Tag Archives: publishing

Writers: A few things you need…

There’s a few key things you MUST HAVE to sell your book, based on my research of the marketplace and careful chatting with other writers.

1. You must have a great cover.
Your readers will be scanning a page full of twenty or so little postage stamp size books. They will then click “next page” unless a book cover & title interest them. That’s all you have for advertising – just your cover and title. That is your initial hook. Cruddy covers are generally instant death for ebooks.

2. You must have a great blurb.
Learn to write the blurb. Study the blurb. The blurb is not a review – you do not tell the reader “this is the hottest novel since…” or “this is just like so-and-so’s books”. SHOW, don’t tell. ;) Read the backs of some paperback novels, if you’re writing a novel. Once your cover hooks someone to the book page, only your blurb will hook them to take the next step. Just like writing a query letter is a different skill from writing a book, writing a blurb is its own skill. Learn it.

3. You must have an outstanding sample.
Ditch as much front matter as you can. Shrink your image to take up as little file space as you can. Only the first X% of an ebook is in the sample, and it’s by file size, so cover seems to count (please correct me if I’m wrong there, that’s my observation, concurred with by a few other Kindle authors). Small file size JPG for the cover (reduce quality a little in Photoshop when saving), put as much front matter at the back of the book as you can, and give them the biggest sample you can. The sample must be interesting. The sample must be great writing. The sample must grab the reader so well that they immediately buy the book when finishing the sample.

Cover to blurb to sample to purchase.

4. You must have a good price.
That doesn’t mean 99 cents, unless it’s a short story or a loss-leader story, say the first of a trilogy. I’d stay in the “money range” for most books, which means $2.99 and up. No higher than $6, I think, since I’ve noticed sales seem to take a hit in that range for many writers. Keep it high enough to make a good profit on sales, and low enough that it’s *easy* for the reader to click that “Buy” button after finishing the sample. You don’t want to make them think about it. You want them to click. ;)

5. You must have a compelling book.
The rest of the book has to be as good as the sample. Remember, they can return the book if the sample is stunning and the rest of the book is your grocery list. ;) You want them to walk away from reading with a feeling of deep satisfaction in the purchase.

6. You must write other books.
If you want to sell, and keep selling, you should be writing more books. Your next book is your best form of marketing. The more books you have up, the more each tends to sell. Short stories are great ads for your other writing, too, but books are best. Continuing to write new books keeps recent releases of yours in the spotlight – in an ideal world, you want to produce at least one every three months, to stay in the “released in the last 90 days” category. Realistically, most writers can’t do that: jobs, family, and lack of experience stand in the way. So we do what we can. Produce quality each time, but continue producing. I suspect – but can’t prove – that ebook publishing is a bit like the old shark swimming myth; if you stop moving, you’re dead.

Every book you have up compounds the chances that a reader will see the cover, like the blurb, download the sample, buy the book, have a great reading experience – and then go buy another book you wrote. Get them to buy a few of your books in a row, and you have a fan. That reader will remember your name, maybe for years. They will look for your new releases, and grab them. If you have just one book up, your name will likely be forgotten shortly after the book is done. You need to reinforce the brand recognition by getting readers to read more than one book.

Some folks like Bob Mayer and John Locke have even gone so far as to suggest you not begin doing any marketing – or even not bother publishing at all! – until you have 3-5 books ready to roll. Lots of indie writers burn themselves out marketing away, spending hours on that process which they could be using to write the next book. Which remember, is the primary form of marketing for all your work. ;)  Stay on task, keep getting your books out and up and rolling. I favor the publish right away, and publicize later option. It’s not like the books are going to vanish if you don’t market them. They’ll still be there a few months later. Get the other books up, then market the lot of them. With three books up, every tweet, every blog post, every ad, every review becomes three times as effective. With five books, it’s even better.


Even if you do all these things, it doesn’t guarantee success. But failing to do these things invites failure.

