Researching the Competition — Example: Serena Williams Biography

Researching the competition for your next book can be a roller coaster of emotions. First you think your idea is completely new and out of the ordinary. Yay! Then you start to find others like yours. Nooo! Then you see those books are ancient and yours will be fresh and new. Yay! Then you search again and find 5 new releases. Heartbreak!

It can be exhausting going through all of that, and perhaps that is why many writers avoid researching their competition. However, if you plan to market your book to anyone outside of your family and friends, you need to know who you are up against.

Let’s say  you are interested in writing a book about US tennis great Serena Williams. A quick Amazon search for Williams brings up 419 items. Sorting by year of publication, we seTennis Racquete 12 of those books were slated for publication in 2019 alone. That is a whole lot of competition for a book about Serena Williams!

Looking closer, however, you will also note that very few Serena books were published before 2019. So how do you make your case that your book will have the shelf-life needed to recoup your and your publisher’s investment?

Another search, this time for tennis biographies, illustrates the long life of tennis as a source for biographies: Arthur Ashe, the icon who played in the 1960s, is the subject of a biography set to publish in 2020. Nearly 60 years is a pretty good shelf life.

You need not be discouraged by the competition. All of these books indicate that there is a large population interested in reading about the lives of sports stars.

That said, you might also take this information and decide instead to write about someone else, say, Maria Sharapova, who is ranked number two by ESPN for famous female athletes but has had just a handful of books written about her. Explore a wide-open market like that and you just might land on the bestseller list.

Researching the competition is scary, but it can also lead to inspiration and will almost certainly fuel your success. Keep with it until you know exactly who you are up against.

PerfectBound front cover 2019 9-6 low-res

 

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Update and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

 

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#1 New Release on Amazon?!

Perfect Bound: Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, Revised Edition, released August 26, and on August 29 it was the #1 New Release in writing guides on Amazon!

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Amazon even put a banner on the Perfect Bound book profile page, which was great to see:

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I won’t tell you how many books I had to sell to reach this milestone. Thirty copies? Three copies? Who’s counting? All I know is, with all the work that goes into making a book, it really is a treat to see the accolades.

Get your very own copy of the Amazon #1 New Release and find out what all the fuss is about. You just might discover it’s worth all hype!

 

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Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

This Is Your Year: 3 Secrets to Unlocking Your Book in 2018

Today’s post is by Jordan Ring, a successful self-publisher who helps other indie authors reach their full potential. Here he offers some excellent, down-to-earth advice on how you can sell more books and achieve your goals. My thanks to Jordan for sharing his thoughts with us.

This Is Your Year: 3 Secrets to Unlocking Your Book in 2018

by Jordan Ring

You have a book inside you. Every single person has a book in them that will impact other people. Most won’t start writing. Many of those who start won’t finish. Even fewer people will publish. You are better than that.

Maybe the book is halfway done? Maybe it’s finished? Oh no, please don’t tell me you finished it two years ago but are still “tweaking” it!

Maybe you feel like you will never get your book out there. Maybe you feel like even if you do, it won’t sell.

Low sales numbers is the main fear of all authors, and I know because I have faced it myself. We are fearful that our book won’t sell or, even worse, it will get bad reviews.

This can stop even the best authors from ever starting, and even better authors from putting their work out there.

Don’t let this happen to you. The world deserves to read your book.

Follow these three tips to push past fear and get your book published.

Secret 1. Set Realistic Sales Goals

Since getting zero sales is your biggest fear, set a target number of sales to reach for. I tell all new authors to shoot for 100 sales of your book right out of the gate. Would you be happy if 100 people read your book? As a new author, that is not an insignificant number.

No, 100 sales is not going to pay for the book (in time or production costs), but it’s a realistic number that you can hit.

Once you hit that number, set a second goal (e.g., 500 sales) and do everything you can to hit that.

It’s of über importance for new authors to set a number to reach for. Without metrics, how can you measure success?

Personally, I am always trying to hit the next level, and often don’t appreciate how far I have come. Having a sales target is a good way to say to yourself, “Okay, well done, I hit my goal! Now what can I do to hit the next goal?”

This will enable you to appreciate the accomplishment, and it will bolster your resolve to publish your book.

Secret 2. Make a Marketing Plan

Marketing plan to finish your book? Yes, it makes sense. Stick with me.

Finding success as an author means figuring out what is blocking you from moving forward. The reason most would-be authors don’t publish their books is that marketing seems like the giant mountain behind the already huge hill of actually writing a book.

That’s why you should start working on a marketing plan from the get-go, when you are writing a book. This not only will give you a clearer picture of what you are actually writing, but will assuage your fear that the book won’t sell.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who is my target audience?
  2. Why am I writing this book?
  3. How am I going to sell it?

First, you must define your target audience. Your book is not for “everyone” and that answer is the fastest way to zero sales. Figure out who exactly would be interested in reading your book, and gameplan a way to get the book in front of those people. The best way to do this is to do research on Amazon and see which other books like yours are selling well and have good reviews.

Second, you must have an intrinsic reason to write the book, in addition to the obvious extrinsic reason of getting book sales. If you don’t have a why, you won’t be able to push through and finish writing.

And last, you need to at least have an idea of how you are going to sell your book. The most obvious and best answer is to use Amazon exclusively, but how else will you get your book in front of potential readers?

