Category Archives: self-publishing

The Experts Aren’t Always Right: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 2

Missed Part One? Play catchup here.

“The Experts Aren’t Always Right”

As an independent author, when it comes to writing and selling books, I have to take matters into my own hands. As much as I would love to have someone else handle my marketing, cover design, copywriting, actual writing, etc., I don’t have that luxury. If I want people to read my stories, I have to get the word out on my own, or convince others to help me by convincing them that what I have to share is worth reading. And to convince them to read my work, I have to market to them, which means, ultimately, the cycle is unavoidable, and I’m responsible for getting the word out regardless, help or not. If it’s near impossible to get any reader interested in reading my work, then it’s even more nearly impossible to get them to market for me. If I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done, and the book will undoubtedly flop.

But even if I do get readers, and even if I can convince a few of them to help me get even more readers, it doesn’t mean my career is set and ready to launch. I also have to figure out how to get and retain fans, which is even more nearly impossible than the even more nearly impossible task of getting a support system to help me find those fans.

But nearly impossible isn’t the same as impossible. Fortunately, impossible is a dead adjective in independent publishing. Okay, more like an animated corpse that seems lifelike. But it’s still dead.

Through traditional publishing, authors have a chance to get their books displayed on a shelf at a bookstore, and by proxy, open an avenue for exposure that indie authors often don’t have. This doesn’t necessarily improve the author’s chances at discovery, as any book that’s displayed with the spine out is no more likely to get discovered than a specific crack in a sidewalk in the heart of a beautiful park would get discovered. But even shy people can discover that crack in a sidewalk if the alternative is to make eye contact with other people, so at least it’s an extra opportunity.

For an independent author, that chance for discovery is almost entirely limited to marketing, whether via e-mail, or word-of-mouth, or blast system like Bookbub or Instafreebie, which tends to succeed only when the author already has a following or fat marketing account and strong copywriting and cover design, and getting a sale through that market or discovery is dependent on whether or not the moon passes by the sun at the precise time a chicken crows while a dog pees on its head, which is, to say, not easy.

And that’s just for one book. What happens when the independent author writes another one? How many times does the moon eclipse the sun? (At the time of this writing, the total eclipse is scheduled to begin in Oregon and proceed through the heart of the United States and into South Carolina in a few hours, so, timely! But by the time this goes live, it’ll be long gone, so ha ha, you gotta wait another 18 months for the next one! But I digress.)

Because it can be difficult to build an audience, and even more difficult to retain one, independent authors are often encouraged to write books quickly (one every month or two) to earn enough income to write full-time. And this is assuming they have at least 3000 e-mail list subscribers who are ready and willing to buy every book the independent author writes, or tens of thousands of subscribers that can balance the odds enough to glean about 3000 loyal readers from the list. With the average $2.99 e-book earning its author 70% of its sales, 3000 loyal readers can earn him over $6000 a book. And that’s great…if he can pop out a new book every couple of months on average.

Traditional authors can’t do that because the industry takes about 18 months to contract and release a book via publisher (the length of time you’ll have to wait for the next total eclipse to happen after today, August 21, 2017, aka the day I’m writing this post, not necessarily the day I’m posting it). But independent authors can release books as quickly as they can write them, which is awesome for anyone who writes quickly and cleanly and doesn’t mind ignoring his loved ones most days.

The key idea here being how quickly one can write, edit, market, and release a full-length book of about 200 or more pages (50,000 words or more) and still be good enough to keep the reader coming back for more. Is one-to-two months for each book really long enough?

I guess it could be. Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels in the summers he spent at Goldeneye, his home in the Caribbean (Jamaica, I believe), and spent the rest of the year working as a real spy, leaving his publishers to take care of the rest. That’s about two months per book for his part. I don’t know if he had to do anything more than just write the books. But even still, at that rate, he produced just one book a year. You could say he spent the other ten months researching.

I’d argue that producing a new book every one or two months is beneficial for keeping readers’ attention, but it may also be too much for those who feel oversaturated by reading books only from a particular author who, for some reason, is more prolific than even James Patterson or Stephen King. Ian Fleming had a dedicated readership, and even though it took him just two months to write each novel, it took about a year for his readers to get each one. In spite of the gap between stories, they came back anyway. They had other authors they could read in the meantime.

Indie authors don’t have to wait a year to get a book they’ve spent two months writing into their readers’ hands. But is that a good thing? I have authors I’m subscribed to that I still haven’t read because I simply can’t keep up with their pacing. It seems like every time I think about starting one of their freebies, they’re pitching me a new book. I’m not ready for it yet! Of course, it’s not their fault I’m not ready for it yet. I’ve just got so much else to read. Maybe a year between releases isn’t so bad. But, for the indie author, a year between releases is the same as starving. Seems like neither party really wins here.

I don’t know how involved Ian Fleming got with his books after he submitted them to the publisher, and it may be that two months dedicated to his author career was plenty, but independent authors don’t have the luxury to stop at the writing process or spend two months a year on a single book. They have to maintain the editing process, as well, and that can cost time and money. If an editor charges between $1000 and $2000, for example, then that reduces the author’s $6000 in sales profit to just $4000. And that’s not including cover design costs ($300 on average), marketing services (conditional, but probably more than $100 and upwards to about $600), and any subscriptions to web hosting or e-mail list providers ($100 a month or more), and now the author is down to earning an ROI of about $3000 or less for his book, and that’s assuming he’s grossing $6000, and if it took him two months to produce that book from zero to hero, then he’s earning about $1500 a month as an author, which is about what I make tutoring college students how to write.

It’s not a lot when you crunch the numbers. And it takes a long frickin’ time to get enough subscribers and fans to produce those kinds of numbers in the first place.

Now, these are estimated costs based on research and not based on experience. In contrast, based on experience, each book earns about $3 a year. This is without a mailing list, or marketing system, or editing service, and so on. This is based simply on writing and uploading a book to Amazon or Smashwords and crossing my fingers (what all writers wish they could do successfully) and seeing what happens. This is based on zero reviews, or a three-star average thanks to a one-star review cancelling out a five-star review, and, while I’m at it, wishing upon a star.

And that three-star average is based on cranking out a book in two months without editing, marketing, or having any real beta reading support, save for a single reader who says the book is “pretty good,” which isn’t the same as saying the book is “freaking amazing.”

It’s also based on beating a preorder deadline on the advice of experts who say preorders increase first-day sales and that preorders should be given to all books. No, I’m gonna have to disagree here. Preorders are yet another marketing stage for increasing exposure on a title that needs marketing to get that exposure, but it’s only helpful if the author produces a book that readers would actually want to read, which usually requires something called quality, which is hard to achieve on two months’ worth of writing, marketing, etc. I’ll cover that in more detail tomorrow.

But everything about writing and publishing independently comes down to costs, both in money and time, and neither produces guarantees for success, even though more of each increases the odds.

Now, there are things in my life I wish I could reset like a videogame, most of them having to do with career choices or women, but I don’t regret giving independent publishing a chance. What I do regret is rushing through my titles in order to match the speed that some authors claim they need to produce their own success. It’s that regret that has led me to the decision to otherwise disown the current version of my novel, The Computer Nerd, and seek to revise and release the story under a new title, and to do so at the pace I need to make it worth buying and reading. This isn’t to say that it’s bad in its current form, mind you. But it is to say that it needs better.