“The Book Designer” – blog about book design

Having trouble figuring out book format, terminology, typefaces, etc.? Want to know about some of the perils and pitfalls to avoid in designing a good book? I was directed to this site by a tweet from The Passive Voice (another great blog to follow, incidentally, regarding the publishing business in general). Take a look.

Some great articles there. The one on 7 Things You Can Do Today to Improve Your Book Design is pertinent for many self publishers. But there’s a collection of other articles there, including a nice one on fonts, and another which walks you through print book terminology, which can be very helpful.

Worth taking a look at, folks!

Subsidy Publishing vs Self Publishing

I’ve been speaking loud and long on this topic over on LinkedIn lately. It’s a growing issue, a problem I am seeing inexperienced writers facing every day. A week does not go by without me hearing from or reading some writer talking about how they “self published” their book through some subsidy press or another.

So I thought it’s time to have another talk about this.

First, some definitions:

Subsidy Press: A publisher who requires an author to subsidize the cost of producing a book. Generally speaking, these publishers charge up front for to format the book’s interior, make a cover for the book, and increasingly these days, to convert to ebook formats as well. Again, with a subsidy press, the writer pays for the work. Then the subsidy press uploads the print book to Lightning Source, and the ebook files to the various ebook retailers, in theory handling this “for” the writer, taking in return a share (generally 50-90%) of profits from sales.

Self Publishing: A writer is also the publisher of the book. This means that the writer is uploading the book to the writer’s accounts at ebook retailers, and that the writer is uploading the print book interior and cover PDFs to the printer. The writer’s publishing business name is the one which will appear on the spine of the book, if any does.

The two are not the same thing. It’s pretty obvious even at first glance that the latter method gets you twice to ten times as much income per sale – so the subsidy press must produce twice to ten times the sales, or twice to ten times the value, for it to be a worthwhile investment. Generally speaking, however, these presses do nothing to market a book after it is produced; they simply upload it to the various sites and let it sit. If the author markets the book, the publisher profits. If the author fails to market the book, the publisher still made their money being paid to produce the book in the first place.

But insidiously, these companies are increasingly calling themselves “self publishing companies” to hop on the bandwagon of writers trying to self publish. With self pub successes like John Locke, Amanda Hocking, and Joe Konrath – and bestselling writers like Barry Eisler and now J.K. Rowlings self publishing – self pub has become the “in” thing to do in many circles. So these companies attempt to take advantage of that and use “self publishing” as their theme.

They’re not self publishing. This is fraudulent advertising designed to take advantage of uninformed writers. No book produced and published by a subsidy press is self published. Subsidy presses are just another traditional publisher with very low standards of acceptance and very bad contracts for writers.

That’s not to say you can’t get help to self publish, though. There are numerous companies out there who will do the same work, for about the same up front fee, but then hand the files over to the writer. There are a goodly and growing number of individuals who offer these services as well. You pay the fee, they do the work, they hand you the files, and you upload the files to your account. You’ve self published. You keep all the post-retailer profits. You’ve simply outsourced some of the work involved in book production – and many publishers do that, from the smallest small presses like yours, to the largest NYC publishing houses.

Here’s my rules for avoiding problem-companies:

– IF a company is asking for you for money up front for your book, THEN that company should be giving you the completed files for formatted interior and cover, and YOU should be uploading those files to YOUR account on Createspace or Lightning Source, and YOU should be uploading the ebook files to Amazon, Smashwords, and Pubit/B&N.

– IF a company is asking for money to produce your book, AND that company is not providing you the files but is instead uploading those files to THEIR accounts, then that company is inevitably, in my experience, a bad partner. If that company is saying that they are helping you self publish, then they are a scam.

Scam is such a harsh word; but when a company is clearly using fraudulent marketing in their attempts to win customers, then I find it appropriate. Websters defines scam as “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation”. And that certainly fits the bill for many of the companies involved in these deceptive practices. Avoid them at all costs.

Aw, and I’m in Good Company, too.