The base of any marketing plan is to focus on having a great title, getting a professionally designed book cover, and writing a killer book description. I like to call these the Big 3 because you will not sell any books if these things aren’t of the highest quality.

Your title and book cover bring people in, and your book description sales copy will sell them the book. It doesn’t matter how good the content under the cover is — if people aren’t brought in, they won’t buy. You can have the Big 3 professionally done for you, or you can learn to do them yourself, but regardless, you need to focus on them from the get-go.

If you need more help making a marketing plan, touch base with us at Archangel Ink and we would be happy to help.

Secret 3. Become Fearless and Take Action

Taking action is the number one most difficult thing to do in every endeavor. You are forced to sit down and write, plan, and work all while removing your fear of potential negative outcomes. I know that this can feel almost impossible at times, but taking action will bring you closer to your goals.

You have to become fearless, and to be ready to pound away relentlessly on your laptop keys to get the job done. Don’t worry about what comes out of you, just keep writing and then get it edited later. Keep on writing and let the words flow. Turn off your internal editor.

Set a schedule for yourself to write consistently, but also be sure to make time for planning marketing items. Utilize a website like Trello and make a board to plan and then track your writing, publishing, and marketing process.

Continue taking action and before you know it, your published book will be arriving on your doorstep and on your e-reader.

Good luck as you continue to write, publish, and ultimately sell your book. Follow these simple tips, and you will do well.

— Jordan

P.S. I’d love to read your book when it’s done — send it on over to me.

Jordan Ring is the marketing and launch guru with Archangel Ink Publishing Services. You can follow him on his blog, and for help with your own book launch you can get his free book here: Book Launch Gladiator: The Four Phase Approach to Kindle Book Marketing in 2018.

Guest Post: How an Editor Helps Your Author Brand

by Dave Chesson

If you want to give your books the best shot of selling, you must give conscious effort to establishing your author brand.

A strong presence helps an author or any online entrepreneur in the same way branding helps companies. An author brand helps you establish a name people recognize and trust, which helps you sell more books.

What is your author brand?

Your author brand should be a combination of your personality, passion, and the type of work you (want to) write, edit, or create. If you haven’t already, I cannot recommend enough that you set aside some time to brainstorm what you want to be known for as an author.

This might include a certain logo, tagline, and colors among all the places you hang out as an author online. Then, as you build your audience of people who love what you write, they’ll more easily recognize you when your name, profile picture, or logo appears.

Do you want to have a humorous tone? Do you want to be known as a medical expert? Do you want to be known for your big caring heart? You’ll want to clarify what the most important things are you’re trying to exude as an author — and make them known everywhere.

Why is your author brand important?

Pieces of who you are as an author can be found all over the internet. Your author website, your social media profiles, your Amazon Author Central page (this is a big one many self-publishing authors miss), your email signature, comments you leave on blog posts, and so on. All of these build your digital footprint, and if you’re an author, they’re also part of your author brand.

Even in person, if you’re networking at a conference, have business cards or book signings, these are all opportunities for you to create and share your author brand. Having the same logo, colors, tagline, job title, and so on creates consistency so people know what to expect.

Let’s pretend your latest book is a book about vegetarian recipes. You are trying to build a fan base of people who value or are curious about being a vegetarian. Someone sees your book recommended online, but doesn’t buy it quite yet. They’ve never heard of you, after all.

Then they see your name pop up somewhere randomly online and click to learn more. They know they’ve heard of you before, and maybe they want to learn a little more about you before spending money on your book. Then they come across a picture of you competing in a chicken wing–eating contest! So long potential fan! Vegetarians don’t buy books from people who gorge on chicken wings.

That is just one example of many where authors lose potential fans (and book sales) by failing to pay attention to their branding online.

So if you haven’t paid much attention to your author brand or what the traces of you across the internet say, it’s time to take a look.

Get a clear idea of:

  • What you write about
  • The customers/readers/fans you want to attract
  • Your values
  • Your passion
  • Your interests

Then it’s time to take an objective review. What does your website say about you? What does your bio on all your book sales pages say about you? What does your Amazon author page say about you? What do your social media profiles and pages say about you? You should aim for a consistent image on all of your online platforms.

Do they say that you’re a serious writer, or that you’re an amateur fiddling with this writing thing on the side?

Your books and your brand

Writing more than one book about a specific topic can help build your brand too. If you write several books related to saving and investing money, this can help build your brand as an expert in the personal finance field.

Or are you an author of vampire romance novels? Then make sure your bio has the tone of what vampire romance readers would expect.

Writing several books around a certain theme can help build your name as someone those fans begin to recognize, like, and trust.

Ways an editor can help build your brand

An editor can help authors develop a stronger author brand because editors specialize in consistency and details. They also are gifted in putting themselves in the reader’s shoes to give a more objective perspective on what the reader wants and expects.

If you begin working with a new editor, or you have a trusty editor teammate already, make sure your author brand is part of your conversations. Then an editor can more easily identify those glaring inconsistencies that your readers will notice, but you’re blind to (see chicken wing example above).

Sticking with the same editor (if she’s great) through your series of books can be incredibly helpful because then you don’t have to re-explain what your brand/values/passions/tagline/themes are over and over again. Once you find an editor who knows what you do, knows your target audience, and can help improve your craft, the marketing part of your author job will get that much easier.

