Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Backstory: Four Tips for Writers

image from nomapnomad.com

Author Chris Abani says writers could avoid a good many problems if they applied some simple math to their works-in-progress: Identify which parts are in present time and which are backstory. Cut all the backstory. Then add enough back to achieve a ratio of 70 percent present time to 30 percent backstory.

For effective backstory, it’s helpful to know more than you say. If your character suspects she’s falling in love, but she’s leery because of a previous relationship in which she got hurt, you as the author should know the details of that previous relationship. Then you can decide how to parse them out within the context of your book—if you decide to use them at all. Sometimes less is more, with the doling out of backstory serving as a source of tension.

A few options for introducing the backstory of that example I gave, the old love gone bad:

·         The teaser: “There was Kenny. But she wasn’t going to think of that now.”
·         The hint: “Kenny intruded, as he always did, never mind the seven years and six hundred miles that separated them.”
·         Interior monologue: “Mark wasn’t Kenny. He never would be.”
·         The scene: Add an extra return on your page, and then spin backward in time, using subtle markers for the shift. “High school was a roller coaster through hell, thanks to Kenny. On the night of their senior prom . . .” The scene can, of course, turn into a series of scenes, if you decide a good deal of the tension exists in the past and is best parceled out all at once.

The hint and the teaser involve promises to the reader—reasons to read on, to find out what the heck went on with this Kenny guy. Used judiciously, these techniques also help you avoid the herky-jerky effect of tugging the reader forward and back through too many backstory scenes. As helpful as backstory can be, the reader’s biggest concern is generally the forward momentum of the present moment, however it’s defined in the book. 

Advice on backstory and other ways to turn good books into great books can be found in Deb's newest release Write Your Best Book. Dozens of "Try This" exercises included!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

E-Book Pricing Strategies

It's fun to watch your e-book rise in the rankings when it's free. But is it worth the cost? 

A friend whose first book came out with Hatchette two years ago complains now and again about e-book pricing, wondering how she can compete with self-published authors who can discount their books as they choose, even making them free. It only got worse for her when Amazon and Hatchette went head-to-head over e-book pricing last year; for a while, her book was part of the fallout, stricken for several months from Amazon’s inventory.

But before writers get too excited over the freedom to set and adjust e-book prices, consider this: e-book pricing strategies are more complicated than ever.

Here, for those authors who do have the freedom (and responsibility) of setting their own prices, six factors to consider in ebook pricing:

