Where Indie Authors Waste the Most Cash

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I may have mentioned somewhere along the way that I’ve competed on the “pro bbq” circuit in the past. I enjoy cooking (mainly because I enjoy eating!) At one point, I considered launching a small BBQ joint and even consulted the Small Business Association about it. “The most important thing in a new venture like this,” the advisor told me, “is being able to limit waste.” It’s not any different in other businesses, either. And that’s what writing is: your business.

I was sitting off to the back of an after-party at a comicon with another author (cuz that’s where they stick the writers… actually, we migrated there naturally,) and we were laughing about places/things that were an absolute financial suckhole–things that were a colossal failure to even make back the money paid. These are usually author services or advertising avenues. Most of our experiences were the same, and we universally agreed that dollar for dollar, we wish we’d have spent the money on editors, instead.

Without further ado, here is a list of the top worst places to spend money for authors:

  1. Blog Tours & social media blitzs (twitter tours)
  2. Press Releases
  3. Writers contest entry fees at print journals
  4. Online Writers Courses or Classes
  5. Manuscript submissions services
  6. multiple books on the art and craft of writing (moreso if you never get around to reading them–buying them can be a form of procrastination for many)
  7. subscriptions to writer’s websites
  8. Travel for Conventions outside of writers’ areas (conventions/conferences are a great investment, but there are usually ones close enough they don’t require airfare)
  9. Professional Video Trailers for Books
  10. Paid Beta Reviews
  11. Writing Software that went unused

Granted, this is not by any means an exhaustive list—but it’s the items that were repeatedly noted by other authors on a couple forums and writers groups I belong to. They might prove profitable for some people, so this list isn’t a “never use these things,” kind of warning. It should, however, tell you that if you’re going to pay for any of the things on the list you should certainly count the cost and understand that it might be wasteful, there might be ways to achieve the same end result for free, and if you’re on a tight budget but planning to spend cash those dollars might be better served elsewhere.

Another thing comment that came up from many authors alongside those large money holes were time wasters. Spending too much time on bad promo efforts was big. Copy and pasting the same message to four-hundred Twitter feeds or Facebook groups is a huge time-suck; nobody pays attention to those things anyway—their full of bots and fake accounts and incredibly cluttered (even if you get a sale after those four hours, four hours spent doing marketing correctly will pay off better in the long run.)

Where money is best spent, in my experience, is in editing and cover art. A solid cover helps open the door and pique a reader’s interest.  Inevitably, they will crack it open and read a couple paragraphs or click the Look Inside feature. If the first things they see are clunky writing, boring writing, or errors they are apt to pass on a purchase.

As I’ve promised to so many people, you can DIY Indie publish your book with no cash out of pocket. It is absolutely possible! Most people don’t have the full skillset required and everyone should try to outsource things like edits and beta reads so they get fresh eyes and perspective on a story. Some people will sprinkle in some wisdom and set a budget, even a small one, and try to step up their game. If you are pooling some money to invest in your book the best expenditures you can make are 1.editing and 2. cover art… and in that order.

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Double Free Book Day!

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Until midnight tonight you can get my novel Wolf of the Tesseract on Kindle for free as part of my publisher’s Cyber Monday push.  I’m also doing an early push for the new Dekker’s Dozen book, Weeds of Eden… I’ll give it a more detailed look next week, but created a giveaway/coupon code for it. Anyone who joins my sci-fi mailing list will get the book for FREE!

Click Here and you could be reading Dekker’s Dozen: Weeds of Eden right now! Continue reading Double Free Book Day!

State of Writing

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Man. It was a good week, but it blurred by.

I didn’t do much solid writing, but I got some outlining done for Hidden Rings and have 2 of 5 books’ rough outlines done. I’m hoping to complete them all in December so I can concentrate on writing the series throughout 2018. Over the weekend I did two, small holiday craft shows that were scheduled, locally (I literally called the day before each one and made the arrangements) … between the two I think I sold more than 30 books, so I’m very stoked about that.