That’s what happened when I found my editor from Keep Calm Write On. Val started as my book editor, and now is the editor for my blog Kindlepreneur.com, too. She helps me keep my author and online business brand consistent everywhere my work appears.

So don’t be afraid to ask if an editor can review your website, your author and book pages on Amazon, or your social media pages. Of course, you shouldn’t expect this to be pro bono, but the cost should bring a great ROI by strengthening your author brand.

About the Author

When Dave Chesson is not sipping tea with princesses or chasing the boogeyman out of closets, he’s a best-selling author and digital marketing nut. He teaches authors advanced book marketing tactics at Kindlepreneur.com. He also helps authors discover profitable book ideas through his software KDP Rocket.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: 3 Powerful Benefits of Preorders for Newbie Indie Authors

Beyond Sales: 3 Powerful Benefits of Preorders for Newbie Indie Authors

by K. Patrick Donoghue

When I listed the Kindle and Nook editions of my second novel, Race for the Flash Stone, to accept preorders, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Big-name authors routinely list their upcoming titles for preorders, and their books-in-waiting always seem to immediately pop onto the best-seller lists. But what could an unknown indie author hope to achieve by employing the same practice? The answer: Whoa, Nelly!

Of course, I hoped accepting preorders for my book would generate sales in advance of the official release, but I had no idea how many to anticipate. I set my expectations low and chastened myself to primarily treat the 60-day preorder window as an opportunity to build awareness of the upcoming release among my Facebook and blog followers. That tempered view quickly changed within days after listing the book for preorders on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website, bn.com.

Sales quickly accumulated, and this led to a few unexpected side benefits that continue to accrue as of this writing, two months after the official release date. In short, I received three powerful benefits from listing my book for preorders that led to a book launch that exceeded my expectations:

  1. Unsolicited buzz by Amazon and Barnes & Noble
  2. Faster accumulation of reviews and ratings for the new book
  3. Early read on sales level led me to boost advertising investment in first book

Before describing these benefits in more depth, it’s likely of value to provide some brief background to assist fellow newbie indie authors in determining whether my preorder insights are of value.

First, both of my novels are part of a series titled The Anlon Cully Chronicles. The first book in the series, Shadows of the Stone Benders, was released in May 2016. Race for the Flash Stone is a continuation of the story explored in Shadows of the Stone Benders, and that likely had an impact on the stronger-than-expected preorders, as Shadows of the Stone Benders concluded with a soft cliffhanger.

Second, I am not a best-selling author. Though my two books, combined, sell 6,500 copies a month on average, neither of my books has appeared on any “big boy” best-seller lists. My Amazon “Author Rank” among all book authors hovers around 2,500.

Last, 90% of my book sales are from Kindle e-books, but I do not participate in the KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited program. The retail prices of the Kindle editions of my two books are $4.99 and $5.99, respectively. I have never offered them for free or discounted the books (with the exception of providing a limited number of complimentary copies to NetGalley reviewers).

With that background in mind, I offer the following insights gleaned from my preorder experience to fellow newbie indie authors.

Over the 60-day period Race for the Flash Stone was listed for preorder on Amazon and bn.com, nearly 3,000 paid copies of the new book were sold. While not a whopping amount by some standards, it did mean I more than covered all the production costs associated with the new book before the official release date.

What did I do to generate the preorder sales? Two things:

  1. On the day I listed the book, I posted an announcement about the availability of the new book for preorders on my author Facebook page and my website blog, and
  2. I inserted a similar announcement into the comments section of the various Facebook advertisements I run for Shadows of the Stone Benders.

That’s it. But that’s not the whole story. The preorder sales were surely influenced by side benefit #1, unsolicited buzz from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

#1 Benefit — Unsolicited Buzz

This one caught me by surprise. I figured I was a gnat to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but it turns out they are both more active in trying to help new books get exposure than I anticipated, even for indie authors.

The first buzz producer: Amazon created a “series page,” which featured both of my books, and inserted a link on both books’ product pages. This meant that anyone landing on my Amazon page for Shadows of the Stone Benders during the preorder period would see that the book was part of a series and could easily link to Race for the Flash Stone (and vice versa).

I believe this not only helped boost preorders of the new book, but also helped push up sales of Shadows of the Stone Benders. (Many readers have told me they are reluctant to purchase the initial book in a series until they know there are other books in the series. Once the second book was available to preorder, I saw a notable jump in the sales of my first book.)

Next up on Amazon: as the early preorders began to accumulate, Race for the Flash Stone achieved a spot in Amazon’s Top 100 Hot New Releases in several book categories (action-adventure, mystery/thriller/suspense, fantasy, and even teen/young adult). Once the book appeared on these lists, it held spots in each for the duration of the preorder period as well as several weeks after the release.

The extra exposure from appearing in these lists not only helped goose up preorders, but I’m certain it also contributed to the surge in sales I experienced for the first novel during the preorder period.

On the Barnes & Noble front, out of the blue I was contacted by Nook Press about 30 days after I began accepting Nook preorders to let me know Race for the Flash Stone had been selected by their editors as one of their “Nook Presents — Hot New Releases” for April and May.

This was followed two weeks later by a Nook Press email broadcast featuring the book with their other hot new release selections, and then a dedicated email broadcast two weeks after the official release date featuring my book.