More on that tomorrow.

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Cover image by Pixabay

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Public Revision: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 1

Would you like to go back in time a few years and redo something you screwed up? Or maybe just a few days? Or even this morning, perhaps? If you could do it all over again, would you refuse that job offer, or decide not to date that person (or marry them), or make that investment in that swamp that was supposed to be the home of the next big mall but to this day remains a swamp? If given the chance, would you have decided against erecting that statue of a controversial figure to our national history?

We all fantasize about correcting the bad choices we’ve made in life, but rarely can we ever do anything but forge ahead and hopefully make better decisions the next time we’re faced with something similar.

In videogames, we see this fantasy realized in two places:

  1. Most games come with a reset button of some kind. We make a mistake in the game, we turn it off, we reload from our last save, and we try again but tackle the problem differently and see if that earns us better results.
  2. Game developers who release a bad or buggy game have many opportunities (if finances allow) to patch it before their clientele finishes lighting up the pitchforks, as long as they remain in communication with their fans and customers that improvements are coming. In this way, they can turn a bad game into a great one, if they pour in the time, money, and love to see it through.

Okay, three places:

  1. In the case of old or poorly executed games, creators can remake their games with better technology and/or better ideas, and anyone who appreciates the idea behind the original may be onboard for trying out the new version. Take a look at SimCity for example…

Or don’t; your choice.

It’s the perfect medium to work with because gamers are the most forgiving people on earth…at least it could seem that way as long as you ignore the flames they fan on gaming forums (especially on Steam) or if you constantly update your game, preferably weekly, even after you’ve released the final version of the final version of the version that jumped the shark because people keep demanding updates when the game has outlived its need for updates and you just want to get on with the sequel or a new property already, but can’t because those ingrates won’t leave you alone about adding that stupid feature where the hero blinks when you press the mouse button three times while upside down because real heroes blink and your game sucks if the hero doesn’t blink and you said that the hero would blink way back when you announced the game was coming and foolishly published your wish list of features as a motivation or goal for yourself, which included the possibility of having the hero blink at the click of the mouse, as if you were making promises to the people to implement these features when you really intended to implement them only if time and money permitted and that anyone who trusted this wish list to double as your infallibly planned features list would inevitably have their hearts broken, and as a result cry out to the masses that you’re a fraud who only cares about grabbing cash and couldn’t give a crap about releasing a quality or finished product to everyone who deserves the game that they want because they spent a whopping five bucks on it, dangit, and demand to get their every penny’s worth! See, it’s the perfect medium.

But books and movies don’t get the same love, it seems. Or do they???

I can’t speak much for movies, as I’m neither a filmmaker, nor am I in the loop with filmmakers, and the only time I ever see a movie “revised” after its theatrical release is when it goes to DVD or Blu-Ray as a director’s cut. But books are becoming friendlier as a medium for post-release revisions, and I think readers may even be at a point where they’re ready to accept it.

Okay, I don’t actually know if that’s true, but it should be. Here’s why.

Remember The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien? Have you read it? It’s, in short, a brilliant fantasy novel that jumpstarted the fantasy craze that continues today, eighty-five years after its publication. It’s a tightly-written children’s book about hobbits, dwarves, elves, trolls, adventures, wizards, and kings, told in a sing-song, fable kind of way, mixed with rhymes, riddles, and rendezvous with fate that captivates the imagination of any of its readers. But did you know that, according the video interviews by Peter Jackson, Tolkien had plans to revise it? After the success of Lord of the Rings, he decided he would write a revision to The Hobbit to better tie the two stories together thematically and theatrically (sounds better than plotrically, so, you know), which, to me, sounds like a worthy plan. If you suffered through The Hobbit movie trilogy (I have, and I’m a better man for it), you’ll get an idea what the rewrite could’ve been like, as Peter Jackson, the director of both Middle Earth trilogies, took Tolkien’s notes about the planned revision (that he clearly never finished) and filmed that, according to the documentaries that come with the films, which are worth watching, even if you don’t care for the movies themselves. Whether that revision would’ve been better or not remains to be seen, but after the success of Lord of the Rings, both in book and movie forms, it stands to reason that readers, whether they’d like it or hate it, would’ve been willing to give it a shot.

And that’s a fair assessment, as we give movie adaptations of books a chance all the time. Sometimes, in the case of movies like Silence of the Lambs and Silver Linings Playbook, these adaptations work. Sometimes, like in the case of The Running Man, the movie even improves on the book. Revising an already published work is not a bad thing, nor should it be a problem, especially in today’s world where e-books are biting off a piece of the reading market.

To revise is to sand off the burrs that mar the otherwise perfectly sculpted image, and reshape that statue of Mr. Controversial into one that looks more like Miss Congeniality, and that revision can happen at any time, even decades after the first version originally went live. The goal is to make sure the new version is better than the old one, and to make sure the end result won’t piss anyone off or cause a riot in the streets.

Having said that, tomorrow I would like to move toward a discussion about my book The Computer Nerd, and why I think it’s important to write and release a revised version, retitled Gone from the Happy Place, and why you should be happy that I’m doing so. I’ll begin by discussing the nature of independent publishing and why it’s a tough business. Hope you’ll come back for it.

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Cover Image by Pixabay

Bonus: In Other Programming (Software) (The Marketing Author 001, Part 13)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Bonus: In Other Programming (Software)”

Welcome back to The Marketing Author 001. This week I’m giving you a bonus chapter, which will cover some important software decisions you’ll want to make as you begin you’re indie author hobby…er, career. You won’t need them all, but you should probably consider getting them all, or similar programs, if you want to maximize your potential.

Microsoft Word:

You probably have this item already. It’s the world’s premier word processor. You probably wrote all of your English essays on it. I’m using it to type this sentence. It’s Microsoft Word. You should just have it. It’s very powerful. I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. If I do, you probably shouldn’t become a writer. This is your chance to flee! Really, why don’t you have Microsoft Word yet? Is it still 1990 where you live?

Microsoft Excel:

You probably have this program, too. (Most people have the core Microsoft products, Word, Excel, One Note, PowerPoint, etc. on their computers.) Let me just offer a shortcut here: All of Microsoft’s Office products are useful for one reason or another. One Note is good for keeping all of your thoughts in one place. PowerPoint is good if you want to build an online presentation to promote your product or build a course that will get people interested in what you have to say. But what about Excel? Why would a writer need to worry about Excel? Simple. You need Excel to keep track of your sales or downloads so you can see how well your titles perform (and what changes to metadata or cover images might do to improve those sales). Here’s what my sales looked like in November 2015.

Cool, huh? Okay, those are pretty much all free downloads. But the important thing is that I can see how each book does against the other. You want Excel as part of your author toolbox if you want to keep good records and track performance, especially since most of your hosting sites, like Smashwords, will only display stats over a certain length of time.

