, salacious stories have been the norm in human literature.  E.L. James wasn’t the first to write about BDS&M try the Marquis De Sade or Anne Desclos.  Think thrillers are a bit too violent and filled with sex these days then, try the Iliad or the Cypria.

I’ll break this down even further: In 1990, vampires became huge when a series of Anne Rice’s novel Interview With A Vampire went to the big screen.  Then two of the biggest stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, were cast as the lead characters and the movie made a fortune so a few years later Queen of the Damned, was released.  History went on to repeat itself in 2008, when Stephanie Meyer’s vampire novel Twilight, was release and made into a series of movies as well.

Around that same time in the 90’s several of Danielle Steel’s romance novels ruled the bestsellers list and were eventually made into television movies.  Today, Nicolas Sparks and Nora Roberts, are enjoying that same success in the 21st century.  Noticing the cycle here?

Here is a small list of the genres that become trendy over and over again.

  • Romance
  • Erotica
  • Horror
  • Sci-Fi
  • Thrillers

How Authors Can Use Trends To Their Advantage

If you’ve already published an erotic novel and that genre becomes trendy again, you could relaunch with a new cover and maybe even a new title.  Your book doesn’t have to be brand new, many indie authors have relaunched books from their back catalog and found great success.  Why not cash in on a trend when the opportunity strikes?

Another thing to consider is to anticipate reoccurring trends, we all know that vampires will eventually come back.  Ever since Bram Stoker published his novel Dracula, in 1897, they have been making their rounds.  The same goes with romance novels that feature rich men and virtuous (virgin) women, remember Pamela?  Sure these books get modernized but the basic elements are always there because the publishing industry won’t mess with a sure thing.        

A Final Thought

I believe authors recoil at trends because of the notion of selling-out but there is no such thing in the business world.  Remember as an indie author you are a publisher and you need to understand the industry or suffer the consequences.  Every year millions of people start businesses all over the world and most of them fail.  Don’t be that business, take advantage of all of the opportunities that present themselves.  Don’t be shy and don’t apologize for making money with your art.  *Stepping off soapbox*

Life

Why I Still Apologize to My Parents for Being a Writer

Writing Books
Photo by Dullhunk via Flickr

Occasionally, I am forced to question my life and all the decisions I’ve ever made and after reading this disappointing article about the plight of authors in the U.K., I was ready to throw in the towel.  I’m just not cut out to be the next James Patterson or J.K. Rowling, I can’t mass produce (or pretend to mass produce in the case of James) books.  Noticing I was having a crisis, my mother did what any reasonable person would, she encouraged me to call my aunt who was an H.R. specialist about any openings at her company.  See, problem solved.

Just the idea of lying, I mean, exaggerating my way through another interview was not an option.  My last job interview ended in disaster, when I was asked by the HR manager what my dream job was, and I answered: writer.  P.S.  I was applying for an admin job.

Instead of arguing with my parents, I have learned to just apologize.  It saves time.  Here are just some of the things I have to apologize for…

Reason #1:  I Walked Away from a Good Okay Job

I’ll never forget the look on everyone’s face when I announced I was going to be a writer.  The forced smiles and the crack in my mother’s voice when she asked, “So who you gonna write for?”  When I told them I was going to start freelancing, those smiles became even more strained.

You see, when I was 17, I thought I wanted to write and even took a few adult writing classes but was told it was impossible to make a living as an author.  So, after high school, I took computer classes (to everyone’s relief) and learned everything you could about Microsoft products.

P.S. I never bothered showing up on graduation day.

P.S.S. I still couldn’t find work even with my new skills. Apparently, you need to have 5 years of experience to get an entry level job.  Funny, they never mentioned that in school!

I wound up getting a crappy office job making $1 more than the people at McDonald’s.  Whenever I would complain, my dad would say, “Well, it’s better than nothing!”  But in actuality, if I had just crunched the numbers, I would have discovered that I’d been better off on unemployment.  At least then, I could’ve had 24hrs I needed to build my business and would’ve been paid by the government to do it!

Reason #2:  I Can’t Even Sell My Own Book!

Not long ago, I found myself telling someone not to buy my book even though that person was my target audience.  Keep in mind, I’ve created online ads, done book tours, and even did interviews but I just can’t bring myself to scream, “Buy my book!” at unsuspecting people like a crazy old bag lady.

Reason 3:  I’ll Probably End up on Government Assistance 

Recently, on Facebook the question was asked, “What one piece of advice do you wish someone had shared with you before you started to write?”  Answers included things like:

1.     “Don’t do it for the money”

2.     “Run!”

3.     “Don’t quit your day job”

4.     “Have a backup plan career wise.”

Notice how it was all money related?  Even authors who were doing well decades ago, are having a hard time making money these days.  With no advances, small royalties, and no control, traditional publishing is becoming an impossible environment.  Back in the day, authors were selected and groomed for the industry but now, I face the same mentality I did during the recession, which is: “What have you done (sold) already?”

Reason #4:  I Talk Like I’m Crazy!

This past summer I was interviewed on a podcast where we discussed character development and intuitive writing.  The host asked, “Did you ever have one of your characters just take over?”  Me being me, answered, “Of course, sometimes I have to fight with them.”

Yeah, nobody will use that one against me in a mental competency trial!

In Closing…

There’s plenty more I need to apologize for like blogging when I should be working on my novel.  However, the fact of the matter is, I’m not sorry, never was.  If this turns out to be some silly pipe dream then I’m okay with it.  The biggest crime any dreamer can commit is wasting time, whether it be in a cubicle in corporate America, or in relationship that’s long dead.  Forbes did an article called 25 Biggest Regrets in Life and most of the people surveyed regretted not trying things that really matter to them.