I didn’t ask for any of this — Nook Press just did it on its own. [Editor’s note: This may have happened because the preorders were already outpacing other book sales.] If I hadn’t listed my book for preorders, though, they would never have known it was coming and I would have missed out on the free prerelease buzz.

#2 Benefit – Faster Accumulation of Reviews and Ratings

Listing Race for the Flash Stone to accept Kindle and Nook preorders also made a big difference in the speed with which reader reviews and ratings accumulated postrelease.

The first place I noticed reader feedback quickly emerge was on Facebook. Among the 3,000 people who preordered the book was a block of my Facebook “superfans,” people who really liked my first book and who regularly comment on my Facebook posts and advertisements.

These superfans were champing at the bit to dive into the new story. In fact, a bit of competition developed among them to be the first to finish the book and register their opinions. As a result, there was an immediate jump in chatter about the new book on my Facebook author page and in the comments section of the Facebook ads I run (thankfully, mostly positive), which has snowballed further since the book release.

By way of example, though my Facebook ad spend only increased 7% in the first 60 days after launch compared to the 60 days prior to launch, engagement statistics for my Facebook ads (post reactions, page likes, post comments, post shares) jumped 40%.

Separately, the bulge of preorders led to a rapid buildup of ratings on Goodreads. Within two weeks, there were nearly 35 ratings. By the end of the first month, the rating tally reached 120. Now, a little more than three months after releasing Race for the Flash Stone, the number of Goodreads ratings for the book stand at 479.

Interestingly, Amazon reviews have been slower to accumulate. Three months since launch, my Amazon review count sits at 75. I drive all my advertising to my book’s Amazon page, so I was concerned the slow pace of Amazon reviews would negatively affect sales, but that hasn’t happened. In fact, since the launch, average monthly sales of the new book have nearly doubled compared to the preorder time period.

#3 Benefit – Fast-Track Refinement af Advertising Investment = Higher Sales and Profits

There’s nothing special about the model I’m following to build readership and sales. Lots of authors who publish series utilize the same basic approach: I invest in acquiring readers of my first book (meaning I intentionally lose money on each first book I sell in order to build a sizable readership base) with the hope and expectation that a good chunk of those readers will buy my second book (and third book, and so on) at a profit that’s large enough to more than offset the first-book investment. To that end, I spend about 95% of my advertising dollars on promotions for my first book. I hardly promote the second book at all.

The art is figuring out how much to invest to acquire each new reader such that one can generate an acceptable/attractive return on investment (profits from royalties) from future book sales. For me, the early read I received from preorder sales gave me a real-world glimpse into my readership’s interest in the second book well in advance of the book launch.

Specifically, I found that the percentage of first-book buyers who purchased the second book was about 50% higher than I expected. (I had hoped 40% of first-book buyers would go for the second book. The pre- and postlaunch data shows about 60% are buying the second book. I’m working to move that up to 70%.)

This prelaunch market feedback allowed me to make an informed strategy decision. I could either:

(a) keep my advertising investment per first-book buyer the same and receive a higher return on cumulative royalties from both books, though that would mean I’d build a lower readership level (harvest profits strategy), or

(b) I could increase my first-book investment per buyer and achieve higher overall sales of both books, and higher absolute royalty profits, though at a lower ROI percentage (planting seeds strategy).

For the foreseeable future, I’ve opted for strategy (b) in order to continue to widen my readership pool in anticipation of releasing future books in my series.

The Takeaway: Preorders Can Make a Meaningful Difference in Book Launch Success

To wrap it all up, the decision to list the Kindle and Nook editions of Race for the Flash Stone for preorder paid big dividends in three tangible ways that all contributed to a healthy book launch:

  1. Unsolicited buzz from Amazon and Barnes & Noble prior to the book release helped fuel strong preorders.
  2. Rapid reader feedback from preorder buyers built good sales momentum postlaunch.
  3. Preorder performance helped improve the efficiency of my advertising spend (pre- and postlaunch), leading to higher overall sales and profits at a faster pace.

Truth be told, if I’d known how big an impact preorders could have at an earlier date, I would have listed the book for the maximum preorder windows allowed by KDP and Nook Press. For indie authors, KDP currently limits preorder sales to 90 days prior to release date (for big house publishers, I’ve seen preorder Kindle editions listed up to nine months in advance), and Nook Press allows up to 150 days.

I’ve also recently discovered (after my book launch, unfortunately) that Amazon offers a way for indie authors to list paperback and/or hardback editions for preorder up to a year in advance. While I won’t go to that extreme for my third book, I know for sure I’ll list it for preorder as soon as I’m confident about the release date.

K. Patrick Donoghue is the author of The Anlon Cully Chronicles, including his debut novel, Shadows of the Stone Benders, and the series continuation, Race for the Flash Stone. A newcomer to mystery fiction writing, Patrick’s inspiration for The Anlon Cully Chronicles is rooted in his long-standing interest in ancient civilizations. The next book in the series, Curse of the Painted Lady, is slated for a spring 2018 release.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: My Flirtation with Traditional Publishing

Maureen C. Berry, author of the cookbook Salmon from Market to Plate, is the feature of this month’s Publishing Stories installment. In this post she tells her experience with a traditional publisher and the ultimate successes she found for her book. 

