Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Buying Behavior: What Purchased

I've enjoyed this series of posts this is third in the group and comes directly from questions and feedback on the previous ones. This data comes from PubTrack (the consumer market research arm of Bowker) who recently released their 2010-2011 Book Buying Report. It collected buying behavior from 40,000 unique U.S. book buying men, women, and teens. The sample represents more than 96,000 unique book purchases and 65,000 shopping occasions.

The other two posts are:
A number of commenters asked if this was only for print books or if it included ebook sales as well. Well here is the graph on "what" was bought and the ebooks were a small per percentage of this particular group.

Now of course hardcovers cost a lot of money and ebooks, in general, are a lot less expensive so when working on quantities the numbers look better but still it is a small percentage:

Someone else mentioned a question on genres and I'll post that in the tomorrows post. Any other questions related to this survey?

Book Buying Behavior: Where Purchased

Yesterday, I did a post that used some data from the 2010-2011 PubIt Book Consumer report. A number of comments questioned where the sales from this survey occurred. Well, ask and you shall receive.

To refresh your memory, the report in general comes from PubTrack (the consumer market research arm of Bowker) who recently released their 2010-2011 Book Buying Report. It collected buying behavior from 40,000 unique U.S. book buying men, women, and teens. The sample represents more than 96,000 unique book purchases and 65,000 shopping occasions. Here is what their study said about how where the purchases occurred:

My take on this data:
  • As Ridan's business model is based on E-Commerce purchases, I'm pleased that this venue was the largest percentage of the sales.

  • I'm not sure what "Non Traditional" means. I guess if I had the full report it would explain this category in more detail. I'm going to try and find out.

  • I'm going to be watching the numbers for supermarket, warehouse clubs and mass merchandisers. With the collapse of Borders and the continuing problems at Barnes and Noble I have some concern that if these venues disappear so too will the mid-list shrink. Supermarket, warehouse and mm focus on the big-name cheap paperback books and growth here will be somewhat disturbing for a large number of authors.

  • Large chains were still selling well during this report. It will be VERY interesting to see what this will be in the next report.

  • It will also be interesting to see what happens with Independents as the large chains continue to close stores.
So there you go, all in all I think the survey did a good job of getting a nice "cross section" of book buyers. Any predictions going forward?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Discoverability: Authors responsibility in finding book buyers

As I mentioned there where two aspects at BEA that were talked about over and over again and they were:
  • Author Platform
  • Discoverability
I've contended in many posts in the past that the platform, is not only important, but in today's environment where readers want to connect with their authors, but essential. One look at what Pottermore and you can see the importance of this connection.

Not surprising there was a lot of gnashing of teeth at BEA about author discoverability. Many espoused that bookstores were essential as that is how readers have traditionally found authors – by browsing the shelves. Others pointed out that discoverability becomes more difficult online where hundreds of thousands of books make it impossible for readers to find what they are looking for. They made it sound impossible for an author to be found due to the vast number of competing titles.

PubTrack (the consumer market research arm of Bowker) recently released their 2010-2011 Book Buying Report. It collected buying behavior from 40,000 unique U.S. book buying men, women, and teens. The sample represents more than 96,000 unique book purchases and 65,000 shopping occasions. Here is what their study said about how readers become aware of a book:

What I find most remarkable here is that 33% revolves around author loyalty (liked the author or because it was a series). Co-op placement still plays a fairly large role but not nearly as large as the publishers at BEA seemed to indicate. I’m surprised that Word of mouth (friend/relative recommend) didn’t score higher and that Online avenues such as book reviews and online retailer book recommendations also seemed negligible.

Primary reason, is important but I think the buying decision is rather complicated and actually involves many of the above simultaneously. In marketing I learned that it takes multiple exposures of someone’s product to get them to buy. The first time they hear about it, the information goes in one ear and out the other. After three or four mentions they start paying attention, and by six or nine mentions, they actually decide whether to buy or not. So I suspect that seeing a review on a blog, then hearing from a friend that they liked the book, then finally seeing the book in the “also bought” when cruising Amazon for a new read all contribute.
What this tells me is that there are a few things authors have to focus on.
  • Writing well – word-of-mouth, like the author, part of a series all come into play only if the story is compelling – those three categories add up to 41% which is almost 60% of all the reported methods.

  • Write a series – whether you are doing romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers people like reading series. Think about this carefully before you start a single “one-off” book

  • You need to “make a name for yourself”. Which again harkens back to multiple books and building a platform. The prolific writer has always, and will always, have an advantage over those that write slowly. If it takes you ten years to put out your first book, this may not be the profession for you.