That was then, this is now: Back in 2009-2011, when e-books were a new thing, hitting the market in a big way, authors found readers by setting very low prices or offering their work for free. Especially for authors of genre fiction—mystery, science fiction, erotica, crime, etc.—this strategy worked by getting readers hooked on the first book in a series, then offering the rest of the series for free. An added perk: a free book boosted rankings, or so it appeared, in Amazon’s ever-changing and mostly secret algorithms. Flash forward four to six years. We’ve got a content flood: three million plus books available on Amazon. At any given moment, there are thousands upon thousands of free and cheap e-books—and that’s with restrictions Amazon put in place (KDP Select) to stem the flood of free and cheap books. Apply basic principles of supply and demand, and you’ll see why a few hundred downloads of a free e-book have little long-term impact on rankings unless the book actually gets amply read and reviewed, and unless it’s so exceptional that it generates word-of-mouth praise among scads of readers.
What readers want: It’s not always something for nothing. Yes, if you’re writing for speedy, high-volume readers—primarily readers of genre fiction—your readers need to be able to access lots of books at a reasonable price. But these days, subscription services like Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, and Oyster offer the best deal for genre fans, with a set monthly fee for unlimited access to their titles. Overall, authors make less per download with subscription services they do through outright sales, which accounts for much complaining in author forums. If you’re writing something other than genre fiction, your readers may be a lot more interested in value than price. When an e-book comes cheap or free—especially if it’s perpetually priced that way—the perception among such readers may be that the item has little value.
Good data can be hard to come by: The publishing industry has been notoriously secretive with the types of sales data that inform things like pricing, and none of that has changed with newer players like Amazon. Hugh Howey has made some great headway with his quarterly Author Earnings Reports, but you still need to read these carefully to make sure the take-away points apply to your circumstances; mostly, the data relates to best-selling titles, and while every author would like to be in that category, most aren’t. Mark Coker (Smashwords) and Amazon’s KDP platform both have done analyses suggesting that an author’s return is greatest on e-books priced between 2.99 (KDP) and 3.99 (Smashwords). A survey of 1200 readers conducted by The Fussy Librarian indicates that most readers believe a “fair price” for a full-length e-book to be between $2.99 and $4.99. But all of this data is skewed toward genre e-books, which occupy most of the digital shelf space at Smashwords and Amazon, as well as most of the free/cheap e-book listings in The Fussy Librarian newsletter.
Pricing sets expectations: Discounts teach consumers to wait for even more discounts, as Black Friday retailers have learned in spades. Your readers are no dummies; why would they pay the retail price for your e-book if they know you’ll eventually offer it for free? Use discounts strategically and sparingly.
Friends and fans first: These are your loyal readers. When you offer a discount, let them be the first to know. I discount sparingly, only as part of a larger promotional strategy—in other words, with a reason—and when I do, I use a plain-text email to tell my friends and fans first, because it’s more personal than a newsletter template or generic social media post.
Consider the cost: In terms of time, money, and energy, offering your e-book for free or at a discount can run up costs quickly. Many newsletters that promote e-book deals to subscribers used to list deals for free; now, most of them charge for this service, and unless it’s a vetted newsletter like Bookbub, you’re unlikely to see any sort of return on your investment. Beware especially the scams that “promise” results; unscrupulous practices by these scammers can get your book booted out of the Kindle store altogether. Even if you don’t spend money advertising your free or discounted book, getting the word out takes time and energy. Would you be better off writing?

Through Wednesday, May 13, you can get Deb’s last-ever free e-book deal*: For writers and aspiring writers, Write Your Best Book is a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest, including dozens of “Try This” exercises to demystify the process of turning good books into best books.

*Except for the always-free Alaska Sampler

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Author Collectives: The Scriptors

Formalizing the ways in which they support one another, authors worldwide are forming collectives. For an article published in the IBPA Independent (before I joined the staff), I interviewed representatives of several author collectives. The authors I interviewed were so generous that I determined all the details should be shared!

 Here, the third in a series of interviews on author collectives, featuring a Q & A with five of the six authors in the Scriptors: Andy (Andrea) Brokaw, Brooke Johnston, Melody Daggerhart, R.A. (Rachel) Desilets, and LJ (Lisa) Cohen.  

Who started your collective? What was the initial impetus and vision behind its founding?
Rachel: I guess that was me. I wanted us to immediately start making decisions as a group with a few founding members at the core. There were plenty of authors who I knew and love from G+, so I asked around. The idea was, and still is, to become our own brand. If you like one of The Scriptors, you should like them all.
Andrea: Rachel's right: it was her. I think most of us had the vague notion that we'd like to be part of a group of some kind, but she was the one with the initiative to actually form one.
Brooke: Yeah, we were kind of already promoting each others’ work before, so it just made sense to come together and do it actively. Rachel is the one who brought us all together.
Lisa: I had gotten to know Rachel on google plus some time back when she put out a call to interview indie authors for The Examiner. When she approached me with her ideas for The Scriptors as a place to build a collective of like-minded authors with a strong sense of professionalism, I was excited to jump in.
Melody: I was invited by Andy because we used to live close to each other and have helped each other out in the past with beta reads and such. I’m guess I’m the late-comer to the group, but I’m enjoying getting to know everyone else a little more.

When was the collective started? With how many authors and books represented?
Rachel: We’re still fairly new and started back in January 2014. We have six authors with nineteen books. When we started, Brooke Johnson had two more titles, but she was lucky enough to land a deal with Harper Voyager for her Chroniker City series. We are just beginning the search for new, active members.

