Tag Archives: marketing experts

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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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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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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