This week I’m going to aim for outlining another of the 5 books… and reading. I’m in the middle of a couple good books I’d like to finish as well. If I can, I’m also attempting to set up some last-minute, out of state events for next month so I’ll be making some cold-calls to book stores, so cross your fingers.

Today is Cyber Monday and my publisher is running a free giveaway on Wolf of the Tesseract! I’ll be doing another birthday giveaway at the end of the month and will send out a larger push then, but get the book for free on Amazon today and tomorrow only! All I really want for Christmas are book reviews!

When Should I Quit My Dayjob to be a Full-Time Indie Author?

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If you saw the 2007 movie Wild Hogs starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, and Martin Lawrence, you’ll know what I’m talking about today. Martin Lawrence is a writer and stares at a blank page for a year, trying to start his novel when his wife pops in to remind him that he promised to go back to his job at “The Firm” if he hadn’t completed the book after a year. Turns out The Firm is a sewage pumping company and Lawrence can’t write a single word in 365 days.

Most people, at least for big chunks of time, are like that character: we can stare at a blank page for a long time. The dream to become a big-time author is a great dream, but when there’s a mortgage to pay and kids to feed, it might not be sensible. Of course, authors aren’t usually sensible people. If you ask Google when you should quit your dayjob you will find a plethora of people advising you to quit now—many claim that the added stress of a “must succeed or I will die” mentality will somehow propel you into the upper echelons of the publishing sphere and you’ll never look back.

That’s some crap advice. That’s how you wind up flipping burgers at age 40. Most of the people on those first few pages of a web search who advised writers to quit their jobs list the importance of things like “multiple streams of income” and “Lifetime Value” customers. They are the people who are writers (though I’ve never heard of most of them) but sell other writers online classes, courses, workshops, and programs or mentoring services. That is, they sell much more than books and spend most of their time selling writers a product that most authors I’ve talked to say were a waste of their money in retrospect.

I’m not speaking ill of training courses (heck, I love showing others how to succeed), self-investment, or in writers who offer classes or programs—but when it’s your primary source of income then you haven’t really quit your dayjob to write… you just took an even more volatile dayjob that forces you to muddy up the Indie writing pool with some murky promises about what success looks like.

I’ve always been a big fan of hoping to be the exception but planning to be the rule. There are always the exceptions that we hear about, but the rule is far more likely. I read often about authors who made $10,000 in a month, but we rarely hear about how little they made in subsequent months. The internet is stuffed full of articles about authors who made the leap of faith and became wildly successful. Towards the bottom of so many of those articles you will find a tiny sales pitch about buying their seminar or services—that should be an indicator. One page, put up by an “Indie Publisher” who looks suspiciously like a vanity press claimed “it’s easy, quit your dayjob now and publish with us—follow out simple steps and be a huge success,” or something like that.

Quite certainly I am the unpopular voice in the room when I say “don’t.” There is at least some truth in the above statement that you need multiple streams of revenue to be successful and your dayjob is one of them. Until you’ve made the proper preparations and have achieved a certain amount of success do not put all of your eggs in one basket.

It’s certainly not what most people want to hear—but most people who write a book also want to be told that their book is “the best thing I ever read and I couldn’t put it down.” They want to be the exception rather than the rule. Really, most don’t want to hear, “I found a spelling/grammar error every third page or so, one of your supporting characters has no personality, and there are major plot-holes and inaccuracies in chapter eight.” That same sentiment carries over and is why we want to hear “you can do it! Quit now!” rather than the truth: this is actually hard work and takes a lot of planning, commitment, wisdom, and effort in order to succeed and profit margins will be razor thin for longer than you want to know.

One of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve received on the topic has been “don’t quit your dayjob until you can no longer adequately do both jobs well (and your writing is able to carry your financial burdens.)” I’d echo that sentiment. Until you are a proficient swimmer, don’t jump into the deep end without your floaties on.

 

Review: The Book of Ralph

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I was pretty torn when requested to read “The Book of Ralph” for my review blog. I’m rather glad I said yes. There are some genuinely funny moments that jump off the page… not funny “ha ha” but satire humor that puts its finger on some human nature elements and make you laugh while saying, “yup… we’re all gonna die.” Especially in our current culture.