My Flirtation with Traditional Publishing

by Maureen C. Berry

You write and polish the best manuscript you can. You hire an editor. You research and then query an agent (or 10). Then wait. While you wait, you wring your hands, fret over that last phrase, that one word. Should I have written more? Less? Did I seem needy? Will they like my work? OMG, did I include my phone number? I suck! What if I never hear from any of the agents? Should I self-publish? Traditional publishing is overrated. I will not self-publish, I’ll wait until I hear back. Checks email every two minutes. A rejection letter is better than nothing, right? A badge of honor. Surely someone will love my book.

***

As I aspired to publish my first book, these thoughts raced through my mind daily. Okay, who am I kidding, by the minute. My goal? Traditional publication. While I always considered self-publishing a viable option, I was convinced that traditional publication was the best route for me.

But as I researched agents and prepared my query letters, I was a hot mess.

Then something short of a miracle happened.

The first agent I queried for my book, tentatively titled Eating Salmon, replied within five minutes. My pulse raced, my breath caught in my throat. I wondered if I might be hyperventilating. I looked around my one-woman office needing someone, anyone to see the reply.

Dear Maureen,

Thank you for your MS. This is really do-able. [I almost fell off the chair]

But not for me. [Heart dropped to gut]

However, [Heart fluttered back to life], this is a perfect project for XYZ.

And BTW, there’s a similar title, ABC, that was bought earlier this spring by John. P.Q. Literary. Use this in your market research. And please use my name in your query to XYZ.

Warmly,

Literary Agent

Okay, so now I am dancing with the dog. Is it too early for champagne? I call my husband. Validation sets in. I pinch myself. Then I sit down to write the second query.

You know where this is going right? Insert all the above first paragraph internal dialogue.

Within two weeks, the second agent bit. And within two more weeks I had my first contract from an imprint of a midlevel publishing house in New York.

But first I had to write the book proposal (I had written the entire manuscript) and have the manuscript edited. I hired Katherine Pickett through an online referral.

I found a publishing attorney on Twitter (yes, it’s true!) who agreed to negotiate my first contract pro bono. Three months later, I signed off on the contract and submitted the manuscript.

Was the advance good? Nope — think small four figures. Was my royalty rate fair? I could have done better — was advised to not accept this contract.

But a contract is a contract, right? I was a first-time author with a small but growing platform. This contract could only help me build my brand, not hinder it.

The publisher suggested a book style — softcover, 6″ × 9″, black-and-white illustrated interior with color cover graphics. 200 pages. I flip-flopped, wanting a hardcover, full-color interior (mine was a cookbook after all, and we eat with our eyes), but I relented, assuming they knew best. And really, I didn’t have much say or any options, other than breaching the contract (code for return the advance and forfeit my rights to the manuscript to the publisher).

Much time went by without any word from the agent. When I did hear, she suggested I write the outline of the second book in the series, Eating Shrimp.

Then late that summer, I was working with the publicist. Salmon from Market to Plate was scheduled for a spring release date. My book had been upgraded to full color, they’d use my photographs, and the book would be larger, thus a higher royalty rate to me. Win-win! I shouted into the woods from my office.

But a month later, my agent messaged that she was retiring and I’d be working with someone else. Not daunted, but a little disappointed, I shook it off. Agents move around and there is always fresh blood willing to learn the ropes.

A few days later, on a Friday afternoon that fall, I received a message from one of the editors at the publishing house: my project was put on hold. Indefinitely. They had a competing title scheduled for a spring release, a lifestyle seafood cookbook by an author with a larger platform.

Over the weekend, I considered my options. I would attempt to negotiate my rights back without penalty or returning the advance.

Mid-October, nearly a year to the day after receiving the contract, the publisher agreed to my terms and within two weeks, my rights were reverted. I told myself (and the husband and dog) that I’d give myself six months to find another agent/publisher.

Then the new year rolled around. And, well, my attitude changed, as often is the case during the new year. I decided to self-publish under my company, Berry Consulting. It never occurred to me to use a self-publishing services company. My thinking was if I’m going to self-publish, then I’m going to learn how to do it with all the unknowns, bumps, and not-so-pretty side of doing something totally foreign. A friend’s cousin, a graphic artist, wanted to expand her portfolio. Her style leaned toward commercial but fun. And with that recommendation, mid-January 2016, I hired Megan Johns to design my book. I wanted an April release date to coincide with the opening Alaska salmon season and my project fit her schedule.

Megan delivered Salmon from Market to Plate a week ahead of the April 13, 2016, release date. Any delay was editing and style issues on my part. Megan is a terrific book designer.

Is Salmon from Market to Plate a success? 

  • Salmon was #1 New Release in Fish & Seafood Cooking on Amazon for its first week out.
  • It won a Gold Star for cover design from The Book Designer for the month of April.
  • I was invited to the 35th annual Kentucky Book Fair this November hosted by the Kentucky Humanities Council.
  • I was accepted to the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green at Western Kentucky University next fall.
  • In October 2016, Salmon received an Honorable Mention from the 24th annual Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Competition.
  • Salmon is stocked at two locations in my small (20,000-person) western Kentucky community — Bobbi’s Hallmark and Bookstore at the mall and 45-70, a men’s bespoke store in downtown Madisonville.
  • Salmon was accepted for review by BookLife/Publishers Weekly.
  • The larger bookstores in my region, Joseph-Beth in Louisville and Cincinnati, Parnassus in Nashville, and Barnes & Noble in Bowling Green rejected my book. But I am not disappointed. Encouraged is the word that comes to mind.