Scrivener:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - scrivener

You want Microsoft Office for your piecemeal work, but Scrivener is the Mercedes of the writing world, and for writers, it’s the thing most likely to replace Word as the writer’s best friend. It’s got a high learning curve, but through practice or via paid courses, you can discover just how great Scrivener is for any author and why you should have it on your computer, even if you’re a casual hobbyist writer who just wants to journal.

It’s a writing tool. It’s an organizational tool. It’s a digital notebook. It’s an idea farm. It’s a research hub. It’s basically all of Microsoft Office’s programs compiled into a single program, and each “file” is actually a “project file” that stores all relevant information into a story file via folders and special categories. It’s also about 10% of Microsoft Office’s price tag, and it provides a 30-day trial if you’re not sure.

But give it a few minutes and you’ll be sure. It’s gradually replacing Microsoft Office as the go-to for writers.

Note: The Mac version has features the Windows version doesn’t offer.

Editor:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - editor

Disclaimer: I have this program, but I haven’t used it in years. That said, the reason it’s on this list is because I still think it’s useful, especially if your power of language or ability to spot grammatical or repetition problems is weak. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting problems at the local level, which is why I don’t really use it anymore, but this program has once upon a time helped me spot a page one problem with punctuation that I must’ve overlooked twenty times, which is something I never would’ve done, even in thirty or forty revisions. I had become too accustomed to ignoring that particular problem. That reason alone keeps me loyally recommending it to anyone who needs an extra boost in spotting problems, even if I don’t use it much for myself.

It should be noted that Editor is a reporting tool, not a fixing tool. Its creator is an Ivy League English professor who wrote the program to assist writers in making wise style choices, not to override their writing, like what Word might try to do. It reminds writers that no program can know all connotations in grammar. It can only make an educated guess about your usage and that you, the writer, should still know grammar.

It’s also the only editing program I know that looks for clichés, repetition, and comes with a few dictionaries, like a rhyming dictionary if I recall correctly.

The only thing I don’t like is the interface. It’s pretty raw.

KDP Rocket:

Official Website

Part of the importance of marketing is knowing how to locate effective keywords that can increase exposure or interest in your book. This program, which I just bought recently, will go to a subscription model soon, so I’d get it ASAP if you want it, as it’s still sold for a one-time only fee of $97, but its job is to report the top performing books at Amazon in that particular category or keyword you choose so that you can make an informed decision about the keywords you apply to your book. For example, I learned that my keyword for The Computer Nerd, “marital thriller,” is pretty good, while my keyword for “computer nerd” kinda sucks for a psychological thriller (though it wouldn’t be so bad if I were writing a book about programming). The things we learn when we research.

Results for keyword “marital thriller”:

Results for keyword “computer nerd”:

You can alternatively find separate programs like KDSpy and Kindle Samurai to do similar functions for less money, but the nice thing about KDP Rocket is that it does everything these other programs do, but in one place, and it does it better in my opinion.

Adobe Digital Editions:

Official Website

author marketing 001 - adobe editions

This is not essential but still highly recommended, as this program will allow you to read .epubs right on your desktop. If you’re writing an e-book and you want to see how your story will translate, this program will help you see that translation. It’s kind of like tasting the batter before you commit to finalizing the cake. You want to know that you’re about to produce and distribute a quality product and Adobe Digital Editions can help you see what your readers will see.

Amazon Kindle (Desktop App):

Official Website

author marketing 001 - kindle

Ditto as above, but for .mobi files used on the Kindle platform.

WordPress:

If you want to blog, this is probably the best platform for it. You’re reading this post via WordPress. That’s how good it is. I don’t really want to talk about something you can clearly see for yourself. But having a blog is a great way to talk to people so that you don’t have to waste your life on Facebook. Plus, you’re more likely to reach your subscribers through WordPress than you are on your friends list, as Facebook requires you to pay lots and lots of money to promote your posts. That’s how they stay afloat.

And so on.

So that covers this week’s bonus chapter. If you have a program you like using, talk about it in the comments below.

Thanks for joining me on this beginner’s journey into independent authoring and marketing. Be sure to tell me how your marketing adventures pan out as it happens. I’m sure I’ll blog about mine soon enough.

I hope to launch a new series soon about books on writing, so stay tuned for that.

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A Fine Captain Doesn’t Sit on the Beach with Cocktails in Hand (The Marketing Author 001, Part 12)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“A Fine Captain Doesn’t Sit on the Beach with Cocktails in Hand”

By now, you should be an expert at getting your book discovered by the masses, and by “expert,” I mean “have some inkling on what to do now.” And if you don’t, that’s cool. This series hasn’t been about turning you into an actual expert, but about putting you on the path that will help you figure out how to become an expert.

I know; after twelve installments of this series, you probably expected me to show you how to become an expert. If that’s the case, have you not been reading my words? I’m still learning this stuff, too. I just know where to look now, whereas I had no idea when I first started. My goal has been to help you prepare for the journey, much like a parent might prepare his kid for college. It’s still up to the kid to learn something at college. Mom and Dad just need to hand you a check and say, “You can do it, Bubba.”

And that’s what I want say to you. You can do it, Bubba. But, I’m not going to hand you a check. If you’ve been keeping up with my blogs, you’ll know that I made less than $10 in book sales since May 2015. You’ll also know that I still don’t have the money to launch the necessary materials I need to get my marketing started, hence my reasons for now actually taking a chance on the lessons I’ve learned. Remember, I spent about $1000 just learning this stuff. Doesn’t leave me with much to practice with. Hopefully, you’ll spend less so that you’ll have more for marketing. Then you can show me a thing or two about what you’ve learned out there in that wild west of e-book indie publishing.

At the end of the day, however, simply having the right attitude isn’t enough, and that’s where you can push ahead of me in this journey. Learning is one thing, but doing the work is another, and we all have to do the work if we want to find the success. That means writing the books. But it also means finding the appropriate cover artists (and learning what types of covers work with what types of genres); it also means finding a sufficient editor or the right beta readers; it also means picking the right platforms (Amazon, Smashwords, Ingram, etc.), deciding whether or not to do a paperback, etc. It means not just imagining the mountain moving. It means telling it to move, or pushing it. Just do more than sit there admiring the Corona in your hand as you ponder how nice it would be if you could sell $3000 in books this month.

Sooner or later, if what we’ve written is any good, we can find some amount of success. How much, I suppose, depends on how much we commit to the process of marketing it.

And that ends the core message of The Marketing Author 001. I do, however, have a bonus part planned for next week, which will cover some software you might want to invest in to make the most of your author journey. Come back for the final installment then.

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You’re Smart, but They’re More Experienced (The Marketing Author 001, Part 11)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“You’re Smart, but They’re More Experienced”

Okay, so I had put this series on hold because nobody was reading it, and with so much else on my mind at the time of the last post, I didn’t want to commit myself to something nobody was showing interest in. But, almost four months have passed, and I really hate leaving things unfinished. So, here we go with the beginning of the end of The Marketing Author 001! Hopefully you’re reading it.

This week we’ll talk about the experts you might find who can help you become a better independent author.

