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Is Anybody Out There?

Marketing for Writers

Over this last week, Plasma Frequency announced a 50% off sale on all advertising.  For as little as $9.50, anyone could have advertised in a magazine with a worldwide audience.  Exactly zero people took the offer.  An offer that was presented to many self published and traditional published authors.  It was also presented to several independent publishers.  I was truly stunned by it.  I couldn’t believe that not one person took this offer.  But, as I thought about it.  I am not so sure it is really that shocking of a thing.

Many authors think that they can put their novel on Amazon.com, and it will simply fly right off the shelves.  Maybe a few hundred Twitter and Facebook posts, and BAM!  Instant success.  Who knows maybe that has even worked for a few authors.  But if it has, I’ve not heard of it.  I’m down playing the value of Social Media in your marketing strategy.  It is an important part of it.  But it is just a part of it.  And the only plan many authors have, is to continue to shout out on Facebook, “Buy my book!  Buy it!”  But I speak from experience when I say that soon you will be wondering, Is anybody out there?  Is anyone paying attention to these posts.

Marketing strategy is the key words of the paragraph above.  You need to lay out a plan to get your book noticed.  It should be a detailed plan starting with “pre-promotion”, moving next to “release promotion”, and moving along with “continued promotion.”  You need a balance of promotional strategies in order to make your book successful.

Many of you may be stopping here.  You might be thinking that you don’t need to market your book because you plan to go through a traditional publisher.  You expect that they will handle all the promotional problems for you.  You’d be wrong.  Most of these places have a limited marketing budget.  They will use that money on promoting the books most likely to bring them the most money.  And even if they will be promoting your book, that should only be another part of your own promotional strategy.  You should be doing some marketing of your own.

Marketing Plan, some easy tips.

First, you should start making a marketing plan as soon as you are sure you are ready to see this book published.   For me, as a self publisher, that was as soon as I sent the manuscript to my editor.  Notice I didn’t wait until I had a release date in mind to start planning.  Some may even start thinking of marketing strategies right after they write “The End.”  If you are going the more traditional publishing route, you may wait until you get accepted.  Or you may wait until you know the marketing and promotional ideas of the publisher.  Either way, find a time that is right for you and start planning.  You can always modify the plan, change it, and work to start it later.

Pre-premotion

I’ll start with the first thing.  It is also the most over looked in my opinion.  That is “pre-promotion.”  This is your plan to promote your book before it is released, to create a “buzz” so to speak.  This is likely one of the best ways to get a title to stick in potential readers heads.  You want to get people thinking about, talking about, and perhaps even to preorder (see below).  Here are some things you might put on your Pre-promotion plan:

Mention your book whenever you can.  You may have noticed that I mention, and use as an example, my novel Dissolution of Peace when needed around this blog.  See, I just did it again there.  Most of the time I don’t even realize I did it.  Of course you can over do it.  I like to think that I only mention it when it is applicable to the situation.  I’ve seen some that simply drop the name everywhere all the time, or every blog post they write is about the book in some way.  It just doesn’t work for me.  I tend to stop reading those blogs that are solely devoted to ramming a particular product down my throat.  But I certainly don’t mind, or even notice in most cases, a little self promotion when I am reading a post that has meaning to me.  So if, like me, you blog about writing tips, daily muses, and other topics of interest to people, don’t be afraid to mention it where it applies.

Get some marketing materials together and share them with your followers.  I’ve noticed many of my blog, Twitter, and Facebook followers enjoy a little sneak peak before something goes live.  Marketing materials include cover art, after all that is how readers will recognize you book, it is the brand of your book.  But there are other marketing materials that can come in handy.  For example, my Facebook page has a new cover photo.  That photo pops up every time someone hovers their over my name.  You may make a few different photos to use around the different media platforms.  Another great thing is a book trailer.  There are also book plates, bookmarks, and other items you can get at a low cost and hand out free.