Robin Sullivan just posted to her blog this morning that she, too, was banned from the Absolute Write site. Her ban message?

You have been banned for the following reason:

Just get the hell off my site. You’re relentlessly snotty, rude, and you’re a f***cking bald-faced liar. I’m done with you.

Date the ban will be lifted: Never

Stars added by Robin; the moderator used the full expletive.

Well, seems like I’m in good company. For those who don’t know, Robin is the head of Ridan Publishing, a great little company she’s built which is helping quite a good number of authors succeed with style. She’s also helped her husband self publish a stack of his books, to a level of success that got offers made from multiple large publishers.

But for some reason, her word isn’t as good as the word of a bunch of pundits who constantly thrashed whatever she had to say. A policy which enabled them to maintain a consistent, steady attack on most posts which put self publishing in a positive light – because it’s hard to argue with folks who are able to voice their own opinion as fact and have their “industry experience” validate those claims. Even if they have no indie publishing experience.

Robin came in and backed me up (thanks!), and we called them on it. Last night, the site owner responded with this:

Originally Posted by KevinMcLaughlin View Post
First off – on double standard. There is one. There is a small clique of people who frequent this forum who deliberately attack pretty much any post which actively supports self publishing. It just is. And they’re just expressing their opinions, and usually not doing so in an offensive way – so it’s really hard to report the posts.

Errr….So where is the “double standard” you’re whining about, then, exactly? Because people have other opinions and they get to express them?

A double standard?



Why? Because I don’t shut everyone up that you disagree with, so you can have a climate-controlled echo chamber? Because I let people cite statistics, facts, and anecdotes that directly contradict what you so desperately want to convince other writers of — no matter if it’s right for them or not? Because we’re not a board that’s all about how self-publishing will make the average Jill and Joe Writer rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams or the reach of the NYT Bestseller list, so none of us ever have to face the sting of a rejection slip again unless we’re irredeemable and pedantic masochists desperately clinging to the rotting dinosaur carcass of Publishing-That-Was?

Originally Posted by rsullivan9597 View Post
You are not the only one who sees the double standard being administered. There are a lot of lurkers that send me emails and PM’s to this effect and thank me for offering a “dissenting opinion”.

“Perpencity” and “desenting” and “the lurkers support me in email” and never met a pair of scare quotes that didn’t make you positively giddy — but you wonder why some of us are a wee bit skeptical about betting our writing careers on your advice? And why we’re not quite ready to tell other writers that they should bet their writing careers and a book they love on your advice? Really? That’s still a mystery to you?

Kevin, you and Robin have both been consistently rude, snotty, condescending, evasive, and utterly unpleasant in this room. Yet you feel completely free to insult other writers here, twist and misrepresent their words, and then say that *I* run a board with a double standard because I dare to let people disagree with you?

Get lost. Both of you. Get the hell off my website.

I’m sick to death of the misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and outright bald-faced lies that some of you insist on spreading like it’s gospel truth. Go start your own damned cheerleader forum where no one gets to post rebuttals, ask questions, challenge assertions, or disagree with your awesomeness and mighty self-publishing guru-ness and wisdom(!!11!), and good luck with it.

Robin linked to the thread which got us banned. You tell me if you think we were being overboard.

In the meantime, I’ve still got some mixed emotions about this. I’m sad that such a well known site has become a propaganda mouthpiece. I’m worried for the writers who will go there and receive misinformation.

But I’m proud to be standing in Robin’s company on this one.

Kicked Out

I suppose it was inevitable. Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.

For the first time in over two decades of using the internet, I got banned from a site.

Not just any site, either. I was banned from the Absolute Write forums. And honestly, I’m pretty glad I was. Let me explain.

Absolute Write, for those who don’t know, is mostly a set of forums where writers, agents, publishers, and other sorts of folks in the writing industry chat. And of course, with the huge burst in self publishing, a bunch of posts about that started up. So they made a set of forums for self pub. I rolled across them a couple of months ago, and was pretty horrified by what I saw: a large number of folks claiming to be industry experts deliberately spreading misinformation about what self publishing was, how best to go about it, and whether one could actually do it successfully (outside a few “outliers”). So I stepped in and started pointing out the flaws in the logic.