How does the collective reach readers? How are the books published and distributed?
Rachel: We all do our publishing separately. We use numerous platforms and means to distribute our work, including Kindle direct, CreateSpace, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital. We update our blog on a weekly basis with content for both readers and writers to drive traffic to The Scriptors’ site. In the back of our newer books, we have a link to thescriptors.com where people can find more work at the collective.
Lisa: All of us are pretty active in various social media. We post links to one another’s Scriptors blog posts in order to raise awareness about who we are.

What distinguishes your collective in the marketplace?
Rachel: Since we’re a fairly young collective, we are still actively seeking members--a lot of larger collectives are closed to new authors. We consist of both young adult and adult authors, which sometimes collectives only lean towards one or the other. We also are open to any genre, but the majority of us are science fiction and fantasy writers (with several subgenres represented).
Andrea: I think it has to do with the fact that we're all at least a little bit crazy... Either that or it's because we all honestly enjoy each other's work. But it's probably the crazy.
Brooke: We all love each other’s fiction, and I think that shows. When we promote each other, we’re doing it because we know that the book is worth reading, not just because we’re friends. And we’re different in the fact that we’re not a publishing collective; we’re not a publisher. We’re just a group of authors who want to see each other succeed.
Lisa: We come at this from a sense of wanting to be authentic, not seeing The Scriptors as a self-promotion machine, but as a group of professionals with a stake in supporting each other’s highest potential.  

How do you vet membership?
Rachel: As the core group of six, we are voting on who to invite in as potential future members. We look for authors who regularly produce good books and are active in some form of social media.
Andrea: In addition to wanting new members to have books we can honestly vouch for and a social media presence, we're also looking for authors who fit in with our quirky little group and who have the energy to devote to helping build our brand.
Brooke: Yes, beyond wanting good books, we want authors who we get along with. You can have an excellent book, but if you’re unpleasant to work with, then it’s just not going to be a good fit.
Lisa: Just as finding the right fit is crucial for critique/beta reads, finding the right people to take part in a collective like this is essential for the group to work. So much depends on core values and goals and making sure each of us is right for the collective and that the collective is right for each of us. Someone can be a great author, but not a great fit for the group.

What’s required of authors who participate? What benefits do participating authors enjoy?
Rachel: We require weekly participation on the blog. I upkeep the website with new banners. We have a G+ page and twitter account used to extend the reach of author sales and new releases. Eventually, we might expand to having a newsletter.
Andrea: There's also an expectation that members will support each other, reshare the occasional post, and try to keep up with new releases. When I say I can personally rate my fellow members' books as books that should be read, that means I need to have read the books.
Brooke: And there’s commenting on our fellow authors’ posts to promote discussion. As well as actively letting others know that we’re part of a collective. Having a link, or a note, in the back of our books, recommending the other Scriptors authors to the reader is part of our marketing strategy to reach wider audiences.
Lisa: Rachel does a great job corralling us all when it’s our time to write a blog post. One of the intangible benefits from belonging to The Scriptors is the sense that we’re not going it alone, or shouting in the wilderness. Reaching an audience is tough; there’s so much noise it’s hard to get your message through it. But having a group that supports your work helps. And it’s always easier to brag about someone else’s work.
Melody: For me it’s about feeling connected. I see it as a give and take of sharing, reviewing, commenting, etc. But I prefer to write “among” readers and writers because of the feedback. That connection is what reminds me why I write. I write for fun and pleasure, yes. And I can write in isolation and then shove the book in a closet, never seeing it reach other people in any way. But connecting to other readers and writers are what books are born for -- it breathes life into them.