And what marketing do I do?

  • I try to do a book signing/salmon tasting event every month in my community. Average book sales are 15 books per event. I sell signed copies from my home, shipping via media mail and taking payment via PayPal, including the shipping and handling plus tax in the price. For each of these signed books, I offer a free bourbon-and-butter cookie, made by a local baker, that looks like the cover of my book.
  • I send free copies to industry and sustainable seafood organizations.
  • I sell books to chefs and restaurants.
  • I submit books to writing contests and for review.
  • I work hard to not be that author who shouts, Buy My Book! on social media.

There is much to tackle yet. For instance, how do I sell foreign rights? And should I? Should I print an Asian counterpart? Should I hire a publicist?

There are many questions I can answer. Am I glad that I self-published? Yes. Did I make mistakes? Yes. One biggie was that I didn’t give myself enough time to submit galleys for review. Is self-publishing hard work? Yes. The marketing responsibilities are overwhelming some days. Do I still want to be traditionally published? Yes. But would I self-publish again? Hell yes.

One thing that kept me sane when I otherwise thought I’d lose it was that I believed in myself and my project. Because if you can’t be your own cheerleader, then nobody else will either.

***

Salmon from Market to Plate is available as a 200-page, softcover, full-color, 6″ × 9″ book. Available on Amazon ($12.95) and Kindle ($6.99). Also available wholesale from IngramSpark.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: Rewards and Challenges of a First-Time Author, Part 2

Peter Diamond, author of Amplify Your Career and Life: 4 Steps to Evaluate, Assess and Move Forward, returns to tell us what he learned about marketing and sales when working with a hybrid press.

Part 2: Marketing and Sales

by Peter Diamond

Marketing and selling my book was much harder and more time-consuming than I imagined. While the manuscript was being turned into a fully formed book for public consumption by my publishing company, I focused my attention on marketing. As an ex-advertising professional, I thought this would be easy. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the early stages of writing the manuscript, I was advised to create a platform of followers, at least a couple thousand, months before the book was published. I was told, “You will have to put as much effort into marketing your book as you do writing it.”

I heard this advice, but I didn’t listen. I mistakenly thought the message of my book, Amplify Your Career and Life: 4 Steps to Evaluate, Assess and Move Forward, would automatically appeal to my target audience: midlife business professionals facing career crisis. Little of my time was spent cultivating a fan base in advance of the book release. I was too focused on writing the book and running my executive coaching business. Little did I know more than 2 million books were published in 2015. That’s insane competition.

Here’s what I did do.

  • I found a PR agency that specializes in working with authors of nonfiction titles.
  • I paid for a number of promotional programs offered by Amazon that my publisher recommended.
  • As part of the PR effort, I wrote a number of byline articles (with no mentions of my book except in my bio) to be pushed out to various sites.
  • I gave 28 small-market radio and podcast interviews, secured by the PR agency.

What happened? The PR effort generated very few sales. The articles I wrote did get a lot of exposure and helped my Google ranking. The promotional programs, in partnership with Amazon, resulted in no sales.

Using my own contacts I was able to secure a local TV morning show interview and radio interview on a popular public radio program. I did see modest sales spikes from these interviews.

After six months of actively promoting my book, I hadn’t hit my sales goal or, said another way, recouped the cost of my investment. At that time I had to make a decision whether to continue to spend more time and resources on promoting the book or focus on generating revenue for my executive coaching business. My business won out and is doing quite well.

Writing and publishing a book was a great experience with certain intangible benefits.

  • It boosted credibility for my brand and executive coaching business.
  • I learned about the process of writing, publishing, and marketing a book.
  • I’m more comfortable being interviewed and telling stories in different mediums.
  • I’m a regular contributor for Entrepreneur.com (this connection came from the PR agency).
  • On occasion, I’m contacted to be interviewed for an article or write a blog post such as this one.
  • Lastly, my book was a finalist for two book awards. It’s an honor to be recognized by the publishing community and fellow authors.

Although my book doesn’t enjoy best-seller status, I recently had a client tell me that reading my book was like reading her own thoughts and how helpful it was to know that others experience the same midlife trials and tribulations. That, for me, made all the effort worthwhile.

Would I do it again? Maybe, just maybe.

Peter C. Diamond, “The Amplify Guy,” is a professionally trained certified coach who helps people improve their work performance and achieve a higher degree of career and life fulfillment. He has appeared on ABC’s Windy City Live and WGN’s News at 5 as a career coach expert, and he writes a blog, The Amplify Guy. For more information about Peter and the Amplify Your Career and Life workbook, visit his website at www.petercdiamond.com.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

Publishing Stories: Publishing a Book I Can Stand Behind

Welcome to the second installment of Publishing Stories, a new series from The POP Newsletter in which former POP Editorial Services clients offer publishing lessons for new authors. Today W.K. Dwyer shares his experience in publishing his newly released social science fiction novel, The Killing Flower.