Let me begin by saying that nobody should be so independent that he or she does everything alone. This is true about editing, true about marketing, and even true about writing. Just as we need feedback on the things we write, we need guidance on developing the best plans for our writing future. This is where the experts come into play.

Now, when I say “experts,” I mean people who have done something right more than once and have built a successful author career as a result. Not only that, but I also refer to those who have special skills, like cover design, or marketing tricks they’ve tested again and again, like using Amazon Marketing Services to their advantage or leveraging freebies to grow their mailing lists.

You’ll know them by their similar procedures and information, their commercial makeup, if you will, much like a vanity press that pimps out its many, many subsidiaries. They all form their own little networks, and when you find one, there’s a good chance you’ll find them all. That’s how I learned marketing (and how I’m still learning ways to put it into practice). That’s also how I learned about the pros and cons of going down the rabbit hole of marketing research. I’ve spent about $1000 in the last year trying to learn this stuff, and if you know me, you’ll know that I don’t have much extra money to spend on average, pretty much ever.

But it’s $1000 well-spent, as my knowledge of marketing is stronger now than it was when I started my e-book indie publishing journey. And now I know where to look for answers to those questions I didn’t think I had to ask. I’m even beginning to understand who the good ones are and who might be just a tad unrealistic in their enthusiasm (or perhaps a tad lucky in their success).

It isn’t just about whom you know, but what you know about what they’re selling. And they’re all selling something, often at $497 or higher. And much of what they sell overlaps with the information that others like them are also selling, and they all sell it the same way, by giving you a free PDF or introductory video to their courses, by giving you a live training event running about 90 minutes, complete with questions and answers at the end, by giving you about five days to make a decision about the upsell, the premium course on how to build an email list, or write copy that sells, or design the perfect book cover, etc.

It can get very expensive if you’re not careful. But the tradeoff is good information. Most of these people come from marketing backgrounds, or something that’s related to the information they’re selling today. Some of them just “fell into it,” but they figured out how to make it work well, and now they’re in the business of sharing that info.

It’s an important road to explore, as their knowledge is well-founded. But, be careful with the numbers they project. Most, if not all, will never promise you success. They will generally make the claim that their systems (a shared system, it seems, as most of them say the same general things about book marketing) worked for them, even though it may not work as well for you (though, it probably will, as it works for most everyone who applied the EXACT systems they use). But, it’s also important to know that the numbers they project are often paired with numbers they get from other sources related to their business, like selling courses, for example. For those of us who just care about books, which is often the case for us fiction writers, we should expect a much lower number in our dollar returns than the many “experts” who, you’ll find, are predominantly successful, or have generated the seeds of success, through their nonfiction titles that begin with an odd number and end with the solution to a problem, like 51 Ways to Turn Celery into a Useful Vegetable, for example, or through their supplemental businesses related to the product, like a premium course on how to make the most of your celery sticks through 12 videos you can access for life, as long as you pay $197 in the next five days.

If you enter the search for experts with this in mind, then you should be well-armed and ready for information-gathering without busting your bank account too badly.

Remember that the information you find is going to be similar to the information you’ll find here or there. The difference is in the delivery, and in some cases, the focus. It’s a good idea to go for the general marketing courses first, and if you can afford them, take the more specialized courses later. Anything that costs you more than $997 is probably too much, as you could probably get similar information at Udemy for $10 and not miss a thing. The course you choose should depend on the instructor offering the course, taking into consideration his or her reputation, path to success, and ability to retain success. A simple way to check on that last one is to use a program like KDSpy or KDP Rocket and look at the financial reports they’re generating. It probably won’t show you paperback sales (I’d have to search the Internet for a program that can report paperback sales), but you’ll at least get an idea how well they’re performing in the e-book department at Amazon, the company with nearly 70% of the market share, and a decent indicator of how the average author is doing across all platforms.

It also helps to know that the course instructors (or “experts”) run sales on their courses and add bonuses during new launches every few months, so if you go through the funnel, but find that at the point of signing up for the premium course you don’t have the money, don’t fret it. As Alinka Rutkowska, the instructor of Author Remake (the course I decided to buy last March), told me, there will always be another course around the corner. Just do what you have to, to give you and your book the best chance it can get at success. That’s something I agree with, and that’s why I keep doing what I can to learn from the experts. If you want to prevent any flailing in the water during your author career, I’d suggest seeking out these experts, too.

Here are a few sites I recommend checking out and subscribing to if you want to get more knowledgeable about succeeding as an indie author. This is just a small handful in a vast trove of informants, and most of them will lead you to other gurus who are sufficient guides in this crazy infant wild west of e-book and indie authorship. Take a look. Give them a chance. And explore!

Goins Writer

The Story Grid

CreativIndie

Book Marketing Tools

The Book Designer

Next week, I’m just going to motivate you. I like writing, and I think everyone should do it. Publishing your work for all the world to see is simply a bonus. And, yes, I do mean next week, not four months from now.

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Plan to Succeed, Be Ready to Fail, Then Go Ahead and Succeed (The Marketing Author 001, Part 10)

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“Plan to Succeed, Be Ready to Fail, Then Go Ahead and Succeed”

Life is a nut.

There’s no joke or punchline here. Life is a nut. You can have the most perfect plan in the world, perfectly orchestrated, perfectly prepared, perfectly funded, and life will still find a way to intervene on its own behalf to do whatever it can to push your plan into a wall at 900 miles an hour because life has to dip its hands into everything perfect and mess it up because life is also a jerk. It’s a lot like a Batman villain. Just when you think you have some sense of control (Batman), you lose it because life has other crazy disturbing plans, which may include laughing in your face or watching the world burn (Joker).

Is this something you recognize? Have you had something planned, something that would change your life for the better even, just to watch it come crashing down because you can control only some of the factors involved? If the answer is no, then congratulations, you have no ambition or vision. And, if you have neither, then you have no need to read further. You are in a safe space, and nobody likes you.

Life didn’t become a nut by obeying your will or granting your wishes. It became a nut the moment man thought he could improve upon perfection then eternally messed up the order of what perfection is. Life became a nut because when life has order (perfection), it doesn’t need to fill any holes with incompatible plans. And life would never have such a thing! Not these days!

When we set out to write a book, we have big plans in mind. Writing the book is part of the plan, sure, but so is getting it out to the public. We imagine sales upon sales rolling in, growing for us a massive passive income that can sustain our appetites for weeks, months, or even days! We think every word will translate to “wow,” and every period will be akin to the stroke of a gong, filled with such bravado, such resonance that the whole world must hear it.

But no, our periods will get squashed by life’s big nut sack with the rest of our dreams. It’s the order of things today.

Launching a book presents the same problems. We can set up a preorder and still come out with zero sales. We can host a giveaway, and still lose all of our newly interested participants the moment the prize is drawn and all but one person loses. We can build our email lists over time and never crack 10 subscribers. We can spend hundreds of dollars on promotions, hundreds more on covers, copywriting, and editing, and still fail to sell more than a handful of copies at launch.

Life is a nut.

But we can stand up to it.