  • If you are published traditionally (sold through book stores) your publisher’s marketing efforts are probably focused on corporate buyers (the people who stock the stores and buy for libraries). If they believe in you enough to give you co-op dollars (providing you a more visible bookstore presence) then you’ll be one of the fortunate few and this should indeed give you a boost.
In many ways, my take away from this is platform and discoverability are directly related. If you work on building your platform, then discoverability becomes as simple as letting your fan base know that a new title is out. If you have a publisher, they can help you with discoverability, but ultimately, you can’t control what they do and don’t do. Successful authors rely on themselves to get noticed. The efforts of your publisher are not under your control and should not be looked upon as the exclusive means of promotion. Think of those activities as nice “value add” but realize that no one cares about the success of your book like you do, and you need to be an active participant to have the best chance at success.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Five Blogs Every Author Should be Reading

Today's post will have to be a quick one as I have TONS of stuff to get done today and it is so easy to get distracted with
For those that have been with my blog for a while you no doubt noticed that it went through a major rework recently. And I've been meaning to point out some aspects about the redesign most notably the Resources Page. I suggest you look at this site from time to time as I'll be adding content that I find relevant here.

Anyway...I wanted to point to a few sites that I read on a regular basis and give you some ideas why.
  • Konrath's blog: Especially important for those who are considering self-publishing. I know many people are put off by Joe's "style". He is opinionated to be sure, but he's also more often than not right. Joe has passion, intelligence, and a ton of experience in the publishing industry and is worth listening to. You may not agree with everything he says (sometimes I don't) but you should at least "hear" his message and decide for yourself. If nothing else, his site is worth visiting for the comments section which brings in great minds from multiple perspectives - I post there often ;-)

  • The Passive Voice: Good for authors in all paths of publishing (self, small, big-six). I don't know who this "man behind the curtain is but he's one smart cookie. While he no longer practices law he's in the process of "collecting" contracts and he dissects various clauses and points out pitfalls. If you are have been given a contract to sign with any publisher - search his entire site and read EVERYTHING he writes on the subject - then take that information into your negotiations. He also stays abreast of recent changes in the publishing industry and I find he has great insight on what changes could signal.

  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch Business Rusch: It's hard to know exactly where to begin here because she has SO MUCH fantastic information and it's well worth the time and effort to read through past posts and try to keep up with future ones. If I had one complaint it is that she sometimes is a bit "long winded" but once you get to the point she's trying to make it is almost always a great one. I would start here and work your way through them. If you're not familiar with her site you'll be thanking me for this advice.

  • Dean Wesley Smith: Interestingly Kristine Rush's husband and I'm sure like Michael and I they spend a lot of time discussing what's going on in the industry. Again a site to look to both going forward and looking back as, like Konrath, Dean has a lot of "real world" experience. He's currently updating his "Killing the Sacred Cows" which is well worth the time. Again I don't agree with everything he says - but you should "listen" and see what resonates for you.

  • David Gaughran: I first met David on the forum "which shall not be named" and saw him as one of the rational voices there. Not surprisingly he's been put through the wringer and has been attacked on several occasions. I applaud his tenacity at "fighting the good fight" especially since some of us can no longer participate. David is new to publishing but is a very quick learner and, like me, is keeping his finger on the pulse of the publishing industry. As I mentioned he is relatively new and doesn't have the experience of say Konrath, Smith, or even myself but the way he is approaching publishing is spot on and I expect to see great things from him.
There you have it. Five blogs that I watch regularly and have learned a ton from. I'm hoping that some will consider mine as a sixth in that category but since you are already here - I suspect you feel the same.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What I believe in...

One of the most rewarding things I get out of doing this blog is the spirit of sharing of great ideas and insight from the people who come here. Today's post comes to you compliments of Suzanne Adair, author of Paper Woman, The Black Smith's Daughter, and Camp Follower, all nicely priced at $3.99 for the kindle. In the comments to one of my recent posts Suzanne pointed me to the a great TED Video by Simon Sinek. For those of you who are not familiar with TED - it is a FANTASTIC site. TED provides, "Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world". I think of TED as better than any MBA program on the face of the planet - and it costs nothing. I encourage you to make a regular practice of viewing a TED video - even if its only once a week.

So below is the video that Suzanne linked to me. It is WELL worth watching - so get a cup of coffee and enjoy it before reading on.

