Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Mind Boggles

Okay... I promise when I wrote the blog on pricing an e-book the other day, I didn't see this coming.

In fact, though I read a fabulous blog from Bob Mayer  last year on this very subject, I really didn't expect to see it happen for another year or more... and yet...

It's happening now.

Have you seen this folks?  For my money, it's possibly - nay!  Likely - the future of publishing because (I suspect) if it's done properly it will strike the near-perfect balance between professionalism and creative license.

I'm talking about Agents becoming Consultants to Self-Publishing clients.

Yes, you read that right.  (If you don't believe me, read the links above and this and this).

Read them, then come back to the next post 'cos I'll be looking for THOUGHTS FROM YOU when I've had time to digest. In the meantime, Refer to the subject line above...

Your Turn: Does this affect who you would apply to for agenting services?  Does it affect your opinion on self-publishing vs. traditional?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Value Pricing - One for Self-Pubbers

I took a bunch of flack for my previous posts on self-publishing in which I criticized the business model.  I think most self publishing authors thought I was hiding a derision for the industry behind a business-minded opinion piece.

They were wrong.

Self publishing has been on my radar for years and I think it can be done, when it's done well.  But I also think it's (currently) difficult and costly to do well.  Also, rife with potential hiccups that could have far-reaching consequences for an author's career.

But just to prove that I have actually seriously considered the issue, and to maybe help out anyone with the gonads to give it a shot , I'll tell you one of the things I would do, if I were going to do it.

Assuming you can overcome the obstacles I see in the process to self-publication, there's a very, very big business decision to be made:

$$  Price  $$

I see a lot of hubbub out there right now about the $1 e-book.  I can see why authors would do it, and I can see why readers would buy it.  It's really a no-risk purchase for a reader - which in turn equates to more sales for the writer. 


Hmmm... I'm thinking that depends on what you want out of your writing career.

Quick Marketing Lesson

I'm not going to get into the intricacies here, but I want to put a concept in front of you:

When a reader pays a price for a product, their perception is that the product is worth that much.  That means:

1.  If they want something and it costs too much, their perception is that they're being screwed over and they will look for other ways to find the product cheaper or a cheaper alternative. 

2. If they need something and it's cheaper than expected, their perception is that they got a bargain.


But here's the problem:

Last Tuesday, Joe Bookbuyer purchased Ty Roth's So Shelly in hardcover for $29.95.  He read the book and liked it.  Feels like he got himself value for money.... Until he found out that Neighbor Jane also bought So Shelly in hardcover last Tuesday.  But she only paid $22.95.

Suddenly, Joe's perception of value is under attack.  Now, if he loved the book, maybe he'd be philosophical.  But regardless, what do you think Joe's going to do next time he hears about a book coming out?  Chances are, he'll be headed for the outlet Neighbor Jane used - or looking for a supplier who'll give him the product at the reduced price.

And if he can't find it at the reduced price, he's going to perceive that he's paying more than necessary for the product.

(NOTE: I'm simplifying to illustrate the point.  Value is based on more variables than price-point alone - With books it would including timing, hard / soft / digital cover, extras, special editions, etc).

We can debate the big box stores vs. indepedent or online retailers, but that's not my point.  My point is: when you price a product, you create an expectation.

Now, let's apply the Value Pricing equation to e-books:

Hypothetical Pricepoint Dilemma-Slash-Unexpected-Consequence

Author Shelly Noname has written a book and decides to release it herself via Indiepub.  Because no one knows who she is and she's happy to build a readership over time, she prices her book at $1.

She sells a few, starts to get some good reviews.  Sales take off.  Her first book sells 1,300 copies and nets her $1,000.

Author Shelly Noname is laughing all the way to the bank, right?

She writes the sequel and it sells 1,200 copies (along with an extra 500 for the first book).  Author Shelly Noname is stoked.

She's starting to get some buzz on Twitter, a few author interviews and fans cropping up.  After a few months of this (with steady, though not significant sales), she gets yet another comment from a fan about how the book is worth so much more than $1. 

So, figuring she's got a good base at this piont, she puts the price up to $9.99.  Sales slow dramatically, but on numbers she's still making the same, or maybe even a little bit more money, so she leaves it there.

