Think first

Oh my. I’m not sure I dare even try to do a post today. How can I follow Dave’s post yesterday? I don’t know whether to smack his sad puppy nose with a rolled up newspaper or just give in to the laughter. Maybe both. VBEG. Add to that a laptop that has decided it really, really likes give off-the-wall error messages (usually at the most inopportune times) and I find myself wishing I followed my own advice and had a backup post ready to go. I don’t, so I will try to push through before the laptop goes wonky yet again.

Over the last week or so, I’ve had occasion to talk with several authors who are looking at dipping their toe in the indie market. Each of them had one common concern — promotion. They recognized that their publishers weren’t giving the sort of promotion they had hoped for but feared it was better than what they could do for themselves. Even when I pointed out that they are already doing most of their own promo now, it took a while for the lightbulb to go on. They weren’t tying their FB posts, their tweets, their blogs, etc., as promotion. One of them actually talked about it as their author platform because that was the terminology the publisher had used. When he finally realized it was promotion, it was almost a V-8 forehead smacking moment. The look on his face was priceless. I have a feeling if we hadn’t been sitting in a public place, he might have banged his head against the desk.

Even once he — and the others — realized they are already doing most of their own promo now, they worried about how they would be able to do more. Did I know a good PR firm to promote their book? Who could they hire to make sure word of their book got out? That is when I wanted to pound my head against the desk. Why? Because I have yet to talk to any author who has been successful hiring someone to do the PR for them. (By success, I mean something that results in more than a temporary bounce in sales.)

The first rule you have to remember when you go indie is that it is a business, your business. That means you have to make informed decisions about what you are considering doing and you have to look at what the potential return on investment happens to be. Whether you are talking about editorial services, cover creation or promotion, you have to ask yourself one very important question: will you be able to not only make back the money you spend but then make a profit? The next question you have to ask is equally important: how long will it take for you to make back that money?

So, when I saw this post over at The Passive Voice yesterday, I quickly emailed the link to the authors I had been talking with. It is the tale of an author who learned the lesson of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” the hard way.

Let me start by saying that I almost passed out when I saw that the author in question spent $10,000 to launch a book. Of that, $3,500 was for cover design, interior design layout and proofreading. That, alone, was enough for me to bang my head against the table. I can’t speak about the interior design because I haven’t looked beyond the first couple of pages of the sample. However, the cover design is nothing innovative and nothing to stand out from all the other books like it. Then I noted — and did pound my head against the desk — that she paid for proofreading but not editing. What? If she has a publisher, and it sort of sounds like she does, then they should have done the editing AND proofing. If she doesn’t have one, then why pay for proofing and not editing?

The rest of the money, by far the bulk of it, was given over for promotion. Promotion that did not come through. You can read the post at TPV. Then follow the link to the original post. There were so many warning signs that the author ignored or let pass. I get wanting to avoid conflict. I get that she wanted to believe the promo folks would actually come through at the end. But there comes a point wher eyou have to remind yourself that this is YOUR business and you have to act in a businesslike manner. That means demanding accountings before the proverbial excrement hits the fan. That means doing the hard thing, even when you would prefer to keep your head down and avoid making the hard decisions.

I’m not saying that all those who promise to promote your book are con artists. I’m sure there are some out there who give a good value for your dollar. But, before you agree to go with one of them — and certainly before you give them any money — read every word of the contract. If you don’t understand it, have an attorney look at it. Ask for references and google the names of not only the company but any employee you might be working with. If you start working with someone and that person quits answering your emails or calls, escalate the matter to their supervisor asap. Don’t wait until it is almost time for your book to come out. Most of all, make sure there is an out clause in the contract, something that will allow you to vacate the contract for cause — and without accruing a penalty. There is one other bit of advice I’d give. Make sure they are willing to give regular accountings of not only what they have done but the time spent doing it, monies spent, etc. You are their client. That means they work for you and should answer to you and not the other way around.

Finally, remember that for all the money you spend before a book is published, you have to make that money back before you can say you have made any sort of a profit. So do the math and try to figure out how many books you would have to sell in order to become profitable. This brings up one last “don’t do this” warning. Don’t sign away a percentage of your roylaties. That leaves you with the onus of having to keep the books in such a way that you are giving regular accountings to someone else. It means you might be paying someone years after they last did anything for you. It also means you leave yourself open to a call for an accounting and that will put the burden on you to prove you only sold so many books. You pay for a service at the time the service is rendered, not in perpetuity.

Since we’re talking promotion, I guess I ought to do a bit myself.

Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1)

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

49 thoughts on “Think first

    1. I read that, stopped, went back, and re-read it to make certain I understood what was going on. By the time I got half-way through the original post, I was torn between offering her a crying towel and pushing her gently towards Kris Rusch’s blog, or looking around to see where I’d left my cluebat. There were more red flags than at a Soviet May Day parade!