But I ran into a snag, of course. There’s a dedicated crew there who actively use the forums to disabuse writers of the notion that self publishing is a legitimate career path – actively work to dissuade folks from trying to follow that path, and use the platform of the site and their own “expertise” to push their agenda. Continue reading

Begun, the publishing war has…

Who can resist quoting Yoda?

OK, back to a more serious note. When Dean Wesley Smith commented a couple of months ago that he saw a war in publishing on the way, and sides already forming up, I really wasn’t sure. I mean, I saw folks who didn’t want to believe things were changing as fast as they were. And I saw a lot of folks still stuck in the “Writer’s Digest” myths. But I sorta thought that people would gradually catch on, and writers would settle into a new world of putting their own stuff up as ebooks and print on demand books, and then selling some books to big publishers as a loss leader to get their marketing dollars behind a writer’s name. My gut said that writers, being generally smart people, would do the smart thing.

Oh, was I ever wrong.

I’m convinced, now. Dean was right, is right.

A large chunk of writers are simply not happy with the changes taking place. They don’t want to have to be responsible for their businesses. They want to basically be employees – write a book, get paid. Unfortunately, it’s never really worked like that (despite myths to the contrary), and is less like that today than it’s been in decades. But there’s a big chunk of writers who don’t want those changes. They want their agents taking care of the business stuff. They want the publisher marketing the book. They want to sit back, write, and not have to worry about anything else.

That mindset is doomed.

Dean just wrote a new article about how the latest agent scam is taking off and blossoming. More and more agencies are becoming publishers. They offer to take your book, get it ready to publish, publish the ebook, and split “net receipts” with you after expenses for the book are paid. Dean goes into why this is a horrible deal in a lot of detail here. Short form? Your $4.99 ebook would make you $3.50 a copy if you sell it yourself. With these agents, your $4.99 ebook earns you $1.75 a copy MINUS whatever their operating expenses are – *after* you’ve paid off whatever their production costs were on the book with those $1.75 chunks. So if they decide the “net receipt” is $2 on that $4.99 ebook ($3.50 minus $1.50 for their operating expenses, accounting dept, etc.), and they decide they spent $10,000 getting your book edited, formatted, and uploaded, you will need to sell 10,000 ebooks before you get a red cent from them. And after that you’d get $1 a book.

Not saying those are the numbers any specific agent gone publisher is using. But they could. “Net receipts” is an extremely vague term unless it is absolutely defined in the contract. Basically, these agent deals are very nearly the same thing as the scam subsidy presses out there – the ones who charge writers up front AND charge a percentage of income per book. The difference is, instead of charging up front and laying the fees out on the table, these agents are potentially able to obscure their fees so that a writer might have a very hard time figuring out what they’re actually supposed to be making. Extremely dangerous.

Kris Rusch just wrote an article, too – talking about some of the other grabs going on. Agents not longer work for writers, she asserts. And that seems borne out by the flat-out dangerous and outrageous clauses showing up – not in publishing contracts, but in *agency* contracts! Clauses which give the agency a chunk of any future sale of the work, even if the agency is fired. Clauses that give an agency a chunk of any future sales in that world, or with those characters, and definitely any sequels. Even if the writer has since fired that agency.

It was bad enough that publishers were pulling those sorts of dangerous contract clauses. But now, agencies are as well.

I agree completely with her take on the subject.

– There is no longer any reason for a writer to have an agent. If you want someone to go over a contract, get an IP lawyer, it’s cheaper and they’re actually regulated by the government and actually educated about contract law.

– If a writer does not stand up for him or herself, nobody else is going to do it. It’s up to us.

– Writers now have options. We can say NO to a contract and just publish the book ourselves. If the contract is bad, and the other side won’t budge, say no.