We have to be ready to fail at anything we do, especially in marketing and writing, but only because it strengthens our resolve to continue; because, at some point in this journey, we’ll figure out how to outsmart life. At some point, we’ll develop the knowledge, skill, endurance, drive, or random luck to find success.

And success is a lot like blood. When we taste it, we become ravenous for it. Then we start making life listen. Then we find our rhythm and learn how to dodge the wall that life is driving us toward at 900 miles per hour.

Yes, we have to be ready to fail at anything, but we should still plan to succeed. No plan is perfect, but even imperfect plans can reach a happy resolution, as long as the people enacting them don’t give up on them, instead making changes as needed. The reason the most successful people become successful is because they know life will try to screw them over, and they know that they will fail before they succeed, and they will develop a thick enough skin to drive them forward even when failure tries to drive them back. They won’t back down in fear. They won’t give up on their prayers. They will keep fighting for what they believe in, even if the opposition keeps knocking them down. Eventually, the opposition will tire of their persistence and back down. Eventually, life will throw down a peace offering and say, “Okay, you win.”

Remember, Batman defeats the Joker in the end. Usually.

Yes, life sucks, but don’t give up on it. If you want people to read your book, learn those marketing tips that so many successful people before you have learned and then take a chance on releasing it. You won’t reach everyone, but you can use your experience to reach someone. It’s a lot like meeting the person of your dreams. The first step when you meet them is to say hello. Life rarely botches that part up. Usually.

But even if it does, you can try again next time. Make sure there will be a next time.

Next week will be about instructors. Maybe you’ll read that one, too?

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Patience Is a Virtue, but so Is Intelligence (The Marketing Author 001, Part 9)

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“Patience Is a Virtue, but so Is Intelligence”

At some point, we’re going to send our work to a place where the public eye may see it. It’s inevitable, if we don’t lock our darlings in a file somewhere among the dark recesses of our hard drives first. If we care anything about learning from our own lessons, we’ll share what we’ve learned with complete strangers who have identifiable experiences and compare notes. By that, I mean, we’ll write what’s on our minds, and somebody we don’t know will likely criticize our thoughts in the form of a review on Amazon. It’s all fair in the game of knowledge trade.

But the inevitable has a maturation point, and we shouldn’t rush anything that isn’t ready for show. Just like that green banana that we await for ripeness, we can eat it now, if we really want to, but it won’t quite be full of its expected nutrients, and it certainly won’t taste very good. Likewise, we don’t want to delay something so long that we rob it of its best opportunity to put a strong foot forward. If we wait until the banana is brown and mushy, we, nor anybody, will no longer want to consume it.

When we think of marketing, we think of releasing products at the exact right time when they can gain the best traction in the marketplace, and sometimes that means anticipating what the market will want ahead of time. Major corporations plan for this cycle of desire annually, and create products according to a schedule that will satisfy this expected demand best. For example, if you turn on your TV tonight, you’ll probably see an ad or two for Samsung’s next great invention, the Galaxy S8, and you’ll likely salivate at its exclusive new features, like the expanded window that makes it look like an infinity pool. I know I think it’s cool, and I know I kind of want one. It’s good marketing, for sure. But more importantly, its upcoming release is timely: the Galaxy S7 was released about this time last year, and in the world of cellphones, you better have the next update ready within a year. If Samsung releases the S8 too soon after the S7, its customers will feel cheated. If it waits too long, its customers will buy whatever Apple is releasing this summer. Samsung knows its window for release is narrow, and if it wants to keep its customers happy, it better hit that window, and it better do so with as few snags or misfires as possible.

We can see the same needs and issues in writing. Biopics, for example, are timely if we’re hitting an anniversary of a major event. A year and five days ago, Prince died. Earlier this week, tributes to Prince appeared all over the place. If these tributes had surfaced two months ago, or two months from now, they’d still hold value, but they wouldn’t be as timely, and ultimately not as popular. Magazine sales might not spike as well as the publications might like. Radio stations might not hold a listener’s attention for as long as they could if they were to air a marathon of the artist’s hits on the day of the anniversary. A televised tribute might not have as many viewers if held on any other day. These tributes are all subject to timeliness, and releasing them any other time would yield a lesser result, and, inevitably, a lesser profit.

As a marketing author, we should consider what our product contains, and what type of release schedule would maximize its exposure. Is it better to release a book on a Tuesday or a Saturday? Should a young adult fantasy book come out the same weekend as a major Hollywood movie of a similar theme, or should it be deliberately delayed to capture anyone still champing at the bit for more of the same? Or should it be released ahead of time in anticipation of the movie sucking so badly that it destroys the genre? These are important considerations to make before releasing a title.

But, these considerations are also important for deciding how long it takes us to formulate our ideas and create our products, and even for deciding when to start working on them. If we know we want to release a blockbuster action thriller during the summer beach-reading season (incidentally the same season that Hollywood releases most of its blockbuster action thrillers), then we should probably start writing that book by NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) if we want to ensure that we’ll have a finished product with sound editing and cover art and a decent amount of marketing behind it by May. Or, if we can crank it out faster, then we can start later, but we still need to anticipate those snags that might delay our productivity, so earlier is better. We can always delay release of a finished product until the hour of maturation (when it will perform best), but it’s hard to successfully launch a product that isn’t ready for our discerning and unforgiving readers. Remember, nobody wants to eat a green banana.

When we write something we’re proud of, we want to share it with the world immediately. But pushing it out the door before it has its pants on might not be the best plan. To successfully market anything, we need a schedule, and that means marketing smart. Before we launch anything, we need to remember the old cliché, “Fools rush in.” If we wouldn’t marry somebody we don’t yet know well, then why would we throw our baby into a pool of sharks without first giving it a flashlight and a shotgun, or a party of cool people without some kind of beacon that says, “Hey, I’m cool, too!”? We’d want to give it the best chance against the opposition as we can. Sending our books out unprepared is as bad of an idea as sending them out in a season when nobody is interested in that topic. We don’t need just a schedule; we need smarts to plan effectively.

So, my advice today is to get smart. If you’re not smart, figure out how to become smart. Then use that newfound smartness to plan a properly structured and timed release. And make sure that banana is ripe and ready for consumption before you ask people to eat it.

Next week we’ll go over more planning, so plan to be here! (See what I did there?)

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Tackling the Buffet with a Small Stomach (The Marketing Author 001, Part 8)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Tackling the Buffet with a Small Stomach”

I don’t want to drop names here, but at 8:30 Monday morning, I received a text message from an online marketer about a course (s)he’s pushing, which was to close that night, in the hopes that I would join. A few hours later, I got a voicemail (probably automated) from the same person. The course, as far as I can tell, is not only successful, but valuable, and I’m assuming very helpful to anyone who isn’t fully versed in its strategies. It’s also expensive. If I were to sign on with it, I’d commit about $997 (or $1,997, depending on the package) over the course of just a few months, which is a heavy margin to devote my low income to. Having that kind of sales pitch at 8:30 on a Monday morning through my own phone is alarming, even if the course is probably very good.

Why did I get this sales pitch so early in the morning? No idea, but I got the pitch at all because I signed up for this person’s mailing list. I did that because (s)he was offering free information that I wanted so I could better my marketing skills. Or, I don’t know; maybe I just liked the freebie (s)he was giving away. Could’ve been anything.