      1. I know. I felt the same way. Then I wondered if it was worth it considering what she felt she had spent money wisely on.

  1. And to top it all off: she remains convinced that the $3,500 was well spent, only the $6,500 was wasted. That cover and proofread could be done for a LOT less, maybe even barter.

    1. Well – if the $3,500 had been spent on a great original cover, a rigorous edit, sophisticated lay-out, and a couple of boxes of print copies to send out for reviews – that would have been worth it, and about what I would have charged her through the Tiny Publishing Bidness.

  2. This only echos what I heard in that writer’s conference I managed to attend. Even the big houses aren’t doing any real promotion, unless you’re already a “name”.

    I did almost choke when one of them quoted 2k for editing. -sigh- If I had that kind of change lying around, I wouldn’t be still working as a wage slave. She was saying that it would be better to use a “professional” editor before submitting to any Publisher (large or small) Since I have little to offer as barter, it may be a while before Winds of Desperation sees the light of day. 😦

    Bit of blow to the confidence. But, just to show that some muses never shut up, there’s a new project getting sketched out.

      1. Unfortunately, no.

        My idea of a cover is to go back to the “leather bound” look. 😉 Not useful in the digital era.

        1. That’s fine with me.

          Running my monitors at high resolution, the little thumbnail icons are too small to resolve any detail at a 30-inch viewing distance. And that’s bypassing the whole “color” issue.

          Way too much “professional” artwork looks like someone’s four-year-old did it in fingerpainting class, most of the rest might as well have GENERIC STOCK IMAGE stamped over it.

          No cover art is WAY better than bad or mediocre cover art.

          Once you put art on the cover, it’s *part of the book* to most people. And if your art is bad, it indicates your book is so poor you couldn’t even be bothered to make a decent cover.

          There are lots of ways to fail, and only a few to win.

          1. What I keep seeing in my head for our novel is red “leather” with the logo of the detective agency (Native American Medicine Wheel) in the middle.

              1. _blink_
                Seriously? For Urban Fantasy with heavy tones of mystery… heck, I can do that.

                I see some experimenting in the very near future. _grin_

                1. Like I said – the font is going to make or break that. If your logo has enough hint of ‘fantasy’ that will help. But I like the mental image I’ve got 😀

            1. Just getting my coffee (walker of the nights this time of year), so I can’t remember what it’s called offhand – but the nubbly leather you get when it’s cured with corn under it… Well worn piece of saddle leather in the middle with the logo… That sounds like something I would take a look inside at least!

              I think that your vision is good (and probably easier than I had for my first one, which had to be simplified quite a bit to my skill level).

        1. Sigh. Rolling my own, too; Pixabay and GIMP. I am not even a poor imitation of a graphic artist, though, so way too much time and (maybe) better than 50% of all indie covers on Amazon these days. And you know what the competition level is there.

          Next time Sarah rolls out a post on covers – I should have plenty of “good” examples for her to shred!

          Ah, well, got through the first cover without losing too much more hair, and just last night hit the “landmark” of a clean Kindle generation. Few tweaks to that, and get the blog running, and I’ll finally be sticking a toe into the water this weekend with the first (really) short story. Just about exactly eleven months after I got “serious” about this thing… I’m taking it on faith that it does get faster and easier the more you do it.

      2. Do you want a post on covers? Because that’s how you get a post on covers.

        More seriously, I’m happy to ‘cover’ (heheh) the topic on Saturday. Let me know if you have specific questions and I’ll start working on it.

        1. My suggestion is that they look over what you and Sarah have done on covers — aren’t they linked off the homepage? — and then ask questions. They can put the questions in the comments to last Friday’s post. That way, you can address specifics. Of course, I am still pre-coffee, so I’m probably all wrong here. VBEG

          1. My Dad was a first-rate veterinary surgeon; very small practice, so we kids worked in it. Watched a lot of surgeries, even (when older) handed instruments. Doesn’t mean you want me doing anything with your pets…

            I’ve studied all of the posts, clipped them off to my hard drive. Doesn’t make me a cover artist. That is a lot of time and work still ahead of me. I’m figuring I’ve managed to make about the first 10%? of my bonehead mistakes so far.

            1. Maybe I need to set this up as a workshop and give you all homework. Make you come up with a subgenre, find art (I can put links for free stuff, since this will be an exercise), find a font that works for that, and actually put it all together.

        2. What I love about the Mad Geniuses… It’s a very short story, can I send you the mobi? Then you’ll have the cover to, ahem, disassemble in context…

            1. Yep, have the cover, or I wouldn’t have the whole file. Just need where to send it. (The file… Well, I’m tweaking that tonight, I’m noticing odd things in the text formatting now that, by everything I’m told, shouldn’t be happening.)

        3. Advice for those who actually can make art (In my case fast is only in 3D, but with that and filterforge…) would be appreciated. Most of what I’ve seen has been ‘go forth and stock photo’.