Wasn't that inspirational? That's just a single sampling of TED there's lots more just like where this came from.

Simon's talk and John Locke's book both solidified for me things that I was doing at a subconscious level. They have provided me with "ah-ha" moments and I wanted to take a moment today to share them with you.

It's not bragging, simply stating a fact, that both Michael's writing and Ridan Publishing are doing phenomenally well. While taking the dog for a walk yesterday I was remarking to Michael that I finally got some movement going on Leslie Ann Moore's Griffin's Daughter series (which she truly deserves it as she is a gifted writer). This makes me four for four as Nathan Lowell (Recently #2 Science Fiction Best Seller and poised to cross 10,000 books this month), Marshall Thomas (who sold 17,000 books last month and may crack 20,000 this month), and Michael (who has eclipsed my six-figure salary and made it so I can work on Ridan full time) are making more money than most traditionally published authors.

Recently I've been approached by podcasters and bloggers wanting to interview me and by writing conventions that have asked me to be a guest speaker at their events . Next week I'm going to be interviewed for an article in the Huffington Post. I just signed, Joe Haldeman, a science fiction grand master to bring his classic The Forever War to ebooks and have a number of high profile authors coming to me (one is a thriller writer who received over half a million dollars for a 3-book deal overseas) to publish their books.

Why is all this happening? It's because Ridan is truly doing something revolutionary and to understand what that is I have to tell you a bit about my company. When I wrote the Ridan contract Michael and I sat down and looked at all the things he hated about the AMI contract (his original small press publisher) and threw them out the window. Here are some key points of the Ridan contract.
  • The Author gets 70% Ridan keeps 30%. After all the author spent months or years writing the book - our contributions of editing, layout, cover design, and marketing are not worth 75% - 92% which is what traditional publishers take.

  • We only take rights for what we use - that means ebook and print books. The author maintains all foreign language, movie, graphic novels, merchandising, on and on. Most contracts pay the publisher a percentage of subsidiary rights because they had the brains to see the value in an author's work first and now want a "piece of the action".

  • We don't have an option clause - If you don't know what an option clause it is basically the right to get an exclusive "first crack" at any other books written by the author. While on the surface of things this doesn't hurt to be in a contract, it is also not necessary and puts a limitation on the author that should exist. If the author likes what I'm doing he's going to present me with his next book anyway...why do I need to "contractually require" him to?

  • The author has a voice in marketing decisions such as price, cover design, title, distribution channels, etc. If we can't agree on these things, and Ridan feels that they can't be successful with the book under the conditions the author desires, we simply end the contract and the rights revert to the author.

  • An author is not "required" to perform marketing as a term of the contract. Do we hope that the author will? Sure. Will we do marketing regardless of whether they do? Absolutely. Does this seem strange that I even bring this up? No - most contracts have language that put the publisher in control of the author in this regard. - A topic for another post someday.

  • The authors sole responsibility is to deliver a manuscript and approve the work that is produced. All other aspects of production: editing, cover design, layout, ebook formatting is the responsibility of Ridan and paid for out of our cut.

  • Money flows to the author. Again this should be obvious but there are a lot of "creative" publishing arrangements running around these days that require "investment" by both "interested parties". The authors investment is the time to create the work - period.

  • The contract is for the work we are acquiring only. The author is free to write as many books, in whatever time frame they desire, and put them on the market any way they wish without asking our permission to do so. -- You might think this is a given in any contract but then you've probably not seen some of the standard language - again a topic for another day.

  • Our contracts end. Most publishing contracts have terms of "the life of the copyright which means until 70 years after the author dies". Now most don't last that long as authors go out of print, but with ebooks and POD a publisher can keep an author "in print" indefinitely. All Ridan contracts have a term of three years, although that term is really moot because of the next point.

  • A Ridan author can leave anytime they want. If New York comes knocking, or they think they would be better off self-publishing, or they want to switch to another press. All they have to do is tell me, and I'll take their books off the market and send them a nullification agreement proving the rights are theirs again. (So far no Ridan author has ever asked to make use of this clause).
To say it's an unusual document is an understatement. Only those that have had a publishing contract in the past can truly understand the significance of ours. Yes, I'd call it "author friendly." The Ridan contract is the outward representation of what I believe in...
  • Authors deserve to make a living wage doing what they love

  • An authors contribution to the project is far more valuable then that of the publishers

  • Ridan is more interested in the authors success then their own. They can continue to pursue their dream of "big-six publishing" and if they get called up to the majors we rejoice with them and are glad that we played a part.