One of the components of indie publishing, marketing, authorship, readership, etc. is that entrepreneurs and budding entrepreneurs want people to sign up for their books, courses, etc., so those who do sign will go onto their mailing lists. This is no surprise, as the number one thing they all teach those learning to market effectively is to create a mailing list. Lead by example! But to get the information they’re offering, you have to take this step. Generally that means giving out your email at the bare minimum, or your first name and email on average. This is generally accepted practice, and most people don’t mind signing up for free things if the return investment is no more than basic contact. If most people offer escape clauses (read: the unsubscribe list), then there’s little to no risk in signing up for these things.

But, signing up for these free things means getting the sales pitch, whether you want it or not.

Now, having to submit my phone number as well as name, email, and whatever else I’ve forgotten by now (I don’t have a firstborn yet, so I didn’t have to hand him/her over in exchange for “free” advice or a product) is a rare thing, and I’m legitimately surprised that anyone would actually take advantage of having my number. But that’s what I had to offer to get the free thing (I believe it was a paperback sent to my house—oh, my mailing address was something else I had to offer, yay!), so I went with it. Now I get these sales pitches to my email and phone, and I would no longer be surprised if I started getting fliers in the mail for these same products. Was it worth it?

Honestly, if the information I get in return is any good…

And that brings us to the theme of this week’s installment of the Marketing Author 001. When we’re trying to improve our education, especially when we have no prior foundation with the thing we’re trying to improve—in effect learning from scratch—then we seek out those experts who have charted the path before us in an effort to learn what works and what doesn’t so that we don’t have to make the mistakes that they made for us. It’s a bit like a child seeking advice from his parents. Hopefully, the parent has useful advice, and we share the same hope for the experts, or “gurus,” we seek out to answer our questions (in the form of free webinars and ebooks).

When we find these experts, we find free advice attached to their brand messaging, but that free advice comes with a price. In nearly every case I’ve encountered during my year of marketing research, I’ve found that the free advice is merely a taste of the premium advice that comes inside a training package that includes hours of videos that break down concepts, strategies, etc. for maximizing the knowledge housed within the concepts established in the free trainings. For example, Bryan Cohen, a copywriting expert with a stellar track record, has a course called Selling for Authors, which helps writers crack the copywriting code for better sales and marketing of their books, but he doesn’t pitch the course without providing a free webinar that breaks down how to develop the opening hook of the book’s sales page. It’s genius marketing (something I’d expect from a professional copywriter), and it upsets me time and again when I realize I can’t afford the course yet because I usually want to sign up for it. Thanks to his testimonials (something most of these experts have on their course sign-up pages), I’m inclined to believe him when he says his strategies work. I’m sure they do.

But does everyone who offers a course designed to help me, the independent writer and marketing author, have the right stuff to guide me along?

This is where the waters get murky because everyone is offering something for free in an effort to get you to buy something bigger and badder for a heftier price. It’s real easy for any of them to entice a desperate author who just wants to make a friggin’ sale. It’s also real easy to invest hundreds of dollars into a course that provides information that can be found for free if given enough time to research and experiment.

Fortunately, most if not all of the experts admit that the information they provide can be learned for free (through practice, trial and error, etc.). But the tradeoff, they insist, is whether the free money is worth the high cost of time (and the high financial cost of learning through failure) that comes with doing it all yourself. If you do your own thing long enough and calculate the time and energy you’ve spent trying to learn on your own what they offer in their courses, then you might find that they’re speaking truth.

However, the question then comes down to whether or not their advice is consistent for the average author and not just for themselves.

The person I wrote about at the top of this blog had a very successful first attempt at publishing. Most people do not. Does this mean his/her methods were a fluke? Not necessarily, but not unnecessarily, either. I won’t actually know the answer to that question without going through the process myself. But, it seems that many of the people who have gone through the process have found success, so maybe it does work. As I said, it seems like a great course, and I’m generally skeptical when anyone tries to advertise their products to me with such gusto that it makes me wonder if they’re overcompensating for something. I still remember when the distributors of the Super Mario Bros. movie, starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, began marketing on television six weeks out from release when the average movie at the time (in 1993) was waiting until about two or three weeks within release range to begin the television ads. I suspected the movie was awful because they pushed it too dang hard and started too dang early. I don’t generally trust anyone who oversaturates their product with advertising. But, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give them a chance.

The fact is, if you want free information, you’re going to have to sign up for mailing lists, and if you sign up for mailing lists, you’re going to have to start making decisions to research, accept, or deny the products they want to sell you. There will always be a sales pitch when those freebies start pouring in. Just like a hungry man at a buffet table, you’ll have to decide when you’ve had enough information that you can confidently let future sales pitches fade away. Fortunately, you can unsubscribe as soon as you get the info you want. But, I think it’s useful to keep your subscriptions open because sometimes you’ll want to receive the next free thing they give you, and if you’re really ambitious, you might even want to consider buying the product they’re trying to sell, as it may just be the thing that helps you to tip toward the realm of success.

In any case, I’ll talk more about courses in a future installment. For now, practice devouring free information in moderation. Be wary of samey advice coming from multiple sources. At some point the free info will overlap with other free info you’re getting and you’ll stop learning new things at the freebie level, and that’ll be the point when you’re ready to decide what to do the next time an offer rolls around with that sweet marketing butter sauce drizzled over it.

Next week we’ll focus on the marriage between patience and intelligence. Stay tuned.

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Know Your Platforms (The Marketing Author 001, Part 7)

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“Know Your Platforms”

What is a platform? Is it something you stand on? Something you wear on your feet to look taller? Some form of plat? Well, yes, clearly.

But it’s more than that. It’s a foundation. A display. It’s something that writers are told they must have by all marketing experts the world over if they wish to ever sell anything with their name on it.

It’s something writers usually balk at, especially if that platform is fiction.

I’m one of them. Platform? Psh. My platform is that I write. Like it!

Okay, you don’t have to like it. Nor do you have to accept platform as an unobtainable force that’s always working against you. Start with the simple ideas and complicate them only as needed. Think of platform as your key to the world.

Nonfiction writers understand this better because they usually have something important to say in order to supplement something important they have to share. For example, the person who designed the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner has a platform as the person who designed the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner. If he writes a book about vacuums called This Sucks, you’ll know he speaks the truth. Likewise, if the inventor of the toilet wrote a book called This Stinks, again, you’ll agree that he knows his stuff and that any book he writes about toilets will tell you all you need to know about toilets. That’s his platform. He knows when something stinks.

Fiction writers don’t have to spend as much time building an information platform because their job is to build a fiction platform. Want people to keep coming back? Want people to take your work seriously in the first place? Write fiction they want to read. Simple!

Well, not simple, because you still have to write the stuff that builds your platform. But the concept is simple. If you’re a person who writes, then your platform is as a writer. If you’re a person who writes mysteries, then your platform is as a mystery writer. If you’re a person who says he writes even though he plays video games every free minute he gets, then your platform is as a gamer. Simple.