What are the challenges of running a collective? What advice would you give to authors who either want to start a collective or join an existing one?
Rachel: A collective requires a lot of commitment and communication. The weekly blog posts, sharing sales and promotional posts, and reading each others work so you can properly endorse it takes time. If you are joining a newer collective, be prepared to put in the hours without immediate results. Gaining ground in a saturated market takes time, but in the long run, it will be worth it.
Andrea: I'm grateful I can't speak as to the challenges of running a collective. I can't imagine having the energy to even try running one! I do have advice for joining one though, and that is that you need to always remember that it's not just about what the collective can do for you, but about what you can do for your collective.
Brooke: I’m not the showrunner--Rachel has that honor--but I do a lot of behind-the-scenes work: reminding people when to post, helping Rachel design and edit promotional material, moderating comments, tweaking the website when something weird happens, and lending a hand when Rachel needs it. I do whatever is needed of me to keep the site running smoothly, basically. As for advice, Andy has it: “it's not just about what the collective can do for you, but about what you can do for your collective.” We’re a collective for a reason. We’re here to help each other out, and if you want to get something out of the partnership, you have to put in an equal share.  
Lisa: Make sure you understand the culture of the group you are joining and the responsibilities of each member of the group. Be honest about your time availability and know that you will get out only what you put into it.
Melody: I honestly can’t top what’s already been said. It’s a team effort. You have to know that going into it, or there’s no point in being part of a team. Communication is essential. Other people are depending on you. Professionalism means being able to see it through for the sake of everyone else, even when you’re having off days.

What are the advantages of a collective over a traditional publishing arrangement? What advantages does a traditional publisher have over a collective?
Rachel: In our collective, you remain in charge of all your own publishing. You keep the same high percentage of royalties. You get that advantage, but also have a group of other authors helping you promote through social media.
However, the collective itself doesn’t make a profit, so we don’t have the same marketing budget as traditional publishers do. But our hybrid author, Brooke Johnson, is still planning on independently publishing some titles, while taking advantage of a traditional publisher for her Chroniker City series.
Brooke: The biggest advantage of the collective (other than complete rights control, as Rachel points out) is the close-knit, almost familial atmosphere between authors. We’re all friends, and we want to support one another. We want to see each other succeed. With a traditional publisher, there is a little bit of that between authors, I think, as you tend to do events together and you do promote one another within your genre or imprint, but it’s without the same kind of closeness. Authors with a traditional house are more like colleagues. But the biggest benefit of publishing with a traditional publisher is size and market reach. While collectives can pool their audiences and cross promote, our audiences are small in comparison to traditional publishing houses.
Lisa: The Scriptors isn’t a publisher; it is essentially a marketing organization where a group of like-minded authors combine forces to help one another’s reach. The advantage of a collective for this is that it becomes an intentional community, rather than a group based on circumstance, e.g., being published by the same imprint.
Melody: I like having a personal approach to marketing and publishing, as opposed to feeling like a cog in a machine. I prefer to be a name with something fun and creative to share, rather than being a budget figuring into an even larger budget that shapes the overall picture of the product. I like having contact with my readers and other writers more than business agents. I realize the object of marketing is to sell books and make money, but connections are more important to me -- personal connections. Traditional marketing might push through the “industry” easier to reach more mainstream markets, but there’s no comparison to getting a message from someone who wants to talk with you about your book and be a part of the universe you’re shaping. And I’m free to do that in an indie collective as opposed to signing contracts with publishers about what I can or cannot talk about or what I lose control over. I used to work for a traditional publisher, and your lips are sealed the minute you sign that contract.