          1. er – I do usually say stock photo, but don’t stop there, for goodness sakes! It’s a base, not the endpoint. I can art, and do, but most Indie Authors can’t, so the stock is a good starting point. But you are right about there needing to be more.

            1. I’d just like some tips (or even places too look) for good advice on the making of art for covers rather than the assembling. I’ve already got the tools to do my own art, seems silly not to use them.

              1. Oddly enough, some of what I learned about art for covers was from going to Baen Book Roadshows at cons and listening to Toni Weisskopf talk about the cover art they use, what worked, how it’s designed around the need for title/author’s name.

                The other criteria that is important is to really understand what works for genre covers. You can’t put a photo on a science fiction cover – that’s easy. But you can subconsciously send clues by incorporating elements into the art… and if you’re doing covers primarily for ebooks, the art needs to be clean and simple. Too many details muddy at the thumbnail size.

                oof – this could work into a post if I let it. LOL – ok. I will add it to the list of ideas.

                1. Mrphhh. Long comment will be forthcoming after more caffeine infusion; I’m thinking about all of the things I have learned, all of the things I can see that I need to learn, and the gaps I know are there but don’t have a handle on just exactly what they are… And the differences between people like you, Sarah, and Wyrdbard and myself as to the directions we’re coming from… Probably in the (normal people) morning.

          2. To add to what Cedar just said, doing stock photo doesn’t have to look stock. That is especially true when you merge multiple images into one. Or when you use programs like Filterforge. The key is finding what sort of images are being used for your genre. If the covers of the best sellers are drawings, you don’t want to use photos and vice versa. The same holds for fonts. A font that works for hard SF won’t work for fantasy or mystery, etc. Honestly, fonts are where so many indies go wrong. They don’t understand the font signals genre as much as the image does.

            1. I have filter forge. I need to get it updated and quite a few things downloaded. I understand that stock doesn’t have to look like stock. I’ll be frank. It’s easier for me to do my own art than try and cobble together disparate stock photos or find just the right one, but while some things translate from stock to original art, others don’t. Other than a straight mimicry of an extant cover, I’d like some tips for laying out such art appropriately. What’s appropriate for a piece that is going to go on the wall is not appropriate for a cover. (Usually too busy in my observation.)

    1. Oh bite me! — Not you but the idiot who said to have a professional editor work on your book before submitting it. You know why they want you to do that, don’t you? So they don’t have to hire editors themselves. That is part of what used to be their job that they have shunted off to agents now. At last some of the houses have. Should you have a round of beta readers have at your book? Hell yes. Should one of them be a grammar Nazi? Most definitely. But to pay $2k before you have even submitted the book? Nope, nope and nope again.

      Seriously, do not let that sort of advice get to you. Write your book. Have your beta readers look at it — and find some who are not family members. Pay attention to what the betas say. Don’t try to change the book to please each one individually but if three of them are saying basically the same thing, consider what they are saying and why. Most of all, finish your book and decide what you want to do with it and then do it, be it trying for a trad contract or going indie and good luck!

      1. Honestly, we did take more away from the market part of session. So my sister [and partner in crime] are taking toddler steps, getting a dedicated e-mail under our pen name and discussing what approach we want to take for a web-site. Since neither of us is good at blogging, that is going to take some work. (Oh, that lady really didn’t do a good job “selling” her small publishing house – at least not to me)

        1. It’s the blogging that gets me. My recommendation there is to remember you don’t have to blog every day or even every other day. What you do have to do — and here I’m saying do as I say and not as I do — is have a schedule you stick to.

          Also, your blog is a way for your readers to get to know you. Yes, you want to talk writing and the genesis of your work, etc., but you also want to throw in enough non-writing stuff that they feel they know you. Just don’t give enough info that they can find you. There are some crazies out there.

          Start simple with the blogging. Introduce yourselves and what you’re doing and give them a taste of your work. Get a blog roll going, hopefully with others who will link back to you. Then put butt in chair, hands on keyboard and write, focusing on your writing but adding the regular posts.

          1. Blog is this week’s focus. Yay, I knew most of this already. Good teachers – top four bookmarks in “Writer’s Blogs” are ATH, MGC, Nocturnal Lives, and Cedar Writes.

  3. OTOH, Mike Cernovich had a blog post about selling 10k copies of Gorilla Mindset in year (actually, he’s hit 13k) …

          1. His book just hit my “buy” list – because he obviously knows how to sell the book. Sometimes circular reasoning is correct…

  4. I did my own covers, using pictures supplied by my roommate (and, yes, those are my hands). I did my own editing, incorporating notes from beta readers, and I did my own formatting. I got the audio versions done on ACX, by a voice actor who agreed to work for royalty sharing. Total cash outlay for publishing four novels: 0$.

    To date my only successful promotion has been the Immerse Or Die Story Bundle I was part of earlier this year.

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