Many of you may be thinking: I’m not good at graphic design or video editing.  You may have already dropped a pretty penny on the cover art.  Book trailers can cost a lot of money.  One self publishing company charges over $1,000 minimum just for a thirty second book trailer.  Bookmarks, post card ads, ect all will cost.  But I challenge you to look around.  First, you might have a friend that will do it for you.  Plasma Spyglass Press’s logo was designed by a friend of mine.  I love it, and it cost me nothing.  Even if you don’t have a friends that can do it, they may know someone who can give you a deal.  A friend of mine recommended my cover artist, and I only paid $35 for it.  I got lucky with the other art, I did it myself.  I even did the book trailer myself.  But, if all else fails you can shop around for businesses that can help you.  Plasma Spyglass Press is thinking of revamping our business plan to include services for the self published author.  One last tip, don’t spend a lot of money on promotional materials or over do it.  Order just what you need.

Book reviews are great.  There are some places that you can pay to have a book review written.  I won’t waste my time or money on those.  You can if you wish, but I won’t.  There are a lot of free review sites out there.  Sites that will only ask for a free copy of your book.  In return they will provide you with an honest review.  Sure, you take the risk of a bad review.  And you may get some even if you don’t ask for reviews.  I put this under pre-marketing because you often have to start setting these things up in advance.  Whether it be through a blog, or a magazine, or through another outlet.  Most are very cooperative and will agree to wait a reasonable amount of time if your release date is coming soon.  ALWAYS send a finished product for review.

Offer a preorder special.  Unfortunately Createspace still won’t allow you the chance to pick a future release date, thus creating a preorder page on Amazon.  There are ways around this though.  First, have people preorder through you.  They can go to your website and preorder.  Offer a better price than the list price.  Perhaps even offer signed copies if you preorder through you.  Then when you release your book you can order that number of copies and ship them out to your new readers.  If you already have an Amazon Partner Store site (or whatever it is called), I understand that there is a way to do a preorder with that.  I am not familiar with it.

Don’t take out advertising before your book has been released.  Unless of course you have preorder information.  Many people will see an ad and click to buy at that moment, making an impulse purchase.  So paying for a advertisement on Facebook, in a magazine, or on any other platform is wasted money unless people can buy.  But, keep in mind a magazine’s production time.  That ad may not be live until after your book is released.  So you may have advertising paid for and drawn up, but it won’t be seen until after your novel is released.

Release Promotion

Release day has come.  Your book is now available to purchase.  The common practice here is to kick it into overdrive.  Either blowing a lot of time and money into marketing the book for a week, or by trying to schedule events around the clock.  I think this comes from the common practice in the typical business world.  Grand Opening sales, Hurry while supplies last, and so on down the line.  Even most traditional publishers will kick in to high gear for a big release and then when that is over, they will kick into high gear for the next author’s release.

I say slow down a second.  First, have a plan in place before release day.  Once again, ramming your book down everyone’s throats will not increase sales.  Does that mean you shouldn’t come out of the gate hard and fast?  No, you still want to have a “grand opening” celebration.  Tell the world your book is out now.  Spend the whole day telling them if wish.  But what will you do once you have posted to Facebook, Twitter, and your blog only to find you sold four copies?  This is where you need to expand your marketing plan.  Release Promotion should last several months or more.

Continue to try to find those book review outlets.  Talk to fellow writers and check out the magazines for your genre.  Contact them and still arrange for reviews.  The more you get the more potential readers you reach.

Look around for those local book stores.  They often love to have local writers come out and have a book signing.  They may even wish to carry your book on their shelves.  Some may want a small portion of sales.  Others may buy a bulk amount of your books for a near wholesale price and just keep whatever they sell them for.  Others may just like the idea of bringing customers into their store and won’t care that you sell your books there.  But either way, you need to work that out with them.  Believe it or not the local book store isn’t dead.  And these type of events are what keeps them going strong.

Book signings don’t have to just take place at book stores either.  Maybe you get a table at the local street fair.  Or maybe your local library would be interested.  Be creative, readers attend a lot of different events.  If you do think about renting tables at a fair or event, consider sharing the table with other local writers and splitting the cost.  For one, a fan of one local writer may see your book on the same table and check it out.  It will allow you to draw a bigger crowd while reducing your cost.  Plus you fill a table with different books, rather than a big table with just a stack of your one book.