But a week or two later the reviews start coming in and Author Shelly Noname notices something...

Where the vast majority of her reviews before were 4 or 5 stars, now she's got a buttload of 3 stars and a healthy sprinkling of 1's and 2's.

Figuring it's just a blip, she presses on, releasing the third book in the trilogy at the new $9.99 pricepoint.

Sales are downright low.  Reviews - when they come - are average across the board.  And those 'average' reviews are gaining momentum on the first two books which used to get raved about.

Q: What happened?  

A:The customer's perception of value was impinged.

Let's cut to the chase: In these days and times, anything you can get for $1 is a nothing.  There's no risk.  There's no perceived value.  If you can get something for $1 that is even marginally good, you're going to rave about it.  It's a bargain!  It might as well have been free.

Now apply that to a book and you've got  a recipe for fandom.   If you give people any amount of pleasure for a buck, they're going to (figuratively) kiss you on both cheeks and tell everyone you're a demigod.

Because the perception is that you gave them something for (virtually) nothing.

But as soon as the price goes up, the customer's expectations changes.  Perceptions of value on $10 are significantly different.  For $10 the customer can buy their favorite author's backlist paperbacks or go to the movies.  If your book doesn't at least punch at a similar weight (i.e. a long, enjoyable reading experience, or a couple of hours of good, pure entertainment), perception is that it wasn't value for money.

Simply put: If your book cost $5, it needs to be at least half as good as the customer's favorite to break even.

You can pretend this isn't true, but you won't be doing yourself any favors.  Go find some reviews on Goodreads for books sold at that pricepoint (or books offered on special for a short time).  You'll see comments like "A bargain at $1" or "I wouldn't have bought it for $15, but at $1.99 I thought it was really good...)

I'm not making this up.

So, my advice (for what it's worth) is this:  If you are happy to sell your product at $0.99 or $1.99 for the rest of your days, and you have the means to market it, go for it.  It's your very best chance for success.  If you can drum up some word-of-mouth publicity at that price, you'll go global.

But your book has to be good.  Not just 'pretty good for a buck'.  It needs to be Something-Incredible-For-Virtually-Nothing good.  That's what will get people excited so they tell their friends to buy it. 

A five star review on a $1 book is not created equal to a five star review on a $15 book. 

The audiences are different.  The expectations are different.  The equation is different.

If you're self-pubbing, you've either got to punch above your weight, or price below your value.  And don't put your price up until that fanbase is fanatical.

The good news?  Word on the street is that if you can achieve that, Traditional Publishing is listening.

Your Turn:  How does pricepoint affect your buying?  What's the difference between a book you wait for paperback release, and one you shell out for in hardcover?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Digital Doom? Nay!

Today I'll be speaking with conviction.  Consider yourself warned.

Every time I read writer blogs announcing the death of the print book, it kind of makes me want to bust a cap in someone's nether-regions.

The print book is not dead.  It is not even dying.  Bear with me:

As writers are are, necessarily, surrounded by people in the publishing industry.  Particularly online we are drawn to like-minded folks.  We read blogs by agents, editors, writers who work in the publishing industry professionally.  We join writer groups (online or real-life) with other writers.  We network with authors on Twitter and Facebook and yadda, yadda, yadda.  You get the picture.

But these are the very people who are most likely to purchase e-readers, to use them on a daily basis, and to recommend them to friends. 

Sitting in a room full of writers, reading an agent's blog, or chatting with your writer group is a great way to survey a slice of the publishing-population pie.

But your results are not indicative of the actual population.

As writers we live in a publishing bubble and we need to stop thinking our contact with e-readers and e-books reflects the average Joe Citizen.

Our perceptions of market saturation are skewed because we come in contact with a variety of people whose personal and professional interests make them early-adopters of the digital technology.

If you don't believe me, go to a park.  Sit on a plane.  Walk through a library - or a school!  Count the e-readers on the bus in the morning.

There's no doubt e-readers and digital books have a presence.  But there's also no doubt they are in no danger of taking over.