The hook and premise are interesting and the Diet Coke on the moon setup was great (#occupycoke and the North Koreans try to nuke the moon.) It might be more accurate than we’d care to admit.

With spoofs as clever as The Simpsons or Futurama, Christopher Steinsvold walks a careful path that will either get him sued (probably by someone named Kardashian) or propel his book to Hitchhiker’s Guide status (which it certainly seems to have elements of homage within.) Continue reading Review: The Book of Ralph

State of Writing

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I didn’t have any super high expectations for last week. I think I’ll keep it low key again this week, too… despite not shooting high I’ve tended to get some projects completed. The cover art is done for the new Dekker’s Dozen story, plus it got like 3 sets of revisions this week.

To top it off, progress logged on a few other writing projects… one is my renfest joint venture with a few other writers. I spent all weekend cutting Christmas trees, though, so I couldn’t expect too much.

This week I do have a few bookstores to call, but can’t plan too much more than that with my holiday fundraisers happening this week.

What the Heck is NaNoWriMo

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If you’ve been around on the internet for any amount of time as an author and read articles, forums, and other posts about writing and publishing then you’ve probably come across the term Nanowrimo. Just like any subculture, writers have their own vocabulary and this completely made up word might confuse the uninitiated.

Nanowrimo is a combination of words: National Novel Writing Month, which happens to be November. Nanowrimo is a challenge to write a full novel (or 50,000 words) between November 1 and midnight of November 30. The challenge has become something of a big deal and there are a variety of websites and methods participants may use to track and measure progress, encourage others, provide feedback, etc.

The word count is a measurement of a rough draft—not an edited manuscript. Writers are encouraged not to make edits or changes, but rather just get the novel written. Everything can be fixed in the edits, later.

Much like running a marathon or 5k, there is no prize. It’s a challenge more than a competition. Every person who makes it across the finish line is a winner. However, many of the websites that track participants have unique incentives and may offer prizes; some participants have gone on to have their novels picked up by literary agents or publishers.

Completing the nanowrimo challenge, which has been around since 1999, means you have written a book approximately 200 pages in length. Divided equally, it’s about 1,700 words per day or 3 single spaced 8×10 pages with normal font sizing.

The official website for the creative challenge is at http://nanowrimo.org.

 

Review: Caligation

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Brhi Stokes’s Caligation uses a common trope that one of my all-time favorite fiction series uses: suddenly waking up in different reality. It immediately made me think of Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy (Black, the first book, is in my top 5 reads). Of course, poor Ripley doesn’t have the luxury of returning to the real world every time he sleeps. He awakens in some kind of alternate reality and things keep going from bad to worse as he tries to make sense of it all. Continue reading Review: Caligation

State of Writing

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My new Dekker’s Dozen story is written! Dropped about 18k words to begin a trilogy of novellas. I should round it out to something like 20,000 words by Christmas and release it to my mailing list. Hopefully I can complete another few stories in the future that will sync up the time travel elements between Waxing Arbolean Moon and the Last Watchmen. Weeds of Eden is a straight up adventure in space that lets the characters unfold. (My goal is to lump in Arbolean Moon with these three stories and eventually push it into another Dekker’s Dozen paperback before beginning another adventure based on the healed timeline elements after the Divine Machine’s correction noted at the end of the Last Watchmen (which has timeline implications to the Dozen to future stories and this mini-trilogy fills in the events just prior to Last Watchmen as a prequel but also allows for a new story to follow in the wake of its events.)

I think I’m getting the hang of Scrivener, at least the basic functionality (I haven’t really had to compile anything yet except for a few test exports.)

I was hard pressed to get it done considering I logged like 20+ hrs on the road last week–most of which was wheeltime, so  not much opportunity to write. Overall, not much vacating happened on my vacation (pretty typical of me). I will probably take a break next week and work on some personal projects until next week. If I do anything creative it will be to look into cover art and perhaps keep plugging away at the outlines for the Hidden Rings series.