But that’s not all that platform entails. You also have your publishing platforms.

If you write a stellar book (or stellar proposal) and want to get it traditionally published, then you must first seek representation from a literary agent (consult the Writer’s Market, Guide to Literary Agents, or visit Agent Query for help in finding the right representative), wow him or her with your amazing idea or storytelling skills, and then do all that you can not to piss him off during the submission process, which can happen if you don’t read and follow his exact instructions for submission. Then you must follow the advice I wrote about rejection and feedback, take your knocks like a man, and then giggle like a schoolgirl when somebody actually accepts your work and agrees to terms you can both benefit from (maybe have a literary lawyer on hand, just in case). Then you must go through the process all over again when that agent (assuming you like the person who accepts you enough to keep him or her) begins the submission process to the publishers. Hopefully you’ve got that manuscript finished and polished, or that proposal fully charted and ready for manuscript development, before you get to the publisher-seeking stage. Having your synopses and other helpful supplements will also be to your advantage (you can research these other supplements—I don’t need to do all the work for you). Once the agent finds a publisher who wants your manuscript or idea for a nonfiction book, prepare for the long road of making deadlines, fighting with procrastination, lying to yourself that everything is perfect, lying to yourself that everything is good enough, rewriting, marketing, pretending you like the cover the publisher’s cover artist designed, resigning yourself to allowing the publisher to market the book a specific way, even if that way means dying an early death, and crossing your fingers that the book will even go to print much less find its way onto the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble, and all that for about a dollar a book in royalties (after the advance is paid off), assuming you’ve survived the gauntlet to the end.

Or, you can skip the agent entirely and self-publish it through Amazon (ebook), Smashwords (ebook/distributor), Draft 2 Digital (distributor), Apple (ebook), Barnes & Noble (ebook), Kobo (ebook), CreateSpace (print), or Ingram Spark (print), or do-it-yourself (electronic file or bulk printing) for higher royalties, no gatekeepers, and higher exposure due to handling marketing and distribution yourself, at the cost of being shunned at the brick and mortar stores (unless you sell a lot of copies and don’t mind adopting a refund policy (which only Ingram Spark allows for at the moment).

So, those are your platforms. I probably forgot a few. But you should honestly be researching this stuff by now. There’s no reason to read the seventh installment of The Marketing Author 001 without having researched the various methods you can get published or noticed first. No reason at all.

But thanks for reading anyway! You’re helping my platform!

Next week we’ll talk about salesmen. Whoo hoo!

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Feedback Is for Winners (The Marketing Author 001, Part 6)

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“Feedback Is for Winners”

Imagine this: The envelope you’ve been waiting three months to arrive at your house is finally here. You race inside, your heart hammering, not because you’re out of shape, but because you’re terrified with anticipation. You throw all the other mail wherever—you don’t care where any of it lands—and quickly move to your coziest spot in the house, where you try to settle down, even though you can’t. You find your favorite chair, reach for that ice tea you’ve had sitting there beside your lamp since you first anticipated the letter’s arrival, take your sip, and then take your breath. Then you stare at the envelope, close your eyes, and get to work. You begin opening that envelope you’ve been waiting three months for. Your fingers twitch as they slide along the flap. The sweat dripping down to the tips is probably ruining ink inside. But you’re ready for the message it holds. You’ve waited nearly 90 days for it. It didn’t take you that long to even write the manuscript in which this letter addresses. You slip out the paper, unfold it, and open your eyes.

Then you drop the letter to your side and shake your head. Then you toss the letter in that drawer where the others live.

“Thanks for your submission, but this isn’t for us.”
-99% of literary agents you pitch your manuscript to

Well, that’s helpful, you may think in that sarcastic way you address any problem you face. You know sarcasm, that teddy bear you keep with you whenever anyone says something you find offensive, the thing you whip out to cope with stress caused by people who simply don’t understand your genius. We all know that teddy bear because we all carry around the same one. There are so many people who love to step on our dreams without giving a suitable reason that we become reliant on any teddy bear to get us through the nightmare, especially the one that makes us feel good because we think it’s making those who’ve wronged us feel bad. We like our avenging teddy bear more than our comforting bear, even if it doesn’t manage to bring back those people who gave us no helpful advice but a broken heart instead. Commiseration is therapy, up until the point that we give up on writing and become accountants because it’s easier.

But, we don’t really want to give up our dreams, so we pine for anyone who might care about our goals in life and do all they can to support us, just to wash out that sour taste of rejection from our mouths. Our cries for help lead to responses like:

“I don’t read fiction.”
-Your best friend

“I don’t read nonfiction.”
-Your other best friend

“I don’t read books.”
-Everyone else you know

Yet, we know it’s probably futile to get any help when we need it the most. We’re told that we live in a world full of readers, even though we can’t find a single one who wants to read what we’ve written. We fall back into that state of defeat, feeling worse than our protagonist feels the night the bad guy steals his girlfriend away. We poured our hearts and souls into this thing that nobody wants to leave a single comment about, positive or negative, helpful or useless. Nobody wants to give us validation, and it kills us inside.

Well, that’s because we’re asking the wrong people to help us.

First off, New York literary agents don’t know you, so they have no reason to talk to you. Don’t let them become your first line of literary feedback because you’ll be disappointed. They’re too busy sending out a couple hundred other rejection letters to authors just like you to give you any special attention. Granted, if they say anything other than “no thanks,” or really, just anything, then you probably have something special because, even though they may not have room for your work, they probably see enough potential in you to encourage you to keep going on the path you’re going, so that should be compliment enough. But you still won’t know how to improve, so it’s useless feedback.

You don’t want to ask your best friend, either, because even though your best friend cares, he or she won’t necessarily know how to give you feedback if you’re writing in a genre he or she doesn’t read in (if he’s a reader at all). If you’re writing a science fiction business book, and your friend watches a lot of reality television, he or she will probably take several months just to read through your book, and he’ll forget so much about what you’ve written that the only advice he can give you when he’s finished is that, “It’s good,” which isn’t helpful, either. That’s not even a decent ego boost. Anyone can tell you that without reading a word. They don’t even have to look you in the eye. They can be staring at their breakfast, noting how well their eggs were made that morning, and comment “it’s good.” You know they’re talking about the eggs. Don’t wait on your best friend to give you feedback. Keep searching.

Now, at this point you might be wondering why you should bother with feedback. If no one in your circle is willing to give you a serious answer, then why keep pounding at a broken drum? Well, the reason is because feedback, honest feedback, gives us an opportunity to become better writers. Feedback is that element in the writing process that alerts us to the problems that still linger in our text, even when we think we’ve addressed everything we can. Without feedback, our writing is blind. We need feedback, even if we can’t get it easily.

So, how do we get it if the people we care about won’t help us?

This is where we begin to search for online reader groups to give us those coveted responses.

Let’s look at four of them. I’ve provided links, so be sure to check them out once you’ve finished reading this article.