What do you think the future holds for author collectives?
Rachel: I’m excited about the future for author collectives. It’s a great way to work with other authors you respect and have your own work promoted in return. With so many authors out there, being part of a collective makes it easier for readers to discover you. Once a reader finds one author in the collective they enjoy, they could potentially pick up more titles.
Andrea: It's been said by many people that indie publishing is the new midlist , and I think it's true. I then go on to think that collectives are a new form of imprints. The spines of our books may say Hedgie Press, Black Cat Ink, etc, but we're under the Scriptors umbrella that tells readers these books are by great storytellers. Finding a new collective you like should mean you just found a new list of authors you'll enjoy reading.
Brooke: I’d like to think that author collectives will be a sign of professional indies in the future. Authors who take their craft seriously and work to promote their brand will tend to have better quality books. They will become a brand that readers trust, and they might try a book they might not have otherwise read because the author is in the same collective as an author they love.
Lisa: Publishing as an independent is a difficult and time/resource intensive endeavor. I believe collectives will help groups of writers combine forces and resources to ease the burden and smooth the way. I also believe that collectives can become solid brands that the reader can associate with a particular kind of product and professionalism.
Melody: I think we’ll see more and more author collectives as indie authors continue to push the envelope, challenging the publishing industry standards. I see the publishing empire a bit like the Roman empire, in that eventually it gets so big and has so much control that its size and management takes precedence over listening to what the readers have to say. When you’re small scale, and personal, you hear more. We can tailor our books to very specific tastes in the market. They say there’s a book out there for every taste … but how do you know what those tastes are if you’re giving readers the same “proven sales” formula-type of books? It’s freeing to think of all the mixes and mashes we can create for those readers who are being neglected because they want something different. So, I think just like how the Internet took us from being a nation where everyone listened to the same top 40 songs to having the whole world of music at our fingertips, indie publishing and collectives are giving a whole world of new literature to readers beyond what the traditional industry offers.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Four Tips for Beginning Your Book

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I’m returning from a couple of weeks off—productive time, in terms of author events and family gatherings, and also for my novel in progress, though I worked on it only during the first leg of my journey (when you fly to and from Alaska, there’s plenty of flight time).

When you’re starting a book, there’s a tricky balance of forging ahead and holding back, to make sure you’re on the right path - a little herky-jerky that benefits the book, if we’re willing to ride it out. In the case of my work in progress (WIP), I’d gotten to know my characters, and I had a fair idea of what would happen, since it’s a crime novel loosely based on an actual case. I’d written about 6000 words, a good number of them at 35,000 feet, between Alaska and Minneapolis.

But something felt off.

The distractions that hit once the jet landed were a good thing. By the time I got home, it was clear to me what was wrong with my beginning and how I should fix it—by starting over.

BIC (butt in chair) is good advice for beginning your book; you can’t begin unless you, well . . .start. But if that’s all you do—sit yourself down and write and write some more and some more and some more, hoping that what comes out will please readers, or at least have the potential to be revised into something pleasing, you risk completing a manuscript that goes nowhere in terms of viable readership.

Here, four tips for beginning your book:

·         Develop an instinct for false starts: Your beginning, as author David Vann says, should be like a train on the tracks, promising an unforgettable journey. The stakes must be high, the narrator engaging, the potential for complications like a fire smoldering from the start. As an author, your challenge is to not let such demands paralyze you. Get your beginning chapter or two on the page, then come back at it, objectively. True beginning or false start? If it’s false, play book doctor: diagnose where the story sags. Maybe you need a new protagonist (I did) or an entirely different premise, one that’s more unique and engaging than the one you began with.

·         Begin elsewhere: Nothing says you have to begin at the beginning. Write your ending first, or a scene from the middle. Write a few scenes, using characters and plot twists so diverse that you can’t possible use them all. The idea is not to produce material that finds its way into the book, but to free you from thinking that every word you write is destined for the world . Don’t beg off with complaints about time—in mere minutes, you can draft a scene, or part of a scene. You’ll know when you’ve hit on something worth pursuing—you’ll get excited to find out what happens next.

·         Understand that nothing is wasted: Don’t berate yourself for false starts; congratulate yourself for recognizing them. False starts are ways to learn about your book—the shape it’s trying to take, and the ways you need to get out of the way and quit forcing the story. Give yourself permission to fail—that’s what drafts are all about—and applaud the ways you learn from your mistakes.

·         Acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong with a restart: On the first Saturday of every March, the world’ most famous sled dog race starts on the streets of my hometown of Anchorage. It’s a ceremonial start, with everything looking pretty and polished. The real start comes the next day, north of town, on a windswept lake, fitting for the journey ahead, which demands grit and courage from every participant, human and canine. Book beginnings are like that: the first runs tend to be pretty and over-written, with too much self-conscious drama. Yes, you want the reader’s attention. But even more, your beginning needs to set up a narrative that won’t let up till the end—in terms of action, yes, but also character, emotions, stakes, all of it.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A regular contributor to the IBPA Independent, her views here are her own.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Alaska Sampler: A Free Anthology That Helps Authors Market Their Books

You may have read about it in the IBPA Independent, or at the Alliance of Independent Authors Blog. And if you've ever searched for Alaska books, you likely saw it pull up on the first page of results.