Granted, no one wants be Don Quixote who comically fought the windmill, but don’t forget, he originally set out to restore chivalry.  Yearning for the days of knights, damsels and dragons he left it all behind to search for something he felt was lost.  And like Don Quixote, we all long to be something more, right?

So back to you, what are you apologizing for?

Business, Publishing

The Argument for Spending Money Part 5: Book Covers for Indie Authors

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Photo via Pixabay

It’s one of the biggest mistakes I made as an indie author, and I’m not the only one.  Many self-published authors design their own covers in PowerPoint or Adobe PhotoShop and guess what?  It looks like it!  There are so many indie books look God awful!  Today there are several sites dedicated to mocking lousy book covers by both indies and trade publishers.

The cover of your book is too important to leave up to personal taste.  For example, when my favorite blogger came out with a book, I was stunned when I saw their cover.  It was literally a rainbow of purple, I immediately thought, how can I take this book seriously?

Your cover is literally going to be the first impression that readers get of you.  It needs to be professional, as well as eye catching in order to compete with the millions of other books out there.  You have to understand readers spend literally seconds deciding whether they’ll bother clicking on your book.  The cover you chose with either draw them in, or repel them.

Money Issues

The reason why I and most indie authors choose to design our own covers is lack of cash.  Many designers charge hundreds, if not, thousands for their services and they deserve that kind of money.  Sadly, we indies can’t afford those prices unless we bleed our retirement accounts dry, or max out our credit cards. But never fear, there are ways to get cheap book covers that are professional and gorgeous.

Project Bidding Sites:  Freelance Designers

Here’s how it works, you launch a “contest” or project telling the potential designers what you want in a cover.  You can even submit a sketch or photo to give them a better feel of what you need.  The designers then jockey for your project by submitting their work.  It generally costs $299 for a book cover.

99 Designs is one of the most popular and well known cover designers to indie authors.  They create not only book covers, but business cards, t-shirts, and even web page banners.

Similar sites where you can hire freelance designers are; Elance, Odesk, and Guru.  You post a job, and freelancers from all over the world will then bid on your project.  At these sites, freelancers are paid by the hour or per project.  You either have to set a budget or agree to someone’s per hour rate by coughing up the cash and putting it in “escrow” as a sign of good faith.  There may also be fees to post on the site, contracts that you have to sign and 10-99 tax forms.

Direct Hire:

There are agencies either ran independently or consisting of several book designers that can help indie authors with their covers.  Some create unique art while others use stock images that they’ve altered according to the theme of a book or the specifications of the author.

  • The Scarlett Rugers Book Design Agency uses royalty free stock photos and does ebook, print and can even design banners for Facebook, or your website from $350 to $1095.
  • Robin Ludwig Design (GoBookCoverDesign.com) creates book covers using stock photos as well, prices here range from $80 to $120 depending on the time and turnaround.
  • ExpertSubject.com offers unique book covers starting at $150 and going up to $224 for print.
  • Indie Designz that provides basic book covers at $75.  They also do print covers and format ebook covers for print as well.  The first two drafts are free but those afterward, will cost you $5.

Premade Covers:

It’s just what it sounds like, here authors purchase book covers based on work already completed by a designer.  Here what you see is what you get, after the purchase it’s up to the author to add text, and font.

If You Must do it Yourself!

I know some of you are thinking, “Why should I pay someone to format a stock photo?  I can do that myself!”  Really?  That’s what I thought too!  But if you are determined to do it, read on…

 Stock Photos/Art:  Licensing

When purchasing a stock photo or illustration, you are purchasing a license to put an image on your product.  The image will still be available for sale on the site, leaving open the possibility for a copy cat cover popping up somewhere else.  However don’t fret, many big publishers also buy stock photos for their ebooks, just check out this Goodreads thread and see for yourself.

It’s so common in fact, that blogger Danielle Perez, of Book Whore has a monthly feature called Cover Wars it’s like a who wore it best, only with book covers.

The Perils of Stock Images: Terms of Use

It’s imperative that an indie author reads the conditions in the licensing terms very carefully before putting down any cash.  Not all images are being licensed the same way.  For example, an editorial license may forbid you from altering an image.  Also, there are licenses that limit the amount of times you can print an image.  If the restriction is 5,000 then you’ll have to go back and purchase a new license if you sell over 5,000 print books.

Too Good to be True Prices

Be weary of prices, I’ve seen pictures advertised as .20 cents but you have to buy “credits” on these sites which come in packages ranging from $9.00 to $1,000.  So that .20 cent photo is really gonna cost you $8.80.  Go figure!

You can buy all sorts of images like; cartoons, art, and even photos from these sites:

Book Covers on a Shoe String Budget: Freebies

There are photo sharing sites that allow you to use a photo free of charge because it’s either a public domain work, or the owner wants free publicity, which means you gotta give them or their company credit somewhere in your book.  Again, read the conditions carefully!

Jazzing Up Your Stock Image: Software

There are all kinds of software that help you edit photos Windows for example has Paint and it’s standard with most home versions of Windows.  Also, there’s the standard Adobe PhotoShop and even Corel PaintShop, but if you don’t have these programs, you can always get the same photo editing capabilities for free.

Free Downloadable Software:

There are plenty of places that offer free software but you have to be careful about updates and read their privacy terms.

Free Websites:

I’m a huge fan of these websites because they’re user friendly and there’s no software taking up space on your hard drive.  Here you just upload your photos and alter them on the website itself.  No fuss, no muss.

One Final Word…

I hope I showed you that you don’t need a ton of money to have a professional and gorgeous book cover.  If you know of an indie author who needs to read this, please pass this along.  Maybe one day, we’ll be able to put that “self-published look” to rest.

Now it’s your turn to sound off, do you know of any designers/artists that we should know about?  If so, give us a heads up and a link to their site.