Pros and Cons/Indie vs. Traditional Publishing

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Traditional Publishing is that world where a writer submits his book to a trade publishing house and gets a “book deal.” The book is revised, contracts signed, and then the publisher is responsible for all of the production costs, distribution, and sales. Based on their pay structure, they cut the author a royalty check based on the contract. Up until Indie publishing became a real thing, this was always known simply as “Publishing.”

Indie Publishing is a world that lets a person color outside of the lines. It usually refers to self-published writers who are effectively their own publisher doing all of the things a trade house would do, but with stylistic freedom to try new things. This may also include many smaller Indie Publishing Houses. We rarely use the word “self-publish” because of how stigmatized the word has become (usually reserved more for Vanity Press publishers.) Indies reserve complete creative and financial control of their books.

Vanity Publishing is the kind of press that sets up just to print a book that someone wants to see in print to make themselves feel good (vanity/self-validation), give as a gift or for something like a school or church fundraiser, etc. These places serve an actual purpose (making church cookbooks or printing school yearbooks) but often disguise themselves as traditional publishers, indie publishers, or “hybrid publishers” in order to prey upon Indie authors. Vanity Publishers make their money off of the author rather than off of the book (but still hope to skim a little off the top as well.) Avoid any “publisher” who wants to sell you a “publishing package” or makes their money off of author services. If you can’t outsource all of your needs where they have fees (editing, cover design, formatting, ebook conversion, promo materials, etc.) OR they apply intense pressure to sign their contract, then a publisher is likely a vanity publisher in disguise. We won’t dignify them with our comparison and they should be avoided.

The difference between Indie and Traditional might be something like being on a payroll versus being a private contractor. When you have a boss, manager, or foreman you have to do things his or her way. They may or may not like your own creative approach to the job. A private contractor can say, “This is how I’m doing it—if you don’t like it, don’t hire me for your next job.” They only get to eat when they work, so they have to stay hungry to make the house payment.

Here are some strengths and weaknesses of each:

Pros:

Traditional

Prestige and Validation

Store distribution is easy

Work with a professional team

No upfront fees/costs

Possible advance on royalties

Literary prize potential

Easier to become a “name brand” author

Indie

Creative control

High royalty rates

Quick Payments

Faster time to market

Control over format, rights, etc.

 

Cons:

Traditional

Very slow process

Loss of creative control

Low royalty rates

Lack of significant marketing help

Possible contract issues

Indie

Do everything yourself

No prestige

Difficulty getting on store shelves

Assume all financial risk

Lack of any marketing

 

Every author has to decide what he or she really wants out of being an author. For many, the Indie route will be a stepping stone that helps build a platform for success, for others it is the only way they would ever want to go. Some are “traditional only.” All of those are personal choices and perfectly fine. Many well-known authors, choose a hybrid approach (no, not those fake vanity publishers). They will have some self-published books along with some traditional titles to maximize how much they make from their labors. Think about it, people don’t buy books based on the publishing house—they buy based on the author—his or her name is the brand. Some of these authors will even sign contracts for a book’s US rights and then use the indie route for all worldwide, overseas sales to maximize all marketing opportunities and capitalize on consumer interest. Indies have to stay smart.

At the end of the day it boils down to a few things: creative control and money. And at least at some level, money is always important… you can negotiate creative aspects or walk away based on your heart… but money is more set in stone. Printers and distributors must get paid.

I know a few Indies who sell about a hundred books a month with their online sales. They’ve created a demand and an audience is responding. That is a pretty high number, to be honest, but it is perfectly achievable with a lot of sweat and tears. Indies make about $4 per book (an average I’ve found to be about right) across the 3 major mediums. That’s $4,800 per year and 1,200 books sold. A big name in writing might make over a dollar per book with a traditional press, but the more unknown authors make more like 75 cents per book. Those same sales numbers net the writer less than a grand… one of my traditional publishers made some contract changes saying it would be more profitable. Should have had an agent take a look—my royalties on my last check were about a quarter per book. The above numbers would earn me just three hundred bucks. For a year.

Everyone needs to make those decisions sooner and rather than later.