Wattpad

Perhaps the most popular among young adult readers, Wattpad is, in my opinion, the most sophisticatedly designed of the online writing forums, if not the hardest to get any attention for, as its popular writers suck up most of the readership. If you write anything other than young adult romance or fanfiction, you might have a difficult time making headway. But it integrates well with social media and looks really nice, and it gives you readership stats, which is helpful. It also lets you “like” each story and leave a comment below each chapter. So, even though I don’t care for it for my own works, as I don’t seem to write the kind of fiction its readers like (maybe that’s a clue that I need to start writing for new audiences), I still think it’s a good site worth visiting. You might even find your next favorite author there. You might even become someone’s next favorite author there.

FictionPress

FictionPress is an older, yet less sophisticated cousin to Wattpad (if they’re related, which I don’t think they are), in that it has similar analytics for detecting which types of readers are visiting your stories. I think the reviewer community is a little more active here, as well, based on what I’ve seen, but you’ll want to experience the differences for yourself. The design of the site is crude, but it’s functional. I also think it’s a better site for cultivating new fans, as authors here are more willing to help each other (again, based on my experience). Wattpad has the tech on its side, and I also like that Wattpad will let you use your real name (FictionPress requires a screen name, and doesn’t want your real identity seeping through—no idea why), but FictionPress has a higher likelihood for feedback, which is what this article is about, and why I prefer it to Wattpad. Both are worth trying out, but FictionPress has a wider participation rate for genres outside of young adult romance, which is also a plus.

Zoetrope

Zoetrope (part of American Zoetrope) is one of the granddaddies of the online writing forums, and one of the only forums I know of to invite artists of any genre, including and especially screenwriting, to participate. I haven’t been here in about twelve years, and I have no idea if my stories are even still on here. But a recent visit shows me that the place is greatly updated to match with today’s social media needs and I’m tempted to come back. The great things about this site are 1.) You can’t submit a story until you’ve reviewed five others, so reviews are the driving force for this site, 2.) You can submit pretty much anything here, including song lyrics, 3.) You can participate in sponsored contests, 4.) You have a shot at making into Zoetrope: All Story, a prestigious literary magazine moderated by intelligent people, and 5.) The person responsible for this site is Francis Ford Coppola, the award-winning director of the Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now, the latter film which now apparently has a crowdfunding campaign for a video game version. The things you learn when you explore. Anyway, I had a lot of fun with this site back in the day, and I highly recommend putting it on your list of places to test, especially if you write anything other than novels.

Scribophile

I have an account here, but I confess I haven’t used it yet. Of the four sites I’ve listed, this is the only one that has a payment plan, which I’m okay with, but not eager to use at the moment. My understanding is that readers on this site are more serious about feedback than the other sites, so the pricing plan is probably justified. But, like Zoetrope, the service is fueled by reviews, which means you need to be ready to dish it out more often than you expect to take it. Last I checked, you get two free postings and unlimited opportunities to read and review other people’s works. The paid plans increase your submission limit. Again, I wouldn’t list it in this article if I didn’t think it was worth checking out, so you should definitely check it out. But I’m putting it last because it’s the only one that requires money to get the most out of it, and I’d rather show you the free sites first.

Even though each site has its own rules and methodologies, the one thing you can be sure of is that readers use them, and you want to go anywhere where readers hang out.

Now, when using these sites, it’s important to realize that there are two types of feedback, and you can use both to your advantage.

  1. Reader reviews are the more obvious forms of feedback because these will be more likely to tell you what works and what doesn’t. A good reviewer will highlight anything important (on a per chapter basis) that you should know. These same reviewers are speaking not to you, but to the community, so, while you’re learning about what’s wrong with your story, your other potential readers are learning about it, too. That can be a positive or a negative, depending on how many people are harsh reviewers, but because it’s honest feedback, it’s fine. Most of the people who read your work on these free reader sites aren’t going to remember you when they find you on Amazon sometime later, and even if they do, they’ll hopefully assume that you’ve fixed the problems that were addressed on the reader site, and won’t intentionally troll your hard work with one-star reviews. Anything’s possible, of course, but highly unlikely. If you want any kind of feedback, these sites are great places to start.

Note: Readers on these free sites are a lot like readers on Amazon. They’ll consume without talking about the product or acknowledging who they are. To ensure that you get reviewers for your stories on these free sites, you’ll need to give some reviews of your own. A large percentage of authors you review will offer you a review in return as a courtesy. Some of the above sites, like Scribophile and Zoetrope require you give reviews if you expect to get any. These reader sites are very karma-centric in that way. I’d advise reviewing many other people’s works before posting your own (or post your own, and then review a bunch right away). Bank your reputation and your readership early.

  1. You may only get a handful of people to review your stories, but you’ll get plenty more to read them, if you market them well enough—even the free reader sites need some marketing love if you want to stand out among the thousands of other options that readers have. Fortunately, most (if not all) of these sites give you readership statistics, including how many have looked at your story and how many have gotten past chapter 1, 2, etc. Even if no one speaks up, you can still use these tools to get an idea on conversion rates for your story. So, if you have seven readers for Chapter 1 and no readers for Chapter 2 (which is the case for my story When Cellphones Go Crazy on FictionPress), then you know something is preventing them from moving on (my guess regarding my story is that the sections are too long). It’s not nearly as good as getting actual handwritten feedback, but it’s better than nothing.

Clearly these are geared more toward fiction writers, but you can still find online resources for getting nonfiction feedback. The most obvious place is a blog where your topic is also the central focus. You can also look for communities of people who are interested in your topic and solicit them for feedback. This is where sites like Reddit might come in handy. Reddit is pretty finicky about its social rules, but it’s a good place to research what people are interested in. If your nonfiction work answers the questions they have, then you know you’re on to something.

Now, at some point you’re going to release your book, and at some point you’re going to get reviews from your buyers (or downloaders, if your book is free). Just as I tell the college students I tutor prior to them turning in their essays, negative feedback from the instructor is still feedback. Learn from everything. If someone rates your book poorly, then learn why (don’t ask them though—there’s still a form of writer-reader etiquette you need to adopt that says never to complain about any review you’re given, at least not in public, and especially not online), then fix it, or do a better job with the next book. You can take everything you learn and apply it to your wheelhouse of knowledge. As the old saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, but if it does kill you, you probably won’t remember it anyway. Okay, I might’ve made up that second part.

As I discussed in Part 4, rejection is probable, but don’t let it scare you out of putting your work on display. When you write in a bubble, you are only good until it pops. Ask for feedback from people who want to read, and you’ll want to find those people in the places where readers dwell. If you don’t want to sign up for an online reader site like those mentioned above (or the many that I haven’t mentioned), then maybe you can find readers at your local library. Maybe your library hosts a readers’ group. I have reservations about readers who don’t understand what makes a novel or nonfiction book work giving feedback to writers who also don’t understand how to make these things work. But, I do think that everyone knows what they like and what they don’t like, and if you’re writing in the hopes of building a readership, then it’s important to know whether you have something people want to read.

At the end of the day, feedback is for winners, not quitters. Don’t give up, even if your sarcastic teddy bear speaks the sweetest kinds of lies in your ears. It’s not worth it. You’ve got plenty to offer the world. Just get it out there.

Next week we’ll talk about platforms. Yay. Boo. Take your pick.

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