Write a press release.  Local newspapers, magazines, and even local blogs love a story about a local resident doing well.  You can even tie a press release with a book signing event you are having.  Writing an engaging press release is a whole different ball game than writing a novel.  So I strongly suggest you read up on how to write a good release.  There are a lot of sites that will help you with a simple Google search.  Once you have a good press release, send it out to every newspaper, magazine, and blog in or about your local area.  Of course if you are in a smaller town you stand a better chance of being in that paper rather than the paper of a large metropolitan area.  But it doesn’t hurt to try.

Make yourself available for interviews and other engagements.  But also don’t be afraid to ask people either.  If your local library is having a local writers event, don’t be afraid to ask somebody if you can join.  You never know when the newspaper, local TV stations, or magazines might call and ask you if you would mind discussing your new book.  But rather than just waiting for them to call, be proactive and find them.  Press releases is one way.  But there are plenty of other ways to reach out.  Don’t be afraid to ask friends of friends to help.

Advertising.  It doesn’t have to cost as much as you think.  As I mentioned above, my magazine charges very little.  We even offer a discount for multiple issues and a discount for self published authors.  We design the ad at no extra charge too.  You will find that this is common with many markets.  Of course if you want to put an advertisement in Fantasy & Science Fiction, expect to pay a good price.  But there are a lot of markets out there that survive solely on advertising and don’t expect a lot for it.  You can even use social media ads to help you out.  These are effective at targeting an audience suited for your book.  The price is often adjustable based on your monthly budget.  Talk to your friends too.  See if they will put an advertisement on their website or blog.

The key with advertising is knowing your target audience.  An ad for my novel in Better Homes and Gardens probably won’t bring me a lot of sales.  But an advertisement in a science fiction publication will likely attract readers.  But, I might not want to put an ad in a hard science fiction magazine because that is not my target audience either.  The best thing you can do is find out the publication’s (or website’s) target audience.  If it matches yours then go for it.

Promotional offers.  Have special offers where you can.  You may have a discount or you may put two of your novels together for a package price.  I understand there are limits to this.  Clearly you want to make money of the sale, to some degree.  But everyone likes to feel like they got a deal too.

Continued Promotion

Your book has been out now for a little while now.  You may have had a huge influx of sales, or you may have had a steady stream of sales.  But after the first few months, we authors have a habit of moving on to our next project.  After all we didn’t stop writing because our latest novel was released.  But you can’t stop promotions now.  You may have scaled back, but don’t stop.

You may have ran a number of ads for your novel on release, but now you may want to scale it back to one ad.  But remember to figure out what ad worked the best for you.  Maybe change up the artwork to get a fresh look.  But keep something running to get peoples attention.  Unless everyone has bought your book, there are still potential readers out there that may not have heard of your book yet.

Still schedule those book signings.  Maybe even spend one day on your next vacation (assuming you get vacations) signing books at the local bookstore of your vacation destination.  You may not do an event every weekend but still keep the options open.

Cross promotion is excellent.  When you are out promoting the next newest book, don’t forget to bring some copies of your other works.  I’m surprised how often I see writers with six novels out, but they only have the one novel with them when they buy that table at the fair.  Tell people about all your books when you are out promoting the newest one.  Don’t forget to mention your other books in your newest book.  You see this all the time in novels: Other works by..

Selling your books is the same as a business

If you are selling your books you are in business, your business is writing and selling your books.  You will not make money by approving the proof and then sitting on you butt and waiting for the cash to roll in.  You have to get out there and let people know about your book.  You don’t have to spend a lot.  But expect to spend something.  Even a free book review will cost you a copy of your book.  The more you spend advertising won’t necessarily bring you more sales.  But spending your money wisely will get you more readers.  You can spend $50 a month wisely and get 20 times more readers than the person that throws away $1,000.