Publishing a Book I Can Stand Behind

by W.K. Dwyer

In mid-October of 2016 I launched my debut novel, The Killing Flower. After more than seven years of writing, followed by two full years of editing, I held a launch party in DC, during which I referred to self-publishing as a misnomer, giving huge credit to the outstanding team I’d worked with, without whom I never would have completed my novel. Now that I’m on the other side, I want to share some of the details of this journey, the choices I made — good and bad — and what I think I ended up with as a result.

I began writing The Killing Flower in 2006, at a time in my life when I was in a lot of anguish. First, 9/11 had happened and was already deeply disturbing, but the nasty polarization that occurred around the time of the Iraq invasion had affected me personally. I felt I had lost my entire family, who I’d always been unusually close to; they had all gone to the other side of the political, sociological, and religious divide. This was alienating, frustrating, extremely upsetting for me, particularly because soldiers and innocent civilians were losing their lives overseas and our only response seemed to be screaming matches on Facebook.

So what motivated me was simply catharsis — writing was my way of working through my angst, and the fictitious character I made up could do anything he wanted to with that tragic situation. He could kill all the bad guys, he could tell the unedited truth about his family, he could survive war, he could bear listening to the two insane sides of America — one saying the sky is blue and the other saying skies don’t exist. As the story developed it became more about the character and his world, but I retained the overall framework, to create a metaphor for what I saw had happened to us post-9/11.

Although I had never published before, in fact had never been involved in journalism or writing clubs or anything related whatsoever, I had been writing all my life — personal journals, poetry and songs, and a few short stories. My mother, being an English major, introduced me to poetry at an early age and influenced my appreciation for literature. The classics were emphasized quite a bit in my preparatory high school, so I did obtain at least a decent foundation.

Despite this, I never considered myself to be well-read at all. I was placed in remedial reading in seventh grade and never quite recovered; there are hundreds of novels I wish I had read and only a very small percentage of them I can say I have. So, for better or worse, when I began writing The Killing Flower my only points of reference for writing were a select set of books most would consider way out of the league of a first-time novelist.

What came out of all this was perhaps pure in the sense that it was naively written, with no bias from knowing the business side of things — targeting a particular audience, making the story marketable, fitting it into a specific genre. I simply focused on telling a good story, mimicking the novelists I had been exposed to and using techniques I had learned in school. “Build it and they will come” was my thought. Make a great product and a readership will follow.

The downside of this is that in the world of self-publishing, this almost never works. Without an established following, there is little chance of the book taking off initially, and if all I did was “build it” and put the book on Amazon there is a very real possibility that it would go completely unnoticed. Even if a few readers here and there are super impressed, no one will have any motivation to go shouting from the rooftops about how my book is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Regardless of what has happened to the pub world in the last decade or so, it remains a business and excitement over a book is simply a commodity that is bought and sold.

Nevertheless, that was my approach, and it affected my decision to go with self-publishing over traditional as well. For me it was pretty clear; no way was I going to hand over the cover design to a publishing house and risk having readers get the wrong impression about my novel. It was an easy decision, and although it did sign me up for three solid months of stress, pushing the limits of my artistic side and navigating through choices and judgment calls usually made by professionals, it did pay off in the end. My artist, Carlton Tomlin, came up with an absolutely brilliant interpretive piece of original art that fits the story perfectly, and I could not be happier with how the novel looks.

But the most critical part of this process by far was the editing. Again, with an emphasis on building the best product possible and doing things by the book, I turned to professionals in the business. I was lucky enough to find Katherine Pickett, a seasoned editor and self-publishing expert with more than a decade of experience in publishing, including the editing of over 300 books. She not only played the role of my developmental editor, but also served as my personal self-publishing consultant-slash-mentor.

My first step in the process was to read her book, Perfect Bound, and it became my reference throughout. Although the query/editing was a ton of hard work, and was harrowing at times, it was extremely productive and positive every step of the way, even surprisingly so.

The manuscript we began with was a hodgepodge of passages, somewhat story-ish perhaps, but rather disjointed and very incongruent. What came out was a well-organized and smoothly flowing narrative; every passage had an important role, moved the story along, delivered the plot. It was so polished I actually considered skipping copyediting, but Katherine convinced me to go the extra mile again (and this was great advice).

Copyediting, which was performed by Christina Frey, was a similar experience for me. There were hundreds of queries and issues to work through, and those several months were extremely intense, but the entire effort was methodical and predictable and clearly added quality to the novel. Although I expected little more than fixing commas and grammar here and there, what I got was a second, laser-focused pass through the novel, fixing everything from timelines to fact-checking to character inconsistencies.

It was only after the copyedit phase was completed that it finally hit me what an actual professional-quality novel really looks like. Proofreading and interior design added the final look and feel, and the book was finally complete. Looking back, I consider the choice to have the book professionally edited — which obviously incurred some expense — well worth it and one of the best decisions I made.

All in all I am very happy with the results. Sure, some of the technical aspects of putting everything together were neglected and I would have been better off if I had followed Perfect Bound more closely and studied self-publishing for six months prior to starting the process. Researching Bowker, ISBNs, review sites, establishing a platform and followers, how to throw a launch party — these are things that are critical in the process and ideally should not be rushed at the last moment. But the most important thing by far is the book itself, and this was given top priority.

To market a book takes confidence in the product, and that is what I have achieved. Developing a new strategy or angle for marketing can be tweaked along the way; not so much for the novel itself. It has to be something I can stand behind, and it truly is.