Following the success of last year’s Alaska Sampler, a free e-book anthology, Running Fox Books, the author co-op I founded, is at it again, with a new volume of the Sampler plus a brand new website that aims to change the way readers connect with authors and books.

In their reviews, readers of last year’s Sampler spoke of how they read specifically to prepare for their Alaska vacations, and they urged us to issue a fresh volume each year. How could we refuse? Alaska insiders also praised the collection. "Laughter and tears brought to you by my most beloved state," wrote one reviewer. "Thanks to the multitalented for sharing. A real treat."

In what lead editor David Marusek deems a “literary labor of love,” the Alaska Sampler 2015 features fiction, memoir, crime writing, and humor.  Among the dozen featured authors are new favorites alongside the well-recognized, including Heather Lende (If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name), C.B. Bernard (Chasing Alaska), Rich Chiappone (Opening Days), and Gerri Brightwell (Cold Country).

Aiming to move beyond the either-or thinking about e-books and print books, the Sampler also forges unique partnerships with brick-and-mortar bookshops. When you download the free anthology, you'll see how this works.

To see how this anthology works, you can download the Alaska Sampler 2015 for free at www.runningfoxbooks.com. While you're at it, check out our author-curated online bookshop, enticing readers with features such as the Passage Picker, Book Your Trip (Literally), and Author Confessions. 

In a few months, Running Fox will be looking to add a few new authors to the co-op, designed to aggregate marketing efforts by promoting unique for readers to connect with our books. Stay tuned for details!

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A regular contributor to the IBPA Independent, the views expressed here are her own.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Marketing: Your Author Brand

Image from jhgmediagroup.com

Author branding is a topic that makes me feel old. When my first novel came out back in 1997, I don’t recall anyone at Penguin advising authors of the need to brand. Certainly no one mentioned it to me. Brands were for highly commercial products, like Betty Crocker and Levis and Helly Hansen. Authors and books were thought of in different terms, more aesthetically perhaps.

These days, seemingly everything—and everyone—has a brand, or should have one, at least from the perspective of the movers and shakers of the marketplace.

In some ways, author brands were there all along. Even if no one tried to engineer them, they happened somewhat organically. A book had to fit into a category, and if you found success in one category, you were likely to stick with it. What others said about you and your work also nudged you into a brand.

My first novel involved the clashing of cultures in Southwestern Alaska, which placed it in the trending category of multicultural books for young adult readers. Because of the remote wilderness setting and the adventure elements, reviewers likened my work to books by well-known author Gary Paulsen.

Instinctively, I followed the adventure/wilderness/Paulsen-esque path—or brand, as it would be called today—into my next novel. I then wrote a third, never published, along the same lines, though featuring girls engaged by adventure and wilderness, an angle that I believed was missing for young readers.

The problem, though, was that these weren't the books I aspired to write. The novels were good enough, but what I truly wanted to write were books like the ones I loved to read: novels for grown-up readers, in which complicated relationships among characters provide much of the tension, with a rural or wilderness setting so strong that it becomes a character unto itself. These would be books only I could write, drawing from my own unique perspectives, sensibilities, and life experiences. In other words, I wanted my brand to reflect who I am as an author, as opposed to a brand boxing me into an author slot that felt not quite like me.

Easier said than done.

Enter Cindy Dyson, an author herself, of a fine novel, And She Was, and a great little volume called The Last Query. In her new role as web designer with Dyson UX Design, she offered to remake my author website, going far beyond a pretty and functional arrangement to asking all the right questions that would build a brand around me. As she put it, she began by looking for the big idea, the “uber mission” Deb Vanasse: my purpose and passion as an author.