Check out this blog post from Chip MacGregor - Publisher's Marketplace 2009 Top Agent (by sales) - from this year's BEA.  Among other things, he states:

"Amazon just announced that they’re selling 105 e-books for every 100 printed books. So yes, digital titles are outselling printed titles. But… that’s a bit of a tricky fact. Amazon will sell anything you choose to stick into a digital file (your company’s annual report, your seminar files, your class notes), so not every e-book they’re selling is really a “book.”"  (From the Author: I'd also like to add that as an online retailer, Amazon has a much greater digital focus than most bookstores, which is important because of the next quote)


"...A study here revealed only 6% of people who buy a book were satisfied by their online browsing experience… so 94% of readers want another way to view books. Which means the bookstore still matters. Now everybody is trying to figure out how to make money turning bookstores into showrooms."

Need more?  How about our desire to see the digital world the way we want to:

A couple days back I read a story from one writer who'd purchased an e-reader for his elder father for Christmas.  Aforementioned Elderly-Dad recently told Writer-Son how surprised he was to enjoy reading on his e-reader - particularly the functionality which made the font larger and easier to read.

Writer-Son's conclusion?  (Paraphrased): "If the old folks are getting into it, then you know it's taking over."

Um... sorry, but if you purchased the e-reader for him, he isn't actually the consumer.  I have no doubt he'll read more digital books now, but I don't think it logically follows that the elderly about to stage a market takeover.

And that's my point: Writers and those connected to the publishing industry are advocates for this product.  They're buying them, using them, giving them as gifts, etc, etc.  If we only look through the filter of the people around us, we aren't being realistic about these products.

Remember that post where I said I have a background in branding and marketing? My short-but-eye-opening time working with a branding visionary taught me many things... but the single most important fact was this:

Branding / Marketing / Advertising is all about perception.  When it comes to purchasing decisions fact and truth are moot. What matters is what the purchaser believes to be true about the product and their need for it.
So if you want to believe E-Readers are taking over the world, you're going to look at the world that way.  You're going to notice the e-books and e-readers around you because you're hyper-sensitive.  You're going to find room in your budget for a product that to you seems very important.
But there's a massive portion of the population who don't know or care about e-readers or e-books.  Yet they're still buying books.
The print book is not dying.
It is not.
It is not.
It is not.
Your Turn:  Do you believe the print book is dying?  Why?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Listen to Taylor Mali

Taylor Mali is a poet even I have heard of.  (Trust me, that means something).  The thing I love about him is that his poetry is what my uncultured ears like to call 'accessible'.  Not because he's Down with the Kids, but because there's something about his work that screams "This is real!".

So I was excited when I ran across this little snippet from Taylor because it isn't the standard line most writers given when asked to offer advice to other writers.

Not "Just keep writing!".  Not "Write every day!".  Not "Write from the heart!".


Whether poetry, novel, short-form or a letter to your Mom, I think Mr. Mali's advice is utterly crucial to engaging with any living, breathing human being.  It's simple, yet true.  And it's why (I believe) his words ring with authenticity.  And, as it happens, authority.

Which is good, because he talks about that in this piece, which offers the very best advice for life and writing I've heard in a very long time:

Now, go forth my writerly friends and write down what is real - with conviction.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The New Reader

I had a very, very eye-opening experience over the past few weeks.  It's made me more fully appreciate what a new world this is for READERS.  (Particularly those of the young-adult genre).

If you haven't already noticed, authors are now accessible: 

They tweet.
They blog.
They vlog.
...yadda yadda yadda.

And - wonder of wonders - they talk to readers in all these places.

I've had an ongoing conversation with the author of A Very Good Book while I'm reading it.  And it has enhanced my reading experience - NOT because the author gives anything away.  But because I can ask questions about peripheral issues, plot drivers and characterizations before I finish it.

People!  This is HUGE!

Ask yourself what this means for you as an author. 

Do you have enough knowledge of social media to avoid faux pas?  Do you have the confidence (or interest) to hold a conversation with a reader who hasn't yet finished your book and might hate the ending? 

It could be a very scary equation. 