W.K. Dwyer, author of the novel The Killing Flower, has written short stories and poetry for decades and was trained as a musician under J.D. Blair. Following the events of September 11, he stopped creating music to focus on writing and podcasting about the root causes of terrorism. W.K. holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and has done postgraduate work in artificial intelligence and cognitive science. He works as a government contractor, developing targeting systems for counterterrorism.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

5 Tips for Successful Networking at Conferences

Conferences are an excellent place to meet people and make business connections. Yet the idea of networking at a large venue like a conference makes some people sweat. Often it seems people place undue stress on themselves to do it right and never show their flaws. If you approach it as a human being and not just a marketer, however, it becomes much easier.

The following five tips will help you make the most of a conference.

1. Go to learn.

This is a big one. Conferences of all kinds offer valuable information for attendees. If you are a writer at a writers’ conference, this fact is obvious. If you are an editor at a writers’ conference or business leaders’ conference and you’re attending because you want to meet new clients, it might not be as clear-cut.

Even if the topics aren’t directly applicable to the work you do, these conferences give you an opportunity to learn something new. You might be surprised by how much of the information applies to your own work and business.

More important is the attitude you carry. If you are there to learn, you will be engaged, ask good questions, and show respect to the presenters you are listening to. Attendees will notice you have more to offer than a business card.

2. Plan to ask a question in each presentation you attend.

One part of networking is making yourself visible. Asking questions is a great way to do that. Stand up if it’s a large room, give your name and occupation or the name of your company, and ask a relevant question. Listen to the answer.

To ask good questions, you have to be engaged in the presentation. Again, you are showing respect for the topic and the presenter, and you are demonstrating that you care about the same things the other attendees care about. You also show that you are a critical thinker, always a valued attribute.

3. Talk to the person sitting next to you in a session.

While you’re waiting for the next session to start, you may find yourself sitting quietly, elbow to elbow with a complete stranger. This is your chance to practice your networking. If you aren’t outgoing, you might not be used to starting conversations, but there are a few easy questions to ask to get the ball rolling. Start with hello, then follow up with a question about the other person:

  • Are you having a good conference?
  • Are you a writer/editor/businessperson also?
  • What did you think of the keynote speaker?
  • Are you from the area?
  • Have you been to this conference before?

Now listen to the answer. If the person on one side of you doesn’t seem interested in talking, don’t get discouraged. Those are the rare ones. Try someone else. If you two have something in common and want to stay in touch, exchange business cards. After the conference you can send a brief email to reconnect.

4. Join others at lunchtime.

Scarier even than talking to the person next to you is walking up to a table of strangers and asking to sit with them. Nightmares from junior high may flash through your head. But conference organizers these days are very good at taking the pressure off. Some have conversation starters at the tables. Others have tables labeled with topics of interest so that you can locate like-minded people. Even if your conference does not have these things, a warm smile will usually result in a warm welcome from the people already at the table.

The conversation starters above apply here as well. The difference is that the conversation will last longer than the 5 to 10 minutes that you wait for the presenter to speak. So be prepared to talk a little about yourself — what you’re working on, what services you offer, what brought you to the conference.

If this part really makes you nervous, do a few warm-ups by yourself. Practice using your voice so that it works when you need it. An exercise I learned recently is repeating “minimal animal, minimal animal” and “unique New York, unique New York.” To say the phrases right, you have to open your mouth and project. You will feel silly the first time, but it works surprisingly well.

Again, if you meet someone you might be able to do business with, exchange cards and follow up with a brief email after the conference.

5. Wear an ice breaker.

Now we have discussed meeting people while attending a presentation or when sitting at lunch, but what about those in-between times? What happens when you’re looking at exhibits or grabbing a muffin before the next session starts?

If you have been asking questions at each presentation and talking to your neighbors, people may approach you. Give them something to talk about. Wear a funny or notable tie or a memorable brooch. Add the title of your book and/or your occupation to your name tag. Wear a pin that says “Ask me about my editing services.”

You don’t need to wander into the realm of “flair.” Keep it professional. But wearing something unusual can make it easier for someone to approach you, and everyone appreciates an “in” to striking up a conversation.

And that’s really all networking is — talking to people to learn about them and determine how you can help each other. If you talk to enough people, exchange cards with the ones you connect with, and follow up after the event, you are virtually guaranteed to grow your network.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.

#Writetip: Taking Part in Writing Contests

Copyright Gary Woodard | Dreamstime.com

New year, new slate of writing contests! Some writers question the value in writing contests. Some of them are expensive, and what do you really get out of them? It’s a valid question, and I would advise anyone planning to enter a contest to consider these points:

  • How prestigious is the contest?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How likely are you to win?

Entering every contest that comes up does not serve your writing reputation. Being selective and pinpointing those contests that are prestigious yet hold a real possibility for you to win can elevate your reputation, increase your exposure, and sometimes provide a significant financial reward. If you have the urge to participate in as many contests as possible, I recommend setting a budget for contests to encourage you to be more selective.

Are you thinking about entering a contest?

  • Almond Press offers a curated list of competitions for 2016.
  • Literary Mama provides a list of contests and other calls for submissions.
  • New Pages is a perennial favorite for finding places to submit your work, with a dedicated page for contests.

Best of luck!

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available from POP Editorial Services LLC, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other fine retailers.