  • The publisher should take what they eat and eat what they take (i.e. don't gobble up all the rights just so someone else can't have them)

  • The publisher should be confident in their ability to make a project successful such that they shouldn't be concerned about competition from my author. In fact, if my author puts out other works it will be a win-win as more books = more ambassadors and readers will likely buy both.

  • If the author is dissatisfied with the job the publisher is doing on their behalf, they should have the right to fire them.
So there you have it...Ridan's "why."

Our "how" is through ebooks and print on demand which keeps our costs low and enables us to be profitable almost from day one and produce a product that is competitively priced. We aggressively market our authors, keep abreast of developments in the industry, and adjust in order to maximize author's earning potential within the confines of ensuring that the readers (who make it all possible) receive value.

Our "what" is hours of enjoyment at a fair price by providing engaging books by talented storytellers. We are neither the cheapest nor the most expensive. But select a price that is fair to both the reader and the writer. We'll never put out an inferior product because we value the loyalty of the readers who have come to trust the quality of the talent handpicked by Ridan.

There you have it. My why, how and what. I encourage you to start thinking inside out and what yours are combined with Locke's loyalty marketing its a winning combination.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More proof that publishing is changing....forever!

For those that are not up on the recent J.K. Rowling's announcement about Pottermore here's the video straight from her:

This will be yet another revolution in publishing. To have a site (and here's the important part) that is controlled by the author who has exclusive rights to electronic distribution is MAJOR!!

Rowling's won't have to share distribution fees with Amazon or Barnes and Noble. She'll not have to compete with other books - everyone who comes to the site is there to buy. She'll provide access to intellectual property that no one but she owns. It's brilliant and something that only someone with the clout of Rowlings could pull off but expect to see a lot more of this from authors who receive a popular following.

From a business perspective, she has a lot of partners helping in this and some are big players: Sony, Scholastic, and even Warner Brothers as they apparently own the copyright on the Harry Potter Characters (when did that happen??)

Since the ebooks have never been published I suspect that Scholastic did not have the rights to them. After all the series started when ebooks were still in their infancy and no contracts at that time could have predicted what was to become. But I suspect, that a non-compete clause has prevented her from selling, or releasing for herself the ebooks rights as well. So they were basically in limbo with neither party able to do anything about it.

A press release issued by Scholastic indicates they will be getting a "royalty" from the ebooks published so my guess is Rowlings had to "pay" to get out of the non-compete by offering them a piece of the action. I also noted that all digital rights (including audio) are now in her control so she also probably paid a pretty penny for that but in the long rung well worth it to have complete control of her digital rights.

I'll be watching Pottermore's developments with great interest, it might just be a blue print for others to follow. After watching the video, all I could do was channel Ron Wesley with a awed, "That's bloody brilliant" comment.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Stark Raviing Fans Revisted -- a must read for all authors

A while ago I wrote a post about Stark Raving Fans. While "recommendations" are important in many business: restaurants, lawyers, financial advisers, etc it is especially important for authors. The only thing that will make you a true success as an author is word-of-mouth. You can't make a living wage off of sales generated directly through your marketing efforts. The shear volume of books you have to sell makes it impossible. What you need is to touch a few people deeply enough that they become Stark Raving Fans and let them be ambassadors for your books. It is only after people start recommending your books to their friends and loved ones.

The first step in making Stark Raving Fans is to write a great book. One that when people get done they smile and say to now that was worth reading!

The second step in making Start Raving Fans is to write another great book...and another...and another. It's very hard to make a living off a single book. Once you have Stark Raving Fans they want to read everything you write. They are hungry...they get mad when they see you blogging and not writing. Many people say that the best marketing you can do is write the next book and I agree.

I had a whole bunch of ideas about how to cultivate Stark Raving Fans. I've been mulling them over in my mind trying to determine exactly how to present the material in the best way possible...but then something happened. Someone else did all that I wanted to and more.

Yesterday, John Locke's newest book, "How I Sold 1 Millon ebooks in 5 Months". I bought it because I was curious and was expecting to be highly disappointed. After all, I KNEW how John Locke did it:
  • He wrote a lot of "pretty good books"
  • He priced them at rock bottom prices $0.99
  • He was in the right place at the right time books ready to read in Oct/Nov 2010
So I bought it expecting to see a lot of "rah-rah" about the benefits of $0.99 and being a prolific writer. What I got was a concise, well structured secret for making Stark Raving Fans.