Or it could be awesomeness.  After all, how many of us have had to walk away from rolled eyes, yawns and insensitive 'advice' from people who just don't get it?  Well, imagine dozens, maybe hundreds of people who are suddenly immersed in your world and wanting to talk to you about it! (I'm assuming that only a portion of people who buy your book will actually seek you out personally - though that portion will be much higher if you're writing YA). 

My advice?  Find out where and how your particular audience uses the internet now and get familiar with it.  That way, when its your name on the cover, you can also tell readers where to find you if they have questions.

It's like the world's biggest book club every day.

Your Turn: Does the idea of talking to readers excite or frighten you?  How do you think you'd want to manage that process?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Basic Architecture of World-Building

The problem with creating a world of your own is that it is vivid in your own head.  You know every character, every scene, every setting.  You may even know the words you've written by heart.

So, sometimes you don't notice when you haven't provided what the reader needs to be plunged into your world.

Regardless of your preferred plot structure, the following elements will never hurt your book:

1.  Ensure every single scene and chapter open with setting (in a strict sense, or woven into the action of the introductory sentences) even if the setting carries on from the scene / chapter prior.  After all, your reader may have put the book down at the last break.

2.  Ensure every character is given at least broad-strokes description at the very moment they enter the book.  You can develop further details later, but don't risk jarring changes for the reader when they've already created an image of a character because you didn't provide one.

3.  Ensure any item in your book that isn't straightforward or known in this time is described with enough detail to give the reader an image.  Especially in Sci-Fi / Fantasy where things exist the reader has never seen.  It isn't enough to give something a cool name and tell the reader what the characters do with it.  They have to know the difference between a communicator worn on the wrist with two buttons that allow the transmission of voice, and the communicator worn on the wrist with a small screen - that can transmit voice only, or show pictures in a later scene.

Those are just a couple, simple things I came across when critiquing someone else's manuscript recently, but I've gone back to my manuscript to ensure I've followed those rules.  Sometimes it's hard to notice when you haven't painted a picture that's so vivid in your own head. 

Your Turn:  Do you have any simple, practical structures to help other writers make sure they're building a solid world for the reader?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sex vs. Relationships in YA

If you live in America, you probably know nothing about Sophie Elliott.  But her murder and the details surrounding it took centerstage in New Zealand about three years ago, and haven't strayed far.  (You can read the awful details here).

Sophie would have turned 26 today.  Her mother, Lesley, has written a book and established a foundation which aims to reduce violence to young women at the hands of partners and ex-partners. 

Lesley has had a lot of interesting things to say over the years.  But she made some very insightful observations this week about the sexual education of teens - and the dearth of relationship advice and guidance to supplement it.

I think she's got a very, very important point.

In many western countries, sexual education is detailed, sustained and bi-partisan (I recognize this isn't always the case - sexual education in the United States seems to be wildly disparate depending on what state you live in, or what type of school you attend).  But similarly detailed relationship advice is available only if a teen seeks it out. 

In a world where teens are often reluctant to admit they "don't know", or where they don't trust the adults in their lives, what kind of message does that send?

How can we expect girls (I'm focusing on them because that's the teen experience I had) to recognize danger signs in a relationship if the only examples they're absorbing are either 1) purely sexual; 2) romanticized or fanticized via television and movies; 3) unhealthy and hidden.

I think teen fiction offers a unique opportunity to educate vicariously.  While they may be reluctant to ask questions directly, teens who read usually aren't scared to seek out a book.  As YA authors we have the chance to show teens the good and bad of relationships - not just the romantic ideals.  We can offer insight into the repercussions of decisions.  We can offer alternatives, and explore conflicts.

Most importantly, I think, we can show girls choosing self-respect over social status, personal achievement over sexual conquest, and integrity over popularity. 

Let's not paper over the cracks.  Let's not pretend the guy we think is really hot can't turn out to be complete psycho - or that we won't make decisions we regret.  But let's offer realistic, wholistic pictures of life as a teen.  And, for goodness sake, let's make sure they know there's a LOT more to a relationship than sex.

Who knows?  Maybe there's another potential Sophie out there who's eyes could be opened to a clear and present danger.

As they've been saying on Twitter recently: YA Saves.  Let's help it keep doing that.