But I’m not really sure that’s sinking in. I spent part of last week over on a writer’s forum that’s well known and pretty well regarded. It’s a very popular hang out and location to get advice. And they had forums for both self publishing and e-publishing, so I popped in. I quickly found myself embattled by a bunch of folks who were passionate in their resistance to the idea of self publishing, to a degree that was almost scary. Even the designated mods of the forums were pretty solid in their negative feedback about self publishing. It didn’t take me too long to catch on. The self publishing forum was in place to collect posts about the subject, so a bunch of folks could trash the idea regularly enough that writers stopping by see that self publishing is clearly still a bad idea, and not a valid route for writers to follow. Maybe OK to dabble in, but not as a career route.

The forum isn’t there for discussion so much as it’s there for maintaining a steady flow of disinformation.

But that, and places like it, are some of the fields where the battle is being fought right now. Writers come in hearing about self publishing taking off, and looking for ways to make it work for them. If they happen across Dean’s blog, or Kris’s blog, or Joe Konrath’s blog, they’ll hear about how to make it work. If they go to some other places…they hear about how it’s all hogwash and overblown and doomed to failure.

The level of Stockholm Syndrome in some of those places is pretty frightening.

But then, so is the alternative to a lot of folks. If self publishing really is now the *best* option for most writers, what does that mean? It means writers must take charge of finding an editor. It means writers must learn to format ebooks. It means writers must trust their work enough to put it up for public sales without the “validation” of sale to an NYC publisher. It means writers need to know good art from bad well enough to hire a good artist. It means writers need to learn some basic accounting. It means writers need to market their books (arguably, that was already true since publishers were no longer doing much marketing on most books, but the myth says otherwise).

It means writers need to step up and take charge of the business they are running.

Which scares the beejeezus out of a lot of writers.

But here’s the thing: one way or another, it’s pretty much over for those writers. The ones too scared, too badly grounded in old myths, too ill-informed about industry changes, and – dare I say it – too lazy to take charge of their business are done for. If the bad contracts don’t kill their careers, simple contraction of the ‘traditional’ publishing industry will do it instead. Only writers willing to learn business are going to survive in the years ahead, via either trade publishers or self publishing. The option to have someone else ‘take care of it’ for you is simply no longer valid anymore.

Stand up. Step up. Take charge. Make it happen for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.

Guest Blog at “Mythos of an Indie”

J.E. Medrick invites some of the writers for the “Twelve Worlds” anthologies to do a series of interviews and guest blogs over on his site. Mines up now – actually, has been up a few days now, and I’m a little late getting the word out over on my own blog. ;)  Been a busy week though.

I wrote about dreams, and how giving up old dreams can be a big factor in the decision to go indie writer, or not. And how it behooves the indie writer to find new dreams to dream…  Upbeat stuff, take a peek!


Are publishers under-reporting ebook sales to authors?

It’s been an interesting couple of days in the publishing world. It seems like some publishers may be under-reporting ebook sales to their authors, in some cases reporting as little as 10% of the actual sales in royalty statements.

Needless to say, this has a lot of writers confused and concerned.

Yesterday, Mike Stackpole talked about this issue. Today, David Farland wrote about it in his “Daily Kick” emails to writers, and Kris Rusch blogged about it on her Business Rusch blog. All three confirmed the problem. What seems to be happening is writers who have indie and corporate published books are comparing the results of the two for the first six months of 2010 right now. And finding that corporate books whose Amazon ranking was higher than their indie books are reportedly selling 30 copies to the 300 copies the indie book sold.

The better rank (which should mean more sales, not less) is getting 10% as many sales.

Kris Rusch went into a lot of detail about what she thinks is going on: basically, bad accounting practices designed to sort of tide the companies over while they get their act together. The problem is, that’s still money (potentially, a lot of money) not being paid out to writers.