John is going to sell a ton of this how to books. He's going to get rich off of it...and he deserves every penny. The reason he'll make so much money on this books is because he's going to have a ton of people like me, people who are already evangelizing how to make writing for a living possible proclaiming from the mountain tops what I'm going to say now... BUY HIS BOOK! Read it. Follow his advice. If you do, I know you'll be a success.

Reading it you can see the genius that is John and that his rise to fame is not, as Joe Konrath might suggest, because he got "lucky". It's also not because of my original assumption that he wrote a ton of good books and priced them at $0.99. It is because he understand the concept of Stark Raving Fans and has a developed a technique to find and grow them.

You'll see at the core of John's "system" is writing blogs that showcase you as a writer. That gives a piece of yourself to your readers. To touch people...make them like you...make them want to help you make a success. John gives a few examples and as I read them I couldn't help but notice that many of Michael's blogs fall into that category. He was following John's system without evening knowing that such a system existed.

I'm going to give you a homework assignment...
  1. Read John's book (it is short and easy to get through)
  2. Read these two blogs by Michael
  3. Write your own blog (take your time - take several days)
  4. Post me a link

I'm going to collect and post all the links. Then ask each of you to do one more thing to complete your homework assignment. Choose one of the posts that you liked the best and tweet share it with your own followers.

Here are my first submissions:
Now go. Do yourself a favor and if you learn nothing else from this blog take to heart the importance of creating Stark Raving Fans and listen to John who said it better than I ever could.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


It's a bit ironic that I came across Katheyrn Rusch's articles on negotiation last night since I finally concluded negotiations with Michael's big-six contract about a week ago. The process was an excruciating one which had me in moments of great despair on several occasions because I saw tremendous potential but was pretty sure all my efforts were an exercise in futility.

At the heart of the matter was "industry standard" clauses that most authors don't blink at but scared me to death as they could have substantial impact on Michael's income and potentially destroy his writing career as a whole. Let me make it perfectly clear that I don't think Michael's publisher is evil or trying to destroy him. They are doing is trying to protect their interests. After all they are making a HUGE investment in Michael's writing and they want to provide safeguards that they have as much control as possible. Control = power = maximum flexibility.

The problem is that Michael abhors being controlled. Yes, I know you can say that of just about anyone but Michael takes it to an extreme. When you combine that fact with a large corporate infrastructure that doesn't like changing standard language that hundreds of authors have agreed to...well you can see why I thought it was an exercise in futility.

The chasm between the two positions was monumental and after 3 months and I'm sure some significant hair loss from Michael's agent we've finally reached an agreement that can be signed. I feel bad for Michael's agent. She understood on an intellectual level our desires, but also knows "how the business works" and what was completely off the table.

So getting back to my point of today's post...Negotiation. I'm pretty happy with how it all came out in the end, but like making sausages, you really don't want to see what goes on behind the scenes as it is not very pretty. I found that when reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's advice I did exactly what she mentioned, although I didn't know that at the time. So the interest of not having others having to stumble their way through it here is what she said that I found to be sage words of wisdom. You can read the whole post here. But in summary the six important things to remember are:
  1. Know What You Want.
  2. Ask
  3. Be Prepared to Walk Away.
  4. Stay Calm.
  5. Never Reveal Your Entire Hand.
  6. Don’t Flip-Flop.
Kathryn has five more posts on negotiation which I have not read but if any of them are half as good as the first one then they should be highly recommended. I'll be reading and commenting on them in a future post.

Sunshine Deals and Amazon Million Club

As you all can see I'm extremely busy at the moment, and hence not posting. But one of the things I've been doing is analyzing data from the Sunshine Deals (600+ low priced books that ran during the first half of this month. I'll be posting a full analysis at some point but here are some quick notes:
  • The promotion was a huge success for the participating publishers - 24 titles went from relative obscurity to breaking the top 100

  • The Sunshine Deals completely changed the make up of the Top 100 as a whole. Usually there are a number of slots occupied by games and periodicals but during the promotion 98% were books. The ratio restored directly after the promotion ended.