To get there, she asked a series of questions that made me think hard about who I am and why I write. What do I want to be known for? What do I want my readers to do once they’ve finished reading one of my books? What drives me to write? What truths am I willing to sacrifice for? Following a series of such questions, she also asked about my personality, starting with adjectives that describe who I am physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. She asked fun questions, too—about things like the last time I was raging mad and the last time I was in awe about something.

The questions were hard, but the journey they prompted has been amazing. I understand much more now about my brand. Best of all, it’s not a brand imposed by an agent or publisher who’s afraid to let me out of the box they’ve drawn around me, for fear sales might plummet. Instead, I get to be my best self, extended out toward my readers.

For the final results—the beautiful, innovative, user-based website Cindy’s constructing—you’ll have to wait a bit. But in the meantime, I offer this advice: an insightful yet disinterested third party can go a long ways toward helping you discover your brand.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A regular contributor to the IBPA Independent, the views expressed here are her own.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ten Truths You Need to Know about Publishing, No Matter How You Do It

I want to speak a moment to those of you who aren’t “making it” in publishing the way you’d hoped. J.A. Jance, Dan Brown, James Patterson, J.D. Robb: you can quit reading now.

For the rest of you—those who’ve been struggling to place your book with an agent, those who’ve placed a book but suffered disappointments when it comes to sales and readership, those who’ve published on your own but aren’t finding readers—these ten truths are for you:

No one way of publishing is better than the rest. Each route—Big Five, small press, self-publishing, hybrid blends—has its own advantages and disadvantages. Inform yourself of the options and choose the path that’s best for you and your book.

Finding readers isn’t easy. To upload an e-book or a print-on-demand file to a vendor and hit “publish” is simple. But if you want readers, you’re going to have to do a lot more, which is why authors continue to publish through traditional channels.

There’s a content flood, and it’s not going to recede anytime soon. As reported by author William Dietrich in a piece published by the Huffington Post, an estimated 130 million books have been published throughout human history. That number is growing by the minute—and with e-books, titles stay in print forever. Bottom line: the supply of books far exceeds the demand.

Statistically speaking, your chances of “making it” as an author are small. Dietrich cites a 2004 Nielson Bookscan report which found that of 1.2 million books tracked by Bookscan, only 2 percent sold more than 5,000 copies. And that was before the digital publishing revolution set off the real content flood.

Trying to second-guess the market can be frustrating—and unproductive. It’s great to know your brand and your niche, but don’t try to remake who you are to fit someone’s ideas about what’s selling and not.

Real advertising takes money—lots of it—and the returns may be slim. Publishers spend big money advertising books by celebrity authors, and not so much on the rest. The small budget they have for your book—or the little you can afford, if you self-publish—will do little to generate sales if the book isn’t one that captivates readers.

There’s no gaming the system. Yes, it helps to have connections if you’re trying to publish through traditional channels. Yes, getting in on the ground floor of the self-publishing revolution was wonderful timing. But as far as what you can do right here and now to get noticed, there are no “tricks.” Learn what you can, but don’t believe anyone who claims to know the secret to becoming a bestselling author.

Wonderful books are overlooked, and some that aren’t so wonderful sell more than anyone could have predicted. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste. But if sales are steady, and if a title stays in print long enough and is popular within a niche market, it may in the end outsell certain flash-and-burn bestsellers.

We all measure success a little differently, and that’s how it should be. Don’t appropriate someone else’s idea of what makes you successful. If your primary aim is to make money, there are better ways to do it.

Write what you love and make each book the best it can be. That’s the one aspect of publishing over which you have complete control.

The author of sixteen books with six different presses, Deb Vanasse is co-founder of the 49 Alaska Writing Center and founder of Running Fox Books, an independent press and author collective. Her most recent books are What Every Author Should Know, a 5-star Readers' Favorite, and Write Your Best Book. While Deb is a regular contributor to the IBPA Independent, the opinions expressed here are solely her own. A sought-after teacher and editor, she enjoys writing at her mountain home in Alaska. This post also ran at www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com.