Your Turn:  What messages do you think teens are receiving about relationships?  Are they healthy?  Is there enough support and guidance to help them through?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Word Zits

So... I've finally finished manuscript revisions in preparation to send to Awesome Agent.  (She'll determine if it's ready to go to Editors.  More on that another day).

Shining the spotlight on Word-Acne
The thing that surprised me in this (hopefully) final revision was how many of those blasted extraneous words were still pushing to the surface.  Their pustule-heads are painful even when I can't see the bump.

Know what I mean?

This revision has been six months in the making.  After feedback from prospective editors, I had a lot of work to do.  And I did it.  The world building, plot and character developments are nailed.  The writing is the best I can do.  This final, final review was all about the detail. I wasn't changing scenes, modifying plots or adding storylines.  I was just sitting at my keyboard hitting CTRL + F over and over and over again.

And what did I find? 

Word Acne.

The face of my manuscript looked like something out of a Clean & Clear ad.

After two years (almost to the day) of countless revisions, a full editorial from my agent, seek-and-destroy missions and various other forms of treatment, I was still breaking out.  To the tune of 2% of my already-borderline wordcount.


Why is that surprising?  Well, if you check out the Self-Editing Series I started last year, you'll find out I've been eradicating extra words for a long time.  And yet... *insert self-loathing here*.

So below, my friends, are my very own word-zits.  Some of them we covered in the Self-Editing Series, some we didn't. 

Maybe your idiom-eruptions are different.  But on the pizza-face of my manuscript, these words / phrases push to the surface again and again and again - usually proving to be as worthless as those blackhead remover t-zone stickies they sold me when I was twenty. 

Many of these verbal pimples could be deleted from my manuscript without changing a single surrounding word.  Some were just the oily residue raising a flag for the painful discharge lurking underneath.  Either way, doing a seek and destroy on these words dropped my wordcount by 2%.

Read that last sentence again, then read this list and figure out if you have similar manuscript blackheads:


Usually began with 'he', 'she', 'I', or a character name, followed by:

- swallowed
- sighed
- frowned
- breathed
- stared
- gaped
- tensed
- froze
- realized

In most cases, the action wasn't necessary because the emotion or reaction had already been demonstrated or could be indicated via dialogue.  In many cases the phrase or sentence could be deleted because it was coupled with another, more interesting action or reaction.


- all
- just
- actually
- really
- suddenly
- even
...Were often used to unnecessarily emphasize or nuance a sentence and could be deleted outright. 

- almost
- seemed / seemed to
...Should be used sparingly, and only for their true meanings - not to give the reader an impression of a false-start, or desire.  In fiction terms, things either happen or they don't.  The hero didn't 'almost touch' the heroine.  No.  He raised his hand, then thought better of it and dropped it again. 

- toward(s)
...Frequently cropped up after verbs.  The thing is, when one of my characters gets out of his seat and walks - immediately followed by dialogue with the protagonist - it's unnecessary for her to say he walked 'towards me'.  That part is implied. 

- myself
...Often indicated a wordy sentence.  For example, the very wordy: "Was she just being nice so she could trap me into getting myself caught out?", became: "Was she just being nice so she could trap me?"

So there you are.  Nineteen words that, when sought out, helped me eradicate 2% of my manuscript without losing a single nuance or expression.  In fact, cutting out all those words has made the manuscript better.  We'll see if Awesome Agent agrees.

Your Turn:  What do your word zits look like?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Burning Questions

So, you're writing a book... 

Or maybe you've written one and you're looking for an agent? 

Whatever the case, what questions burn for you right now? 

Do you need help with writing - plotting, characterization, self-editing, etc? 

Or are you uncertain how to deal with the rejection from potential agents?  How to write a good query letter?  Or what to do if an agent offers representation?

Whatever your questions, ask them in the comments here.  If I don't have the answer, I'll find someone who does.

Your Turn:  What do you wish you already knew?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Elevator Pitch Hilarity

Remember that post on framing your message with humor to make it easier to swallow?

Well, this little gem I saw on Janet Reid's blog totally proves my point.  (That's a Cyberspace-Told-You-So, if you missed it).

Go ahead, watch it.  You'll laugh, you'll cringe - and you'll get some great advice on what NOT to do at your next writer's conference...