  • Indie staples were displaced. John Locke typically had 6 -8 titles in the top 100 but all were displaced during the promotion as readers flocked to buy the newly reduced books. The promotion kicked all 10 of John Locke's titles out of the top 100 and none of them have returned (though his new "how I sold 1 million copies is #3 on the Movers and Shakers list (was 18,039 yesterday and is 51 today) Amanda Hocking's books were pretty much "out of" the top 100 when the promotion hit and is showing similar rankings as Locke (around 105 - 500)

  • The number of Sunshine titles on the list since the promotion (25, 21, 8, 7, 6, 6)

  • The ratio of Sunshine by price was: 10 - $0.99, 7-$1.99, 7- $2.99 (42%, 29%, 29%)

  • Directly after the promotion all books restored to their original price: 2 - under $5, 10 - $5.01 - $8.99, 12 - $9.00-$9.99 (8%, 42%, 50%)

  • 5 days after the end of the promotion 33% of titles reduced their price (1 - $0.99, 3-$1.99, 1-$2.99, 3- $7.69-$9.34)
I'll be doing a more complete accounting later - but this gives you some data to mull over in the meantime.

It was announced today that John Locke became the first indie to reach the 1,000,000 sales mark. He's only the 9th author to do this. I'm going to be reading his book on the subject and blogging about it here - But the secret isn't that hard - write a ton of good books and price them all at $0.99 ;-) Personally I think he left a ton of money on the table and should have raised the price on some of his books but that's just my opinion.

Authors in the 1,000,000+ club:
  • Stieg Larsson
  • James Patterson
  • Nora Roberts
  • Charlaine Harris
  • Lee Child
  • Suzanne Collins
  • Michael Connelly
  • John Locke

Well that's all for now - as I said I'm very busy at the moment but I wanted to get out a quick post.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Looking at the Publishing Industry

Last night I was a guest on Dead Robots Podcast where I talked about the recent changes in the publishing industry. In particular some of the things I covered:
  • Observations from BEA (Book Expo America)
  • Amazon's recent moves into the publishing
  • The digitization of books providing for more titles to be released
  • Banning at Absolute Write
  • How author's passions work against them from a business perspective
  • Major authors approaching Ridan for publication
  • Changes in contracts due to new opportunities for authors
  • Building a platform through social networking done correctly
I love doing Podcasts as it is SO much faster than typing up blog posts. The time flew by and we only scratched the surface so they are going to have me back in two weeks. Between now and then, Dead Robots is going to be collecting questions to ask me during the next session. So if you have questions or are interested in my opinions on anything publishing related - leave a comment or send an email to: show@deadrobotssocie​ and I'll be back on June 30th to answer them.

One more announcement, for those in and around the Washington DC area, my next seminar on Marketing your Book will be held at the Arlington Public Library (short walk from the Balston Metro on the Orange line) on July 9th at 2:00 pm. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Marketing Tip: bitly - A great tool for tracking interest

I'm really rushed today, but I wanted to get a quick post out. In my re-worked portion of the site is a "Resources Tab". I'll be going over each of these resources in the future but for today I want to discuss one that I can do quickly.....bitly.

This site does two things:
  • Takes a long URL and makes it shorter
  • Tracks clicks to that shortened URL
I suggest that every time you make a link and in particular:
  • When tweeting
  • As a signature in a blog comment
  • As a signature in a forum
That you first make it a bitly link.

It's very simple to use, and like most great things on the Internet is 100% free. Basically you paste your long URL in a box - and it returns you a short URL. As people click on the link, bitly records this information. By watching bitly hits you can see who is interested in what topics.

As I mentioned, I'm rushed today so I'll post on the kinds of results you get from using bitly in a future post. But for now, do the following:
  1. Sign up for bitly.
  2. Take the URL for this post and make a bitly out of it.
  3. Tweet about this post and include the bitly link.
I'll report back in a few days what the results were.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stark Raving Fans

I’m a stark raving fan of Spokes Bike Shop in Vienna, VA. If you ever in the need for anything biking related and are even within 20 miles of Vienna – stop by this shop. After just one visit you’ll know why I feel this way. Why am I blogging about this? Because I want each of you to think about what you can do to make those who read your books stark raving fans. That is after all, the only way a book succeeds…it’s called word of mouth and it is the only true path to success.

I want to share my most recent experience at Spokes. On Friday afternoon, Michael and I were traveling by bike to Washington D.C. to the Sculpture Garden of the American History of Art. Each Friday, they have Jazz concerts there and you set under the trees near a fountain, listening to music and munching on whatever snacks you bring and have some drinks (They have great Sangria there). On my way I was hit by a car. All in all it could have been much worse. It’s only Monday and I’m already “mostly recovered” – I think I bruised a rib which has been the biggest discomfort, but most of it was just a lot of bruising and scrapes and road burn etc.