The point is simple.  You need a plan in place.  Every good business has a marketing plan and budget.  Your book needs to have the same thing.  The plan is fluid and you change it as you find out what works and what doesn’t.  But you must have a road map.  Hopefully I’ve provided you with some powerful tips.  Now go make your plan and get that book sold.

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Making SOME Money in Writing

I briefly touched on this in an early blog post.  Writing is really about more than making money.  If you are a short fiction writer you’d have to do a lot of work to make a good salary.

Where you live will depend on how much you need to survive.  But lets assume you’d be happy with $35,000 a year.  Out in California that is a small amount of money and barely scraping by.  But, if I was doing it as a writer, I’d be happy to scrape by.  If you stuck to short fiction, you would need to sell 700,000 words a year at pro rates (5 cents a word).  That is a lot of words.  And that is words to sell, not write.  You’d have to write roughly 1,900 words a day that are publishable, with no days off.

Most of us don’t put something on paper and it is instantly publishable.  We need to spend time editing.  We need to send it out to and listen to our Beta Readers.  Now back to editing.  And there is always the time it sits on submissions.  But, lets assume you work part time at it.  Say three hours a day, five days a week, for a year.  Or 780 hours a year.  And you manage to get an average of 5,000 words a month published at pro rates.  You’d make roughly $3.85 an hour.  Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

You might argue that if you really did spent 15 hours a week on writing, they could put out more that just 5,000 words published each month.  But the truth is you won’t make a lot of money publishing short stories.  You will get paid in a different way.  You will get paid with recognition, reader enjoyment, positive feedback, and much more.  This is why I fail to understand writers who believe anything less than 5 cents a word is beneath them.

They are measuring the payment of writing in dollars and it really needs to be measured in other ways.  And, in many ways the payments you gets from writing can’t be measured.  Reader enjoyment is hands down my favorite method of payment.  Each time a reader comments on my story, enjoys a plot point, or loves a character I feel like I have been paid again for that story.  Each time some one clicks the like button for this blog, I feel like I got another payment.  And when someone says they have heard of me and my writing, I feel like I hit the lotto.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a pay check too.  But I don’t write for the money, I write for the enjoyment.  So I wonder how can we make some money in writing.  The trick is that it is a process.  Just like most jobs, you start at the bottom and work your way up.

I still strongly urge anyone who writes to start with short stories.  Even if you have a novel in the works, starting with short stories really puts a feather in your cap.  It gets your name out there to a community of readers both before your novel hits the shelf, and after.

Now, lets talk about novels.  When I release Dissolution of Peace, I have no intentions of making millions in the first release.  Let us say that I  sell my novel for $2.99 on Kindle.  And, I doubt I would start there.  But lets say that I do.  I get 70% of most sales.  So I would need 16,750 downloads in a year to hit that $35,000.  That may not sound like a lot, 17,000 downloads, but when you are trying to market that book by yourself, it really is a lofty goal.  And lets not forget that you might be more inclined to start your novel off at $0.99 or $1.99 because you may be lesser known.

But, lets consider something a bit more realistic here.  Lets say you really buckle down and dedicate yourself.  I don’t believe it is impossible to turn out two novels in a year and six short stories sold.  I work full time, run a magazine, and volunteer a bunch of hours to Youth Soccer, but that is my goal.  A goal I won’t achieve in 2012, but only because I just made it this month.

Let me assume that I sell $300 in short stories (5,000 word average at 1 cent a word for six stories).  And, in those sales I get to make a quick blurb about my novels and this website.  I think realistically I could expect 3,000 downloads a year per novel at $0.99 price point.  So I’d get $4,200 there.  For a total of $4,500 a year not counting other expenses such as marketing.  So, I may not be making millions as a writer.  But I think that is a good goal for 2013.  And $4,500 a year to do something I love isn’t bad considering the other things I love to do, watching hockey and playing video games, don’t make me a cent.