This is a dangerous road for publishers to start down. Remember when everyone was appalled that Borders had stopped paying some of the publishers supplying the company with books? When you stop paying the people who provide what you sell, you’re a heartbeat away from going out of business. It seems like right now, some publishers are doing something similar to their writers. It’s a precarious place to be.

As David Farland said, “In such a world, authors really may have no choice but to walk away from the New York model.”

Interviewed by BCWoods

A little over a week ago, writer and fellow Twelve Worlds contributor BC Woods asked me if I’d be interested in a long interview-slash-discussion over on his blog. He presented a list of topics he wanted to talk about that looked really interesting, and he complimented me outrageously, so I said “sure”.  ;)

I have to admit, I was really curious walking in how a co-written Google Docs article would feel. I’ve been listening to Joe Konrath talk about using Docs for real time collaboration between writers on new fiction, which sounded pretty amazing. He obviously enjoys working that way, and this was my first chance to co-write something on Google Docs. The experience was interesting – I think fiction would be even more so.

So we talked about a whole bunch of things, ranging from strengths of traditional and indie publishing, to talking about how to deal with the perceived “legitimacy gap” for indies and working on professionalism in our publishing efforts. And then we got a little farther afield on some topics, talking about quality, awards, professional writing organizations, and more.

It’s a fun interview.

It’s also almost 8000 words. Grab a good cuppa something before sitting down to read it. ;)

Here’s the interview.

Birthday Presents: Indie Publishing Business Names

So I had a birthday on Saturday. Wasn’t really anything exceptional. I worked most of the day, came home after midnight, and brought the mail in. Wife and kids were all sound asleep, so I sat down with the mail. Couple of cards, which I set aside unopened – my wife would want me to save those for later. Paycheck. That was a nice birthday present. New nursing license, in at last. Always good.

But I also got this little letter from the Secretary of State:

My certificate of trade name registration. For my publishing company.

That was an especially nice birthday present.

I think having a company name is important. There’s a sense of professionalism one has when operating “as a business”. As a culture, we take a business more seriously than we take a person’s individual venture. We see a business name attached, and it automatically gives the project more credibility. That’s true even if it’s a sole proprietorship, because we see the person as trying to “do it for real” when they register their business.

From a publishing perspective, what does this mean? A book with “Kevin McLaughlin” listed as publisher won’t be taken seriously by as many people as the same book, same cover, with “Role of the Hero Publishing” listed instead. Or “Red Heart Press”, or “Rocketship Books”, or whatever company name you might decide to use. Just like “Joe’s Garage” will be taken seriously by more people than Joe working on cars out of his actual garage would be, adding a business name gives your publishing effort an extra leg up.

Internally, I think it matters too. We’re not unaffected by our culture. By taking the time, effort, and bit of money to register a business, we’re telling our subconscious that yes, this is real to me. This matters. This is not my hobby – this is my business. Might not be full time yet, but I’m serious about it. It says the same thing to family, too. Sometimes, being able to say that the son/daughter/grandma/aunt/father/daughter-in-law or whatever is starting a publishing business (rather than “is trying to write a book”) is just easier on everyone involved. ;)

There’s another factor, too. We’re in the middle of changes right now, changes which have allowed indies to “get in there” and make things happen even as individual authors with no business name, no special requirements at all. That’s how it is now; that’s not necessarily how it will always be, though. Things change – right now, the only sure thing is that we’ve got more change ahead. Individual writers might go right on being able to sell books – or things might change to make that impossible.

But the small press has been around a really, really long time. And it’s unlikely that any change coming down the pipe will wipe out the small press. So to some degree, emulating the business model of a small press will add viability to your business. It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s another small step toward making sure you’ll be able to keep doing things the way you want to do them as we march on into the future.

So for a variety of reasons – I strongly advocate giving this a try. It’s usually not too expensive. Found the business. Maybe set up a website for the company (or maybe save that for later – it’s not really critical right away). Take on the mantle of professional publisher, as well as professional writer. I think your attitude toward the publishing end of the work will be improved by the change.