While I was in pretty good shape, the same could not be said about my bike. The front wheel no longer resembled anything circular or in a single plane, the chain derailer rubbed against the gears. The brakes were at a 45 degree angle, the handle bars were pointed in the wrong direction and the back tire was out of alignment. I was mentally calculating the costs, but more disappointed about the potential “downtime” as I figured t would take a week or two to bring the bike back to the living.

We hopped on the Metro, and Michael rode home to bring the car and we carried the bike to Vienna. I walked back to the service area where three technicians were working on other bikes and just watching them I could see the degree of skill in how they practiced their craft. When I showed up, battered as I was they were immediately interested in how I was doing. I asked if they rented bikes, so I could have a loaner while they worked on mine and while they did not, one of them immediately took the mangled wheel I was holding and went to work removing the tube/tire and putting it on a replacement. When Michael showed up a few minutes later, another technician put it up and started examining the other damage.

I had a phone call with an author scheduled for 4:00 so I went outside to discuss that with them and in short order Michael came out of the store with my fully restored bike. I steadied myself as I asked the question I dreaded…well how much? Michael laughed…he told me the new wheel rim was $44 and as for the labor…they gave him a long list of things they did and then told him it was on the house. I had bought the bike from the store only a few months earlier and they felt bad that I had gotten hurt.

The moral of this story is I’ll be a customer with them for life and what’s even more important…I felt this way even before this incident. I felt this way because every interaction I had with them was one of professionalism (employing the highest skill in their work) , a true interest in what they did (they are bike enthusiasts), a genuine concern for me (helping me pick a bike based on my biking habits). I’ve never found ANYONE there that is just “going through the motions”.

I’ll write a bit in the future about techniques I’ve used to help make stark raving fans. But I wanted to get this out today so you all could share some of your insights and experiences that I could incorporate into the next post on the subject. And as I said…if you’re near Vienna VA and need anything bike related – please be sure and stop by. You’ll be glad you did.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Role of the Author in New Publishing

The two "big" things at BEA this year (well besides all the announcements about Amazon's move to publishing and the two big bombs of Larry Kirshbaum being brought in and Barry Eisler signing with their Thomas and Mercer line.) were

  • Discoverability
  • Author Platform

I'll talk more about the first in a future post but I wanted to talk a bit today about Author Platform. Let's start at the beginning..what actually is it? I did a quick Google search and found this.

The author platform is how you are currently reaching an audience of book-buying people, or how you plan to do so. It is your influence, your ability to sell to your market.

If you are self-publishing then the need to create and build a platform is obvious, after all you are a one man/woman business and you are responsible for everything from start to end. For those that are either pursuing or have a publisher don't think you're off the hook.

I hear the following all the time from writers:

  • I don't want to market my book...I want to write. I'm not good at sales and it makes me uncomfortable

  • Marketing is the responsibility of my publisher. That's why I didn't self-publish
Let’s dispel some myths. First off ALL authors, regardless of how they are published need to help get the word out about themselves and their writing. Publisher’s marketing plans are not about getting readers – it’s focused on wooing corporate buyers and acquisition librarians to get your books into brick and mortar venues. They work on getting your book “available” so it can be discovered. Yes, they’ll send out ARC’s and maybe setup signings, but once again that is more about working on “influencers” they aren’t equipped for selling one-on-one to individual consumers. (More on this in a future post).

For those pursuing a publisher, a platform is a huge bargaining chip. There are some agents that look at platform first, and others who won’t consider an author without one. When an intern at Ridan Publishing brought Nathan Lowell to my attention, I went out to and saw he had an extensive platform of followers. As a businesswoman I was immediately interested. After I listened to the podcast of his Quarter Share there was no question I wanted to sign him.

Historically, publishing contracts are very weighted toward the publisher. I’ve been shocked by some of the clauses that friends of mine have signed. When confronted, they all say the same thing, “It was the best I could get, they held all the cards.” If you have a platform you have power that can be leveraged to swing the pendulum to a more author friendly partnership.

In today’s publishing environment, writing a good book is not enough. We live in a digital age and readers love, and expect, to connect with authors. This is a good thing. You want “stark raving fans” (More on this in another post). It is now a requirement of the profession and if you are not willing to participate then you’re chance of success will take a substantial hit. It’s like being a salesman that sells high priced products not being interested in playing golf or having drinks with clients. Can he sell without doing this? Probably? Is it expected that he’ll do these things? Yes. Will others that do wine and time the client sell better? On average they will.