And, if you keep building from there, soon you have more sales and more works in circulation.  It is a slow process, but I do believe that eventually it can be possible to make a decent amount of money as a writer.  The process takes time, you have to build a readership.  But remember all the other rewards you get for your writing.  The ones that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

Now some might say that I sound like I am trying to dissuade you from writing.  This is not true.  Don’t be discouraged by this post.  If you sole goal in writing was to make money, you might want to try your hand at different types of writing.  But if you have bigger dreams than money, carry on with the craft.  I firmly believe that if you write for the love of story telling, the rewards (and even the money) will follow.

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It’s Not About the Money (The True Joys of being Published)

On August 31, 2011, I officially became a published Author with my Flash Fiction piece “Death Watch”  in Liquid Imagination.  This was a remarkable thing and such an unbelievable accomplishment.  I had not planned to reach the goal of being published so quickly.  After all, I had not started submitting anything for publication until March 2011.  “Death Watch” is only the second short story I have written, and the first Flash Fiction piece.  So frankly, I was over joyed to have it published so quickly.

Okay, enough bragging.  Lets talk about why being published is so much joy.  Truthfully I thought seeing my name in print would be the coolest part.  That seems to just one of many cool things I have found.  But first, lets talk about money:

The pay check is not the satisfying part at all.  In fact, I was surprised how little I care about it.  If you write for money you will be sadly disappointed.   At SFWA defined pro rates, you would have to publish eight hundred and forty thousand (840,000) words a year in short stories to make just $50,000.  And out here in California, $50,000 year doesn’t go far.

To put that in perspective, that is 2300 words a day with no days off.  Now editing, and submitting come into play.  Editing takes a lot more time than writing ever does.  And lets not forget that some of the most simple of editing changes can cause massive rewrites.  Submitting takes even longer.  You can usually only submit to one market at a time, and then you are at the mercy of the publication to respond.  Some publications take a long time, others are really fast (usually to reject it).  From the time I finished “Death Watch” to the date it was published was just over five months, and I am the exception.  Many of my fellow authors have waited years to get one story published.

So, assuming you can get 2300 words a day written, and you can get accepted by pro-rate markets, and they accept you fast; then you will make okay money in the writing of short stories.  More realistically you will try to turn out one short story a month (a goal I have not even achieved yet).  Assuming your short story falls into the normal range of two to five thousand words, you are looking at roughly $1440 to $3,600 a year.  This of course assumes they all get accepted at pro rate markets.

So if you are writing for money, sorry to shatter your dreams.  However, if you are like most of the Authors I have met you don’t really care about the money.  You find other joys in being published.  Joys and satisfactions far better than money.  For me, my goal was two things:  To share my stories with an audience that would enjoy them, and to see “By Richard Flores IV” in print.

I am here to tell you that is just the beginning.  In  less than four full day since I was published, I have discovered so many other things that are fulfilling to being published:

On the day I was published this site saw a 50% spike in traffic to this blog.  The unique views were the second highest they have ever been (the highest was the day I created it).  And people were looking at more of my blog then the home page!

WordPress reports that one of the common search terms to get to this blog is “Richard Flores IV”.  People are searching for me!  People want to find me!

WordPress also reported today that some one searched “Flash Fiction by Richard Flores”.  So not only was someone searching for me, they wanted to find more of my work!  To that person (and others looking):  I have another story due out in October in Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  I find it very inspiring to see that people enjoyed my work enough to want to find other things I have written.  That alone could keep me writing indefinitely.

Feedback!  I am getting an overwhelming amount of feedback on people’s thoughts about “Death Watch”.  People are sending me their praise, and I enjoy that a great deal.  I like to know that people enjoyed reading my story.  But even more so, I like the emails coming in telling me what they took away from my story.  People have sent me a number of interpretations that I had not planned when I wrote it.  It gives me satisfaction to know I wrote something that had a deeper meaning to my readers then even I planned.

Inspiring others to write.  Two people have told me that my talks about writing have inspired them to either write or resume writing.  That makes me feel good!

Perhaps the best part of being published is this (and it ties in all of the above):  I have readers!  After all, the real reason any of us become authors is to have readers.

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