I’ll talk more in future posts about how you go about building your platform but here are some teasers to get you started.
  • Everyone starts from a platform of none. It takes time to build, it won’t happen overnight so don’t be discouraged if you have none now.

  • Don’t think of building a platform as selling. Think of it as making connections and helping others. It’s about being a member of a community.

  • Successful platforms are built on reciprocality—Give and you shall receive. The more generous you are toward others, the more people will gravitate to you.

  • Platform building is like laundry. If you do it a little at the time you’ll be less likely to be overwhelmed.

That’s it for today. I need to get back to editing. But I’m trying to keep the posts frequent as it seems as though you guys are getting something out of them.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Scarcity vs Abundance in Book Publishing

About four of five years ago, I remember being on a forum about publishing and the poster was making the statement that what we need is less not more books. The person's basic premise was that the quality of books were continuing to decrease because the publishers were not being selective enough. This person had once been a published author, who had subsequently gone out of print, and now spent his time reading the slush pile at some publishing house.

I personally found that opinion rather counterproductive to someone who was making their living off of the business of selling books. I held the opposite opinion and felt what we needed was MORE books and that many good ones were being passed over because there were only so many open slots that were available through a relatively small number of publisher's finite capacity. Of course that was all before the ebook revolution.

With the advances in technology (Print on Demand and ebooks) the ability to put out more books has exploded. During the Gaithersburg Book Festival a panel of publishing professionals was discussing the Future of the book. Jed Lyons noted that a trend of selling less copies of more titles was changing the nature of publishing. He cited the following statistics: (04:25 in the video found here).
  • Ten years ago 50,000 books were published per year
  • Five years ago 180,000 books were published per year
  • Last year there were 1,000,000 books published
  • There are now more than 17,000 publishers
I see this as a great thing as the more opportunities to get your books out there is ultimately good for writers.

As progressive as I have been in my own publishing company, I found that even myself, fell into a trapping that many publishers do, which is limiting the output of authors. When I first started putting out Michael's books, I planned for them to be released one every six-months. My thought process was to have an event that would trigger a "shot in the arm" for sales that would help reverse a decline that was started to appear at this time as the initial bubble of sales started to slow down.

I've now changed my opinion on that front and believe that books should be released as quickly as possible. I think it was John Locke (ebook best seller) who mentioned that each book was like a sales agent who went out into the world on an evangelic mission to bring readers to the author's body of work and that makes a lot of sense to me.

But the shift from scarcity to abundance will have major repercussions to the publishing industry and authors ability to make a living writing. In an article entitled Scarcity to Abundance: E-books and the pain of the Digital Revolution, Steven Lyle Jordon says:

The state of our world, after the full adoption of the Digital Revolution, will likely be as unrecognizable to those of us alive today as the Industrial Revolution would have been to the farmers of the fifteenth century.
And I think he's correct. One of the last posts I was commenting on before being banned from Absolute Write was with a poster who actually made the following statements:

I also think your "new model" and "old model" is pretty indicative of exactly the type of thinking I find a little faulty in the first place. I'm sure you'll disagree with me on this, but the model is changing and it's a lot more amorphous than that. We saw tape players turn to cds turn to mp3s and there was no major collapse of the record industry.

Truth be told, my own thought is that I expect there to continue to be paradigm shifts in self-publishing, with commercial remaining largely the same.
Seriously? How deep is the hole that those clinging to traditional publishing models live in? We are not talking about a mere "change in format". Nor a trend that only effects self-published authors. What we are seeing is a whole new publishing paradigmn. Here are some comments from my rebutal that I think bears repeating:

If you believe this is about a new format than you are missing the importance of the monumental shifts.

a) Authors selling in the tens and hundreds of thousands without publishers

b) The collapse of bookstore chains

c) A required shift of marketing from chain store buyers to individual readers

d) infinite shelf space of online buying

e) the re-introduction of hundreds of thousands of out of print titles that can now be reintroduced into the market place

f) A huge proliferation of titles (ten years ago 50,000 titles a year were released last year there were 1,000,000 (Source)

g) long tail economics as books can remain "in print" forever through POD and ebooks

h) an end to publisher monopolies as a sole gatekeeper to getting a book to market.

i) a new publishing model (Thomas and Mercer) where a major publisher has access not only to consumer emails but also their buying habits.
The toothpaste is out of the tube and there is no going back. From this point on the number of books will continue to proliferate at an unprecedented speed. I think this will offer both opportunity and challenges, but putting your head in the sand and ignoring that it has occurred is definitely not the correct approach.